Ex-Marillion singer Fish lays into government over EU Brexit touring fiasco: “I genuinely despair at the dreams that are being broken”

"We need a rethink, and we need it sooner rather than later as our future is in jeopardy"

Former Marillion singer Fish has laid into the government regarding the ongoing touring fiasco for UK artists in the EU after Brexit.

The government has come in for heavy criticism since the UK officially left the EU earlier this month over the Brexit deal’s lack of support for touring musicians, specifically in terms of the failure to implement visa-free travel in Europe for British musicians and their crew.

While Dowden previously told NME that the EU was to blame for not permitting visa-free travel for artists, the EU subsequently hit back by denying claims that they had rejected the UK’s “ambitious proposals” and saying that they had in fact offered the UK 90 days of visa-free travel – but the UK responded with their own proposal of just 30 days.

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Despite widespread anger from artists and music industry bosses calling on the government to “take this seriously and fix it”, ministers rejected the idea this week – insisting that “taking back control” of the UK’s borders is their priority and that talks would only resume if Brussels “changes its mind”.

Over 100 musicians, including the likes of Elton John, Liam Gallagher and Ed Sheeran, signed an open letter yesterday (January 20) criticising the government for their failure to support touring musicians in the Brexit deal.

Now, Fish, real name Derek William Dick, has added his voice to the outrage, saying that Brexit will “destroy” UK artist’s ability to tour in the EU.

In a lengthy post, which you can read in full below, Fish said: “I’m still reeling from the new regulations revealed by the UK Government just over 2 weeks ago regarding touring in the European Union post Brexit. I’ve been trying to make sense of it all from all the sometimes contradictory and often vague information available on various websites that are constantly being updated and working out how this affects my own business and career. It’s quite frankly confounding.

“I’ve grown tired of hearing ‘So what did musicians do before we joined the EU then?’ In 1973 when the UK joined the EU I was 15 years old and the Global Music Industry revenues were around 5 billion US dollars.

“By the turn of the century they were around $25 billion and today worth around $21 billion with the UK music industry generating $7.5 billion. That is a figure that doesn’t even take in the vast independent network or all the ancillary workers and bolt on industries that contribute hugely these days to the International music business.”

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He continued: “It’s a huge industry generating nearly 4 times more than the UK fishing industry which despite a loud lobbying voice has its own valid frustrations at this time as we deal with all this weight of bureaucracy now foisted upon us by Brexit.”

Fish went on to specifically reference The Who, whose frontman Roger Daltrey had been in favour of Brexit and claimed that it wouldn’t have any impact on music but recently signed a letter supporting visa-free travel for musicians.

He continued: “To put things a bit in perspective ‘The Who’ between 1963 and 1973 played only around 55 shows in the current EU countries. I have 27 EU shows and 5 in Scandinavia rescheduled from last year going out across 43 days in the Autumn of this year. That is more than half of the 90 out of 180 days I am allowed to be in the EU under the new rules. If these shows had gone ahead as planned in 2020 I would have been booking further shows in the early part of this year, if the new regulations allowed.

“Taking into account any EU festivals which are normally a 3-day venture across a performance, plus any promotion trips…those 90 days in 180 fast disappear.

“The visa/ permit situation has a major impact. From what I’ve discovered so far we now need permits for every country in the EU.”

Fish went on to outline in detail the implications of the move for artists when amounting the individual costs of visas for touring in different countries, as well as the VAT on march sales in each country alongside further taxation and National Insurance.

“Some shows will quite simply become financially unfeasible on potential permit costs alone,” Fish said. “[It] means more accountancy bills, more middlemen, more bureaucracy.”

He added: “My heart goes out to musicians starting out in small clubs and at the beginning of their careers who have to find that money in advance of tours. Artists signed to major labels have a better chance but for independents it’s a killer.”

“How does the next young Iron Maiden, Simple Minds, The Cure or dare I say Marillion break into the EU market now? From where is the UK government going to replace those potential future tax revenues from successful bands? Do they care? It certainly doesn’t appear so, especially for the non-corporate bands.”

Fish concluded: “We, the music business, and industry of the UK are currently in a perilous state. After all we have given to the world over the last 50 years and more; the revenue and cultural recognition that has been provided to this country through the musicians and technicians and every ancillary member of the live music communities with their writing, creations, and performances. We deserve better than this from our elected government.

“We need a rethink, and we need it sooner rather than later as our future is in jeopardy.”

Oliver Dowden
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (Picture: Getty)

Dowden called a virtual meeting of representatives from across the UK music industry this week (January 20), with the Financial Times (subscription required) reporting that the Culture Secretary confirmed during the meeting that the government were looking into ways to support the music industry post-Brexit.

Announcing a “working group” in a bid to find solutions, Dowden reportedly told those in attendance at the meeting that he would consider the case for government support where artists faced extra costs – including possible support for the organisation of future live tours outside of Europe as part of a wider export drive.

The FT also reported that during the meeting Dowden urged musicians to use their “star power” to lobby the EU on new visa and work permit rules.

Following the meeting, UK Music Chief Executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin released a statement in which he said that “post-Brexit we should be doing everything we can to help our world-leading musical talent tour abroad and fly the flag for Britain”.

“But the prospect of additional costs and red tape is already deterring many musicians from touring the continent in the future – which is a huge loss both our country and to Europe.”

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