Mudcat Café message #742215 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #47285   Message #742215
Posted By: The Shambles
04-Jul-02 - 10:45 AM
Thread Name: Killed by the PEL system
Subject: RE: Killed by the PEL system
Details and history of PEL issues at Tall Poppy Presents…Lee Lindsey & friends acoustic showcase Henry VIII Hotel, 19 Leinster Gardens, Bayswater, W2 3AN.

We run an acoustic music venue in Bayswater called Tall Poppy Presents…Lee Lindsey and friends. We rely totally upon industry sponsorship and the night is free to get in. Lee Lindsey and Jack Guy started the venue because they realised the London music scene was really lacking in great places to play original music where artists could have the opportunity to showcase their material to their friends and fans and the music industry. A place where they would be treated with respect and given a wonderful setting, stage and sound, in the atmosphere of like-minded people. The genre of music we promote is roots rock and folk pop which is in-keeping with the Tall Poppy Record label Jack and Lee have started.

The gigs began around Easter, 2001 in a pub in Richmond, which was near the Tall Poppy Office and Studio. After an extremely successful 5 weeks we were offered a wonderful opportunity to host the night in central London at the Henry VIII Hotel, Bayswater. It was a big move for us and we closed down for 6 weeks to put all our efforts into promoting it before our opening night. We cruised the London scene looking for talent, making sure we had a roster of acts that would impress our audiences and the international music scene for months. After a time we had people from all over the world and the U.K. hearing about us and emailing us with requests to perform from artists, management companies, agents, record labels, publishers, etc… Tall Poppy Presents was a success!

Since running these events, we have made every effort to abide by the rules and conditions set out by the venue and made sure that we showed consideration to the local residents in the area by keeping our noise levels to a minimum by having only acoustic performers i.e.; no amps, big drum sounds or electric guitars. In the beginning, at Henry VIII Hotel, we didn't know much about PEL Licence's only that they were hugely expensive and we'd like to apply for one if the nights' would prove successful and worth spending so much on. So upon investigating the implications of not having one after the Hotel had it's first visit from Westminster Council, we went to great lengths to ensure we could operate legally while the licence was in application. We believe it was a Francis Keagan that visited the first time after an anonymous allegation from the residents association regarding overcrowding of the downstairs restaurant and bar where we hold our Tall Poppy nights. He had a lengthy discussion with the Hotel manager about what we could and couldn't do within the confines of the law.

At this October visit Mr Keagan requested that the sign, telling people Tall Poppy was presenting live music every Friday night, be removed from the entrance hall of the Hotel and also the posters inside the lobby. He said this meant that we were open to the public. This request was implemented immediately. The Hotel then had a word with Lee and gave her details of the Westminster visit and of the possibility of being shut down unless we only have 2 people on stage for the whole night! Obviously we were extremely upset over this as we had being going from strength to strength for 6 months by now and we also had acts booked up for the next 6 weeks and each and every act we put on takes great measures in, firstly qualifying to get to play and then secondly, promoting themselves with their fans and within the industry. For them Tall Poppy is a lifeline and a special opportunity to be heard.

Lee got on the phone straight away to Francis Keagan to see if there was a way something could be worked out and explained to Mr Keagan just exactly what Tall Poppy Presents was doing within the music community and how important it was we kept the club open. She explained that for the most part we ran as an in-house (music industry) folk/songwriters club whereby musicians played for their friends and family and invited certain music industry representatives to hear their music. He told her many things, all of which Lee took notes on. After careful consideration and talking things through, Lee came up with the idea of operating as a 'member's only' club and Mr. Keagan explained how this would have to work, legally, and that Westminster would be satisfied that we were operating within the correct boundaries. We needed to assign a membership secretary - that was already in place, Alex Mann. We had to have membership details for 24 hours previous before they could enter. A bonafide member could bring in as many guests as he/she likes. We followed everything to the Tee and we thought our problems would end there. Unfortunately for us, they didn't. If you could take the time to read this detailed report, it will explain exactly what we, at Tall Poppy and the Hotel, have been through at the hands of Westminster Council's enthusiastic PEL clampdown.

 After being made aware that the Hotel didn't have a PEL License, we had to take steps to be able to run the club without one for the time being. After some research, we found that we were able to run the event how we wanted by holding it as a private event each week, with invited guests only, a membership scheme and no advertising.

 Despite the complications and difficulties we realised that this would cause, we realised that this was the only way we would be able to hold the event and have a variety of acts perform, as opposed to the PEL rules which state that any live music event of this nature that it open to the public can only have two performers at any one time on the stage, and they must be the only performers during that show.

 We managed to work the licencing problems out by informing our audience that we would be running Tall Poppy Presents as a members only club from now on. We emailed everyone to let them know that in order to attend they must bring their membership cards with them. For those without cards, new members, they must first apply directly to Tall Poppy Records for a membership card, which would only be issued 24 hours after they have applied. As well as this, we also held a strict door policy that means no one could enter the club unless they were already a member, or were attending as a guest of a member. We made people prove this by asking them which member (either a performer or visitor) had invited them and then verifying this by checking the guest lists.

All members that attended Tall Poppy Presents had to bring with them a membership card every time they attended the venue, or admittance could not be guaranteed. On several occasions we turned people away because they had come to see "what was going on" or had heard about the night through friends of people who had previously played at Tall Poppy. These people were asked to sign up as members and return next week with a membership card so they could be admitted. Despite the extent that we have to go to in order to enforce these rules, we have always bided by them to the best of our abilities.

