New Licence-Free Era Opens Up For UK Entertainment Industry:

Most readers may not be aware of this – but in May 2012, “Mr Punch” celebrated his 350th birthday. Despite all the many noteworthy events in Britain during the year (the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics / Paralympics & Andy Murray’s tennis gold medal at Wimbledon being the most prominent) this apparently obscure anniversary received considerable media attention – including from the Channel 4 News programme, which gave extensive coverage to the “Punch & Judy puppeteers from all over the globe” who gathered for the occasion in London’s Covent Garden. According to the 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys, it was here, on 9th May 1662, that Mr Punch (originally a marionette known as ‘Pulcinella”in the Neapolitan Commedia dell’Arte) first made his debut in this country. Judy (Mrs Punch) didn’t enter the scene until 1818 – followed later by other characters such as “The Crocodile”, Hector The Horse” and “The Constable”. Although the show has been accused by some women’s groups as being ‘politically incorrect’ (because it supposedly “endorses domestic abuse”) and is reputedly in decline at the seaside, it has (so journalist Tom Geoghegan observed in the BBC News Magazine) not only survived but has become “ a form of entertainment that’s flourishing at fetes, festivals and shopping centres”. This is notwithstanding the fact that, when the Licensing Act 2003 was passed by Parliament, the “Daily Telegraph” expressed concern that the “300 Punch & Judy Shows across Britain” would disappear entirely due to their having been put in the same category as plays & rock concerts and thus found themselves obliged to apply for permission to perform each time they changed their location”.

This threat to the “Punch & Judy tradition” has now been removed by the Live Music Act (LMA) 2012 which came into force on 1st October – depicted on the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ (BIS) website as “Freedom Day for Britain’s businesses”. “Equity” (the actors’ union) has pointed out that the changes apply not just to live music, but also to “theatre, street & dance performances, film presentations and puppet shows”. The most significant consequence of the LMA, nonetheless, is that venues with a capacity of under 200 will no longer require a local authority licence to hold amplified music events between 8am and 11pm. ‘UK Music’, (“the umbrella organization representing the collective interests of the UK’s commercial music industry”) has indicated that it expects (as reported by ‘Events Magazine’) “33,400 venues to stage more live music than they have in the last 12 months”. Moreover, results of an investigation commissioned by UK Music have suggested that “ the removal of red tape could lead to 13,00 venues staging live music in their premises for the first time and a further 20,400 increasing their current provision of live music”. The organisation’s Chief Executive, Jo Dipple, has declared that the Act could have “a potentially huge impact on the live music scene”. Her counterpart at the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), Deborah Annetts, has been equally enthusiastic, commenting that “Musicians will now be free to earn a living and hospitals, schools & other venues including pubs will finally be able to put on live concerts without having to seek permission to do so from a council”.

Brigid Simmonds, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has meanwhile also emphasised the “huge importance” of live music both for musicians (“many of whom begin by performing in their local pub”) and for the pubs themselves, 16 of which – according to a survey in January by “The Campaign For Real Ale” (CAMRA) – close down every week across Britain” (eight of them suburban, six rural and two in town centres). It would thus seem no coincidence that the first page of the Music Union’s “Live Music Kit” (launched simultaneously with the implementation of the LMA 2012 on 1st October and designed as a guide for venues considering hosting and promoting live music) proclaims in bold type that “Live Music Is Good For Business”. The same page highlights the key points from an analysis conducted by the “PRS For Music” society (whose stated mission is to “protect the value of copyright, collect royalties on behalf of its members and distribute them fairly & efficiently”) – namely that “Live music is the best way to increase sales – with 24% of publicans reporting an increase in takings of 25%-50% on nights when they have music and 71% reporting an increase of 10%-25%”. Furthermore, that pubs without featured music are “three times more likely to close than pubs without featured music”. The Music Union’s “Kit” then goes on to explain the provisions of the LMA 2012, demonstrating how live music can help a business thrive, attract new customers and generate a better atmosphere, as well as providing a range of resources & advice, including on contracts, health & safety issues and how to promote the venue.

The LMA 2012 in effect (as the “LiveMusicLondon” website has pointed out) restores the situation that existed prior to 2003 and means that “ It will no longer be a potential criminal offence to put a piano in a bar for customers to enjoy, or for a school to provide instruments and a PA system for a charity fund-raising concert by students.” The Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has acknowledged in its “Impact Assessment”(IA) that the Licensing Act 2003 imposed “unduly disproportionate restrictions” on small live music venues and that the relaxation of the regulations will “complement Big Society proposals” by easing the burden on the organisers of functions such as carol singing and band nights in community or village halls – which, as with hospitals, educational premises, restaurants and cafes are classified as “ workplaces” and so no longer need a licence, provided  the event takes place between 8am and 11pm and there are no more than 200 people in the audience. Nor is a licence now required for the provision of “entertainment facilities” (such as musical instruments, amplification or even a stage) as this concept had “caused confusion for the Licensing Authorities”. The LMA, however, “does not de-regulate recorded music” – unless it is accompanying Morris dancing, although “a performance of live music can include the playing of some recorded music as part of that performance. For example, a drum machine or backing track being used to accompany a vocalist or a band would be part of the performance of amplified live music, but a DJ who is merely playing tracks would not be performing live music”. 

The DCMS has attempted to allay the fears of campaigners such as Lisa Lavia of the “Noise Abatement Society” (who told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 1st October that she “expects there to be a ‘dramatic rise’ in noise complaints that will ‘set residents at odds’ with local businesses”) by stressing that event organisers will still have to comply with legislation such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Noise Act 1996. The DCMS also adamantly refutes the claim by Alan Bratt (convener of the “Gloucestershire, Bristol, Somerset and Wiltshire Environmental Group’s Noise Section) that “There is a danger of a return to the free-for-all days when people held raves whenever & wherever they could”.  The DCMS insists that this will “absolutely not” be allowed even under the more permissive conditions prevailing as a result of the Live Music Act 2012.




Filed under: Music & Dance, Society | Posted on November 14th, 2012 by Colin D Gordon

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