An IM Investigation
If you're thinking of working abroad read IM's complete guide to hassle avoidance
Touring and playing abroad is a proposition usually treated in a cavalier fashion by British bands. The myth of the Beatles still persists: like prophets, bands are seldom without honour, save in their own country, and easy and immediate riches in Europe are both a sure thing and the first step towards success for a British band.
If it ever did happen like that, it doesn't now. With the decline of Sterling and the rise of the Deutschmark, Franc, and Guilder even travelling in Europe is no longer the relative lark it once was.
It's more a business than ever, and playing dates or engagements in Europe now demands attention — to balance sheets, schedules, contracts, and a hundred details that can mean the difference between profit and loss.
Europe is still a lucrative place to play, all that's changed is the standard — if you want to make money, or break even, it will require some care and attention.
With five major festivals (Turku in Finland, Roskil in Denmark, Mannheim in Germany, Pink Pop in Holland and the jazz Bilzen in Belgium), hundreds of summer concerts and countless engagements and club dates to fill, scores of British bands will be going to Europe, and a good number of British bands will also be hitting the U.S. for the first time.
IM have contacted a number of people in the business who are professionals: their very livelihood depends on playing and arranging gigs on the continent and in the States, and then seeing they're carried out, at every stage.
This is intended as a guide to all IM readers who may have been to Europe or North America a dozen times, and to those who are going for the first time. Most of what is repeated is worth repeating... and what's not needs no explanation at all.
Advising people on personal preparation for a foreign tour can come dangerously close to an insult. So many of the precautions necessary are obvious, and at the same time so basically vital, that they are worth restating briefly, even at the risk of insult. Passports and visas must be in order, injections, vaccinations and inoculations have to be certified (depending of course on what countries you're going to), cases and personal belongings have to be packed and checked, driving licenses in order, and all the arrangements for keeping up your home — cheques for the rent, H.P., stopping the papers and milk, leaving a forwarding address where you can be contacted in an emergency — have to be seen to, the same as they must be for anyone going abroad for a month or more.
Jon Camp, the bass player in Renaissance, mentioned these and a number of others. "As far as my equipment goes," he told IM, "I make sure that my basses (two Rickenbackers — a standard and a fretless model) are cleaned, the electrics seen to, and that they're restrung. I also put new batteries in the effects pedals, and check to see that I have new leads. The majority of the technical things I leave up to the roadies."
Jon agreed that it is most important to do anything that can be done before leaving. Nicky Sholem of Renaissance's road crew agreed. "It's not so much that you can't get replacements in Europe — it's just that you don't usually know where or how to get them. Sometimes a promoter does if it's a replacement from a big international manufacturer like Yamaha, a local outlet can be helpful."
But usually, if the amplifiers, P.A., bins, horns, mikes, mixer and whatever else have been checked carefully before going, it's obvious but good advice to carry a collection of spare fuses, valves, light bulbs — and even amps, if you have them. Plectrums, spare sets of strings, drumsticks, and nuts and bolts are likely to come in hand. Basically, though, personal preparation isn't much different from the sort necessary for any long tour in this country. The main difficulties are those imposed by foreign governments and standards, and the strain of living in a foreign country.
Stories about infamous agents rank alongside the countless stories of management, promoters and the other "villains" of the music world.
Some of them are justified, and some are not. To separate the good from the bad, you have to have some idea of what an agent can reasonably be expected to do for you. This is never more true in a foreign tour — where the distances, and necessarily, the disappointments, are greater.
It's an expensive proposition to set up a tour or a series of club dates on the continent. You are paying for the agent's contacts, experience and knowledge, as well as his telephone bills. Agents can be expected to contact European promoters, find dates and venues, and see that the contracts are exchanged. If he wants to stay in the business for very long, he has to satisfy everyone.
