Sir Elton John warns musicians face EU tour 'catastrophe'

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

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Sir Elton JohnImage source, PA
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Sir Elton John has warned MPs that the UK music industry could lose "a generation of talent" because of post-Brexit restrictions on touring the EU.

The musician accused ministers of being unwilling to fix a "gaping hole" in the current Brexit deal which means artists need costly visas to play in the bloc.

The government says the EU rejected its attempts to negotiate visa-free travel, while the EU claims the opposite.

Sir Elton called the situation a "looming catastrophe" for the UK.

"I want to be clear that the issues of visa-free and permit-free touring aren't about the impact on me, and artists who tour arenas and stadiums," he said.

"This gravest of situations is about the damage to the next generation of musicians and emerging artists, whose careers will stall before they've even started due to this infuriating blame game.

"If I had faced the financial and logistical obstacles facing young musicians now when I started out, I'd never have had the opportunity to build the foundations of my career and I very much doubt I would be where I am today."

The star's statement was read to MPs during a hearing by the Digital, Culture, Media (DCMS) and Sport Committee on EU visa arrangements for those in the creative industries. Sir Elton later posted the letter in full on Instagram.

The DCMS committee was also due to hear from Brexit Minister Lord Frost - but he pulled out unexpectedly, drawing fierce criticism from committee chairman Julian Knight.

"Parliamentary scrutiny in front of select committees is of crucial importance in our democratic system and is particularly important when we have a government with a majority of over 80," he said in a statement, calling Lord Frost's failure to attend the hearing unacceptable.

"I, and this committee, look forward to Lord Frost joining us at the rearranged date and we will not truck any further cancellation."

'An afterthought'

However, the committee did hear from live music agent and promoter Craig Stanley, who warned that the UK's live music industry "is facing annihilation".

He noted that the majority of European tours by pop and rock bands originate in the UK - meaning they employ stage crew, drivers, caterers, sound engineers, lighting technicians and backing musicians to work across the 27 EU member states.

"American acts when they come over, the vast majority of the time, take on British staff and use British equipment 85 to 90% of the time," he told MPs. "They will start to move to Schiphol, to Frankfurt, to warehouses in the middle of Germany, and take on the gear there, and all of that will be lost."

He added that there was a "real danger" British orchestras may have to stop touring internationally.

They not only face visa requirements, but new limits on road haulage - which mean trucks transporting instruments from the UK must return home after visiting two EU member states.

"They can't just put their very, very expensive and delicate instruments into any truck," Stanley explained.

"If they can't drive it [themselves], they can't tour. So you're going to stop the Royal Philharmonic from touring. It's as bold as that."

The government was previously accused of treating live music as "an afterthought" in Brexit negotiations compared with the much smaller £1.2bn fishing industry.

Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage rejected that characterisation, saying: "No, I wouldn't accept that. This is something that's huge for our economy. It's an international calling card for us."

A UK government spokesperson told the BBC on Tuesday: "We want musicians and others to be able to tour easily both inside and outside the EU.

"Short-term, temporary visits for paid performances by UK musicians are possible in at least 17 EU countries, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, without needing visas or work permits."

However, Noel McClean, leader of the entertainment union Bectu, told the DCMS committee there are still "varying degrees of bureaucracy still associated with those 17 member states".

The government's statement does not "quite match up to the expectation that you can do what you could before", he added.

'Cost us a fortune'

Another rock star, Noel Gallagher, echoed those sentiments when talking to BBC Radio 4's Front Row on Thursday, saying his European touring plans will now have to be scaled down.

"You can't just get on a train and go to Paris and do a gig [anymore]," the former Oasis singer-songwriter said.

"You've got to apply to do a gig and you've got to declare what equipment you're bringing.

Image caption,
Noel Gallagher says touring Europe with his band, the High Flying Birds, will have to be scaled down due to Brexit

"And that's things that never cost us any money two or three years ago, which is going to cost a fortune."

He continued: "So I just think, ultimately, like most things, the fans are going to lose out because instead of bands going to Europe for four weeks now and doing three gigs in Germany, there'll be one. And there will be one in France, and one in Spain, and one in Belgium, and then it'll be a whistlestop, scaled-down show."

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