Threat to sessions, England and Wales

Threat to sessions, England and Wales

I’ve been following the problems of the Public Entertainment License laws in England and Wales for the last couple of years. I live in the US, but I think musicians should support the freedom to play music, and there are some real problems brewing for the future of live music (even played in your own home) in England and Wales.

There will be a silent protest:

Monday 27 January 2003, 1:00 PM
Parliament Square, London
Mozart’s Birthday
Silent Protest

"To illustrate the apalling impact that the Government’s Licensing Bill will have on live and community music-making.
Bring your instrument but don’t play it. Wear A GAG, like a medical-type mouth-covering."

I think it is very disturbing that traditional music making is being assaulted by such government restrictions as the proposed new PEL.
To quote from the Hobgoblin Music site:

"The new Licencing Bill will make it illegal for any number of musicians to perform in an unlicenced premises or at an unlicenced event.
The bill would criminalize any musician who performed at an unlicenced venue as well as the owner of the venue. The wording is not
entirely clear but the bill also affects those providing "entertainment facilities" - this could include recording studios, practise rooms and
retailers. Venues now needing a licence will include not just pubs and clubs, but private functions - even in your own home, churches,
public land, one-off events… the list goes on."


Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

So is there an address for some British bureaucrat we can all send email to, protesting this repulsive, absurd law? I for one think we should make as collectively loud a noise as possible. Imagine if the British Parliament gets buried under emails and letters from session musicians around the world—at the very least, the outcry might generate some critical media attention.

Ironic, isn’t it, that here in the US we’re beating our chests about liberating Afghanistan, and the media relentlessly points out the Afghans are now free to play popular music again. Yet our friends in the UK are subject to such idiotic, inhumane laws. Perhaps it’s time for the Marines to bring democracy to Britain….. *smirk*

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yes the marines… that’s exactly what’s needed. why not just liberate all of your friends in the UK and bring them to the centre of the world, beautiful USA, where they can experience the same freedoms you enjoy… maybe even have their own lawsuit or two…

Maybe once the US becomes a democracy (would you like choice A or…. choice A???) they can think about spreading their capitalistic, individualistic society. but this is another topic.

sorry for the attitude Will. just had to vent. bad experiences with americans lately…

at least you get cheap beer at Witherspoons.

Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

It is probably best to keep political views out of here IMO. I leave that up to our Benevolent Leader. We are all musicians with the common goal of freely playing ITM (or any other musical form) for our own joy and the joy of others. Like it or not, there are Americans on this board and like it or not, we do have very strong opinions and sense of nationality. In Will’s defense, I believe our country was founded on the idea of escaping such draconian taxes as the PEL.

Okay, rant over.

~ KP

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Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

ok… fair enough. an apology before I cause any more trouble with a hasty post.(sorry will, sorry k.p. sorry any other american friends I’ve just quickly offended)

there are some wonderful wonderful americans… fabulous ones. some fantastic musicians as well. I apologise to any americans on this board for sounding harsh. (And I shouldn’t take one or two bad views from one or two americans which I’ve heard lately, and paint the opinion of a population. I’m being a bit reactive).

I just want some peace for christmas.

Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

No offense taken Searai. In fact, let me apologize. I did not make it clear that my bit about the Marines was as much a jab at the US always using the military to meddle in other people’s affairs as much as it was a poke at the British Parliament "lording" over us musically inclined commoners. I’m an American, true enough, but I abhor our current (and habitual) policy of militarily imposing "American" values on the rest of the planet. I spent my formative years in Italy, in a village up the coast from Napoli, and would be just as happy if we had calimari and gellato stands invading Paris and Vladivistok instead of noxious MacDonalds sprouting up everywhere. πŸ™‚

That said—and I realize I’m treading on anxious ground here—I hope Searai will allow me to relish the irony of being lectured about Americans imposing their social norms on other countries, all in defense of British policy, especially given the situation in the northern regions of a certain isle west of London (not to mention the country north of Hadrian’s Wall).

