Paradise Lost

We’re just about to go back to Portugal. In fact, by the time this is published we will be there hopefully getting some nice weather and excellent wines.

It’s just over three years since we sold our Branch Office over there, and, with no knowledge of lockdown and the utter devastation we’ve all experienced, our sale seemed like a rather strange bit of timing. We walked away with very little except a few personal boxes; I left my piano, desks, beds, sofas and TV with the realisation that it was only stuff and we didn’t need them anymore.

Wondering for a short while if we’d made a terrible mistake, we returned to rent an apartment in a close by hotel. Three weeks later we were all living in a different universe.

The state of the world at that time was so devastating that the Brexit vote and results were strangely forgotten or put onto a back burner while we dealt with things that were more important on a day-to-day survival basis. But like any rot, the results of this stupid, meaningless and deceptive decision were eating away into so many of our lives. National pride, Land of Hope (?) and Glory and misplaced independence were seeping into the dialogue as we saw the virus take hold and allow conspiracy theories to abound as quickly as the vaccinations were administered.

Now, with the virus still in evidence but a general sense of “Let’s just get on with it”, we’re now starting to see the full impact of the ludicrous Brexit decision and how it’s impacting on so many of our lives.

It’s no longer the case simply to accept tours abroad for example. We are living with this Schengen Visa that only allows ninety days a year to cover visits, work or performances in Europe. I’ve been on single tours almost as long as that and I know that’s not unusual. Musicians have now been prevented from accepting any tours in Europe that collectively add up to over ninety days for one year. How unbelievably stupid and short-sighted.

Entire careers are being compromised and lost. In an industry that was already on its knees with streaming services wrecking songwriters and promoters asking musicians to do freebies for their ‘showreels’ or similar, we’re now in an impossible position where work literally has to be turned down because of some recklessly nationalistic vote that didn’t even get an accurate majority.

Topline’s existence was initially down to being able to travel and write. I had a small but perfectly formed studio at The Branch Office, where, between amazing beach walks and cycle rides, I would write ideas, themes, grooves and incidentals that I would finish once I returned home. It wasn’t a question thankfully of carefully choosing the time to go; we would simply book a cheap flight every few weeks and almost carry on as before. Laptop, hard drives and a few bits of software would be enough. And of course, when the ‘muse’ decided to take a break so did I with weather to boot!

Now we are left to regroup. With only ninety days to have available we would have been forced into rental territory, something we managed to avoid in all fourteen years. It was easier and much more pleasurable to offer the place out to friends for free.

I visited Slovenia late in 2022. Playing some concerts for Andrej Sifrer, one of our Topline contributors. It was a great trip and quicker getting there than driving to the outskirts of London. And yet, ten days has been deducted from my allowance to visit Europe with this next trip almost half of the allotted days being used up. And they call us Remoaners?
There are words that are tempting to use for the mindless voting and voters that went on six years ago but that doesn’t do any good.

And we wait for improvements and allowances to be granted that have to be better than where we are presently.

I quote part an open letter sent to The Musicians Union by Steve Barney, a drummer who has lost all his work due to Brexit: “I am apprehensive about the future as we no longer compete on an even playing field with our European Counterparts. We are no longer competing on quality; we are being undercut by necessity, if not convenience”.

Paradise lost indeed.