Pub music scene ‘under threat’

The live music circuit across England and Wales could suffer under government plans to change licensing laws, the Musicians’ Union has warned.

Pubs and bars without an entertainment licence will no longer be able to host gigs by solo performers and duets, as they can now.

Many venues may be forced to abandon live music to avoid the trouble and expense of getting a licence, the Musicians’ Union said.

The government denies it will be harder to stage gigs, saying the fee to get an entertainment licence – which can be up to £20,000 – will be scrapped to provide an incentive to pubs.

But critics say that expense could be replaced by costly licence conditions imposed by local authorities.

The music industry relies on “small, local, informal music-making”, according to Hamish Birchall, advisor to the Musicians’ Union.

“There are very few pubs and bars hosting live bands and we think it should be normal to enjoy live music in local venues as part of everyday life,” he said.

“I don’t think this will make it any better, I think it could make it worse.”

Musicians could lose work if there are fewer pubs willing to book them, he added.

Many performers and landlords have been pushing for a change to the current rule – known as “two in a bar” – which says pubs without a licence can play host to a maximum of two musicians.

The cause was highlighted in July when Billy Bragg and David Heath MP sang at a Westminster pub surrounded by MPs with their mouths taped shut.

But the proposed law looks set to be even more unpopular, with Mr Birchall pointing out that small-scale venues in Scotland, most of Europe and New York City do not need licences for incidental live music.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the plans would “streamline” the application process.

The current rules were introduced in 1961 when two performers in a bar “could make less noise and nuisance” than is possible with today’s technology, the spokesman said.

“The proposals mean there will be no extra cost incurred by applying for an entertainment licence, therefore it will act as an incentive.”

But consultations with fire services, police, local authorities and residents could result in extra conditions, said Mr Birchall, who is also a jazz drummer.

Many councils insist that pubs and bars with entertainment licences employ bouncers and install closed circuit televsision, he said.

The Musicians’ Union did not oppose the need for large, dedicated gig venues to have entertainment licences, he said.

He added that further proposals could force hotels and venues for wedding receptions and corporate functions to get licences if they wanted to continue having live music.

Musicians Union

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