The Metropolitan Police are asking London councils to use
the Licensing Act to demand the name, address and date of birth of all
performers two weeks in advance of performances, claimed Feargal Sharkey
at yesterday's Culture Committee hearing.
Both Sharkey and John Smith of the MU warned again that the Act was harming
small venues. Sharkey cited an example of the lunacy of the new law: a
choir in the south west that now asks the local vicar to bless the harbourside
where they perform so that it becomes a place of religious worship, and
thereby exempt from the need for a licence under the Act.
Listen to these and other excerpts from Culture Committee evidence on
the BBC Radio 4 Today broadcast of this morning, Wed 12 November 2008,
[click on the Listen Again link - the item commences 46 minutes and 24
seconds into the programme]
... or read my transcript below:
Jim Naughtie: MPs have been told that new licensing laws are causing a
decline in the number of small venues playing live music. You remember
there were threats that that would be the outcome. Feargal Sharkey, who's
the former lead singer of the Undertones, Chief Executive of British Music
Rights, told the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee at the Commons
that the bureaucracy and the cost of getting a licence to play live was
deterring many from, many smaller venues from booking musicians. Here's
our Parliamentary correspondent Susan Hume.
Hume: The pulp band the Undertones became a huge chart success, but, like
every struggling group, they didn't start out that way. Back in 1976 the
Undertones were playing venues like St Mary's Scout Hall and Masons pub.
Today the former lead singer, Feargal Sharkey, is still grateful to those
clubs and pubs.
Sharkey: From my own personal experience it is the first and only opportunity
that young musicians, performers, singers, have to begin to appear in
public and develop their talent, their craft and their ability. And without
those little rooms there would be fundamentally no six billion pound a
Hume: Thirty years on and Feargal Sharkey has moved on from those teenage
gigs. Now a man in a suit, he's chief executive of UK Music, which represents
the whole of the British music industry, and he was appearing before MPs
on the Culture Committeee to talk about the effect of the 2003 Licensing
Act on live music in England and Wales. The Act, he said, was squeezing
music at its grass roots because small venues couldn't face the bureaucracy
and the cost of getting a licence. Sitting beside him, John Smith from
the Musicians' Union described why pubs and restaurants often just gave
Smith: They had to say what kind, what genre of music it would be. They
had to talk about the number of performers they wanted, and this was very
restrictive if you're running a wine bar or a restaurant. And I think
a lot of them said 'Well I can't be bothered'.
Hume: But the Act didn't just catch out dangerous young men with guitars.
Feargal Sharkey told the story of a choir down in south west England made
up of, as he put it, singers 'in the autumn of their lives'. They regularly
sang down at the village harbour to raise money for charity.
Sharkey: They were told by the local authority that they were not in a
position to do that any longer as they would require a licence. Now I
did speak to the chairman of that choir at great length and the ruse that
they had found to circumnavigate the interpretation of the local authority
is that this summer on a Sunday afternoon they would take the local vicar
with them to the harbourside and the local vicar would then bless the
harbour, instantly transforming it into a place of religious worship which,
[MP laughter] which of course is exempt from the legislation, and they
could then sing a few songs and collect some money for the local charity.
Hume: The police had wanted all venues to get licences because of concern
that live music could attract rowdiness and crime. But Feargal Sharkey
insisted there was no evidence of that. The Committee chairman wasn't
so sure, though. Today John Whittingdale is a Tory MP with a sensible
haircut and a dark suit. But underneath, Johnnie is a punk rocker, or
at least he was.
Whittingdale: Going back into my distant youth, I used to attend concerts
by bands like Sham 69 and The Angelic Upstarts which certainly were focuses
for public disorder. Erm, the last Sham 69 concert I went to was stopped
half-way through since a rather substantial fight broke out in the middle
of the Round House...
Sharkey: ... which I hope you weren't involved in chair ...
Whittingdale: ...[a few words inaudible] well, but you would accept that
there are certain bands that do attract that kind of...
Sharkey: Erm I think it perhaps very important to remember chairman it
was, with as much humility and respect as I can possibly muster, erm without,
er, possibly passing any indication as to your age and mine at this point,
but that was indeed 30 years ago.
Hume: Nowadays he said there was no trouble at concerts. But Feargal Sharkey
was worried that the Metropolitan Police had decided to use the Licensing
Act not to help them prevent anarchy in the UK, but terrorism. He said
the Met had asked councils in London to demand some pretty difficult conditions
from anyone planning a live event, including a risk assessment form.
Sharkey: First is a question on the front page which asks for the musical
style to be played or performed. Example: basement, r&b or garage.
Quite why the Metropolitan Police think they need this information I have
no idea, but it may be nothing more than a happy, passing coincidence
that those three kinds of music are all three genres of music that would
be appealing to a large audience of young black or asian people.
Hume: He said the form also demanded to know the name, address and date
of birth of all performers two weeks in advance of the performance. Any
departure from these rules might mean a venue was never granted the go-ahead
for another concert. Even a recent performance by himself and, wait for
it, the Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, could be caught out.
Sharkey: Should the Secretary of State and I choose to repeat that performance,
I suppose that we will be providing our name, address, date of birth and
contact numbers to the Met Police at least in 14 days [in advance] of
the event taking place to ensure that we are not in any way a threat to
the prevention of terrorism.
Hume: So, the gig made a useful political point, but it probably wasn't
the high water mark of the Feargal Sharkey's musical career, which is
why it was one of his old Undertones albums that the Committee secretary
sidled up to him with afterwards to get autographed.