Mind you, I’m grinning a bit as I type this, thinking that this wonderful site is a global village if ever there was one, and that begs for tolerance and understanding on everyone’s part. Individually, we are not always responsible for everything our governments do, no matter how "representative" they may be. But I hope we can all agree that a law restricting the free play and enjoyment of music—particularly one that would squelch amateur sessions of friends and neighbors—is a law to be protested and overturned. In my mind, the freedom to play music is not an American value, but a basic *human* value, and one that should not be fettered by government.

Cheerfully, and in the spirit of friendly dialogue,

P.S. I’m sorry to hear that the patrons of Witherspoons have to pay for their beer. I get mine *free* at my local pub because they are free to support musicians however they see fit. πŸ™‚

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I have to say, I think I’m a step closer to getting my Christmas present πŸ™‚ Just in a few paragraphs, you’ve made me feel so much better about the world knowing that you’re living there.

Ya, it’s pretty hard for me to get sarcasm when I hear similar things being said un-sarcastically.

But as for these laws, I know, at least in belfast, that most pubs/restaurants already have to pay some sort of an entertainment licensing fee, even to play recorded music.

I know witherspoons is always eerie because there’s absolutley no music in it. You sort of nervously finished your pint, or

On Hobson’s Choices

And Searai, I wholeheartedly agree that one of the biggest problems with the American system is that our actual choices are far too limited. Yes, in most enlightened societies our liberals would be mistaken for conservatives. That is the tyranny of democracy, of the "popular" vote.

I think the important point here is to acknowledge that, contrary to the popular international image of Americans as a pack of unthinking, patriotic dogs, some of us do actively question and challenge our social norms and policies, and some of us do worry about our national sense of balance between individual freedoms and social responsibilities. I suspect Alice and I are up in arms over PEL because it’s the sort of thing we personally would not tolerate in our own country.

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Oh…and because we’re as tired of the unthinking patriots as you are… πŸ™‚

Posted .

Meaning that it disappoints me but does not surprise me that you’ve heard similar things as my first post, sans sarcasm, from my fellow countrymen. Um…does that mean George W. has gone and said something silly again, and I missed it? *grin*

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Forgive my ignorance on the PEL tax. To me it sounds much more dangerous than the small gig wrecking ASCAP folk here. Many places just discontinue musical performances rather pay the fees.

I am with Will but I paraphrase. There are some British bureaucrat’s that need a sharp kick in the rear for putting such a fee on free entertainment. No one will benefit from this. Pubs will start closing down sessions depending upon the individual circumstances.

My friends and I like to get some outdoor sessions going on beautiful days. We plan a state park event twice a year. Imagine being prohibited from doing that. The signs would say no firearms, motorized bikes, and musical performances. ABSURD!

I support the idea of the protest. I would show up if I lived there. I also think a worldwide chain of emails to some responsible folk, would help a lot. Since they like to respond with form letters, perhaps we could send our own forms?

Whenever someone messes with what we do and what we create, we should say something and do something. We should remind them that they are messing with the people who pay their salaries and buy their products. (Uhoh - I was about to start a rant - really. That’s for another board πŸ™‚


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This is one American I doubt you’ll have a bad experience with…I’m okay being an American, but I do believe we have some problems to work out over here.

It is quite a luxury to have live music wherever you go, so here in Colorado, I’ll pass the word around about this upsetting law….and try to have people be aware on that Monday.


Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

I posted to the PEL melee thread of November 21 with several links, including one to a discussion list where you can get more information. The PEL problem has been an ongoing discussion at the Mudcat for about 2 years. The new law is even worse than the 2 in a bar, which was not good, either. To get a full picture of the situation, go to:
Action for Music.

Regarding the image of Americans, you don’t know how painful it is for us Americans to see the twisted ugly American image that is portrayed in the media. Remember, folks, the media and other powers do not speak for the majority of the American people! We are not what you see on the tv or read in the newspapers. Hyperbole sells the news.

All the best to everyone,

Alice in Montana, USA

If you look at the petition signatures, you will see that I was signature number 19. I am happy to see that it is over 8000.

If you live outside of England or Wales and sign the petition, you may want to send a comment to the petition’s author, Graham Dixon,
He would appreciate your comments to the UK government about your interest in and support of traditional music sessions so they can be added to the petition.


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But this isn’t about America or Americans, this is about England and Wales. Allow me, as an English expat, to lay into England for a while.

