Freight expectations: Inside the sector’s busiest year
It’s an oft-used phrase in 2022 that the live music business is packing three years’ worth of activity into one year, as postponed festivals and tours from the pandemic period concertina alongside new tours and events around the planet. But, while there will undoubtedly be certain artists and outings that become casualties of the resulting vastly oversaturated marketplace, on paper, at least, the windfall for the likes of contractors and suppliers should help make up for some of the darker, revenue-free days that Covid inflicted.
In the freight and transport sector, the order books are full. Indeed, backlogs of requests remain seemingly permanently on reserve for those acts still scrambling to find solutions to get back out in front of their fans, while standard industry practices such as double drivers are all but non-existent for the foreseeable future such is the dearth of trained and skilled people.
“To be totally honest with you, everyone is working as hard as they ever have – but always with a smile on their faces, and no one is complaining,” reports Rock-it Global managing director Chris Palmer. “Because we had nearly two years without any kind of significant touring, everyone is just so hungry to get back to what we know and love best… 2022 is shaping up to be the busiest year I’ve known in over 20 years in the industry.”
“Everyone is working as hard as they ever have”
KB Event CEO Stuart McPherson comments, “We have everything from the biggest stadium tour on the road out right now (Ed Sheeran’s Mathematics) through arena tours such as Little Mix, Craig David, Stereophonics, etc, down to theatres with the likes of George Benson, Gregory Porter and many, many others. We are running from Malta to Finland with acts like Bring Me the Horizon, and we’re doing just about every festival on the circuit with various acts and production trucks over the summer.
“The volumes we are experiencing with re-scheduled tours and shows, coupled with new tours, festivals and events, are like nothing we have experienced in 30 years,” he continues. “This has been exacerbated by the challenges placed on the trucking industry by the TCA [Brexit deal]. The temporary dual registration easement agreed in March, with a planned permanent arrangement in the autumn, means that KB are able to service the European tours we are booked on.
“But the big challenge facing our sector is that there are now only five companies in the whole of the EU – KB being one of them – that are established and able to take advantage of the dual registration agreement to service tours throughout the UK and EU. This sees a huge demand for these services with a much-reduced resource pool to support the industry requirements.”
“The volumes [of events] we are experiencing are like nothing we have experienced in 30 years”
All too aware of the importance the sector has on delivering live music to the masses, Lisa Ryan, group CCO for EFM Global, comments, “Logistics is a hot topic at a much higher level than previously, due to the many ongoing challenges facing the industry, culminating in the perfect storm for everyone involved in touring.”
Detailing the various aspects contributing to that perfect storm, Ryan listed the main issues: ongoing global supply chain disruption (including port congestion and unreliable schedules), reduced space capacity on board flights and vessels, high fuel prices and unprecedented rate levels for international air and sea freight in particular.
Extremely high demand for ATA Carnets, short supply of trucks and drivers (particularly traditional music tour truckers) and shortage of “spare” aircraft available to the private charter market and resourcing, including staff.
“My advice is to plan to be late and over budget – in other words, don’t underestimate the budget or the length of time it may take to get from A to B to C on tour,” says Ryan. “Plan ahead, allow contingency, and keep last-minute changes to a minimum, where possible.”
“2022 is proving our busiest year to date after 40 years in operation”
It is sound advice that finds a sympathetic ear with Transam Trucking chief Mark Guterres. “2022 is proving our busiest year to date after 40 years in operation,” attests Guterres, who explains that his business experienced tremendous upheaval even before Covid reared its head, thanks to Brexit.
“Over three years ago we moved a large part of our European operations from the UK to [the Republic of Ireland] and the Netherlands, long before Brexit, so therefore our European operations have been running smoothly for some time now.” He adds, “Our biggest problems continue to be caused by the lack of preparation and planning by the UK authorities.”
Indeed, Guterres himself is now based in Auckland, New Zealand. “Here, I’m nearly a day ahead of the USA and therefore I can bridge the gap between our European offices and operating centres and our US-based customers,” he explains of his antipodean relocation.
New Kids on the Block
Of course, the coronavirus crisis radically changed the world as we know it, and in live entertainment, many companies folded, skilled people left the business entirely, while others used the moment as an opportunity to launch new enterprises to shake up and disrupt the marketplace.
