Like other domestic music industries around the world, things in Britain have been decimated by the coronavirus. In many cases, the issues are similar: an inability to play gigs, venues closing (throwing everyone from wait staff to doormen out of work), roadies out of work, no revenue for sound and lighting companies, and so on.
When things get sorted out with the virus here in North America, we can get back to business in the usual ways. That means relearning how to tour across borders, deal with currency exchange rates, secure visas, and acquire permits. We’ll go back to the way things used to be.
But even when things improve when COVID-19 recedes, the UK will still have to deal with Brexit. The hassles resulting from Britain being out of the EU could be just as bad or even worse than the pandemic.
I spoke with Anna Miller, a British songwriter and composer who serves with a variety of organizations the lobby for the plight of musicians. She told me the following:
Item 1: Yes, it’s true that the UK government says that things will get back to normal after June 21. Venues, concerts, and festivals will get back to business. Yay, right? Maybe not.
First, as well as vaccinations are going in the UK, June 21 is 120 days off. Can the health emergency be mitigated enough to make this kind of social mingling safe?
Second, there are suspicions that the government is doing this because they’ve run out of money to support the arts. “Let’s just open everything up and let everyone fend for themselves.” Hmm.
Item 2: Not being in the EU means that British musicians are back to needing passports, visas, and going back to having to deal with customs, including with any gear they bring into the EU. According to Anna, jobs being advertised in the EU cultural sector now say applicants must have an EU passport. A UK passport won’t cut it.
If you’re a bigger act, you can probably work around this hassle. But if you’re a DJ, small-venue singer, or a cover band playing, say, residencies in the Swiss Alps, you’re screwed. Small- and mid-level working musicians are going to take it in the neck because they won’t be able to work in Europe like they had been for decades.
Item 3: Anna told me the following: “The UK provides a variety of touring specialisms and services to the EU such as tour buses, stage crew, etc. for EU and UK artists. We are world-leading in this. These services, engineers, tour buses, lightning, stage crew now cannot work in the EU without a visa. There are multiple compilations in this including the cost of transporting equipment (carnets) and the time this will take (approx 6 weeks) it can also require separate interviews with embassies of the countries due to be visited. The UK economy stands to lose a substantial amount of money from this.”
Item 4: The UK government refused an offer from the EU to allow touring and cultural work on the continent. Why? Immigration concerns, they say. Meanwhile, lawyers, architects, medics, and financial services people have no such travel restrictions.
Wow. What a mess. Thanks a lot, Boris Johnson.
UPDATE: The UK government just came up with £410 million for concert halls, theatres and museums.