The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Friday 9th May 2008 - Parliamentary Jazz Awards - unlicensed


Next  Tuesday, 13th May, the fourth annual Parliamentary Jazz Awards will take place on the Terrace Pavilion at the House of Commons:

The event will feature a performance by the celebrated jazz guitarist John Etheridge and his band the Blue Spirits Trio - a performance of the sort that, according to ministers, must be regulated through entertainment licensing on the grounds of public safety and noise nuisance risks, the potential for crime and disorder, and to protect children from harm.

But the Houses of Parliament are of course exempt from alcohol and entertainment licensing legislation, and indeed from public safety legislation. Under the 'doctrine of exclusive cognisance', which dates from the 1689 Bill of Rights, only laws that expressly apply to Parliament are deemed enforceable - a fact which may have been overlooked by Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL), the company that sponsors the Awards.

PPL collects and distributes airplay and public performance royalties in the UK. The company also leads the music industry campaign to extend copyright in sound recordings in the UK from the present 50 years to 95 years. The cause has been taken up in Parliament by Pete Wishart, former member of the band Runrig, now SNP member for Perth & Perthshire North. His private members bill had a second reading in March.  For recent developments see:

According to the Parliament website, in 2006/7 PPL funded t he All Party Jazz Appreciation Group (APJAG), which hosts the Parliamentary Jazz Awards, to the tune of £19,680 (see link to Parliament website below).

Supporters of extending copyright in sound recordings in the UK include the Musicians' Union.  The argument is that ageing composers and performers would benefit financially, and that it would bring parity with the US. But others see dangers:

'My view is that the record companies will benefit from this far more than the artists, and not all artists will benefit,' said Richard Bridge, copyright lawyer, musician and folk music enthusiast. He added: 'Where record companies choose not to exploit back catalogue, music enthusiasts will be deprived of access to that back catalogue for longer.'

In the past two years, APJAG members, including Michael Connarty (Linlithgow & Falkirk East, Lab) and Joan Walley (Stoke on Trent North, Lab) have spoken eloquently in support of extending copyright in sound recordings. See:


In fact many opposition party MPs, not members of APJAG, also support extending this copyright, albeit with caveats and qualifications. The government, which had been against the idea, now seems to be reconsidering it.

But while the copyright issue is undoubtedly important to those who stand to benefit financially, it will be of no direct benefit to the vast majority of musicians. On the other hand, exempting small, low risk gigs from entertainment licensing could create thousands of opportunities for musicians, particularly at the grass roots, and particularly for those involved in jazz and folk music.

What have APJAG members been saying in Parliament about entertainment licensing reform? It is a reasonable question. Both the MU and the former Live Music Forum publicly recommended last summer that the government, as a matter of some urgency, create a new exemption in the Licensing Act 2003 for small gigs.  But the government has stalled on this one, promising only a 'full public consultation' on possible exemptions this year.

Despite an extensive Google search, I could find only one of the 'twenty qualifying members' of APJAG, Lord Colwyn, who since the Licensing Act came into force in 2005 has spoken out in Parliament warning of its potential to harm grass roots jazz.

And despite two attempts, PPL has so far not answered these questions: whether it supports the MU and LMF proposed small gigs exemption; and, if 'yes', to what extent PPL has lobbied MPs and Peers over the past year to include a new small gigs exemption within the Act.

The All Party Jazz Appreciation Group on the Parliament website:

Hamish Birchall