Memorandum submitted by Alison Macfarlane

 

1. Background


1.1 I am responding as an individual involved in a number of ways in the promotion and performance of live music, mainly traditional folk music. As well as playing music myself both for enjoyment and as a member of a band available for hire for barn dances and ceilidhs, I am involved on a voluntary basis in organising concerts, workshops and other events and chair a committee set up to organise and coordinate the folk music component of the St Albans Festival.

 

1.2 Because of this, I have focussed my comments on the impact of the Act on the performance of live music, at a time when it has been government policy to increase public involvement in and access to the arts.

 

2. The previous situation

 

2.1 Any assessment of the impact of the Licensing Act has to be set in the context of other factors bearing on the extent to which live music is performed, especially in venues whose main purpose is not as a music venue. In particular, changes in the licensing trade have meant that from the 1980s onwards, particularly in more affluent areas such as St Albans, public houses have adapted function rooms which were often used for live music into restaurants or eating areas, making it less easy to find venues for small scale events such as folk music clubs.

 

2.2 In addition, after local authorities took over responsibility for licensing, many councils charged prohibitively high fees for music licenses. Some also demanded major adaptations to premises to allow them to be used for live music, over and above what was required to meet health and safety requirements for their use simply for eating and drinking. In St Albans, we were fortunate that the Council enforced the legislation sympathetically in a way which encouraged live music. This was important, as the old 'two in a bar' rule was of little use to the musical activities in which I am involved, as they involve more than two people playing at a time in pub 'music sessions'.

 

2.3 The downturn in the licensing trade has encouraged publicans, who in the past were uninterested in promoting live music, to host this in order to provide an additional attraction to boost custom. In general, this has been on a small scale, with the level of payments being appropriate to part time musicians rather than professional musicians earning their living from music.

 

3. The impact of the Licensing Act 2003

 

3.1 Only a small proportion of the events in which I am involved as organiser are in venues whose main purpose is music or other artistic performance. I have not noticed problems in these as a result of the Licensing Act. The problems described below therefore apply to live music in small venues whose main purpose is not music.

 

3.2 It was claimed that the Licensing Act 2003 would make music licensing simpler as licensees would only have to 'tick the box', but many did not do so. In addition, those who did not obtain licenses initially have had to pay disproportionately to add music to their license.

 

3.3 The Act has added new locations, such as open spaces and new events, such as charity concerts and carol-singing to the list of events which have to be licensed, thus adding bureaucracy and costs to small scale live music events. In some cases, events for which temporary event notices are demanded are free of charge, thus incorporating an element of 'pay to play' on the organisers.

 

3.4 The 'morris dancing exemption' was a welcome amendment to the Act, but is irrational and too restrictive. If strictly interpreted, it does not include other forms of ritual dance, such a sword dancing. Neither, if strictly interpreted, does it include other types of display dance, for example performances by guest teams from abroad, for example from twin towns. A further anomaly is that if larger displays of morris dancing have a compere, it is permissible to provide amplification for the compere without the need to obtain a license, but a license is needed if the musicians are to use the amplification. Finally, it does not appear to allow spontaneous music making among the musicians when the dancing outside a pub or similar venue has finished.

 

3.5 Spontaneous 'music sessions' in pubs or other venues are not strictly performances, as anyone competent to join in is welcome to do so, yet these acoustic events can take place only in venues which are licensed for music.


3.6 Conditions not in the Act but added by local authorities are a further problem. A common is that windows should remain shut while live music is being played. Particularly in years when warm weather occurs in summer this can result in stifling conditions. This requirement penalises acoustic music which is inaudible outside the premises but is inadequate to protect neighbours from excessively loud music or from relays of broadcasts which do not need licensing anyway. An objective criterion, based on the measured volume of sound emitted from any type source should be applied instead.

 

3.7 All these restrictions have impeded the organisation of small scale live music events and the performance of live music in contexts which are not formal arts events and thus restricted the potential to widen access to live music. As well as posing barriers for musicians and organisers, they present music as a nuisance to be regulated. The requirement for licensing small scale live music events should be removed from legislation.

 

4. The evaluation of the impact of the Licensing Act 2003

 

4.1 As a professional statistician, I am concerned about the poor methodological quality of the two market research surveys undertaken to evaluate the impact of the Licensing Act on live music.

 

4.2 This included the use of inadequate sampling frames, having samples which had insufficient statistical power to detect key differences, questioning informants who had not been in post long enough to know about decisions taken about licensing their premises and questionable interpretation by DCMS of the work it had commissioned.

 

4.3 Above all the design, consisting of two separate surveys undertaken before and after the implementation of the Act, was flawed. A longitudinal approach should have been taken. This would have involved drawing a sample of venues and surveying the same venues before and after the implementation of the Act to compare their situations directly.

 

September 2008