Saturday, May 30, 2009

Imagine

"I don't like to be political. I like to be polite." So said George Harrison, guitarist, songwriter, peace-lover. The“quiet Beatle”.

And, so it is for Allison Crowe – and most of us. We carry on with our lives. We do what we must do and we aim to do it well.

Ten days, now, after learning of it - the UK's new anti-terrorist and illegal immigration legislation which targets artists and academics is still alarming to me.

But, I'm not the only one...

Scotland's Northern Times, reporting “North-bound visitor 'treated like a terrorist' ”, quotes John Thurso, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter: "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. Security is important, but throwing international performers into a lock-up and being rude to them should be no part of it."



The newspaper article goes on to say: “According to the Home Office there has been a national advertising campaign alerting people to the new law and wide consultation with arts organisations in the UK, but Lily Byron of the Rosehall Arts committee laughed at that suggestion.

'I certainly know nothing about this and we have quite a few overseas people playing in Rosehall,' she said this week.

Lorna Sawyer, chairman of the Carnegie Hall, Clashmore, told the NT: 'I am astounded. We never knew anything about this, but if it's all true then it could have serious implications for venues throughout the Highlands. We have definitely not been consulted.'

Such words are consistent with those I've heard directly from dozens of people in the UK and Canada. None had knowledge of this new legislation prior to Allison and her Canadian 'mates' encounter with the UK's border police. A few, new, contacts made in the last 24 – 48 hours say they know of the legislation, but they know that many people do not.

This appears reflective of the manner, and channels, used to disseminate such info - and underscores the fact that our cultural industries are more diverse in their membership than some players in the mainstream appreciate.

Representative of a range of comments received in recent days are these:

a) from a journalist with a major UK newspaper, who reports on governmental+ matters:

"This sorry story is one more illustration of what I've known for some time: like most authoritarian regimes before it, New 'Labour' is, by accident or design, philistine to the marrow.

What I didn't know before was the existence of this new law, and I now wonder how many more slip under the radar."

b) from an arts/music presenter/promoter active in the UK:

"As for who was consulted about the new regs. Well, the big promoters were – hand selected by the Home Office – and they sit on a task force group – Serious Music, Association of British Orchestras, etc. but they haven’t campaigned for the smaller groups and promoters. In my view, there’s a lot of self-serving-interest amongst certain groups who are talking to the home office, but this is not being extended to the wider artistic and music community.”

c) from an agent/booker who presents tours extensively in the UK:

"Unfortunately the new rules in the article are true. Although this is the first time I've heard of someone being detained like this. Any non-EU artist must gain a certificate of sponsorship (from a UK agent or whomever is employing/contracting them) prior to coming to the UK. That agent will have registered thier business with the Uk Border Agency. Basically I think this "certificate" is a number on a database which comes up at customs?... I think visas are involved in there somehow. Unfortunately the Commonwealth link is now irrelevant. Its anyone outside the EU who must comply with it.

It wasn't widely advertised. I knew about it as I was already registered with the Uk Border Agency for other groups,"

d) from the manager of a long-established music venue in the UK:

"I can’t tell you how thoroughly annoyed and frustrated I feel at the whole situation. I have written a letter to my local MP (member of parliament / politician) to air my disgust and dismay at this idiotic legislation, which makes it virtually impossible for some international musicians to play in this country and for (particularly) smaller venues to play host to said artists because of the cost of sponsorship.

Please pass on to Allison and the band our very best wishes and sympathies – we are angered and disgusted by the way they have been treated."

e) and this, most concise, assessment comes from one of the UK's premiere investigators of international crime:

"Stalinism lives!"

The music industry is not one homogeneous mass. More institutionalized operators may be in the loop, however, there clearly exists a large community of law-abiding, music-loving, industry participants who were neither consulted nor informed about the new legislation.

There are far-reaching concerns - such as those which surround the fingerprinting, retina-scanning, bank account scrutinizing and movement monitoring of those international artists and academics coming from non-EU countries (outside of Canada and Australia). What is the justification for such measures?! Based on the comments of many, many, people who've signed the Visiting Artists and Academics Petition this law needs to be seriously retooled or scrapped entirely.

One can say, “I'm alright, Jack. What should I care if people from other parts of the world are treated this way?” The answer is embodied in the famous words of poet John Donne: "Send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee."

Having witnessed the jackboot approach used last week in the 10+ hour detainment of an harmless group of Canadian musicians, one can only feel greater concern as to how these visiting artists and educators from other lands are going to be greeted and treated.

