Passport to Pimlico

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Last week i was informed that I needed to show my passport in order to play at the Vortex! Yes that Vortex, the ‘cutting edge’ jazz club in Dalston, the one I’ve played in for twenty years, the one I’ve lent my guitar amps to, the one that has the Vortex Foundation Big Band I’ve played in etc etcApparently, as the email from the Vortex informed us, all venues are now required to keep passport details of the musicians who play there. This is compulsory, the email continued. Having checked that I was indeed awake and it was not a bad dream, I rang them to discover which member of the Stasi had recently been beamed in from Berlin circa 1986 to work there without being properly informed that the UK is a democracy and that we do not have to carry ID cards (yet).

I met with even more resistance. Indeed if I wasn’t prepared to give my passport details, then they wouldn’t be able to employ me in the future! Why? Because the Vortex acts as a sponsor to foreign ie non EU musicians and they had to. Sorry, they were just doing their job, they just have to be careful about people ‘they’re not sure about’.

This was now going from the utterly ridiculous to downright sinister.

I was torn between civil liberties, freedom for all and wanting to shout that I was born in Highgate, which is in LONDON last time I checked, (and go red faced at the same time). Two emails, and calls to Musicians Union and Jazz Services (who took on sorting it out) later it was announced that the Vortex may have adopted a ‘cautious interpretation’ of the regulations.

So no passports on Thursday, no harm done eh? Well, apart from being very upset at the whole episode which lasted for three days it still raises few points…

What on earth were the Vortex doing being prepared to collect this data without question? Cutting edge jazz does not seem to be natural allies of Yes Minister! That was the truly scary part. Assuming people involved in jazz have freedom and liberty in the DNA.

How could they be sure I was who I say I am? The slippery slope of ID, the breaking down of trust and assumption in society. The fact that they really might have had to collect this data if licensing or the police were involved (they weren’t, this was Immigration and the Border Police). Who are the Border Police?

Has anyone else come across this? Any comments?