In the freight game, one of the significant players to emerge from the pandemic is Freight Minds – a collection of vastly experienced individuals who initially set up a logistics company called SFW Logistics before morphing into the latest incarnation.
Based at London’s Heathrow Airport, Freight Minds got off the ground in August 2021 when industry veterans Alan Durrant, Geoff Knight, Matt Wright and Chris Jenkins began offering services including air passenger and cargo charter; warehousing and logistics; couriers; ATA Carnets; and Brexit-related customs clearance services both into and out of the UK via road.
“These companies are rapidly trying to recruit staff to plug the gap, but the pandemic hasn’t helped”
Addressing the current situation in freight, Wright tells IQ, “[Pre-Covid] we could reasonably rely on published ocean line schedules with the occasional hiccup. Now it seems to be the opposite: permanent hiccups with the occasional vessel running on time.
“There’s been a massive staff reduction in the supply chain since March 2020, and the way these companies communicate has now changed. The vast majority is now expected to be done via email, which isn’t always the easiest way to discuss matters. These companies are rapidly trying to recruit staff to plug the gap, but the pandemic hasn’t helped and Brexit has compounded that further.”
He adds, “Only operating as a new business, the work has hit us like a tidal wave, which has been amazing for Freight Minds, but it’s come with its challenges as we only have so many hours in the day to service our customers.”
One inescapable horror that is affecting companies across the transport and freight sector is Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has prompted fuel prices to soar and contributed to rising inflation. But there are other costs to contend with as well.
Noting the ever-increasing price of diesel and other fuels, KB Event’s McPherson tells IQ, “Tours and shows are booking so late at the moment that we are quoting pretty much at fuel rates as they sit. However, our drivers’ wages have increased by 46% since August 2021, and for anything we are quoting on that’s more than a few weeks away, we are having to put in contractual clauses to say that we will review the fuel costs prior to start up.”
While those staff wage rises are inevitably passed on to clients, McPherson is at pains to highlight that ongoing fuel cost reviews should lead to lower quotes at some point. “We are being very clear with clients on what fuel rate we are quoting at, and we’re being absolutely transparent that if fuel costs reduce when we are live, we will reduce our charges,” promises McPherson. “It is unreasonable to expect clients to cover fuel increases but not to offer a reduction when costs reduce.”
“Logistics costs, whether via air, road, rail or sea, have been soaring for months and are showing little sign of slowing down”
Elsewhere, Ryan notes that freight forwarding costs have also taken an unprecedented leap, meaning that fees for moving equipment from city to city, country to country and continent to continent have soared, post-pandemic. “Logistics costs, whether via air, road, rail or sea, have been soaring for months and are showing little sign of slowing down in the immediate
future,” states Ryan.
“Factors driving these price increases are ongoing global supply chain disruption, port congestion, reduced capacity in tandem with increased demand, staff shortages, high fuel prices and now rising inflation levels in many locations. Plus, the ever-present impact of Covid-19.”
While Ryan is reluctant to specify general ballpark figures, “as it varies dramatically on different routes,” she tells IQ that costs have at least doubled and significantly more in many cases. “I can tell you as an example that from the Far East to the UK, the sea freight rates around the time of the Tokyo Olympics had increased to more than five-times pre-pandemic levels,” she adds.
In tandem with many businesses forced to curtail normal operations during the pandemic, Rock-it Global’s senior management team used the downtime as wisely as possible in an effort to ensure the company was ready to hit the road running when the green light was finally given.
“We had the foresight to hire a good number of people at the back end of 2021 as we could foresee what was going to happen with the explosion of work,” says Palmer. “For me, it is incredibly important to protect the team we have, so we always want to have enough people to cope with the demand. I have an incredible team, from operations to business development to warehouse and transport – and they all manage their own parts of the business – and my job is to make sure that they all have the tools they need to make it all work.”
As the transport business involves a continuous programme of hefty investment, its protagonists, although unprepared for Covid, were nevertheless quick to adapt to the conditions imposed by governments around the world. Guterres notes that his company rolled out an extensive expansion project prior to the pandemic that is only now beginning to pay off.
“Shame on Great Britain as most of our trucks are now EU registered”
“Apart from our UK operations centre, we have Transam Trucking International Ltd based in Cork, Ireland; and Transam Trucking B.V. based near Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands,” he says, adding, “Shame on Great Britain as most of our trucks are now EU registered.”
