Brexit for Musicians: Endgame

“Global Britain”.

A press release from the Cross-Border Services group last week revealed an oversight in the UK-Switzerland Services Mobility Agreement, essentially meaning that, since 1st January this year, UK citizens living in the EU (or anywhere else in the world) are no longer legally allowed to work as freelance service providers in Switzerland.

Some of my colleagues have a face-to-face meeting with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden next week. They might consider opening with the question, how does making it harder, and in some cases impossible, for British citizens to work in Switzerland tally with his vision of “Global Britain”? As with the situation in Norway we looked at a few weeks ago, these are not EU member states, so the argument that making life more difficult in the EU would be compensated by opening new doors beyond its borders doesn’t wash. Everywhere they turn, British workers are facing the reality that those doors have been slammed shut in their faces.

By now, we’ve seen enough evidence to show to all but the most entrenched Little Englander or wishful of thinkers that the problems being caused by Brexit are real enough. But where are the solutions?

The totemic demand from musicians continues to be a return to the negotiating table with the EU, to thrash out a “Musician’s Passport” – in other words, visa- and work permit-free business travel for British musicians across the EEA. In effect, this would mean a small section of the UK workforce rejoining the Single Market, and a Customs Union to cover the transport of instruments and technical equipment. Performing artists are asking for performing artists to be included in the scheme, and theatrical freelancers working in other back- and off-stage roles suggest it should also include all performing arts workers.

Meanwhile, the fishing industry continues to make its demands for Government support in dealing with its catastrophic problems. Lawyers, accountants, IT workers, antique dealers, silversmiths… The list goes on, and increases by the day.

So musicians, theatrical artists, performing arts workers – why should they get preferential treatment? There are many valid points to be made about the unique position of the UK’s performing arts industry, and its reliance on the EU market. The Government’s principal objection remains that a reciprocal (as it would surely have to be) visa-free arrangement would be inconsistent with its core manifesto commitment to “Take Back Control of our Borders”. The Incorporated Society of Musicians argues that the two can be reconciled, since the arrangement would only apply to a very small number of people on both sides. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s hard to see it holding water with the Home Office in its current form. Mr Dowden recently revealed that the situation was “much more positive” than he had thought, which is delightful news for him; but it implies that he’s carefully shifting his chair so as not to pick a fight with his counterpart on Marsham Street.

(The above is not to find fault with the ISM. They and a small hardcore of campaigners continue to work tirelessly and impressively, leading the charge on this issue and filling a vacuum neglectfully created by some other organisations. Their suggestions are generally thoroughly researched and spot on.)

How do we rally public support behind us, artists have been asking. All those fans who gleefully consume our end product – surely they’ll back us on this now, when we really need them? All it would take is our own version of Marcus Rashford to put our point across and bring pressure to bear on our political leaders.

The distinction is obvious once you think about it. Rashford has been campaigning for concessions for other people, those clearly in a position less secure than his. We’re asking for something for ourselves, and seeking support from people who have also lost those same rights and privileges. If we should get them back, why shouldn’t they?

Why not indeed. If you look closely at the demands of all those other sectors of British industry, they all boil down to essentially the same thing: membership of a single market, or a customs union, or in most cases, both.

So, two points to make. Firstly, the only thing which will ultimately solve these issues (not to mention those of the Northern Irish border) is a move forward – not, let’s be absolutely clear, back to anything – but forward to a new UK-EU arrangement which includes reciprocal freedom of movement for people, goods and services. It will have to be packaged as something new, and uniquely, exceptionally British. Wrap it in a Union Jack if you have to. But it’s the Single Market Plus Customs Union option which, had the tortuous and ultra-sensitive process of Brexit been given anything approaching a sensible amount of time, would surely have made itself clear as the only rational interpretation of the way ahead.

But while looking forward, musicians also need to look sideways. Standing beside us, making very similar demands, are our colleagues in other performing arts, accountants, lawyers, antique dealers, silversmiths, farmers, lorry drivers, steelworkers, car manufacturers, and yes even fishermen. It may not always be clear just yet, but all asking for the same thing.

A colleague last week described our industry as having a gift for promoting itself to itself. We need the courage to lift our eyes, broaden our horizons, take a look around us. Because that’s where our mutual support lies, not in a headline-grabbing figurehead, but in all these disparate voices eventually coming together with one message, rather than shouting and scrabbling over each other for the best seat on any given day’s political merry-go-round.

At the heart of it, we’re all reinventing the same wheel. It’s a conversation which should have happened post-2016, or in an ideal world years before any referendum; but better late than never.

Still, there’s no disputing that it’s a tough ask. This month’s election results have made it clearer than ever how far we are as a country from seeing a closer relationship with Europe as being a vote-winner. And every time the Government picks a public fight with the EU, justified or not, it adds a couple of points to its poll lead. Ears should have pricked up at the Queen’s Speech announcement that the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act is to be repealed. Our campaigning may have to be directed at securing General Election manifesto commitments sooner that we think, or would like.

How we could do with a Great Explainer, of the sort that politics has struggled to produce in recent history. Every aspect of the modern world is so complex that no one person can understand it all. Anyone who claims to do so, and have simple solutions to its problems and challenges, is either delusional or a con man, or both. But in the absence of someone to put that modern complexity across in simple terms and explain why it’s not something to be feared, many people will understandably turn to those dangerous peddlers of reassuring myths. So the task of explanation is not one which our more rational leaders can afford to shirk, as they have done for a political generation or two by now.

When it comes to shorter-term goals, I’d love my colleagues to ask Mr Dowden next week about the situation with Switzerland, about the treatment of foreign citizens arriving here to work, and about the no-brainer question of issuing second passports to British performing arts workers who regularly travel abroad. However they decide to approach it, they’re a formidable team of champions, and they go with a whole industry fully behind them.

We should also learn the lesson that trade agreements are far easier to influence during the negotiating phase than afterwards. Crucial as the EU market is to the performing arts, there are now talks underway with other nations where the chance of gaining some traction is far greater. We took our eye off the ball in 2020, which is entirely forgivable given the global circumstances at the time. But let’s not make the same mistake twice.

Ultimately, as the post-Brexit era drags on, it’s increasingly impossible to avoid the inescapable necessity of persuading the British public that a new membership of a single market and a customs union with the EU is crucial to our success as a nation. It’s a herculean task, and a long term one. And I hope I’m wrong, and that a more straightforward, albeit narrower, solution to our industry’s problems is achievable in a matter of weeks rather than years.

But if you follow the logic, it’s the only long term answer; not just for my industry, but for pretty much any branch of British business. And, while requiring a marathon effort of campaigning and persuading, I have to believe it’s not beyond reach.

There are a lot of pieces to be manoeuvred and sacrifices to be made in the meantime. But the way the chessboard is laid out, that’s the only endgame.

Paul Carey Jones’ new book based on his hit ‘Coronaclassical’ blog series is now available in paperback, Kindle and audiobook editions from Amazon sites worldwide. For more details and a link to your nearest retailer visit:

“A powerful traversal of life in the pandemic” – Opera Magazine

“His view is alert and complex, evaluating developments with a searching but sceptical eye.” – BBC Music Magazine

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Brexit for Musicians: The Evil Empire

In January 1972 the Industrial Correspondent of the Western Mail accompanied three Welsh businessmen on a holiday to Moscow, which they’d won in a competition run by the newspaper. Upon arrival in Russia, the lucky prizewinners cleared immigration without a hitch; but the Soviet authorities, no doubt instinctively suspicious of any British journalist, declared there was an inconsistency in their travelling companion’s paperwork, and promptly sent him for an overnight stay in a chilly Moscow cell.

It’s a tale I’ve been told many times, since the journalist in question was my father. I don’t remember a time when I hadn’t heard the story; and while I must have been too young at first to understand the full workings of a totalitarian regime and its attitude to visits by foreign nationals, it ingrained me with a sense that the Soviet Union was a Bad Place. Not that my father himself seemed to bear them any ill will, but from my perspective they had nearly prevented my ever existing in the first place. When Ronald Reagan later labelled the USSR an “evil empire”, a 9-year-old listener in Cardiff nodded in decisive agreement.

