The Live Music Forum


Saturday 30th July 2005 - Boom time for Live Music says The Guardian's Pop Critic

'Live and kicking - why gig goers have never had it so good. By Alexis Petridis'. So ran the headline on the front of yesterday's Guardian pull-out 'Friday Review', 29 July 2005.

Live and kicking... where have we heard that phrase before? Oh yes, John Smith, General Secretary of the Musicians Union writing in the union's in-house magazine earlier this year. What was the basis for his claim? You've guessed it, the MORI live music survey estimate of 1.7 million live gigs a year; the figure also used by former licensing minister Richard Caborn to claim that live music was 'flourishing' in bars, clubs and restaurants whose main business is not live music.

In fact the 1.7 million was an estimate for all venues, over 25% of which were private members clubs, and church and community halls. The Department for Culture also later confirmed that they could not exclude the possibility that specialist music venues had been included in the survey. The survey's estimate for pubs, restaurants and hotels was about 850,000 live gigs, barely half the figure quoted by Caborn and Smith, and the majority of these places had no live music at all. Of those that had some live music, most had fewer than two gigs a month and of these most were probably 'two in a bar' not bands. The picture is further confused by the survey's definition of live music which, with the approval of the Live Music Forum, allowed live/recorded hybrids such as scratch DJs.

But this doesn't stop Petridis. Why should it - he's been talking to Feargal Sharkey.

'Last year a MORI poll discovered the British public had a far larger appetite for seeing bands live than anyone had previously thought,' enthuses Petridis, 'It found that a staggering 1.7m gigs had taken place in England and Wales in the preceding 12 months, and that 47% of pubs, clubs, student unions and restaurants had featured at least one live act in the previous year. The results of the poll even startled the man who had commissioned it: Feargal Sharkey, the former Undertones vocalist who now chairs the government's Live Music Forum. "It was quite astonishing, even for somebody who had been involved in the music industry for 25 years," he says. "I went back to MORI and said, 'Are you sure you've got this right?'".

What is 'staggering' and 'astonishing', surely, is that both Petridis or Sharkey should think it is great that 53% of all venues surveyed had no live music at all. Indeed, the survey found that only 19% of all venues had two or more gigs a month.

But, further on in his article, Petridis cites the survey again: 'As the MORI poll indicated, there are simply more places accommodating live music in Britain than before'. The survey indicates nothing of the kind. How could it, being the first survey of its kind as the DCMS so often points out.

In fairness, Petridis does not rely solely on the MORI survey. He talks a lot to Steve Lamacq and a bit to Andrew Harrison of Word magazine. He also thinks the success of this year's Glastonbury, and Live 8, and the fact that a band called Magic Numbers can fill The Forum, are part of the revival of interest in live music.

I have copied the above to the Guardian.

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Hamish Birchall