KB’s McPherson reveals, “We have spent in excess of £3m [€3.5m] on additional trucks and trailers in the last three months to expand our fleet, but this resource has just been swallowed up, and we find ourselves, on a daily basis, having to turn tours and shows away, at the moment.
“KB are also actively employing management and administration staff and staff to bolster our front-line teams, and we are expanding our director team. We are on a very aggressive employment drive to broaden and train our driving team. But finding the quality of people we are looking for is proving a real challenge.”
Improving Working Conditions
The ability to recruit – and retain – staff has become a multifaceted task. The pandemic saw thousands of employees who were furloughed or made redundant find employment elsewhere, and rather than that work being viewed as a temporary solution, many people are opting to remain in new occupations that often involve more sociable hours and better working conditions.
That situation has upped the ante for HR and recruitment experts, while one key issue that Rock-it’s Palmer is keen to tackle is in improving welfare conditions for personnel. “Mental health is a very important subject for me as I have struggled a lot in the past, and I never felt I got the support I needed, so that is one thing I was very keen to change,” Palmer tells IQ.
“With this incredible tsunami of work comes challenges of keeping everyone in a good place mentally. A large part of that is making sure that we have enough people at the pumps so that we can all take a break when we need to,” he explains. “We continue to hire new starters and train them – and, importantly, we have retained all of the key staff that we supported through the pandemic so that we are now ready to deal with these challenges with a smile on our faces and a spring in our step.”
“The market itself just has to learn to circumnavigate the current challenges”
But it’s not all gloomy news on the recruitment front. EFM’s Ryan states, “From our perspective, we have been fortunate to have re-employed the key staff that we lost over the past few years, along with employing a number of excellent calibre new staff around the world. We took the time to invest in systems and training, which is now paying dividends, and we are currently opening three new overseas offices in Europe and the Middle East in response to demand from clients.”
Freight Minds is also expanding. “The next two years represent a huge opportunity for Freight Minds to show its wealth of in-house experience, which at the moment is up to around 150 years as we’ve just had Andy Lovell join us,” says Wright.
He adds, “The market itself just has to learn to circumnavigate the current challenges and continually learn to adapt to the new post-pandemic world and the challenges that Brexit has thrown our collective way. What was normal in 2019 is no longer normal.”
Pre-pandemic there was an accelerating drive by artists and others to improve sustainability across touring and live music, while diversity and equality were no longer being seen as buzz words but more essential elements of a 21st-century industry.
In the rush to get back on the road some of those concerns may not be as prevalent, but as the recovery transforms – hopefully – into a business-as-usual situation, they will undoubtedly start creeping back up the order in terms of priorities, meaning the transport sector needs to keep working on potential solutions to present to clients.
Looking ahead, Palmer predicts that once the crazy circumstances of the coming year subside, the core values that were coming to the fore pre-pandemic will once again become significant, industry-wide.
“I am certainly still being asked regularly by clients both old and new about our carbon offset programme that we have”
“A lot of our blue-chip-type clients are now asking us about our [environmental, social, and governance] policies as part of the vetting process before we even get to the quoting stage,” reveals Palmer. “I am certainly still being asked regularly by clients both old and new about our carbon offset programme that we have in place, so it’s clearly still a concern within the industry.
“I believe that after this initial rush of madness, we will get back to the points that matter for long-term sustainability in our business – looking after our planet and looking after our people.”
At Freight Minds, Wright notes that sustainability remains on the agenda, “But with the ever constant changing world of logistics due to carriers cancelling flights or ocean lines adjusting schedules, there is an element of constantly putting out fires just to try and get the equipment to the next show on time. With that being said, it’s still a very important subject and one that we can’t ignore,” says Wright.
For his part, McPherson is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of his company’s activities. “As KB was the first trucking company in the UK to get accreditation to BS8555 (Environmental Standard) back in 2007, it has been very high on our agenda for a long time,” he says.
“KB started pushing the use of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) as fuel, and looking at more sustainable routings”
“In 2019, KB took the fight to the market and started pushing the use of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) as fuel, and looking at more sustainable routings. One of our big corporate clients [was] the first to really buy into this with a 50+ artic show for Google in Barcelona. Sadly, very shortly after this event, the pandemic hit and the industry ground to a halt.
