Sit back with a good supply of tea for this blog. Extensive, exhaustive and possibly exhausting quotes are included. People not living inside the bubble of the Edinburgh Fringe might be advised to look elsewhere.
The whole Cowgatehead saga at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe is too complicated to go into yet again. Read past blogs for clarification but beware your head may explode with details.
Suffice it to say that the Freestival organisation believed they had rights to programme acts in the Cowgatehead venue at the Edinburgh Fringe and Peter Buckley Hill’s PBH Free Fringe ended up with those rights resulting in, by one estimate, an overall financial loss to performers of £77,000.
This could have been avoided if the various parties had met to sort it out and (in my personal opinion) PBH himself was a bit slippery though not telling any direct porkies with careful use of the present tense and an implication but not a statement that a meeting had never at any point been agreed with the Kenny Waugh involved in the fiasco. This being the Fringe, there were three people in one family all called Kenny Waugh.
On 18th August, I posted a blog headlined BAD SIGNS AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE criticising the awful signposting at the PBH venue Cowgatehead as well as at C Venues and Just The Tonic’s Mash House and Caves.
The What’s On Where posters and signage in The Counting House is fairly good, which is not standard at the Fringe.
The Cowgatehead venue – fought over and proudly won by the PBH Free Fringe – is a disaster. The tiny doorway onto the street is barely visible and not even clearly identified as the Cowgatehead. Once inside, there is a vast bar and music area unrelated to the Free Fringe rooms and you have to spot that you have to double back, go down steps and then turn corners and go up stairs to get to the upper storeys which have venue spaces called things like UP2L. Even if you get vaguely near the rooms, the pieces of paper with their identification numbers/letters tend to be on the outside of the doors of the rooms so that, near performance times when doors are left open, they are hidden from sight.
This policy of putting names on the outside of doors which, when open, are completely invisible seems also to have been followed by C Venues at their Nova building – and probably in their other buildings, as C Venues have always been notable for appallingly bad or non-existent signage within their buildings. There are giant bleedin’ signs outside proclaiming what the venue is. Good. But, once inside, you have to guess, explore and try to find someone who knows which floor or room a show is in. There ARE some small notices, but hidden on walls amid an overwhelming visual patchwork of brightly-coloured show posters.
There should be a prize (perhaps there will be) for worst signage at the Fringe. Just the Tonic might win. As of last night, there appear to be no signs of any kind to any performance rooms in their Mash House venue. And the interior of their Caves venues – particularly for the shows they admirably ‘saved’ from the Cowgatehead debacle – are utterly incomprehensible. I half expect to find a Minotaur in there.
There was no reaction from C Venues or Just the Tonic.
But yesterday, Frank Galbraith of the PBH Free Fringe commented on one of my Facebook pages:
You need to go to specsavers you blind tnuc
and posted the photo below.
The venues on the Cowgate in Edinburgh (Photograph posted on Facebook by Frank Galbraith)
“The narrow doorway on the left was not clearly signposted a the time I wrote the piece. It is now signed clearly with the door usually closed, giving no access to Cowgatehead. The entrance to Cowgatehead is the larger one on the right, clearly identified as St James’ Gate Brewery. To access Cowgatehead from this entrance, you have to go into the St James’ music space, turn sharp left, go down into a narrow stone gap with a piece of paper identifying it, do a 360 degree turn up stairs and then find the Cowgatehead rooms on the floors above the St James’ Gate space below which you initially went under.”
Full Facebook interchange
“I do have to admit that the external signage could have been more visible during the first few days. However, this hasn’t deterred on average 2000 people per day attending shows on the lower 2 levels and entering the venue via Cowgate. We also have a further 900 per day entering via George IV Bridge doors for the shows on the top level. Not quite the disaster you are attempting to portray.
I was a little bemused by this because I had said the signage not the number of punters was a disaster – and also very surprised by these very concrete audience figures in a venue with no visible close supervision. So I replied:
My admiration on the use of hidden security cameras filming and counting people entering the venues and on the stairway to Cowgatehead from the outer entrance. Must be a Fringe first. Genuine admiration for the use of the technology to gauge punter numbers.
Haha.. you must know big brother is everywhere. Actually we take average performers audience numbers, we trust implicitly the reports our performers give us, then deduct 10%!!!
I have to say this to-and-fro did not change my opinion of the factual slipperiness of the PBH Free Fringe.
