Fans enjoying themselves at Bloodstock Festival in Derbyshire

‘Every barrier in the world went down overnight’: Some bands skip Britain over Brexit

It’s been three years since the UK saw a packed schedule of festivals – from local line-ups to Glastonbury and Download.

But as COVID restrictions have eased and the summer is packed with events, industry insiders face new challenges — and ones they predicted back in 2019.

“Our festival grew organically, everything worked great,” says Adam Gregory, co-director of award-winning British rock and metal festival Bloodstock. “There weren’t really any major roadblocks that we could say would prevent a festival from being successful.

“Then came Brexit and literally all the barriers in the world went down overnight.”

It’s a sentiment that resonates throughout the music business, be it by well-known acts like Elton John for smaller bands and those working behind the scenes that post-Brexit festivals are harder to host and play.

And while the philosophical argument over leaving the EU has been fought and won, there are now practical issues that stakeholders in the industry want to address.

One of the main problems is that bands of all sizes now need a carnet – an international customs document – to be allowed to travel with all their gear between the UK and the EU, costing at least £600.

Alongside rising costs and paperwork for UK bands wishing to travel across the Channel, EU bands wishing to come and play UK festivals face the same obstacles.

And even acts flying in from the US for the European festival season have to consider whether it’s worth adding a UK event to their schedule.

“Some bands that we know of didn’t actually come to the UK because of the headaches,” says Mr Gregory. “They just can’t get along with that.

“I’m not saying it’s a massive amount, but you only need one or two to get that momentum going and suddenly the UK becomes one of those countries that just doesn’t get on the schedule.”

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Labor MP Alex Davies-Jones has traveled to the festival organizers to speak to them about Brexit

“Bands Skip Britain”

Labor MP Alex Davies-Jones, who has worked with festival directors on the problems they are facing, reiterates his fears.

“Normally if someone is on a European tour they would have used the UK as a stopover, brought all their gear and set, went to one of those festivals and then headed off to their next destination,” she says.

“That can’t happen now. They skip the UK because it’s just too complicated. There are different rules, different regulations, too much bureaucracy and it prevents us from having these world famous acts at our festivals and finding new incredible music.”

Justine Jones, lead singer of British band Employed to Serve, says the new paperwork is increasing spending on travel to festivals across the continent, and she knows European colleagues who are at risk of the same are coming here for our calendar-defining events.

“Bands need to get notebooks to literally list every single instrument, string pack, battery pack and more, with brand and serial numbers,” she said.

“We had to hire a professional company to do it and it cost us just under £1,000.

“And the notebooks only last a year and only cover a certain number of crossings. If we exceed that, we have to buy a whole new one.”

Justine Jones performs with Employed to Serve
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Justine Jones says bands across the UK and Europe are facing problems post-Brexit. Image: Felix Baron

“We’re not the only ones canceling shows”

But not only the preparation is a costly and time-consuming nightmare.

“When bands go they have to queue up with the truckers so even if it’s not the chaos we saw in Dover recently we have to wait for hours,” says Ms Jones.

“Obviously these people have trucks of goods, say for Ikea or something, and we only have a small van’s worth of equipment. But we still have to wait in line with them and they have to go through literally every single item we have.”

The same is true for air travel as well, and the extra hoops they have to jump through can often cause confusion.

“We had to cancel our performance at the Resistance Festival in Spain because an airline lost our equipment,” says Ms. Jones. “And we’re not the only ones. It’s happened to people who come to the UK to play.”

Alan Hungerford, whose company Freight Minds inspired artists like Queen, Adele and Gorillaz, describes how different it is for its post-Brexit clients.

“Let’s say you’re doing a festival in Portugal on Saturday, then flying a charter jet to the UK for another festival on a Sunday is incredibly hard work,” he says.

“These shows used to be fly straight in, straight to the show, invite, go on stage, get off and leave. Now you lose hours – I can realistically say 12 hours combined for customs clearance – which can obviously impact shows, meaning artists have fewer shows to book.

