The Live Music Forum

Phil Little Bulletin

The opinions expressed here are those of the author alone and should not neccessarily be associated with any other contributors.

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Blood Sweat and Tears (Part One)

Blood Sweat and Tears. That is what I was taught it took to make it as a musician. Of course that would depend on how you define 'making it'. Even becoming a musician who is proficient on an instrument and can entertain people by performing a varied repertoire can take some people a lifetime to honestly master. Others find shortcuts. Small Faces and Humble Pie guitarist and singer Steve Marriot, who was both talented and experienced, told me some years ago, "It's thirty per cent talent and seventy per cent being in the right place at the right time".

But the culture of surviving and developing as a musician has been obliterated since the sixties. Speaking about his time starting out in London after the War, top 50's and 60's session drummer and fixer, Jack Peach, said “I used to practice for ten hours a day to take my mind off the hunger and cold”. But there were plenty of gigs out there for him when he mastered his technique. These days there are only a fraction of the venues where jobbing musicians can pick up or arrange their own gigs. One of the reasons is that the New Labour Government has licensed tens of thousands of live gigs out of existence.

What is the need for all this new control over music ?

Take busking. Many Councils interpret the new licensing law so that busking is covered, despite Ministers assurance that this was not their intention. The consensus among licensing professionals is that the legislations is, at least, confusing.

Some Councils have a relaxed attitude to busking, perhaps because they must. The big cities have so many people living on top of each other in a confined space that Councils have to take great care in the management of the population and particularly it's mood. That's one reason why there are so many polls these days and so much store is put in their forecasts.

The sound of happy music in city centres has a calming effect on passers by. In over 99% of cases Live Music has a positive effect on people who hear it, or just experience it in the background. Most Supermarkets play music in the background. It relaxes you. Think of all the other places where music is just there in the background. It is re-assuring isn't it ? Yet many Councils have used the legislation as a tool to ban buskers from the busy areas of their town centres.

In this Live Music Forum we have always said that, at the very least and among many other things, music acts as a pressure valve for people's emotions and stresses. Often for people who are sad or troubled. It relaxes them. Music relaxes most of us. That's why we love it so much and it's such a big part of our lives. And it's always been free. A bit like a human right.

In 1997 I told this to Labour Parliamentary Candidate Michael Foster when he visited my home a few weeks before the general election. He promised me that if he was elected, he would do what he could to try to lift some of the already restrictive licensing around live music. He was elected and true to his word. In 1999 he raised the matter of live music and the 'two in a bar rule' with the Home Office and enquired if the Better Regulation Task Force could look into it. In fact, he copied the correspondence to me.

On behalf of the Home Office, Mike O'Brien replied, "You asked about the Better Regulation Task Force's involvement in reviewing public entertainment licensing. I understand from the Cabinet Office that the Task Force considered this matter recently when it met to discuss its forward work programme. Given its need to carefully prioritise its limited resources and the work it had already done on liquor licensing, I understand the Task Force felt that they could not justify carrying out a major review of public entertainment at this time."

You could read several things into that, in retrospect, but, it is clear that they don't give a damn about the live music, yet the alcohol licensing was a burning issue. Way back in 1999 the new Labour Government had already done and dusted their alcohol reforms without a thought to live music. Maybe they were already indebted to a certain well-known Satellite TV and newspaper tycoon to provide comfortable environments for the consumption of his multi-media products.

And, unless there are radical changes, that's just what you'll get from now on.…. Mass media marketing for consumption in,

Far fewer pubs - Those remaining with Sky Sports and MTV type stations and Juke Box, because those are free to provide. As of 2005, the added licensing and administration costs associated with having any regular live music run into thousands of pounds, even for a tiny little back street pub, which had always been able to have someone playing the piano on a Saturday night. But, a playable piano is now counted as a licensable 'entertainment facility' under the new law and a landlord without express permission for it could face a criminal prosecution if his customers played it for their own amusement. Let alone a band. Yet any of these venues can now have a DJ. During the changeover to the new licensing regime in 2005, venues were granted an automatic permission to play recorded music. Don't shoot the piano player, Jail Him !!!!

Restaurants with piped music - Eating establishments are in the same boat as drinking establishments with regard to the criminalization of even acoustic live music. A cafe or restaurant runs into the same set of restrictions as a pub if it wants to put on just one live singer or musician. Previously any restauarant could feature two live musicians.

More cocktail or themed bars along successful corporate themes, Similar to how we are getting our food, Dominoes, Burger King etc. As with Starbucks, they say every town should have one……and probably will eventually.

Fewer Festivals and NO Free Festivals . Even with ticket prices of around £140 the Big Green Gathering was barely able to go ahead in 2007 due to the increased costs in complying within the new licensing regime and has ended up hundreds of thousands of pounds in debt. Others in Wales have just folded and next year there may be half the number of events or less. The new laws have made it more difficult for individuals and small voluntary organisations to stage events. or come up with new ideas.

These developments have combined over the years to starve and kill off the social fabric that was the backbone of the ‘traditional' musical educational system producing many famous acts the UK has boasted over the last fifty years from The Beatles to Oasis. Incidentally, having played at the original Cavern Club in Liverpool's Mathew Street, I can assure you that it would not get a license from a modern City Council in 2008.

Now local gigs have to be set up as if they were constantly under threat of a terrorist attack or a rioting crowd. Festivals that don't fit the model have been squeezed out and the live music scene in England and Wales has capitulated, compared to how it was, even up until the enactment of the new legislation. There maybe loads of young guitar bands about, but they have got nowhere to play and there aren't loads of budding keyboard players, sax players and bass players about looking for gigs. So, where is the variety ? Years ago when I started out there was music in pubs on every street and young musicians had a way in locally to be exposed to many different styles of music including all the newest trends.

Nowadays, the sifting process for bankable talent is carried out on television through celebrity based programmes such as X Factor, where a few people can make even more money out of the process. The celebrity culture is coming to dominate most aspects of our daily lives as dispensed by the media but, again, it's just another tool for a few people to make a lot of money.

Sadly, one way or another, that is what it all appears to be about. Not making music,but, making money, and the only people who gain are the Corporations who will be delivering the 'product' and the few who skim off the top.

In part two.... where were the Musicians Union in all this ?

Phil Little

10th January 2008