eGates at UK Airports, and how they affect Tier 5 entertainers and sportspeople coming into the UK on a CoS

London’s Heathrow and Gatwick Airports have a new entry system at Arrivals (Passport Control) – electronic gates (eGates), unmanned, to speed up the arrivals queue for nationals from EU countries and from seven additional countries arriving into the UK. I’m not sure whether there are eGates at Manchester, Birmingham and Stanstead yet, but if there are not now, there might be in the near future.

From the government website:

The UK Government has expanded the use of eGates at Heathrow to nationals of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States of America. the majority of nationals from these seven countries will be eligible to use eGates and won’t need to complete a landing card.

Automated eGates offer an alternative to conventional passport checks.

Biometric passport chip logo

Simply scan your e-passport at the barrier. The system runs a face-recognition check against the chip in your passport, then if you’re eligible to enter the UK the gate opens automatically – all in a matter of seconds.

For everyone who has ever stood in line for an hour at the airport to show their passport to an immigration officer, this is great news, however there has been some confusion, which has caused problems for people holding Tier 5 Certificates of Sponsorship, i.e. entertainers and sportspeople from the aforementioned ‘new’ countries. If you go through the eGates, you won’t have your passport stamped and your Certificate of Sponsorship activated, so even though you’ve done everything right up to that point, without your CoS being activated, you still are not legal to work in the UK.

All Tier 5 CoS holders MUST go through one of the manned gates and – whether the Border Force officer asks or not – you MUST declare that you are coming in to the UK to work and that you have a Certificate of Sponsorship. Unless you do that, your CoS will show up as UNUSED on the government databse (the Sponsor Management System) and you will not be legal to work in the UK.

The expansion of the eGate system is new, and initially there was no signage to direct CoS holders appropriately. Not only that, but airport staff were incorrectly pushing everyone from the seven ‘new’ countries to the eGates. Now apparently there is signage to direct CoS holders to the manned gates, but it’s not as clear as it might be. If you are a CoS holder it’s your responsibility to make sure you go through a manned gate and SHOW YOUR CoS to the Border Force officer and get your correct passport stamp. If airport staff try to direct you to the unmanned gate, make sure you tell them you have a Tier 5 CoS.

You have been warned!

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Ireland is Different. Notes for non EU performers entering the UK via the Irish Republic.

You might be aware that (as of 2018) there were problems for non EU performers trying to enter the UK via the Irish Republic on a Certificate of Sponsorship. Yes? No? Can’t remember? Go and read here, I’ll wait.

Just as a reminder: a non-visa national can enter the UK to work in Tier 5 (Entertainment/Sports) occupations on a Certificate of Sponsorship, without having to convert it into a full visa. Non visa nationals are people from countries like Canada, Australia, Japan, the USA – i.e. those countries outside the EU whose citizens can come to the UK for tourism without getting a visa first.

That problem of entry through Ireland on a CoS (without a full visa) has now been solved (sort of) by a bodge from UKVI. Non-visa nationals can now enter the UK from the Irish Republic providing that they fill in an Entry Clearance form and send it to the UKVI at least three days before their entry to the UK. This will then be returned to them, stamped. They keep this form with their passport and are then perfectly legal to come into the UK to perform without getting any further arrival stamps in their passports when they get to the UK.

The form is downloadable here Entry Clearance through Ireland.

And there’s an explanation here.

Just one small word of warning. If you are transiting through Ireland (i.e. simply changing planes) the above is fine. Just make sure you have your Certificate of Sponsorship and your stamped Entry Clearance form before you travel.

If, however, you are stopping off to spend some time in Ireland before travelling onward to the UK to play gigs, you will need to have your CoS and Entry Clearance form before you land in Ireland. Yes, theoretically, you don’t actually need your CoS until it’s time to enter the UK, but the immigration folks at Dublin airport will want to see your UK CoS (and possibly your Entry Clearance form) before allowing you to land in Ireland. If you are only spending a few days in Ireland before travelling to the UK this is probably not a problem, but if you are spending a significant length of time in Ireland before travelling, you might be forgiven for thinking you have time to get your CoS and Entry Clearance in place while you are in Ireland.