Cyril Van Den Hemel is a European agent for British Talent Management. "Most agents," he told IM, "are constantly wheeling and dealing. 'I'll get you so and so if you'll take so and so in return, and help me book so and so', that sort of thing." This of course leads to a lot of bad deals for bands, but good agents are working for both parties.
"I see my job as booking venues, buying ads and posters and generally representing the management in Europe. I know almost all of the promoters I deal with personally, and I know most of the venues as well. If the venue is not right, too small a stage or electrically inadequate then I don't accept it."
Cyril also looks after the exchange of contracts (which, he recommends should be undertaken in English law), sees that the money is there (usually 50% up front), and tries to make it clear to both parties who is paying for what.
In return, there are some things that an agent must expect from a band. "Flexibility is the main thing," he continued. "Sometimes there is no way I can avoid having a last minute change of venue. In a case like that, you can only hope that a band will agree."
The Musician's Union should always be consulted before undertaking engagements abroad. Jack Stoddart of the National Office recommends that members submit contracts to the union before they are signed. "We can't enforce our minimum rates abroad, but we can advise our members if the amount is inadequate." Ideally, if it's an engagement, you should try to see that adequate and decent accommodation is included in the contract, and the union will so advise its members. "We are always willing to listen to a member's problems, and to approve and advise them on contracts."
It is in going to the States that the Union's power is brought fully to bear. The Musician's Union here and the American Federation of Musicians operate a clearing house for their members.
Basically, a promoter who wants to bring over an American band must satisfy the Musicians Union here that an equal number of "man days" will be allowed for British bands in the States. If an American four-piece band were to come over here to play ten dates, the promoter would also have to agree to arrange 40 man days of work for British Musicians in the States within a reasonable amount of time. So either one forty-piece orchestra, playing a single American date, or a solo artiste doing 40 dates, or some combination equalling 40 "man days", would have to be arranged.
If that can be agreed to, then the Unions will make a favourable recommendation to either the Department of Employment in this country, or to the Department of Labour in the U.S. Refusals by either ministry after a favourable union recommendation are rare, except in the obvious case of arrests for drugs or political activity. The only possible hitch is if you're not a member of the union.
The most complicated aspect of touring for most groups, whether in Europe or the States, is the Carnet. Groups have landed in European ports and been sent back or charged hundreds of pounds worth of duty for their instruments and equipment simply because they lack these vital documents.
Carnets are issued by the Chambers of Commerce of countries subscribing to an International Convention, which includes the U.S., Canada, all the Scandanavian, and Iberian Countries. They are acting in this capacity more or less directly as an agent of their governments. The British head office is at (Contact Details), but carnets are available from the Chamber of Commerce in most major cities.
The function of the carnet is to prevent the avoidance of customs duties of goods brought into the country temporarily, but it also prevents you from paying duty on your gear every time you cross a border.
The first step is to fill out the official application form, provided by the Chamber of Commerce and to pay the issuing fee of £15. The form is an acceptance of liability for the duty on any goods which you take into a country and don't bring out with you, and a liability to repay the Chamber of Commerce for any costs they incur which result from claims made by foreign customs authorities.
Once that's done, the problem of security arises. You must leave an amount — in cash, banker's draft, or a guarantee from a bank or insurance company — equal to the sum of the payable duty and taxes on all the goods you bring in, plus an additional 10%. This is returnable when you return your carnet, provided it's been completed properly.
The third step is to fill out the carnet forms. You will receive a green cover, a pair of yellow forms — one for leaving Britain and the other for returning through British customs — a pair of white forms for every country you pass in and out of during the tour, and a pair of blue forms for every country you'll be crossing in transit, which effectively means every country you're playing in as well.
The front of these forms are fairly straightforward — it's the back that causes the difficulties. You MUST literally fill in the trade description, serial number or identifying mark, number, weight, value and country of origin of every piece of equipment you take with you on the back of each form (this does not at present include your vehicle, unless it is a mobile studio or other vehicle necessary to your profession).
