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Music & Brexit


Fish - How Brexit Has Destroyed UK Artists’ Ability To Tour In The EU

22 January at 16:05

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. As an example, my album sales don’t even count as I’m not officially chart ‘registered’ and on unofficial figures I had a Top 10 album in the UK with over 10 000 physical mail order sales of my 11th solo album, ‘WELTSCHMERZ’ in the first week of release in October 2020. A purely independent release. A tree in the forest. And there are a lot of trees out there.

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.

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 which would also have to be added to my tally, as well as personal visits to my German family, and 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. In Holland for example the administration/ processing costs of a permit are around £250 per person not including the instigation and set up on our end. I carry a 10-person team; 6 musicians including myself, a back-line tech, a sound engineer, a lighting/projection tech and a production manager. If the permits are for every individual country and of similar amounts then I have around £2500 in extra costs on permits alone for every EU country we perform in. This will rule out single shows in countries such as France and Belgium where I play medium club size gigs and put a lot of pressure on future shows in Spain and Italy where I normally have a brace of gigs of around 5-800 capacity. These shows are already squeaky as we work to minimum guarantees that cover only costs from promoters and the visa/ permit charge represents nearly 50% of those guarantees. Some shows will quite simply become financially unfeasible on potential permit costs alone.


Compared to many artists I operate with a very tight crew and I have to keep it lean to make the figures work and keep us on the road and earning a living for everyone concerned. I have learned to manage myself - thus saving 20% of my gross income, which can be used to finance touring - and have ‘assassinated’ as many middle men as possible to enable me to continue making music and perform shows. It’s a lot of work for someone who just wants to be an artist but if I don’t take on these responsibilities myself I couldn’t make a living. And I am an established artist! I’ve just been handed a live grenade with the pin pulled out.

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.

Crew members and session musicians have an added hit from the newly limited time allowed in the EU. Most techs and session musicians make a living by touring with a variety of artists throughout the year and they will now be unable, or find it very difficult, to juggle schedules to adhere to the new rules on travel. In short UK based touring personnel will be hamstrung and UK artists might have to consider taking on EU based crew and musicians to get around the restrictions – thus depriving their long-standing UK crew of being able to make a living.

We now have to have our passports stamped at every border crossing in order to officially document the time we spend in various countries as per the visas/ permits. At those crossings we must get a carnet stamped. This is a UK generated document that identifies and lists every piece of equipment carried out of the UK from guitars and amps to strings, drums and sticks and skins, keyboards etc. It is used to show that we take the equipment out and cross every border with the same manifest and return to the UK with exactly the same contents. The carnet basically shows that we haven’t exported anything for sale to another country and haven’t imported anything out with the manifest. It has to be stamped going in and out of every country and miss a stamp and you walk into a nightmare of bureaucracy and potential heavy fines. (I’ve had to fly someone to Switzerland with supporting legal documents to have a carnet stamped that was missed as there was no one available at that time in the morning at the border as we were gig bound on a tight schedule).


At the border crossings the customs officers are totally within their rights to ask for an entire truck or trailer to be unloaded and examined to see if it matches the carnet documents. Protests on time constraints are a waste of energy and the tour-bus drivers just have to wait while the digital tachographs count down their drive time available. And the drivers’ operating and rest time in these potential circumstances has to be taken into consideration. Being stopped for a couple of hours during the night at a border check could take a driver out of the legal time allowed at the wheel. In order to make sure we get to places we are supposed to be, the only solution now is to take on double drivers, who would normally only come on board for long hauls such as in Scandinavia or occasional big drives. Having 2 drivers full time on an entire tour just keeps on adding to the costs with not only their wages but hotel rooms and catering. The risks of losing shows because a driver is out of hours aren’t worth taking. Yes, carnets existed before Brexit but they were only needed up till now in Switzerland and Norway. It’s now across every European country and every border crossing where they will have to be stamped for the first time since 1973; 48 years ago, when amplifiers only had valves and ‘digital’ was a word in Science Fiction books. Legal drive time didn’t exist in 1973.

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