John Robb, a music journalist and the frontman of two bands, Goldblade and the Membranes, has teamed up with the Labour MP fro Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy (pictured) to lobby the Government for fair access to the USA for British musicians.
The pair are meeting with Culture Minister Ed Vaizey tomorrow (June 14th) to enlist the support of the Government in calling for a change to the US visa system, which has constrained the ability of UK musicians to travel and work in the USA.
“The special relationship between the UK and the USA has been the backbone of international post-war pop culture," said Robb. "The shared influences, pool of creativity and flow of ideas have been crucial to what is one of the biggest industries in the world.
“That flow is currently being hampered by the expensive and unworkable US visa situation for British bands. It’s a situation that is getting worse.”
The campaign is backed by organisations such as the Musicians’ Union, the Association of Independent Music (both of which will be represented at the meeting) and the Association of British Orchestras and has enjoyed extensive input from UK Music, UKTI and the Traffic Control Group, as well as individual record labels, management companies and musicians.
At the meeting, Robb and McCarthy will be asking the Minister to organise meetings between the interested parties from ther music industry with the likes of UK Trade & Investment, USCIS, the US Embassy, Traffic Control Group and Tamizdat (an agency which handles many of the visa applications).
“Since I first raised this issue in Parliament in March, I was surprised by the responses from right across the UK music industry," explained McCarthy. "They confirmed that this is a real difficulty for musicians and that it is becoming ever more critical.
“We hope the Government will speak up on behalf of British musicians to encourage the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the US Embassy to address this issue.”
“In the past few years the American visa situation has tightened up and become far more expensive till we have a situation where getting a British group into America can cost up to £2,700 – and that's not counting travel and accommodation expenses for bands outside London who have to travel for the 8 o’clock in the morning London American embassy interview," added Robb.
"The forms that have to be filled in are very difficult to understand and lots of the money has to be spent on an American agency processing the forms. There have been endless examples of British bands – some very high profile – having to reschedule or cancel tours in the last year. And if a visa application fails, they don't get any of the money back.
“American bands find it far cheaper and easier to travel and work in UK," he concluded. "What we need is a fairer and friendlier system that will break down the barriers, and let us do what we want to do, which is play music”.
The UK music industry generates over £6 billion per annum, provides more than 130,000 UK jobs, and contributes significantly to exports. In March, for the first time in 25 years, UK acts occupied all three top slots in the US album charts.