Elton John & Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood pen op-eds on Brexit’s impact on touring
Brexit went into effect on January 31 and changed the way Britain and the rest of the European Union will interact in almost every way. Negotiators have worked out deals for many aspects of trade, but something that didn't seem to come up concerned British musicians' ability to tour across Europe affordably. The Guardian recently published op-ed pieces from both Elton John and Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood, who argue for the government to cut through the red tape that would make it cost prohibitive for all but the wealthiest, most established acts to tour.
Both Greenwood and Elton talk of early formative experiences touring Europe and how it made them better as musicians. "Like Hamburg to the Beatles, Europe was crucial to our growth as a band," writes Greenwood. "It allowed us to see ourselves untethered from our UK roots and to imagine a life in music that could reach audiences everywhere. We made enduring friendships, toured with musicians from Europe, and dived deep into its clubs, festivals, record stores and music labels."
Speaking of Hamburg, Elton John notes he actually did residencies there in the '60s like The Beatles, as keyboard player in a group called Bluesology. "It was a real baptism of fire. We played on the Reeperbahn, five hours a night in among the brothels and sex shows, to audiences who hadn’t come to see us. But it was still great: we played so much we didn’t have any choice but to improve as a band. Certainly, it was better than my solo debut on the continent a few years later, when some bright spark booked me as the support act to Sergio Mendes in Paris. One audience member was so aggrieved at having his evening of bossa nova interrupted by the strains of Your Song that he threw his hotdog at me."
Greenwood and Elton both worry that the red tape and expenses for touring musicians with the current post-Brexit regulations will be too much. Greenwood writes:
Before Brexit, a carnet (a list of goods going in and out of the country) was just needed for Norway and Switzerland. Now it would be more like playing South America, where each country has its systems for dealing with “third countries” like us. Adrian said a £10,000 guitar would need a carnet that would cost about £650 plus VAT. The costs of travel and accommodation are already high, and the extra paperwork and expenses would rise quickly for a touring orchestra.
There’s also that ugly word, cabotage – the rights for transport movement – with trucks carrying the gear from the UK only allowed two drop-offs in the EU before having to return to Britain, making a multi-city tour impossible with a UK tour bus or truck fleet.
Elton John and Radiohead say they're both lucky enough to be able to absorb the costs and have a team of people in place who can sort out all the administrative forms, but point out that this doesn't just affect rock and pop, but jazz, classical, opera companies and more. "It is time for the UK government to admit it didn’t do enough for the creative industries during the Brexit negotiations and look to renegotiate on the provision for touring in Europe," write Greenwood.
Elton concurs. "Either the Brexit negotiators didn’t care about musicians, or didn’t think about them, or weren’t sufficiently prepared. They screwed up. It’s ultimately down to the British government to sort it out: they need to go back and renegotiate."
Elton closes his piece by writing, "If you hate every note I’ve recorded, because your tastes are edgier, weirder and more exploratory – if you think that the Parisian hotdog thrower had a good point – you need to support musicians’ ability to tour. Because if Brexit prevents many new musicians from touring, the only artists who are going to have any meaningful kind of live career are big, august, mainstream artists like me. And, trust me, I don’t want that any more than you do."