LONDON – When British rock band Two Door Cinema Club started playing shows across Europe a decade ago, the three members of the group hopped into a van, threw their instruments in the back and drove from their then hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, to sweaty clubs in Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris.
“We’ve done this hundreds of times,” said Kevin Baird, the group’s bassist, on the phone recently. “Everything was done in a snap,” he added.
Well, it’s not that easy for Two Door Cinema Club – or any British act – to tour Europe. Last Friday, the band headlined the Cruïlla music festival in Barcelona, Spain, playing in front of an audience of 25,000 screaming fans. But because of the UK’s exit from the European Union in 2020, known as Brexit, the band had spent weeks before applying for visas and immersed themselves in complicated new rules surrounding the transport and export of goods like t-shirts.
Visas and travel within the UK to apply for them cost £ 7,500, about $ 10,400, for the band, two additional musicians and an eight-person crew, Baird said. New rules mean that a UK coach with audio and lighting equipment or goods can only make three stops in mainland Europe before having to return home.
“It turned out to be a headache when there was never a headache before,” said Baird. “If we were a starting band, we wouldn’t have done it,” he added.
For much of this year, Brexit has been an even bigger talking point in the UK music industry than the coronavirus pandemic. Since a trade agreement between the UK and the European Union came into effect on Jan. 1, hundreds of British musicians – including Dua Lipa and Radiohead – have complained that the deal makes traveling the continent more expensive for stadium acts and nearly impossible for new bands .
The new rules are “an impending disaster” for young musicians, Elton John wrote on Instagram in June. “This is about whether one of the UK’s most successful industries, valued at $ 111 billion.
Even musicians who supported Brexit have complained. Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden, told a television interviewer in June that while he welcomed Britain’s exit from the European Union, he thought the new rules were unreasonable. Then he turned to the British government: “Go together,” he said.
The turmoil over the regulations has put the UK government and the European Union to blame as to who is responsible for the new obstacles and who made viable offers in the negotiations on the trade deal.
Regardless of who is responsible, the issue has become an embarrassment for the UK government. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his administration was “working flat out” on the issue. “We have to fix that,” he told lawmakers in March.
But so far there has not been enough progress to appease the musicians. In June, the UK agreed to new trade deals that the government said would allow musicians to tour Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein with ease. That met with contempt: “Ah, these notorious tours through mountainous Liechtenstein with its total lack of airports,” wrote Simone Marie from the band Primal Scream on Twitter.
“We’re all becoming increasingly discouraged,” said Annabella Coldrick, executive director of the Music Managers Forum, a trade organization. In June, she helped launch Let the Music Move, a campaign for the government to compensate artists for the new additional costs and to renegotiate tour rules.
“The problems are only just beginning to become apparent,” Coldrick said as the coronavirus pandemic subsides and bands begin to book tours. The biggest sticking point is the rule that vans and trucks can only stop three times before they have to return to the UK, she added.
Several UK music transport companies have already moved some of their operations to Ireland to circumvent the rules. But Coldrick said it wasn’t a viable solution: trucks would have to make long journeys to pick up tapes, adding to the cost. It also seemed like a bad result for Britain, she said, as the country was losing businesses and workers.
The Two Door Cinema Club was mostly about Visa, said Colin Schaverien, the band’s manager. In June, a member of the band’s crew was refused a visa for technical reasons related to his job title, so he had to reapply. Another Belfast-based band member was told they had to fly to Scotland for a visa appointment.
Despite the band’s problems before the trip to Spain, the Two Door Cinema Club’s show last Friday went smoothly.
“All of the things we were worried about didn’t happen,” said Baird, the bassist. The equipment of the band, which was traveling in a truck from London, passed customs on the British side in 25 minutes; Controls at the border in France only lasted 10. The band, whose members flew to Barcelona, had no problems at the airport.
Once arrived, the group was so excited to be playing a show after sitting at home for months during the coronavirus pandemic that they were taking selfies at any moment, Baird said.
The crowd was just as excited, said Marc Loan, 36, a fan who was in the audience. “I made sure not to drink a lot so I didn’t miss anything,” he added.
“It was amazing,” Baird said over the night.
Brexit was the last thing he thought about during the gig, Baird added, but it rose the next day when the band and crew drove to the airport to fly home. Members of the group with Irish passports that anyone born in Northern Ireland, as well as a British one, passed through passport control; those with British passports stood in line for only an hour.
The band was happy with the trip, but Baird worried how a more complicated schedule would work. “We are all aware that this was a once-in-a-lifetime concert,” he said. “What we fear is that next year we will play against three different countries over three days. I assume that it will be much more difficult. “