The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #98758 Message #1959139
Posted By: The Shambles
06-Feb-07 - 11:40 AM
Thread Name: Todays Times- Article on Music Licensing
Subject: RE: Todays Times- Article on Music Licensing
If you want a quick guide to the bees that buzz in the national bonnet, you can do worse than skim through the experimental "e-petitions" website — petitions.pm.gov.uk .
Downing Street set it up before Christmas to enable citizens to gather signatures electronically over a period of their choice and petition the Prime Minister. Once there are more than a hundred signers, he has to e-mail you all an answer. It is done with the mySociety charity, and shows remarkable latitude in the subjects it permits — including banning Islam, bringing back hanging and allowing pet shops to sell elephants. It has been taken up with enthusiasm and a perhaps slightly forlorn hopefulness, and now spans a lovely spectrum of complaint and idealism.
Some petitions are predictable — hundreds of thousands oppose the hunting ban, road pricing, ID cards and inheritance tax. On the other hand, so far only 12 people want to save the BBC Television Centre. Some have no supporters beyond their founder; notably the man who wants waste land and "unused" fields available for motorcycle scrambles ("Why can't a few people put up with a little bike noise?"). Or the deadpan, mischievous spirit who petitions the PM "to confirm that the Equality Act will enable gay pig-breeders to use the services of halal abattoirs".
The best are those that alert the reader to some absurdity in the law that rarely attracts the attention of the media pack. Note the ex-Marine who, irritated by the Muslim constable who wouldn't shake hands, tells us that he was barred from applying to the police force merely because he has two inoffensive forearm tattoos: one Royal Marines motif and one panther. "It seems a shame that someone like me who gave excellent service in Northern Ireland and Iraq can't even get an interview, while that WPC can behave the way she did."
But it was another revelation on regulation that tempted me most, and demonstrated the usefulness of the site. By yesterday morning 7,763 had signed, saying: "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to recognise that music and dance should not be restricted by burdensome licensing regulations."
This relates to the Licensing Act 2005, and the changes concerning entertainment in pubs and clubs. According to the Department for Culture this "provides increased opportunities for musicians and other entertainers" while protecting against "unnecessary disturbance". It changed the rules on full entertainment licences, while ending the comfy old "two-in-a-bar" rule, whereby a couple of musicians with a guitar, whistle, accordion or whatever could strike up in the corner anytime, as long as the landlord agreed. Now, in order to permit this behaviour, the publican without a full-on licence must apply two weeks ahead for a temporary licence and pay £21 per tune-up.
An exemption was made at the last minute for Morris dancers (the DCMS knows what's good for it, those guys have big black boots and sturdy staves). But otherwise the ban stands, even for unamplified music and song. The departmental website is defensive, graciously saying that "spontaneous singing, for instance of 'Happy Birthday', will not face the penalty (£20,000 and six months in prison)". Well, thanks, Tessa! Good to know some liberties endure. But then you look down further and find out that there is no regulation at all of "broadcast entertainment" or jukeboxes.
So a pub can blast out Chris Moyles's jovial obscenities, Big Brother, or banging garage music without any licence at all; but if a folkish couple with a wooden guitar start up Sweet Polly Oliver in a tiny bar on a winter's evening, or Old Walter incautiously picks up the spoons, the landlord is potentially looking at ruin and prison bars. It is positively Cromwellian. As one campaigner puts it: "The present situation in which widescreen televisions in pubs do not require a licence, while a single acoustic musician or singer does . . . testifies to the extent to which the present Government is the patsy of big business, particularly in the entertainment industries." Or as another mourns: "Even Ice Queen Thatcher didn't do this to us woodland folk."
The department did some MORI research last autumn, and will protest that lots of full licences have been applied for, that licencees are "satisfied" and that it is wonderful that larger groups of musicians now appear in places that once stuck to two. However, look more closely and you find that of the places which used the old "two in a bar" rule, nearly 40 per cent have not applied for full licences. Many of them can't, because of the legal cost and the need for new fire doors, wider exits, extra lavatories etc; a little rural pub can't afford to be treated like a crammed nightclub, and therefore withdraws. Or else — if it knows that the man with the concertina is thinking of turning up, provided his old van isn't playing up again — it sends off £21 for a temporary licence, and remembers to lodge a copy of the application with "the relevant chief officer of police" no later than ten working days earlier. The result has been the loss of many well-liked, regular but semi-spontaneous pub sessions. Ask any folkie.
In Scotland, of course, none of this nonsense applies. If Gordon Brown is moved to start singing The Ballad of Glencoe without prior warning in his constituency's smallest pub, he may freely do so. Perhaps his first act at No 10 should be to pass an elegant little amendment saying that yes, any citizen may burst into unamplified song or dance a jig, anytime, anywhere. Because it is not any government's damn business, frankly, to stop us. Or he could bring back the two-in-a-bar rule, with a shrug and a smile and a hey nonny no.
Or extend it to three, by way of apology. Then Old Walter can play on the spoons without incurring the wrath of Her Majesty's Government.