In addition, the equipment you take which is manufactured outside the U.K. requires a statement on your part that U.K. Customs Duty has been paid.
It is absolutely imperative to make sure that every thing is included on this list, because if a foreign customs officer makes an inspection and finds something not on the carnet, he can make you pay the duty on it. Disposable items such as cleaning materials, and — perhaps arguably — spare fuses, plectrums, light bulbs and the like may not have to be listed, particularly if their value is clearly minimal. But it's not enough to list "Tool Box and tools", as one band found out recently. You must itemise everything substantial if you want to pass through customs quickly, cheaply, and have your deposit returned when you get back.
Once you've got the list together and the carnet is issued, you can't amend the list without facing charges for the duty on the additional items.
Because you must have a set of forms for every country you're passing through, you have to notify the Chamber of Commerce of your itinerary. Thus, you should give the completed green, yellow, white and blue forms, the application form, the issuing fee of £15 and the cash, banker's draft or bank or insurance company's guarantee for the security to the carnet office. It takes AT LEAST 24 hours for them to validate your documents.
When you do receive the validated carnet, sign the cover. If you have the time, British Customs inspectors will come to you and carry out an inspection, but given the schedules most bands work under, it's more likely that they'll check you out at your port of departure. Once that's done, they tear off the relevant form (in this case, the yellow exportation form) and leave you with a counterfoil. YOU MUST make sure they sign and stamp the appropriate counterfoil at each border to facilitate your exit at the next border. If a counterfoil isn't stamped, they can hold you at the next border and make a claim for duty. It may mean a delay in the return of your deposit or security, a reduction of it for duty and administrative costs, and an additional fee.
Customs men can be awkward and it usually helps if you're pleasant, help them in every way possible, and show some kind of respect. But do make sure that they sign and stamp the counterfoils.
If you follow the rules, you shouldn't have any trouble. In theory they can make you empty your gear onto the pavement and go through it piece by piece as you enter France, again as you exit, before you enter Germany, and as you exit, and so on but that is rare.
Most of the time, they will just examine the carnet, perhaps open the rear of the lorry or van, and then stamp and sign you on your way.
But obviously, there are a few warnings that must be made. On the whole, British customs are pretty good when you go and when you return from Europe, and also when you go to the States. It's when you come back from the States that you run into trouble. Because of the reputation of American amps, cabinets, instruments and equipment, the Customs Inspectors are careful to inspect what you do bring back, so it's a good idea not to try and pull a fast one on them — it can result in a fine and/or imprisonment, on top of the duty and tax.
If anyone is going to be using your carnet — a roadie or freight company, for example — you must remember to put their names on it, by sending a letter to the Chamber of Commerce on your headed paper (be it management, agency, or record company) and specifying who they are, the carnet number and your signature. It's also worth remembering that, if any claims are going to be made by foreign customs offices, they have 31 months to do it in. Your deposit may be in jeopardy for that period, so you want to make sure anyone who uses your carnet can be trusted and, if not, subsequently located.
Not every border crossing has the facilities to clear your carnet, so you'll have to check that out before you plan your final route. It's also worth remembering that your carnet is valid for a year — after that time, you can be charged duty at whatever border you exit from.
If any piece of equipment on the carnet is lost or stolen, you can be liable for the duty on it. The safest thing to do is to report it immediately to the police, but even that may not prevent your paying the duty. In a recent case in Italy (so the Carnet office informed IM), the owner of a racing car which was completely destroyed in a race was, after 31 months of wrangling, finally, charged to pay duty on the car — as scrap metal. For this reason, the Carnet Office at the Chamber of Commerce recommend that you insure all your instruments, equipment — everything on the carnet — and the deposit as well.
When you return to Britain, the prompt return of your signed, stamped counterfoils will be compared with the various customs officers returned forms. When they are all complete, provided there aren't any discrepancies, you get your money back.