The PBH Free Fringe also has a highly dubious contract of untried legal validity which says acts performing in their venues cannot perform at free venues run by other organisations on the Fringe. This appears to be to be a clear restriction of the right to trade. Others may disagree.
I encountered the illiberal nature of this a few years ago when staging the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Counting House venue. This venue is run not by the PBH Free Fringe but by the Laughing Horse Free Festival.
I wanted to end the 2-hour free show (in which all donations are given to charity with no deductions of any kind) by having The Greatest Show on Legs perform their signature Naked Balloon Dance. This act lasts 3 minutes. One of the long-time Greatest Show on Legs performers was that year performing his own show at a PBH venue and was told by PBH that, if he performed in the three minute act during the 2-hour Counting House charity show, then he would have his own show on the PBH Free Fringe terminated.
This seemed to be a bizarre combination of paranoia and staggering… erm, well… the opposite of laissez-faire liberalism.
That was then. This is now.
Well, what follows actually happened yesterday.
Since the start of the Fringe – over two weeks ago – comedian Stephen Carlin has been appearing as one of four performers in the play Routines at the Laughing Horse Free Festival venue Three Sisters at 3.45pm and in his own solo comedy show The Gospel According to Stephen at the PBH Free Fringe venue Canons’ Gait at 7.15pm.
This is the conversation I had with Stephen last night…
Stephen Carlin talked to me last night on neutral territory
“So what happened?” I asked.
“One of the flyering team for Routines flyered PBH,” he told me. “Then, when I was on stage performing Routines and my phone was off, PBH sent me a text message (at 3.50pm):
“Hello Stephen. I have in my hand a flier for a Laughing Horse show with your name and face on it, for a full run. Can you please explain? Thank you. PBH.
“There there was a second text message sent at 5.20pm saying:
“Hello Stephen. I have had no reply to my previous text message. It is clear from the evidence that you have broken the Free Fringe Ethos and Conditions by being a permanent and billed part of a Laughing Horse show. Your Free Fringe show is therefore terminated with immediate effect. Regards PBH.
“I did go down to the venue tonight,” said Stephen, “just to thank the staff and there were a few people who turned up who couldn’t get in last night because it was sold out. Last night, we had BBC 4 Extra recording it for a feature – They got probably my last ever PBH performance because I think you get excommunicated by PBH. It’s a religious-titled show – The Gospel According to Stephen – so, in a way, it seems only right I should get excommunicated.”
“What is the show about?” I asked.
“It’s a stand-up show basically inside my head. I get to be right for one hour. I am wrong for 23 hours of the day but for this one hour in the day I can give my thoughts on various aspects of life and be correct.”
“Have you any idea,” I asked, “how much it has cost you? – It’s complicated by the fact you were doing two shows.”
“I think it cost maybe about £1,500 or so overall.”
“And you’ve made some money back…” I said.
“I haven’t broken even yet, so I was kinda hoping in the last week to break even.”
“What,” I asked, “have you been doing since you were excommunicated from the true path of light?”
“Since then,” said Stephen, “I’ve had offers from Laughing Horse, Freestival and Bob Slayer. So, from tomorrow, I’m going to move the show to Bob Slayer’s Heroes of the Fringe at The Hive. But I can’t perform it on Friday and Saturday, because the room’s already booked then.”
“Same time of day?” I asked.
“No. the show at the Hive is at 10.10pm; the Canons’ Gait one was at 7.15pm.”
“Can you,” I asked, “put stickers on your flyers with the new place and time?”
“I think the good old stapler is going to have to come out.”
“Are you a member of Equity?” I asked.
“The PBH contract,” I suggested, “surely has to be illegal because it’s a restriction of trade. Any opinions about PBH? I think it’s a case of the road to Hell being paved with good intentions. A good man who wanted to help the acts who ends up financially screwing them.”
“I think,” said Stephen, “in many ways it’s indicative of a lot of revolutions. It starts off idealistic but then you get to a point where people start getting cut out for breaching parts of dogma and then the people it has set out to help are actually being badly affected. The System starts coming before the people. I think it’s a well-trodden historical path.”
“Well,” I said, “given the Animal Farm analogy, is it the case that PBH is standing on two feet now?”
“I don’t think anybody can sue us for that,” said Stephen. “He is standing on two feet. The question is, if I speak to other blogs, would you denounce me?”
“I haven’t yet started a religion,” I said.