My bill would exempt small venues from the absurdities of the Licensing Act, which is stifling emerging artists
In November last year, Britain’s Got Talent finalist Faryl Smith performed a song for her fans at an album signing at HMV in Kettering, Northamptonshire. The local council immediately threatened HMV with criminal prosecution because it hadn’t applied for a licence.
Back in May, the headteacher of a school in Daventry had to scrap the annual musical when he was told he risked a £20,000 fine or even imprisonment because the school hadn’t got a licence for the show.
And locals in Gloucestershire were bitterly disappointed last summer when a free brass band concert was cancelled at the last minute.
What links all these ridiculous situations is the Licensing Act, which stipulates that all live music performances need a licence, whatever the venue.
It is a result of these absurdities that I have introduced the live music bill which has just received a second reading in the House of Lords.
Small venues are vitally important to Britain’s creative culture. Many of our most successful and popular musicians started their careers gigging in bars, student unions or cafes. The decrease in live music in small venues, as evidenced by the DCMS’s most recent substantive survey into the act, is potentially denying us a generation of new performers.
The bill – which has the support of UK Music, the Musicians Union, Equity and the National Campaign for the Arts – amends the Licensing Act in three respects.
First, the bill establishes an exemption for live music in small venues. The exemption applies to a venue that has a licence for the sale of alcohol and has a permitted capacity of not more than 200 people. The live music can also only take place between 8am and midnight on the same day. This exemption is conditional on a mechanism that can trigger a local authority review and make live music in a venue licensable if complaints by local residents are upheld.
Second, the bill reintroduces the two-in-a-bar rule so that any performance of unamplified and minimally amplified live music of up to two people is exempt from the need for a licence.
Finally, the bill contains a total exemption for hospitals, schools and colleges from the requirement to obtain a licence for live music when providing entertainment where alcohol is not sold, and the entertainment involves no more than 200 persons. This will enable schools, colleges and hospitals to perform concerts and music therapy treatments which currently require licences.
The government’s consultation on this issue is flawed. The proposed exemption for up to 100 people is inadequate. The live music bill, supported by the recommendation of the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee, proposes that a figure of 200 would result in a more effective exemption.
The timing of the consultation and the process by which an exemption can be achieved is also put in jeopardy by the imminent general election which means the bill presents the most realistic opportunity to get a small gigs exemption in place this year. You can demonstrate your support for the bill by signing up to the No 10 Downing Street petition in support of the bill’s aims.