Mayors to campaign on better visa rules for touring musicians

Panel - The Mayor's (Live) Show - credit Ella Peck

The three M62 Metro Mayors are to throw their weight behind an intensive lobbying of government to relax visa rules for touring musicians.

Speaking at the inaugural Beyond the Music conference and music showcase in Manchester, Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester), Tracy Brabin (West Yorkshire) and Steve Rotheram (Liverpool city region) backed calls for reform of the regime from music agent Rob Challice from Wasserman, who has over 40 years’ experience in the live music industry as agent, promoter and festival organiser, who explained the precarious situation for many artists.

The jump in visa costs is the latest blow for British musicians who are still recovering from the dearth of live shows during the pandemic. Artists have also been hit by higher costs after the Brexit trade deal failed to secure visa-free travel for musicians and crew touring Europe, despite the EU offering a broader artists exemption, Boris Johnson declined to include it.

The event also heard from Andy Corrigan, once of Leeds-band The Mekons, who now runs Viva La Visa which supports tour managers to navigate complicated visa, work permits and travel documentation.

He explained that EU visa issues in the area of cultural activity are dealt with on a country-by-country basis. “As things stand, UK passport holders are allowed by individual states to enter the Schengen area for work activities, such as performing, for 90 days in any 180.”

Burnham said: “Music is our best way of getting across a positive view of Britain, but because of these ridiculous rules many can’t do that. As Mayors we need to lead a grassroots campaign and say loudly that this industry is critical.”

Rotheram revealed that he has said lobbied the government on behalf of Liverpool band China Crisis who weren’t able to tour Europe with their chosen musicians due to visa problems. 

He also revealed that the visa situation was a potential issue for Eurovision, but that “blind eyes were turned” given the host nation was officially Ukraine.

“The country is losing out,” he said.

Brabin said: “I’ve heard of artists having problems around VAT treatment of their own merchandise, which for many is critical to the viability of their tour.” 

At Labour Party conference in Liverpool the Musicians Union lobbied Thangham Debbonaire, MP, the shadow culture secretary, on the issue. 

Musicians Union General Secretary Naomi Pohl said: “It is great to hear Labour’s plans to champion music education, fix EU touring and promote creative spaces across the UK.

“Thangam has been a friend of the union and musicians for years. As a musician herself, she genuinely understands the difficulties MU members are facing and she is committed to working with the MU to make musicians’ working lives better.”