The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Thursday 14th September 2006 - MU rejects members call to oppose Licensing Act

This week's Stage newspaper (Wed 20 September 2006) reports that the Musicians Union has rejected a motion, signed by 112 members, to oppose the Licensing Act ' far as it affects casual gigs and the associated employment of musicians in small venues'.


Apparently the union fears that if it opposes the legislation ministers and civil servants will give it the cold shoulder.

But, in any case, the union now believes that t here is a 'widely acknowledged boom in live music in the UK'.

This is very strange. Only two months ago MU General Secretary John Smith, reporting on the union's research into the impact of licensing changes, said: 'But we do believe that there is a marked drop in live music in smaller venues, especially the ones that previously benefitted from the "two or fewer performers" exemption under the old PEL system, and we are attempting to clarify the position in London'. ['Musician', Summer 2006 - the in-house journal for MU members].

The Autumn 2006 issue of the MU's 'London News' subsequently named only two London venues that they said benefitted from licensing changes - and one of these turned out to have been a long-standing band venue (the Old Blue Last pub). Several jazz venues where gigs had been lost or cancelled due to the new legislation went unreported.

The union seems to have forgotten that during the 1990s it lobbied both the Conservative and Labour governments for entertainment licensing reform, especially with regard to the 'two in a bar rule' as it applied to pubs and bars. Clearly, this was not done because live gigs in that sector were thriving. It was done because, since the early 1980s when local authorities took over entertainment licensing from magistrates, there were persistent reports from members and MU officers of band gigs lost due to rising licence costs and red tape. I am not aware of any evidence that new venues offset these losses. It would seem that this long decline must now be swept under the carpet.

Hamish Birchall