Of course, Canada is not immune to the culture of fear and aggression which envelopes “security” issues. The cases piling up reveal the trend. Perhaps most infamously, our nation knows the painful, shameful, tragedy of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekański – "Tasered" to death by police at Vancouver International Airport for the crime of not speaking English.

“I awakened to the cry
that the people have the power
to redeem the work of fools
upon the meek the graces shower
it's decreed the people rule”

People Have the Power ~ Patti Smith

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hallelujah for Freedom

Vocalist/pianist Allison Crowe and her Canadian band-mates, guitarist Billie Woods and percussionist Laurent Boucher, have been welcomed into Germany - their reception by Frankfurt's Federal Border Police being night-and-day to what was experienced at London's Gatwick airport just days earlier. (A fourth member of the quartet, bassist Dave Baird, is visiting family in Scotland.)

Crowe has performed in the UK each year since 2005, including heralded concerts and benefits from Brighton, England to Durness, Scotland and numerous communities between them. She performed famously at the John Lennon Northern Lights Festival in 2007 - on stage between the UK's Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and the Queen's Master of Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Her most recent UK concert performance happened on October 18, 2008. Just weeks after this last visit, unbeknownst to Crowe and her UK concert presenters, the government brought in new anti-terrorist and anti-illegal immigrant legislation. These new rules target artists and academics.

In what can seem a world gone mad with paranoia and xenophobia, when fear and anger are too present in our lives, let it be noted that people can and do still treat one other with respect and not just suspicion. Hallelujah.



Visiting Artists and Academics

View Current Signatures - Sign the Petition

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To: UK Parliament

The UK Home Office has introduced new bureaucratic procedures for organisations that wish to invite non-EU artists and academics to the UK. As professionals committed to the principles of internationalism and cultural exchange, we are dismayed by these new regulations - which will curb our invitations to non-EU artists and academics to visit the UK for talks, artist residencies, conferences and temporary exhibitions.

The system is costly to both the host organisation and to the visitor, and has already meant a number of cancelled exhibitions and concerts. All non-EU visitors now must apply for a visa in person, and supply biometric data, electronic fingerprint scans and a digital photograph. The Home Office’s 158-page guideline document also outlines new controls over visitors’ day-to-day activity: visitors must show that they have at least £800 pounds of personal savings, which have been held for at least three months prior to the date of their application; the host organisation must keep copies of the visitor’s passport and their UK Biometric Card, and a history of their contact details; and if the visitor does not turn up to their studio or place of work, or their whereabouts is unknown, the organisation is legally obliged to inform the UK Border Agency.

We, the undersigned, believe that these Home Office restrictions discriminate against our overseas colleagues on the grounds of their nationality and financial resources, and will be particularly detrimental to artists from developing countries, and those with low income. Such restrictions will damage the vital contribution made by global artists and scholars to cultural, intellectual and civic life in the UK.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

The above petition is one of the cornerstones of a movement growing from within and without the UK. (Click on the links to view the petition and read the many comments which explain the real issues.)

In sharp contrast to the UK government's extremism is the approach seen in other parts of Europe.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, for example, spells out its policy this way:

"A work permit is not required of a foreign national whose execution of office does not exceed seven consecutive calendar days or a total of 30 days in a calendar year, and if he/she is: a performing artist, an educator, member of a university academic staff, a scientist or member of a research and development staff taking part in a scientific conference or meeting, a pupil or student under 26 years of age, a sportsman/sportswoman, a person procuring the supplies of goods or services in the Czech Republic or a person supplying such services or goods, or a person carrying out assembly works under a commercial agreement, or carrying out warranty and repair works."

In the UK, many are protesting. Many more people, however, have yet to even hear of the new rules that discriminate against artists and academics among others.

Not a single person working in association with either of the music venues where Allison Crowe's band was scheduled to perform this week - in Scotland and England (places Crowe loves and where she has performed numerous times since 2005) - had knowledge of the UK's Home Office's new process. Nor could they imagine that for non-EU acts (outside of those classified as "non-Visa naitonals" - Canadians and Australians), a Sponsor must be party to a process that involves collecting fingerprints and "biometric (retinal+) scans" (a controversial practice itself) etc. of musicians, scholars, tango-dancers, magicians and other similarly threatening visitors.

Instead, the awareness campaign happens when a Russian pianist cancels a visit after 18 years of performing in the UK - as was the case for Grigory Sokolov, described as the greatest classical pianist alive today - Top artists battle visa clampdown. It happens when a Canadian journalist is detained, interrogated and deported as happened recently to Leah McLaren - and was reported in national Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail: CRUEL BRITANNIA: God may save the Queen, but what about the rest of us? It happens when a nation's artists and educators team up to declare we need to End pernicious controls on artistic freedom.

