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White Lies say Brexit-related gig cancellation is result of “appalling” system

"Border-free travel for artists around Europe is essential," says drummer Jack Lawrence Brown.

By Tom Skinner

White Lies press shot, 2022
White Lies, 2022 (Picture: Charles Cave)

White Lies have said that the Brexit-related cancellation of their recent show in Paris was a result of “an appallingly-run government system in the UK”.

The London band were due to kick off their lengthy 2022 European headline tour in the French capital last Thursday (April 7) in support of their sixth studio album, ‘As I Try Not to Fall Apart’, which came out in February.

However, White Lies were forced to pull the gig that morning after the truck carrying their instruments and equipment was “detained by Brexit legislation leaving England, along with countless other trucks”, as they told fans on social media.

“It’s heartbreaking to be here in this wonderful city, and unable to perform due to such a trivial issue,” the trio added in the statement, confirming that the first concert would be rescheduled. A new date is set to be announced soon.

Speaking to Rolling Stone UK as their European tour continued in Frankfurt, drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown explained: “These shows that we’re playing are often the first gigs that people have been to in two or three years now, and it’s an absolute nightmare for people who were looking forward to doing that show and finally seeing music again.

“To have it cancelled – through really no fault of their own and no fault of our own, either – is just [a result of], in my opinion, an appallingly run government system in the UK. I’m sure it’s not what the people who voted for Brexit imagined it would be.” 

The drummer said that another arena-filling band also had to cancel a gig in Paris “at very late notice” after encountering a similar issue. “They’re running a much bigger show than we are,” Lawrence-Brown told Rolling Stone UK. “They had several trucks, and I think almost all of them made it over but one truck didn’t.”

He went on to say that White Lies’ touring set-up is “quite compact”, though this doesn’t help them in navigating this “trickier time” musicians face post-Brexit. “Essentially if our truck doesn’t make it over, nothing can happen,” he said.

“We’ve done it long enough to have spent time, money and effort to be as prepared as we possibly could for touring post-COVID and post-Brexit. I think as a band we had done everything that could reasonably have been asked of us to make that show happen.”

Lawrence-Brown continued: “But despite all of the research and knowledge that we had about what it was gonna be like, it still fell foul of basically a really badly mismanaged situation for trucking companies and freight, in general, trying to get out of the UK.

“[It’s] just not the sort of shit you want to think about when you’re trying to put on a show. It’s not what being in a band is all about, and I feel for the numerous other acts that will – at certain points – come into these sort of troubles when they try to get their gear across the channel.”

White Lies, whose first album ‘To Lose My Life…’ was released in 2009, have been touring the EU since the early days of their career, and were able to do so, Lawrence-Brown said, “very easily with a splitter van full of our equipment”.

“There’s a lot of people that saw us in those early years who are now avid White Lies fans, and you need to be able to go out and grind a bit in Europe. And the cost of doing that as a new band and the logistics of it has just become a lot harder.”

Elaborating on his concerns over how Brexit will affect up-and-coming acts who are hoping to cut their teeth on the continent, the musician told Rolling Stone UK: “I think the great tragedy of Brexit – in terms of the arts and music – will be that a lot of the new acts just won’t have the finance to do a show in Europe.”

Lawrence-Brown also acknowledged that the “complex and daunting” documentation now required to travel across the EU could put some artists off playing there: “If you’re a new band [or] DIY, the thought of having to fill it out and get that stamped… it’s expensive and tricky.”

He continued: “A lot of bands will probably look at what’s required of them just to go and play to a couple of hundred people in the Netherlands or something and go, ‘Well, that’s not really worth my time’. But that would be a great shame.

“If you’re a new band and have the opportunity to get out to Europe and play those shows, it can be the making of your career.”

Last month, former minister David Frost admitted that the Brexit deal – which he helped negotiate – presented “a whole set of problems” for touring musicians and their crew. So what can be done to help?

“The ideal situation would be that all of the rules and regulations that have been implemented since Brexit – which make touring as a musician harder – should be relaxed again to the point that they’re similar to how it was previously,” Lawrence-Brown told Rolling Stone UK.

“Border-free travel for artists around Europe is essential.”