Warning! You don’t. Without a CoS for the UK, they can deny you entry to the Irish Republic, and send you back to wherever you came from on the next flight.

Make sure that whoever is issuing your CoS in the UK knows a) that you are coming in via the Irish Republic, and b) that you need your CoS at least three days in advance of your flight into the Irish Republic in time for you to send off the entry clearance form.

If you’ve travelled in via the Irish Republic before, and simply had your passport stamped in Ireland, with no further questions or red tape, be aware that this has changed. Don’t think that because you’ve done it before, you can do it again.

I had a close call this morning (30th May) because a performer was supposed to be coming into the UK on 6th June. I knew the performer was coming in through Ireland. I didn’t know the performer was arriving in Ireland a week earlier than the UK entry date. The performer had only sent application details to me a few days earlier, and with an entry date of 6th June, I thought we had plenty of time… We didn’t. Luckily the Irish immigration officer called me from the airport on the performer’s behalf, and I was able to provide the paperwork by return email.

Entry through Ireland has all been made infinitely more complicated by Brexit, of course, and once Brexit happens, all bets are off. Watch this space… Things are going to change…


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Little known UK legislation from 1972 is causing problems for non-EU performers coming to the UK via Dublin, Ireland.

Steve Richard from T&S Immigration Services Ltd alerted me to a worrying new turn of events for non-visa national performers routing their UK entry via Ireland (Irish Republic, that is.)

There’s an outdated piece of immigration legislation – The Control of Entry Through Ireland Order 1972 – which prohibits anyone from outside the EU coming to work in the UK from Ireland unless they have a full visa. This affects all categories of immigrants to the UK, but for the purposes of this piece I’m concentrating on Tier 5 Entertainers and Sportspeople.

Let me first explain the difference between non-visa nationals and visa nationals because this is the crux of this particular matter. I stress that people from EU countries are not affected.

VISA NATIONALS are people from countries whose citizens are required to have a visa before travelling to the UK for any reason whatsoever (including tourism). These countries include the African countries, most of the South American ones, Russia, India, Pakistan, and, in fact, most Asian countries (except, surprisingly Taiwan). All of the people from these and a long list of countries need a visa to come to the UK. They are VISA NATIONALS

You can find a list of Visa National countries here:

NON-VISA NATIONALS are from countries whose citizens are allowed into the UK visa-free for the purposes of tourism ONLY. (Countries like Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Japan, Taiwan etc.) They do, however, need paperwork in order to come here to work. Non-visa Nationals can come into the UK to perform on a Tier 5 Certificate of Sponsorship for a period of up to three months without the need to convert their CoS to a visa (now called ENTRY CLEARANCE). If they are coming in for more than three months then they do need a visa.

You can check if you need a visa to travel to the UK here:

OK, got that?

So non-visa nationals coming to the UK to perform under Tier 5 rules for less than 3 months do not need anything more than a certificate of Sponsorship.


If they are routing through the Irish Republic.

They can route through any other EU country with no problem, BUT not the Irish Republic because of the The Control of Entry Through Ireland Order 1972. (Remember 1972 was a period when the ‘troubles’ in Ireland were giving a lot of concern.) This piece of legislation states that anyone (all nationalities) coming to the UK from Ireland to work in any occupation must have a full visa. (Note we didn’t join the EU until 1973.)

When the UK government changed the immigration rules in 2008 and moved Tier 5 to an electronic application process via licenced sponsors, they did not change or rescind the Control Order Legislation.

Until very recently the authorities in Dublin and the UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) were ignoring that aspect of the Control Order for the outdated bit of nonsense that it is. However earlier this week (May 2018) a pair of US musicians in possession of valid Certificates of Sponsorship were turned back from Dublin Airport because they were travelling onward to the UK and did not have full visas. At the request of their agents they were eventually allowed to fly to France rather than being sent all the way back to California. From France they can legitimately enter the UK on their perfectly legal Certificates of Sponsorship.

