The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletins


29th June - BBC Radio 4 The Today Programme


BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme this morning broadcast an unprecedented 9 minutes coverage about 'two in a bar' and the new Licensing Act, including John Humphries interviewing licensing minister James Purnell. Nicola Standbridge's excellent report represents the most thorough investigation so far by any broadcast media journalist.

Real Audio recording of the feature

A full transcription follows below.

Note the highly misleading or completely false claims made by the minister. Please follow this up with an email to the Today programme: By 9am they had already had many email complaints about the minister's statements, and they are now considering a follow-up.

Perhaps the most serious of the minister's misleading claims is that permission to have live music is just a 'tick box', that it won't cost any more, and it's 'much easier' under the new regime. This is complete rubbish, of course. Ticking the box means means having to fill out a substantial new section of the application form, setting out the days/times live music is being proposed. Additional boxes ask for further information, implying a fuller description of the music intended. This 'variation application' triggers a slew of consultations: police, fire authority, planning, environmental health; public advertisement (at the applicant's expense), potential public hearings to consider objections, whether from local residents or other 'relevant authorities'. Despite the ministers assurances, costly conditions remain likely.

Hamish Birchall

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Transcription of BBC RADIO 4 'TODAY' - Wednesday 29 June 2005 - 7.34-7.43am approx.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: [The Licensing Act] caused a great fuss when it was debated last year because it allows for 24-hour drinking. And it's still causing a fuss. The government has been forced to publish extra guidelines because the Association of London Government has complained that there is considerable uncertainty about how the Act should be interpreted. With only a month left to apply for licences under the Act only a fifth of landlords have submitted their applications. The new law comes into force in November, but pubs and local councils remain confused. And musicians say it threatens live performances. Nicola Stanbridge reports.

[background folk music]

NICOLA STANBRIDGE: This pub in north London has been home to small sessions for more than 20 years. From traditional ballads to try-out spots for new musicians, under current legislation it hasn't needed a public entertainment licence for one or two performers, which is known as the 'two in a bar rule'. But the new Licensing Act which comes into force later this years removes that exemption. Now this pub's lawyers are navigating through a minefield of red tape. They're worried about objections to noise levels and can't guarantee the future of live music at the venue. It's one of several examples across the country this programme has learnt about. But there's no need to apply for a licence to play recorded music or host large screen television events, like football matches, even though the Association of Chief Police Officers advised MPs that televised sporting events are frequently the source of disorder. Many musicians object to what they see as an inconsistency.

[short clip of ELIZA CARTHY singing 'Fair you well my own true love']

NICOLA STANBRIDGE: Eliza Carthy is a folk singer and twice nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.

ELIZA CARTHY: I think when you allow like a large screen television in a pub, rather than some live musicians, you are actually actively damaging our culture, our traditional culture. The government keeps saying that it's a.. a public safety issue. I find it really quite hilarious that football, you know, soothes the savage beast and folk music makes people go crazy. I think that's just absurd. I think you are getting in the way of young people starting out. You are getting in the way of people learning music. You are also getting in the way of people actually discovering that traditional music exists. I think they should rethink it, quite seriously.

NICOLA STANBRIDGE: This programme has seen a 33-page document by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, designed to clarify this and other parts of the Act. Baroness Buscombe was the Conservative minister leading on the Bill as it went through the Lords.

BARONESS BUSCOMBE: The document that has now come to light reaffirms a clear discrimination in favour of broadcast music and against live musicians. One solitary guitar in a quiet country pub means that the publican would have to have a licence. I mean, it is extraordinary.

NICOLA STANBRIDGE: Obtaining the 'necessary authorisation' for live music was said to be a box-ticking exercise by the government. But, it estimates only 20% of venues have applied to convert their licence. The deadline is the 6th of August. The government set up a Live Music Forum to oversee the impact of the new legislation, especially on the removal of the 'two in bar rule'. Its chairman is Feargal Sharkey, famous as the lead singer of The Undertones. He says the new system is easier and local authorities are helping.

FEARGAL SHARKEY: Every single one I've seen, without fail so far, has basically said 'Yes, we know live music is important. Yes, we understand we have a role to play in helping nurture, develop and promote it.' If you go and look at Canterbury's policy they list page after page of bits of space that they intend to licence, under their own name, for live music.

NICOLA STANBRIDGE: But, a couple of days after Feargal Sharkey spoke to this programme a High Court judge agreed that Canterbury City Council's licensing policy was over-prescriptive and ruled it unlawful. The judge said there were a number of other similar local authorities and asked them to amend their policies and practices accordingly. One notable concession to the new Licensing Act was secured by Lord Redesdale, the Liberal Democrat front bench spokesman on the Bill when it went through the Lords in 2003.

[Morris music]

LORD REDESDALE: Bizarrely enough, the only group that are actually exempt from this is Morris men. If the government doesn't see them as a danger to society, why are they so hard on all other forms of unamplified music? Perhaps it's a question that there's discrimination and that other folk groups should go the European Court of Human Rights and literally say 'under proportionality why is the government stopping us carrying on with our traditional music?'

[End of recorded report - back live to studio]

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well, there we are, that report from Nicola Stanbridge. The minister responsible for all this is James Purnell. Good morning to you.

