Sir Elton John ‘livid’ as Brexit hits musicians
Sir Elton John has described the government as “philistines”, and accused them of failing to understand the implications of Brexit on music.
Since leaving the EU, musicians are no longer guaranteed visa-free travel in the bloc, and may face huge fees when they go on tour.
“It’s a nightmare,” Sir Elton told the Observer. “To young people just starting a career, it’s crucifying.”
The government says musicians can make short visits to 17 of the 27 EU states.
They include frequent touring destinations such as France, Germany and the Netherlands where, the government says, concerts can be staged “without needing visas or work permits”.
However, entertainment union Bectu said there are still “varying degrees of bureaucracy” in those 17 countries; and that the government’s statement doesn’t “quite match up to the expectation that you can do what you could before”.
Sir Elton said his anger was the result of unsuccessful attempts to lobby politicians.
“We’ve been talking to Lord Strasburger about it, and we’ve been talking to Lord Frost [the UK’s Brexit minister], but we didn’t really get anywhere with him,” he said.
Lord Strasburger is a Liberal Democrat peer who has been vocal in his criticism of the government’s handling of post-Brexit touring issues.
Asked why there had been resistance from the government, the star said: “They are philistines. The Government are philistines. We’ve got used to governments – especially the British government – just telling us lies every day, and I don’t feel OK with that.
“Look what they did with the NHS. After all that those people did during Covid, they give them a 1% [pay] increase. I find that extraordinary. I just can’t live with that. It makes me so angry.”
The star said he was “livid” at the way musicians’ livelihoods were being affected, and pointed out that other arms of the entertainment industry were suffering, too.
“They made no provision for the entertainment business, and not just for musicians, actors and film directors, but for the crews, the dancers, the people who earn a living by going to Europe.
“People like me can afford to go to Europe because we can get people to fill in the forms and get visas done, but what makes me crazy is that the entertainment business brings in £111 billion a year to this country and we were just tossed away.”
The star’s comments came days after a collective of artists – including Radiohead, Biffy Clyro, Skunk Anansie, The Chemical Brothers and Ghostpoet – wrote to the government calling for urgent action to prevent “the collapse of the industry”.
“It’s essential that bands, artists, musicians and DJs can travel Europe at every level of their career,” said Primal Scream’s bassist, Simone Butler, who also signed the letter.
“To make it financially and logistically unrealistic to do shows and festivals will be halting the livelihoods and careers of generations of musicians,” she added.
Noel Gallagher has also expressed anger at the situation, saying his touring plans will have to be cut back.
“You can’t just get on a train and go to Paris and do a gig [any more],” the former Oasis singer-songwriter told Radio 4’s Front Row. “You’ve got to apply to do a gig and you’ve got to declare what equipment you’re bringing – and that’s things that never cost us any money two or three years ago, which is going to cost a fortune.”
He continued: “So I just think, ultimately, like most things, the fans are going to lose out because instead of bands going to Europe for four weeks now and doing three gigs in Germany, there’ll be one. And there will be one in France, and one in Spain, and one in Belgium, and then it’ll be a whistle-stop, scaled-down show.”
The government has issued the same response to every criticism of the EU touring situation, saying: “We want musicians and other creative professionals to be able to tour easily abroad.
“Short-term, temporary visits for paid performances by UK musicians are possible in at least 17 EU countries, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, without needing visas or work permits.
“However, we recognise the difficulties still being faced by the sector. That is why we are working closely with individual member states to encourage them to adopt a more flexible approach, in line with the UK’s own rules which allow creative professionals to tour easily here.”