July 13th, 2003

Music Licence Laws

(This piece first appeared in The Guardian in 2003 and met with a considerable amount of justified indignation)

On July 3, the House Of Lords failed to block Government moves to introduce a new law requiring pubs, clubs and cafes to apply for costly new licences if they wish to provide live entertainment. The measures will, reported The Guardian, “act as a powerful deterrent to small venues wishing to host live groups”. As organisations like the Musicians Union protest, the dangers this new legislation proposes to curb such as overcrowding and unruly behaviour are already covered by existing law. Loopholes allow for the exemption of, for example, morris dancers and pubs with wide-screen TV – musicians who us amplified instruments are being scapegoated. These new laws are flawed, vindictive, inconsistent and I, along with every sane person I know, back them to the hilt.

Let’s be clear about who’s hit hardest by this legislation – talentless, timewasting pub bands. Amateurs. White blues combos from Peterborough with podgy, moustached stand-up bassists, drowning the works of Howlin’ Wolf in their own sweat and phlegm. Trad jazz bands, all beards, sandals and trombones, playing “When The Saints Go Marching In” (Yeah? Well, one more peep out of that clarinet and it’ll be the police who go marching in, suckers). Bands with the word “Rockin'” in their names, who reduce rock to raucous, untreated sewage. Legions of uninspired, unashamed, unsolicited no-hopers who, even within a music industry benevolent enough to indulge The Thrills, can’t get signed and therefore resort to ruining the lives of innocent drinkers with their relentlessly, drearily competent blatherings. Bands who can’t get arrested – well, they will be now, thank Christ.

No serious lover of music seeks out pubs with blackboards boasting LIVE ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, much as no serious lover of wine seeks out bottles with party balloons on their label. It could be argued that these excremental pub outfits constitute the manure from which the roses of tomorrow’s talent will bloom. Unlikely – most new talent is hatched in back bedrooms on iMacs and tiny black software nowadays, not in back bars. Even it were, however, better that this vast swill of pestilential conversation-drowners be suppressed and, though we be denied the New Coral, punters have their peace restored. These bands are flogging us the rancid dead horsemeat of long-dead genres. Jazz. Blues (Very dead). Rock (Recently dead). So it’s intensely galling that efforts to throw out this legislation has resulted in the delaying of the overall Licensing Bill, liberalising opening hours in line with Civilisation as a whole, which would otherwise have been law by now. When I think of the convivial occasions I’ve recently enjoyed interrupted just as they were getting going by some aproned minion barking “time, gentlemen, please!”, of how such premature ejection is down to liberal hand-wringing over the rights of Bonnie Tyler-wannabes to inflict their renditions of “I Will Always Love You” on undeserving patrons, I want to firebomb the offices of the Musicians’ Union. History may forgive you over Iraq, Mr Blair, but only because you’ve bequeathed us this wonderful legislation. Thank you, sir.

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