A Guest Post from Darren Johnson
Rock Fanatic and former Chair of the London Assembly for the Green Party
Younger voters have been overwhelmingly pro-EU. And in spite of concerns that younger people are less likely to vote, less likely to be registered or be at Glastonbury for the referendum and failed to apply for a postal vote, it seems that younger music fans are pretty much like the rest of their generation when it comes to recognising the benefits of Britain’s membership of the EU. But what of older rock fans? I’ve both heard some pretty alarming sentiments expressed amongst fellow music fans of our generation. In some ways that’s not surprising. Opinion polls are showing that while there is a massive lead for remaining in the EU amongst the 18-39 age group, when it gets to the over 50’s and particularly the over 60’s the tables are turned and there’s a significant lead for leaving the EU.
However, could it be that older rock fans are unwittingly sabotaging one of the things in life they love most. The Musicians Union has sounded alarm bells that a so-called Brexit vote could have serious consequences for musicians, particularly in the area of touring and copyright. A recent official statement argues:
“The effect that Brexit would have on musicians in Britain is not entirely clear and would depend on the terms negotiated. We could, however, expect touring to become more difficult and potentially see British musicians having to apply for visas in order to travel within Europe. Given the cost and difficulty many musicians face in obtaining visas for work in countries such as the U.S, this would be very unwelcome. It is also likely that European legislation which has protected musicians in the areas of copyright, health and safety and workers’ rights would be watered down or removed entirely if Britain were to leave the EU.”
Bernie Torme, former Gillan guitarist, still gigging and still releasing albums, spells out the likely extra hassles and expense should we leave. These are not millionaire rock stars. Artists like Bernie have a niche, but dedicated fan-base and every penny matters if the economics of touring and releasing albums are to add up. As Bernie says:
“Leaving is a no-win situation for musicians in my opinion: as the MU points out it will increase the cost and difficulty of European touring, through potential visas and also the probable reintroduction of customs carnets and bonds coupled with the time involved in organising all that. That will make it well nigh impossible to tour and sell merch in Europe unless you are a very big band and have an organisation behind you to back you up. For an independent artist like me who self releases CDs and vinyl it will also be significantly more difficult and expensive: the best quality, cheapest, and quickest pressing plants are all in mainland Europe, so with Brexit there will be customs duty on getting the records in to the UK and also again on selling them back out to Europe. Many other reasons too, from buying equipment at a cheaper price than you can in the UK, to copyright protection and royalty collection (royalty collection from the US is a nightmare), to the problems some bands would have because they have members in various countries. It’s not good.”
Indeed, Mark Davyd, Chief Executive of the Music Venue Trust, who are fighting a strong and effective battle to protect Britain’s grassroots music venues, argues that the so-called “heritage” rock acts could be particularly hard hit.
“The impact will be felt hardest by those musicians who need Europe the most; those trying to establish a career, build audiences, or UK musicians who have built a sustainable touring career – heritage bands who aren’t massive but need to tour Europe to make ends meet. In terms of what will happen,; nobody really knows, but the question of immigration and rights to work are not a one way street; if you want to limit the number of EU workers able to work in the UK, that means you accept a limit on the number of UK workers able to work in the EU. The most likely outcome of a Brexit which includes limiting immigration, which seems to be the main driver of the Brexit campaign, will be to limit temporary workers, and that means UK musicians, their technicians and crew. A US Visa takes six months to arrange and costs, including management of taxation, circa $5,000 for the most organised. Even imagining a single EU entry visa, with no further border controls or conditions as UK musicians pass from one EU nation to another, that sum of money and the organisation time is beyond 90% of the UK musicians currently supplementing their income with EU performances.
And that’s just the musicians. UK Music’s report “Wish You Were Here 2016” demonstrates the value of music tourism to the UK, at festivals and in every venue in the UK – even at a grassroots music level, over 135,000 overseas tourists made a visit. We don’t know how many of them will be dissuaded by new border permissions, nor what the impact of a falling pound will be on their ability to travel – currently our EU visitors enjoy reciprocal benefits such as access to health care which makes the UK an ideal holiday destination. Will that continue? Nobody knows.”
From a fan’s perspective Mark Tully, an avid supporter of classic rock bands, backs up the point that leaving the EU could mean lots of extra hassle and expense for the bands and musicians he loves seeing:
“A friend of mine is Brian Cummins who does a Peter Gabriel tribute. Last year he got a telephone call asking if he would do a performance at Rockpalast in Germany. He drove all the way from the Wirral to Germany. He only had to present his passport when he left the UK and when he arrived back. If we leave the European Union it is very likely that this will not be the case.”
There are many, many reasons for Britain to stay in the EU, economically, socially, environmentally and, of course, this referendum is about far, far more than the impact on the British music scene. But amidst all the hollow rhetoric about “getting our country back” and outright lies about straight bananas, it would be a great shame if rock fans do vote to leave the EU on Thursday placing additional burdens and expense on some of the bands they love which may call into question their ability to carry on touring and carry on making music.
Peter points out that artists from Roger Daltrey to Bob Geldof, Billy Bragg and Paloma Faith recently stated their support for the remain campaign. So far it seems that Mick Hucknell of Simply Red is one of few noted stars that has come out against staying in Europe. Peter has analysed this and points out that this decision was foretold in their hit “Something got me started”:
Even David Cameron and Tessa Jowell tried to get in on the act … and Peter does not even think they play the guitar or are members of the Musicians Union …
Finally, Peter also points out that Boris Johnson (not related to Darren) is also not qualified to talk about music and musicians:
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