The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #54463   Message #842920
Posted By: The Shambles
07-Dec-02 - 05:54 AM
Thread Name: Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?
Subject: RE: Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?
The Bosworth letter 1, referred to above.

Letter from Alan Wood to Mrs. Jane Bosworth
Technical Officer (Licensing)
Environmental Health and Legal Services
Bridge House
Town Bridge

8th November 2002
10, Manor Drive
Nr. Peterborough
01778 560 497

Dear Mrs. Bosworth
Bluebell Public House, Helpston - Traditional music and song sessions
Copies to :
Trevor Gibson, Head of Environmental and Public Protection Services
Gillian Beasley, Solicitor to the Council
Helen Clark MP
Sue Furness, Bluebell, Helpston
Peter Newman, Principal Cultural Services Officer
Shelagh Grant, Director of Peterborough City Council Community Services
Rodney Lines, Chairman of the John Clare Society
Peter Moyse, Parish Councillor
Colin Turner, Peterborough Folk Diary
Pete Shaw, Folk musician
Hamish Birchall, Musician's Union advisor - PEL reform

It appears that Peterborough City Council, Environmental and Legal Services have a very strong case to pursue over the failure of the Licensee of the Bluebell Public House, in Helpston, to renew her application for a Public Entertainment Licence. I accept that your Department will have procedures laid down for you to follow and well defined guidelines will steer this investigation.

I sincerely hope that compassion for the Licensee will play a part in your Department's deliberations, as I understand no decision to prosecute has yet been made. I am sure that you are aware that illness and the considerable efforts that Sue Furness, of the Bluebell, has made to improve this village amenity, have made the last year very challenging for her. I am sure that the community of Helpston is pleased that the Bluebell is now a more vibrant and pleasant place to visit.

As the organiser of the late, monthly traditional music and song sessions at the Bluebell there are a number of aspects of your investigation which cause me concern and I feel that they should be brought to the attention of a wider audience. Most of these concerns are to do with 'context'. There are also issues which are certainly of local interest, and some which mirror similar disputes happening in other parts of the country.

Recent discussions with you always seem to focus on the bare bones of the regulations and your professional responsibilities. As public servants may be perceived as in place to advise, care and protect, then it is reasonable that the context of each case being considered for disciplinary action should be paramount. The context of the Bluebell at Helpston is almost unique.

I would welcome your comments on each of the following :

1. Folk music sessions at the Bluebell have been a part of village life for a long time. The poet John Clare (1793-1864) played his music in this pub and many of his manuscripts of the dance music and collected songs are to be found in local museums. It is worth noting here that when writing his autobiographical notes and sketches Clare referred to the Bluebell, describing it as 'the Nursery for fostering my rustic song'. ( Northampton MS 14 p.22 and Peterborough MS B8 p.10 )
In the last decade several local musicians have hosted sessions here - the main emphasis being participatory rather than performance. Both beginners and gifted amateur players have enjoyed the free and supportive atmosphere. The reputation of the Helpston sessions was high. The tradition for playing the music of John Clare (one of Peterborough's few cultural heritage links with the past) is now suspended in the very place where he too harmlessly played his fiddle.

2. All local authorities are supposed to be finalising their 'local cultural strategies' by the end of the year. The guidance for these strategies, published by the DCMS, specifically states that local authorities must promote the cultural well-being of their area, ensure fair access for all, develop this through a cross-departmental viewpoint, and not be bounded by the responsibilities of a specific department or committee. It also provided a case study example (from Newam) which recommended a review of licensing arrangements for small premises to encourage smaller premises to provide live entertainment. (Creating Opportunities, Guidance for Local Authorities in England on Local Cultural Strategies, published by the DCMS, December 2000. Contact number: 02072 116 370).

The approach taken by your Department in the case of the Bluebell appears to be in conflict with these recommendations. Your approach might make sense if there was an imminent public safety risk or serious noise nuisance issue. However, as far as I have been able to determine there was no noise complaint and the premises had almost completed a safety upgrade recommended by the |Council itself.

