It’s music to our ears

Stephen Pierre outside the bar he hopes to turn into the mini-Cavern of Blackpool
Stephen Pierre outside the bar he hopes to turn into the mini-Cavern of Blackpool
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We all know Blackpool’s got talent, but it could help if local venues take advantage of a change in licensing laws later this year.

The Live Music Bill, already law, will be introduced formally in October.

It will cut the red tape which put bands on the run after clubs, pubs, village halls and other premises were put off by the layers of bureaucracy introduced by the Licensing Act 2003.

Blackpool has long been associated with big name entertainers. But within the music trade, it’s known as the town which gave so many stars an early, or even first, break.

The town is a training ground for talent.

Impressionist Joe Longthorne honed his skills at Layton Institute – which celebrates 100 years this year – and returned the favour with a gig there at the height of his TV success.

Paul O’Grady, as Lily Savage, did much the same.

Take That stars Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams have also paid tribute to the grounding given on the resort’s clubland circuit.

Russell Watson was another rising resort star before hitting the stratosphere. Like so many before, it was a series of smaller gigs, in and around the local and regional circuit, which led to bigger showcases, such as a stint at North Pier for the summer season, and paved the way to his international career.

Others owe a debt of gratitude to the countless talent quests staged in the town over the years.

But it’s getting harder to find that elusive break for those unprepared, or unable, to go down the path of X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent auditions.

Under the current system a publican who puts on a solo performer without a public entertainment licence is committing an offence, and faces a fine of up to £20,000 or a spell in jail.

The bill has entered the statute book, but missed out on a summer start, as guidance is being revised for local authorities such as Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre, with a plethora of premises which could benefit. Essentially, it cuts red tape required for small gigs, altering licensing laws so that venues can present amplified events for up to 200 people without needing permission from local authorities.

Venues can host such gigs between 8am and 11pm. It also eases restrictions on the performance of unamplified music for even greater numbers.

All of which is music to the ears of musicians.

Blackpool musician and singer Stephen Pierre, who runs the Galleon Bar on Abingdon Street, says: “I am all for promoting live music, encouraging talent and keeping music alive. My hope is to present more live music and make the Galleon the mini ‘Cavern’ of Blackpool.”

Former councillor Robert Wynne, publican, restaurateur and rock promoter, agrees: “All sorts of bizarre hoops had to be jumped. It is often interpretation of the law that can be a problem, and that seems to vary in cycles. There is a huge amount of live stuff in Blackpool, which reflects how hard small venues are trying. Andy Daubney at The Blue Room is a good example, he put 30 live bands on over Easter weekend.”

Blackpool musician and disability campaigner Alan Reid concludes: “All musicians welcome the change. So many venues are struggling because of the recession, anything that can help and encourage them is good news.”

John Smith, general secretary of the Musicians Union, which covers the Fylde from its Manchester regional headquarters, hails it a breakthrough for “emerging musicians” and adds: “The number of gigs available to young musicians still perfecting their craft has gone down – the exemption the Live Music Bill introduces will be hugely beneficial to small venues.”

Campaigners have lobbied since licensing reforms were first discussed in the late 1990s, but the 2003 Licensing Act required more red tape, not less. A survey reported a five per cent slump in live music in secondary venues (where music is not the main business) after the act was introduced. The recession has dealt pubs and clubs a further body blow.

The Musicians Union plans to assess the impact of the change by monitoring venues before and after the trigger date. The reform is a triumph for Lib Dem peer Tim Clement-Jones who introduced a private members’ bill to the Lords after becoming culture spokesman for his party in 2004. Bath MP Don Foster, who championed the issue in the Commons, says: “We saw village halls, school halls, pubs and clubs reduce the amount of live music, not increase it, after the Licensing Act 2003.”

Jo Dipple, chief executive of UK Music, the UK commercial music industry’s umbrella body, says: “It will make a real and positive difference to lives of musicians. The current Licensing Act created needless layers of bureaucracy.”

Deputy PM Nick Clegg has supported the move. “No more having to pay for a piece of paper just to put on a little live music in a pub.”

And while some have concerns about noise and safety implications, local environmental health watchdogs stress that safeguards should be sufficient to keep the peace.