Licensing Live Music and Dancing

I’m growing to like the Number 10 petition site. The petitions might not achieve anything in themselves but they do serve to stimulate debate on issues that have slipped off the media’s agenda. A recent one that’s relevant to this blog is to recognise that music and dance should not be restricted by burdensome licensing regulations (39,882 and counting) which was brought to my attention by Radio To Go podcaster Robin Valk. This is not new legislation. If I’m remembering rightly it came into force early last year and is part of the Licensing Act 2003, specifically this bit about venues requiring a license for any form of live music or dancing. Previously pubs could have one person with a guitar playing without a license but now they need to pay for one.

It caused a bit of a fuss when it came into force but it soon died down, as these things do. Now it’s settled in there are concerns about the effect it’s having on music in this country. A nice summary comes from musician Steve Tromans‘ site.

The Government have recently passed laws in the UK to try and suppress live music. Pubs which could previously offer work to solo musicians or duos now have to pay for a special licence and can only have 12 of these per year. Even school Xmas concerts need to be licensed. The unlicensed provision of even one musician is a potential criminal offence (although some places are exempt, including places of public religious worship, royal palaces and moving vehicles). Max penalty: £20,000 fine and six months in prison (for the proprietor and the musicians). The rationale is to prevent noise, crime and disorder, to ensure public safety, and the protection of children from harm. But broadcast entertainment, including sport and music, is exempt – no matter where, and no matter how powerfully amplified. For the first time, private performances raising money for charity will need a licence. School performances open to friends and family will need a licence – they count as public performances.

One thing that hadn’t occurred to me before is that recorded music and television is exempt – you can have a TV showing a band playing in a pub but you can’t have a live band. This seems a little odd until you realise this is a piece of public order legislation designed to stop “anti-social behaviour”. People tend to get a little excited at gigs. All that dancing gets them going in a way staring at the tube doesn’t. I’ll let you formulate your own conspiracy theory about this.

With my reasonable hat on I think this is a piece of legislation that was well intentioned, clearing up a grey area or what constituted a “band” and putting all performance on a level playing field, but the long term implications for DIY-style performance and creative expression are rather worrying.

Further reading:

Dominic Cronin started the petition and has a portal of links about the issue including his reasons for doing it.

The last time there was a petition about this issue the government responded thus.

Libby Purvis wrote about it in the Times last month.

The current petition.