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Post-Brexit music tours: Pressure mounts on government to agree EU gigging terms

Written by on 6 February 2021

The government is coming under increasing fire for failing to reach an agreement that would allow musicians and performing artists to work and travel freely in the EU after Brexit.

A petition demanding paperwork free travel is to be debated in parliament on Monday after attracting more than 280,000 signatures.

In January, more than 100 artists and creatives including Sir Elton John, Liam Gallagher and Glastonbury co-organiser Emily Eavis signed a protest letter with similar demands.

Blur accept the best album award at the 1994 Q Awards Image: Blur drummer Dave Rowntree (3rd R) says ‘a real problem is brewing’

Dave Rowntree, the drummer of Blur and now a Labour councillor, warns there is “a real problem brewing for touring musicians”.

He told Sky News: “A lot of people who had plans to tour Europe will find they can’t. The next generation of bands who are already living hand-to-mouth are going to find that writing and recording and releasing music isn’t viable because they can’t do enough touring to support it.”

Live music contributed £1.3bn to the economy in 2019 and £86m in exports, according to industry group UK Music.

The organisation says 845,000 overseas music fans visited the UK that year, and 45,633 jobs were sustained by music tourism.

Classical violinist Tasmin Little OBE says the government has “let the industry down, very, very badly”.

She told Sky News: “We were told that they understood our needs and the very specific nature of what we do and how we need to be able to travel around in order to pick up work.”

Gary Numan poses for a portrait in New York to promote his album, Savage. Pic: Scott Gries/Invision/AP      Image: Gary Numan says established artist can survive, but new talent will suffer. Pic: Scott Gries/Invision/AP

Music touring relies on artists and crews being able to travel between many countries in a short space of time.

Brexit brought an end to free movement for Britons in Europe, adding huge costs, paperwork and work permits to tours in many of the 27 member states.

The UK government and Brussels blame each other for failing to resolve the issue, each saying the other side rejected its proposals.

Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage later acknowledged the EU’s offer for a 90-day paperwork exemption would “not have been compatible” with the Brexit pledge to take back control of our borders.

Violinist Jess Murphy is the organiser of a social media protest taking place over the weekend under the hashtag #LetMusicMove.

She explains: “We are desperate for the government and EU to come together but there seems to be a stalemate.

“What we are saying is please come together and make it happen otherwise there’s no way we are going to rebuild this.

“The music industry doesn’t work without freedom of movement. It’s a complicated infrastructure. It’s not like we can all join local orchestra and will be fine.”

Joel Stanley is a production manager who has run tours in the EU for the likes of Stormzy, visiting 15 to 20 European countries on one large tour.

He is more optimistic than many in the industry. He says: “In the short term [the industry] will see some damage. Not only from the pandemic but also from Brexit.

“It will feel like a struggle. And then eventually we will land on our feet again. We are one of the most resilient industries in the world and we will always make the show happen.”

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However, musician Gary Numan told Sky News it was the smaller or emerging artists who would miss out.

“People like me, I’ll be ok… But for people a little bit further down the ladder, it’s going to be horrible for them – really, really difficult.

“Most bands don’t earn money from making records any more… For most bands the only significant money they can actually earn is from playing live. If you put more obstacles in front of that, you take away the only livelihood that many musicians [have].”

MPs will discuss the petition demanding paper free travel for touring professionals and artists in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.

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