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The UK wants a 'touring tsar' to help bands get on the road in the EU

Harry McVeigh, right, and Tommy Bowen of the British band the White Lies at the Isle of Wight festival 2009
Harry McVeigh, right, and Tommy Bowen of the British band the White Lies at the Isle of Wight festival 2009   -   Copyright  Joel Ryan/AP2009
By Jonny Walfisz

The UK music industry and politicians have demanded that a “touring tsar” is appointed to help UK bands get back on the road in the EU.

Since Brexit, bands of all sizes have been restricted from touring EU countries by unnecessary red-tape, claims a new report.

The report was released this week by UK Music, a collective organisation representing the country’s commercial music industry, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music (APPG on Music), a collection of more than 100 UK MPs and peers.

How Brexit hurt musicians

Before the UK left the EU, British politicians promised that the music industry would have some exemptions to the limits on free movement.

But that was not realised in the final Brexit agreement.

As a result, musicians and touring teams are limited from entering the EU for more than 90 days in a 180-day period. Once they’re in the EU though, many of the countries have different restrictions on the rights to work for musicians and how much time they can spend there.

Even if the bands can get to the EU gigs, there is no guarantee their equipment will too.

New import requirements for musical instruments impose a heavy tax on smaller bands trying to make their way over to the EU.

And in some cases, the huge border queues for trucks exiting the UK has caused bands to have to cancel altogether when equipment hasn’t arrived in time.

In April, rock band White Lies cancelled a gig in Paris when their equipment didn’t make it past the border in Dover.

It cost the band (and our fans) financially and emotionally, and shouldn’t have happened,” the band said.

“We have the resources to pay experienced professionals to guide us through the red tape, but the reality for newer acts is that touring in Europe could become an impossible dream.”

AP Photo
Elton John performs during his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road," tour, Friday, July 15, 2022, at Citizens Bank Park in PhiladelphiaAP Photo

Sir Elton John has also endorsed the need for new measures to help UK musicians get back on the road.

He criticised the lack of action the UK government took during the lockdowns of Covid-19 to fix the roadblock to touring made by Brexit.

“The heartbeat and future of our vibrant industry face finding themselves stranded in Dover through no fault of their own,” Sir Elton said.

The industry demands change

All these issues spurred on the report by UK Music and the APPG on Music.

The report, “Let the Music Move - A New Deal for Touring”, sets out its recommendations to get the UK music industry working again.

The report also stresses just how valuable the music industry is to the UK.

The UK has the second biggest export market for music in the world, with four of the top 10 grossing tours in 2019 peformed by British acts.

Musicians from the Beatles through to Harry Styles are icons across the globe and the Brexit rules are detrimental to the UK’s ability to keep its reputation as a world-leading musical home.

The main recommendations of the paper start with the appointment of a “touring tsar” who could coordinate the government’s response to the issue.

It also recommends a creation of a Cultural Touring Agreement to cut red tape and costs involved in EU touring, as well as a Transitional Support Fund to help acts deal with increased costs.

Other requests include making all EU states allow musicians to work up to 90 days in 180-day periods and more border points to check instruments and touring equipment.

“Fixing this crisis is in everyone’s interests, UK and EU alike. The UK is a global hub of music – we want to bring international talent into this country with ease just as much as we want to ensure British musicians can tour Europe freely,” Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, CEO of UK Music tweeted.

But Chris Grey, Emeritus Professor of Organisation Studies at Royal Holloway was critical of the possibility of change.

“A 'touring tsar" can't "unravel the red tape" in the absence of the government negotiating a different deal with the EU,” he tweeted.

“To say "It's over two years since Brexit, yet there is still a mountain of red tape" implies Brexit should have got rid of red tape, but Brexit created it,” Grey noted.