The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Tuesday 4th July 2007 -Sharkey to announce Act's negative impact on small gigs

Feargal Sharkey will announce tomorrow that the Licensing Act has harmed 'some very small scale live music events'. His comments will accompany publication by DCMS of the long-awaited Live Music Forum report.

The report tries to square the circle of the claimed overall  neutral effect on live music with a negative impact on small venues. In December 2006 DCMS published statistics showing 40% of smaller venues had lost any automatic entitlement to live music as a result of the new licensing regime.

As predicted, the report's 28 recommendations will include an exemption for venues with a capacity up to 100, and an exemption for 'acoustic music'. In this respect the report reinforces the announcement by the Musicians' Union on 11 June in which it declared its opposition to the Act and asked the Secretary of State at DCMS (now James Purnell, a former licensing minister) to implement five recommendations in order to fulfill ministers' promises that the Act would be better for live music. The recommendations include an exemption for venues up to 100 capacity:

The LMF report comes hot on the heels of y esterday's lame and somewhat misleading response by Number 10 Downing Street to the 79,903 people who had signed the online live music petition:

The tone of the Number 10 statement suggests that there will be no retreat from their belief that a piano in a bar is greater threat to society than big screen football. It claimed no evidence of a negative impact 'on the amount of live music'. But, of the surveys carried out to date, only the MORI survey of 2004 conducted a year before the current licensing regime came into effect attempted to measure gig frequency. That survey has yet to be repeated. 

The government response to the LMF and MU recommendations remains unclear. Number 10's petition response doesn't mention the MU recommendations, although it includes a vague reference to DCMS having already 'set out areas where it thinks changes might be made to reduce further administrative burdens'. However, there is no link or reference to the DCMS proposals to cut red tape. Number 10 concludes with a promise to 'look closely' at the LMF recommendations when they are published.

When alluding to the DCMS response, perhaps Number 10 had in mind the revised Licensing Guidance, published by DCMS on Thursday 28 June. This includes a redrafted section on the 'incidental music' exemption. See DCMS press release:

Earlier this year DCMS promised to make clear in legislation that busking and carol singing should not be caught by licensing. Several local authorities had already published guidance of their own to the effect that busking was caught by the Act - and had made clear they would not change their position until the law was changed.

The redrafted Guidance may help buskers and carol singers to some extent, but it is doubtful that the revisions would help a licensee decide whether or not to promote a small gig in a bar without an authorisation for live music under the Licensing Act.

The revised guidance suggests that a live music event could be advertised, and provided it was not 'the main attraction or one of the main attractions', and provided it wasn't the main reason people attended, and provided the music volume doesn't 'predominate over other activities' - it might qualify for the exemption.

But local authorities are not bound by the Guidance. The Act takes precedence. Given their already documented opposition to the LMF's proposed exemptions, cited in the recently leaked draft LMF report, many are likely to continue to interpret the incidental exemption restrictively. Who is to say whether a performance by an acoustic trio in a bar is predominating over other activities? If a licensing officer thinks it does, even if no-one has complained, then the licensee without a live music authorisation could face a criminal prosecution, a fine up to £20,000 and six months in jail.

Only the exemptions now proposed by the LMF and MU could prevent that.

Hamish Birchall