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Regulation Junkies…
By Howard Snell

You are not going to like this! But I’ll give it to you straight, anyway.

The UK Government’s proposed new Licensing Laws will include the requirement for ALL live musical and amateur dramatic performances to be licensed. The only exceptions will be for full religious services. The effect? The licenses will kill off most amateur music and theatre performance. The issue that the government is worried about, they say, is public disorder and noise! But you will still have to put up with the horrors of canned music in public places, pub-TV, and the noise and mayhem of sporting events because the regulations won’t apply to them. They govern and we obey, and of course they just lurve making regulations. Why? Seemingly for the hell of it. They are regulation junkies.

Think about it! Not just your symphony orchestra concert or black tie opera event with a cast of thousands will need to be licensed, but any little group of two or more in a pub, any little local choir giving a free Christmas carol concert to twenty or thirty old dears, that pair of students making a few Christmas pennies outside WH Smith, the local amateur dramatic society doing another Rattigan perennial, and without doubt hundreds and hundreds of brass bands concerts up and down the length of the country. In fact any music in a public place, including anything from Morris dancing to pub sing-songs apparently! So when a group of you have a few pints and then break into song after winning that little local contest, you might be taking the chance of gaining a criminal record for breaking the law! You can sit there and talk and shout, that’s fine, but start to sing and you are an enemy of the state. That pair of musicians in the corner playing Bob Dylan songs on guitar and flute, usually on Tuesday nights? Forget it! ‘Where’s your license, sunshine? No? Kindly accompany me down to the Station! You’re endangerin’ the fabric of society by tootlin’ on your floot without paying for a full license.’

I have not seen or heard of anything in the banding press as yet, but obviously the Federation is already on the case. (? ) It goes without saying that many of our smaller bands stay afloat on the basis of low yielding but essential concerts. It’s the only way many of them keep going. The burden of the license will kill any chance of break-even on these events and will make sure that they are not staged in the first place. (In these matters the cost is always passed on till it reaches the end of the line, in this case the performers.) And local people love their bands and their concerts, quite apart from all the many other benefits that bands and banding bring to society. These concerts will certainly go out of the window, followed quickly by the bands themselves. For example, churches and church halls will have to pay between £100 and £500 each for a license if there are more than five performances per year. The charge can be waived at the Secretary of State’s discretion, but if you believe that will be forthcoming you’ll believe anything. (Mr Brown is suddenly and embarrassingly short of cash and has got to find someone/anyone else to milk.)

Much amateur music will die, and not just bands. Choirs, orchestras, music clubs and amateur dramatics will all be affected by this totalitarian legislation. That will be the stark effect if the legislation comes into force as it is now. The proposal is so catastrophic in its un-intelligence, its sheer lack of consideration of the attempts of ordinary people to enjoy themselves, that to attempt to describe it leaves me lost for words. In practice this legislation will turn this country into a musical desert as far as amateur music and dramatics is concerned. The costs of running these types of event are carried by voluntary effort because there is no money available to professionalise them. And so many other people in and connected to the musical chain will suffer, quite apart from starving the public of its music. I could go on.

Who are the people in parliament who dreamt this up? Who do they think we are? We actually pay them to give us this hassle, would you believe! Do these busy bees, searching every flower for a possible new tax, think that we are nothing more than their slaves? ‘O brave new world, That has such people in’t’. As long as we elect them every four or five years and then keep reasonably quiet in between, that’s fine with some of them. They vote themselves rises, through supposedly independent review bodies and then firewall their pensions. These few only care for your vote so that they can have another five years jollies, junkets, cheap booze and free foreign travel at your expense. That’s quite apart from the two-Jag, four-houses trick. ‘Just get on your way, my friend.’ ‘Your problem, mate’.

Dr Kim Howells, MP for Pontypridd, is the official in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport charged with fielding questions on the subject. (Any brass bands, choirs, actors in Pontypridd? South Wales?) He must be an expert in nutty slack, judging by his performance in a Radio 4 Today interview with John Humphrys, where he wrigglingly tried to justify the new licensing laws as they apply to music. (Calling it entertainment as the Bill does, shows how little some people understand music’s value to, or place in society.) Humphrys was incredulous at the sheer heavy-handedness of it all, but didn’t know enough to ask the hard questions. So I have to ask – do these un-happy few know what they are doing? Are they so dim that they have not tried to apply any law of consequences to their ideas? No and Yes, in that order. Do they know how little money the ordinary people of the country have left in their pockets after they have been picked clean by the taxman? Control freakery, the idiocy of league tables, the reduction of every human activity to a regulation shape and size: it goes on and on. Euro-style straight bananas look relatively sane compared to this piece of wanton nonsense. Asked why on earth it should be taxed when it never had been before and when there seems to be no earthly reason for it, Howells could offer no discernable explanation, more or less replying that it was going to be taxed because it was there. So they’ll tax it. Tough titty. Public disorder, crime, the safety of children or summink. Read it on www.parliament.uk/ - under Licensing Laws, page 108-111.

What to do? Anyone reading this on 4BarsRest, please bombard your MPs, with emails, letters and phone calls about the effects it will have. Most of them are perfectly normal people. Don’t be put off by official soft, soothing, emollient words: you’ll be told that it’s nowhere near as bad as all that … in fact you won’t notice anything at all. It will be totally painless – you know, the stuff you hear at the dentist’s just before you hit the ceiling. (The emails, numbers and addresses should be available locally or from the Houses of Parliament website.) Jam their lines. Make it clear what the result of this ill-thought-out legislation will be. The amateur music and drama that goes as a result of this new tax will be gone for good. Otherwise it will be too late. I can’t believe that all MPs want to do is just to keep the comfy pensions coming. There’s got to be more to them than that. Hasn’t there?

4BR Comment:

4BR fully support Howard Snell's article. If brass bands are to survive in the community then they do not need interfering bureaucrats laying down ill thought out legislation. Music making be it by bands, solo singers or even school choirs must be encouraged - trying to regulate music by implying it is a question of law and order is simply and breathtakingly naive in the extreme, whilst making us pay for the pleasure of playing is even more idiotic.

This could mean the end for small concerts in church halls, community centres, old peoples homes or even your own bandroom. It will penalise organisations who are trying to do something good for a community and it is legislation that should be challenged.

If you agree with Howard Snell, then use your democratic power and email your MP with a copy of the article and few choice words from yourselves. If we don't act, another nail in the coffin of "live" music making will be struck.

You can contact you MP by going to http://www.parliament.uk/ and then to the section entitled "Directory of MP's, Peers and offices.

Previous articles by Howard Snell:

• Article 4: Judge for yourself - more
• Article 3: The whole truth and nothing but - more...
• Article 2: The gang of four, or was it five - more...
• Article 1: Hours with the Masters - more...

© Howard Snell 2002 [© 4BarsRest]

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