The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Wednesday 2nd December 2009 - St Albans piano policy contradicts new guidance

Announcing the new incidental music guidance for local authorities on 23rd November, Chris White, chair of the LGA Culture Committee, spoke warmly of pianists in bars:

'Councils are keen to support their local businesses and venues, particularly during the recession. Introducing background music to a restaurant or allowing a pianist to perform in a bar adds to the atmosphere of a place, and often doesn't require a licence. Making sure everyone knows about this common sense approach should make the process easier for everyone.'

Chris White is of course also a St Albans councillor, and St Albans is now well known for its long list of licence restrictions on live music in local bars and restaurants:

But while announcing the LGA's new piano friendly policy, councillor White may not have realised that his own council takes a rather different view:

'If facilities for entertainment are provided a licence is required. Facilities for entertainment include dance floor, pub piano, karaoke machine and other musical instrument.'
[St Albans Statement of Licensing Policy, revised 7th January 2008, p6, para 2.2.1]

So, in St Albans it remains a potential criminal offence to provide a pub piano, or indeed a piano for a school concert open to the public, unless first licensed.

Councils must review their licensing guidance every three years, which suggests that St Albans can continue with this policy until 6th January 2011.

By contrast, some other local authorities allow pianos under the incidental music exemption, as this council definition of 'regulated entertainment' shows:

'... A performance of live music (not incidental music, i.e. a piano in a restaurant).'
[Statement of Licensing Policy, Dartford Borough Council, 7 January 2008 - 6 January 2011, p14]

In fairness, this is a confused area of the legislation and one that the government recently promised to amend. Speaking in the Westminster Hall licensing debate on 22nd October, licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe said:

'As part of the [entertainment facilities] clarification, the consultation will propose a change to the definition of "entertainment facilities" so that the mere provision of musical instruments, such as a pub piano, is not licensable.'

But until the Licensing Act is amended, which is unlikely to be before the general election, St Albans can continue with its licensable piano policy - whatever councillor White says.


Hamish Birchall