Steve Richard from T&S explains it like this:

Most bands have been using work permits – and then CoS since 2008 – as entry documents since 1971. They have never been prevented from entering via Ireland until now. Basically the Control Order runs contrary to the rest of the UK immigration rules for entertainers, saying you can’t do any work in the UK unless you first obtain a visa before you travel. This was widely ignored by both the Irish and UK immigration authorities until the latter half of last year. It seems someone queried it, and pushed for a policy ruling. The Home Office Policy Department in Westminster found the Control Order, realised it didn’t allow entertainers to do ANY work without a visa (regardless of whether they’re carrying a CoS, a permit-free festival invitation or whatever), and told UK border posts to watch out for this, seeing it as a route open to abuse.

Combined with this has been the fact that the Department of Justice seems to have taken over the immigration handling at Dublin Airport (taking over from the Garda). They are increasingly demanding to see UK paperwork if a band arrives there and is travelling on to the UK. They didn’t used to ask for this. Now they’re speaking to UK ports, and those ports have been told that any work in the UK would be a breach unless they have entry visas, so Ireland is now starting to deny entry to these bands. If they go to France and enter the UK from there, their CoS or permit-free festival letter magically becomes acceptable again. 

As you can imagine, this is a huge cause for concern as many performers, particularly American and Canadian ones, route in through Ireland. Steve Richard is particularly concerned that the UKVI does not make it clear in the 222 page long sponsor guidance or the wider Immigration rules that entry through Ireland is different to entering from anywhere else. An American (or any non-visa national) band is suddenly required to get visas if their flights stop off in Dublin, whereas they don’t if they stop off in Paris or anywhere else. 

My advice to non-visa nationals travelling to the UK is NOT to route your flight through Dublin. It may be cheaper, but ultimately it could mean you are refused entry due to newly enforced legislation that should have been reconsidered decades ago.

The UK is proud of creating a hostile environment for illegal immigrants, but now they seem to be trying to do the same for anyone wishing to come to the UK legally, even visiting performers who are only here for a few days and then returning to their own country.

Dear British Government, this is not cool.

Posted in Artisan, certificate of sponsorship, Music business, My Music Agency, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Tier Five Sponsorship Licence and the Salisbury Poisoner.

In late 2008 the applying for, and the issuing of work permits for non-EU foreign nationals wishing to work in the UK in the entertainment industry changed forever. Up until that point the application had to be made on paper and a whole pile of supporting documents had to be sent off to the visa office in Sheffield where the Sports and Entertainment team operated from. Post-November 2008 the system switched to an oline version, and in order to apply you have to be a licensed sponsor. The Sports and Entertainment team (the only ones who had any clue about the entertainment industry) was disbanded some time ago.

I applied for a sponsor licence immediately. The application consisted of filling in a lot of forms, sending off bank statements and proof that my premises (in my case, my home) could be legally used for the business. Oh yes, and let’s not forget the fee of £400. (It’s more than that, now!)

I applied in October 2008 but didn’t get my licence until January 2009 – a whisker before I needed it for my first application. In fact I recall making several phone calls and jumping up and down about the delay. At that point (unlike today) there was a phone number for the Sheffield office and a real person you could talk to. (Sadly not any more, but I digress.)

The system works like this: a licensed sponsor puts in all the information for a visiting artist online via a heavily encrypted website called the Sponsor Management System, and issues the Certificate of Sponsorship online. There’s no adjudication, no one to say ‘that person doesn’t deserve a CoS’. It’s right there.

Anyone coming in from a country whose nationals do not require a visa to visit the UK for leisure (i.e. The USA, Canada, Australia etc.) can come in to work in the entertainment industry on that CoS for up to three months. If they are coming in for more than three months or if they are from a country whose nationals require a visa to visit the UK (most African, South American and Asian countries) then they have to take that CoS and apply for Entry Clearance (a visa in all but name) via the British Embassy or High Commission in their own country. This costs somewhere in the region of £230 per person in addition to the cost of getting a CoS from me. (That means a group of four has little change from a thousand pounds, and there’s no refund if your visa application is refused.)

The system effectively means that the licensed sponsor now has to act as judge and jury. We have to make sure that the artists we’re applying for are legitimate. We have to ask if they have a criminal record, because anyone who has served ‘time’ is automatically banned for a number of years (the length of the ban depends on the length of their sentence). Of course, other than checking to see if there’s anything online in the newspapers of their own country, we have no way of knowing if we’re being lied to, however when a visa application is made the embassy has a more effective means of checking.

