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Artists in Edinburgh plan day of protest over new licensing rules

By | Published on Wednesday 7 March 2012

A Little April Tomfoolery

Hundreds of artists in Edinburgh are planning on staging a day of “artistic disobedience” on April Fools Day in opposition to new licensing rules due to be introduced in the city.

The new licensing regulations will expand the number of live events that need to apply for a licence from city authorities, including free events, and while costs associated with those licences have been dropped in some cases, many fear that the bureaucracy involved will deter smaller venues and promoters from staging grass shows events that champion new talent, including live music.

Coming at the same time as two of the Scottish capital’s leading grass roots venues losing their current homes – the popular Forrest Café and marvellous Bongo Club – many fear this could have a hugely damaging impact on the gig and wider arts scene in the city.

Edinburgh councillors insist that the new rules are required because of legislation passed by the Scottish parliament two years ago, though it’s thought their counterparts in Glasgow might resist some of the requirements put in place by Holyrood. Councillors in both cities, and around Scotland, continue to consider the issue.

In protest at the new rules, artists are expected to stage numerous free events in venues across Edinburgh on 1 Apr without a licence. Publicity material for the campaign, called A Little April Tomfoolery, says: “Find a location and do your thing. Publicise it or don’t. Show off your pictures, burst into song, wax poetical, make a scene, find an audience. Just don’t apply for a licence”.

Six hundred people have now signed up to the campaign’s Facebook page, and organiser Jen McGregor – noting that this issue actually affected the whole of Scotland – told The Scotsman: “A lot of people have already come back to say that they will definitely organise something now and I think they’ll go ahead regardless of what councillors decide later this week, as the issue is not going to go away in Edinburgh, Glasgow, or anywhere else”.

Ironically this is all coming to a head in Scotland just at the Live Music Act becomes law in England and Wales. The long time in development Westminster legislation, which removes licensing obligations from smaller music events introduced by the 2003 Licensing Act, is due to get royal assent this week.

But the act does not apply North of the border (though neither does the Licensing Act it was amending). So while the music industry rightly celebrates the passing of the Live Music Bill in Westminster, their efforts might now need to be repeated in Scotland in support of the grass roots artists there who are now fighting off a separate set of arguably needless licensing legislation.