Because the customs may check your van or lorry over, you should politely refuse to haul equipment for any other band who's on the tour with you, unless your given their carnet and the authorisation to use it. It may cause an embarrassed silence, but that's better than a law suit or £30 knocked off your security deposit.
If you're not flying, the British Rail Sealink car ferry system is by far the best alternative. The routes are varied and numerous enough to save valuable time in unnecessary border crossings. The routes include: Harwich-Hook, Dover to Ostend, Calais or Boulogne, Folkstone-Dunkerque, Newhaven-Dieppe, and Weybridge-Cherbourg (for enquiries or reservations regarding the Harwich sailings, ring (Contact Details); for the other services, ring (Contact Details)).
The vehicle restrictions on Sealink Ferries are reasonable and few. If your vehicle is over seven feet in height, you have to declare it in advance — apart from that, the length is almost unlimited, although obviously the longer the vehicle, the more you pay. You also have to pay additionally for the driver and each passenger.
During the high season (June-July), there are as many as 15 sailings a day on the popular Dover-Calais route, from 6.00-23.50, while during the slack period (January-February) there are at least seven.
In the course of our enquiries, a number of people suggested that it was "almost impossible" to get on a ferry during the high season, but Sealink's information office denied that. They did mention that Friday nights and Saturdays in July were difficult on certain routes, particularly the Dover-Calais crossing, but that during the middle of the week there was usually adequate space. Bookings can be made through the travel agents or at the Sealink offices in Victoria (for the South coast crossings) or Liverpool Street offices (for the Harwich crossings). Sealink recommend that you check in at least 45 minutes before your crossing, which allows for passing through immigration and customs. But if you've got a lot of equipment with you, you might try to give yourself as much extra time as possible — if not when you're leaving, certainly when you're coming back.
"Bands are often coming to us and saying 'Can you get us some club dates in Germany and a residency in Spain'," says Dick Jordan of British Talent Management. "It just doesn't happen like that. The money in Germany sounds good, but people just don't realise that you have to just about double the price on everything in Germany. A cup of tea is nearly ten bob. More bands have broken up as a result of bad European tours than anything else."
Petrol prices are more expensive in every European country — usually by as much as much as 10 or 15%, and prices in every country with the exception of Spain and Italy will be markedly higher than in Britain. The amount you pay will often be a function of your inability to speak the language. Still, the work and money is there. Mal Linwood-Ross is a professional tour manager, working for bands like Renaissance and Caravan. His job begins after the dates are fixed. "Basically, I have to see that everything comes together. Transport, hired equipment, hotels, ferries, schedules... everything."
Mal advises that whatever can be hired in this country should be hired, both for reasons of economy and also quality. You can't always count on European promoters to supply what you ask for, and it's time consuming and usually abortive to try and hire a P.A. or lighting system on the continent.
"Perhaps the most important thing to get straight before leaving," Mal told IM, "is who's paying for what. Things like allowances, roadies' floats and wages, additional equipment and hotel bills may be split up between the group, management, agent and record company, and sometimes the promoter is liable for some things, like providing transportation to Radio or T.V. appearances. It saves a lot of hassles if it's clear before you get there."
Some of the biggest disappointments come from bands who go abroad and expect their record companies to arrange things for them. Unless there's a product released to accompany your tour, most record companies won't bother to do much — they don't invest money unless there is a prospect of getting a reasonable return. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are few. Most of the work for a band without a product release will be done by a combination of management, agent, tour manager, roadies, and the band themselves. The order depends on how organised you are.
Dick Jordan of BTM: "Keeping on schedule is vital in Europe. If you miss a gig, the promoter often has the right to impound your equipment. When a band has been touring for a while, it may be that all their profit comes from one or two dates. Miss those, and you'll be lucky to break even. You also miss the exposure, and you can get yourself a bad name with promoters and audiences." ANYTHING which could lead to missed gigs or costly delays and can be prepared for at home should be seen to. The actual travelling is difficult — unless you're hiring trucks and drivers from reputable companies — and, not surprisingly, the Automobile Association can solve a lot of the difficulties on both sides of the Channel.
