Government warned massively about music unemployment

The UK government has been warned again that musicians and crew could “be lost en masse” after a hearing in the House Of The Lords revealed the damage Brexit has already done to those looking to tour Europe.

NME was invited earlier this month (Tuesday 6 September) to a hearing in the House Of Lords led by industry insiders and the #CarryOnTouring campaign, where the impact those new post-Brexit tour rules had on the lives and work of British musicians and crew was revealed. Music fans are now being encouraged to write to their MPs demanding action.

Last year, the UK music industry spoke together about how they essentially got a “No Deal Brexit” when the government failed to negotiate visa-free travel and European work permits for musicians and crew. As a result, artists trying to get back on the road after COVID found themselves on the predicted “rocky road” for the first summer of European touring after Britain left the EU – and found the complications of Brexit “will affect the next generation.” Strangling British talent in the cradle”.

Musicians protest Brexit in 2019. CREDIT: Richard Baker/Getty Images

The hearing of live music industry workers in the House Of Lords – attended by a number of MPs and Lords but none from the Conservative Party – again highlighted the main obstacles; that work permits added red tape for people to be hired from the UK, that carnets and the lack of clear information led to additional costs and confusion, that it was unknown how much merchandise could be taken and sold, and that the 90 outside the 180 day entry rule had serious repercussions and seeing many artists and crew not hired or sent home from the tour.

The centerpiece of the hearing came from drummer Steve Barney, who became unemployed as a result of the new rule that allows UK citizens to stay in the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days in any 180 days without a special visa. An open letter from Barney read at the hearing has since been shared thousands of times on Twitter.

Barney, who has over 25 years of experience playing with the likes of Annie Lennox, Jeff Beck and Sugababes, wrote that he was thrilled to be invited to tour with Italian recording artist Gianna Nannini after losing two years of work as as a result of the COVID pandemic. He was then asked to tour with Anastacia, after drumming for her for more than 12 years and having 500 performances. Unfortunately, the 90 out of 180 rule would put an end to his plans as he had already spent 78 days in the Schengen area.

“Despite the best efforts of the production manager, Anastacia’s manager and myself to get an extended Schengen visa, we were unable to do this as it turned out that there is no such thing!” He wrote. “When management concluded that there were no legal means to spend another three months in the Schengen area for another European tour, my job offer was withdrawn and I lost my 12-year job.”

He continued: “I am absolutely heartbroken, frustrated and angry. Losing a place in this band is a huge blow to me financially, mentally and creatively. Throughout my career I have traveled freely around Europe without an egg timer counting down my time remaining. In the end I now feel like I’m being punished professionally just because I’m British.

“Today this is my sob story. However, it will soon be that of every other British touring professional, if not already. ”

Barney then pointed to a study by Best For Britain that showed that the number of British artists performing in Europe this year as part of the festival season had fallen 45 percent compared to 2017-2019 (pre-Brexit). The drummer added that “without change, the UK’s biggest touring artists and crews will be out of work en masse as it is easier and cheaper for touring productions to hire foreign staff who are not subject to the same restrictions”.

Following calls for a cultural passport to avoid these problems, Barney wrote that “we urgently need a single Schengen-wide visa, which will restore the ability of UK traveling professionals to work.”

“Not only is mine a UK job that has been lost, but as European tours typically include the UK, I actually lost a UK job, in the UK, for the UK leg of the tour,” he added. “I am concerned about the future as we can no longer compete on a level playing field with our European counterparts. We no longer compete on quality; we are undermined by necessity, if not convenience.”

Steve Barney performs for Gianna Nannini at Teatro degli Arcimboldi on May 13, 2022 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Sergione Infuso/Corbis via Getty Images)
Steve Barney performs for Gianna Nannini at Teatro degli Arcimboldi on May 13, 2022 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Sergione Infuso/Corbis via Getty Images)

Then, during the hearing, a letter was read from Anastacia’s manager, reiterating these feelings, and that they had no choice but to replace Barney with a new Finnish drummer. “This is a UK job that has been lost to Europe purely through an unnecessary bureaucratic roadblock,” the letter said.

The letters were read by Barney’s close friend and Pendulum guitarist Peredur ap Gwynedd, who spoke of similar concerns faced by colleagues on a recent Iron Maiden tour and concluded: “Managers are now actively seeking musicians and crew with EU passports. The British passport is about as useful as a fart in a spacesuit.”

