Monday is decision day for live music in Edinburgh
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.