James Kennedy was part of a music industry delegation that presented the case for the post Brexit touring musician at a House Of Lords roundtable on Tuesday. Kennedy was joined by Peredur ap Gwynedd, guitarist with Pendulum, Andrew Trendell from the NME, and representatives from the Carry On Touring campaign and The Musicians Union.
The roundtable centred around the Carnet and the 90/180 rule. The instrument Carnet, a document starting at £325, is required for all UK musicians considered as ‘third country nationals’ when working abroad, with VAT on merchandise also applicable.
The 90/180 rule refers to people who enter the Schengen area only being allowed there for a maximum of 90 days in a 180-day period. This issue was highlighted this week when Steve Barney, a drummer with 25 years tour experience, was replaced by a Finnish drummer for a three-month tour with Anastacia, having spent 78 days in the Schengen area.
Barney’s case was one example highlighted in the House Of Lords. “We used that as an example of what this new reality means now for full-time musicians and touring crew,” Kennedy told MetalTalk editor Steve Ritchie.
“Crew members, in particular, will move from one production to the next. You constantly move from tour to tour if you’re a lighting tech, sound technician or guitar tech. Now you will be told you’ve got to go home after 90 days and not come back for another 90. That is terminal for your career and your earning potential.”
Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West, is an advocate of the arts and creative industries. “He has already been a big driver behind this,” Kennedy said. “He has already produced a report which is doing the rounds inside the Houses of Parliament.”
The roundtable at the House Of Lords resulted from a visa and work permit petition created by Tim Brennan that gained over 286,000 signatures. Brennan then founded the Carry On Touring campaign, of which James Kennedy is an ambassador. Tim has appeared on James Kennedy’s podcast, discussing the campaign.
The purpose of the roundtable was to broaden the conversation. “To educate and inform more of the people that can actually make a difference,” Kennedy says. “I was surprised how enlightened many of the Lords and MPs were on this issue. But it’s one thing to understand it intellectually, but to have it explained to you from the practical reality of a musician going through this.”
The Carnet was one such example. “I don’t think many of the MPs and Lords were aware of the true nature of what that means in practice,” Kennedy says. “When you turn up to an airport, and you’re trying to get your Carnet stamped, often, the customs officials are nowhere to be seen.
“Then you have the language barrier, and no one at the point of entry knows what to do with you and the Carnet. So there’s a lot of confusion, chaos and waiting around with the stress that comes with this. I don’t think the politicians were truly aware of it. One of the other speakers took a Carnet yesterday and waved it around, saying why are we still using these things? It is an unnecessary cost and headache.”
The worry is that the 90/180 rule will be a killer for British musicians and crew. “Not only does it slash your earning potential,” Kennedy says, “but it makes you a less desirable prospect as a hire. If you have a production out there for 100 days, they will not hire the British crew that must go home after 90 days. They would have a problem with fulfilling the rest of the obligation, so they are going to go with the domestic crew straight from the off. It ends up creating this discriminatory culture, which is catastrophic. We have some of the best crews in the world, and there’s a whole bunch of industries connected to that that are now severely disadvantaged. The 90-day rule is a major problem.”
James feels the roundtable at the House Of Lords was both useful and interesting. “The Lords and the MPs found it insightful and informative,” he says. “They have a much better grasp of the true reality of what we’re going through. There is also a lot of support for the idea of a cultural exemption which bypasses the need for a Carnet and an exemption from the 90-day rule. That’s what we’re pushing for at this point.”
The state of society with the cost of living and energy crises means this is not a priority issue for Parliament. “But the ball is rolling,” James says. “It was very inspiring to see such a great turnout from within the music industry, right into the belly of the beast inside the walls of Parliament and the Lord’s. They listened to us, and when they had their chance to speak at the end, they had a good grasp of the issue and a lot of passion.”
With the new Prime Minister announced, there were no Conservatives at the roundtable. “That is a problem obviously because they are the government right now, so to get anything into law is going to require a little bit of interest on their part.”
But the problems of Brexit, Carnets and the 90/180 rule are still here. “Going inside the House Of Lords was very useful,” James says, “and it’s hopeful that we might get this over the fence at some point.”
But this is politics. “As with everything in politics, it’s messy, it’s complicated, it’s riddled with compromise, and it takes time,” James says.
In the meantime, the British music industry professional is still being left in limbo.
The James Kennedy Podcast series includes episodes with Kevin Brennan MP discussing music streaming and Tim Brennan discussing Brexit and touring the EU.