The Live Music Forum

Thursday 2nd February 2006 - Glass Half Full ?

Two city-based council licensing managers I have spoken to this week (one in London) estimated that 50-60% of their pubs have no live music authorisation under the new Licensing Act.  Both work for large authorities. It may be that 40-50% is the typical live music licence uptake for built-up areas.

The 'glass half empty' interpretation would be: 50-60% of bars have lost any automatic right to make a feature of live music. They are now restricted to a maximum 12 gigs a year under the temporary licence scheme, and 'incidental' music.

One lobbyist for the licensed trade said to me: 'They probably didn't want any live music anyway, so what's the problem?' His first claim may be true, but there is a big problem. As Jamie Cullum said in his BBC interview on 13 Jan, with jazz it is often a local musician that organises a new gig. Landlords may be reluctant at first.  But even if one landlord didn't want live music, why should his view mean that a new landlord has to go through an expensive and time-consuming licence application just to put on a weekly gig by a solo pianist, for example? In pub chains, landlords often move on after a couple of years. Another part of the problem is that, during the licence conversion process, bars automatically kept their recorded sound systems, and big screens - no licence conditions could be applied, no one could object. The Act does not treat live and recorded music equally, as DCMS has claimed.

The 'glass half full' view would be: 40-50% of bars can have live music. Is this good? The Department for Culture might say so. But they would need to know more if they were to justify such a claim:

1.  Of those with a live music permission, how many were conversions of an existing public entertainment licence?

2.  How many got permission just to keep one or two musicians (like the Grove Park Hotel in Chiswick)?

3.  How many live music permissions are subject to conditions that have yet to be implemented by the venue?

4.  Where conditions apply, what are they exactly (they could include restrictions on the days/times of performance, and even the nature of the music provided)?

None of the local authorities I have spoken to have been able to provide this information. Indeed, even when their public licensing registers are fully up to speed they will probably not include this level of detail.

DCMS is currently working with 10 local authorities in an evaluation of the implementation of the Licensing Act, including Birmingham, Blackpool, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Taunton Deane (I don't yet have the 10th council's name). Feedback will inform the review of the licensing Guidance that has already been announced. Part of the evaluation will cover live music. Councils are also under pressure to provide information for the separate licence fee review currently underway.

One of the participating licensing managers told me that they still have a backlog of licences to issue, and they don't yet know exactly what information about live music DCMS is seeking. In any case his council would only be able to provide very limited data, i.e. the number of live music permissions they had granted, and what proportion this represented of all applications. 

It would seem that DCMS is in a difficult position if it wants to claim that the Act has been good for live music on the basis of local authority licence data.

Hamish Birchall