And whatever rules a government - in Canada, America, the UK or elsewhere - chooses to put in place, whether they're right or wrong, it's due time to return reason and humanity to the process.

We look to our artists to reflect on life's truths and show them to us in unique light. Allison Crowe is a musician - here is how she says it:

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Release

video

Here's a video of "Release" - Allison's performance of a Pearl Jam song captured by Pam Abramowicz on video in 2001 at the Worldwide Jammer Convergence in Seattle, Washington. Dutch blogger André of File Under points out this intense version of the Pearl Jam song is as relevant today, as any time.

I'll be able to write more once Allison Crowe and her bandmates, Billie Woods, Dave Baird, and Laurent Boucher, are in Germany, and their European concert tour is back on track.

To find out what's happening in the UK today - to artists and academics and others visiting that nation - you can visit these links:

Canadian musician held for 11 hours at Gatwick before deportation ~ The Telegraph

Top artists battle visa clampdown ~ The Observer

End pernicious controls on artistic freedom ~ The Observer

CRUEL BRITANNIA: God may save the Queen, but what about the rest of us? ~ The Globe and Mail

Terrorism law cuts to the heart of the arts ~ The Telegraph

View/Sign the Visiting Artists and Academics Petition

Britain's red light to overseas artists ~ spiked

We'd all like to thank everyone who's written us. Your support is deeply heartening.

What was unknown to many of us only days ago, is now opening eyes and minds.

The comments attached to many signatories on the Visiting Artists and Academics Petition give some real insight into this situation - demonstrating how cultural exchange and diversity is being reduced by discriminatory new legislation, about which the public has not been properly informed, and which is supposed to combat "illegal immigration and terrorism".

This message, from a presenter of hundreds of UK concerts, also well sums up the sentiment we're hearing directly:

"I can’t tell you how thoroughly annoyed and frustrated I feel at the whole situation. I have written a letter to my local MP (member of parliament / politician) to air my disgust and dismay at this idiotic legislation, which makes it virtually impossible for some international musicians to play in this country and for (particularly) smaller venues to play host to said artists because of the cost of sponsorship.

Please pass on to Allison and the band our very best wishes and sympathies – we are angered and disgusted by the way they have been treated.

Warmest regards"

It's a mutual. Thank you.

And from a veteran UK journalist:

"This sorry story is one more illustration of what I've known for some time: like most authoritarian regimes before it, New 'Labour' is, by accident or design, philistine to the marrow.

What I didn't know before was the existence of this new law, and I now wonder how many more slip under the radar.

As a journalist, though, I can't get away with shaking my head and tutting, a la Scooby-Doo: 'If it hadn't been for those meddling career politicians...'

This government is in its end days... but that is of little or no consolation to you and the musicians. All I can do now is wish you all well for the rest of your time in the more cultured parts of Europe. And I hope you'll all come back here in a future, more enlightened, age."

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working 'gainst the clampdown

Circumstances this week cause me to focus on a clampdown happening in the UK - where over-zealous immigration officers are applying jackboot tactics to enforce some commercially wrong-headed, culturally xenophobic, new policies.

And, here the story begins:

Top artists battle visa clampdown

Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent

The Observer, Sunday 22 February 2009

Antony Gormley is leading major arts figures in an attack on security controls which prevent star international performers from entering the UK

Leading figures from the art world, including Antony Gormley and Nicholas Hytner, have launched a campaign to reverse stringent visa controls which they claim are preventing top foreign musicians, actors and artists from visiting Britain.

They say that immigration laws introduced last year are restricting artistic freedom and have called on the Home Office to review them.

One example they give is that of the virtuoso Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov, who cancelled what was to be his second performance in this country at the Southbank Centre in London when he could not provide the documents required for his planned visit in April.

"This country has always been a hub, an airy place where people from all over the world could come and express themselves in art," said actress Janet Suzman, one of the signatories of a petition calling for the Home Office to look at the rules again. "This legislation stamps on all that with a clunking, hobnail boot."

The visa legislation has tightened up the requirements for all professionals travelling to Britain from outside the EU in order to perform or take part in an arts event. Artists must now not only show proof of their identity, including fingerprints, but also show they have an established sponsor happy to take full financial responsibility for them and to vouch for all their activities while on British soil. Small organisations must pay a fee of £400 to become an official "sponsor", while larger groups must pay £1,000.

"It can't really be what government wanted," said Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, "but what we have now is this totally unintended effect. We still have plenty of cultural exchanges with artists across the EU, and even within the Commonwealth, but the real excitement of the last decade has been the growing number of performers coming from other countries and developing direct relationships with smaller venues and companies. It is of huge benefit here, and one hopes it is of benefit to them too."

