Figures from the UK’s live music industry have warned that a “massive” amount of jobs and taxable income will be lost to the EU under the current Brexit deal, due to it making touring “nigh on impossible”.
After Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal failed to secure visa-free travel for UK artists and their crew wishing to tour Europe (adding huge costs to future live music tours of the continent and preventing rising and developing artists from being able to afford it), a row erupted over who was responsible.
Now, ahead of the matter being debated in Parliament next week, many of the UK companies that help make touring possible look set to move to Europe in order to continue – taking a wealth of jobs of cash with them. This will deal a huge blow for live crew, who are still reeling from the impact of coronavirus shutting down touring.
The 1975 live at The O2, London. Credit: Jenn Five/NME
“The current Brexit deal makes touring nigh on impossible, to be honest,” he told NME. “It’s not something that you can apply for permits to get around. The Brexit deal means that as a UK company, the maximum amount of work we can do in the EU is to make one delivery stop, then make one interior move in that country, then we’re allowed to make one more movement into another EU state before we have to return to the UK by law.
“In 2019, we were in Europe touring with Ed Sheeran’s ‘Divide’ tour for three months. We were doing so many huge stadiums across the continent. We’d take out Stereophonics or George Ezra between different European festivals. Now we can only do three moves and we have to return to the UK within seven days of our first stop. This makes touring and festivals impossible. As a UK-based company, we can’t legally do that any more.”
George Ezra performs at Notting Hill Arts Club in 2013. CREDIT: Rob Ball/WireImage
Now, McPherson is among the many others from the industry moving their operations to the EU – bringing its own challenges and complications.
“The problem that we have is that 85 per cent of rock’n’roll touring across Europe is done from the UK,” he said. “Yes, we’ll have job losses and some businesses will go under, but it also negates touring in Europe because there isn’t the capacity there to deal with the acts. The immediate solution for my business, and it sticks in my throat and has cost me hundreds of thousands of pounds despite not having any work for a year, is to move into the EU to allow us to have the movement.”
Speaking of the human impact of what’s at stake, McPherson said: “The taxable income for the UK goes abroad and the jobs go too. We can’t employ UK drivers to drive EU trucks. I predict around 80 per cent of my workforce will have to go to the EU.
“If trucking companies move to the EU, are the sound companies going to go? Are the lighting companies going to go? Are the video companies going to go? It makes sense for them all to follow us. What’s the point in having all the kit here if you can’t move it? It makes sense to have it all in Europe, start there and end in the UK. Historically, international music tours would start and finish in the UK. Taking into mind that they’ll probably be using local crew too, then the number of jobs the UK is losing is massive.”
He added: “All this has done is cause damage to our industry. There’s no benefit and nobody’s a winner here at all.”
Andy Lenthall is general manager of the Production Services Association. He has long been lobbying for a visa-free deal for live crew post-Brexit, warning that otherwise the multi-billion pound industry would be “compromised”. Now, he’s continuing the campaign for the UK government and the EU to find a solution.
“As industry bodies like the PSA work together to collect and collate the various work permit (or permit free) requirements across each EU member state, companies are looking at contingencies like using crew that are able to work with freedom to move,” Lenthall told NME. “Without urgent support and intervention from the government, we face a rapid erosion of our enviable position as suppliers of skills and technology to international touring.”
David Martin, CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition, agreed that the “crippling effect that increased bureaucracy and cost will have on the British music industry, the jewel in our crown”.
“It is imperative that artists, performers and their crews from across Europe can travel freely into and out of the UK and the EU,” he said. “UK artists will suffer from any degree of new bureaucracy or cost in travelling to Europe, likewise our live sector will be disadvantaged by any new red tape or fees for engaging European talent.
“In both cases, this will impact breakthrough talent, at the early and most delicate stages of their careers and the grassroots venues, festivals and clubs which are the lifeblood and training ground of our whole industry.”
Protestors demonstrate against Brexit CREDIT: Getty Images
Even without companies moving, tighter budgets as a result of the current deal mean that UK acts could hire less crew for touring Europe.
“We’d always tour on a shoestring,” Everything Everything bassist and FAC member Jeremy Pritchard previously told NME. “Now the costs are going to be so high that it isn’t going to be worth the outlay. We’ve done American tours before that have cost us £30-40,000 because of the visas, the distances, the travel, and the minimum number of crew you take with you – it just spirals. The same thing is going to happen just 12 miles across the channel.”
Pritchard continued: “When that happens, you start removing crew members, like a lighting designer – and that’s one less person employed. That’s going to happen more and more because the budgets are going to go up, the crew will have to start slashing their day rates and impoverishing themselves to stay competitive.”
There has been widespread anger from artists and industry leaders calling on the government to “take this seriously and fix it”, while last week saw the likes of Liam Gallagher, Ed Sheeran, and Elton John joining over 100 musicians in signing an open letter slamming the UK Government for having “shamefully failed” the music industry in Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.
Fans continue to sign the 280,000-strong petition and write to their MPs calling for visa-free travel for musicians and crew to be established. After ministers have today rejected the idea – insisting that “taking back control” of borders is their priority and that talks would only resume if Brussels “changes its mind” – MPs have now agreed to debate the matter in Parliament on February 8.
Music industry insiders have also warned that the current Brexit deal could prevent UK artists from being able to play in the US, while European festivals have said that they fear they could be likely to book fewer and fewer British artists.
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