Friday 5 October 2012

Music deregulation ~ merely righting the wrong

A folk session in the Station Inn
in Whitby, North Yorkshire
Music is a natural activity, and pretty nearly everyone can sing. That doesn't mean that everyone has an inner superstar just waiting to be nurtured and released: it simply means most of us can do it.  Not well, necessarily, but then plenty of people who play Sunday football aren't very good - they still have fun though. The condition of tone deafness is actually quite rare; people often can't sing simply because they've never done it, not because they're incapable.

Because singing is so natural, the music licensing system brought in by "New" Labour in 2003 was absurd; unfortunately, it was also draconian and punitive. As I've written previously, it was nonsense that strumming an unamplified acoustic guitar in a pub could be illegal, while big screen sports with all the noise they create from both the TV and the people watching it were completely unrestricted. Even worse, a licensee who put on a solo performer without a public entertainment licence was committing a criminal offence and could be fined up to £20,000 or sent to prison. That's a high price to hear me play Sunny Afternoon. In one extreme instance, some Morris dancers who went into a Sam Smith's pub for a post-dance pint were asked to leave because the tinkling bells on their outfits constituted music for which the pub had no licence!

In a rare outbreak of common sense, Parliament has decided that venues in England and Wales with a capacity of under 200 people will no longer need a licence for live music between the hours of 8.00 a.m. and 11.00 p.m., and unamplified live music can now be played in any location under the act. The change was contained in a private member's bill introduced by Don Foster, Lib Dem MP for Bath. While this will be a real boost for live music and local performers, it will also help pubs and clubs that are seeking ways to improve trade and increase the range of entertainment available to the public.

A band in CafĂ© Matisse in Southport
(lead singer: yours truly)
The Noise Abatement Society claims there will be a "dramatic rise" in noise complaints that will "set residents at odds with local businesses", but this is an overreaction: no laws about noise have been repealed and people haven't lost any rights to complain about noise nuisance. There are no changes to local authorities' powers to deal with noise from fixed premises or land if they think it is a statutory nuisance. Organisers of music events should not be under the illusion that it is now a free for all; they can still receive substantial penalties if they allow too much noise.

It's not just licensed premises that will be covered by this change. To give a couple of the silliest examples: school concerts didn't need a licence unless they made a small charge or admitted members of the general public, and a carol concert was unrestricted in the church, but would need a licence if held in the church hall.

I welcome this release of the simple pleasures of music and singing from the stifling dead hand of the nanny state.

I've previously written several posts on this topic - click here if you'd like to read them - and you can read the full BBC article here.


  1. That's brilliant news! So who let someone in with common sense I wonder?

    Although personally I won't be singing, not tone deaf but I have a very flat voice and I also hum tunes flat as well much to annoyance of people who work with me. :/

  2. But doing so gives you pleasure, and you probably enjoy joining in songs you know on the radio. We're all brainwashed to believe that only a tiny elite can sing after tens of thousands of auditions are whittled down to a few hopefuls, from whom yet another Whitney Houston-soundalike emerges to make Simon Cowell even richer.

  3. You have to wonder why it took nine years and a private member's bill to amend something that was plainly daft. Still, better late than never.

    P.S. Things could be worse, Meer For Beer: I hum tunes flat much to the annoyance of people who live with me.


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