This morning’s edition of La Repubblica carries a report about a young Italian woman, Marta Lo Martire, who had travelled to London a few weeks ago to visit her family and seek work as an au pair. Unclear about the hastily-convened new post-Brexit rules, she arrived at Heathrow Airport without the complete set of paperwork: a clear example of the teething troubles we’ve been hearing so much about, and surely an entirely forgivable and easily rectifiable error given the circumstances.

The rest of the story is shocking to any British citizen who flatters themselves that we still live in a civilised country. Miss Lo Martire was sent to Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre – simply and unambiguously categorised on Google Maps as “prison” – where she was searched and kept under constant guard until being sent on a flight back to Italy. Her incarceration lasted 24 hours, but she reports that another Italian inmate at the centre had already been there five days, since the UK authorities were unwilling to arrange a return flight which cost more than she had initially paid. Personal items, including her smartphone and passport, were confiscated and she was given only a non-functioning basic mobile phone in return. By comparison, in fairness to the Soviet gaolers they at least allowed my father an ageing copy of the Reader’s Digest for company.

I suppose we’re naive to be surprised – after all, the current Home Office attitude to arrivals from elsewhere in the world, recent and historical, has been openly hostile and proud of it. And the Government has been very clear that one of the intended consequences of Brexit is that all nationalities will be treated equally upon arrival in the UK. It’s just that it’s a shock for the penny to drop that they meant, treated with an equal lack of basic civility and humanity.

And rightly or wrongly, for it to be happening to Italians makes it hit home even more brutally. It’s impossible to spend any length of time living and working in Italy without falling in love with the place and its people. Trying to get anything done there is utterly infuriating, sure, but it’s also the most beautiful kind of nothing you’ll ever get done. One of the greatest pleasures of being in London over the last decade or so has been the increase in the number of Italian voices you hear out and about every day. When I lived in Fulham, I’d often see a whole famiglia out for a walk along the Thames at the weekend, unmistakable by the pride of place given to a jet-haired Nonna in the family phalanx. And there have been many summer days where I’ve sat sweltering pinkly on a tube in my shorts and string vest, only to look up and see an impossibly glamorous couple, tanned and impeccably dressed, just being fabulous. They could only be Italian.

Marta Lo Martire has made it safely back to her family in Italy, hopefully without carrying too many psychological scars from her brief visit to these shores. But the point is this: that will now be her story, which she’ll tell as often as my father still recounts the saga of his visit to Moscow. And in this more recent version, the identity of the Evil Empire has changed. It’s us.

Well, so what, you may cry. Who needs Italian au pairs and Polish plumbers and American opera singers anyway? Pull up the drawbridge, two fingers to Giovanni Foreigner, and Believe in Britain!

All very well. But soon enough, as pandemic travel restrictions ease and industries such as my own lurch clumsily back to some sort of life, many British workers will be making the reciprocal journey. And Italy in particular is one of those countries where visa requirements are complex, often less than crystal clear, and very much open to the subjective interpretation of whoever happens to be manning the immigration desk on any given day. That one of my British colleagues will have their paperwork found incomplete or unsatisfactory is a question of when, not if. And at that point, they’ll be hoping to be treated with a damn sight more basic decency than we are currently dishing out to those who arrive here.

The Government has said that in order to assist British workers in maintaining and furthering their global careers, their approach will be to engage in bilateral talks with individual nations, rather than pursue further negotiations with the EU as a whole, in order to smooth out the process of obtaining visas and work permits. But how in God’s name do they expect that to have the slightest chance of success if at the same time they’re incarcerating and deporting the citizens of those very same countries for the slightest discrepancy in their paperwork?

The more time I spend examining this brave new post-Brexit world, the more I have to admit that I have no idea what “Global Britain” is even supposed to mean. But this sure as hell isn’t it.

Update 14th May 2021: The Guardian reports similar incidents involving travellers from France, Bulgaria, Greece, the Czech Republic and Portugal, many of whom seem to have been following the stated rules to the letter. And to reiterate, none of this should surprise us given the Home Office’s established approach to travellers from across the globe, not to mention refugees and asylum seekers. But the shock to see it being rolled out remains legitimate.

All opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

Paul Carey Jones’ new book based on his hit ‘Coronaclassical’ blog series is now available in paperback, Kindle and audiobook editions from Amazon sites worldwide – for more details and a link to your nearest international retailer visit:

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Brexit for Musicians: The Norway Option

In approving the final edit of my attempt at explaining Brexit to Americans for The Middle Class Artist last week, it struck me how little has changed in the two months since I wrote it. As the immediate challenges of the pandemic continue to provide cover for the impact of the new EU visa rules for UK artists, there’s been a fair amount of campaigning heat without much in the way of light when it comes to tangible process.

Many of the industry’s voices are zeroing-in more than ever on returning to the negotiating table and reviving the corpse of an EU-wide visa waiver for musicians. As regular readers will know, I’m an Irish citizen, so ultimately it’s not for me to pontificate on what my British colleagues decide to focus on in their campaigning goals. But on an emotional level if nothing else it’s important to be realistic about the chances of success, even though that involves weighing the words of politicians, and therefore having to separate an awful lot of chaff from precious little wheat.

There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of the UK Government, and their lack of clarity, deliberate or unintended, on many issues is one of them. But on this one they’ve been as clear as they ever get: their core objection to the idea of any reciprocal visa waiver is one of fundamental principle, and in fact probably the principle most fundamental to them – their objection to Freedom of Movement. We may well disagree with that, and we can seek to change their and the public’s minds on the issue. But the fact remains that asking the current Conservative leadership to expand Freedom of Movement, even for a limited sector of the population, is the equivalent of asking Nye Bevan to privatise the NHS.

There’s also often a degree of naivety in the attitude to the EU’s side of the story. Despite their insistence that the visa waiver for musicians is a standard proposal in their trade deals, it’s interesting to note how rarely that seems to have been taken up, by larger countries in particular, and worth asking why that might be.

A more realistic target on this proposal could be getting the Labour Party to include it in their next manifesto. Even that is not as straightforward as we might assume – their leadership is wary of anything which has any suggestion of reversing or “betraying” Brexit about it, since they’ll presumably need to bring a substantial slab of Leave voters back to the fold if they’re to stand any chance of forming a government next time round. Harriet Harman’s 10-point plan for musicians is a promising start at least, and UK performing arts workers should be doing all they can to get Labour to adopt it officially and expand on it to include the whole sector.

For the more immediate future, a casual glance at the news most days confirms the impression that we’re living far closer to Romulus’ cesspool than Plato’s Republic. With an eye to realistic prospects of success, it may be better to focus on persuading those currently in power to get on with doing things that they want to, and which are unarguably in their interests. The Prime Minister’s insistence that he is “working flat out” to find solutions to the crisis is a little short on concrete evidence so far. Built in his image, this is a government which needs its toes kept close to the fire to keep things moving forward, it seems.

Or even just to tread water. The appointment of Lord Frost to the Cabinet Office and the continuing skirmishes with the EU over Northern Ireland, vaccines and so on do not bode well for the co-operative relationship which progress on tackling EU-wide problems will require. With the European Parliament yet to ratify the December 2020 deal, and the UK Government asking for more time to fight their case with the EU over the legality of the Irish border arrangements, we should be under no illusions that No Deal is still far from off the table, and even the small victories contained in the deal as it stands are far from assured. Meanwhile, every time the Government picks a fight with the EU, valid or spurious, it seems to go up a couple of points in the opinion polls. Anyone counting on the UK to demonstrate the motivation or tactical nous needed to thrash out a reciprocal “Musician’s Passport” arrangement would be well advised not to hold their breath.

