College concert circuit 'at risk': Education Bill could kill off the breeding ground for bands, writes David Lister

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COLLEGE gigs, where sweat-drenched students can see rock bands for the price of a couple of pints, may be killed off by John Patten's Education Bill next year.

Virtually all the country's biggest bands played the university circuit in their formative years. New outfits continue to learn their trade in college halls, bars and gymnasiums as last week's New Musical Express showed.

It listed nearly 40 gigs promoted by student unions, featuring names like Chumbawumba, Therapy, the Aphex Twin and Goats Don't Shave.

Prices at college concerts are often under pounds 5 and sometimes free. Even one of the most expensive concerts featuring a big name band, such as the pounds 10 entry for the Pogues at Manchester University tonight, is about half what tickets would cost at a big national venue.

The music industry is worried that the plan by the Secretary of State for Education to prevent student unions from funding 'non-essential' student activities will put ticket prices out of the reach of the college audience and decimate the thriving circuit.

The multinational record companies believe the 5,000 gigs mounted each year by 500 universities and colleges could disappear if the Bill is passed next September.

The circuit has traditionally been the place where new bands get their first experience of playing before a live audience, as well as providing touring venues for big name bands like Simply Red, Suede and The Levellers.

The Levellers' manager, Phil Nelson, said the circuit had been vital to the band's development. 'There is little hope for live bands to get the experience necessary to gain wider recognition without the college circuit lifeline.'

Ed Bicknell, the manager of Dire Straits, was an entertainments officer at Hull University. He said: 'Most of today's first division rock bands have paid their dues on the student circuit. If the policy goes through it will reduce the ability of universities to put on live entertainment.'

The National Union of Students entertainments officer, Matt Williams, said that each union will have to pay the full cost of Performing Rights Society royalties, the commercial rate of hiring a venue, insurance, staff and promotion, if the Bill goes through.

Under the proposed reforms, only core services such as welfare, catering, internal representation and sport can be funded by the grant each student union receives from its college.