Leading article: The sound of silence

Saturday 22 October 2011 21:28

The road to hell is paved with unintended consequences. The Government routinely proclaims its intention of supporting the growth of Britain's music sector. And quite right, too: there are young votes in it, and sizeable foreign earnings. Music generates about one per cent of the nation's income, with live music the fastest growing part of a troubled industry.

But regulations are making it increasingly difficult for musicians to find venues in which to play. The 2003 Licensing Act, the 2003 Antisocial Behaviour Act, the 2005 Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act and other new rules are allowing overzealous local councils and police forces to place significant regulatory burdens on venues, requiring them to fill in detailed paperwork or stump up sums in the order of £1,500 for licences. They are also limiting the number of musicians who can perform and the style of music permitted. Hillingdon council has hinted darkly at links between licensing and the prevention of terrorism. The bureaucrats of St Albans even placed restrictions on indoor morris dancing. Small venues from Newcastle to Birmingham to Cardiff are closing because they cannot find the cash to submit to the new rules.

In contemporary Britain, ordinary people increasingly seem to need a licence for just about anything. The old tolerant culture of permission is giving way to one which makes assumptions of transgression. But music does not need to be licensed; there are already laws to deal with nuisance noise – and anyway 90 per cent of complaints stem from overloud private parties rather than from commercial events. Nor it is reasonable for people to move in next to an established venue and then complain about the volume.

All the great artists, whether stadium-filling behemoths or sensitive folk singers, began with nervous shows in a church hall or a room over a pub. Licensing them will stifle much of the music of the next generation – and sometimes carries a whiff of racism. Small venues are the seedbed in which new talent is nurtured. They must be protected from bumptious planners who heedlessly tread on these new flowers in their anxiety to hammer up notices telling us all that we must not walk on the grass.

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