The Live Music Forum

Phil Little Bulletin

Monday 19th April 2010 - Prejudiced Against Live Music

Prejudiced Against Live Music

Dear Sir

Local government licensing officers are prejudiced against live music.

How else to explain the ludicrous suggestion last month from LACORS (Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services) that using drums, brass instruments or bagpipes should be a potential criminal offence unless licensed? Or, Local Government Association opposition to almost any entertainment licensing exemption for small-scale performances of live music?

These ideas were set out in responses from the LGA and LACORS, to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) consultation on an entertainment licence exemption within the Licensing Act 2003 for live performance to audiences of up to 100 (closed on 26th March 2010) and a separate consultation on Entertainment Facilities (closed on 26th February 2010).

Local government opposition is based on their view that local residents and licensing officers should be able to block live gigs merely on the grounds of the potential for noise. But no evidence is produced that noise from live music is a significant problem, or that existing noise nuisance legislation is inadequate.

Unfortunately, many local authorities encourage residents to complain about music merely because they can hear it, not because it is causing a 'public nuisance'. This was not an objective of the Licensing Act.

Local authorities in Scotland use the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to deal with noise. Why do English and Welsh authorities use the Licensing Act to regulate the extremely small number of live music
noise complaints, when those in Scotland do not?

We believe that pre-emptive regulation through licensing, without discriminating between high or low-risk events, can be neither necessary nor proportionate. Moreover, the lack of necessity or
proportionality is reinforced by an exemption already within the Act for big screen broadcast entertainment, and the light touch for recorded music in bars and pubs during the changeover to the new
regime in 2005. These venues can have DJs and Sky TV - but they have no automatic entitlement to live music.

Following the violence in Manchester during the 2008 UEFA Cup final screening, Lord Davies, on behalf of the Government, concluded that there would have been no measures available in the Licensing Act 2003 which would have prevented this.

In their DCMS consultation response, the LGA cite an 11% increase in the number of premises licensed for live music since 2007. They conclude, fallaciously, that demand for live music is therefore
decreasing. The insinuation is that no further reform is necessary. They call for further research and surveys to establish "unmet latent demand for live music in small venues" as if this were relevant to the
debate about whether or not the legislation is necessary or proportionate.

Under the Licensing Act 2003, the scope of entertainment licensing increased dramatically. The old regime had exemptions for one or two musicians in bars. Private charity fund-raising performances were
exempt. Both exemptions were abolished by the new regime. Now even private concerts in schools, colleges, hospitals, retirement homes, public places, museums, art galleries, warehouses, supermarkets and stores all fall within the Act's purview, if gigs count as 'public' or are raising money for good causes. This hugely inflates the licensing requirement, and inevitably, licence applications.

The fact remains that in tens of thousands of premises it would be illegal to host live music today. Prior to the Licensing Act 2003, many if not most would have been able to have some live music any day
of the week without entertainment licensing.

The urgent need for a small gigs exemption is backed by the whole music industry, including the Live Music Forum, performers unions, the Incorporated Society of Musicians, and UK Music - the lobbying agency for the music business, whose Chief Executive, Feargal Sharkey, said in his recent letter to licensing minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, "Over the past 6 years, Government have conducted eight consultations, two Government research projects and two national review processes, all of which reached this conclusion".

It appears to us that entertainment licensing is promoted by local authorities for their administrative convenience without any serious regard for the cultural implications.

There is no grave threat to public amenity from a licensing exemption for small live music events. However, there are the issues of the employment of scores of thousands and the perpetuation of a popular
music culture of which successive Governments boast and rely upon to support a huge market.

There is no decrease in the demand for live music. Live Music is the new 'Gospel' following the shrinking of the recording industry.

Phil Little
Live Music Forum