Ian Smith spoke of the knock-on impact such cases had on the UK’s position as a “launch platform” for live music and tours.

“Often American bands and other national bands from third countries came to the UK and used it as a launch pad to go to Europe to work,” he told the hearing. “Guess what? British technicians and crew are seen as some of the best in the world. Because it’s too difficult right now, they can’t get crew from the UK, so they fly straight to the EU [to launch].

“The engineers and crew who were going to tour Europe for three months and generate GDP for the UK have now lost their jobs. That’s the gist.”

Internship crew. Credit: Chris McKay/Getty Images

Singer, producer and promoter Pat Fulgoni also spoke at the event about how Brexit would likely damage the UK’s reputation as one of the largest exporters of music, taking away the work of thousands of skilled British workers and artists – he himself lost “a lot.” income” from opportunities abroad.

“As an artist, I now stand on universal honor because I cannot afford to survive from music,” he said. “I’ve been in the game for 25 years. That’s not a sob story – that’s just reality. There are a lot of people like me who have left the industry and just went, ‘It’s over, I’ve had enough, I can’t take care of my family’.”

He continued: “Especially the young people and those from more disadvantaged backgrounds and in genres like grime and emerging styles that we should be supporting, they just see [music] as a utopia and not as an opportunity. They think they will never experience what I used to do, which was get into a van with a band, tour Europe, develop my craft and make money from it.

“That’s a huge problem now. We are losing our position in the world, we are not taken seriously as an industry internationally and we worry too much. I was looking for a joint tour and realized I’m not worth it compared to bands from Germany or France. There’s just way too much bureaucracy, and it’s too expensive for me to sort that out.”

James Kennedy is a solo rock artist, DJ, producer, podcast host and owner of Konic Records. At the hearing, Kennedy admitted to being “one of those artists who canceled their European tour, like many of my friends.”

“Until I got involved in the campaign, I had no idea what the rules were, so I just steered clear of it,” he said. “Those of my friends who are there in Europe are with bands like Iron Maiden, one of the biggest bands in the world. I spoke to their guitar technician for three weeks when they got back from their European leg, and he said it’s the worst touring experience he’s ever had.

He continued: “The feedback I get from the entire food chain – from the small independent bands to bands like Iron Maiden – is that no one has a good word to say about the experience.

“It comes down to a few key elements. Everyone hates the carnet; it’s expensive, nobody understands it, it’s not an exact science and people can’t find customs at the border. It’s chaos and confusion. We don’t know what to do.”

He added: “My passion is music and my community is musicians. This is much bigger than just music – this is the crews, the lighting engineers, the sound engineers, the drivers, the transport, everything. These are all industries that have been out of work for two years; world class industries hungry to get out and work. Now we are stuck in this bizarre system of carnets and after so many days we have to go home.

“People just don’t hire you because you’re a nuisance. They will hire a housekeeping staff who can do the whole stint.

Live crew setting up a stage. (Photo by Stefan M. Prager/Redferns)

Some MPs in attendance, including Labor’s Kevin Brennan, urged the government to adopt the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music’s recent report, which offer practical solutions to address many of the problems.

Lord David Hannay said the European Affairs Committee has launched a new inquiry into the future of UK-EU relations, including its impact on culture. Lord Mike German also claimed that the 2026 date when annual negotiations with the EU will begin would be too late, arguing that “this government does not want to talk to the EU about anything that could stand in their way”.

The Ministry of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was unable to respond when approached for comment on the hearing or any upcoming plans to address the issues.

Wolf Alice
Wolf Alice’s Joff Oddie and Ellie Rowswell. CREDIT: Andy Ford for NME

Written in an opinion piece for NME earlier this summer, Wolf Alice guitarist Joff Oddie wrote of his fears that the changes brought about by Brexit will “seriously hurt the prospects of so many new acts, who have already been held back by being unable to tour for two years due to the pandemic”.

“We can’t expect to maintain our rich musical culture and heritage if we fail to support both emerging and established artists,” Oddie wrote. “We now need a new touring deal from the government. It’s time to break down the barriers artists face when traveling across the EU. It’s time to get the music moving!”

View Oddie’s full message here.

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