Smaller scale bilateral progress remains a far more realistic prospect in the shorter term. And unilateral action need not be dismissed either – one of the biggest morale boosts for UK artists was France’s declaration that they were welcome without visa or work permit for up to 90 days, made entirely without reciprocation. The same goes (more or less) for Germany, Finland and Estonia, for example. Where countries can be persuaded that it’s in their interests to open their borders to British workers, there’s no reason that one-way frictionless trade can’t be achieved. Bilateral agreements needn’t be confined to EU member states either – the Government promises us Global Britain, so let them start delivering on that. And while it lacks the glamour of more wide-ranging demands, issuing second passports to British artists with international careers is a step which the UK could take tomorrow morning, with no downside and an immediate positive impact.

The subject of red tape brings us to today’s case study, which looks at the situation in Norway – which, bear in mind, is a member of the EEA, the EFTA and Schengen, but not the EU. As before, please note that this is an account of one artist’s experience, and should not be taken as formal advice nor a reliable guide to what anyone else might need. As always, the responsibility for making sure all official requirements are understood and met ultimately rests with the individual fulfilling the contract.

Case Study: Tim Claydon

Tim Claydon is a British freelance choreographer and movement director specialising in opera. Like most operatic contracts, his recent agreement with the Norwegian Opera and Ballet was finalised and signed well in advance of the engagement, in this case some twelve months ago. At that time, he wouldn’t have needed any form of visa or permit to work for the required six weeks.

Since January 1st 2021 this has all changed.

In January, Tim was informed by the company that he would now need to apply for a Long Stay Visa Residence Permit. He reports that the company were “incredibly helpful and I have been extremely lucky in the fact that they have paid for the application NOK6300 (GBP £561).” He was able to get an interview at the Norway Visa Application Centre in London within ten days. Tim continues: “I filled out a series of forms, which I have to say were far more concise than even the US visa applications that I have filed on several occasions. I was asked to list, with dates, all the times that I had ever visited an EU country!! I must admit that I gave up on this section.”

For the interview, Tim needed to take the following documentation:

  1. passport;
  2. photocopies of all used pages within it;
  3. CV;
  4. documentation showing details of his education;
  5. documentation showing his work experience;
  6. two new photos;
  7. signed copies of contracts;
  8. housing reservation letter (with check-in and check-out times and proof of payment);
  9. a letter of employment form, from the company;
  10. a pay table – showing that the fee meets the payment required by Norwegian government, from the company.

Tim: “I was very lucky to be working with a company that could provide all this for me within such short notice and that I had time to be able to pull all this together. So now we wait; I had an email following the interview to say that my case was being processed but that there is still a minimum processing time of eight weeks. I’m due to fly out to start my ten day quarantine on 26th March. I was able to take my passport away with me, which is some comfort, and the company are being very cool about me possibly arriving after the start of rehearsal.”

So, another complex and expensive process (especially compared to the situation pre-Brexit), and crucially, a lengthy period of uncertainty while the application is processed. It’s worth reiterating that for an experienced artist such as Tim, with an established reputation and the support of a well-resourced employer, these new processes are challenging but not insurmountable. For artists just starting out, or without the same reputation and resources backing them up, they could very well prove the difference between an entire career being viable or not.

I checked in again with Tim around the time he was due to travel to Norway, to see whether the process had been completed successfully and in time.

“Unfortunately the Norway gig was postponed to 2022 last week. I have to say that was due to Oslo shutting down to an outbreak in Covid cases. I’ve since cancelled my visa application. I don’t know whether I would have received my visa in time – I think it was highly unlikely but I guess we will never know.”

Covid cases in Norway rose sharply during February and March, and Oslo imposed new lockdown measures on March 15th, including closing theatres. Once again, the pandemic provided cover for the Brexit crisis. If Tim’s guess is correct and his paperwork had been delayed beyond his arranged travel date, he still had the backing of his employers in working around the situation. But the uncertainty and administrative burden in employing a UK artist will have been noted, and the more those add up, the less likely European companies will be to book British workers in future. And without that European work, a huge number of those British workers won’t be able to sustain a career at all, which would have a devastating impact on the UK industry which relies on them, and frequently takes them for granted, as an irreplaceable resource.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the situation in Spain. We previously examined the production of Lessons in Love and Violence at the Liceu in Barcelona, which was scheduled to move on to Madrid’s Teatro Real next month. That has now been “postponed to a future season” – in effect a cancellation, as far as the freelance artists involved are concerned.

That cancellation has occurred because of a delay in the start of rehearsals for Peter Grimes at the Teatro Real, which is reportedly down to several factors, one of which was “the delay in the (British) artists’ arrival to the rehearsals, caused by the restrictions in mobility and the bureaucratic obstacles of Brexit.”

So we are now beginning to see concrete examples of the direct impact of Brexit. British artists missing out on work, and having to return home without bringing that income and tax revenue back to the UK. And a Spanish audience missing out on the chance to experience a world-class contemporary British opera, showcasing the very best of British culture on an international stage.

The Government talks a good game on “Global Britain”, and on “working flat out” to solve the problems facing those who are out there selling the idea in practice. But talk is cheap. It’s high time for them to put those words into action.

Disclaimer: this article is intended as an anecdotal account and should not be relied upon wholly or in part as a guide to any application process. The responsibility for understanding and fulfilling any contractual and/or official requirements remains solely and entirely that of the contracted artist. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Paul Carey Jones’ new book based on his hit ‘Coronaclassical’ blog series is now available in paperback from Amazon sites worldwide – for more details and a link to your nearest international retailer visit:

Giving It Away
Classical Music in Lockdown and other fairytales
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Brexit for Musicians: View from the USA

The US website recently commissioned an article from me explaining the post-Brexit state of play to their largely North American audience. British readers familiar with the history from 1945 to the present day can opt to skip the first part. Part Two contains some sharp-eyed observations from my friends and colleagues Elizabeth Llewellyn, Elgan Llyr Thomas, and Sir John Tomlinson, so should be worthwhile reading for all.

The Middleclass Artist: British Musicians Face Up To Brexit’s Perfect Storm

Paul Carey Jones’ new book based on his hit ‘Coronaclassical’ blog series is now available in paperback from Amazon sites worldwide – for more details and a link to your nearest international retailer visit:

Posted in Brexit, Coronavirus, Music, Opera, Politics, singing, Theatre, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brexit for Musicians: An Englishman Abroad

While the furore over UK artists working in the European Union continues to simmer and boil, a tricky aspect of working out what’s going on is that it’s almost impossible to find any concrete examples. That’s in large part a result of one crisis providing cover for another: were it not for theatre closures and travel restrictions as a result of the pandemic, there would probably be a lot more British workers trapped in embassies and airports across the continent right now.

I was fortunate, therefore, to have the chance to chat to my colleague Peter Hoare, who in a pioneering move not only has performing work, but has actually made it to Barcelona to start rehearsing the role of Mortimer in Lessons in Love and Violence at the Liceu.

Peter generously took the time to give us an exclusive insight into the paperwork he’s had to complete to get out to Catalonia, and with his kind permission I present it here as a case study. Please note that this is an account of one artist’s experience, and should not be taken as formal advice nor a reliable guide to what anyone else might need. As always, the responsibility for making sure all official requirements are understood and met ultimately rests with the individual fulfilling the contract.

Case study: Peter Hoare

Peter Hoare is an English tenor with a well-established freelance international operatic career stretching back over twenty-five years. In January 2021, he was booked at three weeks’ notice to perform the role of Mortimer in Sir George Benjamin’s opera Lessons in Love and Violence at the Liceu theatre in Barcelona in February and March 2021, replacing a colleague from the USA.

Some background notes on Peter’s recent experiences: a full diary of work for 2020 and 2021 was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic; most cancellations came at short notice and without financial compensation as a result of the broad application, rightly or wrongly, of ‘force majeure’ contract clauses. Peter received no financial support from the UK Government since he was ineligible for any of the support schemes, in particular falling foul of the limitations of the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. Consequently, he was obliged to find alternative work outside of the Performing Arts industry during the pandemic to support his family. He currently has further performing work lined up during 2021, all in the EU, much of it replacing cancelled work in the UK.