The applicant must be qualified in order to get a CoS. Initially they must be provably ‘internationally renowned’. A band coming in must prove that the people whom they say are members are really members. Any support staff must have provable qualifications to do the job they are coming in to do (sound engineers for example). Since we sponsors don’t have the resources the government has, and since we can’t check Interpol’s databases, we have to do the best we can. If we get it wrong, or don’t take enough care over the checks, we could not only lose our licences, we could be prosecuted. Yes, I said prosecuted. (They remind you all the time that they can ‘take action’ against you if you fail in your duties.)

You can imagine what licensed sponsors think about that.

Our record keeping has to be impeccable. We have to be able to put our hands on relevant information at the drop of a hat. If someone from the government knocks on our door and asks where Fred Bloggs is today, we have to know where he spent the night last night, where he’ll be spending it tonight; what his plans are for the day; where his gig is tonight, or, if he’s not gigging, where he is and what he’s doing.

And every so often the ‘men (or women) from the ministry’ turn up on our doorstep to check that our record keeping is up to snuff. Sometimes they give us advance warning. Sometimes they just turn up. (Very embarrassingly at nine a.m. – and since I don’t open the office until eleven, because I work late into the evening to deal with people in different time-zones, they’ve caught me in my pyjamas twice!)

So… that’s the background.

I had a licence check on 15th March this year. My previous three licence checks had all been OK, but I hadn’t had one for about five years. No matter, my record keeping is good and I was quite happy to let the inspectors (2 of them) look at my database and poke into any of my records.

But right from the first moment the interviewers adopted the stance of ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ They were polite in that they didn’t say anything quotably offensive, but they were unnecessarily fierce/combative in their manner, and obviously looking hard to expose any faults in my system. Two of them and one of me. They had a script – a list of questions – and mostly stuck to it, but it was obvious from the word go that they didn’t really understand the entertainment business. If I’d been the manager of a care home employing Ugandan nursing staff, the questions and their assumptions might have been more appropriate.

It was decided some years ago that as an entertainment agent I am not necessarily the employer of the people I get Certificates of Sponsorship for. However Mr. MD (no names) vehemently told me that I was the employer. No doubt about it. He asked if I’d actually read the Guidelines for Tier 2 & 5 Sponsors (all 233 pages of it). I have, but I don’t think he has. This is what it says about agents being Tier 5 employers.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 16.48.41

So the whole interview was conducted on the wrong basis from almost the first time we actually spoke to each other.

There were other anomalies which, for the sake of brevity, I won’t go into, though at one point when we were talking about the responsibilities loaded on to sponsors, the other interrogator did say: ‘Think how much trouble you’d be in if the Salisbury poisoner had come into the country on your CoS.’ Scare tactics or what? But it does show the level of suspicion I encountered in that interview.

Since I’d already been wrong-footed on the ’employer’ question and one or two relatively minor things, I was honestly not sure whether I’d passed or failed the inspection. The inspectors don’t make the decision, they record your answers, then pass the file on to someone in Sheffield who decides whether they’re going to take your livelihood away from you or not. You get absolutely no indication about the likely outcome.

Now, the problem a licensed sponsor has is this…

If the powers that be are not happy with your record keeping or anything about your interview, they can end your sponsor licence with a snap of their fingers. If that happens all the CoS that you’ve issued become instantly null and void. Anyone already in the country on a full visa has 90 days to find a new sponsor or get out. Anyone in the process of applying for a visa suddenly finds that their application is refused on the grounds that they no longer have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship. Surprise, surprise, they don’t get a refund of the £230 per person that they’ve paid for the visa application.

Anyone who only needs a CoS to enter, suddenly finds themselves turned back at the airport of (if there’s time) scrambling for a new sponsor.

All this did happen to a colleague who lost his licence without warning (though he has since regained it). As you can imagine it caused a wealth of trouble for him and for his customers.

So, with that in mind, any sensible sponsor will not continue to supply Certificates of Sponsorship while there is any doubt about the outcome of their licence inspection.

