The Live Music Forum
Friday 30th December 2005 - BBC Radio 4 30th December, Pub Carols and Licensing
BBC Radio 4 Today continued its licensing and live music coverage with a piece this morning about Sheffield pub carols (transcript below). Dr Ian Russell, an expert in this field, was interviewed by presenter Stephen Sackur. Dr Russell suggests that if local authorities 'take a liberal view', such events will escape red tape. He adds that 'many local authorities' are of the opinion that where a pub is singing 'the rules do not apply in the same way'.
I hope he is right, but in the past at least many local authorities took a very different view of communal singing in pubs. Dr Russell also says: 'The enthusiasm for the carols has never been stronger. There are more people from outside coming into the area. Cultural tourists, if you like, visiting the Sheffield region staying B&B for a short holiday, a week's holiday, and then travelling round several communities to sing the carols.'
This calls to mind the contrasting attitude of chief police officers, expressed publicly and to great effect during the Licensing Bill debates: 'Live music always acts as a magnet in whatever community it is being played. It brings people from outside that community and having no connection locally behave in a way that is inappropriate, criminal and disorderly.' [letter to Tessa Jowell by Chris Fox, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, 2nd July 2003] The Government broadly endorsed this statement. It was read into the Hansard record by government minister Lord McIntosh as a supporting argument for rejecting an entertainment licensing exemption for small venues (House of Lords, 3rd July 2003). I missed presenter Stephen Sackur's introduction to this piece. However, you will be able to catch it on the web later this morning: www.bbc.co.uk/radio4
Transcript of BBC Radio 4 Today - Pub carols and licensing - Friday 30 December 2005,
7.45-7.48am approx [sound of communal singing 'While shepherds watch their flocks by night...' to an original tune]
Stephen Sackur: Now Sarah beside me is humming away. I'm sure many of you are at home as well. Familiar words there but perhaps not quite such a familiar tune. Dr Ian Russell is an expert on these kinds of 'village carols', that's what he calls them. Dr Russell, what is special about them?
Dr Ian Russell: Well, in the first place the carols are very much something that has come from the grass roots. They're carols that are considerably older than 'O little town of Bethlehem' or 'Once in royal David's city'. They, the carol we were listening to has its origins in the mid-18th century and erm came from the pen of somebody who was an artisan, a tradesman, not, not somebody who was educated in Oxford or Cambridge, or from a high church background.
Stephen Sackur: Um I don't know how to put this delicately, but you don't really need a good voice to sing some of these village carols.
Dr Ian Russell: No, they're not about elitism in any sense, they're about people joining in and participating, and anybody who wants to sing is welcome, it's not as...
Stephen Sackur: Usually in a pub, is that right?
Dr Ian Russell: Yes, many of the traditions are based in the pubs. There are several that are not, er some are itinerant traditions visiting and going round communities as many many places did in the past, and some, er a few are based also in chapels.
Stephen Sackur: Because of that, and because of what you were saying about the artisans who actually came up with some of these songs, is there no religious element at all, or is that in the background or what?
Dr Ian Russell: Well carols have always been betwixt and between. They've always been a bit liminal, a bit secular at the same time as being sacred. I'm sure for many people er the carols have a very strong spiritual content, and for some a very sacred content. But for others the carols are very much to do with the time of the year, very much to do with fellowship and community, and being together in warm convivial surroundings.
Stephen Sackur: Now we captured that one in Ecclesfield. Are they thriving?
Dr Ian Russell: They are indeed thriving. I've been quite amazed this Christmas as I've gone round. Um, numbers are up in many of the communities. The enthusiasm for the carols has never been stronger. There are more people from outside coming into the area. Cultural tourists, if you like, visiting the Sheffield region staying B&B for a short holiday, a week's holiday, and then travelling round several communities to sing the carols.
Stephen Sackur: And quickly if I may there's some suggestion the new licensing laws might be a problem for these village singers because there is the idea that if you plan a carol concert in a pub you've got to get a Temporary Event Notice from the local council.
Dr Ian Russell: Yes, these these temp.. I'm not sure about the full legal situation, but the Temporary Event licence are not very expensive, I do know that. But apart from that, er many licensing authorities are of the opinion that where a pub is singing um we're not talking about a performance situation with an audience, and therefore er the same, the rules do not apply in the same way.
Stephen Sackur: They can escape the red tape?
Dr Ian Russell: I think that er if the local authority take a liberal view there should be no problems.
Stephen Sackur: Good to hear. All right, Dr Ian Russell thank you very much indeed.
Sarah Montague: The time 12 minutes to 8...
by Hamish Birchall