Don’t Criminalise Live Music – Interview with Lord Tim Clement-Jones

March 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

Lord Clement-Jones, Tim to his friends, is a Liberal Democrat peer with responsibility for Culture, Media & Sport. He is championing a new bill through Parliament, which aims to restore music to small venues without the need for an expensive and punitive licence. Blues in Britain editor Fran Leslie asked the questions:

What does your bill aim to achieve?

Firstly, we want to resurrect the ‘two-in-a-bar’ exemption. We think it should be limited to unamplified and minimally amplified music. We want to introduce, secondly, the exemption for venues with a capacity of up to two hundred. Thirdly, and this has nothing to do with alcohol licensing, we want to allow schools and hospitals, where they have music playing, to be used as a venue but no alcohol being served.

Lord Clement-Jones - photo by Keith EdkinsThere is a lot of confusion as to what is covered and what isn’t. Apparently, if it’s a private performance, in a school or a hospital, that’s fine but say for instance you invite your next door neighbour or it’s a charity fund raiser, that then turns it, possibly, into a public performance. The trouble is that the temporary event notices are not really fit for purposes either because you are limited in the number of them. Also, if for instance your local authority is too busy, it may take the view that you haven’t applied in time. Again, for a small event where you just want a few people, we don’t think the current law is adequate. We think that this bill would actually create a great flourishing of live music. Let’s face it; a lot of people have got their first breaks in small venues. When you look back at people like The Rolling Stones, The Who, that’s exactly what happened to them. It’s true of some modern artists, but probably a diminishing number, like people like Corinne Bailey Rae.

The government encourages people to get fit and play sport, which is good, but some young people want to play music instead, so they should be encouraged.

Absolutely! They want to sing and they want to dance and play music; they don’t all want to play sport. I quite agree.

What can we do?

My theory is that politicians spend more time in pubs when the election is on. So if musicians and pub owners and music fans really get to grips with this issue, in the next three or four months, there could be a fantastic impact on all those new MPs being elected, when they come back into the House of Commons after May. There are going to be a huge number of new ones. I think in order to get a majority, the Tories have to get another 130 or 140. In addition to that, they’ve got great swathes of MPs, probably forty or fifty resigning because of expenses problems and retirement and all that stuff. So you could be talking about two hundred new Tory MPs alone. I haven’t worked it out for Labour, but it does mean, by making something an election issue, getting a petition going, during an election, questions whenever someone turns up at a pub with their canvassing rosette or whatever it happens to be, such as, ‘Do you support live music?’ That’s a hell of a way of sensitising people to it.

Does a new parliament mean the issue will be back to square one?

Not necessarily! My Bill may be back to square one but the government may have changed. There will be different views as to whether a (capacity of) 100 will be adequate in terms of the proposal by government – the legislative reform order they’re proposing – and the Tories back my bill and have said so in the House of Lords. Who knows, the Lib-Dems may hold the balance of power and may say the price for our agreement will be to back my Live Music Bill, though I doubt that will be quite the deal.

May be it will be in the package! I recall that the Swedes delayed European Union copyright legislation because they relied on the youth vote to keep the government of the day in power. Young people want to have free downloads and so on. If you want to capture the votes of young people, you have got to be seen to be doing something for them.

Absolutely and this is a very popular policy. I can’t tell you the amount of traffic that we’ve had via the internet; on things like Guardian Online, whenever we’ve had a piece on there and the general response has been fantastic actually.

I don’t recall it was a problem before, having two musicians in a bar, and it was more flexible getting a music license before. Why was this legislation brought in, in the first place; was it to combat problems at raves?

Funnily enough, I’ve looked back and nobody really understands quite why ‘two-in-a-bar’ should be done away with. Everybody thought, I think, that there was a logical exemption under the original 2003 Bill and it just turned out to be fresh air. That’s the weird thing. There’s a section called 177, which on the face of it looks as though it’s going to be an exemption but it’s never been invoked. So that’s really the answer. We fought quite hard to keep ‘two-in-a-bar’ and the government said, ‘Oh no, no, no; here’s much better provision!’ and I think we were all sold a pup really.

