LONDON – When British rock band Two Door Cinema Club started performing shows across Europe ten years ago, all three of the band were hopping in a van, throwing their instruments in the back and driving from their then hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, to sweaty clubs in Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris.
“We’ve done it hundreds of times,” bassist Kevin Baird said over the phone recently. “Everything was at one point,” he added.
Now, it’s not that easy for Two Door Cinema Club – or any other British band – to tour Europe. Last Friday, the group headlined the Cruïlla music festival in Barcelona, Spain, in front of an audience of 25,000 raving fans. But due to Britain’s departure from the European Union in 2020, known as Brexit, the group spent weeks in advance applying for visas and immersing themselves in complicated new rules regarding trucking and exporting goods such as t-shirts.
Visas and travel to Britain to apply cost £ 7,500, about $ 10,400, for the band, two additional musicians and a team of eight, Baird said. New rules mean that a UK van carrying audio and lighting equipment, or freight, can only make three stops in mainland Europe before having to return home.
“It turned out to be a headache when it had never been before,” Baird said. “If we were a beginner group, we wouldn’t have done this.”
For much of this year, Brexit has been an even bigger topic of discussion in the UK music industry than the coronavirus pandemic. Since January 1, when a trade deal between Britain and the European Union went into effect, hundreds of British musicians – including Dua Lipa and Radiohead – have complained that the deal made tours on the continent more expensive for stadium concerts, and almost impossible for new bands.
The new rules are “looming disaster” for young musicians, Elton John wrote on Instagram in June. “It’s about whether one of the UK’s most successful industries, worth £ 111 billion a year, is allowed to thrive and make a huge contribution to our cultural and economic wealth, or to collapse and burn. “
Even musicians who backed Brexit complained. Bruce Dickinson, the singer of Iron Maiden, told a TV interviewer in June that although he welcomed Britain’s departure from the European Union, he found the new rules unreasonable. He then addressed the British government: “Come together,” he said.
The fury over the regulations has led to a blame game between the UK government and the EU on which side is responsible for the new barriers and on who made viable offers when negotiating the trade deal.
Regardless of who is responsible, the issue has become an embarrassment for the UK government. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said his government is working “hard” on the issue. “We have to fix this problem,” he told lawmakers in March.
Yet so far there hasn’t been enough progress to appease musicians. In June, Britain agreed to new trade deals that the government said would make it easy for musicians to tour Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This was greeted with disdain: “Ah those infamous tours of mountainous Liechtenstein with its complete absence of an airport”, Simone Marie of the group Primal Scream wrote on Twitter.
“We are all getting more and more dejected,” said Annabella Coldrick, executive director of the Music Managers Forum, a professional body. In June, she helped launch Let the Music Move, a campaign for the government to compensate artists for new additional costs and renegotiate touring rules.
“The issues are just starting to become clear,” as the coronavirus pandemic abates and bands begin to book tours, Coldrick said. The biggest sticking point was the regulation that vans and lorries can only stop three times before they have to return to Britain, she added.
Several UK music trucking companies have already moved some of their operations to Ireland to get around the rules. But Coldrick said that was not a viable solution: the trucks would also have to make longer trips to pick up the tapes, which would increase costs. It also seemed like a bad outcome for Britain, she said, as the country was losing businesses and workers.
For Two Door Cinema Club, the main issue was visas, said Colin Schaverien, the group’s manager. In June, a member of the group’s team was refused a visa for a technical detail related to his job title, so he had to reapply. Another member of the group, based in Belfast, has been tasked with traveling to Scotland for a visa appointment.
Despite the group’s problems before heading to Spain, the Two Door Cinema Club show went off without a hitch last Friday.
“All the things that worried us didn’t materialize,” said Baird, the bassist. The group’s equipment, traveling by truck from London, cleared customs on the British side in 25 minutes; border checks in France only took 10. The group, whose members flew to Barcelona, had no problems at the airport.
Once inside, the group were so excited to perform a show after months spent at home during the coronavirus pandemic, it took selfies of every moment, Baird said.
The crowd was equally excited, said Marc Loan, 36, a fan who was in the audience. “I made sure I didn’t drink a lot so I didn’t miss a thing,” he added.
“It was amazing,” Baird said of the evening.
Brexit was the last thing he thought of during the concert, Baird added, but it popped up the next day when the band and team drove to the airport on their way home. Members of the group with Irish passports, which anyone born in Northern Ireland can hold as well as a British passport, passed passport control in no time; those with UK passports only stood in line for an hour.
The group was happy with the trip, but Baird worried about how a more complicated schedule would work. “We are all well aware that this was a one-off concert,” he said. “What worries us is next year, when we face three different countries in three days. I think it will be much more difficult.