I’m pleased to say that on 8th May I got a letter from the home office telling me that I have maintained my A-Rated Sponsorship licence. BUT you will recall that my licence inspection was 15th March. Yes it took seven weeks (and three letters of complaint) to deliver the verdict, and in the meantime I was on a self-imposed hiatus because I didn’t want to let anyone down should the worst happen.

The worst didn’t happen, for which I am grateful, however I have written to the relevant department outlining my complaints. Will I get a reply? I don’t know, I haven’t yet.

So for all those people I put off during my self-imposed hiatus, I’m sorry. With hindsight I needn’t have done that, but I didn’t want to let you down if the inquisitors had taken against the colour of shoes I was wearing.

Please note I am now open for business again.

P.S. Re the Salisbury poisoner – I would just like to point out that I don’t believe I’ve ever done a sponsorship certificate for a Russian spy or an assassin of any stripe, though if Moscow was going to send a deadly balalaika player to the UK, they’d probably have a watertight cover story that would not look suspicious to someone with as few official resources as me. <shakes head sadly>

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Why I can’t process your CoS in a hurry

I had a call this morning before 8.00 from a promoter who needed a Certificate of Sponsorship issuing in a hurry – actually he wanted it IMMEDIATELY, as in, within the next two hours. In this particular case it was someone I’d worked with before. He’d called me yesterday morning and was supposed to be sending me the forms and payment yesterday afternoon, but as of midnight last night nothing had arrived, so I presumed he no longer required the CoS, or his time-frame had changed.

As a government licensed sponsor I have legal responsibilities. I can issue Tier 5 (Entertainment and Sporting) Certificates of Sponsorship using the government’s own online application system (the Sponsor Management System). Depending on the complexity of the application and the number of people (if it’s a group application) the actual time it takes me to process the CoS can be as little as one hour, or as long as four or five hours (yes, those 25-person Zimbabwean gospel choirs take a lot more time!) but compared to all the preparation work, issuing the CoS itself is just the tip of the iceberg.

Before I can even start the application I must be satisfied that your application is genuine. If I don’t already know you, and if you can’t supply me with full details of your performing or sporting career and if I can’t find any references to you on the web, that’s going to be difficult.

Also don’t just assume that you can bring in an unlimited number of support staff (such as a manager, road manager, sound engineer, roadie, publicist, social media consultant, photographer, videographer, make up artist and hairdresser) on a CoS application for one or two performers. All support staff need to be able to supply their qualifications for the job they are doing or if no formal qualifications are available, their resume with number of years experience in that particular job (with full details).

There are various creative sector codes of practice that your application must measure up to.

  1. The performer is required for continuity
    The applicant has worked for a period of one month or more during the past year, on the same production outside the UK prior to it coming to the UK.
  2. The performer has international status
    The applicant is internationally famous in his field. (This is different to being well-known only in one country.) The Sponsor must be able to provide proof that the performer has international status, e.g. press cuttings, awards, publicity material, television/radio interviews, programmes.
  3. The performer is engaged by a unit company
    A unit company is a theatre or opera company which exists in a country outside the UK and has put on at least one production in that country. For application purposes, a band or performing group is a unit company.
  4. The performer has a certain attribute unlikely to be available in the EEA
    The role requires an attribute which would be unlikely to be available in the EEA labour force, e.g. a certain physical appearance, physical talent, or linguistic or vocal skill. (This applies to artists who perform in a particular foreign language or represent a particular culture)

In addition, the work that you are doing in the UK should not displace a UK-based performer. For example if you are a Beatles tribute band there are lots of home-grown Beatles tribute bands working the circuit.

I always ask you to provide a tour itinerary and as part of my checking I have to call up all your venues and make sure that you are, indeed, booked in to play these venues on the date you’ve stated, for the fee you’ve stated. As you can imagine, that can take a few days in itself if all I get is your promoter’s answering machine each time I try.

