For British groups, touring Europe is now a highway to Brexit hell
Written by Alex Marshall
When British rock bandaged Two Door Cinema Club started playing shows across Europe a decade ago, the three of the group would jump into a van, throw their instruments in the back and drive from their hometown of Belfast, Ireland. North, to sweaty clubs in Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris.
“We’ve done it hundreds of times,” bassist Kevin Baird said over the phone recently. “Everything was at one point.”
Now, it’s not that easy for Two Door Cinema Club – or any other British band – to tour Europe. On July 9, the group headlined the Cruïlla music festival in Barcelona, Spain, to an audience of 25,000 raving fans. But due to Britain’s departure from the European Union in 2020, known as Brexit, the group has spent weeks applying for visas and immersing themselves in complicated new rules around trucking and transportation. export of goods such as t-shirts.
Visas and travel to Britain to apply cost £ 7,500, about $ 10,400, for the band, two additional musicians and a team of eight, Baird said. New rules mean that a UK van carrying audio and lighting equipment, or freight, can only make three stops in mainland Europe before having to return home.
“It turned out to be a headache when it had never been before,” Baird said. “If we were a beginner group, we wouldn’t have done this.”
For much of this year Brexit has been an even bigger topic of discussion in the UK music industry than the coronavirus pandemic. Since January 1, when a trade deal between Britain and the EU went into effect, hundreds of British musicians – including Dua Lipa and Radiohead – have complained that the deal makes tours on the continent more expensive for concerts in stadiums and almost impossible for new groups. .
The new rules are “looming disaster” for young musicians, Elton John wrote on Instagram in June.
“It is about whether one of the UK’s most successful industries, worth £ 111 billion a year, is allowed to thrive and make a huge contribution to our cultural and economic wealth, or to collapse, ”he added.
Even musicians who backed Brexit complained. Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson told a TV interviewer in June that while he welcomed Britain’s departure from the EU, he found the new rules unreasonable. He then addressed the British government: “Come together.
The fury over the regulations has led to a blame game between the UK government and the EU over which side is responsible for the new barriers and who made viable offers when negotiating the trade deal.
Regardless of who is responsible, the issue has become an embarrassment for the UK government. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said his government is working “hard” on the issue.
“We have to solve this problem,” he told lawmakers in March.
Yet so far there hasn’t been enough progress to appease musicians. In June, Britain agreed to new trade deals that the government said would allow the musicians for easy travel in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This was greeted with disdain.
“Ah those famous tours of mountainous Liechtenstein with its total absence of an airport,” wrote Simone Marie of the group Primal Scream on Twitter.
“We’re all getting more and more downcast,” said Annabella Coldrick, CEO of Music Managers Forum, a professional body.
In June, she participated in the launch of Let the Music Move, a campaign for the government to compensate artists for new additional costs and renegotiate the rules of the tour.
“The issues are just starting to become clear,” as the coronavirus pandemic abates and bands begin to book tours, Coldrick said. The biggest sticking point was the regulation that vans and lorries can only stop three times before they have to return to Britain, she added.
Several UK music trucking companies have already moved some of their operations to Ireland to get around the rules. But Coldrick said that was not a viable solution: the trucks would also have to make longer trips to pick up the tapes, which would increase costs. It also seemed like a bad outcome for Britain, she said, as the country was losing businesses and workers.
For Two Door Cinema Club, the main issue was visas, group manager Colin Schaverien said. In June, a member of the group’s team was refused a visa for a technical detail related to his job title, so he had to reapply. Another member of the group, based in Belfast, has been told they have to travel to Scotland for a visa appointment.
Despite the group’s problems before heading to Spain, the July 9 Two Door Cinema Club show went off without a hitch.
“All of the things that worried us didn’t materialize,” Baird said.
Brexit was the last thing he thought of during the concert, he said, but it emerged the next day when the band and team drove to the airport on their way home. Members of the group with Irish passports, which anyone born in Northern Ireland can hold as well as a British passport, passed passport control in no time; those with only UK passports stood in line for an hour.
The group was happy with the trip, but Baird worried about how a more complicated schedule would work.
“We are all well aware that this was a unique event concert“He said.” What worries us is next year, when we face three different countries in three days. I think it will be much more difficult.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.