Classical musicians on life after Brexit
Victoria Sayles: ‘I have concluded that my only viable path to a sustainable existence is outside the UK’Dan Johnson; second image of Victoria Sayles in text by Matthew Johnson
In March 2020, all my work in Australia and Sweden, where I had landed contracts for several months ahead, was canceled the day I was due to fly. The two organizations that hired me nevertheless quickly honored their contracts with me financially.
Thank goodness because as UK taxpayers and residents, my partner Roland Palmer and I have, for 10 months now, received no help from SEISS and UC.
Coincidentally, Roland (shown below by Dan Wiebe) had a seat as a cellist and guitarist Iin the West End in a show that came from Broadway, New York, to huge success here in London. He was made redundant (like everyone else in the West End) 10 months ago and he too was not eligible for UC or SEISS.
All of our gig contracts in the UK have been treated as ‘frustrated contracts’ and my fear, as Brexit approaches, is that the government will have the illusion that musicians are ‘adapting’ to these new terms. Were it not for the pandemic we would notice the impact of Brexit in other ways such as touring however in these ‘new normal’ circumstances (with no gigs to speak of for several months now) COVID plus Brexit is destroying the industry and weakens our personal lives. Unfortunately, my frustration and disappointment with the lack of support or even recognition of these issues for musicians has led to the very difficult decision that, at this time, I simply cannot stay here full time: the situation is simply untenable. So I auditioned for a job in Stockholm and got that job, taking my expertise and taxable income with me to continental Europe. I’m not the only one who has considered the lack of options and concluded that my only viable route to a sustainable existence is outside the UK. We are forgotten, literally a dying art.
By the way, I live in a beautiful Wiltshire village down the road from our local MP in a staunchly conservative area. I enjoyed and embraced my (whole) life in the UK with immense gratitude. My difficult decision to leave the UK was due to circumstances beyond my control – I’m not just talking about the pandemic, but of course the difficulties with Brexit. Boris Johnson calls the arts our “soft power”. How can an industry hold any positive power when the rug has been pulled out? The government acts like a fair-weather friend: very happy to share in the prosperity and joy the arts have brought for so many years, but then turning its back on us when the call for support becomes politically too loud or inconvenient.
I wish the situation were different. Yet even with the administrative headache of Brexit, the Stockholm organization has remained strong in its efforts to support a British artist’s transition to mainland Europe despite Brexit.
Many musicians will wonder, like me, why they crossed over to the Brexit deal. Why can’t I proudly stand where I’ve been so happy to reside all my life?’
Watch Victoria Sayles and her partner Roland Palmer perform from home in a film made last summer for the London Mozart Players