Small-scale concerts are being put at risk by new licensing laws, according to a government-backed group

August 2007

Live event industry

The Live Music Forum says that whilst the Licensing Act 2003 was broadly ‘neutral’ in its effect on live music, grass roots music has suffered because of increased bureaucracy and regulation and should be exempt from the new regulations. The Forum, led by Feargal Sharkey, also said that some councils are “unreasonable” when issuing licences. The laws came into effect in 2005, introducing a single licence covering entertainment and alcohol, aimed at easing restrictions on live music. The Forum, which was set up by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said on one occasion a brass band was told it could only perform religious songs if their performance was for charity. It was then asked to apply for a licence which would cost more than the funds it expected to raise. A pub landlady was told she required a variation in her licence to allow regular gatherings of a group of elderly men who sang folk songs together. The group has also recommended that acoustic performances should be exempt from licensing, that ‘incidental music’ – not the main attraction at a venue – be clarified and exempt and that venues holding less than 100 people be exempt. It added that local councils should set up performance spaces for musicians. Sharkey said: “The UK’s live music scene is a massive success, but the government needs to do more to help grass roots musicians and particularly small venues. “We believe that a pub putting on an acoustic folk trio, for example, should not need a licence. That small acoustic gig does not impact on crime, disorder or public safety so should not fall under the remit of the licensing laws,” he added. Sharkey told the BBC’s Breakfast programme: “It’s these little rooms in the back of little pubs that sustain the £6 billion business known as the music industry.” Licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe welcomed the “interesting and challenging” findings. He said: “We will now look at each of the recommendations, discuss with stakeholders and will respond fully in due course.” The Forum, which was set up in 2004, said that the “vast majority” of local authorities had been “very helpful” in dealing with live music licences, but new regulations “lacked clarity”. It cited some positive effects of the new rules, such as abolishing the separate fee for a music licence and the annual process of getting one renewed.
Lords to debate new guidelines which ‘clarify’ the Licencing Act and live music

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