The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Thursday 20th August 2009 - Pubs want live music restrictions claims licensing chief

St Albans licensing chief Lesley Cameron claimed yesterday that local pubs volunteered licence conditions restricting the number of performers and even genres of music.

'Some licensees seek to self-impose conditions in a bid to allay the concerns of residents about noise,' she said in The Publican article 'Report reveals extent of music restrictions':

Ms Cameron was defending the amazing array of restrictions on live music in St Albans uncovered in the first survey of its kind by campaigning musicians.

The St Albans Live Music Forum found 30 pubs with restrictions on the number of musicians who can perform, 45 with restrictions on the frequency or regularity of musical performances, and four with restrictions on the genre of music. All these venues are free to have big screen sport, and most could have a DJ, at any time they are open.

But pubs aren't the only target in St Albans. Only last month the council licensed the central market area, including a specific condition for choirs: '... choral singing to be located and controlled so as to cause no statutory nuisance.'

Ms Cameron's comments are somewhat disingenuous. If pubs volunteer to restrict the number of performers or genres of music it is probably because council licensing bullies have given them to understand that their application may be refused otherwise. And it is the council that creates and imposes the condition, breach of which becomes a potential criminal offence. The maximum penalty is a £20,000 fine and six months in prison.

St Albans' licensing practice has more than local significance. The town is home to councillor Chris White, licensing spokesman for the Local Government Association, and chair of the LGA Culture Committee. The LGA is opposed to new exemptions in the Licensing Act for small gigs.

Last year Mr White gave evidence on the LGA's behalf to the Parliamentary Culture Committee's inquiry into the Licensing Act. When asked for his view on live music he began:

'Live music is, like anything else which is an attraction in licensed premises, potentially a public order problem,' he began. 'If you start from that point of view, then it becomes clear what you must do...'

He did not talk about the cultural benefits of live music.

Comments made recently on his Facebook site, lobbying for re-election as LGA culture chair, suggest that he believed licensing problems for live music were more perceived than real. But earlier this month he was forced to retract a claim that 80% of venues were licensed for live music. The LGA had to apologise for the miscalculation, revising the estimate down to 55%:

Despite or perhaps because of his council's appetite for draconian and wholly unnecessary restrictions on live music, Mr White believes St Albans is an example of a good licensing authority. On 29 January this year he said on his councillor webpage:

'I was able to emphasise that good licensing authorities like St Albans work closely with the licensees because it is in the interest of the community and of the trade to work together.' ['Chris gives evidence to House of Commons Committee on crime' ]

But entertainment licensing is not necessary to regulate noise in pubs or other premises. More evidence if any were needed that this is the case is found in this report last month, again from The Publican: 'Licensee couple to quit over live music row'

The noise abatement order used to prevent live music in this unfortunate case, and many others, was issued under the Environmental Protection Act.


Hamish Birchall