The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Wednesday 13th September 2006 - Musicians Union: wrong about the Old Blue Last

As I reported yesterday, the latest Musicians Union newsletter for 12,000 London members ('London News', Autumn 2006), focused on two venues that had, they claimed, increased live music as a result of the new Licensing Act: the Old Blue Last pub in the East End, and the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley. Venues where jazz gigs had been lost as a result of the Act were not mentioned.

A quick check with the Phoenix Cinema confirmed the MU claim: as a result of being able to open later, the cinema has increased live music. So far so good. However, it seems the MU got it badly wrong with the Old Blue Last.

In the newsletter, MU official Jo Laverty claimed: 'Since the [licensing] changes it is no longer just a pub but is now firmly on the map as one of London's more exciting live music venues. Many of you have fond memories (certainly some of us in the office do) of having played the Old Blue Last in previous years. Although formerly without a Public Entertainment Licence (PEL) the pub regularly utilised the previous 'two in a bar' exemption...'

Ms Laverty and other MU officers must have short memories. Hackney's licensing department confirmed this morning that the pub held a PEL continuously from at least 1995 to 2005, when it lapsed. So, if the pub was utilising the 'two in a bar' exemption at all, it would have only been for a few months between the lapse of the last PEL and 24 November 2005 when the new laws came into force.

Indeed, shortly after I sent out yesterday's update, two musicians told me that the Old Blue Last had been a thriving gig venue for bands (not just duos) for many years. In their own words, and with their permission:

'... The Old Blue Last has been a music venue for years: - as long as I've lived in London. It used to be one of the regular East End pubs that I played in in the 80s, and certainly had live bands (not just duos) until relatively recently.' Gavin Scott

'Interestingly enough The Old Blue Last had a full music licence since it started doing music in the early 70s.  I played there till about 3 years ago as an occasional weekend dep and the band size was usually a 6 or 7 piece, including singers, and everyone was on guaranteed pub rates (ie in the old days £40 per gig).' Geoff Castle

The current owners of the pub made it clear to me yesterday that plans for the development of the venue began before they knew about the new licensing laws. It is also now clear that it has been a regular band venue for years. Whether or not the venue is now 'more exciting' may be debateable, but is nothing to do with the new Licensing Act.

Hamish Birchall