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Opinion: Brexit will make musicians’ lives harder

Reader Irene Babinet, 84, from La Rochelle whose pacs partner Tony Bell has been a bass player for many years, writes for Connexion about how Brexit is set to create complications for musicians.

While the couple live in France now, they were formerly from the UK and Mr Bell has decades of experience of travelling around the continent on music jobs. Aged 78, he currently plays for French bands including Rocking Time and Man Possessed.

Nothing would change for musicians during a transition period if there is a Brexit with a deal, but there are expected to be complications for UK-based musicians working in the EU afterwards, or immediately in the case of a no-deal, as well as less flexibility for musicians of British nationality living in the EU in terms of freedom of movement to live and work in other EU countries outside the one where they live.

The life of a jobbing musician is very hard work, sometimes very boring and the notion that it is all ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ is a pipedream and reality is much harsher. 

However, those of us who are talented enough to make a living from the ‘liberal’ professions such as journalists, artists, actors and musicians are dependent upon many factors, one of the most important of which is freedom of movement.  

Music knocks down all barriers; the first of which is language. 

Music is its own language and barriers of age, colour, class and nationality cease to exist. Integration comes naturally to any musician and barriers, real or imagined, just don’t exist because the ability to play the instrument of choice rises above all other considerations including money.

Having been a volunteer at the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival for many years during the 1980s and 1990s, I can attest to the fact that these are joyous occasions when bands from all over the world can strut their stuff and, through the many ‘jam sessions’ organised throughout the festivals, can strut with other musicians of all shapes and sizes, colours and creeds.  

There is also much to be said about the atmosphere which prevails with the public.  Festivals are joyous occasions bringing together nationalities, colours and all social classes. They have their own sense of freedom and are without barriers or frontiers.

Festivals such as Woodstock in 1969 and the Isle of Wight festivals in 1968-1970 are still feted as promotions of ‘Peace and Love’ in a way that today’s politicians find impossible and it is fitting that 2019, a year of unprecedented political discord, marks the 50th anniversary of what was the world’s greatest spontaneous music festival.  Without doubt, musicians must be free to spread their own brand of integration.  

Bass player Tony Bell has been playing professionally since he was fifteen. 

His career has taken him from the 2i’s Coffee Bar in London’s Soho to Paris, Hamburg, Rome and Las Vegas. 

At the beginning of his career he was constrained by agents, visas and working permits and contractual reciprocal arrangements with other countries. 

However, since the UK’s entry into the European Union, such constraints have ceased to exist and he has been able to live and to play in any of the countries of the European Union. 

As he says, “Along with freedom of movement came freedom of choice.  No more uncomfortable weeks at the Glasgow Empire, the graveyard of all acts!”

Jobbing musicians are now able to negotiate their own deals without the bureaucracy which prevailed before our entry into the EU and which favoured, primarily, agents and solicitors rather than the musicians themselves.

“To take away that right would deprive the world of something that is an enrichment and which is a necessary antidote to the problems of today’s world.

“It is the ‘get away from it all’ factor and is a much-needed element in today’s society.  “Nothing succeeds quite like live music to ease the tensions of the modern world.”

One of his friends, London-born guitarist Mike Katin, now living in the Languedoc  region, writes: “We live in a world where we can access with ease the music from hundreds of cultures spread over the planet. 

“We can search back into the past and re-live our lives through this. 

“Mostly we like to think of the times when we were actually at a live show. It’s hardly likely   we would look back on a past where we remembered having done an amazing search on Youtube.”

Music in the west is very much a mixture of different cultures; notably African/American.

Most of this started with those artists actually visiting other countries where people could experience live shows. You have to keep music live because live is real. 

In the UK, this was particularly influential in the 1950s and the early 1960s when efforts were made to bring hitherto unknown blues artists to European shores for the first time. 

The results were far-reaching in a cultural sense as well as fuelling an industry that continues to make a lot of money and benefits many people but all this started with live performance.

To limit the freedom of movement of musicians is to disregard the gains brought about by this cultural exchange and to underestimate one more aspect that enriches peoples’ lives. 

What a shame if this freedom is buried under so much paperwork and consequent expense that it results in a practically unfeasible exercise when it is really something time-honoured and simple. 

Will we all be limited in the future to looking at doctored videos on our computer screen which are available at the touch of a button but leave us no memories to return to for inspiration?”

The UK’s Musician’s Union supports a People’s Vote on Brexit and the revoking of Article 50 and feels that staying in the EU is still the best option for musicians.

Its general secretary had this to say when speaking to the UK Parliament earlier this year: “There’s a deeper impact which is a cultural impact.

"The UK music industry is very diverse. The old cliché that we punch above our weight is true. 

“We’ve always been – artistically and culturally – a very welcoming country.

“We love artists coming over here and, if we become less welcoming, they simply won’t come. 

“Our reputation as a country that embraces all arts and cultures will be severely damaged.” 

Whether it’s the ‘big bucks’ earned by the supergroups or merely the bus fare home from the local bar or club or even busking on a beach in Spain, musicians must be allowed the freedom of movement that their talents demand. 

Their worlds cannot turn without it and neither can ours.


Editor’s note

For British musicians wanting to work in the EU after Brexit the requirements may from one country to another as the EU does not have fixed residency and work permit rules for artists.

Until 2016 in France anyone wanting to employ a musician from outside the EU had to request prior authorisation for them to work, however this is no longer required for artists coming to work for less than three months.

They may not work for longer than this in France without an appropriate visa and temporary carte de séjour .

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (UK professional body) estimates that musicians who travel to the EU after Brexit will have extra costs of up to £1,000/year in the case of no-deal (or after a transition, if no special arrangements are agreed).

Musicians would have to buy carnets – temporary international customs documents (valid for a year) allowing instruments and sound equipment to move outside the UK, which cost around £500-700 depending on the value.

Additional costs would include medical insurance, an international driving permit, and musical instrument certificates for instruments made from ‘endangered species’ materials like ivory or tortoiseshell or rosewood (charges for these are set to come in, in 2020, but the precise cost is not yet known).

Musicians would also have to check that they do not become liable for double social security payments if EU social security coordination rules no longer apply by contacting social security institutions in the countries they plan to work in.

British musicians often tour around more than one EU country, and may at present make trips at short notice and without any formalities.

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