“You used to be able to travel from Belgium to the UK overnight. Now you have to think about it, look at the situation in Dover and say, ‘Can we make it to this festival’?”

Hungerford said the concerns affect all bands, big and small, and there is still a lack of clarity around the rules.

“UK Customs staff do not seem to have been properly trained to handle notebooks,” adds Hungerford.

“There was certainly no government support or clear guidance as to whether or not you need a notebook.”

The Bloodstock festival crew
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The combination of COVID and Brexit has made it harder to find the army of staff you need for a festival, Bloodstock director says. Image: Steve Dempsey

Jobs, jobs, jobs?

It’s not just the travel of equipment and its owners that causes difficulties for post-Brexit festivals.

Ms Davies-Jones says organizers of both regional and mammoth events, including Glastonbury, have told her her biggest concern is recruitment.

“Part of that is a result of COVID,” she says. “A lot of people ended up looking for other jobs because the music industry was shutting down.

“Personnel as skilled as riggers, lighting engineers, sound engineers and technicians who had the experience to pull all of this off have left the industry, which means you’re losing those skills at the higher end of the spectrum.”

However, it’s not just the technical crew that makes a festival work.

“The staff that is needed to run an event on a daily basis, the set-up, the cleaners, the security, the people you rely on to run an event like this, all came from Europe,” she says. “They’re just not there now.”

Hungerford agrees that the staff have influenced the industry, saying: “I was at an event in Sunderland a couple of weeks ago and we expected 52 crew members to turn up for the night shift to take down the stage. Only six came.

“Everyone had to work four times harder to get a job done. It took two days longer than it should have.”

Mr Gregory says many of his co-organizers have had to cancel events due to staff shortages.

“The combination of COVID and Brexit has wiped out a lot of people who previously had jobs in the music or entertainment sectors,” he says.

The festival director adds it has been a “very worrying, very trying time” and the end of seasonal workers coming to work in a summer full of events has resulted in “very hard work that is unnecessarily required by an industry which brings in billions of pounds a year to the economy”.

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Crowds in Glastonbury for the first time since 2019

“Festivals need help now, not in two years”

So what could be done to help those involved in festivals ensure the UK scene continues to thrive not only this summer but for summers to come?

freedom of movement certainly needs to be clarified for the arts and entertainment industry as an industry,” says Mr. Gregory.

“There is a lot of lobbying going on to gain support but it seems to have fallen very much on deaf ears. Right now, she doesn’t really get anything but lip service from the government.

“The industry needs help now. Not in a year or two, she needs this help badly.”

Ms Davies-Jones also says a seasonal worker scheme should be put in place to ensure festivals can source staff from the EU as before.

“We have all these festivals and events and all of our leisure industries are really struggling right now,” she adds.

“Our cultural activities all suffer from the same thing – they struggle to get good staff for jobs that people don’t want to do here.

“Without the scheme, Britain will suffer. We are known for our festivals. We’re known for our incredible music and cultural exports. And that great soft power is now in jeopardy.”

For Ms. Jones, it’s more personal: “The pandemic has shown how much people have come to rely on music to get them through such a difficult time,” she says.

“Now everything has gone back to normal, everything was just forgotten and everything was taken for granted.

“The festival industry and the music industry make billions for Britain.

“We have to encourage that, the top artists and the grassroots artists, especially working class people who don’t have people to pay for stuff but who can contribute so much to art and music – that would It’s a big one.” It’s a shame you can’t hear people like that at festivals.”

We have raised these concerns and demands to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and a spokesman said: “We are supporting the brilliant musicians of the UK to adapt to the new regulations and make touring easier and we have every EU to do so -Member communicated state about the importance of touring.

“24 EU member states, including the biggest touring markets such as Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands, have confirmed that they offer visa and work permit-free itineraries for UK artists and other creative professionals.

“We continue the dialogue with the few remaining countries that do not offer visa or work permit-free routes.”

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