Here’s a list of the additional post-Brexit paperwork Peter has had to complete prior to his arrival in Barcelona for the start of rehearsals:

1. Official application form for a work visa – applied for at the Spanish Embassy in London. This required the surrendering of his UK passport for an unspecified period. Cost: £150 plus travel

2. Insurance (NB cost increased because of working during pandemic – see below). Cost: £350

3. UK “resident’s permit” – Peter’s UK passport proved sufficient in this instance, although non-UK citizens would require further proof.

4. Spanish health statement – a lengthy form completed online.

5. “No objection letter” – from the applicant’s accountant, with proof of payment of last year’s taxes.

6. Contract with the theatre.

7. Employer’s invitation from the theatre.

8. Apartment booking.

9. Round trip travel booking.

10. Proof of sufficient financial guarantees – up-to-date original bank statements for the last 3 months certified by bank (online statements not accepted) showing sufficient funds to cover living expenses for the duration of the contract period.

There was also some extra paperwork to do because of the pandemic. Although we’re attempting in this article to focus solely on the post-Brexit aspects of travelling to work, here are the details for reference: proof of permission to travel; a recent negative Covid test (obtained privately at a cost of £99); and valid travel and work insurance – this was an additional cost of £350, since regular insurance policies do not cover travel “in time of plague”. In fact the technical description for this is “Battlefield Insurance”.

The first point to note is that this is now a complex process, and there are potential glitches at every stage. For example, when Peter went to his branch of HSBC to request his “certified bank statements”, he was told this was a service which was discontinued by the bank several years ago. In Peter’s case, he managed to get his application accepted despite not having the required certification, but that’s no guarantee of similar success for other applicants; and an issue with any aspect of the process risks invalidating the whole application.

If those issues prove to cause frequent problems for British artists travelling to work abroad, it risks not only costing those individual artists work, but for the industry overall it may well lead to a reluctance from European theatres to employ British artists, not being sure whether or not they’ll ultimately be able to fulfil the contract.

The process also takes time, in setting up and travelling to an appointment at the Spanish Embassy in London (reportedly the service is also available at offices in Manchester and Edinburgh), applying for and gathering all the necessary information and evidence, and crucially, waiting for the applicant’s passport to be returned. This causes particular problems in the course of a busy career, where several international contracts may be in the pipeline at any given moment. Only being able to process one of them at a time is a major hindrance to pursuing that career, even in the absence of any glitches. The UK’s tightening over recent years of the rules regarding issuing second passports to British citizens working internationally makes this even more challenging. For Peter, the process took at least a couple of weeks, and when international travel returns to nearer its normal levels, that will surely increase. Three weeks’ notice is probably the minimum via conventional means, which raises serious questions over the viability of short notice “jump-in” contracts, for example, for British singers.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the fact that Peter now has a valid work visa for Spain will be of no use to him when it comes to his forthcoming contracts in Germany and France – as a “third country” citizen, he’ll be back to square one with the processes there, which are different for each individual EU member state.

For comparison, pre-Brexit, the only paperwork necessary would have been a valid passport for establishing British citizenship, and an A1 form for avoiding having to make social security payments twice. Both of these are still necessary post-Brexit, in addition to the new requirements listed above.

As an established and successful international artist, Peter naturally has had access to support in this process, from a knowledgable agent, a reliable accountant, experienced colleagues and so on, and a certain amount of financial resources too; and as a resident of the home counties, the Spanish Embassy is a short trip from home. For younger artists just starting out on a career, none of these would necessarily be the case, and consequently as with so many aspects of Brexit, it hits the youngest harder than anyone else.

To all of the above, the cynical among you might think, so what? Why can’t British artists just stay at home and work in the UK, sharing their gifts with their native audiences rather than hawking them around the globe?

Well, for one thing, British artists working abroad is a good thing for the British economy. In Peter’s case, his work in the UK was cancelled, and so if he weren’t working abroad, he wouldn’t be working at all. But even without the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, there are more British singers than there is work at home, and short of a miraculous change of heart when it comes to British investment in the arts, that’s unlikely to change any time soon. We’re a net exporter of talent, and that brings money into the UK economy in terms of tax and expenditure at home, not to mention maintaining and developing our influence on the world stage – “Global Britain”, as the Government is fond of labelling it.

Furthermore, for British singers, easy access to a wider global market has allowed them to specialise their careers to a far greater extent than had they remained working exclusively in the UK. Peter’s reputation as a specialist in contemporary English language opera no doubt gave him a significant edge when it came to securing the role of Mortimer in the original production, and consequently this latest contract too. Likewise, Britain’s current crop of top-level Wagnerian singers could surely never have reached their level of expertise solely working in the UK, where performances of their niche repertoire are few and far between – think of Catherine Foster, James Rutherford, Iain Paterson, to name but three singers who are heard far more often on European stages than at home. Not that they’re not adept at other repertoire too; but the ability to travel far and wide has allowed them to focus on their strongest suits, and consequently Britain’s global reputation for producing high quality singing to continue to flourish.

So what can be done to help? The complexity of the process being the very issue here, simple solutions are not readily apparent. Even were it possible to resurrect the Brexit negotiating process, for instance, it remains unclear that either of the reported proposals would solve any or all of these problems at a stroke. But streamlining any part of this process would be a step in the right direction – every barnacle you remove from a ship’s hull will help it glide through the water more swiftly.

For starters, the UK Government could very easily review its reluctance to allow second passports to be issued to frequent travellers. At the moment the system doesn’t allow for an anticipated future need as grounds for issuing an additional passport; with most artists’ careers still in lockdown, revising that approach could help them get back up and running as soon as the pandemic allows. Passport fees being what they are, this would instantly raise more revenue for the Treasury, it’s a move which can be made unilaterally, and there’s no obvious downside, assuming that any Home Office security concerns can be assuaged. The prospect of British citizens having their only passport at the mercy of foreign visa processes for weeks and months every year is hardly consistent with the concept of “Taking Back Control”. It should be a no-brainer.

As we move forward, the disproportionate impact of every aspect of Brexit on the younger generation surely has to be addressed too. Support, advice and access to finance are all career-boosters which the Government could readily provide. It was good to see the Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland proposing the creation of a new Erasmus-style programme for his students, and if we’re being asked to accept Brexit as a grown-up, positive concept, then at the very least every step we take should be towards the increase of opportunities for young British citizens to train and work worldwide.

Ultimately, you have to take your hat off to Peter and his colleagues for having stridden forth manfully toward this newly unknown region, like a latter day Neil Armstrong or Captain Scott (hopefully with results more along the lines of the former). Not only will his work at the Liceu further his career and support his family, but even more importantly it will allow audiences in Barcelona to experience a world-class contemporary British opera, showcasing the very best of British culture on an international stage.

If the Government is truly serious about the idea of “Global Britain”, it needs to do everything in its power to support those who are out there right now building it.

Disclaimer: this article is intended as an anecdotal account and should not be relied upon wholly or in part as a guide to any application process. The responsibility for understanding and fulfilling any contractual and/or official requirements remains solely and entirely that of the contracted artist.

My thanks go to Peter Hoare. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Paul Carey Jones’ new book based on his hit ‘Coronaclassical’ blog series is now available in paperback from Amazon sites worldwide – for more details and a link to your nearest international retailer visit:

Giving It Away – Classical Music in Lockdown and other fairytales

All content © Copyright 2021 Paul Carey Jones. All rights reserved.

Posted in Art, Brexit, Coronavirus, Music, Opera, Politics, singing, Theatre, Travel, Wagner | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Brexit for Musicians: What Happened, What Next?

The debate over an EU “musician’s passport” for UK artists rages on, with much of the focus being on what exactly was on offer during the negotiating process last year.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of how useful those details really are any more, here’s an attempt at piecing together what we know or can reasonably guess. This is based on having spent far more time than I’d ever have wished over the last fortnight reading and listening to statements from the various parties involved, as well as the text of the Deal itself, while applying the filter that politicians of all nationalities and leanings will have a tendency to be economical with the truth, and by definition produce a subjective version of events. As always on these pages, it comes with the caveat that I could be completely wrong about any part or all of this.

If you’re sensible enough not to be interested in the speculative ins and outs of a trade negotiation, feel free to skip straight to Part Two, which should still make sense either way.


