Give Us A Break Brake - There Is A Limit...!!!

Beginning Of The End! Many of us, of a certain age, remember what could still go down in history as the beginning of the end for the public house and consequently the pub live music scene. Recent years have witnessed governments and breweries alike putting the squeeze on what used to be a great British institution, prevalent on every street. So much so that many of our small time musical haunts have now disappeared. Pubs that used to be vibrant with the beat and melody of a live band or duo, are now turning out Big Macs and pizzas. Of course some have been developed for housing. Many have been taken over by Tesco Express. A bargain for them but at what ultimate cost to Britain's youth and our musical future?

Love Of Music: The pub live music scene has provided many people over the years with a great amount of pleasure. It has also been a nursery, schoolroom and workshop for musicians of all ages as they are able to go out and play on a regular basis, so improving and honing their skills. For musicians it has never been fantastically lucrative at this level, but as musicians, we don't mind because we enjoy what we do. Most musicians play for love and it is the love of music that keeps us going. It is also the love of live music that helps to support the scene as people turn out week in week out to support the gigs. Normally associated with such nights in the pub and some good music is the facility to have a couple beers, or similar, and although the law has rightly clamped down on abusive drinking and driving, we in the U.K. are currently still allowed the privilege of a couple of beers and to be able to drive home without breaking the law. Many of us musicians and supporters of the local music scene alike have been doing this for years. One thing that we have luckily avoided inheriting from our association with Europe is the lower drink drive limit which would go a long way towards nullifying this pleasure.

Not The Band: Even so, every now and again, the crusaders (not the band, I hasten to add), appear on the TV raising the profile of the fact that our drink drive tolerance is higher than Europe, and campaigning to bring the U.K. in line. Some even want a zero tolerance. A few weeks ago I switched on the TV first thing in the morning, one of the breakfast shows, to see a lady from a charity called Brake, arguing in favour of lowering the limit or even instituting a zero tolerance. Of course my reaction to this was how such a move would affect musicians and public alike, who can currently still travel out to gigs, have a couple a beers or similar, and drive home again without breaking the law. Of course, many older musicians and supporters alike have been doing this for years and years and years, without a problem. I personally have been doing this for nearly forty years without problem or incident, and I'm sure (not to mention the editor) there are many veteran's, musicians and supporters alike, with more such experience than that. This lady made the point that 65 people, even though under the limit, were still killed on the roads last year. However, of the 1754 people killed in 2012, this is a small number. One could arguably level a similar statistic to people who had had tea or coffee. It is therefore quite possible that in such instances the cause was something else completely, drink was not a factor, and even devoid of alcohol, they may still have been amongst the statistics.

Punish The Innocent! The simple fact is that people inclined to drink over the limit and drive will do it anyway, regardless. Therefore, why punish the innocent for something that will not stop the guilty. Pubs have had a rough time in recent years and those still surviving have had to come through quite a lot. The internal smoking ban, generally a good thing (at least we can all smell much nicer) and beer in excess of £3 a pint, not such a good thing (compared to the supermarkets 75p). Over the last twenty years or so we have seen them closing at a rate of between ten and thirty a week (current rate 26). Nevertheless, some pubs have clung on for dear life and are still making a go of it. Natural selection, perhaps. Survival of the fittest. However, there is a limit to what can be withstood before the extinction of any species becomes inevitable. If we take away the facility for people to have a couple of pints and drive home this will surely be just another nail in the pub coffin. Therefore we must look closely at some of the facts and some of the facts of life.

Unnecessary Expense: Current figures from ROSPA show that the causal offences of such fatalities and the numbers attributable currently go something like this... speeding = 400, drink driving over the limit = 280, not wearing a seat belt = 200, careless driving = 300, aggressive driving = 120. One third of fatal and serious road crashes involve someone who was at work at the time and more than 400 people every year are killed in road crashes involving young inexperienced drivers between the ages of 17 and 24. The point is, if you are going to try and change the world for the better, you've got to make sure that it definitely is for the better and not at the unnecessary expense of others.

In The Home! Death is always tragic, however, if such charities are going to make such a fuss about a comparatively small number of deaths which cannot in any way be definitely attributed to alcohol, and spoil things for others in the process, why not do something about the 20,000-30,000 people that died from insufficient heating last winter? In fact, if one is going to be so picky, in this case at the expense of so many, where do you draw the line? Because the simple truth is that there is risk in everything we do. Well, for a start, there would be no young drivers on the road at all. Motorcycles would probably be banned altogether, as would cyclists on the road. Alcohol and tobacco would be banned (up to 15,000 + 100,000 annual UK deaths). As would over eating and sugar (morbid obesity is now set to bankrupt the NHS) and too much salt (currently 40,000 annual UK deaths). All risky or dangerous adventure sports would be banned (skiing, caving, mountain climbing, cave diving, etc, etc, etc). In fact, as you could get run down crossing the road, you might get to a point where you think people shouldn't go out at all. Well, having said that, as most accidents are supposed to happen in the home, you probably wouldn't be allowed to stay in either as this too could obviously be rather dangerous. We have to draw a line at a point where common sense prevails. To go beyond that line, and in doing so take fun, pleasure and livelihood away from people, one must be absolutely sure one is doing the right thing.

More Harm Than Good! That being the case, rather than put the brake on people's enjoyment, perhaps we should put the brake on excessive and unnecessary campaigning for things that we can do without. Things that would actually do more harm than good for so many. The Great British pub institution is currently hanging on the edge of the abyss by it finger nails. The last thing it therefore needs is anyone deliberately treading on its fingers. It wouldn't be so bad if there was concrete evidence that 65 deaths a year were solely caused by people having had a couple of pints, but in fact this is not the case and cannot be shown to be so. As it is such a proportionally small number, that number could be completely coincidental or attributable to any number of things. In fact, what is 1754 (number of road deaths in 2012) divided by 65? Answer, approximately 1/27th. Less than 4%. Hardly proof of anything. Is it worth adding to the death and misery of the pub scene and helping to ruin what's left of the business for our future generations for something that is not proven? Besides, surely if death is your concern, there are more problematic areas spread right across society, to say nothing of right across the globe!

What's Left Of It! We have to be very careful when trying to do the right thing and to do good. If we over step the mark and become too zealous we may even be in danger of becoming a 'Do Gooder'. This is usually a rather derogatory reference to people who think they're doing good but actually make a mess of things for others in the process. There is plenty of evidence for that in our society and, funnily enough, quite a lot of it comes from Europe too. If we are not careful, in future years, and for future generations, there may not even be any small live music venues left. People in our game are living testament to the fact that there is no major problem with the existing regime, otherwise we would not be here after so many years of living it. There is a limit. If it's all the same to Brake, and anyone else, we would really like to try and hang on to what we've got. Or at least what's left of it!
Crosstalk by Taz: February 2014