The Live Music Forum

Bulletins From Hamish Birchall


Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2005 12:06 PM
Subject: Live music & licensing - expect more spin

With a general election due in May, the government's licensing and live music spin machine is changing up a gear. Both the Musicians' Union (MU) and the Live Music Forum (LMF) seem happy to tag along. Recently both bodies have made dubious claims, no doubt unintentionally, in support of either the MORI live music survey, or the new licensing regime.

Taken at face value, musicians might conclude from these claims that gigs are thriving, and the new laws can only make things better. But as in other areas of government news control, necessary caveats have been omitted.

For example, Feargal Sharkey, chair of the LMF, writes in the current issue of 'M' (the MCPS-Performing Rights Society magazine):

'Whilst it's pleasing that 47% of the venues we surveyed put on some kind of live music, the flipside is that 53% don't. However after we told them that the new Licensing Act should make it easier and generally, cheaper to put on live music and then asked them if they would now change their minds - a third said they would.'

The survey found that the licensees who knew most about the new laws were most likely to say they would not consider having live music. 35% of MORI interviewees said they would be certain NOT to consider having live music after having the changes explained. An additional 30% were negative. In other words, more than two thirds were negative. (See MORI live music survey QN9 and p21).

John Smith, General Secretary of the MU, writing in the current issue of Musician (p23) says that the MORI survey showed '... approximately 1.7 million gigs were staged in the UK's 150,000 pubs, restaurants, clubs and student unions in 2003'. Smith, Sharkey and ministers have used this 1.7 million figure to suggest that live gigs are respectively: 'live and kicking', 'still the lifeblood of the music industry', and 'flourishing'.

In fact, the MORI data shows 850,000 was their best estimate for live gigs in pubs, restaurants and hotels for the 12 months leading up to the survey. The 1.7 million figure was an estimate for ALL venue categories, not a sub-section as implied above. There were seven venue categories, including members clubs and associations (i.e. political clubs), church and community halls and hotels. Many of the club and student union gigs will have been closed to the general public. Scotland was excluded from the survey. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has also since conceded in correspondence that it could not rule out the possibility that venues whose main business was live music had been included. If this is the case, gig averages would have been distorted upwards. There is also a possibility that some karaoke and DJs were included as 'live music', particularly in pubs.

On the Licensing Act, Sharkey claims: 'Later this year the outdated "two in a bar rule" will be ushered off the stage and replaced by a simpler and fairer licensing system which combines alcohol and entertainment.' [Article cited above].

He adds: 'The new licensing laws won't require pubs, bars, hotels or restaurants to pay an additional fee when they apply to put on live music...'

These claims are misleading. For existing bars, pubs etc, the 'two for the price of one' offer (i.e. alcohol AND music for one fee) only runs till November this year. After then, if these venues have not obtained a live music authorisation - which will be required for many 'two in a bar' gigs' - they will have to pay an additional licence fee for it later, not to mention running the gauntlet of complex forms, possible public hearings and costly licence conditions. Only new venues will have the option to seek a dual permission for one licence fee when applying for their 'premises licence'.

Sharkey continues: '... the form they use to convert their existing alcohol licence provides a simple "tick box" system, making it easier for applicants to "opt in" for staging live music, however many performers are involved'.

Just because you start by ticking a box it doesn't follow that the new forms are simple. As licensees have discovered, the new application forms are much more complex in terms of the information required. Local authorities are looking much more closely at the type of music being proposed. Indeed, this complexity has already been cited as one cause of the delay in licence conversion applications:

'Local councils are increasingly worried that pubs and clubs will not have completed their new applications in time to comply with the act. Only a handful have completed the forms in a number of London boroughs, for example, and the Local Government Association is warning that some landlords could end up being prosecuted. All establishments must apply for their fresh licence by 6 August. Those who continue to trade without one will be breaking the law. Part of the problem is the complexity of the forms, but there is evidence of landlords waiting to see what their rivals are doing.' ['Police fear chaos over pub hours', Jamie Doward, social affairs editor, Observer ,p3, Sunday March 20, 2005]

As for Sharkey's claim that the new regime is 'fairer', this is manifestly false. Without any rational justification, the new regime ensnares many more live music events than before, including 'two in a bar' gigs, and private gigs raising money for charity. Licensees may now face criminal prosecution for hosting solo unamplified musicians unless licensed, while any amount of broadcast music or football delivered via big screens and powerful amplifiers is exempt.

Hamish Birchall