How Brexit will affect you and your favourite bands
If you think you’re missing live music, imagine what it’s like for your favourite band.
It’s been 11 long months since most bands got to feel the rush of stepping onto a stage in front of a live crowd. And now, just as the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine raises the hopes of live music returning later this year, British bands are facing a new nightmare of post-Brexit red tape that could have serious ramifications for the European touring circuit and their ability to earn a living.
Now that Britain has left the European Union, UK workers no longer have guaranteed freedom of movement in the EU’s 27 member states, which include rock/metal touring hotspots such as Germany, Italy, Sweden and France. Hopes there would be an exemption for musicians were dashed when details of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal emerged.
The UK government and the EU blamed each other for blocking proposals that would have allowed musicians to tour as before but, whether the blame lies with European intransigence or British incompetence, it doesn’t alter the situation: touring Europe is about to become a lot more complicated for UK bands.
“Everything is going to change,” says Josh Franceschi of You Me At Six (pictured with the band below backstage at Download Festival), who cut their teeth playing small gigs in Europe. “Even the spirit of what it means to go to Europe for the first time, when you bundle into a van and just about make enough money at the show to pay for the petrol and you sleep in the van or on the venue floor… That teenage dream will dissipate if you need to have carnets, visas and all these things that are so expensive.”
Confusion still reigns over exactly what the new rules will mean in practical terms and, with live music on hiatus for the foreseeable future, many hope a solution can yet be brokered. Dozens of musicians, including Iron Maiden and The Darkness, signed an open letter calling on the government to “negotiate paperwork-free travel in Europe for British artists”. So far politicians have resisted those entreaties – although Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has recently been making more positive noises.
A petition calling for visa-free work permits for musicians and crew has attracted so many signatures it will now be debated in Parliament on Monday (February 8). That could be one of the last opportunities to put pressure on the decision-makers, and Josh hopes Boris Johnson and co. will finally do the right thing.
“I’d love to see the government prove us all wrong because I feel like they’re not that bothered about the music industry,” he says. “I’d love them to understand the value and cultural richness our industry brings. We’re this tiny island but we’re revered all over the world for our music, festivals and scenes. For that not to continue to be shared internationally because of something they dropped the ball on is a big, big shame.”
In the meantime, people in the industry continue to wrestle with the practicalities. Jamal Chalabi of Backlash Productions is Bring Me The Horizon’s tour/production manager and has been using lockdown to bring himself up to speed with possible permutations.
Being a tour manager was already one of the most demanding jobs in rock’n’roll, but Jamal reels off a long list of new restrictions that range from the inconvenient to the livelihood-threatening.
If nothing changes, every single person on future European tours will have to secure the correct paperwork to work in every single country they visit. Furthermore, every truck will now need its own ‘carnet’ – a document listing all the equipment on the vehicle, that could potentially be checked and unloaded at every border crossing. Carnets were already carried on most trips, but Jamal says needing one for every vehicle could see costs spiral on big tours.
“These are big changes,” sighs Jamal. “There’s a lot more paperwork. It all depends on how strictly they run things…”
Perhaps the biggest problem could revolve around the trucks needed for big arena tours. Jamal explains that around 85 per cent of specialist “rock’n’roll trucks” are UK-based – but, as things stand, UK vehicles could be limited to a maximum of three “drops” on any trip to the continent, nowhere near enough for most tours.
“We don’t have the capacity to start hiring in European drivers,” he says. “And rock’n’roll drivers are a breed apart, God bless them. They know the importance of the show, understand how to load a truck, understand the whole beast of rock’n’roll. Substituting them for people who drive fridges around is not the same. There will be a huge loss of expertise.”
Some UK firms are contemplating setting up in Europe to get around the restrictions, but Jamal warns staff may have to retrain if they do, as a vicious circle of bureaucracy threatens every possible solution.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘Thank God we’re not on the road right now because any tour would be in an absolute quagmire of unknowns,’” says Jamal. “But the other school of thought is that, if we were touring, there would be 100 rock’n’roll trucks sitting in Dover or Calais, which would force the government to make decisions. It would be a world of pain, but we’d be pushing that pain through for a quick solution.”
Things aren’t much easier for the people booking the shows. Already coping with rescheduling shows due to coronavirus, now booking agents have to ponder how to route a tour around the new restrictions.
Paul Ryan is an agent for the likes of Bullet For My Valentine, Cradle Of Filth and The Damned. He’s anticipating “more paperwork and more costs”, although he remains “ever hopeful” a solution might be found before tourbuses hit the road again. But what if things don’t change?
“We’ll all have to be even more mindful of how artists will need to move around,” he says. “We are always focused on routing tours efficiently. Our goal is always to make the tour as cost-effective as possible.”
Josh Franceschi adds that, in 15 years of touring Europe, You Me At Six have only gone into profit “without tour support two or three times”, while most trips only pass break-even on the last few dates.
“If you add these other hurdles, I don’t see how a band that’s going out and playing to 40 people in Hamburg, like we did back in the day, is going to be able to afford to do it,” he laments. “We have to say, ‘This isn’t acceptable’, because of what it’s going to do to the next generation of artists. They’re going to be the new You Me At Sixes, Bring Me The Horizons and Enter Shikaris and we’ve got to preserve that, it’s fucking sacred and they’re the future.”
And nor is simply playing more UK dates likely to provide a solution, with Josh warning the market could become “oversaturated” at a time when many rock fans won’t be able to afford multiple tickets.
Paul Ryan agrees that, once we finally emerge from the pandemic, the UK circuit will “be very crowded for a short while” but adds: “That will be a good thing. I for one will be going to as many gigs as possible! With other avenues like streaming and careful planning around physical shows we can avoid that saturation.”
In the meantime, however, everyone is left hoping the politicians in Westminster and Brussels belatedly decide to sort things out.
“If we were talking about them not being able to go to their holiday home in the south of France, we’d be having a different conversation,” seethes Josh. “But because it’s just some musicians wanting to tour they don’t seem arsed. Hopefully common sense prevails and people realise it should never have got to this point.”
And, as rock fans around the world anxiously wait for the moment they can share a mosh-pit again, behind the scenes, an army of rock heroes are doing everything they can to make sure that, Brexit or no Brexit, life on the road will go on.
“This is what we do,” says Jamal Chalabi. “We’ve become masters at our game over years of making mistakes and we love a challenge. This is certainly challenging… But I don’t think it’s going to stop the show.”
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