Mark, My Words: no, Roger Daltrey, bands won’t be able to tour like “before the EU”

Columnist Mark Beaumont thinks Daltrey was talking about the wrong generation

Everything’s so simple if you really sit down and don’t think about it. Case in point: the notoriously black-or-white, cut-and-dried issue of Brexit. “As if we didn’t tour Europe before the fucking EU!” snaps Roger Daltrey at a Sky News reporter asking him “how are you going to tour Europe?”, and storming off camera, presumably to join a country-length march that resembles a befuddled coach trip to a garden centre that’s gone astray into a muddy field near Sunderland and is gradually being decimated by Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Bandmate Pete Townshend scarpered along after him, as though worried that, if the reporter’s gone rogue, she might slip in a quick “where’s that book, Pete?”

 

To be fair, it was a silly question. Roger Daltrey will tour Europe after Brexit in exactly the same way he did before we joined the EU. He’ll be jetting in from a central continental hub on a plane with his face on the front to soak up the lion’s share of a major festival’s profits and get back in time for a salmon supper and Three Men In A Boat. He won’t notice Brexit as he’s swept through fast-track on an airport buggy painted with a mod target roof in his honour. He’s not going to be down any embassies with the best part of four months’ rent queuing for elaborate visas, or arguing until dawn with any Guardia over the precise number of guitar picks he’s allowed to have in his fleet of 12-wheelers. Roger Daltrey will be flying over, past and around all of that bollocks. Roger Daltrey will tour Europe just fine.

A more sensible question might have been “don’t you care about the bands that will struggle to tour Europe?” Because clearly Roger hasn’t given a second thought to the bands, roadies, tour managers and techs for whom Brexit is gearing up to a Cloverfield’s nuts of a ball-ache, if not actually financially impossible. What Roger’s forgotten is that, before Britain joined the EU – and anyone under thirty might find this difficult to conceive – bands made money from selling records. Lots of money, some of them. Expensive car in swimming pool money. 400-acre trout farm money. They could even knock out a couple of albums a year if they liked. Touring Europe, at the small and medium level, was a costly business but often mitigated by the record sales it generated.

Today those tours are the income in themselves, and the streams, follows and shares they generate are a welcome fan-building by-product. Those early tours are often break-even at best, until you’ve done enough of them to crack the upper end of the European festival posters, so any extra costs eating away at that marginal profit you’ve eked out by subsisting on one Curly-Wurly between four per day for a month is going to hurt. Touring the US currently involves costly visas – show me a new band that’s toured America and I’ll show you a band with the debt of a post-bender Johnny Depp.

Now I won’t bore you here with all the intricate details of how copyright changes, new tax arrangements, delayed royalty payments and a drop in EU arts funding will effect post-Brexit touring musicians because I don’t understand them, you’ve clearly mistaken me for City AM or something and I’d like to be drunk in time for Fleabag if that’s alright. But let me talk to you a moment about carnets. Roger probably thinks they’re something to do with The Wacky Races too but carnets are actually documents listing the equipment that bands were permitted to take across borders, to avoid VAT-free goods smuggling. Before freedom of movement, UK bands had to list everything they were transporting around Europe, right down to individual pedals, leads and flame-throwing codpieces. Feargal Sharkey recalls watching his roadies spending hours at the end of gigs in the ‘70s coiling broken guitar strings and taping smashed drumsticks back together because, at every border, every single item on that carnet had to be accounted for. They can cost up to £2,000 a year and cause such a delay at borders that playing two shows in two nights in different countries would be impossible. Whack on the price of a hefty Shengen area visa – or even, god forbid, visas for each country you play in – and you can forget about planning your quickfire Sleeping In Baths Tour of the continent, Sports Team, you’d best concentrate on inventing teleportation.

Carnets won’t bother old Rog of course – festivals only happen at weekends and he can easily afford two crew convoys if he’s got a busy one on, while he gets wafted in on a private mod Pegasus in plenty of time for pre-gig bulldog canapés. But in an age when labels are investing less in tour support and more and more acts are taking advantage of the online freedom and opportunities to control their own career in a grassroots DIY manner, scrimping and crowd-funding their way to the middle, these sort of costs and delays are absolutely crippling to the global ambitions of the UK scene. It works both ways too – WOMAD is already struggling to find non-EU acts willing to endure our tightened visa system and we shouldn’t be surprised if, before too long, Afrika Express just ends up being a miserable Damon Albarn playing Yousou N’Dour’s ‘Seven Seconds’ on a noseflute. What happens if Brexit puts off rising US and European bands too? Wall to wall George Ezra and Gerry Cinnamon all summer, every year, forever, that’s what.

Brexiteers might argue that it’s healthy for our new bands to give up their dreams of playing to millions from atop the Arc de Triomphe or filling a Stadthalle full of screaming pissenpantenfrau. That Hot Trouser Crisis, Goat Rimmers Inc and Shoot My Arse To Venus should all stay here, support our grassroots music culture and make British music great again. But music is automatically global now; if we revert to an archaic, insular British way of thinking then Mumford & Sons have won. Daltrey’s attitude is a horribly prevalent one across the Brexiteer ranks. It isn’t about the haves looking down on the have-nots, it’s about the haves actively preventing the have-nots from ever having. Why not think about a musical generation besides your own, Rog.