JAMES PURNELL: Good morning John.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Why, what have you got against live music in pubs?

JAMES PURNELL: Well we've got absolutely nothing against live music. In fact we are huge supporters of live music. And I think there were quite a few misunderstandings in your report which really were about the debates that we were having when the Act was going through Parliament, and I think those have been addressed. So, if you wanted me to go through them, for example, the point about live TV is, TVs in and of themselves aren't a concern. We don't want to licence every tv in every pub in the country. Instead, the concern there would be if there was an interaction between lots of people drinking alcohol and watching TV. And there what we can do under this Act for the time, for example, is ask people to remove the TV if that's the case; there's new powers to fine people; we can ask for the management to be changed. All these things which weren't there before we can now use to control that..

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well, you've always been able to deal with rowdy pubs haven't you. We've always had plenty..

JAMES PURNELL: No we haven't, no we haven't...

JOHN HUMPHRYS: What, if, if there's a big punch-up in a pub you mean the police haven't been able to go in and sort it out?

JAMES PURNELL: One of the key things people don't understand about this Act is that under the previous legislation it was very, very hard to close down a problem pub.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Ah, I didn't talk about closing it down, I talked about stopping it happening. If there is trouble in a pub the police have always been able to go in and say 'what's going on 'ere, you're nicked gov' or whatever it is they say.

JAMES PURNELL: Yeah, that, that is exactly the point which is under the previous legislation it was either the police or, if you wanted to close down... do something about a pub, you had to take away their licence. Now what you can do is you can fine them, you can bring in extra conditions, you can ask for the management to be changed, you can ask for new security to be put on the door. And in terms of live music this Act goes from a situation where there was a massive distortion in the live music market where people could put on, er, an event if there was less than two people. So, for example, the White Stripes who have just headlined Glastonbury could turn up in your local pub without a licence, but if it was, if it was..

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well, why not? Why shouldn't they be able to?

JAMES PURNELL: If it was Cold Play turning up... because you coul have thousands of people turning up.

JOHN HUMPHREYS : Well you could....

JAMES PURNELL: So, the whole point... John let me just finish this one... the whole point is you could have them turning up and playing but Cold Play who headlined the next day, couldn't. So Simon and Garfunkel could turn up and play and, er, The Beatles couldn't. So the, the whole point is by removing that restriction and by introducing this box-ticking way of getting a public entertainment licence, we've made it much easier. Because the problem that lots of...


JAMES PURNELL: ... lots of pubs who wanted to play music before, if they went to their local authority were finding that they were having unreasonable conditions and were being charged thousands of pounds. Now as long as they tick the box which says we want to put on an entertainment they won't have to pay any more and it is a much much easier system. They won't have to go off to the magistrates every time they want to put on a...

JOHN HUMPHRYS: But the fact is under the old system if Eliza Carthy wanted to play in a pub, under the old 'two in a bar' or whatever it's called, she.. she could nip along and play in it, and they didn't have to fill in any form and she just went and played. Well now you've made it more difficult.

JAMES PURNELL: We've made it much easier. Because that was distorting the whole of the live music market, so people had an int.. an interest in going and having people... bands who were two people or less, whereas now, as long as they tick that box, it's going to be much, much easier for them to put on live music than it is now.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Forever? I mean they tick the box and that's it?

JAMES PURNELL: That's exactly right. They never have to apply for a licence again. And I think that's... you know, there's definitely a transition issue.. people fill in these forms... I realise there are a few hours work and it is, you know, it is an issue.. but the light at the end of that tunnel is that they will then have a licence that will be much more flexible and they will never have to apply for it again and..


JAMES PURNELL: ... it's going to massively support live music and we are going to monitor with Feargal Sharkey and the industry who are are, by the way, pretty much supportive of the Act, I think that's changed since the Act went through Parliament, we are going to monitor that and I am very happy to come back in a year and discuss whether live music has improved or not.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: All right, well we can certainly talk about that. But, ah, if it's all as simple as this why do we need a 33-page document?

JAMES PURNELL: You mean the guidance document?


JAMES PURNELL: Well, the government's always issued guidance documents when new Acts come into place. I mean the, the the issue about rates of application, that is an issue, there has been a slow start there. But we've gone from a situation where we had about 3.5 percent who'd applied in May, to one where we've got 20 percent, the applications are starting to pick up, and we've put in place a, a massive awareness programme to make sure that people know they have to apply.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Doesn't seem to be working does it?

JAMES PURNELL: Well I think, you know, it is starting to pick up. We don't want to, you know, we don't want to, er er, be complacent about it, but um we have been doing everything that we can to raise awareness of the need to apply. So I'm off to Birmingham right now as part of a regional tour..

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Just a very quick thought, why not postpone it till after Christmas?

JAMES PURNELL: There are important powers here for local communities to deal with binge drinking, to deal with alcohol-fueled violence. And those powers are ones that people want to see come into, come into place and that's exactly why we want to bring this Act in. It's going to save two billion pounds for the industry and for the first time it's going to give the local community much more power over the kind of pubs they have in their area and the way they can deal with a few problem pubs. So this Act in the end, I believe, will be welcomed.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: James Purnell, many thanks.