What does Brexit mean for Irish music?

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union is already having an effect in Ireland. Some fear it could soon decide where bands can go on tour

Brexit: Ken Allen, a music manager who works with Jape (above) among others, has already been hit by the fall in sterling’s value. Photograph: Kieran Frost/Redferns/Getty

Brexit: Ken Allen, a music manager who works with Jape (above) among others, has already been hit by the fall in sterling’s value. Photograph: Kieran Frost/Redferns/Getty

 

The effects of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union are already having an effect on the Irish music industry.

Ken Allen is a Dublin-based music manager who works with James Vincent McMorrow and Jape, among other acts. He has already experienced one clear example of the Brexit effect.

“We have a UK tour booked for James in October, and the fact that sterling has plummeted means that’s 10 per cent off our bottom line right now. I think that’s just the start of things.”

The morning after the vote the Belfast manager and label boss Lyndon Stephens emailed all his Northern Ireland-based acts. His advice? “If you haven’t done so already, apply for an Irish passport.”

The music business home and away will face a turbulent future if Brexit comes to pass. Issues, from visas for touring musicians to EU investment in cultural programmes, will all come into play if the day comes when the UK does bid farewell to the other union members.

Many quarters of the British music business have reacted bullishly to the referendum result. Andy Heath of the lobbying group UK Music says the move could be seen as an opportunity. “British music is strong and successful and will remain an essential part of a rich and diverse European culture . . . We are an export-led business, and consumers around the world want our music, artists and products. This will not change.”

It remains to be seen if such confidence about trade and revenue is warranted in a post-Brexit Europe. For Irish businesses and organisations seeking to get their music, artists and products into the UK, however, Brexit may present many obstacles.

Angela Dorgan, the chief executive of First Music Contact, runs the Hard Working Class Heroes festival and the Music from Ireland export office, which organises showcases for Irish acts at festivals in the UK, Europe and the US in conjunction with Culture Ireland, so Dorgan is well placed to see potential issues for Irish acts seeking to work in the UK.

“Every time you open a box something jumps out, and you go, ‘Damn, that might happen,’ ” says Dorgan. “There are layers and layers that people will have to look at.”

One of the most striking issues is visas. Dorgan refers to the onerous process that artists currently face getting a visa to tour the US. “You’d have to hope that it wouldn’t be a similar issue for Irish acts going to the UK, because that would have a huge impact on how bands operate and tour,” she says.

“But it will undoubtedly be more of a hassle. You could face what the Americans face when they come to Europe. What about Northern Irish bands who play Hard Working Class Heroes? Will we need to advise them on visas? These are all maybes you have to consider.”

The potential cost of such paperwork could also be prohibitive, judging by experiences elsewhere, as Stephens explains. “I’m currently applying for a performer’s visa for the US for one of my acts. It’s a huge amount of work, and it’s coming in at around $6,000. Of course, we don’t know what will happen over here or what the cost will be, but that uncertainty for me is still worrying.”

Stephens also says that a Brexit may mean an end to the ease with which his Northern Irish acts can tour Europe. “Ryan Vail is doing very well in Germany with festivals and tours. Ciaran Lavery has toured Europe three times in the past year. There are no restrictions, so you can fly into Brussels, travel to Hamburg, play shows in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London and go home. How difficult will that be in the new set-up?”

Allen, who manages the Belfast-based band Pleasure Beach, envisages a “nightmare” for Irish tours if there is a physical border between the Republic and Northern Ireland as a result of the UK vote.

There will also be ramifications when it comes to European funding initiatives. Dorgan is a member of the European Music Exporters Exchange Network, one of many Europe-wide initiatives in place to help musicians.

“It will be very hard in the wake of a Brexit to add the UK as a partner to any European activity,” she says. “We’re involved in various European schemes at the moment, but a Brexit would mean UK bodies might have to go. It might also be difficult to use such European funding for UK activities. We’ve always worked well with them, and they’ve always been very close allies of ours.”

Stephens also mentions funding, which will have “huge ramifications for us up here. The North in general gets a lot of EU funding for infrastructure and projects, which could go. I can’t see the British government making up the balance.”

There may also be issues over contracts that acts have signed. “It won’t necessarily affect the deal you’ve signed, as contracts are usually to exploit recordings worldwide,” says Stephens. “However, it could change things for your UK label, and things like greater regulation, tax liabilities and increased costs could affect you. All of those things will be passed on to the act.”

Brexit upsides seem to be few and far between. Dorgan says that UK agents or labels might choose Irish acts over UK acts because of their ease of access to Europe, although she acknowledges that this is probably a slim possibility. But she does expect more UK agents to come to the Hard Working Class Heroes festival in Dublin in October.

“It’s going to be hard and incredibly frustrating for acts seeking to plan anything,” Dorgan says. “But I think it’s important not to have a panic attack. There are lots of things which just won’t be as badly affected as we think right now.”

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