The timeline of the negotiations seems to start with the EU including a section in the draft text of an agreement published in March 2020. That text is available online here, and the relevant chunk is on page 354.

“Desiring to ensure a common interpretation, the Parties agree that, for the purposes of this Agreement, the category of persons carrying out a paid activity covers persons entering for the purpose of carrying out a gainful occupation or remunerated activity in the territory of the other Party as an employee or as a service provider. This category should not cover: … sportspersons or artists performing an activity on an ad-hoc basis.”

It seems this was rejected pretty swiftly by the UK. The main reason given by the Government has been that it breached their key manifesto promise to “take back control of our borders” – in other words, that for their liking it provided too much open-ended freedom of movement for a category of not only current EU citizens, but future ones too. Additionally, they have claimed that the definition of “artists” wouldn’t have covered technical and support staff, that the arrangement would still have been subject to potential opt-outs and additional work permit requirements from individual EU member states, and that the definition of “ad-hoc basis” wouldn’t cover most musical activity. The Government claims that, having consulted with the Musicians’ Union and other representative bodies, the proposal would not have met the practical needs of British musicians in full.

Analysis: whether or not those additional objections hold water, they strike you as the sort of thing that could be fixed during a negotiating process – this was the EU’s first draft proposal, after all. The red line was surely the first point, that any version of this proposal would contain far more freedom of movement (for EU citizens coming to the UK) than would be acceptable to this Government, which would explain their summary dismissal of the whole idea without further discussion.

Later on in the negotiations, when service industries were being discussed, the UK team reportedly proposed that musical performances be included in the list of permitted activities for business travellers, and possibly also some sort of reciprocal work permit arrangements along the lines of what the UK already offers to non-UK nationals. In contrast to the EU draft text, the public does not currently have access to the details of this UK proposal. The EU have explained that they rejected it as unworkable, perhaps because the EU doesn’t automatically have the authority to override member states’ right to impose their own work permit requirements on Third Country nationals, but also because it didn’t offer anything to EU citizens travelling to the UK to work which they don’t have access to anyway outside the arrangements in the Deal.

Analysis: it’s trickier to deduce exactly what went on here without being able to see the precise details of the UK proposal. But the UK had already staked out its position on entry requirements for EU artists coming to the UK back in February 2020, effectively spiking their team’s guns on this issue before the negotiations even started in earnest. Given that, I can’t see what incentive there was for the EU to put in the work on their side in return for securing little, if anything, in the way of further concessions for their citizens. On paper, while it’s obviously more restrictive than before, the new set-up isn’t that bad a deal for EU musicians, and at the end of the day they still have 27 other visa-free countries to choose from, unlike their British counterparts.

Ultimately, only a handful of people know what happened during the negotiations, and even then recollections and interpretations will be subjective. It’s important to bear that in mind when demanding that various UK or EU officials release details of what went on – they don’t necessarily know that much more than we do.

Stepping back to look at the overall process, you get the distinct impression that a compromise might have been possible (although the UK Government’s objection to the fundamental principal of freedom of movement should not be underestimated) but that nailing down the fine detail of such a compromise would have required time. There’s a reason that trade talks usually take place over a period of several years rather than a few weeks. So many of the issues that all branches of UK industry are now facing are a consequence of the absurdly rushed nature of the negotiations, and the almost non-existent amount of time left to prepare once the details of the Deal were announced.

Where were British musicians when the negotiations were taking place, when there might have been a decent chance of influencing the UK position? In fairness, we’ve had a lot on our plate over the last ten months. The Government’s rejection of an extension to the negotiations was a cheap shot in the middle of a pandemic, but it worked for them, in that it meant they could force through the Deal they eventually got before anyone had time to scrutinise its numerous flaws. Eating up the last few days with nonsensical quibbling over fish was consistent with that strategy, and there’s little doubt that the shortcomings of the Deal for fishermen and touring musicians will be the first of many more to reveal themselves.


So much for what may or may not have happened during the negotiations. Whatever the truth of it (assuming such an objective concept can even be applied to a process like this), piecing together the clues is by now a diverting parlour game at best. The EU made an offer, which it claims was excellent, and the UK rejected it. The UK made a counter-proposal, which it also claims was excellent, and the EU rejected it. There wasn’t any time to see if a compromise could be reached, and so the subject of any specific arrangements for musicians working abroad was left out of the final Agreement altogether.

The question which really matters now is, what next for UK musicians?

At this point let me reveal, or remind you, that I have two dogs in this fight, as a dual-nationality British and Irish citizen and passport holder, and so it is probably fair to say that it’s a lot easier for me to survey all this with a calm and rational eye. I fully understand the raw emotions that the whole concept of Brexit continues to invoke in my solely-British colleagues, and if anyone ever wants to question whether this really affects me severely enough for me to have a legitimate view on it, then they may well have a point.

But in many ways a calm, rational approach might just be what is needed right now, if British musicians are to find footholds in the walls of this deep hole in which they’ve been dropped. What is crucial is that we distinguish between the intended and unintended consequences of Brexit.

At long last reality is biting, and it is finally becoming clear what the Government’s vision of Brexit actually is; what “taking back control of our borders” means in practice. Many British industries, our own included, are now complaining about the barriers to international trade we now face. But it’s vital that we take on board that these are not there by accident: they are part of the design. Brexit, as conceived by this Government, involves erecting barriers to international trade by its very definition. The extra costs and red tape are not a mistake. They are there as a direct consequence of the Government’s approach, and they want them to stay there. This is Brexit working as intended.

But there’s another category of problems too. Colleagues with forthcoming work in Spain have reported issues during their visits to the Spanish Embassy, where the software used to process visas hasn’t been updated to include the UK as a possible nationality for applicants.

This is an example of an unintended consequence of Brexit, glitches in the systems used for processing and traversing the new trade barriers. Those glitches are there by accident rather than design.

These unintended consequences are largely a result of that recklessly short timescale of the negotiations, and they are desirable to no one. And so the thin sliver of good news is that, if we are willing and able to separate them from the intended consequences, fixing them should be eminently possible. Like it or not, we need the Government’s help on that, and they have every incentive to help us. They need to show that their Brexit works.

To that end, the multiple references to potential bilateral discussions with individual EU member states during this week’s Urgent Question debate in the House of Commons were promising. In terms of making immediate progress on the issues facing individual UK artists working in the EU right now, this is what will stand the best chance of rapid success – for example on ensuring that any opt-outs by member states to the negotiated new arrangements for social security are kept to a minimum. (Labour’s Barbara Keeley asked a perceptive question on this issue during the debate, and Caroline Dinenage’s answer also displayed an encouraging degree of understanding of it.) The more detailed guidance musicians can give the Government on specific areas like this, the more likely they are to be able to lower one or two of those barriers they’ve placed in our path.

Strangely enough, the current state of the pandemic has provided a little bit of breathing space to fix these unintended consequences – if it weren’t for theatre lockdowns and travel restrictions, there’d very likely be a lot more of us stuck in airports and embassies across Europe right now. So if we act quickly, there’s room for manoeuvre we wouldn’t otherwise have had.

During that Commons debate, Dinenage was clear that bilateral talks would be with a view to facilitating current arrangements for visas and work permits, rather than negotiating any further waivers. That may well be the case for the time being, but once those lines of communication are established, who knows what else might transpire? The Government could end up getting a taste for exercising that “sovereignty” they like to talk about so much – it would be good to see it amount to something tangible for once.

Surely this is a serious lack of ambition on our part though? Other campaigns have frequently forced this Government into U-turns on other issues. Why couldn’t musicians do the same, if we find the right slogan and grab enough headlines?

There’s a crucial distinction, however, between issues like free school meals, and a U-turn on freedom of movement. The former is a question of a relatively small amount of money which the Government doesn’t really want to spend, but which doesn’t ultimately amount to any betrayal of an article of faith. (Even their harshest detractors can’t really believe deep down that most Tories live to starve the children of poor families.) By contrast, “taking control of our borders” was the central manifesto promise for the current crop of Conservative MPs; whether you agree with them or not, there can be no doubting that for many of them, it is their most fundamental raison d’etre, and they can also claim with justification that they have a very recent mandate to act upon it. When we demand that they let go of that principle for our benefit, we need to appreciate the magnitude of what we’re asking them to do – and therefore the likelihood of us succeeding.

