FolkWorld article by Michael Moll:

suffolk & beyond II: Two in a Bar etc.

Plenty of Old Folkies for Christmas and the satire
of a licening law prohibiting sessions and sing-alongs

The year 2002 has started, and the good old Pound Sterling is still there. Good Old England is still the same, as some strange laws show - like the Two in a Bar one (see below!). But before I come to such serious matters (that serious that they sound like being a bad joke), I look back to Suffolk & beyond's December - Christmas time...

Drawing by Annegret HänselMaddy Prior's Christmas Show

December sees England being flooded by Christmas cards - it seems that you need to send at least 20 Christmas cards, otherwise you have no friends. Suffolk people seem to have been above-average busy with their card writing - the local post simply could not cope anymore, so it was decided that a big part of it should be sent up to Edinburgh to be sorted there. So it might have happened that you would receive a card from your neighbours with a post stamp from Edinburgh on it, and arriving a week after being posted... Quite fun... December is also the time of the Pantomimes, yet there were possibilities to see folk music instead or - as in my case - additionally. There was the Christmas theme concert with Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band at the Corn Exchange in Ipswich. The fun started already when asking for the reserved tickets at the box office - "you say your name is MOLL? No, there is no ticket for you..." After a bit of discussion and the support of the road manager of Maddy Prior, the lady looked again, asking "What was your name again?" - "Moll" - "Ah, why didn't you say that before!" - and she gave me an envelope with the name Mowle on it... Mmmmh. Amusingly enough, she misspelt not only my name, but wrote on the envelope "Tickets for Maggie Prior"....

Somehow this was an evening where you could step back in time. Starting with the fact, that the Corn Exchange - an architecturally rather beautiful building - has still an interior from the 60s, and it just looks like that. Add to that that the audience consisted also 90 % of folkies from the late 60s, and you have the perfect 60s experience. I think I have never before seen such a high proportion of Folkies that were undoubtedly already fans of Maddy Prior when they were young and had long beards (plenty of whom still hav them today). It was fun to look at the audience, wondering how they might have looked back then in the 60s, in the times of Sex & Drugs & Rock'n'Folk...

Maddy Prior used to be the singer of one of England's biggest names of the Folk Rock movement, Steeleye Span. She started her solo carreer not too long ago. For this very concert, a theme concert on Christmas music, she had brought along a talented young band, the Carnival Band, playing an amazingly broad range of instruments, including some authentic instruments from the Middle East and Africa (like ud, saz, darabuka, djembe, turkish clarinet). Unfortunately, it was very much a concert of Maddy accompanied by the Carnival Band. She was quite always the focus on stage and in the music. Nothing against her - she still has a magnificent voice, not much changed since the Steeleye Span days - yet it was a bit of wasted talent with the Carnival Band. As soon as the Carnival Band got a bit of space (when Maddy went away to change her dresses...) they started to improvise, to have fun, to show all their skills. But once Maddy was back on stage, she seemed to have ordered seriousness from them; they were down-graded to a background band. The now grey haired lady of British Folk Rock made the show, dancing around when there were some instrumental parts. She sang her songs, and the audience loved the more traditional English songs. When the music and songs became more innovative, like the song series travelling into the Middle East and Africa with its music traditions, most of the audience was more reserved - for me those moments were highlights of the concert: Maddy Prior's Voice is perfectly suited to such World music experiments, and the Carnival Band shone with their talent.. Obviously the audience was only there for the singer, dreaming of the times of Steeleye Span...

Mair Ni Chathasaigh & Chris Newman, photo by The MollisIt was a good concert, although I wished that the Carnival Band would have had a bigger part of the show. Yet the audience wanted to see Maddy Prior with band, and not a band feat. Maddy Prior.

Maire Ni Chathasaigh & Chris Newman

Seeing that were some 500 people in the audience at Maddy Prior & Carnival band concert, it was a shame to see that at the concert of Maire Ni Chathasaigh & Chris Newman at the Colchester Folk Club was visited by maybe just 50 people. Although there we could experience world class performers, offering a concert that was - purely from a musical point of view - several leagues above it. Chris Newman is one of the most gifted guitarists around; his style is at home in Jazz as well as Rock and traditional Irish Folk and plenty of other music styles. Maire meanwhile is an extremely skilled Irish harp player and a good singer. She can actually speak as fast as she plays the harp! And not only were we treated with the unique tremendous music ranging between Irish Folk, Jazz and some exotic ventures, we were also wonderfully entertained by the dry sense of humour of Chris, and we have found out how difficult it might be for a guitarist to find a title to his tunes - the tunes might be extraordinary - but Chris's imagination often stops when it comes to finding a title... A really great night out.