Membership entitles you to planned routes and maps, information on petrol prices, distances, inspections, customs and driving licences.
While conventional insurance policies are probably the best bet for bands with a lot of gear, the A.A.'s Five Star Insurance Policy does provide a useful service to anyone travelling in Europe. For a fee of £9.90, you can insure that if your car or van breaks down, it will be repaired and, if necessary, returned to Britain or wherever you are when the repairs are completed. The policy also insures that if the repairs take more than eight hours to complete, each passenger will be allowed a maximum of £100 for fares or the hiring of another vehicle. That could be invaluable.
There are hundreds of tricks of driving that are learned only by experience in driving — from slipstreaming to overtaking on the Autobahn. One thing which might save you some time is to pull off the main motorways just before coming to the border, and passing through customs on smaller roads, rejoining the motorway on the other side. You can usually count on at least a half-hour wait at the major border crossings. On the other hand, not all borders are open all day, or equipped to handle carnet inspections. Experience in the end is perhaps the only teacher.
For accommodation, there doesn't seem to be an alternative to a reputable travel agent, unless you have the time to write to the various Tourist Boards and phone for reservations — and in the end, it would probably cost more anyway.
Ironically, touring in the U.S. is usually a great deal easier than Europe. For all the size, there is only one border crossing, unless you're playing Canada as well. But partly because European touring is usually the first step, and partly because of the common language, America is usually a pushover. The only difficulties are getting equipment and people there and back cheaply and efficiently, and, as always, keeping on schedule.
Donal Gallagher, Rory Gallagher's brother, is also his tour manager. "The cost of flying stuff to the States is enormous — the last time we flew over, the freight charges were £1,300 to New York alone."
"In the U.S., you can either stipulate in a rider to your contract that the promoter must provide a P.A. system of a certain specification (and more or less get it), or hire more or less exactly what you want where you're playing."
"P.A.s and most equipment can be hired. Of course, if you're a support act, you'll be using the headliners P.A. anyway. If you're headlining, you can get the promoter to provide a set-up, but it's a good idea to ask for more than you want — ask for a 2,000 watt P.A. if you want 1,000 watts, for example."
For the equipment which you do have to carry across the Atlantic, Donal recommends flight cases, a worthwhile investment. "There are a couple of firms that make them, Silverline is the one we use. The cases are made lightly of fibreglass and foam, and they'll build them for you to order." They're expensive, but there are a couple of considerations that make it worthwhile: the cost of extensive repairs on the other side, and the minimal weight of the specially designed cases.
Besides the carnet (which is treated separately in this article), there are a number of other considerations and short cuts to consider when you're touring in the States.
If you're headlining, of course, you'll have a great deal of support from the record company, who'll take care of almost everything: hotels, trucks, limousines, meals, plane flights and connections — the works. But many support groups, who aren't established in the States and lack an American product release worth the record company's effort, will have to look after themselves.
On this side, it's advisable to get your carnet sorted out ten days or so before you're leaving. It goes without saying that you should make sure that you list everyone who is entitled to use the carnet. If you decide to turn the whole operation over to an air freight company, such as Rainbow Freight, they have to be specified on the carnet as well. (Rainbow Freight provide a specific service. If you drop all your equipment at their premises, they'll see it through to the other side. They are particularly useful if you're landing in New York, and then getting a connecting flight to another American city. Then all you have to do is land in, say, Cleveland, go to the Rainbow office, and collect your gear.)
Donal: "Once you've got the gear across the Atlantic, it's advisable to check everything in the presence of an airline or air freight official, and make sure that there is no damage. If there is, it's usually visible on the cases' exterior, so you don't have to take everything apart."
Once you're at the airport, you need transportation. There are a number of companies in the States that hire trucks, although from his own considerable experience, Donal Gallagher recommends Ryder and E Z Haul, while for vans or cars, Avis and Hertz are suitable. If you're travelling the long distances by air, you can book any of these by phone, to meet you on your arrival at the airport.