The other lesson to be drawn from the success of the Marcus Rashford style of campaign is the use of “SMART” goals – specific, measurable, achievable, resourced, and time-bound. Funding for free school meals is a perfect example of this: Rashford is never asking for the moon on a stick yesterday, and that’s clearly not by chance. Government can provide that funding at the stroke of a pen, and at little political cost; the amount of pressure required to achieve that goal is commensurately light.

Some of the noises from the EU might sound more encouraging: both sides, in fact, seem to have said they’re open to further negotiations on musicians’ movement. But dig a little deeper and you find that they both mean on the basis of their respective original proposals. So the chasm between them remains as wide as ever, with the Deal done, and the negotiating teams stood down and disbanded. (Michel Barnier last week: “This agreement will not be renegotiated, it now needs to be implemented.”) It’s not entirely impossible that a rabbit might pop out of someone’s hat at some stage, but we need to be realistic about how likely that is, now that the show’s over and the magician is on the bus home.

Furthermore, UK fishermen are currently demanding “privileged access to the Single Market”, which boils down to what musicians are asking for too, as are farmers, hauliers, and most if not all other sectors of British industry in their own ways. If the Government suddenly caved in and went back to the original EU proposal for musicians in return for a quieter life, it wouldn’t work – those other groups would all be banging on their door the next morning, demanding the same thing for themselves.

The inexorable logic of all this eventually leads back to UK membership of the EEA at least, be it in an off-the-peg or bespoke arrangement by another name. But that long journey will take time – years, not days or weeks. In the meantime, we may well be better off aiming for smaller, more achievable victories.

But even minor progress will require a hard decision from UK musicians: do we want to protest, or to lobby? In other words, to voice our objections to the whole concept of Brexit, perhaps in the hope of eventually getting it all reversed in a few years or decades; or to make shorter term progress in working with what we’ve got right now? One is an act of ideologically pure principled defiance; the other involves getting hands dirty, working alongside our natural opponents, finding small areas of compromise and mutual interest. Most people are temperamentally better suited to one than the other. Both are valid, and valuable, campaigns. But they are, to a large extent, mutually exclusive – you can’t do both at once. If the goal is to reverse Brexit, the problems it’s causing now are an illustration of why ditching it would make sense. But if many of those problems don’t get solved, and soon, it is we who will suffer first and foremost.

It’s a bit like when you dislike the manager of your football club, and find yourself willing your team to lose a few games so that he gets the sack. It might work in the long run, but in the short term you’re still losing. (And even after all that, you might end up with Mick McCarthy.) Whatever our fully-justified feelings about Brexit, if most of us are to avoid the imminent prospect of going bust, we need it to work.

So British musicians need urgently to decide whether they wish to protest or to lobby; to point out the sheer illogical fallacy of Brexit, or to work more quietly to fix the short term problems which are costing them work in Europe right now. Both are important. But you can only do one at a time.

Paul Carey Jones’ new book based on his hit ‘Coronaclassical’ blog series is now available in paperback from Amazon sites worldwide – for more details and a link to your nearest international retailer visit:

Giving It Away - Classical Music in Lockdown and other fairytales
Giving It Away – Classical Music in Lockdown and other fairytales

All content © Copyright 2021 Paul Carey Jones. All rights reserved.

Posted in Art, Brexit, Music, Opera, Politics, singing, Theatre | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Brexit for Musicians: Passport to Nowhere

As the post-Brexit dust begins to settle, UK artists are lobbying for an EU-wide “musician’s passport”, allowing them to travel and work free of restrictions across Europe. It’s a lovely idea. But is it a realistic prospect?

Opinion seems divided over how this negotiation might take place. A petition to Parliament created by Tim Brennan has just passed 230,000 signatures, and asks the UK government “to negotiate a free cultural work permit that gives us visa free travel throughout the 27 EU states for music touring professionals, bands, musicians, artists, TV and sports celebrities that tour the EU to perform shows and events & Carnet exception for touring equipment.” Other parties have suggested approaching the EU directly in order to secure a similar arrangement, presumably as a unilateral gift.

Let’s take the latter suggestion first. Just as many Brexit supporters are guilty of mindlessly demonising the EU, those on the opposite side of the debate often make the equivalent error of portraying the European Union as some sort of benevolent all-powerful omnipresent entity. Let us appeal to this deity, that He may solve all our problems at a miraculous stroke.

The reality is quite different, and Remainers – correction / update, Rejoiners – have even less excuse than anyone else for overlooking it. The EU exists to further the interests of its member states. It has been very clear over the course of the Brexit negotiations that protecting the integrity of the Single Market is the EU’s overriding priority, and that the “Four Freedoms” – of goods, capital, services, and people – are indivisible as far as they’re concerned. When the UK decided that abolishing free movement of persons was a “red line” for them, the direct consequence of that was that none of the other freedoms would be available in its entirety either.

Furthermore, as far as I’m aware, no other third country has any such arrangement with the EU. It may come as a surprise that EU member states retain the right to negotiate work permit arrangements individually with nations outside the EU. Sovereign nations after all, it seems. While many third countries have agreements for visa-free entry to and movement throughout the Schengen area, if we’re asking for an open-ended EU-wide work permit, we are suggesting the EU extend its powers considerably, and persuade its members to accept an entirely new kind of arrangement, for the benefit of a country which is not exactly top of its Christmas card list.

We also need to appreciate that it would require the agreement of all 27 member states, and therefore to think about it from each point of view. It’s not clear what, for example, a Polish, Danish or Estonian musician would gain from having to compete with British artists for jobs in their countries, with no reciprocal access to the UK market.

I’m not saying that the EU wouldn’t agree to all of this, but it’s hard to see why they’d be inclined to go to the trouble without getting something in return. Otherwise it seems as much of a Utopian pipe-dream as the idea of “associate citizenship” of the EU for anyone in the UK who wants it. Lovely idea, but pie-in-the-sky unless any reciprocal benefit for EU citizens was included in the deal.

UPDATE: The Independent published an article a few minutes after I finalised this one, quoting “an EU source” who claims with regard to the Brexit negotiations, “It is usually in our agreements with third countries, that visas are not required for musicians. We tried to include it, but the UK said no.” It’s really not clear what was on offer here – the article goes on to claim that “countries as contrasting as the United States and Saudi Arabia enjoy a permit-free exemption for performers in their deals with the EU, which offers the arrangement as “standard”.” If they mean work permits, this is simply not true, as far as I can tell from several conversations with experienced non-EU artists. There are many countries which have arranged visa-free entry to and travel across the Schengen area; and then many countries within Schengen where work permits are not required for short-term contracts. But the two remain separate issues, and work permit arrangements are a matter for the individual member nations – and so, for example, possessing a German work permit does not give you the right to work in Spain, even when your Schengen visa allows you to travel there. As it stands, the article is confusing and requires clarification on several important points.

FURTHER UPDATE: The organisation Wales For Europe has posted a message from Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt with further details of the EU offer, helpfully pointing us to page 354 of the draft agreement published by the EU in March 2020. That draft text suggests that “the category of persons travelling for the purpose of carrying out a paid activity… should not cover… sportspersons or artists performing an activity on an ad-hoc basis”. The question remains whether the EU could have got that past every one of its member states without exceptions and opt-outs, and of which other trade agreements apply this “standard approach” – I’ve been asking around and still can’t find any, so please do get in touch if you have a verifiable example, particularly if you’re a musician from outside the EU who benefits from such an arrangement. But as it stands in the March text, it’s unarguably a generous offer. Verhofstadt goes on to claim that the UK then revisited the issue when services were being negotiated, with a counter-proposal which the EU in turn rejected, which seems to tally with the version of events presented by various UK ministers. Other than the predictable “our offer was better than yours” sniping, the accounts of both sides do seem to be essentially in agreement. In an interview this week with the Financial Times, chief negotiator Michel Barnier broadly reiterates the EU account of the negotiations, but also more significantly warns: “This agreement will not be renegotiated, it now needs to be implemented.”