“During the pandemic, we continued to work on and develop our sustainability strategy and engage with the industry leaders to inform and advise. This included giving formal presentations to the TPG on sustainability in trucking. This has certainly been carried into live with some of our clients, with acts like Bring Me The Horizon and Enter Shikari buying into full HVO (non-palm-oil source) fuelled touring. The quest continues…”
Targeting Vertical Markets
Despite the current boom times, the experience of the pandemic has taught those working in live music’s transport and freight sector that the ability to be nimble and identify other business opportunities is a crucial skill to ensure corporate survival.
Indeed, Palmer reveals his company is looking at other areas to fulfil the company’s ambitions for future growth. “At Rock-it we are very realistic,” he says. “We have traditionally had maybe [about] 75% of the live music touring market, and we know that there are some truly excellent other freight companies out there. So we are looking for growth in other sectors where we can use our learned skills in other verticals such as TV and film, sports broadcast, e-sports, theatre and art, amongst other things.
“During the pandemic we pivoted in various directions – as did many of our compadres in transport and freight – and we have seen that there is a huge market for skilled freight forwarders in the ‘time-sensitive’ market in the aforementioned verticals. We are growing all the time, but we are also focused on the next ten, 15, 20 years, and we are not looking to capitalise on what is happening right now to make a quick buck – we are planning for the future so that we have a strong and skilled team and a varied client base.”
A Rosy Future
Having endured two catastrophic years, transport and freight operators are understandably happy to finally be back problem-solving the live music industry’s logistics nightmare.
“We have been inundated with truck and Carnet requests with the European Festival season in full swing, and we are handling one of the logistically biggest music tours this year, for Rammstein,” reports Ryan.
She muses, “The business had doubled year on year in 2019, and after the obvious downturn across the entire industry, we are now ahead of where we left off pre-Covid, thanks in part to the other areas in which we operate that came back to life considerably earlier than music and theatre touring – TV and film, exhibitions, hotels, aerospace and automotive, for instance.
McPherson warns that while 2022 might feel like a gold rush, expansion in the sector will involve some patient planning
“Now we are laser-focused on maintaining our high service levels for the customers, continuing our innovative ways of operating and investing in our people and their well-being.”
Wright comments, “The next two or three years will certainly be a challenge for all of us at Freight Minds but given our collective experience from years of doing what we do, we will be able to guide our existing and prospective clients through the new world that we all cohabitate.”
Rock-it’s Palmer is in a similarly optimistic state of mind. “In terms of our operations, we’re in a good place to be able to cope with the rush, and we are working in tandem with all sectors of our industry from booking agents to promoters to make sure that shows can go ahead despite the financial and operational challenges that we’re facing.”
However, McPherson warns that while 2022 might feel like a gold rush, expansion in the sector will involve some patient planning, and he believes that there could be another wave of mergers and acquisitions as the sector evolves in the post-pandemic period. “There is certainly the opportunity for strong organic growth at the moment, but we believe that the current demand is not representative of the medium- to long-term picture,” he tells IQ.
He concludes, “KB plans to continue to grow organically at a sustainable pace over the coming 24 months, but in reality, this is somewhat hampered by the availability of new equipment: truck and trailer lead times won’t see new kit that is ordered now on the road much before summer to autumn of 2023. To that end, we are seriously considering what options are available for acquisitional growth or strategic partnership.”
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The New Europeans: Live music’s Brexit exiles
When the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced on Christmas Eve 2020 that the UK had signed a free trade agreement, the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement), with the European Union, there was a collective sigh of relief across much of Britain. Four and a half tortuous years after the Brexit vote, the UK was finally out, and people on both sides of the new border could finally get on with their lives.
Well, sort of. That is, of course, unless you work in concert touring, in which case new requirements for visas (for people) and carnets (for goods) – as well as restrictions on cabotage (ie the right to transport goods and people within the EU and/or UK’s borders) for trucking companies – represented a less than ideal outcome for an industry built on decades of free movement across Europe.
In response, many UK-based firms, particularly hauliers affected by the new limits on cabotage in the European Union, are investing considerable sums to open new depots in mainland Europe or the Republic of Ireland.
