Friday, January 26, 2007

Jazz Outlaw

The following is a governmental response to a petition against The Licensing bill 2002-03.

"A great deal of misinformation has been circulating about our modernisation of the licensing laws in England and Wales and we are therefore not surprised at the level of concern that has been shown.

The Licensing Bill received Royal Assent on 10 July and is now the Licensing Act 2003. We believe that the Act will make it simpler and more affordable than now to stage live entertainment in the vast majority of cases and increase opportunities for musicians and other artists to perform. There will be no additional cost to provide musical entertainment on the new premises licence and fees will be set centrally by the Secretary of State to ensure consistency…

Short-term events would also benefit from the more informal system of permitted temporary activities under the Act, which would require a simple notification to the licensing authority and the police and a small fee of around £20. The Act allows for up to 12 temporary event notices to be given in respect of the same premises, subject to a maximum number of 15 days for the same premises during which permitted temporary activities may take place in a calendar year. The period permissible for any temporary event is a maximum of 4 days (96 hours). Furthermore, there is now an order-making power in the Act which - subject to affirmative resolution - enables those limits and the limit on the number of persons attending an event to be amended in the light of experience, should it prove that the balance between the rights of residents and the light touch approach of the system needs to be adjusted…." bla bla bla

Now here’s some of that ‘misinformation’ in a letter from the trumpet player Henry Lowther in which he describes precisely how the government’s new licensing regulations are damaging live music. “In the summer of 2005 I had the good fortune to be asked to play with a quartet, on a regular basis, in the Garden Cafe in The Regent's Park. This was for two mid-week late afternoons/early evenings per week for a period of three months, about 30 gigs in total. It was a delightful experience for all the musicians involved. We usually played outdoors, received generous and friendly hospitality and a good fee. The company who run the cafe, Caper Green, were delighted with the way it went (and so were the cafe's customers) and then invited us to play indoors for four Sunday afternoons prior to Christmas that year.

At this time the manager for the company said he would like us to play again throughout the summer of 2006, commencing at Easter, possibly three times a week and also maybe have us play in some of their other cafes. (Caper Green also run cafes in other Royal Parks, the cafe at Kenwood and also the restaurant in the Roundhouse.) As you can see, all of this would have amounted to a significant amount of employment for four musicians.

Unfortunately this came to nought thanks to the new regulations. In 2006 Caper Green, through their solicitors, applied for a Premises Licence for the restaurant in the Hub, a new sports facility in The Regent's Park, but found dealing with Westminster City Council complicated, difficult and time consuming. "It's a nightmare," were the manager’s words to me at the time. Among many other things, Westminster City Council, for some unknown reason, imposed a limit of no more than three musicians along with the installation of an expensive noise limiter even though the live music would be indoors and the Hub is located in the middle of the park.

All of this totally contradicts the DCMS’s claim that obtaining a Premises Licence with live music provision would be easy. Caper Green's intention was to obtain live music provision for the Garden Cafe once the Premises Licence was in place for the Hub but, as of last autumn, they never bothered, presumably because they had no wish to go through the troublesome and possibly expensive process again.

Prior to the implementation of this legislation, Royal Parks, being Crown land, were exempt from the necessity of a Public Entertainment Licence but are now required to obtain live music provision in their Premises Licence in order to engage musicians.

Why? If the system worked before why shouldn't it work now? This is just yet another example among many of the total logicality and stupidity of this bill. In the meantime the musicians involved lost considerable income with no compensation. In addition the public lost an opportunity of hearing good music in a pleasant environment.

The fact that the new licensing regulations don't require pubs, etc. to have a licence for them to present large screen televised sport or to play often loud background music is nothing less than a major concession to large corporate interests. Instead, this Government has chosen to regulate the performances of mostly minority and increasingly marginalised forms of music. Small venues, pubs, private premises, etc. who wish to present jazz, folk, improvised, experimental or avant-garde music are now in the almost Stalinesque position of having to seek permission from the State to do so and many of them simply don't have either the financial or organisational recourses to deal with it.”

Henry Lowther is one of Britain’s foremost and finest musicians.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Next Generation - high resolution downloads

Some good news to herald in - if somewhat belatedly- the start of the New Year: Linn Records, the label of the Scottish audiophile company, has launched what I believe to be Europe’s first high-resolution music download service.

Unlike other companies such as Naxos, who deceptively claim to offer CD quality when in fact what their Music Library provides is a low-fidelity 128kbps stream (CD is 1411kbps), Linn’s catalogue is available for download in true CD quality. Even more interesting, are the Studio Masters, of which there are only half a dozen at present, but which are available at the higher 24bit resolution. All are DRM free, WMA lossless media files and each download includes a Pdf file of the CD artwork, and presumably the CD notes.

This move is a highly significant breakthrough for the classical music (and the wider acoustic music) industry. With CD sales falling month on month the recording industry has been staggering along trying to reposition itself inline with consumer demand. Whilst the comparatively wealthy and agile popular music industry has been able to effect the necessary realignment with the emerging online market by implementing lossy (low-fidelity) downloads such as MP3 and AAC, the shrunken classical music industry has increasingly found itself left flailing behind; an unequal voice in an uncertain market.

And with good reason: if low-fi media files are able to represent the limited dynamic range of heavily compressed pop music tolerably well they are wholly unsuitable carriers for the broad dynamic range of acoustically recorded classical music. But without the support of the wider audio industry the classical music arm has insufficient strength to ensure the successful promotion of either DVDAudio (DVDA) or Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD) both of which are excellent media for classical music. Linn Records is the first to meet this technological challenge head on.

Their website offers an extensive, at times amusing, yet straightforward explanation of how to get the most out of the service as well as the thoughtful inclusion of test files whereby users can identify potential difficulties before making a purchase. But at the same time it does seem to place an unwarranted emphasis on the files being “suitable primarily for use on a PC” - perhaps as a caution to the impenetrable difficulties often encountered by Mac users - but unfortunately this does suggest a certain circumspection about the relatively straightforward process of burning the files onto a CDR for use in a standard CD player. Likewise, while the site makes clear that the Studio Master files can be backed up on DVD it fails to suggest the use of DVDAudio authoring software such as Cirlinca or Discwelder that would allow users to play Linn’s recordings in a standard DVD-A player.

Anyhow, well done Linn!

photo: Phil Hobbs of Linn Records