Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Hell's teeth, now we're jailing Canadians for being singer-songwriters!

I can hardly believe this, but it appears the excellent Allison Crowe and her bandmates were jailed and deported for being...Canadian! What's going on? Allison's own story follows:

Allison Crowe and her Canadian bandmates, (guitarist Billie Woods and percussionist Laurent Boucher, reunited with their British-passport-carrying bassist Dave Baird), have now performed two sensational concerts in Germany - in the cities of Aachen and Munich. Following a national holiday weekend the tour carries on now to Frankfurt, Berlin, Prague and Vienna.

In the UK, where the Canadian musicians were barred from entry last month, national debate over new anti-terrorist/illegal immigration laws that target artists and academics visiting from non-EU countries continues to build. Concern is reflected in coverage from the northern tip of the British Isles, via such journals as The Northern Times and The Aberdeen Press & Journal, to the southern region, and such London-based newspapers as The Telegraph and The Observer/Guardian.

In a motion in Parliament that has gained cross-party support, Scottish National Party MSP Rob Gibson condemns the physical treatment of Crowe and her bandmates, and calls on the Home Office to rethink its approach “before it harms cultural links to Scotland and the wider UK”. Gibson's motion “asserts that visitors to Scotland during the Year of Homecoming deserve a civilised and warm welcome.”

The Scotsman reports that “John Thurso, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, added: 'The rule itself is an affront to the great British tradition of welcoming overseas artists and another example of this government's unyielding zeal for mindless regulation.” Thurso told Scotland's national newspaper: "Security is important, but throwing international performers into a lock-up and being rude to them should be no part of it."

On the English front, the issue was among the most discussed in this weekend's Observer/Guardian newspaper, in the wake of Henry Porter's column titled “Britain is not radical enough. That is why we're in trouble”, in which Porter says:

“We fondly think of ourselves as hospitable and open to new influences. But on the evidence of new laws that ban artists, musicians and academics from visiting Britain without certificates of sponsorship, we are not. When a Newfoundland-based singer Allison Crowe and two of her band members, Billie Woods and Laurent Boucher, arrived at Gatwick to tour Britain they were arrested, held in cells, photographed and fingerprinted and had their passports stamped 'Barred from Entry' before being returned to Canada. This shocking and disgraceful treatment - designed to exclude illegal immigrants and terrorists - seems fundamentally unBritish. The English National Opera and Southbank have both had problems bringing in foreign performers because of the stringent requirement for non-EU citizens to provide biometrics and photographs and submit to controls over their day-to-day activity while here.

Is this Britain? If so, the rational half of our brain has been overwhelmed by 'suspicion and parochialism', in the words of the staunchly sensible Manifesto Club, which has started a petition against the laws brought in by immigration minister Phil Woolas.”

The Visiting Artists and Academics Petition ~ found @ http://www.petitiononline.com/MCvisit/petition.html ~ was launched earlier this year by the UK civil liberties group, the Manifesto Club, with the endorsement of: renowned sculptor Antony Gormley; director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne; the artistic director of the Royal National Theatre Nicholas Hytner and dozens more concerned artists and educators.

Allison Crowe and her Canadian bandmates are simply among the most recent visitors to learn about the new rules. Others include Russian pianist, Grigory Sokolov, the world's greatest living classical pianist in the view of many critics, whose concerts have been cancelled after 18 years of him performing in the UK. Canadian journalist Leah McLaren recounts a 30 hour detention and deportation ordeal in her Globe and Mail column of May 16, 2009: 'CRUEL BRITANNIA: God may save the Queen, but what about the rest of us?'

Our approach to music is very much grassroots, community-oriented. We've learned that many people in this segment of the UK's cultural industries were neither consulted nor informed of the "Certificate of Sponsorship" laws. Of those that were, there's a range of opinion.

If there is any silver lining to our experience, it's the hope that we can, in some small measure, contribute to there being greater awareness, even reform, and, at least, some greater measure of reason and good judgement applied in the application of any rules.

Canada, it's clear, is not immune to today's culture of fear and aggression which envelopes “security” issues. Nor is our American neighbour. Allison Crowe and her fellow musicians are not terrorists nor are they illegal immigrants. They love people, and make music for them. From hereon, reports will be, once again, about rock and roll – circling back to the wisdom of George Harrison: “I don't like to be political. I like to be polite.”


norrie said...

What an absolute outrage!! It is too late for me to get my head round this properly i suspect....not a banned list just did not have a form filled in is that the gist of this? Is this a similar thing to the new performance form in London which is being used to "target" rap, hip-hop etc acts?

Not good.

Adrian said...

Dear Tom,

Thank you kindly for your mention and support of Allison. Sorry I didn't post sooner - it's been a little crazier than our typical tour season! (I serve as manager to Allison, and, now, her band.)

The troupe carried on (after crossing the Atlantic three times in four days) and enjoyed a very successful series of concert dates in continental Europe.

Since returning to Canada, Allison has been enjoying a rare break in Newfoundland's Gros Morne National Park. She'll be heartened to read your blog, as well ( :

Norm, it's hard to accurately explain the bureaucratic stupidity encountered in anything shorter than an essay. From my reading of the Immigration Act's relevant sections, Allison and her mates were unreasonably denied entry to the UK, and improperly deported. It's the new regime that views artists coming in for one or two shows the same as folks who plan to reside for 3 - 6 months. The well-established venues in Scotland and England where Allison was booked to perform are not on the Home Office's register. Despite our immediate cancellation of the concerts UKBA felt it a risk to let Allison et al in as visitors - and, there's more, but, yes, you get the gist.

On the plus side, Allison aims to record a new album this Summer/Fall. We'll be sure to send you a copy, Tom. I'll see if I can be inspired to do some bike-riding of my own this season.

thanks again, Ad

Adrian said...

p.s. This happy chapter can now be added to the story. Reforms to the immigration rules are to come into effect April 6, 2012.

These deliver on promises made by UK Immigration Minister Damian Green - who recently stated:"We do not want to be discouraging world-class performers from coming [to the UK]. I am aware that this has been a sore point for some time and we are taking action".

Details can be found @ Victory for Visiting Artists Campaign!

Our thanks, Tom, to you for your kind and public support when Allison and band were dealing with the wacky laws in 2009. I do hope Alley's Spiral album/CD reached you. And, most of all, may we have opportunity to share the music live in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, again, before long. Cheers!