The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Friday 26th September 2008 - MU and Equity lobby for small gigs exemptions

The Musicians' Union and Equity are actively lobbying the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to exempt small gigs from the Licensing Act 2003, according to reliable sources.

Details are sketchy, but the MU is apparently seeking an exemption for venues up to 200 capacity. Equity's submission will, it seems, be made to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, not direct to DCMS. The Committee's public inquiry into the impact of the Licensing Act on various activities, including live music, is open to submissions until next Tuesday, 30 September. The Committee is independent of government and the DCMS. See:

In a separate development, new evidence has come to light that raises serious doubts about the validity of the DCMS position that the Act was not responsible for a 5% fall in gigs reported in the Department's live music research last December.

The DCMS position is based on research carried out in 2007 by the British Market Research Board [A survey of live music in England and Wales, published by DCMS December 2007].

But it has emerged that the interviewee answers on which the claim largely rests, about 11% of the total sample of 2,251 interviews, were not what was actually said, but paraphrased headings created by BMRB from a wide variety of actual answers.

On 17 September DCMS provided me with a copy of the verbatim answers, also copied to the Statistics Authority. To those with knowledge of licensing, the way BMRB categorised the answers is questionable in many cases, if not simply wrong.

For example, many of those who stopped having live music cited costs as the reason. Costs might mean a band's fee, but it might also include a licensing element. But if licensing was not explicitly mentioned this was not explored further, and the answer was filed under some other category, not under 'issues related to licensing'.

DCMS also overestimated the number of venues apparently starting live music 'because of' the new Act (originally 7, derived from the answer category 'new licence allowed it'). The verbatim answers show that only one venue actually suggested the new law made it easier to have live music. That sentiment was not stated or even implied by the remaining six. And merely because a new licence allows live music does not tell us anything about any perceived benefit, or otherwise, of the new regime.

The DCMS position is further undermined by the fact that many interviewees were in no position to make an informed comparison of the old and new licensing regimes. Either they were not working at the venue at the time the old regime changed to the new in 2005, or they knew little or nothing about the legislation, or both. Moreover, the survey had a significant proportion of 'don't know' answers to questions about the Act. Was it safe to assume, as DCMS and BMRB apparently did, that the impact of the Act on the 'don't knows' was the same as that where people provided answers?

The 'Why did you stop/start having live music?' data is set out in the BMRB report under figures 5.3 and 5.4, pp36-37. See report on DCMS website (PDF file) :

Campaigners are currently seeking a website on which to publish the verbatim answers released by DCMS.

Hamish Birchall