The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Friday 12th May 2006 - Licensing: gigs lost - MU Gen Sec responds

Henry Lowther is one of the UK's leading trumpeters. His long and distinguished CV spans five decades. See:

Yesterday Henry emailed an impassioned letter to Musicians' Union General Secretary John Smith. It concerned gigs Henry and fellow musicians have recently lost due to licensing problems in a Regent's Park venue. He  criticises the MU for its 'lacklustre performance' on this issue over the last two years. The reply from Mr Smith was brief and almost off-hand. There is no suggestion of personal moral support or empathy, nor any clue about the Union's view on licensing generally.

Disappointed at this response, Henry has copied this exchange to me and given permission for it to be circulated as widely as possible.

NB: It is true that public entertainment licences as such no longer exist - but a premises licence authorising entertainment is the same in all but name.

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From: Henry Lowther
Sent: Thu 11/05/2006 16:14
To: John Smith
Subject: Public Entertainment Licence

Dear John,

In connection with the Musician's Union's recent survey and request for information regarding the effects of the new Public Entertainment Licence (PEL) on musician's interests, I'm writing to inform you of a blatant example of why this legislation is so damaging and unnecessary.

Last year I had the good fortune to be asked to play with a quartet on a regular basis in the Garden Cafe in The Regent's Park. This was for two mid-week late afternoons/early evenings per week for a period of three months, about 30 gigs in total. It was a delightful experience for all the musicians involved. We usually played outdoors, received generous and friendly hospitality and a good fee. The company who run the cafe, Caper Green, were delighted with the way it went (and so were the cafe's customers) and then invited us to play indoors for four Sunday afternoons prior to Christmas. At this time the overall manager for the company said he would like us to play again throughout the summer of this year, commencing at Easter, possibly three times a week and also maybe have us play in some of their other cafes. (Caper Green also run cafes in other Royal Parks and the cafe at Kenwood and will also be running the restaurant in the newly refurbished Roundhouse when it opens.) As you can see, all of this would amount to a significant amount of work for four musicians.

Unfortunately, so far this year, this has all come to nought because of the necessity for a PEL. Caper Green have, through their solicitors, applied for a PEL for the restaurant in the Hub, a new sports facility in The Regent's Park but are finding dealing with Westminster City Council complicated, difficult and time consuming. "It's a nightmare," were the manager's words to me. Among other things Westminster City Council wish, for some unknown reason, to impose a limit of no more than three musicians. It would seem that, in this instance, the "Two in a Bar Rule" has been replaced by a "Three in a Bar Rule". I didn't realise that they were able to stipulate in this way. All of this totally contradicts the DCMS's claim that obtaining a PEL would be easy.

Prior to the implementation of this legislation, Royal Parks, being Crown land, were exempt from the necessity of a music licence but are now required to obtain a PEL in order to engage musicians. Why? If the system worked before why shouldn't it work now? This is just yet another example among many of the total illogicality and stupidity of this bill. In the meantime the musicians involved are losing at least £200 or £300 a week in income, possibly more, with no possibility of compensation for loss of earnings. In addition the public are losing an opportunity of hearing good music in a pleasant environment.

Over the last couple of years I have been disappointed and unhappy with the Musicians' Union's lacklustre performance in this matter and with what seems to me to be an apathetic response to the Government during the passage of this Bill through Parliament. After some brief lobbying and campaigning about three years ago it would appear that the Union has now rolled over and allowed the Government to tickle its tummy, swayed by a few minor concessions and exemptions and a more than unlikely empty promise to review the situation after a couple of years. By then so much damage will already have been done and if the Government wouldn't listen to objections before, why should we believe that they would in the future?

The fact that the new licensing regulations don't require pubs, etc. to have a licence for them to present large screen televised sport or to play often loud background music is nothing less than a major concession to large corporate interests. Instead, this Government has chosen to regulate the performances of mostly minority and increasingly marginalised forms of music. Small venues, pubs, private premises, etc. who wish to present jazz, folk, improvised, experimental or avant-garde music are now in the almost Stalinesque position of having to seek permission from the State to do so and many of them simply don't have either the financial or organisational recourses to deal with it.

Up until the last couple of years I've always paid my Musicians' Union subscriptions in the highest band for over thirty-five years and was always happy to support the Union's financial contributions to the Labour Party. Now, however, I resent the fact that any portion of my subscriptions should go towards supporting the Party that is responsible for this abhorrent legislation. Moreover I feel that the Musician' Union should have withdrawn its financial donations to the Labour Party two or three years ago in disgust and to have disaffiliated.

Yours in despair,

Henry Lowther

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Response from Musicians' Union General Secretary John Smith:

From: John Smith To: Henry Lowther Sent: Thursday, May 11, 2006 4:26 PM Subject: RE: Public Entertainment Licence
Dear Henry Thanks for this. Of course PELs no longer exist, so the venue needs a Premises Licence which allows Entertainment. There is a Live Music Forum meeting at the DCMS tomorrow and I will copy your email to its Chair Feargal Sharkey, who will, no doubt, follow it up. I'll also copy it to our London Regional Office and ask them to talk to the venue and the Licensing Authority. As for the Labour Party, the affiliation is a decision of the Union's conference and neither I nor the Executive Committee can overule that decision. The next conference is in July 2007 - maybe someone should propose a motion, through their Region to the effect that the MU ends its affiliation. Conference can then decide. John F. Smith General Secretary, Musicians' Union

Hamish Birchall