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The Government Is Giving Away The UK's Cultural Crown Jewels Over Brexit Touring Rules

3 min read

The lead singer of Mercury Prize-nominated band Sports Team says touring in Europe is going to cost British performers tens of thousands of pounds due to post-Brexit paperwork.

It’s harder and harder to recall what touring was like now, but I vividly remember our first date in Europe. It was the moment we were convinced we’d made it.

Friends thought so too, paying homage to us on the ferry to L’ere de Rien in Nantes. It was the first time we’d been asked to submit a rider, and we went for ‘local wine and cheeses’. We felt like a class act until we got cheddar and a pallet of Buckfast when we forgot to update it in time for our first show in Glasgow. 

For an artist, playing in Europe represents ambition, new influences and an international outlook.

It has become a rite of passage for countless musicians in the UK. There’s a genuine appetite for British music in Europe, and previously it’s been almost as easy to get out and play in Madrid as it is in Manchester. 

No longer. 

Since Brexit, an artist wanting to play in the European Union requires a combination of work permits and visa exemptions for every European country they plan to visit on a tour.

Combine this with the requirement for ATA Carnets (essentially a passport for goods) on instruments, and you’ve got a situation where it will likely cost hundreds of pounds per person to undertake even a modest European tour. 

You might get by, if irked, by the new measures if you’re a soloist, but imagine a group, or orchestra with all the support staff that entails. Very quickly the costs add up to tens of thousands of pounds worth of administration costs which, bluntly, means no tour, unless you’re prepared to make a loss.

Organisations like the National Theatre are already saying touring Europe is "no longer viable" for them. 

It’s clear to me there needs to be some give from both the UK and the EU to sort this, but what I’m not sure has quite resonated with UK legislators, is that it is the UK and it’s £5.8bn music industry that stands to lose the most.

The UK has previously acted as a hub for international touring acts from all over the world.

Musicians arrive here from the US or an Asian leg of a world tour to source equipment, crew, vehicles and road staff – all the vast infrastructure that even a medium-sized live show requires here in the UK – before going on to play dates across Europe. 

For my own band, and others, the solution is simple: source equipment and crew from Europe, where people and things don’t carry a vast added cost instead. But this puts British jobs on the line, many of which have already been lost during the pandemic – with industry stalwarts like Matt Snowball and his 17 staff in Camden announcing they can no longer continue. 

There’s a sense that the government seems to think these problems can be left unresolved because the arts will always find a way. It’s true that I don’t know many people in the music industry who would want to stop what they’re doing simply because it has become less profitable.

But it is staggering that a government espousing soft power is giving away the cultural crown jewels so freely. 


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