Ye Olde Jazz

Strike down the band


Two British lords allowed themselves to be brusquely bum-rushed from a London pub in July, for the crime of performing jazz without a license. Lord Corwyn and Lord Redesdale's deliberate act of civil disobedience was a public relations ploy, part of an ongoing campaign to amend a British law that prohibits more than two people from playing music in a pub if the pub lacks an entertainment license. The fines for unlicensed performances can be as much as 20,000 pounds or six months in jail.

That license is often prohibitively difficult or expensive to get. The Weymouth and Portland Borough Council declared in July that even audience members singing along counted toward the number of performers that triggers the permit requirement. The cost of complying with the various local remodeling conditions for the permit—which often include completely new signage and doors—can run to thousands of pounds, and even then with no guarantee the license will actually be issued.

The law dates back to the 18th century, but enforcement was ramped up only in the 1980s as local authorities began to see it as a moneymaking opportunity. The Rolling Stones' spokesman has lamented to the press that strict enforcement of the law during the Swinging '60s would have stopped the Stones in their tracks by severely limiting the number of places they could play.

Most of the proposals on the table for overhauling the law don't involve unfettered liberty for live music, but merely increasing the number of musicians who can perform before triggering the fine, or streamlining and nationalizing the permit process to prevent local authorities from taking undue advantage.