I came to hate my home country, now live in Australia, and could never go back to England because:

1) Society is based on a stupid class system in which people are judged by the way they speak, what newspaper they read, the colour they paint their house, where they like to go on holiday etc, and you only really notice how pathetic this is when you leave the country and live somewhere else.
2) Everything is far too expensive (petrol is just under 3 times as expensive as here in Australia, and Aussies complain bitterly about the price they have to pay) but wages aren’t high enough to compensate.
3) As in America, everyone seems to want to join the ratrace, and it’s all about making as much money as possible and suing anyone who gets in your way.
4) There is a withering appreciation for any artsy or creative attributes in a person.
5) Society is becoming increasingly violent because people have no money (or not enough to buy the materialistic things they want like a better car than the people next door), so they go out on a Friday or Saturday night looking for a fight to make themselves feel better. Believe me, you can go out in any small town in England and see a fight outside the local pub at the weekend, and I mean full-on bottle smashing, bloodied faces, and bodies being dragged across roads like ragdolls (I’m sure it’s worse than elsewhere).
6) The country is governed by a bunch of complete nobs, the head of which is only interested in provoking other countries and making war, just like his despicable mate Bush.
7) The weather’s crap. I went back there during the summer last year and you could count the sunny days on one hand for the whole season. It’s miserable.
8) It appears to be acceptable now to be racist, particularly in the current political climate. Even if people aren’t going around beating up people of a different ethnic background, there is a frightening undercurrent of intolerance - the "I-don’t-mind-if-the-guy-next-door’s-black-as-long-as-he-lives-in-a-nice-house-like-mine-and-brings-up-his-kids-nicely-and-doesn’t-speak-some-weird-foreign-language" syndrome. "Multiculturalism" for many (most?!) people, means "assimilation".

I could go on, but it would take me days to type it all out. I used to think it was just me, but then I moved to Australia, and I’m blissfully happy thank you very much, and there are some fine musicians out here.

And now this! This appals me. I am *totally* disgusted. I feel sorry for my family who have to live there. Goodbye England, it was nice knowing you.

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Alice, I signed the petition but it appears to me that signatures from those of us that "come from away" don’t count as eligible. I would therefore add my voice to encourage all UK residents to get a friend to sign on our behalf. As a music teacher, I’m stunned that such a law could even be considered. What are they really trying to accomplish?

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This isn’t the first time (and certainly won’t be the last) that a parliamentary bill goes completely over the top when it is first presented. The idea and practice is to put as much in as possible, knowing that it will almost certainly be cut down to size and reason during debate and committee. The reason for this "going over the top" is that if they don’t put in everything they can think of at the draft stage then there is the real risk that something important (and perhaps desirable) could be left out by accident. It is far easier to amend a legal document by cutting something out than by putting something new in at a later date, as any patent attorney will tell you.

The cutting down to size and getting common sense to prevail depends of course on input from people such as us to the MPs and members of the House of Lords. You’ve only got to look at the problems the Government has had with the foxhunting bill to see how effective this can be.

Which is preciseIy why it is so important that we all sign petitions, write to our MPs, write to the papers, get local and nationwide media coverage, etc

Incidentally, the House of Lords frequently takes a much more sensible view of potential legislation than the House of Commons, partly because they not looking over their shoulders worrying whether they’re going to elected next time round, they have a much wider range of collective expertise than the MPs, and they have more time to think things through.

It should be noted that the things that particularly worrying to us are in the schedules to the bill. Schedules can be easily modified in committee, and, what’s more, a schedule need not come into force at the same time as the bill when passed. Also, if a schedule in an Act of Parliament is causing manifest injustice or other serious problems (such as precipitating a general election before its time with the real danger that the government might fall!), then it is relatively easy to amend the offending schedule.

I suggest that we also think about human rights legislation in connection with this affair. Basically, music, and making music, is one of the most fundamental things in the human psyche, and any interence with this is asking for trouble in a big way.

In addition to all us musicians, I think we should enlist the help of all those dancers out there (probably outnumbering the musicians) in signing petitions and writing to MPs etc, because if live music disappears than ultimately they too will suffer.


