Dan Baird and Homemade Sin were forced to hand over £9000 by Swiss border guards who illegally seized their touring gear and merchandise.
They were told their entry to the country was an act of smuggling and that a magistrate had imposed a maximum fine – even though he refused to get out of bed to investigate the situation.
And they were shown an eBay auction template which would be made live if they didn’t pay up.
When drummer Mauro Magellan stumped up the cash, they were allowed to go on their way – only to be told by a roadie later that many bands had fallen victim to the same scam.
Now former Georgia Satellites frontman Baird is releasing a live DVD in an attempt to recover the stolen cash, because Swiss authorities say they’re unable to help because the band didn’t follow legal procedures they’d never been told about.
Tour manager Mick Brown, who was present during the drama, tells Classic Rock: “We were about to start another European tour, which should have been just like all the others.
“We arrived at the Swiss border after midnight, aiming for a small town called Grabs just inside the country. Our travel agent said it would save us money on big-city prices. How wrong can you be?
“The border crossing was deserted and we followed the cars across it. A few hundred yards later we pulled up at our hotel, and all hell broke loose – vehicles screeched around us, spotlights blinded us and the Swiss Border Patrol were pointing guns at us.”
The band were told commercial vehicles were not allowed to cross unmanned borders, and by law had to turn round and find a manned post. But the only visible warning, says Brown, was “a tiny sign in German.”
Having crossed the national boundary with CDs and shirts, they were now international smugglers, officials claimed.
“We were taken back to the border and subjected to a four-hour search,” Brown recalls. “But all our so-called contraband was on open display. They took out all our gear and merch then had their photos taken with it, a bit like American police used to do with dead gangsters during the Depression. Someone in Switzerland obviously thinks rock’n'roll is still dangerous.”
Officials then told the band that a magistrate had been woken, but instead of coming out to look at the evidence, had imposed the maximum available fine, including a charge for “disrespecting Swiss law.
“Then they hit us with the bombshell,” Brown continues. “Our vehicle and its entire contents were impounded and we had twelve hours to raise £9000 or everything would be auctioned. They showed us an eBay ad already featuring our vehicle.
“This is all on the eve of a 42-date tour. We haven’t played a note yet, but our proud claim of never having missed a show is looking very shaky.”
Border guards advised Brown that they could appeal the judgement – but they didn’t tell him how to do so. After being escorted back to their hotel, Magellan paid the fine in the face of having to cancel the tour.
When the band tried to start the appeal process they were told it couldn’t be done because they hadn’t followed legal procedure. “We never received any documentation in English and we never had the procedure explained to us,” Brown says. “The border guards could only speak broken English.”
Later in the tour, he spoke to a sound engineer who told him Baird’s band were just one of a long line of touring acts who’ve been victims of the same scam.
“Our van didn’t fit into the category of a commercial vehicle in the first place,” the tour manager says. “So the whole stop, search and everything that followed was illegal. The Swiss authorities smiled politely and reiterated that if only we’d followed procedure they might have been able to help. But there was nothing they could do.”
One year on from the ordeal, Dan Baird and Homemade Sin are releasing a live DVD, Viva Nashvegas, with the express aim of repaying the debt.
Brown says: “We would ask that anyone who loves rock’n'roll thinks about either buying the DVD or making a donation. This time round it was us who got caught out – but it could easily have been your favourite band.
“We have to ask the question: if we’d been clean-cut individuals delivering cheese rather than the long-hair subversives we so obviously are, would our fate have been the same?”