The petition is signed by prominent artists, including Antony Gormley, 2004 Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller, the artistic director of the Royal National Theatre Nicholas Hytner, Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, and the artistic director of London's Southbank Centre, Jude Kelly.

"I feel the wider arts community has no idea yet how badly this will affect their relationships with international artists," said Manick Govinda, of arts producer and promoter Artsadmin, who is spearheading the campaign to change the regulations. He argues that the new layers of bureaucracy pose real problems for non-western artists from the developing world. Kurdish Iraqi artists invited here by Adalet Garmiany, the director of ArtRole, have been told they must travel 900 miles to Beirut and stay for three weeks to apply for the correct documents.

"This effectively criminalises these artists," Govinda said. "If you invite a professional performer to this country, they are not going to expect you to want to know where they are going every day. It is the smaller arts venues and festivals that will be hit most, but all of them will find this very difficult."

Govinda added that, while previous immigration hurdles were never simple for visiting artists, they were at least surmountable. A letter of invitation was needed, along with a statement about the visitors' plans and an indication of how much they would receive in living expenses while on these shores.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "We want the United Kingdom to stay open and attractive for creative artists. But at the same time we are determined to deliver a system of border security which is among the most secure in the world.

"It is only right that those that benefit from the great cultural contribution migrants bring with them play their part through our system of sponsorship in ensuring that the system is not being abused.

"All migrants, not just artists, seeking to come to the UK to work or study, except for the most highly skilled, will require a certificate of sponsorship," he added.

Top artists battle visa clampdown

+

Your letters

The Observer, Sunday 22 February 2009

End pernicious controls on artistic freedom

As professionals committed to the principles of internationalism and cultural exchange, we are dismayed by new Home Office regulations which will curb our invitations to non-EU artists and academics to visit the UK. All non-EU visitors now must apply for a visa in person and supply biometric data, electronic fingerprint scans and a digital photograph.

The Home Office's 158-page document also outlines new controls over visitors' day-to-day activity: individuals must show that they have at least £800 of savings, which have been held for at least three months prior to the date of their application; the host organisation must keep copies of the visitor's passport and their UK biometric card, a history of their contact details; and if the visitor does not turn up to their studio or place of work, or their where-abouts are unknown, the organisation is legally obliged to inform the UK Border Agency.

We believe that these restrictions discriminate against our overseas colleagues on the grounds of their nationality and financial resources and will be particularly detrimental to artists from developing countries and those with low income. Such restrictions will damage the vital contribution made by global artists and scholars to cultural, intellectual and civic life in the UK.

Iwona Blazwick, director, Whitechapel Gallery; Antony Gormley, artist; Eddie Berg, artistic director, BFI Southbank; Sandy Nairne, director, National Portrait Gallery; David Lan, the Young Vic; John E McGrath, theatre director; Malcolm Purkey, artistic director and acting CEO, Market Theatre Foundation, South Africa; Nicholas Hytner, the Royal National Theatre; Nicolas Kent, Tricycle Theatre; Brett Rogers, director, the Photographers' Gallery; David Barrie, director, the Art Fund; Jeremy Deller, artist; and 49 others

End pernicious controls on artistic freedom

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Allison Crowe's Road Less-Travelled: Timeless Music on Tour

It's been a few years since Nick Hornby, in a New York Times op-ed piece, "Rock of Ages", spoke of "that high-low fork in the road" asking: "Who has the nerve to pick up where Dickens or John Ford left off? ...who wants to make art that is committed and authentic and intelligent, but that sets out to include, rather than exclude?"

An answer is Allison Crowe, creator of such recordings as "Disease", "Skeletons and Spirits" and "Wedding Song" and interpretations of popular music from Leonard Cohen to Pearl Jam and the Loving Spoonful.

This week the Chicago Tribune newspaper named the "5 best versions of Cohen's 'Hallelujah' " and counter-culture blog MIX listed the top "non-shills" in the music business. Allison Crowe is the only artist on both lists. Being ranked alongside Leonard Cohen, John Cale, Jeff Buckley and kd lang for her transcendent, single/first-take, recording of "Hallelujah", and lining up with Ani DiFranco, Janis Ian, Trent Reznor, Radiohead and others for her integrity, is emblematic of Crowe's singular success.

She launched her own record label, Rubenesque Records Ltd., in 2003 and approaches music very differently to the industry standard of recent decades. The wholly independent vocalist and multi-instrumentalist shows you don't need to "play the game". You simply need to make great music. And you need to mean it.