In contrast to these ‘new Europeans’, many in the touring sector were “sleepwalking towards Brexit day,” according to Robert Hewett, founder and director of Stagetruck. “They were just completely indifferent to it,” he says, “thinking that we’d all just carry on as it was before. I would be saying to people, ‘Look, I don’t think you should assume that. This is how we make a living; it’s our livelihood…’”
However, with all touring still on hold because of the coronavirus, the impact of the TCA’s more restrictive provisions, particularly on cabotage, has yet to be felt fully, Hewett continues. “What happened with the pandemic when it hit is that it masked it [the Brexit question] for at least the next 12 months,” he says.
According to Stuart McPherson, managing director of KB Event, a ‘no-deal’ Brexit – repeatedly rejected as the worst possible outcome by most live music industry associations and professionals – would have been a better option for hauliers than the TCA signed by Johnson’s government and their counterparts in the EU.
“Bizarrely, for us that would have been a better outcome than the one we have,” he explains. “For rock’n’roll touring companies there was an exemption in place, from back in 1996, that allowed entertainment transport to move freely throughout the EU. That protocol was overwritten by the TCA, which came into law with the Brexit agreement and overrode the previous exemption we had under the ECMT [European Conference of Ministers of Transport] protocols. So for us, this is the worst possible outcome.”
A ‘no-deal’ Brexit would have been a better option for hauliers than the Trade and Cooperation Agreement
When the TCA was reached and the Brexit deal done, what we were left with was something that said we can no longer tour in Europe,” McPherson continues, “and so the only solution for that – as it sits right now and for the foreseeable future – is for us to open up a full European operating centre with a European operator’s licence, which gives us more freedom in terms of cabotage and interstate movements in Europe.”
As a result of that outcome, all the major UK-headquartered concert trucking and transport companies, which also include Stagetruck and Transam/EST (Edwin Shirley Trucking), are now based at least partially in the EU, or are considering a move, with offices in places like the Netherlands and Republic of Ireland serving as all-important hubs for continental operations.
Under the current rules, Transam/EST will have to make a choice: “Either to become Dutch or Irish, or a bit of both, or to stay in the UK – but I can’t see the latter happening,” says senior manager Ollie Kite. “We’re going to have to re-register all our trucks, or a lot of them, into the EU, and that costs money. So we want to be able to be ready to do that, but we’re delaying it as long as possible. Because until work starts to return, we’re a bit strapped for cash…”
McPherson estimates that the cost to KB Event to set up an office in Ireland – including the operations centre with parking for 60 trucks, an EU operator’s licence, and duplicate fleet insurance – is already up to £500,000 (€578,000), with European CPCs (certificates of professional competence) for KB’s drivers set to cost a further £100,000 (€116,000) – a considerable outlay for a sector that has had little revenue since March 2020.
Stagetruck, which already had an office near Veghel in the Netherlands, is similarly facing a bill of between £100,000 and £110,000 to send its drivers to the Irish republic to do an EU-certified driver CPC course, says Hewett.
“All the European countries, at this moment, are standing together and saying, ‘No, unless you come and take a driving test [in an EU member state] you cannot drive a European-registered truck,’” he comments. “That is the nightmare that we’re all facing at the moment.”
Kite says Transam/EST is also looking toward Ireland, to minimise the language barrier for the company’s UK drivers. “The nonsense of it is,” he adds, “is that they already know what they’re going to be taught, as the course and the exams are exactly the same as in England – just that you have to take them in Ireland or somewhere in the EU instead. Nothing’s actually changed.”
Currently, explains Kite, the UK allows EU drivers to drive British-registered trucks on an EU licence, “although they’re hinting that they won’t let that continue” should it not be reciprocated from the other side.
All the major UK-headquartered concert trucking and transport companies are now based at least partially in the EU, or are considering a move
Keep on truckin’
As Craig Stanley of Marshall Arts, who is the chair of the UK’s LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) Touring group, told IQ earlier this year, the cabotage issue – the lack of an exemption for concert hauliers under the TCA – is by far the biggest problem facing hauliers who haven’t already made the jump across the English Channel or Irish Sea. “Unlimited movement by UK-based concert hauliers will cease,” he said. “The biggest impact of the cabotage regulations is that non-EU-based haulage companies will only be allowed to have a load going into the EU and then two further movements before having to turn back to their place of registration. So, as it stands, to undertake EU tours it will be necessary to have EU-registered hauliers.”
