The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Tuesday 12th September 2006 - Musicians Union skims over bad news in London

Readers of the latest Musicians Union newsletter for 12,000 London members ('London News', Autumn 2006) could be forgiven for concluding that MU research suggests that London venues have benefited from the new Licensing Act.

Strangely, however, there is no mention of several well-documented London jazz gigs lost, postponed or needlessly restricted as a result of the new law. These have been widely reported by MU members, including top UK-trumpeter Henry Lowther who lost a summer season of gigs at the Garden Cafe in Regents Park (royal parks are no longer exempt as they were under the old licensing regime). There was also the five-month postponement of the Monday night jazz at the Sir Richard Steele in Haverstock Hill (since reinstated, but with a new 'two in a bar' restriction), and weekly jazz sessions cancelled at La Brocca in Hampstead and the Old China Hand in Clerkenwell.

Under the heading 'Live', Jo Laverty, the MU Gigs and Venues official for London, reports on 'further research' into members' responses to the union's December 2005 licensing survey. 'It appeared that whilst perception of the Act was unfavourable, this was not substantiated in the feedback', she writes. 'Further research showed that of the venues mentioned only five had either faced problems or stopped promoting live music altogether as a direct result of the changes in licensing, whilst eight venues were mentioned as having started to promote live music since the new regime has taken effect.'

Ms Laverty acknowledges that only 64 London members actually returned survey forms to the union - just 0.5% of the London membership. But she does not mention that she was unable to contact at least 26 of the 64 survey respondents, and that the follow-up research is therefore based on an even smaller sample: about 0.3% of the London membership. Nor does she provide any evidence to support members' claims that venues said to have started or stopped live music had actually done so as a result of the new law. My own enquiries suggest that, at best, up to three of the venues alleged to have started live music genuinely resulted from the change in licensing legislation.  In any case , the sample size of London members is too small to draw statistically robust conclusions.

Having omitted well-documented examples of gigs lost due to the new law, it is ironic that Ms Laverty goes on to say: 'Whilst being keen to report the good news we do not wish to skim over those pubs and venues who are still experiencing frustrations and setbacks in applying for their [live music] variations'. However, she does confirm that a new 'State of the Nation' follow-up questionnaire is imminent, and invites feedback from venue owners and MU members 'so we can compile full and accurate information to feed back to the government':

Almost two thirds of the remaining page-long article is dedicated to reports of two venues where the provision of live music has apparently increased: the Old Blue Last pub in the East End, and the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley. Neither are new live music venues, but they are presented as examples of where the new entertainment licensing legislation has 'opened up new opportunities'.  As the article acknowledges, the Old Blue Last had already been hosting two-in-a-bar gigs. It was bought in 2004 by Vice Magazine, and now has live music '6 to 7 nights a week' (pop and rock). The cinema had held a 'live music licence for some time' but can now stay open till midnight Sunday to Thursday and 1am Friday and Saturday.  T his is hardly the 'explosion in live music' promised by ministers. But then the focus on 'positive stories' was recommended by Ms Laverty  under the heading 'Follow up' in her original report (first produced in April).

Matt Elek, associate publisher at Vice Magazine, told me yesterday that it was a 'happy coincidence' that their development of the Old Blue Last as a live music venue occurred at the same time as the implementation of the new Licensing Act. He also said that the live music helped fill the pub on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Bars without a live music permission will find, however, that getting an authorisation for live music now is likely to be more costly and bureaucratic than it was to get a public entertainment licence under the old licensing regime.

Hamish Birchall