The Incorporated Society of Musicians has very helpfully compiled a list of short-term EU work permit arrangements for UK musicians, which they’re aiming to keep updated as situations develop and clarify. Ultimately getting all this absolutely right is of course the responsibility of the contracted artist, but it’s a useful starting point at the very least: ISM EU work permit information. There’s a similar list for comparison provided by UK Europe Arts Work: UKEAW work permit information

This brings us to the other suggestion, of lobbying the UK government first. The quid pro quo would have to be to offer the same Freedom of Movement to EU artists in return. That might stand a better chance of providing the EU with the incentive to consider the proposition – presumably we’d be talking about something like a limited mutual right to work permit-free for up to 90 days across the EU/UK, which would certainly simplify life for touring musicians. (I presumed correctly – see further update paragraph above).

But again, a healthy dose of realism is in order. From the current UK government’s point of view, the abolition of Freedom of Movement to and from the UK for EU citizens, and vice versa, is not an unintended consequence of Brexit. In fact, it is for them the fundamental point of the whole process. Having spent years – and in some cases, decades – working towards this goal, and finally having achieved it, how likely are they then to give it up? We might argue that musicians are a special and limited case. But there are many other industries which could make a similar claim.

The politicians currently running the country have spent a long time building this particular wall. They have finally succeeded. I applaud the optimism of those now asking them to immediately remove one of the bricks, but at the very least we should appreciate the magnitude of what they’re asking the government to do.

If the object of this exercise is genuinely to persuade the government rather than merely howl into the wind, then it might be better to make the argument in their terms, not ours. They are keen to demonstrate that the UK is now an “independent, sovereign nation”. It’s not entirely clear what that means in practice. So why not provide them with a minimum-effort opportunity to put some meat on those very bare bones? France has recently unilaterally decided that UK artists will be allowed to work there permit-free for up to three months. The UK could reciprocate that arrangement for French artists here, and make it clear that the same was on offer to other countries on a case-by-case, bilateral basis.

That approach would also have the benefit, to UK artists, of potentially balancing up the individual arrangements. To consider the one pre-existing example, British and Irish workers have retained the reciprocal right to live and work in each other’s countries. Even with my Irish citizen’s hat on, there’s no question that the benefit to Irish musicians of this arrangement is currently greater, since the UK market is far larger. The one wafer-thin benefit of Brexit to UK musicians is that their EU counterparts will face some red-tape barriers when competing with them for UK jobs. At a time when British artists need those home jobs more than ever, they might take a moment to consider whether opening the UK back up to the EU in its entirety is really in their best interests right now. If they decide that it is, I congratulate them on their generosity – but they shouldn’t kid themselves that it’s all gain at no cost. The arrangement will have to work both ways if it is to work at all.

Come to think of it, bilateral talks would also have the advantage of not requiring UK and EU negotiators to lock horns again – after the last few months, they could hardly be blamed for being thoroughly sick of the sight of each other. In practice, sorting out the fine detail of aspects like reciprocal tax agreements with individual nations might be of more immediate and practical benefit to UK citizens working abroad. And without question, the most urgent issue for UK musicians in the short term is to sort out the chaos and confusion surrounding the new working arrangements, which is already causing problems for those travelling to Europe to work.

To be blunt, the campaign for an EU-wide passport has a strong sense of denial about it, of trying to turn back the clock for our little bubble and pretend Brexit never happened. There is no “full access to the Single Market”, as we have so often pointed out to Leave campaigners, short of full EU or EEA membership, which are off the table for the time being. While the genuine grief and mourning is entirely understandable, at some point we need to face up to where we are. The 2016 referendum will always have serious questions over its legal and constitutional legitimacy. But while we were denied the common-sense right to a further confirmatory referendum, we did have two General Elections where we could have reversed the result had we, as an electorate, chosen to make that our top priority. In England and Wales, we declined the opportunity, and we now have to live with the consequences of that collective decision.

In general there’s no love lost between UK artists and their government – there’s a gaping chasm in sentiment and world-view. But if British musicians are serious about making progress towards opening the EU market back up, they’ll now need to swallow hard and take a small step towards understanding the intellectual territory of hardcore Leave campaigners. Only by doing so will they come up with the proposals and language necessary to seize the government’s attention.

The alternative is to sit tight and grumble for a few years in the hope that the government’s mind-set, or the government itself, changes between now and the scheduled review of the Brexit agreement in 2024. I’m not sure most of us can afford to wait that long.

Paul Carey Jones’ new book based on his hit ‘Coronaclassical’ blog series is now available in paperback from Amazon sites worldwide – for more details and a link to your nearest international retailer visit:

On sale now worldwide

All content © Copyright 2021 Paul Carey Jones. All rights reserved.

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Coronaclassical 24: Into the Post-Covid World

Yesterday may have been the first day of the rest of our lives. A press release announced that the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine being developed by Pfizer is, on current data, more than 90% effective.

This is good news.

No one should make the mistake of thinking that this is where our current crisis finishes. In Hollywood rom-coms, weddings usually mark the end of the protagonists’ problems. So it is with vaccines in Hollywood pandemic movies. In real life, both herald the beginning of the real hard work.

Many questions remain over Pfizer’s vaccine – what exactly does 90% effective mean in practice, how easy will it be to distribute, how long will it take to get it out there widely enough to make a difference, how frequent and severe are the side-effects, can we persuade enough people to take it – and so on. This may not even be the most practically effective vaccine we end up using in the long run. And there remains the potential spectre of mutations to the virus which will send us effectively back to square one with vaccine development.

But let’s allow ourselves a moment to pause, breathe, and celebrate a little. It was quite conceivable that scientists might have come out at the end of their trials and told us that a vaccine wasn’t a realistic prospect. Whatever else happens next, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The first twilight before the dawn, whenever it may eventually come.

Without going into the logistical details, and the potential bumps in the road between now and the sunrise, it could still be a while yet. For the classical music industry, 2021 might even turn out to be stranger and more traumatic than 2020 in some ways. In an ideal world, the global distribution of any vaccine would be even, fair, and targeted first at the most vulnerable and those most in need.

In case anyone hadn’t noticed, we do not currently live in an ideal world. The chances are that the globe is about to get even more asymmetric, and inequality even more pronounced than before. Travel restrictions and border controls, for example between vaccinated and non-vaccinated regions, are likely to become a more familiar experience to us before they begin to fade. For the next twelve months or so, I would double down on my existing advice to opera casting directors: think local.

This should also be a stark wake-up call to anyone still publicly questioning the logic of strategies to contain and control the immediate impact of Covid. There can be no question now that we can get through this. We need financial help to sustain the artistic community through the rest of this brutal era. But the idea that we should sacrifice the health and lives of our audiences – many of whom, for classical music, are in the groups most at risk from this ugly, cruel, remorseless disease – in a rush to get back to full steam ahead a few months early must surely now be seen clearly for the reckless misreading of priorities it always has been. There’s a safe way of doing what we do, but theatres are dangerous places in many, many ways, and taking risks with the lives of those on both sides of the curtain should never be an option.

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Winston Churchill

If we can just hang on for a few short months we’re nearly there, and then we can come back all guns blazing, as it should be. What a day that will be.

Paul Carey Jones’ new book based on his hit ‘Coronaclassical’ blog series is now available in paperback from Amazon sites worldwide – for more details and a link to your nearest international retailer visit:

Giving It Away: Classical Music in Lockdown and other fairytales
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Giving It Away: Classical Music in Lockdown and other fairytales

Eagle-eyed regular readers of this blog will have spotted that there’s considerably less material on here than there was a week or so ago. That’s been in anticipation of the launch today of The Book of the Blog:

Based on the last six months of Coronaclassical blog posts, with some additional new exclusive content too, the paperback version is available to order on Amazon right now in the UK, USA, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Japan, priced at £7.99 or local currency equivalent. All international purchase links are now available on my website:

While I was ill with Covid-19 in April, the Royal Society of Musicians were staunch allies, providing financial, medical, and moral support, making me feel remembered at a time when so many of us were feeling forgotten. It’s my pleasure to be able to pay them back in some small way: 50% of the author’s profits this year will go towards supporting their work.