The Road Haulage Association (RHA), the UK trade association for haulage and logistics operators, has called on Boris Johnson to secure an exemption, or ‘easement,’ from the current rules for UK-based entertainment hauliers to enable them to continue touring Europe. “If the UK events haulage industry is to have any chance of survival it needs an EU-wide easement so that trucks moving touring equipment can continue to make multiple stops across Europe,” says RHA chief executive Richard Burnett.
Unfortunately, on the British side at least, there remain fundamental misunderstandings about the role of concert hauliers and their needs in the post-Brexit landscape, says Kite. “We’ve been lobbying for change, we’re talking to the Department for Transport, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but they don’t really understand. They think it’s just going from A to B, dropping off a kit and then picking it up again. We’re struggling with trying to get them to understand that under the TCA we simply can’t tour like we used to.
“We’re inching forward – whereas before, under other rules, cultural tours and events were exempt from the cabotage rule.”
“There is a lack of understanding in government about transport,” agrees Hewett, “even more than the lack of understanding about the music industry. Every headline you ever saw was about fishing, but if you compare what the music industry brings in – what it brings to every local economy when a big band arrives – it’s a massive injection of income into local areas, and they seem to have bypassed it completely. It’s amazing.”
“There is a lack of understanding in government about transport – even more than the lack of understanding about the music industry”
It’s not just hauliers who have been forced to set up costly EU offices to continue trading after Brexit. London-based World Touring Exhibitions, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has been forced to slim down its UK office and set up shop in Rotterdam – a reflection of visa considerations and the other expensive barriers against both UK–EU and inter-EU travel for a non-EU company, founder Corrado Canonici tells IQ.
“It’s a shame, but it is necessary, as we can’t really bring UK people [to Europe] at the touch of a button, like we could before,” he says. “For example, we are about to open an exhibition in Germany – I can’t get my crew there unless I get them all visas, which would have taken an enormous amount of time and money, which makes no sense when you only need them to work five days. What sense does it make to get them a 30-day visa?”
For exhibitions coming into the EU, “we have to do all kinds of paperwork – ATA carnets, rule-of-origin papers – in addition to visas for the crew,” Canonici continues, “so we just thought, ‘How about we continue to be part of [the EU]?’ Europe is 27 countries and the UK is one. So [by opening an EU office] we have 27 countries that we can serve and tour without any problems.”
From a freedom of movement perspective, the political climate in the UK would never have allowed for permit-free travel between the UK and Europe, suggests Andy Corrigan of Viva La Visa. “Anything regarding immigration would have needed a degree of reciprocity: that if we [the UK] were saying we are going to have visa- free travel, the EU would have said, ‘Well, we want it to the UK,’ and the UK – the Home Office and Boris Johnson – would have said, ‘No way.’ Anything regarding Brexit that would have led to increased immigration into the UK, they’d have said no, because of how that would play out in the Daily Mail: ‘That’s not what we voted for…’”
While Corrigan believes the problems surrounding other aspects of post-Brexit touring “are soluble, it’s going to take a bit of time to make everything run smoothly. And anecdotally, things are not terribly well organised at the moment. We had a sound company went out [to the EU] on a carnet last week. I had to get them the emergency car and the two-hour special service, and they got to Folkestone and the guy there refused to stamp it. I don’t know why – he just said he couldn’t do it and moved them on. So they got to France and, because it was Ascension Day, customs was closed. There was nobody there.
“It’s one thing saying you need a carnet to take your goods over. But the actual practicalities of it – the system and the infrastructure – are not all together yet. And I think you will get more random decisions being made by border people asking for the wrong things and discriminating and asking for stuff they shouldn’t, and the same coming into the UK. Hopefully, it will smooth itself out.”
World Touring Exhibitions’ new reality was illustrated recently as the company prepared to put the aforementioned exhibition into Cologne. Canonici recalls: “All of a sudden we found out that if we were using a British company, it would have been a problem. We were told, ‘You can’t do that without a big, big cost.’ So, we used a Dutch company instead and immediately the shipper told us, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ We literally just signed one piece of paper and that was it.”