Because the music license is tied in with the alcohol license, I have heard that publicans who might want to have the occasional music night have had to make blanket applications to have music in their pubs. This has caused friction with the pubs and their neighbours who put up objections fearing that the pub intends to turn into a seven-day-a-week rock music venue.

I quite agree. That’s the beauty of having a reasonably worded exemption for small venues. Two hundred, I think, is relatively modest, although some people say, ‘Two Hundred? That is outrageous!’ and others say we should have more and others say let’s split the difference.

A lot of small venues and clubs would be very happy if they got anywhere near two hundred people turn up. A lot of blues gigs they would be happy to have forty to sixty people turning up mid-week. They would consider they had done quite well. I suppose if you ask for exemptions of venues with a capacity of up to 200 people, you might get exemption for 100.

Precisely! It’s intended to wind up people as well, so they actually bother to engage to get what they really want.

Now, you’ve been a businessman most of your working life and you must have a cultural interest as you are the Liberal Democrat spokesman for culture, media and sport. What’s your main interest?

Lord Tim Clement-JonesI’ve always been a believer in the arts, theatre and music and so on. I have fairly catholic tastes but I listened to Lightnin’ Hopkins in my youth, along with the best of them. In terms of relating to your readership, that kind of music was what I was brought up with. That and soul music in the early sixties and then of course we had all the British bands as well, the Stones and so on. The blues and soul music was absolutely core to what we were all listening to in those days.

I like going to informal gigs, more, in many ways, than going to the big events. It’s all very well going to the Wembley Arena or the O2, but actually one of the most pleasurable things is going along to a place when people are jamming. We want people to be free to experiment and not be so formal that they have to get licenses every time they want to perform.

I have an interest in it obviously as it is part of my political job, so to speak, to do it. One of the reasons I do the job is because I find it very enjoyable and I like fighting on behalf of performers and artists.

There are other jobs I do. I do quite a lot working on the visas situation, for visiting performers, which is terrible at the moment. A lot of festivals find it very frustrating. They invite foreign artists and they cannot get them into the country. Ridiculous restrictions! At the moment, we have this rather weird approach to culture in this country, particularly when it involves small festivals and small events, which is quite disproportionate.

When I went to the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz awards, I was interested to see which of the Parliamentarians were at the event. Most of the others were in the bar watching football.

That’s a classic example because you know you don’t need a license if you show live football in a pub. You do if you have music in the same pub. That is the ludicrous nature of the act.

Yes I find the idea that an audience of blues fans needs more regulation than a crowd of football fans quite amusing. They are almost never any trouble.

Yes, the implication is absurd.

When I asked Tessa Jowell (who was then the Minister for Culture, Media & Sport) why there should be more legislation for fans of live music in a pub than for football fans, watching a match on screen in the same pub, she offered no explanation at all.

I bet she didn’t!

Is there anything else that can be done?

I hope that all your readers will find the Number 10 web site petition on live music. It’s number 11 at the moment and we’ve got nearly fourteen thousand signatures. I would love to get to fifty thousand signatures or something like that. It has until July 27th to get there. They can also write to their local MPs and accost politicians during the election campaign and ask them what they are going to support the live music bill. Then they should make an impact.

Explanation of the petition:
Under the Licensing Act, a performance by one musician in a bar, restaurant, school or hospital not licensed for live music could lead to a criminal prosecution of those organising the event. Even a piano may count as a licensable ‘entertainment facility’. By contrast, amplified big screen broadcast entertainment is exempt. The government says the Act is necessary to control noise nuisance, crime, disorder and public safety, even though other laws already deal with those risks. Musicians warned the Act would harm small events. About 50% of bars and 75% of restaurants have no live music permission. Obtaining permission for the mildest live music remains costly and time-consuming. In May 2009, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee recommended exemptions for venues up to 200 capacity and for unamplified performance by one or two musicians. The government said no. But those exemptions would restore some fairness in the regulation of live music and encourage grassroots venues.

Sign the petition here.

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Comments (1)

 

  1. GR says:

    When a politician touches something he/she always tries to make money for the government out of it and it all goes to sh*t. They seem to have a sort of greed-phobic mentality to anything the public enjoy. “If the people like we have to tax it and make it as expensive as possible to enjoy.” They always use fear to do it too. I hate that rubbish, as do most people, but us hating it does not stop them. Just look at the expenses thing!

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