Feargal Sharkey, CEO of UK Music, gives Jessica Harvey his views on the pub industry's role in the live-music scene.
Describe the importance of pubs to the live-music scene and vice versa.
Smaller venues provide the first platform and the first steps for an awful lot of the artists that the music industry relies upon. Pubs help artists to begin developing their careers, get a sense of self, a sense of identity and find out who they are. That is a situation that has existed probably since the birth of the modern music industry — where people like Adele have had an opportunity to get up in a room of a pub with a guitar and claim to the world that, with some talent and ability, she would like to play some songs and make some music. Without those little venues and that kind of opportunity, clearly that will have an impact on the future of my industry.
The other elements in all this, particularly in small venues, are that there are an awful lot of job positions created for people. Places where they can work on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night and the pub provides them with a source of income.
There's also a role for audiences that have an interest in the sorts of music that might not be catered for in the big high-street concert-type venues. Things in particular like blues music, jazz music, folk music — it's smaller venues that provide an outlet for those genres of music and an access point for audiences.
For the live-music industry, pubs are a cornerstone. One that we care passionately and enthusiastically about. Unfortunately, at the moment I don't think it's functioning properly, so I'm ambitious to change that.
Describe the current unease about the live-music situation in pubs at the moment.
While the Licensing Act may have begun with good philosophical intentions, to create a more efficient, flexible, fair, compact, more direct sort of licensing, in reality what it's done in the latter years has simply turned into a conversation about alcohol and alcohol-related crime and disorder. What's that got to do with live music? Now, live music is unfortunately getting caught up in this completely separate conversation, which is, quite frankly, completely unrelated. Plus, that whole conversation is having a direct and negative impact on the provision of live music, particularly in smaller premises.
Where do things stand right now with live-music licensing laws?
Things have been in purgatory lately. There are promises and reassuring comments being made by Government, but I can't see much evidence of anything being impacted yet. It's not to say that it won't happen, but I think there are frustration levels
that I can feel beginning to rise again. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has repeated the ambition of the coalition to reduce the red tape and the bureaucracy that is associated with live music, and perhaps it's now time to start delivering on those commitments.
We've made it perfectly clear from the beginning that we cannot see any reason to waylay music while we wait for the Licensing Act. We don't think that live music, overall, should have anything to do with the Licensing Act whatsoever. In terms of the smaller premises, we're somewhat confused and bewildered that anybody thinks that regulating those kind of small-scale venues and pubs is either reasonable, necessary or, indeed, proportionate.
Do you have any advice for licensees hoping to include live music in their pub?
It is the most joyous, wonderful thing in the world. The practicalities involve doing things like looking at the PRS website where they will find a lot of case studies and re-search highlighting the commercial benefits that live music can bring — especially to something like a community pub. It can increase spend and also enables people to come together and have a good time, to have a great night out and go home safe and sound.
Tell me about the pubs you remember playing in that supported live music, or the places you frequent that uphold that ethos.
There's any number of them out there. Not that long ago, I was walking past a little place in Camden and in the window was a man sitting, playing a Spanish classical guitar. Everyone seemed completely engrossed and fixated by it.
Live music does not have to be about simply playing at five million watts down at the corner pub on a Friday night, scaring small children — as some people might like
to have you believe. Live music comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
You will find that the Civic Trust, which did a report a few years ago about the whole of the night-time economy, was strongly recommending that live music should play a central part in that — if for no other reason than, perhaps, if there was a person out there that was finding themselves behaving somewhat inappropriately on a Friday night then they might be slightly less inclined to do so if they knew that their mum and dad were sitting 100 yards down the street listening to a bit of blues music in the local pub.
What more can be done to support keeping live music alive in pubs?
In terms of licensed premises, I am, as much as anybody else, enthusiastic about listening to a little bit of music late at night, so I encourage pubs to be those venues hosting live music.
Because, really, those moments always seem to be slightly better when you have something slightly foreign and alcoholic in a glass in your hand at the time, don't they?
What do you think John Peel would say about all this?
I know that John Peel would say those immortal words that could be a motto to live by: "I don't quite know what it is, but I think that more people should be encouraged to do more of it."