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Blur Drummer Warns Post-Brexit Touring Costs Will Destroy Next Generation Of Bands

5 min read

Exclusive: The next generation of Blurs will be "gone" unless the government secures new post-Brexit arrangements for the UK's musicians and other touring performers, a member of the iconic Britpop band has warned.

Dave Rowntree, the band's drummer, has joined a chorus of high-profile artists including Sir Elton John, Radiohead, and Ed Sheeran who have raised alarm about the impact of the government's Brexit deal with the European Union on touring in the continent.

Rowntree, an ambassador for the Let The Music Move campaign, warned in stark terms that the new costs and barriers associated with touring in the bloc would be felt "very hard" by young, up-and-coming artists, many of whom now won't be able to afford gigging in Europe.

“It won’t affect a band like mine," he explained to PoliticsHome this week. 

"We will be fine because if it costs an extra ten, twenty or hundred thousand pounds to sort out a European tour, reluctantly, we can shoulder that burden,” he continued. 

“Who this hits — and hits very hard — is people at the bottom of the ladder, who are already living hand to mouth.

"A band just starting out will now look at Europe and think doing a tour might make them bankrupt and end them. Those festivals and large gigs in Europe are what allow the new generation of British bands to fund recording and pay their rent for the rest of the year.

"If British bands cannot make a profit in Europe, there is no plan B. There is no alternative.

"And that’s it, that’s the Blurs of twenty years’ time, gone."

The creative industries have been among the most vocal critics of the UK's trade deal with the EU, which Boris Johnson negotiated and agreed with European leaders last year.

The two sides failed to include a provision allowing continued visa-free mobility, meaning British artists touring in the bloc face complex new obstacles, and in some countries must pay for work permits and visas.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) stresses it is having bilateral talks with all 27 EU member states, with the aim of minimising barriers to touring as much as possible. 

The number of EU countries where British artists can make short-stay visits without the need for visas and work permits is now 19, PoliticsHome can reveal. 

"We want performers and other creative professionals to be able to tour abroad easily and that is why we have spoken with every EU Member State about the importance of touring,” a DCMS spokesperson said.

"Thanks to that engagement, we can confirm that musicians and performers do not require visas or work permits for short-term tours in at least 19 EU Member States, including most of the UK music sector's major markets such as France, Germany and Italy.

"We are working closely with the small number of member states that do require visas or work permits for short-term tours to encourage them to match the UK’s own rules which allow creative professionals to tour easily here.”

There are still eight EU countries where touring performers face having to cough up hundreds of pounds for work permits and visas, including Spain, Portugal, and Croatia. The industry is particularly concerned about Spain, with it being a hotspot for British artists.

Even in countries where short-term work permit arrangements are in place, there is still a major new headache for tour organisers in the form of cabotage rules. British lorries are now limited to just three stops in the EU in seven days before having to return to the UK.

Frustration among artists has led to confrontations with ministers, who they argue are not doing enough to protect one of the country's most valuable industries. The UK music industry generated an estimated £2.9bn in exports in 2019, while British artists made around 20,000 performances in EU member states.

Craig Stanley, who organises tours for Sir Elton John, Cher, and Celine Dion, among others, told PoliticsHome last month that there seemed to be a refusal to revisit the issue with Brussels at "the highest level" of government.

A government source insisted that ministers were working flat-out to resolve the situation, and pointed the finger of blame at Brussels.

"They have spent a huge amount of time on this issue and are determined to get to a better position. If the EU had the same enthusiasm, we might be in a better place," they told PoliticsHome.

The UK and EU blame each other for the failure to reach an agreement for the industry in last year's trade talks. 

Rowntree urged the government to stop the war of words and return to the negotiating table with Brussels. “We just want what we were promised to start with," he said. “The tragedy of all of this is we — the industry — have been telling the government this is a problem since before Brexit."

Covid continues to mask the impact of this new red tape on the UK music industry, with restrictions on international travel meaning European touring remains off the table for British artists anyway. 

But Rowntree believed the effects would become clearer when artists begin planning their 2022 schedule, and find that touring around the continent is potentially going to cost them thousands upon thousands of pounds. 

“Blur was living hand to mouth for the first 15 years of our career," he said. “Even while we were on Top of the Pops, getting number ones and winning Brit Awards, we were basically broke.

"Most bands stay in that situation for about that length of time and usually need half a dozen number ones before they can start to recoup the investment that their record company or somebody else made in them,” he explained.

“If the bottom generation of bands in this country collapses, who's going to play gigs at the venues that are still around in the UK after Covid?”

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