"In a world of copycats and wannabes in the singer-songwriter field, Crowe is a true original and is playing in a league of her own", writes Tom Mureika. In this latest concert review penned for Westcoaster.ca, Mureika, a writer for AllMusicGuide, describes Crowe as an "astonishingly gifted artist" with "a dynamic stage presence - she is at once commanding and enrapturing." Saying: "Crowe is easily the most talented singer-songwriter to burst on the scene in quite some time... There were even times when her compositions came across like a modern day Carole King." Mureika concludes: "Her unique stylings, incredible range of delivery, songwriting chops and knack for interpreting cover tunes sets her apart from her peers".

AMG/Westcoaster.ca's Mureika is reporting on a sound heard coast-to-coast in Canada, where Crowe resides on, both, Atlantic and Pacific shores, and 'round the world live, on the internet and mp3 players everywhere, on Rogers, ATV, and CHUM television, the BBC, CBC radio and more.

From Canadian college radio station CFBX, where Crowe's newest of six CDs/albums, "Little Light" was top of general and specialty charts for weeks running this Spring, (since replaced on the Roots chart by the latest from Neko Case, 'Middle Cyclone'), to audiences numbering in the millions worldwide for her videos on YouTube, and song tracks on such social networking platforms as Jamendo and Last.fm to mainstream outlets iTunes and Amazon, Crowe's appeal bridges the iconoclastic and the populist.

UK audiences heard from Allison Crowe when she was a sensation at the John Lennon Northern Lights Festival in Durness, Scotland (crowned the "UK's Best New Festival' in early 2008). Crowe's performance in the Scottish Highlands, on-stage between Carol Ann Duffy, appointed Britain's Poet Laureate just this month, and Master of The Queen's Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, is the stuff of legend.

Recently, two prominent tributes to Leonard Cohen have featured her song contributions. During a triumphal Beatles Week 2008 concert series, BBC Radio 2 interviewed and recorded Allison Crowe in Liverpool performing "Hallelujah" for its documentary, "The Fourth, The Fifth, The Minor Fall", that explores the many facets of this Leonard Cohen creation. Hosted by Guy Garvey of Elbow, other participants include musicians Imogen Heap and Kathryn Williams alongside producers John Lissauer and Andy Wallace.

MOJO magazine's December '08 issue paid tribute to Cohen with a celebration of his "deep and moving music". Of Allison Crowe's contribution of "Joan of Arc" to its 'All Star Tribute", (featuring Judy Collins, Nick Cave, Martha Wainwright and others), a cover-mount CD titled "Cohen Covered", MOJO says: "Once famously described by the Vancouver Courier as possessing a style akin to 'Elton John meets Edith Piaf', the Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Crowe is renowned for her ability to blend control and melodrama. Certainly she does so on this spirited cover of Cohen's Songs of Love and Hate classic, a track which also powerfully showcases her considerable talent as a fine interpreter of song."

Jeffrey Pitcher, Artistic Director of Theatre Newfoundland Labrador has worked with Crowe on TNL's "Sexy and Dangerous" production in Corner Brook for two years. He says: "No matter where she is in this world, that voice, that conviction, it crosses all borders. She's one of those rare artists that fits into any culture, any community because she is who she is – an incredible talent."

"Ever wonder what it would have been like to listen to a gifted singer/songwriter from Saskatchewan in a small, intimate hall before she became Joni Mitchell? Don't fret the missed opportunity. There's no need to turn back the clock. Check out Allison Crowe," says Robert Reid in The Record (Canada). Longtime WGTE/NPR (USA) host Ross Hocker calls a performance by Crowe "the most honest, heartfelt, and directly intimate concert in my entire life".

Allison Crowe (voice/piano/guitar) and her band-mates, Billie Woods (guitar), Dave Baird (bass) and Laurent Boucher (percussion), embark now on tour - a string of dates that launch in her Atlantic home, Newfoundland this Saturday, May 9, at Bianca's, in St. John's, NL and Wednesday, May 13 at the Arts and Culture Centre, Corner Brook, NL - and take the quartet to a range of European cultural capitals:

23.05.09 - The LOT, Edinburgh, Scotland
25.05.09 - The Halo, London, England
28.05.09 - Aula Carolina, Aachen, Germany
29.05.09 - Jazzbar Vogler, Munich, Germany
03.06.09 - Jazzlokal Mampf, Frankfurt, Germany
06.06.09 - venue/city tba
09.06.09 - Osterkirche, Berlin, Germany
11.06.09 - Divadlo Dobeska, Prague, Czech Republic
13.06.09 - Tunnel-Vienna-Live, Wien, Austria

For music and more info visit: allisoncrowe.com

Happy Mother's Day weekend!

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