“When the pressure is coming from the other side of the Channel, that’s when things will change”
‘Make it work’
Despite this exodus of profitable business out of the UK, McPherson is of the opinion that there is little appetite on the British side for renegotiating the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, even on a bilateral basis (between the UK and individual EU member countries). “At the moment, it’s being made very clear that there is going to be no reengagement or renegotiating on the TCA,” he says. “To read into that, the message is: this is what you’ve got, and you’ve got to find a way to make it work.”
While KB Event and companies like it have already spent hundreds of thousands of euros on doing just that, McPherson remains concerned about what he sees as a fundamental lack of haulage capacity for tours in the pipeline – particularly given the number of shows that have been postponed to 2022 and beyond because of Covid-19 restrictions.
“When we get to 2022 and there are not enough trucks in the EU to be able to cover the tours, you’re going to have European promoters saying they cannot deliver their tours as they have no way of moving them because 85% of trucks for touring come out of the UK.”
Hewett emphasises the importance of also keeping the pressure on the government in the UK, warning that the entertainment haulage sector – especially those smaller British outfits that couldn’t afford to become ‘new Europeans’ – is facing wipe-out under current cabotage regulations. “We really need a concerted effort now, with the press, the music industry and everyone to come on board and push this issue because it could decimate this industry,” he says.
For Corrigan, there’s “too much at stake, economically and artistically,” for the UK and EU not to get back around the negotiating table to resolve the outstanding issues facing performers, crew and hauliers. “It’s going to happen. In the past, things have been overcome,” he says. “We used to tour Europe with carnets at every border, which was a nightmare. But today’s major touring is a much more business-like activity than it was 30 years ago, and think how much it would upset the accountants if the lighting truck didn’t make it to a gig because it got stuck at the Belgian border for 12 hours…”
In a scenario like the one mentioned, where promoters cannot deliver shows for which fans have bought tickets (and in many cases held onto them for a year or longer), “that’s when the pressure is going to change,” says McPherson, “from the UK trucking company shouting about the fact we can’t do what we do for a living anymore, to promoters in the EU shouting at their country’s government, saying, ‘You guys need to do something here. We can’t move our tours. Our revenue streams have dried up for us, and for our nation.’
“At that point, when the pressure is coming from the other side of the Channel, that’s when things will change.”
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Rock-it Cargo and Sound Moves join forces
Rock-it Cargo and Sound Moves, two of the leading providers of logistics to the global live touring industry, are coming together under a single corporate entity, Rock-it Global.
The US-based Rock-it Cargo and UK-based Sound Moves are both subsidiaries of Rock-it Cargo USA, backed by ATL Partners, which remains the sole private equity partner and the majority shareholder.
Rock-it Global will merge the office and vendor networks of both subsidiaries to offer a combined seven decades’ worth of expertise. The company plans to unveil new branding and a newly assembled leadership team in the spring.
“It’s time to get excited about the future, come together and be the best we can be, jump on all the pent-up energy and optimism of a new year, successful vaccines and the shared will of our client base to get back to business. Let’s get this show on the road,” says Duane Wood, president and CEO, Sound Moves.
Paul Martins, Rock-it Cargo, CEO and president, says: “This coming together is something long in the making. We devoted significant time and effort to bring this to fruition. “I’m also extremely pleased that Duane Wood, founder and CEO of Sound Moves is joining the executive team as chief strategy officer. His experience leading Sound Moves will be a remarkable asset to the new combined company as well as the entire group of companies under our umbrella.”
“When you’ve got the best operators in the world functioning in two different silos, you need to bring that power together”
“Same people, same phone numbers, same email addresses, same great experiences, it makes sense,” Martins continues. “When you’ve got the best operators in the world functioning in two different silos, you need to bring that power together to create an unbeatable organization that can provide tailored solutions for critical projects anywhere in the world, delivering for our customers the ultimate peace of mind.”
David Bernstein, non-executive chairman of the board of Rock-it Cargo Holdings, says: “We’ve reorganised Rock-it in a way that we believe will provide for the best customer experience and expertise available in global entertainment logistics.”
“The time our people have been off the road has allowed us to internally assess our strengths and ask how we could be stronger and more prepared when our clients signalled it would be time to get back out. This move positions us for what lies ahead.”
Sound Moves recently spoke to IQ about post-Brexit changes on the carnet system within Europe. Read the feature here.