Now, as I said earlier, it doesn’t actually take me a long time to do the form-filling for a single application, but at certain times of year applications pile up on top of each other, and it takes a long time to do twenty-eight applications, which is why I ask you to allow a four week lead time. I take applications in the strict order that I receive them…


If you are in a hurry, I do have a fast-track system. For an additional fee I will bump you up to the top of the list, however I still need to do the above checks. Fast track is for people who need a CoS within seven working days. I don’t guarantee to do it within seven minutes or even seven hours.

I have legal obligations to fulfil if I wish to keep my licence. Please don’t ask me to take shortcuts as a favour, or because you are desperate. We do this thing by the book or we don’t do it at all.

The moral of this story is PLAN AHEAD.

  • Apply for your CoS in good time.
  • Make sure that you give me full and accurate information
  • Be well represented online with reviews, details (and names) of band members, and if possible, your own web site
  • Make sure that the venue or promoter contact numbers are for people who are easily reachable and not constantly on answering machines or not answering emails.
  • And don’t forget to pay me. I never start an application until I’ve been paid. I have occasionally been let down. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

It’s really not a hugely difficult process as long as you don’t cut corners and as long as you don’t expect me to cut corners on your behalf. If I lose my licence, you lose your sponsor.

Posted in certificate of sponsorship, Music business, My Music Agency, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , ,

A Giant Falls – Vin Garbutt RIP


It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that Vin Garbutt passed away on the morning of 6th June. He was 69. Sincere condolences to his wife, Pat, and to their children, their children’s partners, and all Vin and Pat’s grandchildren. Words cannot express the loss of such a good friend and unique entertainer whose brilliance touched so many around the world. To say he will be missed is a massive understatement.

Though Vin had only been one of my agency artists for the last four or five years he’s been a friend for a lot longer than that. He was one of the most sought-after and best loved performers on the British music scene today. His song writing was witty and powerful, with a clear social conscience, and he was a distinctive singer, an accomplished guitarist and fine whistle player. Vin performed nationally and internationally, non-stop, from 1969 to 2017. His songs always remained fresh and vibrant, and his repertoire was constantly changing. Vin was genuinely funny, and his quirky observations of life were always very much part of the act, delighting audiences everywhere.

There are not enough words…

Posted in Uncategorized

Tier 5 Certificates of Sponsorship – How long is a Piece of String?

As you know if you subscribe to this blog, one of my functions is as a Home Office licenced sponsor for Tier 5 Certificates of Sponsorship for entertainers and sportspeople.

One of my regular customers (an agent who arranges visas for incoming artists from across the pond) asked me how long Certificates of Sponsorship were taking these days. This is what I replied:

I’ve always say to allow 4 weeks unless you pay for my fast track service and then they can be done within a week.

If I’m not busy I can often do the CoS fairly quickly, but predicting when requests for permits will come through and how many will come through at once, and when, is impossible. Two weeks ago I had none in my in-tray. Last Friday, 21 permit applications from 9 separate promoters/agents dropped into my inbox within the space of a couple of hours. More arrived on Saturday. As of today, Sunday evening, I currently have 24 that I’ve been approached about, but I haven’t received payment and information for some of them yet, and they don’t go into the queue until I get everything. That’s 24 on top of the 20 I did over the weekend.

So the short answer is that any answer I give you today may have changed by tomorrow. For non-fast-track assume between 2 and 4 weeks (any faster is a happy bonus) and for fast-track assume between 2 and 7 days – though I’ll always try to oblige if it’s extra urgent, as I don’t like to see anyone stuck.

As I said above, I did 20 CoS over the weekend, but that involved conscripting my 9-months-pregnant daughter out of her maternity leave for a day, and me pulling an all-nighter to finish them off.

Some CoS applications take longer than others. If the forms are all correct and complete (no missing information, everything ordered just as I request, files labelled correctly, no actual mistakes) it can be done quite quickly. If I have to chase passports, correct information, ask for extra information, rename all the files etc., it takes two or three times as long.

