The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Wednesday 16th September 2009 - Government music launch raises licensing questions

On Thursday, 10th September, the government launched its first National Year of Music with performances by Jamie Cullum, V V Brown and Killa Kela at the Twyford Church of England High School in Ealing. The aim is to encourage more young people to learn musical instruments.

The performances were watched by pupils, teachers, the national press, civil servants and Schools Secretary Ed Balls (who also played the drums at one point).

Twyford school has no premises licence authorising performances of live music, nor was any Temporary Event Notice in force. So how did these widely publicised gigs by well known musicians escape entertainment licensing red tape, when performances in schools in other parts of the country have been caught?

The answer it seems is that the performances by Cullum and others were part of 'the biggest ever music lesson to be transmitted to thousands of pupils across the country'. That at least was how the gig was described in the press release issued by the Department for Children, Schools and Families:

There is a small problem, however. In the Licensing Act there is no exemption for performances as music lessons. Indeed, the relevant provision includes in its list of licensable entertainment: 'a performance of live music... where the entertainment takes place in the presence of an audience and is provided for the purpose, or purposes which include the purpose, of entertaining that audience.' [Licensing Act 2003, Schedule 1, para 2(1)(e)]

So even if the main purpose of a performance is to teach music, if an audience is present and there is also an intention to entertain that audience, the performance is potentially licensable.

At this point readers may wish to view the Jamie Cullum and V V Brown performance, and Ed Balls talking about music being 'fun', and judge for themselves whether or not entertainment is a deliberate part of this 'music lesson' (the video link is near the end of the BBC online article):

When questioned about the event, Ealing council's licensing department pointed to a small section in the licensing guidance that accompanies the Act which suggests that teaching students to perform music is not 'regulated entertainment' (Licensing Guidance issued under s182 of the Licensing Act 2003, para 3.12). See:

But the Act takes precedence over the licensing guidance, and this is one example of many where the guidance is inadequate.

While it is good that Ealing adopted a light touch here, schools in other areas are often not so lucky.

Other links to press coverage of the event:

The Independent:


Ed Balls playing drums:


Hamish Birchall