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I’m glad I moved to Ireland. There’s one problem .. English legsilation usually arrives in Ireland 5 years later. Imagine Ireland without the music. Although I can’t see Bertie letting such an attractive part of our tourist industry suffer like that, the Irish are much more culturally aware.

Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

Hi, Anny, I have been told by those involved in the petition that although our non-English/Welsh signatures will not have the weight of citizens, they DO appreciate all support from any other country voicing protest to the legislation. Sending a note to Graham with why you signed will help.

Regarding another myth about Americans - this is a very big country, and not all of us live in or behave like the stereotype of New York City or Los Angeles (including people in NYC and LA). The image of TV Americans is a fantasy! The soap operas and movies are fiction, and I don’t know anyone like the characters that are portrayed by Hollywood script writers. I don’t know anyone who has sued another person. Living a simple life is a badge of honor to most folks I know. Regarding the rattling of sabers, I and all my fellow citizens that I know are against war and feel like we are on a runaway freight train out of our control. (Bush did not win the popular vote, remember?)


Mark Gibbens, Development Officer English Folk Dance & Song Society Direct Line: 020 7485 2206 ex.29

From: Mark Gibbens Submitted to Today
Programme, Radio 4, 20.12.02 ——-

I was pleased to hear some coverage (20.12.02) of the current PEL crisis which is threatening traditional music, dance and song in

However your article rather missed the bigger issue; instead
focusing solely on the dispute between mummers in Cerne Abbas, Dorset and their local council.

The proposed PEL laws are threatening traditional and folk music in all areas of the country and some of the most vibrant cultural
traditions are to be found in cities. It is not just about rural life.

This issue goes to the heart of cultural life in England. The
English are only just discovering that they have as deep and vibrant a tradition as the Scots, Irish and Welsh, yet there is a very real
risk that the new PEL proposals headed by Kim Howells will stifle it.

The PEL completely fails to tackle real public nuisance problems such as football matches on wide-screen pub TVs, and instead
picks on handfuls of musicians with acoustic instruments or their own voices.

The PEL also falsely categorises a form of cultural expression which is a natural and integral part of people’s daily lives as
profit-making entertainment for the public. Who’s next - people who tell jokes in the pub?

A more detailed analysis of the problem would be much appreciated by thousands of musicians, singers and dancers across the

Mark Gibbens, Development Officer, English Folk Dance and SongSociety.


Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

In the recent runup to the awarding of the Turner Prize for Art, the British Government’s Junior Minister for Culture (there’s an oxymoron in there somwhere), Dr. Kim Howells, decribed all the efforts as "conceptualist bullshit". One can assume then that he is a fan of the traditional…artists that paint pictures with paints rather than send an unmade bed as an exhibit or an offering that uses elephant dung (two recent offerings). It is, therefore, less than amusing to realise that it is the same Kim Howells who is the progenitor of a bill that will prevent more than two traditional musicians at a time from playing in sessions in pubs all over England and Wales without a licence. A recent session I attended in the Herschel Arms in Slough, UK, had more than twenty first rate musicians playing. This may never happen again if this bill comes to fruition.

Where’s the consistency Kim? Or are you just after the soundbites and publicity like all the rest?

Please write to your MPs and sign Chris Reynolds’ petition (see above) but most of all tell Kim Howells that this bill is just bullshit. I’m sure he will get the joke

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i would n’t expect much of careerist mp kim so many aloft the greasy pole he started out on the left,did a fantatstic u-turn during the great miners’ strike and the rest is apparatchik history.
do drop a line,tho’ - i especially like Geoff’s bullshit proposal.

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Kim Howells is the one who has made insulting statements about folk music during this process of the PEL protests. I’ll find the quote from awhile back and post it. He is NO FAN of traditional music.


Howell hates folk music

Kim Howells quoted in BBC news,

"Mr Howells was taking part in
a House of Commons
debate on the number of
musicians permitted to play
together on licensed
premises, which is currently
restricted to two.

"For a simple urban boy
such as me, the idea of
listening to three Somerset
folk singers sounds like hell," he said."

The entire article is here:

Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales


I’ve just googled "Kim Howells", and the first page on the list is:

This is a transcript of a BBC Radio2 interview with KH about PEL. I haven’t had time to read it through - it’s getting late now, so I’ll do it tomorrow - but this transcript could include what you’re looking for.