Events of 9th November 2001

On the 9th November last year, we held an event at Tall Poppy Presents called "Secrets On Parade". This was held in association with the music organisation BMI which is an American affiliate of the PRS, and it is important to note that all the acts that were playing that night were Danish. This meant that over 70% of our guests that evening were from Denmark, many of which had come from the Danish Embassy and other Danish organisations based in London. The night was extremely busy and was attended by over 80 people, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to cope with volumes of non-English speaking people arriving in large groups at the front desk.

Alex Mann, our membership secretary, who was working on the desk at the time, reported that it was becoming quite hectic at times, with many people who had been invited as guests by the artists and BMI who were holding the party not understanding why they were being asked to sign in, how the membership card scheme worked, etc. Two men approached Alex during a busy period of the evening and he asked them whom they had come to see.

He was told "everyone" by one of the men, and it was assumed that he meant he had come to see all of the acts on that evening. Alex then asked: "have you ever been to Tall Poppy Presents before?" "No" was the reply. Alex decided to enquire further: "How did you hear about us?" (Here Alex was looking for a reply that might indicate that they had walked on off the street). The two men replied that they had found Tall Poppy Presents on the Internet. At this point, Alex assumed that the two men were with the Danish party and drew the conclusion that they had not fully understood the membership scheme. The desk was still very busy and Alex took the decision to ask the two men to sign the register and go into the venue.

Later on in the evening, Alex and Lee were asked to the front desk, to find the hotel owner and manager being interviewed by the two men that had entered the venue earlier. These men revealed themselves to be Richard Nash a co-worker of Westminster City Council. After interviewing the hotel owner and the hotel manager, and explaining to Lee Lindsey and Alex Mann what they would be doing next, and that we would be hearing from them. As requested, Lee contacted them the following week and left a message.

After this, the hotel became very concerned about running the event but we reassured them that we would tighten up our security measures even more.

Several months later, we received a letter asking Lee to attend a formal interview with Richard Nash at Westminster Council. She was cautioned that she should bring a solicitor and Lee's response was, '…how could Tall Poppy possibly afford a solicitor, being a non-profit making organisation?' Actually, not only does Tall Poppy not make any profit but it costs Lee out of her own personal pocket to keep the night running. Speaking with the Hotel owner, Lee was advised to go to the interview as asked and just simply tell the truth.

Richard Nash, in the presence of whom Lee later learned was Francis Keagan, spoke with Lee for about 7-15 minutes before turning on a tape recorder and proceeded to ask more questions on tape. Actually, it was difficult to remember what was exactly on tape and what wasn't – I suppose this was part of his tactics. She was questioned for over an hour regarding the policies of Tall Poppy, how the membership was run, why they were able to gain entry on the 9th November. The transcript from this interview shows that Lee was questioned intensively about the gig by both interviewees and the objective of the interview seemed to be to catch Lee out and get her to admit that Tall Poppy Presents was an advertised show that was open to the general public.

Since this interview, Tall Poppy Records and Henry VIII Hotel have both been issued a court summons and told to expect a fine of £3000.00 payable by both parties. The court summonses were not sent registered post but we were to respond within 7 days of receipt of letter? The court date was to be July 10th which I have been led to believe a very important day in The House of Commons relating to just this – PEL laws. We have, for now, left our part of responding to the summons, to the solicitors of the Hotel and both parties (Tall Poppy and the hotel) have asked for a different court date, hopefully when school goes back in the autumn as Lee wouldn't be able to attend as both her children have end of term activities on this date and Lee being a single Mum can't be in 4 places at once. We are waiting to hear from Westminster and the court.

Because Tall Poppy Presents operates as a non-profit making organisation, we are not in any position to pay the legal fees to represent ourselves in court, and we are certainly not in a position to pay the fine that has been requested by Westminster Council. It is totally not fair to the Hotel that they cover our legal fees, nor do I think that they will in the long term. They have been extremely supportive of music and the arts and are involved in local and London cultural activities and to be bullied and persecuted like this is an outrage. They have spent an enormous amount of money so far in applying for a PEL license, buying our stage, the lighting, the beautiful backdrop curtains, helping the bands cover their costs to play at the venue, and most of all believing and standing by Tall Poppy when it was in its infancy.

We have approached a number of people who are supporting a change in the licensing laws for live music, namely Andrew Bishop of Carlsbro and Hamish Birchall of the Musicians Union, both of whom have been extremely helpful and supportive. We intend to continue down this route, and build up as much publicity as we can in order to raise awareness of the problems we have faced as a result of Westminster Councils actions. It is very important to note that the gig itself is held in the basement of the hotel, below ground level, in a room with no external lighting. No sound can be heard from the room at street level, and being an acoustic venue, we generally have a very respectful and considerate clientele.

Conclusion

We believe that we have never given Westminster Council a valid reason to intervene in the running of the venue, nor to question how it has been organised. Consider the following points:

 We have always intended, from the very conception of this venue, to obtain the correct licence in order to open this venue to the general public, and are now doing this.

 We have knowingly abided by every rule and guideline that governs the running of a music venue as a private club, including running a tightly regulated membership scheme with appointed secretary and not advertising the venue to the public.

 We operate a small, weekly acoustic club in an unobtrusive underground venue. This does not constitute noise pollution or otherwise cause inconvenience or discomfort for any of the residents of Westminster.  We have complied with every request made of us by either Westminster Council or the local Residents Association, i.e. removing advertising outside the hotel and in the foyer, keeping the doors of the venue closed when performers are on stage (despite the fact that nothing can be heard from street level anyway).

It is also important to consider the Arts and Culture initiatives undertaken by Westminster Council. Despite their apparent zealousness over cracking down on unlicensed venues, the council of Westminster had an office dedicated to supporting the Arts in Westminster. This is taken from the city councils Arts unit manifesto…

"…the aims of the Arts Policy are: To support, enhance and develop the infrastructure of arts provision in Westminster through investment, partnership, intervention, information and funding."