Not being able to get my point across because of being drowned out is not going to deter me. If I upset you then I’m sorry, but, I feel fucking passionate about my industry and the role I play in it and I’m not going to be told to pipe down.
On Thursday I was given the opportunity to put my concerns to a cross party Petitions committee, but I was asked so few questions whilst the other witnesses were given plenty.
I’m angry about having my Freedom of Movement snatched away along with my ability to earn a living and have fun. And for what?
I’d prepared a narrative and here it is, if you don’t like it, tough, it’s the reality and we need to fucking stand up and do something about it.
“Thank you chair for allowing me this opportunity.
I would like to start by saying just how encouraged I am by the amount of support this petition has received. People from all walks of life have signed it and it clearly shows there is a very real passion for live music & the events industry as a whole.
I’d like to give a brief explanation as to why I started this petition and to explain how working as a freelancer within the music touring and events industry, has a pretty unique set of circumstances and is very different from other business travellers.
I have been a freelance video tech for around 30 years, broadly speaking I deal with the large video screens that you see at gigs. I’ve toured with well-known acts such as Madonna, Lady Gaga, The Chemical Brothers, Peter Gabriel and many more. I’ve toured through Europe and the rest of the world many times, with acts of all sizes large and small, with crews as little as 10 and crews with as many as 120, I’ve done 1 truck festival tours and 50 truck stadium tours. These tours can be just 5 or 6 shows, or they can last for much longer. The longest tour I’ve done was 84 shows, I was away from home for over 8 months.
Now, When I use the term techs, I include and I hope they don’t mind, all of the dancers & performers, the backline techs, video, sound and lighting crew, the riggers, Special Effects, set carpenters, & automation, the wardrobe, makeup and hair, the production team, catering, the drivers, the merchandise guys and girls and anyone else working behind the scenes. We are all very highly skilled people that work to very tight deadlines, with the pressure of producing a live show day after day, often in front of up to 50000 people or more.
In Europe we mostly travel between shows by sleeper bus, often, after the show loads out, we go to sleep on the bus in one country and wake up in another and this is repeated many times over until the end of the tour. But when one tour finishes and the artists go home, often, the techs will move straight to the next tour, we can be away for an entire season and any limitations on work visas/permits will make that extremely difficult.
The music industry has been dramatically changed in the last few years by the advent of streaming. As a result, most Artists can really only make money from playing live, touring, and selling tickets and merchandise. Any unnecessary costs or red tape has to be avoided, so employing the likes of me with the added cost of having to obtain work permits or visas for 27 different countries, will simply not happen. And I have been saying for some time now that UK passport holding techs like myself will lose out to our EU counterparts when it comes to being offered tours and not just EU tours.
Now this has rapidly becoming the reality. In the last few weeks I have been contacted by freelancers saying that the companies they usually freelance for have cancelled all their work, giving the reason that they are looking for either dual nationality or EU passport holders only, that’s because they don’t want to deal with the extra hassle and red tape costs. One UK company that supplies freelance techs, recently sent out an email asking freelancers what their EU status was. Another UK company has said they intend to move their entire business from the UK to Germany and will only use local German crew from now on. And I personally have been told by a US company I’ve worked for in the past, they will not be able to use me again unless this mess is sorted out.
Although it makes me really angry to see our work being taken away from us like this, through no fault of our own, we cannot blame these companies for this, they are in the business to make money and unless they adapt, they will fold. Why would they employ someone from the UK with limited travel ability, when they can simply use an EU tech.
As a freelancer with a UK passport and no more Freedom of movement, I and others like me are unable to adapt, and we are now the unviable option.
It’s all well and good for people to say “well we used to tour before” but back then it was a level playing field, we all had the same issues to deal with, but that’s definitely not the same now, it’s 27 against 1.
People have been saying “why are musicians so special, I want my freedom of movement back too”, to them I say this “Do you earn your living out of having the ability to tour the EU? If you do then my argument covers you too, if not then do what I did start a petition and shout loudly about it!”
The UK music industry is famed the world over for its talent and innovation, as such the homegrown technical backup that supports it is actually “world beating’ and that’s why there are so many technical companies, freelancers and specialist trucking companies based in the UK.
Before the end of the transition, we were the hub of the European music scene, and a key entry point for musicians from the US and the other major music markets. Those Artists would come to the UK to pick up UK techs and kit and take them on tour throughout the EU, by not allowing our us to work freely in the EU, this hub & this entry point will be gone for good and inevitably the UK will suffer economically, culturally and our influence and access to the American and other global markets will be lost.
Touring the EU with American bands was key to being invited to stay with them and tour the rest of the world, and do you know why we get those invites? Because we’re good at what we do. We don’t bitch, we just crack on and get stuff done. At the end of the day the Fans pay hard earned money to come to see our gigs and we give them the best show possible.
Our industry contributes nearly £6billion a year to the British economy, unless we take action to remedy this avoidable situation, the 100,000 or so people that work in the live events industry, like me, will end up on the scrap heap.
Covid 19 has turned so many people’s lives upside down, not least the pour souls that have sadly passed away. But this is not about covid19 support or funding, repeatedly telling us that the government has spent £1.67bn on a cultural recovery fund although welcome, it is absolutely missing the point.
We need to be able to move freely throughout the EU as we did before, otherwise, like I just said, our careers are over. Offering to pay for Visas and Carnets simple isn’t going to help either. How long are they going to do that for?
Our industry has been brought to its knees by this terrible virus, please, let’s not kill it off by thoughtless inaction.
Both our govt and the EU have said it’s not their fault, but this is no time for a blame game. Brexit has happened, and our Freedom of Movement has gone. We think there is an easy solution to this which Ian will explain shortly, but we need the UK govt to actually listen to us and then go back to the EU and negotiate on OUR behalf. And when I say our behalf, I want to include the other industries that will benefit from this such as conference and exhibitions, news journalists and crews, The film and TV production industry and all other touring professionals.
Thank you chair for allowing me to speak.”
If you want to know more about what I do, you can read my blog post ‘Who is this Tim Brennan anyway? here:
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