He added: “We go everywhere in Europe on a German tour bus because it’s much easier to cross borders in an EU-registered vehicle. And a lot of bus and truck companies have re-registered their vehicles in Europe anyway to prevent that from becoming an issue.

“If there was some way to group the musicians in with the equipment that they carry to put on their shows…” The drummer, however, acknowledged that this “would still be particularly unfair for all the truck drivers waiting to deliver their vital goods around Europe”.

“But the issue is that our truck basically can’t easily travel around the continent, or couldn’t get into the continent to do its job,” he explained.

“It feels to me that the main obstacle is getting people into Europe in the first place. When everything is easy you don’t really think about it at all. And for the last 12 years of touring around Europe, everything was particularly easy. You would never have to factor in for delays.

“Now, artists will invariably be having to cost and budget for sending people days ahead. And if you’re a small act, you just don’t have those margins to make that work. As we found with Paris, it’s not a smooth operation yet. It felt like a clusterfuck when we found out what was holding up our truck.

“Aside from anything else, it’s pretty horrendous for the truck drivers who have to sit in their vehicles for 30 hours with no services. It’s not right at all.”

In lieu of the cancelled opening show, White Lies invited their Parisian fans to join them for some “commiseration drinks” at the city’s BarOurcq bar. “That was good fun,” Lawrence-Brown told Rolling Stone UK of the impromptu get-together.

“The thing about our fanbase is that a lot of them are very dedicated and they use a lot of our shows around Europe as an opportunity to travel and go to new places,” he explained. “Probably about 75 per cent of [the crowd] would be Parisians and then there’ll be 25 per cent from other countries, and they’ll be staying in hotels.”

He added: “I think people appreciated the opportunity to come and at least have a night out. It was a nice experience for the ones who decided to join us, and quite a few did. It’s sort of the least you can do in that exact moment.

“Everyone’s been waiting for two years to go and see some live music – especially in Europe, where the relaxation of COVID rules has been quite a lot slower than in the UK.”

Lawrence-Brown also criticised the UK government’s treatment of the arts throughout the pandemic, referencing its widely-condemned suggestion that creatives should retrain and find new jobs: “It’s a good way to make creative and talented people feel particularly undervalued.”

He added: “I think the very least that should be happening – from a government perspective, in terms of looking after the arts – is making sure that now shows can happen, [it’s] making it as easy as possible for every show that a band books to take place. That’s certainly not yet the case.

“I hold out some hope that enough pressure will be put on the government to sort it out at Dover. Aside from stuck musicians, there’s like – by the sounds of it – miles and miles of trucks full of fresh meat that are sat there as well. It’s a problem that needs to be sorted sooner than later.”

The musician said he hopes the recent cancellation will be “a one-off”, but told Rolling Stone UK that White Lies were already “reassessing” how to approach their planned festival shows in Europe this summer.

“We’re gonna send our gear ahead with a freight company weeks in advance,” he explained. “It’s just because we don’t want to be running that risk again of having to pull out.”

He went on: “Aside from it being very fun to go and play the festivals of Europe, it’s a financial hit that we just can’t be taking. If a band that’s been established for 12 or 13 years can’t afford to be taking those hits, there’s absolutely zero chance that a brand new band on their first album can take those sorts of financial hits. That’s the risk, isn’t it?

“I think the real disaster will be if exciting, talented, smaller UK-based artists decide that it’s not worth their time. That’s gonna be the worst thing to come out of all of it.”

Despite the brief setback, Lawrence-Brown told Rolling Stone UK that White Lies’ current European tour has been a “joyous” experience overall. “In Belgium, people were just delighted to be out and it was pretty wild,” he said.

The group have noticed a more “cautious approach” in Germany post-COVID, however, which has resulted in a “knock-on” effect on ticket sales.

“In Belgium, the Netherlands and places like this, all of the venues are basically government subsidised and everyone has a lovely day basically,” Lawrence-Brown said. “Everything’s set out right here, and in that respect, it’s been very nice to come and play these shows.

“It feels like venues in particular are treated with a lot more respect. It’s been an enjoyable tour so far, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Rolling Stone UK has contacted the government for comment.

White Lies return to the UK this August for performances at the Bingley Weekender in Bradford and Victorious Festival in Portsmouth – find the full schedule and ticket details here