Live Music Exchange Blog

What Brexit Means for Touring – Jolene Zhu Zhou


With the UK now outside of the EU, and the ramifications of that decision making themselves felt, live music practitioners and their representative bodies are impressing upon the government the need for action to alleviate the situation amidst grave concern over the scale of the difficulties faced by artists and touring personnel. In this blog post, LMX student intern Jolene Zhu Zhou discusses the damage that Brexit could do to UK artists’ touring prospects, and responses from industry and parliamentary figures.

“Brexit means Brexit”, repeated former PM Theresa May through her candidacy for party leader to attempts to buy more time and placate recalcitrant Conservative MPs during negotiations with the European Union. It wasn’t enough to save her leadership, and now, with shape of the UK’s departure from the EU in clearer focus, the post-Brexit future of British artists touring Europe is uncertain, with businesses  left floundering, unsure of what it actually means for them. Before the departure, musicians in the EU (including the UK) could enjoy the freedom of movement for touring around the continent – there were no catches, no visa requirements, no background checks or border fees on merchandising, just an open opportunity to share musical efforts with no boundaries. But this opportunity is significantly jeopardised because of Brexit.

UK nationals now need a visa for stays exceeding 90 days out of a 180-day period, explained BBC author Paul Glynn. Although this time frame could mostly cover the period for many tours, different rules are in place in different countries such as Spain and Denmark where additional work permits are required and therefore complicate the process. One of the most frequently asked questions for musicians as a consequence of Brexit is whether they will need a visa for touring. For those familiar with the gruelling procedure of a US visa – a lot of paperwork involved as well as money and sometimes visas come back declined – will small or even medium-sized EU-based artists be willing to go through such hassle to perform in the UK and vice-versa? They might as well just apply for USA visas to access a bigger and more influential music market.

Turning to the government most obviously responsible for these changes, a spokeswoman said: “The UK pushed for a more ambitious agreement with the EU on the temporary movement of business travellers, which would have covered musicians and others, but our proposals were rejected by the EU”, whilst an EU official blamed the UK, saying that “the UK refused to engage in our discussions at all.”

Some of Britain’s biggest musical stars, however, including Ed Sheeran, Sir Elton John and the Iron Maiden point their fingers towards the government for “shamefully failing” the country’s performers with the Brexit deal and signed an open letter published in The Times urging the government to negotiate paperwork-free travel for British musicians touring Europe, which highlights the importance of such a deal for less prominent musicians, whose careers are likely to suffer more than those of stars such as Ed Sheeran’s.

For example, Elles Bailey, winner of the Artist of the Year and Album of the Year at the UK Blues Awards 2020 has already established a fan base in Europe: “I probably did about 35 dates in 2019 in Europe and now on paper that’s going to cost me at least an extra £10,000 before I’ve even left the country” due to post-Brexit travel rules for UK artists. “People look to the UK to see where artists are coming from and this could massively change that and that’s so heartbreaking, especially in a time when artists are suffering so much anyway,” she adds.

Music manager Ross Patel confirmed that “Europe is vital to us. For a UK artist it’s historically been the easiest market to reach and gives them the ability to grow their fan base and audience. In many cases having a loyal fan base in one market will be the difference between having a sustained career in music, and not.”

In an attempt to help, the Musicians’ Union (MU) has created a petition on to lobby for a “Musician’s Passport” that must last for a minimum of two years; be free or cheap; cover all EU member states; get rid of the need for carnets and other permits; and cover road crew, technicians and other staff necessary to support the performing musician. However, the Union’s Deputy General Secretary, Naomi Pohl has noted that: “It seems unlikely that the musicians’ passport we’ve lobbied for will materialise at this stage but we are still keen to work with the UK government on a supplementary agreement that could work for our members and the crew and organisations they work with.”

In response to an urgent parliamentary question on 19th January 2021, Minister of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Caroline Dinenage promised that the government was working to provide “clarity” for British musicians wishing to tour the EU and to make the issue of negotiating working in individual European nations “as easy and straightforward as possible”.

But personnel from the touring sector, such as agents and managers, have revealed that they have been left in the dark about what will happen to British acts hoping to play shows and festivals across Europe in the aftermath of Brexit once coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

Tarrant Anderson, the director of touring transport company Vans for Bands, for example, told The Guardian that the transportation of goods sector (for merchandise, musical equipment and the like), including trucking companies, was still seeking clarity on the situation regarding cabotage, which currently states that hauliers leaving the UK can make two journeys within the EU in a seven-day period before returning back, which would severely affect touring and even threaten the UK’s leading role as a provider of touring infrastructure.

“Because everything is so uncertain,” added Anderson, “this situation where the UK has really been the dominant force in EU touring may just stop.” In light of this, some of Britain’s leading touring companies may decide to form partnerships with EU businesses or even leave the UK entirely, an option Anderson himself had considered.

People are not happy with the government’s response to Brexit. And some, such as Isle of Wight Festival boss John Giddings, even say that “Counting on the government for anything is the biggest waste of time going. Brexit is going to do serious harm to touring in Europe.”  If the creative community in Britain lacks the support and protection that are present in the EU, will the UK remain an attractive environment for creative businesses and artists? The biggest issue is the lack of clarity, which leaves businesses and artists and everyone involved in the industry unsure of what they are actually supposed to do.

Right now it seems like the only musicians and music workers with a relatively secure future in the industry are those already more established ones and their crew. But music is a vital industry for the UK economy, and to jeopardise this sector would be to potentially risk the generation of around £1.1 billion a year, which was UK Music’s figure for live music in 2018. Lighting designer Paule Constable asked by Giles Watling, Conservative MP for Clacton, whether government action was needed, replied: “Yeah, we’re in an absolute crisis.” MPs like Gavin Newlands also agree that the “Government’s Brexit reality has the live music industry staring into the abyss”. With awareness growing of the severity of the situation, the government should act fast and give results from their actions, because as its current effect on live music shows, Brexit can mean endangering the whole nation’s economy.

Please note that this is a forum for discussion, dialogue, and debate, and posts and comments on this blog represent only the author, not Live Music Exchange as a whole, or any other hosting or associated institutions.


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