Hotels are neatly avoided by most bands, British and American, by the thousands of motels which dot the States. Of particular interest among their numbers are the Holiday Inns. Cheap, cheerful, and accustomed to the odd hours of the road, the Holiday Inns are everywhere. They do of course fluctuate in the services they offer, but most have swimming pools, and a few of the posher ones provide room service and a laundry service. Besides their relative inexpense, they offer the additional service of booking the next night's Holiday Inn for you, free of charge. There are a lot of jokes made about them, but they save bands lots of money.
As a support act, you're actual American organising can be a lot simpler. The headlining act may have some spare room in their transport for your equipment, and you certainly should be able to use their P.A. Usually, but not always, you'll be staying in the same accommodations as well, so that reduces the organising a bit.
Playing in Europe presents all kinds of difficulties. Apart from the problems of getting the equipment together, getting it across the Channel, and to the venue, there are plenty of problems left.
As a rule most of Europe, runs its electricity at 220 AC, but there are some potentially lethal exceptions. France is particularly notorious on this score — one band discovered not long ago, after their mixer blew up, that the hall was wired up for 240 volts DC. This is only one of the electrical difficulties Europe presents.
Plugging into the mains requires first of all a change in plugs, as the whole of the Continent (and the U.S., too, for that matter) functions on a bonded earth system — which means a two pin plug. You should only have to change the plugs on connections which will go directly into power outlets.
But before actually sticking it in, there are a few basic precautions, which can prevent a major tragedy. First of all, with a volt ohm meter, you can easily check to make sure that the voltage is alright. Voltage in countries like Spain, France, and even Belgium and Luxembourg can vary wildly, and a fluctuation of 10-15 volts can not only be dangerous, but will certainly send any electric keyboard soaring out of tune. If the voltage is fluctuating, there isn't much you can do, apart from carrying an expensive, heavy and bulky voltage regulator.
An additional advantage to a voltage ohm meter, offered by Nicky Sholem of Renaissance's lighting crew, is that you can check to make sure that the wiring is set up as it should be, thereby avoiding electrocution. If you take the red probe (live) and stick it in the live, and place the black across the neutral, it should ideally read 240 volts. After doing that, you should also do a quick check on the earth, by leaving the red probe across the live socket and put the black probe across the earth. Again, the reading should ideally by 240, which proves that earth is decent. You can then make one quick check, by putting the probes across the neutral and earth fittings, and the reading should be zero.
If there is a reading in this last step, and particularly if there was no reading between live and earth, it means that the wiring is reversed, or that there is no earth. In the former case, you should ask for the electrician to check it and make the necessary changes, for the simple reason that it is his job, and also because if you do it and something blows up, you'll get the blame.
Stories about electricity in Europe abound among road crews. Phil Bowdrie, Mud's road manager told IM that the electricity in Spanish venues is so bad that when you plug an instrument in, the lights dim.
All the roadies we spoke to advised people on tour to carry spares of everything, from fuses, flexs and valves to amplifiers, if possible. The difficulty is not so much in getting replacements as finding where to get them in a foreign city, on a tight schedule, and often at 9.00 p.m.
Touring in the U.S. is universally treated as a dream — usually because, by the time a band makes it there, the lean years are over. But it's also because the American's precautions are more in line with British standards. The only major difficulty, according to Donal Gallagher, is the 110 volt system which is standard in the U.S. "Most of the modern equipment built in this country has switches which allow for 110 volts as well. Some of the older stuff doesn't but it's easy and fairly cheap to get a transformer.
The only other difficulties are minor. As mentioned above, the Americans use the standard two pin plugs and the unexpected ones of language: the Americans have a few different words for the same thing. Valves are tubes, flexes are extension cords, mains are power and so on.
Feature by Carroll Moore
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