The possible threat to the U.K.'s live music business from stringent provisions within the 2003 Licensing Act was once again the focus of attention, during an emotionally charged debate in London. But the Metropolitan Police defended the controversial assessment process for concerts.
When the law was adopted in 2003, the current Labour government promised it would help boost the live music business, which yields more than £1 billion ($1.58 billion) a year and exceeded recorded-music sales for the first time last year, according to U.K. collecting society PRS for Music.
But the law's promotion-and-event assessment form, Form 696, which local authorities supply for venue operators to complete and submit to local police officers for security purposes, has been attacked for its excessive demands. Form 696's critics fear that its requirements can be, at best, time-wasting and discouraging because it demands detailed personal information of each band member and the genre of music to be performed.
At worst, they add, Form 696 can be racist as it gives the police ammunition to target artists from ethnic-minority communities, especially black African-Caribbean's urban-music acts.
"The way local authorities interpret the licensing act means there is far too much red tape," stated keynoter Lord Clement-Jones, the culture, media and sport spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, during the Media Tank event last night (Oct. 13).
While live music at larger venues still flourished, argued Lord Clement-Jones, a member of the U.K. parliament's House of Lords, such bureaucracy was hurting small venue events.
"Live music is the basis of the whole U.K. music industry's success," he continued. "Young musicians get their first break in small venues. But things are worse now than in 1899. The government promised to do something about (the Licensing Act) in 2007, in 2008 and in 2009, but not a dickey bird has come out of it."
Although exceptions, such as exempting less than 200-capacity venues from Form 696, are recommended by the government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee, there is still no development and the government has indicated there will be no change.
Lord Clement-Jones asked musicians, managers and promoters in the Music Tank audience to support an Oct. 22 demonstration being held near the Houses of Parliament by the Musicians' Union (MU), actors union Equity and the industry's lobby organization U.K. Music, who are demanding changes to the Licensing Act.
As Music Tank's second keynoter, London's Metropolitan Police chief inspector Adrian Studd insisted Form 696 is being maligned by misinformation and misunderstanding.
"It isn't a means to prevent live music or events from going ahead, or to close down venues, or to pick on any type of music, event or section of the community," Studd said. "It's a way of supporting managers and promoters by sharing information, of supporting communities by reducing violence to ensure events can go ahead."
He estimated that of the country's 175,000 licensed premises, only 270 had submitted forms 696, "and only 70 to 100 premises have had to use the risk-assessment process as a condition of their license."
Studd also argued that 75% of all violence and shootings have victims or perpetrators from the black community. "We don't have the luxury of ignoring this violence," he added.
The keynote speakers' co-panelists, however, agreed that the positive aspects of Form 696 should not be ignored. Diane Baxter, the M.U.'s national organizer, live performance and teaching, felt it now doesn't primarily discriminate against live musicians.
Phil Doyle, director at the Institute of Licensing, believed the Licensing Act is confusing, but some risk assessment is always needed at any gathering. And Reg Walker, live events operations director at Iridium Consultancy, demonstrated how it had prevented some serious violence taking place at live shows.
Also discussed at the Music Tank event was the Licensing Act's noise-abatement provisions. Panelists blasted local authorities for allowing the complaints, of only one resident in many cases, to jeopardize the businesses of local live-music establishments while ignoring the venues' attempts at solutions.
Music Tank's Live Music: Licensed To Thrill took place at PRS for Music' Copyright House in London. Original keynoter Feargal Sharkey, U.K. Music's CEO, could not attend because he was incapacitated by swine flu.