Oops! Looks like we were posting virtually simultaneously, and you got in first. I think the only way to avoid this situation is to prepare the text offline on text editor, then you can see if your posting has been anticipated by someone else during its preparation, before you actually post it. If you see what I mean!


Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

Nice to see that Canada isn’t the only country whose politicians suffer from foot in mouth desiese. πŸ™‚ I’ll never understand our systems of government that have ministers in charge of something they know so little about or care so little about. I recall a song from somewhere that imagined Folk Singers ruling the world. It was very funny and a sincerely pleasant thought.

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Eliza Carthy’s letter on PEL

Among those Guardian letters is one from Eliza Carthy, as well as Mike Harding and Hamish Birchall. As the link to them will soon be out of date, here they are:

Licensed to kill music

Saturday December 21, 2002
The Guardian

A lot of people enjoy both visiting folk clubs and watching Morris
dancing and they would rather the government didn’t punish them for doing
so (Letters, December 17). However unfashionable Chris McColl might deem
said activities and how far above them he might consider himself and
his fabulous taste to be, the proposed music licensing bill is nothing
but a pathetic attempt to squeeze money out of local landlords, church
activities and amateur musicians. It will kill what is left of our
struggling traditions and regulate and charge for every last thing we do when
we step outside of our houses.
It will discourage all small live music events and sink independent
businesses. It will remove public stages for young and upcoming artists of
all music genres and encourage the opening of corporate "meat market"
TV pubs. It will stifle community events and charge a good deal of them
out of existence; it will ensure that churches will sit empty for most
of the year.

With the little energy it took Mr McColl to write his cheap joke, he
could have discovered just how dangerous and insensitive the proposed
legislation is, and what a devastating effect it could have on our modern
culture, as well as our ancient.
Eliza Carthy
Heriot, Borders

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I seem to remember that in his youth Prime Minister Tony Blair played the guitar in a pop group, and as such must have played in many a gig in public. I expect he still plays occasionally in private. Will this bill, if unamended and becoming law, prevent him from returning to his former occupation when he leaves office (as all politicians eventually do)?


Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

It is not just sessions in pubs and clubs that will suffer under PEL. A significant proportion of the income of many churches in England and Wales comes from the money they get from hiring out their venues for performances by choirs, orchestras and dance and drama groups. If the church has to pay a swingeing licence fee which can only be met by putting up the entrance fee to a level that will, in all probability, be counter-productive. It wouldn’t be long before church concerts by choirs and orchestras become a thing of the past, churches would lose money, and may even have to close, and many choirs and orchestras, particularly the amateur and lesser-known professional groups, would cease to exist (I declare my interest - in addition to my ITM activities I play in three orchestras in Bristol UK, and 75% of the concerts are held in churches).

Further points: Brass bands would no longer be able to give their delightful concerts in the park on a sunny summer’s afternoon. It’s doubtful whether school orchestras would be able to put on concerts, which are often fund-raising events. The list goes on. A consequence of this that I can foresee is that the teaching of musical instruments in schools, and perhaps the teaching of music itself, would cease, because parents will take the reasonable view that there’s little point in spending a lot of money in tuition fees and on instruments if they’re never going to be played in public. It doesn’t take much thought to see where that is going to do to the musical life of England and Wales. For starters, the best musicians would go abroad, even if only north of the border to Scotland. Professional training would die out because the colleges would get fewer students coming up from the schools. The professional orchestras would tend to consist more and more of players from outside the UK, if they could afford to pay them!

As a comment aside, some aspects of political correctness in the UK are going beyond a joke. Two examples will suffice:

1) A few days ago an Education Authority in Scotland forbade parents taking photos (stills and videos) of school Nativity plays in its area unless all parents present at the performance gave their explicit permission, on the grounds that paedophiles "might" get their hands on such photos. Leaving aside the fact that in school Nativity plays the children are all well-wrapped up in appropriate clothing it was not revealed exactly how said paedophiles would have got hold of the photos. Happily, the Authority in question climbed down when a parent threatened to take out a court injunction.