I have seen every conceivable type of mistake on the forms, from people spelling their own name incorrectly, getting their own birthday wrong, missing out information, or putting their date of entry to the country after their first gig date, or their date of departure before the last gig on the tour. One oft-made mistake is an applicant not describing their job fully enough. No matter how many times I say that ‘artiste’ can mean anything from a performance poet to a watercolour painter, I still get people describing what they do as ‘artiste’ – as if that’s going to satisfy the Home Office or the embassy staff when they come to put the application under a microscope – which they will. Some application forms have figures that don’t add up, or they neglect to give the applicant’s full home address and postcode (if their country has one) or the full venue addresses. Sometimes people refer to artists by their stage name which can be confusing because i can only use their passport name – so they label files incorrectly and I get a confusing file for BODVAA which is actually for a person called Abigail SMITH. That type of thing slows everything down, a little bit at a time. Too many of those in one application and you can imagine the effect.

Now, in case you think I’m grumbling, there’s nothing above that can’t be sorted out, but it all takes time. If you want your certificate quickly, the fewer mistakes you make, the faster I can work.

Thank you.

Posted in Music business, My Music Agency | Tagged , , , , , ,

A Guide to Working with Agents for Folk Clubs, Small Venue Organisers and Independent Bookers

Every so often one of my artists calls me to tell me they’ve been approached by a venue or folk club organiser to do a gig, and that person has stated categorically that they don’t work through agents. Ever. Full stop. End of subject.

Except, probably eight or nine times out of ten I know that the organiser does work through agents because I know the organiser and they’ve worked through me before.

So why the posturing?

  • Some club organisers think they’re doing the artist a favour by ‘saving’ the artist from paying the agent’s commission.
  • Some simply like to play the old pals act. It makes them feel special.
  • Others think they’ll get a better price by cutting out the agent.

In almost all cases, what the organiser has done is put the artist into an awkward or embarrassing situation by forcing them to discuss business. One of the reasons artists employ agents is because it allows them to concentrate on their music and take care of the social side of being a performer without having to mention money or haggle over fees. It allows them to be a musician, not a sales person, and it shelters them from the reality of being a business as well as an artiste. An agent buffers the performer from the harsh realities of business and saves them from trying to do paperwork between rehearsals and travelling to the next gig.

In an ideal world an agent should be a matchmaker, putting the right artist into the right venue at the right price, so for venue, artist and agent it’s a win-win-win situation. If a venue organiser builds up a good relationship with an agent they’ll fall over themselves to make life easy.

Why Artists use Agents
Many artists, especially full-timers, use a booking agent because they are too busy to deal with arranging their own gigs. If they are constantly on the road, playing music up and down the country and abroad, they don’t have time to sit behind a desk making and taking phone calls, following up on potential gigs, arranging tour schedules for nine to eighteen months in advance, sending out contracts, packing up posters and hauling them to the post office, and making sure venues have all the promo they need. They’d rather pay someone else to do it, so they know it gets done efficiently whether they are at home or abroad.

A few artists simply don’t like doing the job; they’re bad at paperwork and they hate dealing with money, and even more dislike negotiating fees. They’d rather curl up and die than pick up the phone and call someone they don’t know to ask for a gig. They hate coping with the responses such as ‘never heard of you’ or ‘our audience doesn’t like [insert music genre here]’. Frankly, they are tender, shy souls and prefer to avoid getting their confidence knocked five times a night.

Besides, the other advantage of using an agent is that they already have a database of potential gigs which an artist taps into. An agent’s database is her living, built up painstakingly over time.

Why You Should Respect an Artist’s Decision to use an Agent
So if you’re an organiser/booking person why should you go through an agent when the artist has stayed with you after your club gig? You bought him/her a pint at the last festival you went to. You have his/her phone number, and feel you know him/her well enough to call direct, don’t you?

An artist who has an agent most probably has an agreement to ONLY work through that agent and to pass on all gig enquiries to the agency. If they arrange gigs on their own behalf it’s going to muddy the waters between an artist and an agent, breaking trust, and possibly lead to the agent dropping the artist from the agency roster if the diary gets too complicated to maintain.

If the artist accepts a gig privately, but still wants to square it with his agent to keep relations sweet, he’ll probably just inform his agent, get her to send the contract and pay her the standard commission anyway. So you’re causing the artist to do half the work and still pay the full commission.

You may also be causing the artist some embarrassment if s/he’s one of the ones who hates discussing money and haggling over fees. The price is usually the price, but if you end up bartering the artist down you can leave him/her feeling all kinds of resentful.

