Fish: Brexit has destroyed UK artists’ ability to tour in The EU

(Image credit: Kai Joachim)

Fish has released a statement on Facebook bemoaning the post-Brexit regulations that promise to stifle the ability of UK artists to tour The EU. 

"Concerts will quite simply become financially unfeasible on potential permit costs alone," says the singer, whose Weltschmerz album was named as Prog Magazine's best album of 2020, and as the second-best album of the year by Classic Rock Magazine.

Fish's statement arrives less than a week after members of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen and many others members attacked the British government over the EU deal, claiming it had "shamefully failed" British musicians. The open letter included the signatures of The Who's Roger Daltrey and Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, both musicians who'd previously suggested that Brexit would not negatively impact touring musicians.

"I’ve been trying to make sense of it all from all the sometimes contradictory and often vague information available on various websites that are constantly being updated and working out how this affects my own business and career," says Fish. "It’s quite frankly confounding."

"I have 32 European shows across 43 days in the Autumn of this year. That is more than half of the 90 out of 180 days my team and I are allowed to be in the EU under the new rules. Taking into account any further shows or festivals to be added, given Covd-19 restrictions, plus any promotion trips, and those 90 days in 180 fast disappear.

"Compared to many artists I operate with a very tight crew, but we are still a 10-person team; 6 musicians including myself, a back-line tech, a sound engineer, a lighting/projection tech and a production manager. From what I’ve discovered we now need permits for every country in the EU.

"In Holland for example the administration/ processing costs of a permit are around £250 per person. If the permits are for every individual country and of similar amounts then we have around £2500 in extra costs on permits alone - for every EU country we perform in.

"This will rule out concerts in countries such as France, Belgium, Italy and Spain where I may only play one or two shows. Concerts will quite simply become financially unfeasible on potential permit costs alone.

"This doesn’t even take in the issues of ‘carnets’, and the costs and time required for the paperwork to cover every individual piece of equipment we take with us. We now have to have our passports stamped at every border crossing in order to officially document the time we spend in various countries as per the visas/ permits.

"And at the border crossings the customs officers are totally within their rights to ask for an entire truck or trailer to be unloaded and examined to see if it matches the carnet documents – which then means hours stuck at individual borders within the EU, affecting whether drivers will have exceeded their maximum driving hours. The risks of losing shows because a driver is out of hours aren’t worth taking.

"We also now have to deal with the variety of different tax regimes, and VAT costs, across the different countries on the continent. Like most other artists, I need merchandise sales of t-shirts and physical albums on tour to supplement our income and allow us to play shows in areas where the promoter’s guarantee from ticket sales falls short of the costs required to perform there. These new tax costs will amount to tens of thousands of pounds of lost revenue, further impacting our ability to finance any touring in the EU.

"And I am an established artist with a loyal fanbase, playing decent size venues! My heart goes out to musicians starting out in small clubs and at the beginning of their careers. I’m not in a new band making its first forays into Europe taking the big jump and betting on a chance to break into what is still the third biggest music market in the World, just a few miles on a ferry across the Channel.

"How are they supposed to find visa fees especially if they are an independent outfit? How do they front costs for that valuable merchandise that could be their only wages on a gig? The wages that pay their rent and the rehearsal rooms and fuel in the tank?

"Artists such as Simple Minds, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden – and yes, Marillion – benefitted hugely from our ability to tour freely in the EU, and we generated millions of pounds of revenue for the UK as a result. How does the next young Franz Ferdinand, The 1975, Blur or Oasis break into the EU market now? From where is the UK government going to replace those potential future tax revenues from successful bands? Do they care? It certainly doesn’t appear so, especially for the non-corporate bands.

"And it’s not just the artists that are affected. Crew members and session musicians have an added hit from the newly limited time allowed in the EU. Most techs and session musicians make a living by touring with a variety of artists throughout the year and they will now be unable, or find it very difficult, to juggle schedules to adhere to the new rules on travel. In short UK based touring personnel will be hamstrung and UK artists might have to consider taking on EU based crew and musicians to get around the restrictions – thus depriving their long-standing UK crew of being able to make a living.

"Some have accused the live music industry of not facing reality after the Brexit vote was determined by the accumulative vote across the UK. That is most definitely not true. We have been trying to read the runes and the smoke for a very long time and being in an industry that has to continually adjust to outside factors on a sometimes-daily basis while on the road we are accustomed to extraneous demands. Taking a double-barrelled shotgun to our feet was not anywhere in the equation.

"And all of this during a pandemic that has crippled the music industry and put thousands out of work for an indefinite time.

"I genuinely despair at the current state of the music industry and the dreams that are being broken on these rocks. I’m 63 this year and immensely grateful for what the music industry and the fans of my music have given me over the last 40 years. I just can’t imagine what it’s like for a young artist in these present times.

"We, the music business, and industry of the UK are currently in a perilous state. After all we have given to the world over the last 50 years and more; the revenue and cultural recognition that has been provided to this country through the musicians and technicians and every ancillary member of the live music communities with their writing, creations, and performances. We deserve better than this from our elected government. We need a rethink, and we need it sooner rather than later as our future is in jeopardy.

"I’m still reeling from the new regulations revealed by the UK Government just over three weeks ago regarding touring in the European Union post Brexit. They have let the entire British music industry down in a catastrophic way. As a successful independent artist, with an international touring career that employs a team of British people, we are facing our entire future being destroyed by the terrible decisions that have been made by our own Government."

Fish's full statement is on Facebook

As it now stands, musicians and their crew need separate visas for each of the 27 EU member states, and vehicles carrying equipment are allowed to visit only three cities per EU visit under current rules.

Variety reports that a petition seeking a Europe-wide visa-free work permit for touring professionals and artists has now drawn more than 263,000 signatories, which means that the issue will be debated in parliament.

On Thursday, witnesses including Horace Trubridge, General Secretary of the Musicians Union, spoke to Parliament's EU Services Sub-Committee about music and the future of UK-EU relations. Video of the discussion is available at Parliament TV

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.