Article by courtesy of Phil Pickett - taken from "the works" - the magazine of the British Academy of composers and songwriters - issue 8 2001
night, Dresden, Germany
Phil Pickett sounds off about punitive German tax policy that is penalising visiting 'foreign' artists
I've just come off
stage to a rip-roaring encore from 15.000 fans of SAILOR, the
group I founded way back in 1973.
It may come as a surprise to some that loyal music fans literally in their tens of thousands (and not a zimmer-frame in sight - honest!) regularly flock to see SAILOR and a host of other UK bands from what is honoured and appreciated as the 'Golden Era' of classic pop and unique live entertainment.
A far cry indeed from the 'end of pier' mentality prevailing toward such shows on home ground. But fear not - I am not intending to use this prestigious organ to bemoan a commercial reality we all accept.
The fact is, as a writer and producer in an increasingly nervous industry, I still get an enormous kick out of performing live, allowing me out of my studio box to camp about on stage with my mates most weekends. Assembling at 'sparrow-fart am' for the red-eye to the Fatherland became a regular opportunity to export our wares and, in the process, earn valuable currency for ourselves, our country and our PRS.
Since the early days with SAILOR, then Culture Club, I always felt that playing live gives a huge boost to the delicate craft of songwriting, and in any event I am proud to represent a cultural phenomenon of which we as a nation are celebrated throughout the planet - and rightly so!
So far so good, but obviously as far as our EU neighbours the German Government were concerned (God bless 'em!) this party was just too good to be true, so they set about bursting a few of our pretty balloons.
Perceived as a cultural advantage of another EU member state - in particular UK musicians and writers - they decide to implement actions that many believe are at best a flagrant breach of both the letter and spirit of closer harmony and economic integration - and at worst, frankly illegal.
Authority unilaterally slapped on an extra 40 % on top of the already generous federal and local taxes - not only on the artists' fees but (wait for it!) on all flights, transport and even hotel costs of their UK visitors. 40 %. Not very neighbourly, that!
Dubbed the "foreign artist tax" (excuse me but didn't we join the EU to not be "foreign" anymore - level playing fields etc.?) it has become a nightmare for both German promoters and bands. You don't have to be Gordon Brown to realise that, whilst not exactly finishing us off, it has torpedoed the economic fundamentals of a thirving market previously in robust and rude health. Therefore, it must be eventually affect PRS income, the value of those timeless copyrights, and into the bargain deprives a huge and genuine market willing to pay good money to see and hear great UK music.
How can this not be viewed as anything other than a form of cultural discrimination, naked protectionism and clear restrain of trade of a small but successful minority? An ominous note, surely, on the ever-thickening wedge into income from music and the esteem and value of our works throughout the world.
Where I live in Oxford, many of our German friends are coming over in droves at present to build their BMWs - can you imagine the uproar if any other viable EU industry was interfered with this way? Why can't our Government protect a vital UK business as others do theirs?
Behind the mealy-mouthed rhetoric of Blair & Co. that is allowed to pass for debate on the EU, are, I believe, some vitally important issues which affect the future of our business as writers, performers and producers of music of which the above story is but one.
Will new Culture Minister Tessa Jowell or anyone out there who professes such high regard for our industry and its achievements therefore try to stem the relentless tide of the denigration of our musical heritage and livelihood? Or even the MU - come on guys, stop arguing amongst yourselves like the Torries, lobby a few people and get behind some real issues!
Now where's the bar? Fräulein - ein grosses Bier, bitte!