The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Wednesday 26th April 2006 - Radio 1 live music debate - another planet

The BBC Radio 1 public live music debate, held at the Glee Club in Birmingham in the evening of Monday 24 April, is now available online. Be warned, however, it is nearly an hour and a half long:  and click on the 'Any questions' link.

The overall content reflected the concerns of the rock and pop constituency, as you would expect.  On this planet, licensing does not register strongly, no doubt because the new regime presented few obstacles for existing specialist rock and pop venues. Converting their licences last year was, in the main, a tick box exercise. Many such venues will save money because they no longer pay high annual entertainment licence fees.

This fundamentally different perspective explains, in part, the gulf of understanding between DCMS and musicians who aren't focused exclusively on rock and pop.

During the debate, Feargal Sharkey emphatically and misleadingly repeated the DCMS myth that licensing live music cost nothing extra. He also said that the Live Music Forum would be presenting its final recommendations to the licensing minister James Purnell in September. However, the minister's reply suggests that the LMF report will be not be independent. Purnell 'will work quite closely on developing it'.

Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq seems to think live music has never had it so good, and said he'd like a law requiring everyone over 50 to re-sit their 'artistic licence' to carry on making music (this may have been purely in jest - it's hard to tell). 

Purnell also suggested that a change to the new licensing laws had not been ruled out (which tends to contradict the DCMS letter of  last week).

Lamacq compered the debate. Sharkey and BBC R1 controller Andy Parfitt were on the panel from the start. Purnell was 44 minutes late. DCMS civil servants were among the audience of 200-300 Birmingham rock and pop musicians and promoters.

Some questions about licensing were raised, but they were not well informed. 

Here are a few transcribed extracts:

SHARKEY [responding to a punter who said that two pubs had 'gone down' due to licensing bureaucracy and having to pay £1000 for their music licence]:

'...  just to pick up a point about this, coz it's something I've heard repeated quite a lot, er about it costing an extra thousand pounds to put on live music. If you know of one single premises that was charged a thousand pounds extra to put on live music, I would like to know about it because the law says it cost absolutely nothing extra whatsoever to put on live music. If you want to sell alcohol, that's the price of the licence. If you want to sell alcohol and provide live music, that's still the price of the licence, regardless of whether you're doing one or the other. And if anyone's been told anything else, or charged anything else, come and talk to me afterwards, coz I think we can probably fix that one fairly quickly.' [my emphasis]

This DCMS myth was debunked by two BBC R4 reports when Purnell made essentially the same claim on the Today programme, on 29 June last year. 

For the typical pub, bar and restaurant converting its alcohol licence last year there were unavoidable knock-on costs if they 'ticked the box' for live music. These costs were not payable if they simply ticked the box for alcohol.

For example, public advertisement of the application often cost several hundred pounds. Such advertisement was a statutory requirement where live music permission was being sought for the first time by venues that only had an alcohol licence. Scale plans did not have to be professionally produced, but many venues paid for them nonetheless - it saved time, or the premises layout was complex, or they weren't confident that they could draw scale plans correctly. There were also legal fees - again, not absolutely required, but often unavoidable. Lastly, for a significant minority, there was the cost of implementing licence conditions.

Entirely new venues, applying now, will pay one fee whether they tick one box for live music, or multiple boxes to cover alcohol, playing of recorded music, showing of films, and so on. But they still face hidden extra costs if legal representation is needed to handle difficult public hearings, or if faced with local authority licence conditions such as installing noise limiters etc. If they don't tick the live music box, but want permission later on, they will face the full costs of a new application, including a licence fee.

~ ~ ~

(Following a discussion about the popularity of big pop festivals and problems with ticket touts)

LAMACQ: ... Aren't we now just victims of our own success? Live music has become so popular. It's become better organised in some cases. It's with, via our coverage on Radio 1, we've excited people, we've explained to them what it's like, we've brought the atmosphere into their homes, we've got a lot of bands, we've had a reasonably good British music scene, we've tried to help new music come through, we've now got all this going on, and now the problem is just too many people want to go. Because we've made it so good.

SHARKEY: Just to play devil's advocate Steve, are you genuinely saying then that we should try and stop musicians and performers who by default, good luck, or skill, talent and ability have managed to create a piece of music that the average human person in the audience gets excited, passionate and excited about and wants to go and see and experience and be a part of? I wouldn't want to prevent that for one second.

LAMACQ: Well, I'd like a law that said everyone over 50 has to re-sit their artistic licence to carry on making music, but that's another thing entirely. Do you see what I mean though? That it's now, we have a great product, so now we're dealing with, now we're now dealing with the fall out?

~ ~ ~

LAMACQ: James, before we wind up, when Feargal's paper gets to you, what happens next?

JAMES PURNELL: I'll be very frightened.

SHARKEY: You will be! [laughs]

JAMES PURNELL: We're looking forward to it. And er, you know, I think we're going to work quite closely on developing it. And, where we can take the ideas forward we will do so. There may be some things which are about banging heads together or encouraging people, or building on good practice. Stuff like that is relatively easy to do. Things which involve changing the law or finding money are harder to do, but aren't ruled out of the question. So, we're basically erm looking forward to the ideas and, you know, we'll take them forward as we can.

LAMACQ: And do you see this as a long term investment on behalf of the government?

PURNELL: Yes we do. I mean, as I said the British music industry is a really important part of the economy. It's 5 billion pounds a year, so purely in economic terms it's a really important thing and we want to build on it. It's also, I think live music is really crucial to the success of British music now, you know the fact that people want to break American bands like the Strokes erm or the White Stripes here because that gives them credibility elsewhere because we're seen as a kinda 'island of taste makers' and that makes people really focus on the UK music scene from all over the world, that's a really good thing er for British music and British culture. And also, just coz it's such an important of people's lives now, if there's anything that we can do to get rid of problems or to build on success then we shall be doing so. And it won't just be a short term thing, it will be er a prolonged engagement.

LAMACQ: Final thought Feargal?

SHARKEY: Er, I have told James this in the past, er it's purely a personal ambition of mine and I have explained it to the Forum members: if government accept all of our recommendations I will be slightly disappointed coz it might be an indication that we weren't thinking radically enough. And I'm pleased to say I think I've heard a couple of ideas that might help me achieve that objective by the end of the summer. Thank you all very much.

[LAMACQ thanks panellists. Debate ends]

Hamish Birchall