This simple change in the law could save our music venues

After a concerted campaign, the government have agreed to back new legislation which could protect live music in the UK.

For too long, one scenario has been familiar to music fans – one which has been killing live music.

It goes like this: a new development is built next to a longstanding music venue. Complaints are then lodged about noise from the music venue. The music venue closes.

35% of music venues having closed across the UK in the last decade. But this week the government did something good – backing the ‘Agent of Change’ plan to protect music venues across the UK.

The plan will ensure that developers have to take account of the impact any new scheme might have on pre-existing businesses, such as music venues.

As the Music Venue Trust explain:

“The Agent of Change Principle is not complicated or controversial: [it] says that the person or business responsible for the change is responsible for managing the impact of the change.

“This means that an apartment block to be built near an established live music venue would have to pay for soundproofing, while a live music venue opening in a residential area would be responsible for the costs.”

It’s a simple change to planning – but it could have a huge impact on protecting live venues. And the fact that the government have now backed it is testament to the hard work of all those involved in the campaign – many of whom are part of, or associated with, the Labour movement.

In particular, the work of UK Music, the Music Venue Trust and Labour MP John Spellar – who first introduced the ‘Agent of Change’ bill in Parliament following a mass rally earlier this month – has been integral in driving the campaign forward.

John Spellar believes there is now ‘real hope’ that new provisions ‘could be law by the summer’, whilst Tom Watson – a longstanding supporter of the campaign – declared the news a ‘huge victory for venues, artists and music lovers’.

As someone who, for the past two years or so, was part of an amateur band – gigging predominantly in London, when possible – I know the survival of small venues, and particularly those venues that are open to putting on new bands midweek or at the weekend, will go a really long way to ensuring the survival of amateur bands.

I’m not focusing here on bands with one eye on the big time, or those that, bravely, drop everything and devote themselves to a musical career. Although these bands do, of course, rely on small venues across the country as they look to make their mark.

I’m thinking more about part-time amateur bands, giving it a go out of pure enjoyment and their love of music. Search Gumtree and you’ll find them in their thousands. Looking for bandmates. Sharing musical interests and influences. Hunting drummers.

Weekends are spent inside practice studios that, always, feel like they are in the middle of nowhere and, once you’re there, you have to spend half your studio time nearly breaking down the door to get someone’s attention because of the death metal band warming up inside.

Why do it? Well, partly, because you know you’ll work on some material that can be played live one day. Or, more realistically, because you’ve got a gig booked in three days and you haven’t seen, let alone played with, your bandmates for weeks.

The point is that, for these kind of bands to survive – the ones that fill small venues up and down the country and make our music scene so vibrant and varied – they need to have places to play. There is only so much enjoyment, and feedback, you can get from playing to a wall.

The live music experience is where much of the fun of being in a band comes from and – perhaps even more importantly – where a part-time bands sense of creative purpose comes from, too. New material is honed and practiced to potentially record one day, but also to be tried on an audience within a live gig setting. That keeps you going, and keeps you practicing, too.

With the government now behind the proposed changes, there is hope, once again, for small music venues across the country. Their survival will be to the absolute benefit of the communities they serve and – let’s not forget – those bands playing for the sheer fun of it across the UK, too.

James English was the Labour Party Candidate for the Constituency of Beaconsfield at the 2017 General Election, and is current Vice Chair of the Labour Party in Beaconsfield.

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