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‘People really need to blow their own trumpet’

David Davies 1 April 2010
‘People really need to blow their own trumpet’

As architect of the Live Music Bill, Lib Dem peer Lord Clement-Jones wants to make it easier for small venues in the UK to host live performances. But what could – and should – be done to help the manufacturing and studio sectors that also contribute so much to cultural life? David Davies asks the questions. The months immediately preceding a General Election invariably incline towards the frenetic as parties contend with the challenges presented by various outstanding Bills and the need to start preparing for the campaigns to come. The end of the current parliamentary period  in the UK is no exception, but it is especially notable for the sheer volume of proposals that have direct implications for the live and recorded music sectors. The ‘big’ one, of course, is the Digital Economy Bill, a long-awaited piece of legislation informed by the Digital Britain White Paper. Whilst the Bill’s proposal to tackle illegal downloading and file-sharing has attracted the lion’s share of the media attention, its other measures include the enabling of ‘next generation’ mobile and wireless broadband services through ‘spectrum modernisation’. In a broader context, spectrum modernisation is an issue of which PSNE readers will be all too aware, with several areas relating to Ofcom’s decision to reallocate the 800 MHz band away from PMSE (Performance Making & Special Events) usage beyond 2012 remaining the subject of uncertainty. As the Liberal Democrats’ House of Lords spokesman on Culture, Media and Sport, Lord Clement-Jones has helped to scrutinise the Digital Economy Bill, but he also has a more personal crusade to his credit: the Live Music Bill. Prompted by a Department of Media, Culture & Sport (DCMS) survey that, says Clement-Jones, indicated a 5% reduction in live music held in smaller venues following the 2003 Licensing Act, the Bill seeks to “revive live music” in smaller venues through measures including the reintroduction of the ‘two in a bar’ rule, whereby two performers can play non- or minimally-amplified music in a pub or bar without a licence. Following a smooth passage through the upper chamber, the Bill’s fate in the House of Commons was hanging in the balance at the time of Clement-Jones’s conversation with PSNE on 9 March. His Commons equivalent, Don Foster, was hoping for a Second Reading on 12 March, but should there be insufficient time on that day the peer says that it would be “very difficult” to secure a further hearing before the General Election, which most observers expect to be called at the end of March ahead of a likely May 6 polling date. As he admits, “it was always going to be a bit touch-and-go in the Commons…” PSNE: Whether or not the Bill goes any further, do you think its main principles – ‘two in a bar’; the ability of any venue with a capacity of 200 or less to hold live music without a licence  – have now been acknowledged by all sides?Clement-Jones: I think there is a very strong understanding of the issues faced by the live music sector. Equity and the Musicians’ Union are solidly behind it, and what we [in parliament] are talking about really is the size of the venue that is eligible for exemption, which is now beginning to range between 200 and 100. So I think the question is the urgency with which it is put forward. The ability to stage live performance is one issue, but the forthcoming spectrum changes arguably represent an even greater challenge to the musical side of the creative industries. Do you think Ofcom and the Government have moved far enough in helping the PMSE sector to meet the costs of exiting the 800MHz band?We have a theme running through our advocacy of [supporting] live music, musicians and artists, and I have been fairly vociferous for the PMSE sector through the course of the Digital Economy Bill precisely for that reason; the loss of channel 69 could have a big impact, especially if no compensation is paid. I think the Government has made the right concessions and there will be a proper compensation scheme. As recently as yesterday, I had some fairly full assurances given on behalf of the Government about the impact on the PMSE sector. [But] the devil is always in the details when dealing with government and the campaign must not stop here. The Save Our Sound campaign has been very effective in raising the profile of the whole sector, and I am hoping that as a result of their actions and the issues they have raised in the House there will be a much better compensation scheme than was originally envisaged. As we have seen with the public outcry over Abbey Road, the UK studio sector is also under continuing pressure. What can be done to reinforce its historic status as a centre of worldwide excellence?That is a really tricky one because if you are talking about help through the tax system, no political party is going to promise special treatment for a particular sector at this moment. I have lobbied quite heavily with Don Foster for help for [certain aspects of] the creative industries, but the problem is that everybody makes special cases in different areas. With Abbey Road, there is one issue regarding the preservation of the site, but beyond that I think one has to ensure that the climate – the context – in which musicians operate is correct. A large part of that is making sure that their rights are protected so, a) we educate people that they can’t just download or upload whatever infringing material, and b) we make it much more difficult [for them] to do that. UK companies have made a major contribution to the evolution of pro-audio technology, so there is a case for more state support?I don’t think tax support is the right way to do it, [but there is a need for] sectors to bring themselves to the attention of government. For example, UKTI [UK Trade and Investment, which assists UK companies overseas] can be really helpful potentially if they wake up to the economic benefits of promoting a particular sector. Ultimately, a lot of it is about people really understanding that this is one of our key innovative sectors; people really need to blow their own trumpet. There are schemes to help people abroad and, also, there is no harm in collaboration; if there are trade associations that represent a sector there is nothing anti-competitive about basically using their best case to government for support and help, especially with regard to promotion. The Lib Dems could have an influential role on policy if, as some commentators suspect, the General Election fails to deliver a decisive result. In this event, would [party leader] Nick Clegg make arts and culture a priority area?One of the most heartening things for Don [Foster] and myself is that Nick personally launched our creative arts policy a month ago. Historically, arts and culture have been very much the Cinderella of government […] but I hope that with this kind of endorsement we would have an impact, and I certainly know that Nick feels very strongly about the importance of culture and music to our way of life. And, quite honestly, I think that if more politicians understood that we would be in a lot better shape as a county. Finally, what is your personal relationship to live music? Any specific in-concert highlights?I tend to see more informal gigs in pubs or clubs; booking tickets in advance [can be a problem] when there is a vote in Parliament and you can’t get out. But we did have MP4 [MPs band including SNP member and former Runrig keyboard player Pete Wishart] play at the Commons recently – that was fantastic! – and I have fond memories of seeing The Rolling Stones at Wembley. In fact, I went two nights running: the first in a box behind a glass panel, and the second down amongst the audience, which was a lot better. I learnt a valuable lesson there: it’s the atmosphere that really counts. Career In Brief:Lord Clement-Jones- Co-chairman of Global Government Relations, the government affairs and media relations practice of DLA Piper- Liberal Democrat life peer since 1998- Current Lib Dem spokesman on Culture, Media and Sport; also party treasurer- Other roles include being a board member of British American Business Inc and vice-chairmanship of the All-Parliamentary Group on China- Past CV highlights include positions with Kingfisher plc, Grand Metropolitan and London Weekend Television

Save Our Sound’s John Steven responds to Lord Clement-Jones’ comments about PMSE sector spectrum compensation… “Save Our Sound UK is extremely grateful for the support of Lord Clement-Jones and the Liberal Democrats in the campaign to secure adequate compensation for those in the PMSE sector who will be forced to replace their equipment as a result of their eviction from the Digital Dividend spectrum. However, we have as yet seen no concrete concessions from the Government. “Whilst we welcome the Government’s stated principle that those affected should be left no worse off, this objective needs to be realised in practice with minimal disruption to the industry. Quite simply, this will not happen under current proposals. As far as we are aware, these have not changed from the original intentions to exclude non-channel 69 equipment and provide only ‘residual value’. “Delivering a package that leaves those affected no worse off might be difficult, but these difficulties are irrelevant unless the Government is sufficiently committed to actually making it happen. Save Our Sound UK, a group now comprising over 4 million people, sincerely hopes that it is.”

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