2) The well-known charity Oxfam has decreed that in its shops there should be no specifically Christian displays celebrating Christmas (tinsle and glitter, yes) on the grounds that followers of other religions might be offended. In my experience, followers of other religions are not upset by the Christian images, and Christians are not worried by Moslems, Jews and Hindus, for example, celebrating their religious festivals.


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*sigh*, *tut*, *eye roll*.

Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

This is just absolutley crazy - I’ve been considering moving to england for awhile - but now I dont think I’ll bother. Ive told non musicians who hate any form of folk muisc about this and even they think it is the stupidest thing they have ever heard. I hope you lads can fight and win - if they can get away with things like this who knows what they could do next. It makes me furious - how dare they treat people like they dont matter. aaaargggghhhh!

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Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

As I write, the petition mentioned earlier on in this thread has reached 11094 signatures. The fight is on.

trevor 02:32gmt 23-12-02

Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

bb, don’t go, you’re better off here believe me.

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Aww go on dow - the tunes a cranking in london, cambridge and manchester and loads of other places!

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Yeah not for long by the looks of things.

Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

There is a thread on Mudcat discussing sessions that have been closed by the PEL, and even a classical quartet concert stopped. There has been an attempt to collect a list of sessions that have been stopped by the PEL.

One session, the Cricketers, was shut down and is now open again. It was reported because, quoting the Licensing Officer who sent a threatening letter,

QUOTE IN PART…."Council officers visited your premises on Tuesday 23 April at 9.23pm and observed twelve musicians performing folk music. You are already
aware that to have more than two performers at your premises on any day is a criminal offence. The definition of "performers" has never been
tested in Court, but even if this was a jam session the Council’s view is that these people were "performers". They were being watched by at
least a dozen customers, who were tapping their feet to the music and thus being entertained by the performance……"

For more details and how this was resolved, for now at least, I suggest you visit this website:

This is what happened at Cricketers
After the enforced cessation of the session, we continued to play with only two musicians in
an evening (very strange for those of us unused to playing whole sets practically solo) and
lobbied the local council as well as joining the anti "two-in-a-bar" lobby.
As a result the Landlord was invited to reapply for an entertainment license and certain of the
requirements viewed sympathetically (ie the council agreed to use the discretion it should
have used all along.)….

Here is a page of the night they reopened with over 30 musicians:

A meeting on the PEL Jan

A large public meeting will be held at Islington’s Union Chapel venue on Monday 6 January starting at 1pm.
A number of high-profile speakers including Hamish Birchall are currently being assembled for this.

The meeting on January 6 is being co-ordinated by
Modal UK Ltd - the
main vehicle for musics falling outside of Classical, and Pop music.
Contact: Mark Ringwood 0870 2430278

Pubs unable to afford new PEL

From the Action For Music discussion list:

" Shepherd Neame Brewery currently owns 369 pubs and the majority of
them present
live music. The brewers have estimated that to comply with the new
legislation would
cost on average

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The Performer-Lawyer Group has sent (on 28-12-2002) a letter to Kim Howells and The Times, expressing the greatest concern at the cultural harm that is likely to follow from the Bill as at present drafted, and setting out cogent arguments. The letter is signed by a Q.C., two barristers, four solicitors and a justices clerk, all of whom have performed in public in drama or in forms of music, usually unamplified. Two of them drafted a number of the amendments put forward in the debatet debate on the Bill in the House of Lords in Committee. We may therefore assume that these lawyers, who are at the sharp end, know what they’re talking about.
The letter may be seen on the Yahoo group "actionformusic", and will shortly be published in The Times. For copyright reasons I cannot reproduce the letter in this posting.


Re: Threat to sessions, England and Wales

If you fax or write to The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, you may receive a form letter in reply that tries to put a positive spin on the PEL Bill. Here is a rebuttal to the form letter and the reasons why the Musicians Union opposes the Licensing Bill.

Prohibitive new fees for sessions

The online petition is over 37,000, but many people still don’t understand the problems for live sessions that this new PEL contains. If any of you know of more groups to contact in order to spread the message about live session music facing prohibitive new licensing fees, please pass the word.

There is also a hard copy of the petition you can print out to pass around at sessions/singalongs/clubs/choirs to get more signatures. The link to print out a hard copy of the petition is at the Lancashire folk yahoo group list under the links to "files" on the left side of the page.