Here in the UK, the government’s new Licensing Act is causing a stir. Its plainly outrageous, amazing, hypocritical and draconian approach will severely restrict the playing of live music. Already, under the current system, people have been fined for tapping their feet! Presently, in situations (e.g. busking) or establishments (e.g. pubs) where money changes hands (regardless of whether or not the money is being paid for the music or for the drinks, or just as a donation), more than 2 people making music is illegal unless accompanied by a Public Entertainment Licence.
The New Labour government in their wisdom are getting rid of this notorious “2 in a bar” rule. Hurray! They’re making it a “none in a bar” rule. Boo! Hiss!
This means that the penalty for unlicensed performance could be a £20,000 fine and six months in prison! This Act will affect pubs, folk clubs, private houses, churches, singing on the street… and the best thing is that while a choir singing for charity will need a license, the Big Screen Entertainment system or MTV in a pub will NOT need a license: another example of corporate profit being pursued at the expense of communities and ordinary people. This law is as ridiculous and daft as it is threatening, but already, the following “crack-downs” have taken place on people daring enough to to exercise their freedom of expression…
In Camden a long-standing gig at La Brocca in West End Lane was busted and the licensee threatened with a £20,000 fine because a music student had been seen jamming with the regular duo. A few months later, in Waterstone’s bookshop in Hampstead, an eminent young string quartet was forced to sit in full concert dress with their instruments while a CD was played in lieu of their performance. The local Council had intercepted the bookshop’s flyers advertising the live music as an accompaniment to a book reading by the former leader of the Amadeus string quartet, Professor Sigmund Nissel. 100 guests, including VIPs, witnessed the non-performance.
In Southwark, pub landlord Jim Yalton reported that the council threatened him with prosecution because he allowed OAPs (Old Age Pensioners) to sing along to an organist who specialised old time hits. The British Institute of Innkeepers publishes guidance which warns against ‘encouraging community style singing’ since this is a criminal offence without a PEL.
In Hackney, Steve Powell, landlord of the Globe, was fined £500 for allowing customers to sing Happy Birthday along with a duo celebrating the birthday of one of the musicians. The fight for live music goes on, with the Musician’s Union taking the case to the UK’s Joint Commission for Human Rights under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights: Freedom of Expression. Unfortunately, the UK, a country with no constitution and history of derogating from Human Rights conventions, has consistently shown itself to be more interested in laws to protect property, rather than to stimulate diversity.
At least we have one truth on our side: as the Landlord of one pub – who was fined for allowing customers to dance along to two musicians and thus breaching the “two-in-a-bar” limit (it’s okay to listen, but it’s illegal to dance…) – asserted “I would like to say that, to the best of my knowledge, spontaneous dancing is not in the top 10 list of great social ills of our time.”