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UK: No live music in NI, no music at all in Scotland

Scottish music venues struggling under the weight of restrictions on live events are being further penalised by a draconian ban on all background music, according to the owners of nightlife businesses.

The devolved Scottish government introduced the ban on 14 August, citing an increased risk of Covid-19 transmission when people raise their voices to be heard in venues, pubs and restaurants. However, the Night-Time Industries Association (NTIA) – which says it believes the ban to be unique in the world, with Scotland the only country to have completely outlawed background music – says the ban lacks scientific evidence and is placing extra pressure on already strained businesses.

Promoter Donald Macleod, of Holdfast Events, says: “The sound of silence is now killing much of Scotland’s hospitality sector and beleaguered night-time economy; don’t let that be our nation’s Covid legacy. In the words of Plato: ‘Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.’”

“The background music ban is the kiss of death to ambience within the hospitality sector,” agrees Andrew Fleming Brown, managing director of Glasgow venue SWG3 (4,000-cap.). “There has not been any scientific evidence presented to support the ban, and, in fact, the only evidence indicates it has the reverse effect.”

In response to the ban – which also extends to the sound of televisions in pubs – the NTIA has announced a campaign, #DontStopTheMusic, which calls on supporters to share their favourite song of all time along with the #DontStopTheMusic hashtag.

“Our already damaged sector is in serious danger of being permanently wiped out”

Michael Grieve, chairman of NTIA Scotland, comments: “The total ban on background music is having a severe effect on many hospitality businesses, leading to completely sterile environments which some have likened to visiting a library.

“It seems completely disproportionate relative to other settings – and while our industry is totally committed to the serious public health imperatives which the Scottish government is focused on, our already damaged sector is in serious danger of being permanently wiped out unless this ban is removed.”

Like in the rest of Great Britain, pubs, clubs and other indoor spaces are Scotland are currently subject to a 10pm curfew, with only concert venues and theatres exempt if a performance has already started.

Elsewhere in the UK, authorities in Northern Ireland have confirmed that new restrictions introduced on 23 September include a total ban on live music.

In a summary of the new legal requirements for venues where alcohol is served, the Northern Irish tourist board, in a section on ‘entertainment and noise’, reveals that live music is “not permitted”, along with recorded music “for the purposes of dancing (ie DJs)”.

Recorded background music is still allowed in the country, though businesses are required to ensure they keep background music and televised sport at a volume where patrons do not need to raise their voices to speak.

“We call for the government to engage with our sector before imposing seemingly arbitrary decisions on an already struggling industry”

Northern Ireland does, however, have a slightly later curfew for hospitality businesses than in Great Britain: 11pm, as opposed to ten.

Colin Neill from industry group Hospitality Ulster describes the announcement today of a curfew as “another blow to our industry”.

“The sector is going to lose hours, it’s losing staff and it has lost live music, and needs to be given a fighting chance,” he says.

Alan Simms, founder of legendary dance music brand Shine and director of Belfast venue Limelight, says he has seen “no medical, scientific or behavioural evidence in favour of such curfews”, and that ejecting patrons at 11pm will push them “out of safe premises with social distancing measures into the streets en masse, and drive substantially higher footfall to unregulated environments, as has been observed in England at the weekend.”

“Furthermore, we believe we can deliver, and have already delivered, live music events safely within government guidelines, and call for the [Northern Ireland] Executive to engage with our sector before imposing seemingly arbitrary decisions on an already struggling industry,” he adds.

Along with their colleagues in England, Wales and Scotland, Northern Irish crew and touring staff took to the streets in recent days as part of the #WeMakeEvents campaign.


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Venues push for agent of change in Scotland

The owners of some of Glasgow’s leading venues have joined forces to drum up support for the agent-of-change principle north of the Scottish border, following the recent announcement from Westminster it plans to write agent of change into UK planning guidance.

The group – which includes King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (300-cap.) owner DF Concerts, along with SWG3 (450-cap.), Sub Club (410-cap.), O2 Academy (2,500-cap.) and O2 ABC (1,362-cap.) – are calling for other venue owners, music fans and any other interested parties to push for the agent-of-change principle to be adopted by Scotland’s Local Government Committee by visiting AgentOfChangeScotland.wordpress.com by 2 February.

Unlike England and Wales, there is no protection in place in Scotland to protect established businesses from development in surrounding areas. Agent of change, if adopted, would make developers building new homes near Scottish venues responsible for addressing noise issues.

A spokesperson for the campaign tells IQ that while the so-called Spellar bill to introduce agent of change is backed by the British government, it will also need to be separately adopted by the devolved Scottish government to take effect in Scotland.

“Scottish planning guidance must be brought into line urgently”

DF Concerts & Events CEO Geoff Ellis says: “Right now, music venues in Scotland are under threat and we need to act quickly to protect their future. Our venues are vital – they’re incubators for future headline acts, bring communities together through live concerts and generate £334 million for the Scottish tourism economy – so its therefore crucial we make sure they remain open.

“But to do this, we need to be heard, which is why we’re asking for the public, venue owners, people working in the creative industries and everyone who wants to protect these venues to work with us in pushing for agent of change. The UK government in Westminster has now implemented this move but it doesn’t yet apply up here, so we need the people of Scotland to contact the Local Government Committee to ensure our venues have the same level of protection.”

“Mike Grieve, MD of Sub Club, adds: “Nightlife is a massive contributor to the cultural wellbeing of our city. It’s vital that Glasgow’s creative community is protected from the threat posed by developers, many of whom seem apathetic to the concerns of music and arts venues, some of which may well be forced to close due to inadequate soundproofing in proposed new buildings.

“The agent-of-change principle has been adopted into planning guidance in England and Wales, and has now passed through a second reading in the UK parliament. Scottish planning guidance must be brought into line urgently if we want to avoid losing the venues which create the very conditions which most appeal to visitors to the city in the first place.”


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