3. It would be interesting to hear what your colleagues Peter Newman, Principal Cultural ServicesOfficer, and Shelagh Grant, Director of Community Services might have to say about the above paragraph.
No English traditional music session is currently available to the people of Peterborough. The native music of the area has been suppressed. Neighbouring authorities seem to have no problem with their interpretation of the current ambiguous legislation and appear to have made policy decisions not to hound small folk and jazz venues, which use no PA, and create no noise nuisance or attract unsociable behaviour.

4. The fact that an anonymous complainant was able to draw your attention to the Bluebell is a worrying feature. One has to assume that any individual with a grudge, or wishing to hold a vendetta, can enjoy the power of your Department behind them. This is not to suggest that the professional integrity of Council employees is lacking, but there is something radically unfair if a mean mischief-maker can wreak such havoc. (I am not comparing the situation to a public-spirited citizen who feels the need to report sharp practice, dangerous situations or issues relating to health and safety. This concerns the ethereal world of jigs and reels enriching the atmosphere of a very English public house. )
There is an injustice at work here if anonymous, faceless individuals are the catalysts for causing distress and anxiety to victims. The issue of diverting you from other priorities does raise questions about the use of public money and how the valuable time of Council Officers is directed. I am sure elected members will be curious in the context of this case.

5. Some of the following recent statements made by Dr. Kim Howells, Minister for Culture cannot be dismissed. These are the words of your main policy maker.
'The rule is intended to apply to public performances put on by a public house to entertain the public and should not prevent ordinary people singing together or dancing in public houses……. The purpose of licence conditions is to ensure safety, minimise nuisance and prevent crime and disorder and we would expect local authorities to take these factors into consideration…' (letter to Helen Clark MP, dated 14.3.02.)

From BBC Radio 2, broadcast 17.7.02.
An interview between presenter Mike Harding and Dr. Kim Howells.

MH You've actually described the UK's licensing laws as archaic and at times wholly stupid. In one case there was a folk club that was shut down under the 'Two in a bar rule' and apparently six musicians were just tuning up at the same time before the session started and a council official who'd sneaked in to check up on the place thought they were violating the law and closed the session down. Well I've got to say whether it was jazz or whether it was folk music it wouldn't matter because that's hardly protecting our traditions or our culture is it? That's more like Stalinist Russia.

KH No. It's madness and worries me a lot, actually.

Later in the interview:
KH what we've got at the moment is a crazy rule….

MH If pubs don't have an entertainment licence, will the sessions and singarounds be banned?

KH Yes, I suppose they would be. The landlord would need to get entertainments licence to cover him or herself.

MH But this is not for gain, is it, you were talking about….

KH No, they certainly wouldn't and I'm very keen that we should make sure that that facility is there. There shouldn't be a problem. As long as money isn't changing hands, then there is no reason why they should have to have a licence."

A press release issued by the Department for Culture on 12th April 2002 carried the following statement by Culture Minister, Dr. Kim Howells:
'I am firmly committed to the reform and modernisation of our archaic and at times wholly stupid licensing laws. I do not need persuasion the 'Two musicians rule' is outdated and pointless.'

Some final points and observations:
 In the context of the Bluebell remember we are talking about a few people playing acoustic instruments, in an old fashioned pub unsuitable for expansion, not an electric band thrashing away through a stack of amplifiers.
 The Minister has stated that as long as money isn't changing hands then there is no reason why a licence is required!

* Is it reasonable for the reader to deduce that Peterborough City Council Environmental and Legal Services may not be working in the public interest with this particular case? Is an overzealous approach taken towards a tavern activity, which is no more environmentally dangerous than a game of dominoes?
To quote the Minister … 'it's madness and worries me a lot.'

Yours sincerely

The Council's reply to this letter can be found on the following site. Look for the 'flashing' link called Pellets.