Real People, Real Lives, Real Jobs

Touring the EU doesn’t have to be a thing of the past, but it could be a damn sight easier.

Live Concert Touring

I recently did an EU tour with a band as an LED tech building the big screen backdrop, and the two side screens for camera relay.

The tour played 5 EU cities in arenas, and used 7 Articulated trucks full of lighting, sound and video equipment. All the equipment was rented in from a UK equipment suppliers & staffed by mainly freelance technicians from the UK.

Factors faced by Freelancers 

A number of factors come into play when considering a tour like this. Even though it was fairly short, all the techs had to apply for A1 certification, which is done through HMRC, the certificate is handed to the local promoter of the gig in each country and is proof that the techs pay NI and tax in the UK, otherwise the promoter would have to hold back some of our wages as they would be liable for the Tax and NI on our behalf in their country.

The process of acquiring an A1 certificate is fairly arduous, you have to tell HMRC the dates of each gig and location, they used to then issue the certificate within a few weeks of the application, since Covid the lead time has expanded dramatically from anywhere from 8 weeks up to 6 months, depending on the lottery of who is dealing with your application at HMRC.

They have obviously had staff cuts and budgets reduced like everything under the control of the Tories.

This delay mean that often, like this tour, it is over before we have received our certificates, we can sometimes give the application reference number to the promoter, however they are beginning to crack down on this.

A recent tweet of mine about the A1 application process brought a reply from an artist who recently played a gig in France and had €19,000 held until their certification had been issued and shown to the local authorities. Not an insignificant amount considering the costs that have to be covered.

The 2nd issue face by the technicians is ensuring that they have adequate time left in their 90/180 day Schengen allowance to cover the tour.

In my case for this tour I had not been in the EU for over 90 days so I had the full allowance, one of the other techs only had two days over the required amount of time for this tour. My next tour will take me to 78 days out of the 90, meaning if I get offered an EU tour after the next one for longer than 12 days, I will not be able to accept it, and will have to wait until March before entering Schengen again, be it for work, holiday, visiting family etc.

As Freelancers we mainly go from tour to tour doing gigs in the Schengen area, so the 90/180 day rule is killing our ability to earn a living and contribute taxes etc to the UK economy.

The Dreaded Carnet

So let’s look at the equipment side of things. As we are taking all the Lighting, Audio & Video equipment from the UK into the EU, we have to have a carnet for it. A carnet is a document listing every single piece of equipment and cable / tools / instruments etc by its description,  serial number and it’s value. The value of all the equipment is then added up and a percentage of this value is given over as a bond that is held until the equipment returns to the UK. The carnet is used as a temporary importation document, meaning that the equipment will not be sold in the country being visited and therefore no importation taxes are charged.

The carnet is taken by the truck drivers or whoever is responsible for the carnet within a band or theatre company etc,  and has to be stamped at UK customs out of the UK, and stamped into the EU by customs at whichever port we enter. Then at the end it’s stamped out of the EU and back into the UK.

If customs on either side feel the need they can demand to inspect all the kit or just some of it to make sure it matches what is on the carnet.

The carnet should be checked in detail by customs officials against the listed items which for large carnets can take a great deal of time with subsequent delays.

As the equipment is usually rented for each tour, and the daily cost of rental can be tens of thousands of pounds, the schedule for the tour is usually very tight, often planned so that the truck moves between venues / cities / countries doesn’t have much time for delays, such as customs searches.

On my recent tour, on the way back into the UK, the truck carrying the 12 tonnes of LED screens we used was held at UK customs for just such an inspection, this meant it was a day late returning to the equipment rental supplier. As luck would have it, it wasn’t needed that day, but it could have been enroute to a gig in the UK, where that 24hr delay would have meant no screens for the gig. As the screens were the major element in the gig, it probably would have had to be cancelled. 

This happened recently where a well known band had to cancel two shows because the equipment was delayed in customs.

As all the equipment is rented, it would be difficult to sell the equipment and explain to the rental company why you no longer have the equipment to return of hire. 

The creative touring industry beset by red tape.

The red tape that has beset the touring industries since Brexit and the end of our Freedom of Movement is making almost unviable for artists to tour and still make money from their gigs.

There are other factors such as Cites (a restriction on instruments that contain rare species in their construction), cabotage ( a restriction on the movement of our touring trucks and the number of stops they can make) & issues with merchandise (limitations on the amount an artist can carry and rules on the country of origin) that I’m not going to go into here, but all these factors add up to one hell of a headache for the touring industry.

In the UK we are one of the Industries that actually are world leading, but our dominance in the field has been massively eroded by the problems we face since Brexit, we’re seeing more and more major tours bypassing the UK and renting equipment from the EU and using EU based technicians, that is becoming a major loss for the UK economy.

In 2019 the music touring industry was part of the creative industries that generated £118bn for the UK economy. We as a country can ill afford to lose this industry and we must fight for its continuation and encourage new bands and artist to tour the EU, to build their fan bases and continue making fabulous music which helps us all enjoy gigs. 

Don’t ever forget how much going to a gig with your mates and having a good time, is a massive positive for our mental well-being as well as a benefit to the local economy surrounding the gig.

Local pubs, restaurants, hotels, taxis etc all benefit from the touring economy which keeps thousands of people in well paid jobs.

How can you help? You can start by writing to your MP and demand that they ask the government to go back to the EU and negotiate a proper deal for creative touring.

Thanks for reading.

Tim Brennan 

Director of Carry on Touring campaign 

Freelance vision engineer in music touring.

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