The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Thursday 1st July 2010 - Experts reject DCMS live music claims

Three respected academics, professors Alison Macfarlane, Simon Frith and Martin Cloonan, have signed a Live Music Forum letter to Sir Michael Scholar, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), expressing concern that DCMS 'persists in making the misleading claim that "overall live music is thriving"'.

Sent on 18 June, the letter follows the reinstatement on the DCMS website of its controversial report 'Live Music - An Analysis of the Sector':

The LMF letter concludes with a request that as a matter of urgency the UKSA 'make[s] a full and public assessment of the statistics on which the DCMS bases its claim':

Alison Macfarlane is a statistician specializing in the interpretation and use of official statistics and is Professor of Perinatal Health at City University London. She is also involved in the performance and promotion of traditional folk music.

Simon Frith is Tovey Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh and Principal Investigator on the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project, Researching Live Music in the UK. See:

Martin Cloonan is Professor of Popular Music Politics at the University of Glasgow and co-investigator on the AHRC-funded project above.

The LMF letter was prompted in part by the release of email correspondence between the UKSA and DCMS, following a Freedom of Information Act request by musician Gareth Huw Davies.

The exchange provides an unprecedented insight into the way a senior civil servant with a fixed idea can influence not only government policy and ministers' statements, but also the policy positions of powerful agencies like the Local Government Association and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (both have suggested that as live music is 'thriving', there is no need for a new entertainment licensing exemption for small gigs).

Vivienne Avery, chief DCMS statistician, is convinced that the state of live music is 'healthy'. But the evidence is very limited and indirect. The correspondence suggests that the UKSA became increasingly sceptical of DCMS claims.

John King of the Welwyn Live Music Forum has helpfully annotated Ms Avery's arguments. His analysis suggests that not only music, but also the alcohol statistics have been seriously misinterpreted:

Among other things, Ms Avery claimed in her UKSA correspondence that my own experience was '... confined to one genre of music'. I don't know where she got that idea. She has never asked me about my musical experience, and appears to have relied on second-hand, ill-informed advice.

I wrote to her explaining that my 38 years of professional playing have included, and continue to include, a variety of genres, including swing, funk and soul. But despite my requesting an acknowledgement and an apology, neither has been forthcoming.


Hamish Birchall