On February 1st, the long-running Brexit saga finally came to an end, and British citizens woke up on an island both figuratively and literally. But the ramifications of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union are still being parsed. On February 8th, Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood wrote an op-ed in The Guardian that looked at the new requirements for British bands on the Continent and called for the government to “renegotiate on the provision for touring in Europe.”
Greenwood opens the op-ed by recalling Radiohead’s first European excursions, the “small clubs and early festival slots across Sweden, The Netherlands and France in a crappy old bus that smelled of diesel and had sad grey curtains.” He adds, “There were so many different kinds of milk.”
Beyond the fond memories, Greenwood cites those experiences as one of the reasons that Radiohead achieved their success. “Like Hamburg to the Beatles, Europe was crucial to our growth as a band,” he writes. “It allowed us to see ourselves untethered from our UK roots and to imagine a life in music that could reach audiences everywhere.”
Now, without the benefits of the EU, British bands will have to climb a new mountain of paperwork. Greenwood points out that “Before Brexit, a carnet (a list of goods going in and out of the country) was just needed for Norway and Switzerland. Now it would be more like playing South America, where each country has its systems for dealing with “third countries” like us.”
This isn’t just a matter of filling out forms; European tours will be expensive. A “£10,000 guitar would need a carnet that would cost about £650 plus VAT. The costs of travel and accommodation are already high, and the extra paperwork and expenses would rise quickly for a touring orchestra.”
As Greenwood points out, “I’m lucky enough to afford it,” but young bands may never get the chance to follow in Radiohead’s footprints. Greenwood calls it “a tragedy of deferred dreams.”
Besides that, the bassist is “worried for all the brilliant crew who have carried us as a band for nearly 30 years.” He frets that the UK crew “might find it that much harder to compete with EU alternatives,” while “the Dutch, German and French technicians we’ve used for decades might find it’s not worth the candle to work here.”
Greenwood ends with a call for the British government to get back to the negotiating table. He writes,
“It is time for the UK government to admit it didn’t do enough for the creative industries during the Brexit negotiations and look to renegotiate on the provision for touring in Europe. My country’s music is great because it scorns borders and boundaries; it is a great patriotic source, a force of confidence, joy and shared passions. I am proud of my country and all the music it has exchanged with the world, and I am sure that pride is felt across all ages and cultures in the UK. It is the antithesis of the culturally pinched nationalism that is Brexit, and its diminishment would deprive us all.”
If you, too, find yourself nostalgic for Radiohead’s early days, make sure to check out the Radiohead Public Library which the band launched last year. In January, an early Radiohead demo hit the auction block featuring three unreleased songs.
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