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Ian HP All UK folkies take note - the law!!! (68* d) All UK folkies take note - the law!!! 14 Jul 01

Here's a Press Release for the EFDSS day of action about the UK's ridiculous live music licensing laws. Please get involved if you can. The web link for those who want to get involved is

LIVE MUSIC SOS - Day of Action (Thursday 19th July 2001)

Did you know that live music is barred from 95% of licensed premises?

Few people realise that it is a criminal offence (for the proprietor) if more than two musicians play together in licensed premises. This is known to musicians as the 'two-in-a-bar rule'.

Licensees who allow an acoustic folk session - for example, a jazz trio or string quartet - face fines of up to 20,000 and six months in prison. Local authorities, particularly in London, rigorously enforce the letter of the law. They also argue that case law from 1793 means that members of the public count as 'performers' if they join in!

The Government's proposed licensing reforms that would have allowed many more pubs, bars and restaurants to put on live events were dropped from the Queen's Speech. It could now be years before any change in this area of the law.

On Thursday 19th July The English Folk Dance and Song Society, with the endorsement of the Musicians Union, will back a Musicians' Day of Action, drawing attention to the draconian regulations that restrict live music in the UK.

Musicians believe that local authorities are riding roughshod over their human rights. Freedom of expression, covered by the Human Rights Act, applies to public performances, where there are no noise or safety issues. Local authorities should not interfere. Musicians in New York used this argument to overturn very similar laws there in 1988.

To have more than two musicians, a special permit called a public entertainment licence (PEL) must be bought from the local authority. But PELs are often expensive and subject to onerous conditions. Combined with heavy-handed local authority enforcement, this means that now only 5% of licensed premises hold annual PELs.

The Government issued an official warning to local authorities last year not to impose 'excessive' conditions on licensees, and that over-charging for PELs could be breaking the law. But to no effect. The same law outlaws dancing, but permits any amount of canned entertainment, 'recorded sound' or satellite TV. It is also illegal to combine live and 'recorded sound', and local authorities have successfully prosecuted landlords who allowed one musician to use backing tapes or minidiscs. Even Karaoke is illegal without a PEL.

It shocked the EFDSS to find that even organising a traditional musical event (in an unlicensed venue) in Britain could land them in prison for six months!

These rules are having a devastating effect - particularly on local folk clubs, many of whom have had to close, owing to enforcement by local councils. And hundreds of young jazz musicians, graduates of the new conservatoire jazz courses, cannot develop their art...

This is a situation which cannot go on, says Rupert Redesdale, Development Officer of EFDSS: "We really believe these laws are killing traditional music."

From 12.00 noon to 5 p.m. on Thursday 19 July, groups of roving musicians will visit participating pubs and bars in the London area. Musicians of all kinds will take part, using no amplification.

They will first ask licensees if they can perform. In accordance with the letter of the law, they will be politely told not to play, even for their own amusement. Of course, a performance by just two musicians is allowed or bands can play a recording of a performance (provided they don't mime that might be construed as dancing!).

Please join us for a Media Briefing Meeting along the way, in the cellar bar of the Red Lion, Whitehall at 2.00 p.m.

(It is likely that trumpeter Lord Colwyn, Chair of the Parliamentary Jazz Group will be thrown out and barred from the Red Lion for attempting to play jazz.).

Thereafter, at approx. 2.30 p.m., we will proceed to Downing Street - for a performance outside Number 10.

For more information, call Tim Walker at The English Folk Dance & Song Society, on 020 7284 0534, Rupert Redesdale on 07880 600133 (Tim's email address is or call Ray Hodges or Steve Barrett at HPS-Public Relations on 01494 684353 or 684314.

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