So please, if an artist works through an agent, please respect that. Book the artist through the agent. By all means drop the artist an email or call them up for a chat if you know them well enough. Tell them you’re looking forward to the gig, but don’t ask them to negotiate terms or discuss fees. Keep friendship and business separate.


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Robb Johnson

Robb-official-smallI’m delighted to welcome Robb Johnson to the agency roster.

Robb is widely recognised as one of the finest songwriters working in the UK today. His songs feature in the repertoires of a wide variety of musicians, from folk legend Roy Bailey to acclaimed cabaret diva Barb Jungr, & he enjoys a similarly diverse spectrum of critical acclaim – “a modern-day Dostoyevsky” said the US’s Dirty Linen, Mojo made the double CD Gentle Men Folk Album Of The Month, while The Daily Telegraph made it their Folk Album Of 1998, & Tony Benn said Johnson’s “Winter Turns To Spring” was his favourite song.

He has played pubs, clubs, pavements, pickets & benefits, arts centres & festivals, local radio, BBC Radio 3 & 4, Belgian Radio 1, Nicaraguan TV & Channel 4, the Albert Hole in Bristol &, as part of Roy Bailey’s 1998 concert, the Albert Hall in London. In February 2006 Robb appeared at the Barbican as part of the prestigious BBC “Folk Britannia” series, where “for the encore, Robb Johnson leads all the artists (and the audience) in the World War I song (‘Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire’)” (BBC Folk Britannia website) in a concert that was screened later that month on BBC4. Earlier this year Robb was the featured guest on Andy Kershaw’s Radio 3 programme. Robb also plays extensively in Belgium, Holland & Germany, & he has toured Britain supporting Chumbawamba, & the US with David Rovics.

If you want to offer Robb Johnson a booking please contact me 0n the agency email address – agency(at)

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Why I won’t give my opinion on your music.

I recently had an email from a band thanking me for my help files and asking me to listen to their live demo (in my spare time) so that I could tell them where I thought they may fit in the folk roots scene.

This is why I said, ‘No.’

I’m very sorry to disappoint, but really-truly-sincerely I don’t have spare time. My days are accounted for 24/7. I have some great artists on my agency roster, but I’m not considering adding to my list right now, because if I did I would be less effective for the people I currently work for. When I’m not working on the agency bookings or processing Certificates of Sponsorship for performers from outside the EU, I’m writing. (Yes I’m also an author. I write science fiction and fantasy novels and my books are published by DAW, part of the Penguin Group in the USA.)

Asking for an opinion from anyone in the music industry is not really appropriate unless we (as agents) put out a call for new artists. We are music professionals. Listening to your CD and typing up an assessment is, at best, asking for a half a working day (if not longer). Listening critically is hard.

Besides, what if I don’t like your music? It may be very good and I may still not like it (because tastes vary and ‘like’ is very subjective). Your music may be brilliant; it may actually be awful. Believe me, over the years I’ve heard some demos that were winceworthy, and a lot that were average, as well as some that were utterly fantastic.  It’s hard to tell people what they don’t want to hear. So by asking you are potentially putting me in the position of either upsetting you with my honesty, or telling you a downright lie just to send you away happy. While ever I have not heard your music, it remains potentially good or potentially bad; potentially liked or potentially disliked, but I’ll (happily) never know which. (The Schrodinger’s Cat principle. Look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) If that seems a little jaded, I promise that when I hear you’ve won a folk award I will humbly kick myself.

And what use is my opinion anyway? Yes I work in the music industry, but that doesn’t make me infallible, or even competent to pass judgement on something that you’ve sweated blood over. I don’t pretend to be able to have my finger on the pulse, or to be able to second-guess what promoters will pay to present, or what audiences will pay to hear. If I could do that I wouldn’t be working sixteen hours a day and driving a ten year old Ford KA, I’d be living in a mansion and being driven in my Rolls.

I offer my help files to pay something forward to the music industry. You are welcome to whatever knowledge I possess via the helpfiles. Right now, it’s the best I can do. I wish you all the best in your music career.

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