The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Monday 22nd September 2008 - Small gigs exemption - Sharkey in private DCMS talks



On Friday 12th September, Feargal Sharkey, now Chief Executive of British Music Rights, was interviewed in that capacity on BBC Radio 4 'You and Yours'.

Towards the end of the programme, in response to a listener's question, he let slip that he was due to meet government officials the following week to discuss the small gigs entertainment licensing exemption recommended 'as a matter of some urgency' by the erstwhile Live Music Forum more than a year ago.

When asked about this meeting, Linda Martin, Head of Press at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, tersely replied: 'DCMS ministers and officials meet regularly with a range of stakeholders. Those meetings are private and the department does not provide details of them.'

An unhelpful reply, and not strictly accurate: dates and limited details of ministers meetings are published in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. See for example:

Sharkey's continued involvement in the entertainment licensing debacle is curious. He has held the BMR post since 1st February. The LMF was disbanded in the summer of 2007 following publication of its recommendations to ministers - but before the all-important follow-up survey of live music research had been carried out. Enquiries suggest that other former LMF members, with the exception of the Musicians' Union, and recently the Arts Council, have not been kept informed of entertainment licensing developments by DCMS.

Indeed, it seems Sharkey was not keen to chair the LMF in the first place. In a self-penned profile published in the Spring issue of Link magazine, he describes how his LMF job came about:

'It was like I stepped out of the room at the Radio Authority and they [DCMS] pointed at me and said "You! You know about the music industry - or, at least, you're supposed to. You chair the Forum." Getting the job here at BMR was an entirely different experience. I was really keen to apply for it and really keen to accept the role."
['Perspectives', 'A Good Start', CEO of British Music Rights, Feargal Sharkey, LINK, Spring 2008, p50]
Magazine's home page (but not the article which is unavailable online)

But while the DCMS press office was being absurdly tight-lipped, a limited update had in fact already been published in a Written Answer from government culture spokesperson Lord Bassam of Brighton, Monday 15 September:

'The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is at an early stage of the development of exemptions for low-impact licensable activities, including small-scale live music. Officials have discussed the draft live music exemptions with the Musicians' Union, and with individual live music providers. We will continue to discuss all of the exemptions with a variety of stakeholders, particularly those on our Licensing Advisory Group which includes the Arts Council representing all the arts, including live music.'
[Response to a written question from Lord Clement-Jones, HL5272]

The government will have to get a move on if it is to meet its own deadline of a public consultation on further exemptions this autumn, and implementation by next spring.

Hamish Birchall