Two in a Bar - bizarre English law

Bizarre laws can be found probably all around the world. And sometimes it affects folk music. FolkWorld has reported often enough about the so-called Foreigners' Tax for foreign performers in Germany (which will now be changed). England has traditionally strict laws for pubs. That up to now normal pubs have to finish serving at 11 p.m. every evening is widely and internationally known, yet the "Two in a Bar" law is lesser known. Here is some info on it; so bizaare it could be a satire...

The debate centres around the fact that although no licence is required for loud discos, Pubs and Clubs in England and Wales can't allow more than two musicians to perform on their premises without a special Entertainment licence (PEL), which is very hard to get, and at times also very expensive (depending on the local authority - especially in London it is extreme). Unlicensed live music is seen as a criminal offence, the maximum penalty is a 20,000 fine and six months in prison!

You need in fact for any possible "venue" - from schools via hospitals to your private home! - a PEL for any "public entertainment performance". Only exceptions for the PEL are if the event is for a charitable or educational purpose, or if it is part of a religious service, in a place of public religious worship (outside London), on Crown land or by the (above mentioned) up to two 'performers' in on-licensed premises (bars, restaurants etc).
Only about 5 % of the on-licensed premises hold an annual PEL.

Drawing by Annegret HänselTheoretically, one way to avoid the necessity of a PEL is setting up a private member club - and that is also one of the reasons why at plenty of English clubs you are only allowed in as a member (it is no problem to become a member though - you just need to inform the club a day or so before the concert that you are intending to become a member).
Setting up a private members club is complicated though - if for example alcohol is on sale, a formal registration must be made to the magistrates court so that a hearing can consider all aspects of the club formation (a minimum required number of members, rules, committee structure etc). This is not an easy option.

This law takes some really bizarre forms. If for example a musician uses backing tapes, it becomes again illegal - combining even one live musician with any form of 'recorded sound' is illegal in such premises without a PEL. Even MIDI technology, almost universal in modern electronic instruments, is counted as 'recorded sound' by some local authorities. Yet the pub will not need a PEL if they play any other form of recorded sound or satellite television - as long as no live musicians play at the same time!

If in these premises the public sings along during a performance, the public is counted as performers in the interpretation of many local authorities.

The Government has already two years ago proposed radical reforms to licening laws. A White Paper was published in April 2000. It proposed to end public entertainment licensing as a separate licensing regime. All venues which serve or sell alcohol or provide any entertainment to the public would be required to obtain a 'premises licence'. The Government are also proposing to change the law to allow 24 hour opening times. In reality there will be very few premises open for round-the-clock drinking because local residents will have the power to veto such licence applications.

Drawing by Annegret HänselThe new licening bill was promised just before the General Elections las summer, but - although the same government is in power - activity has remained static. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, responsible for licensing since 8 June last year, is now saying that legislation will be introduced 'as soon as Parliamentary time permits'.

Early in December 2001, the 'Two in a Bar' debate came once again into parliament, with some embarrassing results. Junior culture minister Kim Howells was approched about the matter in Parliament. Misguidedly, he appeared to dismiss the matter, declaring he wouldn't want to listen to three Somerset folk singers. Hobgoblin Music arguments: "Despite this misconception of the rich and varied culture of live music in the UK, at least the issue of getting the licencing laws changed has been brought up in Parliament."

Protest actions are going on in the likes of the Musican's Union and the EFDSS. Hopefully, also this bizzare, anti-cultural law will be changed soon.

A lot of the information on the Two in a Bar debate are from the FAQ at the Website of, and from the Hobgoblin site.

Some more useful links to folk in Suffolk and beyond:

Drawings by Annegret Hänsel,
Photo: Maire Ni Chathasaigh & Chris Newman, photo by The Mollis.

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