When the electro-pop band Metronomy set off for a European tour in October 2019, they didn’t know what sort of UK they would return to. Boris Johnson’s government was then due to agree a Brexit deal with the EU by 31 October. The band were to play a show in Stockholm that night, before returning to the UK to begin the second leg of their tour.
When the UK was part of the EU, entering Europe was straightforward: the musicians and their crew could travel freely with all the equipment they needed to put on a great show. Getting back post-Brexit, however, was another issue entirely.
Vix Simpson, Metronomy’s tour manager, knew she had to prepare for the band and crew to re-enter a UK that was no longer an EU member state. She understood that a carnet would be required to travel with the crew’s equipment back into Britain. But how could she buy a carnet – the right to move equipment into another country, and then out again – when the UK was still part of the EU?
“We didn’t know if there would be a grace period,” said Simpson. She was advised to prepare a manifest, a detailed list of every item they were travelling with and its value, printed on headed paper from each supplier. “So we did that, and obviously Brexit didn’t happen on 31 October 2019 so there was no issue, but it was extremely stressful because no one knew what was going to happen. We were in a period of coming from a European tour and then having a few days off and going into a UK tour, but had the truck got stuck at Calais, we might have been unable to do that first date.”
This was the first occasion Metronomy – whose five members live across the UK, Portugal and the US – and their crew were impacted by the logistical difficulties brought about by Brexit. The UK formally left the EU in December 2020 and no agreement allowing performers to tour visa-free in Europe has yet been made. Covid-restrictions permitting, Metronomy are set to play festivals in the Netherlands, Belgium and Iceland this summer, and are gearing up for a 30-date European tour in March and April 2022. How will Brexit affect them?
When Metronomy first toured Europe, in 2005 or 2006, Joe Mount, the band’s chief songwriter and lead singer, would drive himself and two band members to Paris. “The only expense was petrol and a family room in a hotel – in those days,” he said. “It was incredibly meagre and affordable.” Crucially, this allowed Metronomy to build a fan-base in Europe. “Our popularity is equal in England and France,” said Mount. “We feel like we owe our success to a lot of these countries.”
“We play more festivals in Europe than we do in the UK,” said Anna Prior, the band’s drummer. Since January 2020 she has been a resident of Portugal, a move she said since Brexit has felt like a “statement”. “We rely quite heavily on European festivals to keep the band running. We rely on Europe.”
So does Paul Yates, Metronomy’s front-of-house engineer, who said around half of his work comes from touring Europe with UK bands. Yates has previously worked with US and Australian artists who used the UK as a European base. “They would fly into the UK, pick up UK rental instruments and equipment, pick up UK-sourced merch, hire UK tour buses and employ UK technical crew members to tour the UK and the EU – due to the freedom of movement that UK workers had. Financially, it would now make sense for them to hire EU nationals and equipment. That’s a huge monetary loss to the UK.”
“For a planner and risk-assessor like myself, it’s so difficult because we’re still in the unknown,” said Simpson. In order to plan the 2022 tour, she is tracking each individual EU country’s decision as it is announced. The band’s visa consultant checks developments on a daily basis. Their trucking company has set up an office in Ireland. Simpson is looking into whether, once import/export tax is taken into account, it will make better financial sense to have merchandise produced in the UK or the EU.
Predicting costs is complicated, and will require a lot of paperwork and logistical attention to detail. A carnet costs £300 plus VAT as well as a percentage of the value of the items – a percentage that is set independently by each of the 15 countries Metronomy are set to tour. Simpson predicts that the band’s carnet will cost anywhere between £500 and £2,000. There is no knowing how long border checks will take, making the planning of fast-paced tours – a typical occurrence for artists who are booked to play several different festivals over the course of one weekend – very complicated.
Simpson doesn’t yet know the total cost of visas for the 2022 EU tour either. Countries including France and Belgium will allow UK artists to work visa-free for up to 90 days, but the rules for Switzerland, which is not in the EU but has agreements with EU member states, remain unclear, as do the finer details for Greece, Italy and Slovenia. A work permit will be required for Spain, which, along with social security and tax for the band and crew, could cost Metronomy an additional £5,000-6,000, Simpson said. “It’s a lot of TBC, to be honest. Part of my role is to advise on what we can and can’t do, but it’s best guesses at the moment,” she added. “It’s a struggle.”
Six albums and thousands of tour dates deep, Metronomy are financially stable enough to be able to absorb many of these additional costs. But for bands who are just starting out, carnets and work permits will be “prohibitively expensive”, said Mount. “Even £200 per member quickly becomes £1,000, which bands just don’t have.” He suggested that established acts will need to seriously increase the amount they pay their support groups, in order to make sure newer bands can afford to tour at all. Smaller artists might have to lean more on their record labels for touring support, which could lead to long-term changes for relationships between artists, labels and promoters. Mount had already noticed the dominance of British bands on UK festival line-ups this summer – because international travel remains uncertain due to the pandemic, and the UK is further ahead in its vaccine roll-out than many European nations. Brexit may mean that isn’t just a summer-long trend; it might lead to fewer opportunities for UK bands to play European festivals, too.
“We’re established,” said Mount. “We are popular and successful. There are lots of people that aren’t but could be one day. It would have been a real help to them if they were able to get to Calais. Any musician – Elton John or Adele or Ed Sheeran, all of the UK’s huge money-making musicians – will at one stage have benefited from being able to walk on to a ferry and get off and go and sing somewhere else. There’ll be a sadness in having to declare ourselves, I think, when we arrive in Calais.”
The tenth anniversary reissue of Metronomy’s “The English Riviera” is out on Because Music on 30 April