UK artists and figures from the British music industry have hit out at the government for leaving them in “limbo, chaos and confusion” in the wake of the Brexit touring fiasco.
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The government’s failure to negotiate visa-free travel and Europe-wide work permits for musicians and crew has sparked fears that artists will face huge costs to future live music tours of the continent which could create a glass ceiling that prevents rising and developing artists from being able to afford to do so.
It is also warned that thousands of jobs and millions in income for crew, haulage and production will also be lost to the EU.
When questioned by MPs last month, Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage was criticised for the government’s lack of inaction in not already renegotiating terms for future touring with EU member states or for measuring the potential damage that Brexit could have on the UK’s £111billion cultural industries or £5.2billion music industry. The government was also accused of treating the sector like “an afterthought” in Brexit negotiations compared to the £1.2billion fishing industry.
Now, many say that they are still none of the wiser as to what the future holds and that the lack of information is complicating their ability to book tours in Europe.
“Optimism mixed with anxiety is the best way to describe how we’re all feeling,” said Ross Patel, a manager from Whole Entertainment who is trying to navigate future EU tours for his acts Elder Island and Billy Lockett. “It’s great that we’re all going to be out of lockdown soon, but what does it actually mean for us?
“I’m trying to do the best detective work I can, in terms of speaking to international consulates, speaking to the government, signing petitions and just hoping that some information will drop into my inbox that will actually be useful. I’ve got an album release campaign that should already have dates attached to it with tickets on sale, but doesn’t.”
While having some success in rerouting a lot of shows for a rescheduled 2022 tour, Patel told NME that “the one that’s a clear problem right now is Spain, and the lack of clarity around what the visa implications will be”.
“Neither the UK or the Spanish government have an answer, but what’s being discussed is that playing there could potentially add thousands of pounds onto the tour, meaning that we can’t play there at all,” he said. “The whole thing will need to be re-routed and the tour dates will change completely. We’ll need to re-order the buses and sort out everything that was put in place for a tour that was booked back in 2019.”
While admitting that an act such as Elder Island were in a “fortunate position” in that they don’t face the same issues as a new band would, he said that the problems he was encountering now would still lead to a “significantly reduced” tour.
“For brand new artists going out to Europe for the first time, that’s what scares me the most,” Patel told NME. “I know the impact that this is having on our business, so it fills me with dread to apply that to an act who hasn’t been out there and doesn’t have the same security in terms of streaming numbers or other support. It’s going to make it incredibly difficult.”
He added: “I know a lot of other managers in the same position as me who are now looking at what their options are. I’ve just drawn up a budget for this tour, and it’s now negative into five and half grand after a year of no shows and less streaming revenue because of it. We haven’t had any funding. Our acts haven’t been furloughed because they weren’t able to.
“Within the music community there’s a lot of advocating for these issues to be addressed, which gives me some confidence. As far as what I’m seeing as a result of that, I haven’t seen any action. The government know how big music is for our economy, and I just can’t understand how it’s been so sidelined.”
Writer and punk legend John Robb of Goldblade and The Membranes had previously called for “a waiver or some kind of amnesty” for UK artists to allow them to tour through Europe with more ease in the face of Brexit. Now, he has told NME that he’s in a “weird limbo” when making plans to tour the continent.
“There’s no information and we don’t what the battlefield looks like,” said Robb. “We don’t know if we need if a carnet or not. We don’t know if we need a visa or not. We had offers for festivals and we were planning shows for 2022 so we had someone look into everything for us and he just said, ‘What is this chaos?’ We were quoted figures like £400 for carnets, but it didn’t say what it was for, how long it lasted or which countries you could use it for.
“What way is that to run anything? Everything comes with an if, a maybe or a but. How can you make long term plans? Music isn’t as chaotic as it looks and things are usually planned a year or two in advance.”
Robb said that “the confusion is the worst problem” and that it extended beyond artists and managers to promoters on the continent as well.
“A lot of European promoters are still of the generation that love British pop culture – it’s one of our prime assets as a country,” he said. “It’s what we’re known for. It’s one of the things that makes people smile when they think about the UK. Now the government is stood in front of our pop culture and stopping us from propagating it. It’s madness.
“On a business level it’s a nightmare, but on a cultural level it’s a disaster. We could end up with a case in five years time where UK music is just a backwater because European festivals have replaced all of the mid-tier of their line-ups with local and European bands. That will have a longterm effect. It’s the cultural version of long-COVID.
Robb added: “We need clarity, because at the moment it’s just chaos in a vacuum. If we knew what we were working with then we could either pay, work a way round it or just choose not to go. At the moment, we have no idea what the options will be.”
CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition David Martin agreed that “the effect of what is essentially a no deal Brexit for music is being felt now”.
“Artists are already turning down shows and tours in parts of Europe for later this year and early next, as they have become unviable due to increased cost and bureaucracy,” he told NME. “Emergency resource is required from government in the form of a dedicated Brexit fund to allow performers to navigate this immediate crisis, if our music industry hopes to maintain its leading position.
“As we continue to work with government on many Brexit-related issues around work permits, visas, haulage and VAT, and on what a long-term sustainable solution may look like, we are losing ground. The problems created by the lack of provision for the music industry in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement are complex. As we delve further into them, that complexity is only increasing, however the impact is immediate and each day without clarity, support or solutions is another day of cancelled tours, lost income and business closures.”
After this week saw the House Of Lords urge the government to seek “reciprocal” touring agreement with the EU, Martin also said that he “welcomed” Labour MP Harriet Harman’s recently suggested 10-point plan for touring post-Brexit.
“There is now universal recognition that the industry needs a drastic and rapid approach from Government to see off a further, compounded impact post-pandemic,” said Martin. “The measures outlined in the plan echo the calls that the industry has consistently been making. We are already seeing tours cancelled and offers being withdrawn for British talent. Without suitable remedies, we will see our world renowned industry start to wither.”
Andy Lenthall, general manger of the Production Services Association representing crew workers and roadies, also called for urgent action and clarity to save any more damage being done.
“The loss will be in the realm of tens of millions of pounds of turnover due to the companies that have relocated from the UK to Europe,” he told NME. “These are once-British companies that are now Dutch or Irish. Jobs have been lost too because EU-based companies have to hire EU-based drivers. There are thousands of jobs at risk, because we’ll lose the supply companies too as they’ll need to be where the transport is. That’s the lighting, the sound, you know – it’s a domino effect.”
He added: “There is a realistic and pragmatic solution to this, but it’s time for the government to stop asking us what it is because they know what it is. We’ve told them what it is, we just need them to tell us if it’s possible or not.”
Responding to the latest criticisms regarding inaction and a persistent lack of clarity on what the future might look like, a government spokesperson told NME: “We’ve always been clear that the end of freedom of movement would have implications for professional mobility. However we’re working across government and with industry, including through a DCMS-led working group, on plans to support cultural and creative professionals who temporarily work in the EU.
“The working group will provide new guidance to help artists understand what’s required in different countries. We will also be engaging with Member States on the issue and looking carefully at proposals for a new Export Office that could provide further practical help.”
European festival promoters have said that they could be likely to book fewer UK acts as a result, while figures from the UK music industry have expressed concern that the impact of the Brexit deal on musicians who might not be able to tour Europe could also potentially prevent them from acquiring a visa to play in the United States. Bookers in Europe have told NME that “the effort should come from the UK” to overcome this.
Last month, European promoters also said the current touring situation was “quite worrying” and urged the UK to negotiate a new touring deal.