The impact of the reintroduction of ATA Carnets, alongside new cabotage rules, will be discussed during the panel Trucking Hell! Is it really that bad? at this year’s ILMC Production Meeting on Tuesday 2 March.
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The Brexit deal: What we know so far
The live music industry has been left with many unanswered questions by the post-Brexit trade deal, which was agreed upon by the UK and the EU on Christmas Eve (24 December).
The deal, which was signed into law yesterday, takes effect at 11 pm GMT today (31 December) – four-and-a-half years after the UK voted to leave the EU in a referendum and almost a year after the UK officially left the EU.
While much of the impact on touring musicians and productions is still unclear, IQ spoke with specialists across concert hauliers, freight and visas, to identify the current state of play for the live music business.
According to Richard Burnett, CEO, Road Haulage Association, the biggest issue the new Free Trade Agreement presents to concert hauliers is restricted access to the market. This is due to reduced cabotage – a restriction of movements within a country.
Before Brexit, concert hauliers were not restricted in the number of times they could unload and load productions on a European tour. From tomorrow, trucks over 3.5 tonnes are limited to just three internal movements.
“So, a haulier could drop off a load in Paris, pick up a load in Paris, and then take it to Leon. And then the haulier would have to come home,” Burnett explains. The cabotage rules are also reciprocal; European trucks touring the UK would have equally limited movements.
From tomorrow, trucks over 3.5 tonnes are limited to just three internal movements
An estimated 85% of the European concert trucking business is based from the UK. Burnett says that currently, the only way those hauliers can continue to provide the same service they have for decades is by setting up a European operation which “costs a lot of money… hauliers have already had the worst year in their history due to Covid and are struggling enormously as it is.”
Seeking an exemption from the current rules, the Road Haulage Association and umbrella trade group LIVE is lobbying the UK Government to intervene and prevent large-scale European touring out of the UK from effectively being unable to resume in 2021.
The carnet system will once again apply within Europe, as it did prior to the UK’s membership of the EU, and in line with other non-EU international tours.
It will now be necessary for tours to obtain ATA Carnets for all equipment travelling outside of the UK on a temporary basis. And while the carnet process is well established, its reintroduction is expected to add friction and cost to European touring, with its impact felt more intensely by grassroots and emerging artists.
“Merchandise shipments and any other consumable items cannot be shipped on a carnet so they will probably have to enter the EU on a permanent basis and, whilst they should be duty-free, a local company in the European destination country will have to take responsibility for the VAT due on the import,” says John Corr at Sound Moves.
While the carnet process is well established, its reintroduction is expected to add friction and cost to European touring
In terms of logistics, Corr points out that the new deal will require all trucks of 7.5 tonnes and above to have submitted customs clearance details and obtained a Kent Access Permit to be allowed to enter the county, to then make use of one of the document processing facilities and be allowed to board and cross.
His colleague, Martin Corr, stresses the inevitable delays tours will suffer while everyone gets used to the new customs procedures and processes.
“In the long term, promoters, managers and productions managers will have to budget for extra costs in relation to raising and bonding carnets. At the same time, itineraries will need to be carefully scrutinised to allow for the extra time and potential delays whilst carnets and other documents – including those for the truck and the drivers – are presented, approved, and customs and immigration release obtained,” he says.
For outbound immigration (UK to EU), visa requirements for touring musicians and crew will, in the future, be up to each individual country and enquiries are underway regarding immigration regulations applicable to each individual member state for outbound mobility from the UK.
A recent blog post by immigration specialists Viva La Visa states that, “The hoped-for provision for a dedicated clear permit free route for UK performers and their crews to operate in the EU was not there”. Industry associations are subsequently pressing for urgent clarification.
For inbound immigration, from tomorrow EU musicians (and entourages) will be coming into the UK through any of the existing three routes that apply to non-visa nationals: Certificates of Sponsorship (Tier 5), Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) and Permit Free Festivals.
Various petitions have been launched in relation to musicians working in the EU post-Brexit including ‘Seek Europe-wide Visa-free work permit for Touring professionals and Artists‘ which will be debated in Parliament after surpassing 100,000 signatures, and the Musicians’ Union’s ‘Musicians’ Passport’ campaign.
IQ will be updating readers as further details of the new Brexit deal are clarified…