Leeds musicians call for Government to secure visa-free travel deal for artists touring Europe post-Brexit

Key figures in the Leeds music scene are calling on the Government to secure a visa-free travel deal for musicians post-Brexit.
Katie Harkin performing in Brussels, Belgium.Katie Harkin performing in Brussels, Belgium.
Katie Harkin performing in Brussels, Belgium.

It comes after reports claimed the Government had rejected an offer of visa-free tours made by the European Union.

A Government spokesman has denied the reports as “misleading speculation” and said it pushed for a “more ambitious agreement” during negotiations.

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Currently, the UK’s post-Brexit travel rules, which came into force on January 1, do not guarantee visa-free travel for artists and other creatives throughout the EU’s 27 member states.

Nathan Clarke of the Brudenell Social Club.Nathan Clarke of the Brudenell Social Club.
Nathan Clarke of the Brudenell Social Club.

A petition has now been launched calling for the Government to negotiate a cultural work permit with the EU which has attracted more than 250,000 signatures.

Leeds artists, including Simon Rix of the Kaiser Chiefs, Dave Martin of I Like Trains and solo artist Katie Harkin, have all expressed concerns that the change will complicate the touring process and make it financially impossible for new and emerging artists.

Simon Rix, 43, bassist for the Kaiser Chiefs, said: “I love touring Europe and it is one of the ways the band earns money in this streaming age.

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“It will affect people in different ways but for smaller artists, it will make it impossible for them to tour because of all the extra cost.

Simon Rix and Vijay Mistry, of the Kaiser Chiefs, pull a pint at the Brudenell Social Club. Photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe. 28th July 2019.Simon Rix and Vijay Mistry, of the Kaiser Chiefs, pull a pint at the Brudenell Social Club. Photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe. 28th July 2019.
Simon Rix and Vijay Mistry, of the Kaiser Chiefs, pull a pint at the Brudenell Social Club. Photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe. 28th July 2019.

“It is just extra hassle for promoters which makes UK bands and artists less desirable to book.

“When we play festivals like Benicàssim in Spain, we get paid a fee and then we come back here and pay tax. That is an immediate benefit to the country.

“The more difficult it is to go abroad to play shows, the less money we'll earn and the less tax we will pay back into the country.

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“It’s not even just about the money - culture is one of Britain’s biggest exports.

I Like Trains outside Leeds City Museum. Photo: Gary Longbottom 29/9/12I Like Trains outside Leeds City Museum. Photo: Gary Longbottom 29/9/12
I Like Trains outside Leeds City Museum. Photo: Gary Longbottom 29/9/12

“When we go and tour, we promote Leeds and Yorkshire as places people should come and visit because we are proud of where we are from.

“It does feel like our livelihoods are being held to ransom and that they are playing politics with the arts industries.“

Katie Harkin, 34, a solo artist from Moortown, has been a professional musician for more than a decade and has made the majority of her income from touring.

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Katie, who now lives near Sheffield, said: “It is unimaginable to me the idea that newer artists may not be able to afford to tour Europe because there is no musician's work visa.

“Touring Europe was completely formative for me not just as an artist but as a person.

“Records are often made in isolation and touring is the time when you can interact with your community.

“I think we can all agree that creativity flourishes in community and that is what's being denied - the ability to talk within the creative communities of Europe.

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Katie, who also co-owns independent label Hand Mirror with wife Kate Hewett, added: “There is a general lack of clarity on a lot of issues but I worry we are becoming isolationist when British music has thrived by being the exact opposite - look at Bowie in Berlin and The Beatles in Hamburg.

“It's already a real feat to pull off a European tour if you're not backed by major investors.

“The costs will be for every single band member and the crew so it could be completely prohibitive.

“It's potentially devastating for the industry.”

Dave Martin, guitarist and singer for I Like Trains, shared similar concerns. He said: "The restrictions on freedom of movement are particularly damaging for touring musicians in the UK.

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“It’s all very well making new trade deals with far flung nations, but if a significant part of your income is based on performing in person, we need access to those countries we neighbour.

“Musicians have made it clear that work visas and carnets required to transport equipment, will make tours which were once viable become next to impossible.

“It will become, even more so, the pursuit of people with lots of money - established artists on major labels and those born into it.

“If it’s true that the UK Government rejected visa-free touring for musicians in the EU, with reciprocal agreements for EU performers in the UK, despite blaming the EU for the decision, we’re entitled to some answers.

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“This isn’t an economic decision, as music contributes a great deal to the UK economy. It seems the Government is no longer hiding their contempt for the arts.”

Both Simon and Nathan Clarke, director of the Brudenell Social Club, believe that the next few months are the ideal time for politicians on both sides to come to an agreement, as bands and artists are unable to tour due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Simon said: “In a way we are kind of lucky we can't tour because of Covid because at the moment we wouldn't know what the rules are

“I do think that in the end, the Government will work out a solution with the EU - but it should have already been sorted. The perfect time to sort it out would have been any time in the last four years.

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“I don't think anyone who voted for Brexit voted how they did to stop bands playing in Europe and vice-versa. It doesn't seem to me like it would have been a deal breaker for the Government to just accept the offer.”

Nathan, 40, from Burley, added: “We have an opportunity now while in lockdown and we need to act on it.

“Right now, it's a difficult, uncertain position and I think that is where the frustrations are coming from.

“Had we not been in the Covid pandemic and we were in normal touring times, the new Brexit rules would have hit all at once and I think there would have been widespread calamity in the industry.

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“However, despite it being a bad situation, what Covid has allowed us is the time to buffer and negotiate without having a negative human impact.

“The issue of visas, for example, is a big one because American bands often play the UK as part of a European-wide tour.

“If it will now cost them extra money in visas to play in the UK, they might decide to not play here. It is an extra administrative and financial burden.

“We need to make sure we do not become just an island and we are out there making those connections, making sure artists want to come to play our festivals and shows.”

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Nathan, who also sits on the Association of Independent Promoters (AIP), continued: “Both British and European musicians make a lot of money touring Europe, which brings money back into those countries. Financially, everybody is losing out by not reaching a deal.

“But it is also about culture. Britain is one of the biggest cultural drivers in the world and by staying connected it gives us relevance in the world.

“Culture does not have a physical boundary and it is not something we can't put a price tag on.

“It feels like both the Government and the EU agree on that, which is why they have given similar proposals - it is just the slight differences that no one is willing to budge on.

“If the political will is there, and both sides know how important it is, then now is the time to go and find that solution rather than using it as a political hot potato.”