I have been touring Ireland and mainland Europe (Holland, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain) regularly — usually once a year, sometimes more — since 2008.
My European tours have always provided an important part of my income. Gig for gig, they’ve generally been more lucrative, both in terms of fees and in terms of merchandise sales, than my tours in the UK (or the US, for that matter); I do not know why. Better government support, just more of a culture of going out to listen to live music, or a combination of both?
As a general rule, European venues tend to offer decent rates, plus hotel accommodation and a hot meal before the show, with no haggling – and it’s usually a flat rate rather than a door sharing.
And in European, especially German, lounges, there’s always at least one punter who approaches the merchandising table, hands over a credit card and says “I’ll have one of everything, please!”
So when the twin demons of Brexit and Covid reared their ugly heads, it was a blow.
Dealing with Brexit and Covid
In April I made my first foray outside the UK since March 2020. I headed to Ireland for a short tour of both the Republic and the North, before taking the Belfast-Cairnryan ferry for a series of shows in the UK. It started with a week of gigs in Scotland, then continued across England and back to my home in Cornwall at the end of May.
For the Ireland tour, the common travel area meant work visas weren’t an issue. I do however have concerns regarding work visas for some of the countries I will be visiting on my scheduled March 2023 tour of mainland Europe. Not for me, as I am an Irish citizen, but for my tour manager/sound engineer, who is British and will be traveling with me. It is not entirely clear whether the crew is covered by the work permit exemption in Denmark, for example, for “musicians, whose participation constitutes a substantial or essential part of a remarkable artistic event” .
I really hope that by March next year the crew situation will be clarified, because I can’t shoot without Martin, so it’s a real problem if I have to go through the process and the fees work visa application for him.
I am also concerned that we are both traveling in a van with only two seats in the front, as the current cabotage exemption only covers splitter vans, not vans.
Just figuring out what we needed to do to comply with Carnet and Customs rules took weeks of research and endless email Q&As. We spoke with ferry staff, government departments in Ireland and UK, LCC/Boomerang staff, other musicians and the very kind and helpful Dave Webster from MU.
We eventually learned that for the UK-Ireland route at least, we were allowed to travel on a carnet as a passenger vehicle rather than freight (which would have tripled our travel costs), as long as we kept the goods we were carrying under the €1,000 “goods in baggage” limit. This limit was based on the cost price, not the retail value, of the goods we were carrying.
I hope that by the time I need to book the ferry for my March tour the same will apply for ferry trips on the UK-Holland route, but at the time of writing this does not has not yet been confirmed.
Goods and inventory limits
In order to keep the goods within the €1000 limit and to minimize duty/VAT payable in Ireland we carried a minimum amount of goods and did not bring any t-shirts as these are made outside UK/EU and would certainly have been taxable.
T-shirts are a big part of my merchandise sales, so I’m sure I lost money by not selling them at my gigs in Ireland. I also spent money shipping most of my merchandise for the UK leg of the tour to Scotland, so we could collect it after taking the Belfast-Cairnryan ferry.
Completing the required inventory of all the equipment we carry (which includes a full sound system plus instruments and other associated technology) took days, as each item had to be listed individually with its replacement value and , if applicable, its serial number.
The London Chamber of Commerce staff offered a number of helpful suggestions, for example, specifying a higher number of trips than we actually do, just in case, as this would not increase the overall cost. They also suggested that we include not only mine and my tour manager’s name, but also “Any Authorized Representatives” in the “Authorized Representatives” section of the application. Again just in case, they also said that even though I was technically allowed to account for wear and tear in the list of item values, they recommended that I use current replacement values, as I could be detained if a customs officer decides to interrogate the values listed.
A fellow musician we met during the tour told me he was also advised by Boomerang to include a line saying ‘Miscellaneous Items’ worth £300. I wish I had this bit of advice before I applied for this notebook, and I’ll pick it up next time, so that any little bit of tech we neglected to include might fall under this heading.
The total cost of LCC’s carnet, including a 12 month deposit to cover £15,333 of equipment, came to £379.25. In order to be able to spread the cost of this logbook over three tours, I have scheduled another tour of Ireland for January-February 2023 and a tour of mainland Europe for March 2023 – a decision I might not have made if the cost of the notebook hadn’t been a factor.
I also spent hours compiling a detailed list of quantities and costs of the CDs and LPs we carried, as well as original manufacturing receipts and an official “Statement of Origin” for the most recent album. In the end no one asked to see it and we weren’t asked to pay any duty or VAT. This could have been an anomaly, however, so I will continue to make the same preparations for future tours and will continue to keep the value below the baggage merchandise limit.
Figuring out where we needed to go to get our carnet stamped at the various ports also required a significant amount of research beforehand; it certainly wasn’t obvious when we got there, so the advanced search was definitely needed.
At Fishguard we had to get the carnet stamped at the Border Force office adjacent to the freight weighbridge before joining the car lanes to check in. In Ireland we had to call the import center in Kilrane, about 1km up the road from Rosslare. Port. However, if we had returned via Rosslare, we would have had to call the export office at the port itself.
As of this month there was still no Border Force presence at Cairnryan so the stamps for export from Belfast and import at Cairnryan were applied by the Border Force at the DAERA facility at Duncrue Inspection Site, next to the Port of Belfast.
To have the notebook stamped, all we had to do was hand in the documents and wait about 15 minutes for the stamped notebook to be returned to us. At no time in any of the ports did anyone ask to look inside the van.
The whole process felt like a colossal waste of time and money. It’s basically a bureaucratic procedure that creates extra work for professionals like the LCC people and the Port Customs staff, who have more important things to do than deal with people like me. Between the cost of the carnet and any customs/VAT that may be due, the loss of potential merchandise sales, and the burden of time-consuming work and the stress it creates, this has a huge impact on my ability to tour and make profits.
I sincerely hope that an agreement can be found with the EU. An agreement that allows artists and crew to shoot in the EU without the need for visas OR carnets, to travel in cargo vans as well as vans without being subject to cabotage rules, and to transport a sufficient quantity of goods for a period of 6 weeks. visit without having to pay customs duties or VAT. The current “goods in baggage” exemption only exempts us from having to make a prior declaration online, not from having to pay duties and VAT.
I am deeply grateful to MU for all they do to help clarify the rules for bewildered independent musicians like me, and to defend the rights of artists at all levels of the industry. These are terrible times for all of us and we need all the help we can get.
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