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From Paul McCartney to Yusuf Islam: Six times musicians were deported from countries

Since the dawn of time, the terms ‘rebel’ and ‘rock and roll’ have been used interchangeably. A disobedient nature has long been inherent to the musician, to the point where the “bad boy” persona today has become something of a joke. The ‘Us v Them’ spirit is intrinsic to music, although these days, an artist who subscribes to a rebellious way of life is often met with disdain as it’s overworn. 

A lot of this is down to the fact that a rebellious lifestyle, has culminated in more disaster than good. The ‘live fast die young’ ethos has rightly been dispelled by the countless tragedies it has generated. 

One only has to note the more current tragedies surrounding Soundcloud rappers or rockers such as Jimi Hendrix to heed that the lifestyle of rock ‘n’ roll is a fallacy. Contemporaries such as DIIV have been open about their struggles with addiction and the destructive nature of excess and have been quick to maintain that glorifying drug use – and everything that comes with it – is not a good thing.

However, being a rebel and a musician seem to come hand in hand; we have ample evidence to show that excess on either side of the spectrum will end in misery. Take being a rebel to the limits, and you will probably regret it. Follow all the rules to the letter, and you’ll probably regret it too, lying awake at night aged 50 thinking about all the opportunities missed and a life spent at a desk in an office.

Often just by being a musician, do figures fall foul of the law. Nowhere else is this truer than when it comes to those who find themselves in a country that isn’t their place of citizenship. Border control seems to have been a place where musicians have found themselves come undone for as long as popular music has existed. 

For many reasons, due to their own behaviour or because of things out of their hands, musicians have found themselves deported from country’s, which, of course, has added to the notoriety that many of our favourite musicians retain. Join us, then, as we delve into the most rock and roll of topics, instances where musicians have been deported from countries. Expect to see a whole host of reasons cited by the authorities. 

Six times musicians were deported:

George Harrison – Germany

This entry falls into the category of ‘there’s nothing they could really do about it’. During the early years of The Beatles, the band famously had a residency in the north German city of Hamburg, where they cut their teeth as performers and flourished. In 1960 though, Harrison was discovered by the German authorities to have been underage. He was 17 at the time, so he was given his notice to vacate the country.

The night of the discovery, Harrison stayed up through the night teaching John Lennon his guitar parts, so the band could finish their run of shows without him. He returned back to Liverpool penniless after a 24-hour journey, whilst the band finished their run, before being deported too.
Luckily for them, this was only the beginning.

Rod Stewart – Spain

Rod Stewart’s got a few stories to tell, and his career has been one of many peaks and troughs. Regardless of what you think of the ex-Faces frontman, you cannot deny that he’s had one hell of a ride. In 1962, during the greenest days of his career, Stewart became the harmonica player for folk singer Wizz Jones. The pair went on a tour of the UK, then to Paris, where they slept under bridges, before making it south to Barcelona in Spain.

Sleeping rough for their whole excursion on the continent, it was in Spain where the pair were picked up for vagrancy. They were arrested in Barcelona and shipped back to the UK. Upon his return to London, Stewart would find himself immersed in London’s swinging scene, and before too long, he’d be enjoying all the successes he wished for.

Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam – The US

Cat Stevens, AKA Yusuf Islam, has endured much controversy over his career, of the kind that would give regular musicians nightmares. Be it the Rushdie Affair or otherwise, Islam is no stranger to dispute. Duly, in 2003, he found himself on the wrong side of the law. En route to Washington, D.C. from London to meet Dolly Parton, Islam found that his flight was diverted 600 miles to Bangor, Maine, where he was promptly pulled off the plane.

A spokesperson for Homeland Security claimed there were “concerns of ties he may have to potential terrorist-related activities”. Homeland Security’s fears were heightened by the fact Islam had been deported from Israel in 2000 over allegations that he was funding Hamas, but he always maintained his innocence.

“I have never knowingly supported or given money to Hamas,” he said. “At the time I was reported to have done it, I didn’t know such a group existed. Some people give a political interpretation to charity. We were horrified at how people were suffering in the Holy Land.”

In 2006, Islam was admitted into the US without a problem, as he was on a promotional tour of his new record. Of the 2003 incident, he said: “No reason was ever given, but being asked to repeat the spelling of my name again and again, made me think it was a fairly simple mistake of identity. Rumours which circulated after made me imagine otherwise.”

Soviet Soviet – The US

Despite how shocking this entry is, there’s some terrible irony in the fact that a band called Soviet Soviet were denied entry into the US. This is perhaps the most horrific entry on the list and does not show the American authorities in a great light. Booked to play SXSW in March 2017, alongside a string of other exciting shows, Italian band Soviet Soviet found their dreams destroyed by overzealous agents of the US state.

Per an account by the band, they had all the necessary documents to enter the country, which makes this more of a miscarriage of justice than anything. They had with them a letter from their American record label, explaining that they were there to pay “promotional” nonpaid performances in the US, including one at KEXP in Seattle.

However, the band were questioned for hours and then refused entry. From the airport, they were taken to jail and held overnight before being escorted to a plane, and sent back to Italy. In a lengthy statement by the band, they said they were treated “like criminals”.

In the statement, the band felt that they had been turned away because the agents felt the group needed a different visa to enter the US, because some of the venues they were playing at were charging entry fees, regardless of the fact the band had in writing that they weren’t going to earn a penny whilst in the country.

An utter travesty.

Paul McCartney – Japan

This is a tale as old as time. A well-known proponent of the sedative power of the green leaf, McCartney has been arrested a few times for possession. However, none is more notorious than his 1980 arrest in Japan. Pretty much as soon as he touched down, he was intercepted by the authorities for having 219 grams of weed, which is valued at nearly £4,000’s worth in today’s money.

The Wings tour, which had sold over 100,000 tickets, was promptly cancelled by the Japanese promoter, who lost out on millions of yen. McCartney spent ten days in jail before being released without charge and deported. Interestingly, this is regarded as the final nail in the coffin for Wings, who would not make it into 1981.

Joe Cocker – Australia

Sheffield hero Joe Cocker was well known for being something of a hellraiser. However, it was on the other side of the world where he’d garner the nickname ‘The Mad Dog’. In 1972, Cocker and five of his crew were arrested in Adelaide for marijuana possession. They were fined $300 each and continued the tour. However, this was not Cocker’s last dalliance with the Australian state. A few days later, after a show in Melbourne, Cocker and his girlfriend were involved in a brawl in the foyer of their hotel.

The Australian Federal Police gave Cocker 48 hours to leave the country. This caused a media storm in Australia as he was a huge artist, and many of his fans thought that marijuana was no big deal. A considerable debate ensued in the country about the use of the drug. After the tour, Cocker suffered from mental health issues and began using heroin. He’d eventually return from the brink, though.