Keep an eye out for the forthcoming release of the Kindle edition, which will be available in all the territories above as well as India, Mexico and Brazil. An audiobook edition will also be released in early 2021.

If you’ve been reading this blog religiously – I keep an eye on my stats and I know you’re out there – then you’ll be familiar with a lot of the material in this new book, although I hope you’ll still enjoy it in this new format. The support this blog has received over the last six months has been breathtaking at times – thank you all for your time, attention, loyalty and support. Any queries, glitch reports or feedback of any sort will be, as always, very welcome.

This thing caught us all unawares. Disney were preparing to launch their new subscription TV channel on March 24th in many European countries, including the UK, just as those countries headed into lockdown. Disney’s course of action was clear: they immediately stopped production on their new content, told the content creators they couldn’t afford to pay them and laid them off, put all their existing content online for free, and appealed to the public for donations to help them through the current crisis.

Just kidding. Obviously.

So where did I get that nonsensical example? Say hello, ladies and gentlemen, to the fairytale world of classical music.

Stranded in London when the Coronavirus pandemic hit, Welsh opera singer Paul Carey Jones began chronicling the voyage of the classical music industry through the perils – and opportunities – of a global pandemic. Based on his hit blog series Coronaclassical, this book is his lockdown story so far.”

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Coronaclassical 19: No Longer Viable

26th September 2020

I check my bank balance. I have to do it on an ATM because it’s 1998: the 24th of September, which was a Thursday. I know that for a fact, because pay day was always the last Thursday of the month. But this isn’t a pay day for me. It’s the first one I’ve missed.

I’d been working as a secondary school Physics teacher – in effect a job for life, with excellent prospects given the scarcity of graduates in the subject, especially in the Welsh language sector. But the lure of seeing where my singing hobby could take me if I applied myself to it full-time was too seductive to resist. It isn’t until that first missing paycheque that the reality of the leap I’ve taken hits home.

What have I done?

Last Thursday, as coincidence would have it the 24th of September 2020, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced his latest scheme for supporting the UK economy through the next stages of the continuing crisis, which, he explained, “means supporting people to be in viable jobs”. In a contrast to previous Rishigrams, the reaction from most of my self-employed colleagues was underwhelming, to say the least. Later that day the Conservative MP Anthony Browne told BBC Radio 4 that “I advise all musicians to get another job. There are many expanding sectors with job availability”.

Staring down the other end of a barrel which is precisely 22 years long. In a television interview about singing as a career I gave while still a student, I was asked where I saw myself in twenty years’ time. “Anywhere except on the dole”, flippant smart-arse twenty-something me answered. The quip has come back to haunt his middle-aged counterpart over the last six months.

If it was still unclear to anyone in the UK performing arts that this is going to be a long, hard struggle, with no guarantee of there being anything much left at the end of it, the penny must surely have dropped this last week. Wednesday’s announcement that the Metropolitan Opera in New York would remain closed until September 2021 at the earliest sent shock waves through the industry. The Met is the top of the food chain. Maybe it makes sense that the largest carnivores would find it hardest to dodge the meteorite, but the emotional crater was nonetheless huge.

Meanwhile, surely the smaller, more agile omnivores and herbivores should be better suited to survive? The accurate description of evolution is survival of the most adaptable, rather than the fittest, after all.

The problem with that analogy is that we’re facing the wiping out of an entire ecosystem, rather than the ultimately necessary culling of one or two weaker or obsolete species within it. Being a professional musician is a full-time job, even if the bit of it that looks like “work” is sporadic. There’s a delicate virtuous circle of performance, study, rest and practice that in the long run can’t be reconciled with the distraction of a second, unrelated career. There’s really no such thing as a “semi-professonal” musician, only amateurs and pros, and the distinction is not one of talent or knowledge or ability, but one of time and commitment. Once you disrupt that balance and interrupt the cycle, it becomes increasingly difficult to get it back.

In other words, if we send our musicians away to other jobs, most of them will not be returning. The leap into the precarious career of an artist is terrifying, and not one which most people would make at all, let alone twice. So once what we have in this country – our vast reservoir of immensely skilled artistic talent – is gone, it will be gone for good.

What can we do? Anger, criticism and lobbying has thus far been directed at the government and MPs. That’s a good starting point and, in a concrete and focused way, needs to continue; but taking on board three hard realities. Wider public support is mixed and lukewarm. Mr Browne’s attitude is probably quite typical of the modern breed of Tory – these are politicians who would take being labelled ultra-Darwinist as a compliment. And the government clearly feels it’s already done more than enough to help the arts.

Whether they’re right or wrong about the last point, it does raise the question of how the industry intends to help itself – in other words, what are the arts going to do to help artists? Brave pioneering and innovative one-off opera productions are a huge morale-booster, but ultimately the performing model needs to get back to something sustainable – near-capacity audiences on a wide scale – for the freelance operatic ecosystem to survive to any extent. Performances in Paris and other European cities are being held along what seem almost-normal lines, with a little social distancing, compulsory mask-wearing and so on. Surely the UK government can be persuaded to allow something similar; and, at the risk of turning into some sort of aerosolic Cato the Elder, surely the industry can make its case far more persuasive by funding some basic research into how safe it would be?

Opera companies must also think about how they can launch some lifeboats. Even in the face of prospective job losses, they should contemplate how at least a few artistic careers might be saved by moving away from the now-irrelevant brutality of a pure freelance system. What good is an arts industry without artists? Put a few freelancers on contract, even if only for the short term and on minimal wages, and they just might still be artists on the other side of this – and could provide some sorely-needed creative input in the meantime. Not all souls could be saved this way, but that’s no excuse for letting the whole crew drown.

The hardest hit by all of this are the young artists just starting out in their careers. If this is the end of the world as we know it, at least old lags like me have had our moment in the sun, however truncated. Young singers are being kneecapped before they’ve had any time to get going. During their training they’ll have been told to build up a contingency fund – it’s fair to say that very few people saw a pandemic coming, but singers lose voices, break limbs and so on, so a rainy-day back-up of a few months’ income is always judicious. But it takes a few years to build that up, and they haven’t had a chance.

Most of them will not want to follow the official advice and get another job, but many will have no alternative. The problem is that an alternative career, even as a contingency plan, makes its own immediate demands on your time and energy. A young singer might see this now as clearly a short-term stopgap. But as the months and perhaps years drag on, the ex-singer makes progress in their new career – our youngsters are generally a bright and versatile lot, and most would be an asset to any line of work – and they contemplate a return to an industry which is still struggling to revive itself, with singers paid less and singing given less of a priority even than before, that sense of clarity might fade.

What then for an industry model which has evolved to depend on a steady supply of (cheap) young talent? Where then for music colleges which have depended on being able to persuade young people that a viable career exists for them in a thriving classical music industry? Those singers with wealthy family or friends might make it through, but are we really content to stand idle and lose our traditional wealth of talent from less privileged, more diverse backgrounds? No one could blame any young artist for jumping ship right now, and no one who leaves the profession in 2020 should do so tinged with any sort of sense of failure: the failure is the industry’s, not theirs. And the loss would ultimately be ours, not theirs.

Once what we had is gone, it will be gone for good. This crisis is not going away. We need to think seriously about what we want to be left with at the end of it.


Paul Carey Jones’ recent book based on his hit ‘Coronaclassical’ blog series is available now in paperback, Kindle, audiobook and brand new hardback editions from Amazon sites worldwide. For more details and a link to your nearest retailer visit:

“A powerful traversal of life in the pandemic” – Mark Valencia, Opera Magazine

“His view is alert and complex, evaluating developments with a searching but sceptical eye.” – George Hall, BBC Music Magazine

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