Mon­day is de­ci­sion day for live mu­sic in Ed­in­burgh

The Herald - Arts - - OPINION - NEIL COOPER

BACK at the start of this year’s Fes­ti­vals, the Tat­too fea­tured a mu­si­cal trib­ute to the late David Bowie at Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle. A few nights later, Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val opened with Deep Time, a spec­tac­u­lar au­dio­vi­sual event that beamed state-of-the-art pro­jec­tions onto Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle’s walls to a thun­der­ing sound­track of work by Glas­gow-based band, Mog­wai.

Both events were epic ex­am­ples of the sig­nif­i­cance of pop and rock mu­sic to in­ter­na­tional cul­ture. Else­where, the Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Book Fes­ti­val fea­tured read­ings from former Fall gui­tarist Brix Smith-Start and ex-Dr Feel­good driv­ing force Wilko John­son, while live mu­sic fea­tured in the latenight Un­bound strand. On the Fringe, mu­sic fused with theatre in many shows.

On Mon­day, as EIF pre­pares for its fi­nal big bang at the Fire­works Con­cert, Ed­in­burgh Li­cens­ing Board will meet to dis­cuss a pro­posed change to the City’s leg­is­la­tion re­gard­ing am­pli­fied mu­sic be­ing played or per­formed in venues. Lo­cal law as it stands states: “The Board will al­ways con­sider the im­po­si­tion of a con­di­tion re­quir­ing am­pli­fied mu­sic from those premises to be in­audi­ble in res­i­den­tial prop­erty.” This means that if mu­sic can be heard be­yond the four walls of a venue, those re­spon­si­ble are break­ing the law.

Given that the David Bowie trib­ute and Deep Time were au­di­ble across the city, both might be in­ter­preted as hav­ing been in breach of a leg­is­la­tion which has made Ed­in­burgh an in­ter­na­tional laugh­ing stock. At Cana­dian Mu­sic Week in Toronto, in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als greeted the rev­e­la­tion of Ed­in­burgh’s pol­icy with laugh­ter and de­ri­sion. At Pri­mav­era Pro in Barcelona, the clause was men­tioned in a panel on plan­ning, where­upon a Span­ish trans­la­tor stopped trans­lat­ing, be­cause it was, in their de­scrip­tion, too stupid to be ex­plained.

The pro­posed change in word­ing is the far more nuanced: “Am­pli­fied mu­sic shall not be an au­di­ble nui­sance in neigh­bour­ing res­i­den­tial premises.” This is a sub­tle but sig­nif­i­cant change that ac­knowl­edges that mu­sic isn’t in­audi­ble. It is not, as some of those op­pos­ing the pro­posal seem to be­lieve, a li­cense to turn the vol­ume up to eleven.

The Li­cens­ing Board’s de­ci­sion will be the cul­mi­na­tion of a three-month pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion, which was drawn from a re­port by the UK-wide mu­sic in­dus­try body, Mu­sic Venue Trust, and pro­posed by a body called Mu­sic is Au­di­ble (MIA). MIA is a City of Ed­in­burgh Coun­cil­con­vened work­ing party of mu­si­cians and in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als work­ing with coun­cil­lors and coun­cil of­fi­cials. I have been a mem­ber since its start in 2014.

The pro­posal has the full sup­port of the Mu­si­cian’s Union, the Scot­tish Mu­sic In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, the Mu­sic Venue Trust and the Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh-based Live Mu­sic Ex­change, who con­ducted a live mu­sic cen­sus in 2015 that dis­cov­ered that forty per cent of mu­si­cians who took part had their work­ing lives neg­a­tively af­fected by the cur­rent leg­is­la­tion. One sus­pects that there is tacit sup­port too from some of the city’s key artis­tic stake-hold­ers.

The main op­po­si­tion has come from some com­mu­nity coun­cils, who, in the spirit of lo­cal democ­racy, are statu­to­rily con­sulted by CEC. MIA ap­proached each of Ed­in­burgh’s com­mu­nity coun­cils of­fer­ing pre­sen­ta­tions ex­plain­ing the pro­posal. Sev­eral took up the of­fer, but Morn­ing­side Com­mu­nity Coun­cil wrote a po­lite let­ter back ex­plain­ing that as they had de­cided to op­pose the pro­posal, a pre­sen­ta­tion wouldn’t be nec­es­sary. This is a pity, as it would have been in­ter­est­ing to hear rep­re­sen­ta­tives of an area that is hardly Rock’n’roll Cen­tral ex­plain their po­si­tion. New Town and Broughton Com­mu­nity Coun­cil have placed their thoughts on their web­site, and it makes for quite a read. As with their sub­mis­sions to the Li­cens­ing Fo­rum, who are also statu­tory con­sul­tees, it con­tains lit­tle in the way of fact.

Per­haps those against the change should com­pare Ed­in­burgh’s cur­rent pol­icy with other cities. In Ade­laide, rules on live mu­sic pro­vi­sion have just been rewrit­ten, ditch­ing red tape in a way that recog­nises the sig­nif­i­cance of a vi­brant live mu­sic scene, both to the econ­omy and a city’s artis­tic well-be­ing. In Lon­don, fol­low­ing sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives in Am­s­ter­dam, re­cently elected mayor Sadiq Khan is set to ap­point a night czar, who will over­see the city’s night-time econ­omy in a way that pro­tects it from en­croach­ing gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.

On Mon­day, there is a real chance to be­gin the move to­wards an equally pro­gres­sive ap­proach to live mu­sic in Ed­in­burgh. For the world’s orig­i­nal Fes­ti­val City, whose year-round mu­sic scenes feed into of­fi­cial events, the Li­cens­ing Board must make its de­ci­sion based on fact rather than some of the more fan­ci­ful ob­jec­tions raised. Ed­in­burgh’s mu­sic com­mu­ni­ties, who have as much own­er­ship of lo­cal leg­is­la­tion as any other res­i­dents, can only hope com­mon sense will pre­vail.

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