Edinburgh Fringe Cowgatehead chaos continues: Free Fringe rejections start

The Cowgatehead venue last year

Previous Free Fringe Cowgatehead venue (right) in Edinburgh

Continuing on from yesterday’s blog about the still unresolved chaos surrounding the Cowgatehead venue at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe

First, some brief context…

Peter Buckley Hill (PBH) of the Free Fringe claims that his organisation and not the breakaway Freestival organisation has the rights to stage shows at Cowgatehead.

He told acts who had already booked with Freestival, paid the Edinburgh Fringe for a listing in the Programme (it’s out next week) and possibly paid to have flyers and posters designed:

“The Free Fringe will entertain applications from you. You will have to accept the Free Fringe Ethos and Conditions. These conditions stipulate that you should not be an applicant to any other provider of free-admission shows. This means that you should dissociate from Freestival forthwith.”

In a Chortle comedy website opinion piece, editor Steve Bennett clarified the catch in this offer:

“Performers who want to be part of the PBH Free Fringe have to sign up to a 3,600-word ‘conditions and ethos’ statement – a key part of which is that if you apply to the Free Fringe you cannot apply to any rival. This is the only operator – including the supposedly evil paid venues – to impose this draconian condition on applicants.

“PBH stressed this clause in his Facebook post, putting comedians in an impossible situation. They cannot hedge their bets and apply to PBH in case he’s right, while keeping their Freestival slots open. He’s forcing them to quit Freestival and go with him in a situation, frankly, where no one knows for sure what’s happening.”

That seems – in the context of this labyrinthine mess – fairly simple.

If an act believes the Free Fringe may have rights to the Cowgatehead venue and the Freestival may not, then that act can unlink itself from the Freestival. But the Free Fringe insists it is an either/or situation.

Of course, inevitably, it is more complicated than that.

Yesterday promoter Bob Slayer, who runs the Heroes organisation, pointed out to me something which he says has been overlooked.

“The main dilemma,” he told me, “is not about acts denouncing Freestival – who won’t take that personally.

“There are acts that are involved in a second show with one of the other free promoters or us that cannot transfer their Cowgatehead show to PBH unless they cancel their other show.”

So, for example, an act may have had one free show booked into Cowgatehead with Freestival AND a separate free show booked in at a Laughing Horse Free Festival venue or at one of Bob’s Heroes venues.

In those circumstances, the act could not simply cancel their Cowgatehead booking with Freestival and transfer to a Cowgatehead booking via the Free Fringe. They would also have to cancel their entirely separate show with the other promoter.

Bob tells me: “I am not sure how many this acts this effects but I know for sure Phil Kay is one act that PBH has rejected transferring because of this! Crazy!”

I have to agree with him and to lament that PBH – a man with originally good intentions – has paved the road leading to this Hellish situation. If you apply to the Free Fringe you cannot apply to any other venue operator whom PBH perceives as a rival. Like Chortle, I am aware of no other venue operator at the Edinburgh Fringe who imposes this draconian condition on applicants.

This blatant restriction of trade and limitation on acts’ freedom to perform has always been more than a little surprising coming from an organisation originally set up with the genuine intention of helping acts: an intention now apparently superseded by personal vendettas in which acts’ welfare is of secondary or no consideration.

At the end of yesterday’s blog, I drew attention to the fact that, under Scottish Law, an oral agreement constitutes a legally-binding contract and that, if the Cowgatehead people made any oral agreement with the Freestival, it would invalidate any subsequent agreement with PBH.

In a comment on my Facebook page yesterday, comedy critic Kate Copstick (who trained as a Scottish lawyer) added: “And it would seem that, legally speaking, the intervening actions and bookings etc will constitiute a homologation of the Freestival contract”

For those of us who did not train in Scottish Law, the Collins English Dictionary currently defines ‘homologate’ as:

  1. (mainly Scots law) to approve or ratify (a deed or contract)
  2. (law) to confirm (a proceeding, etc)

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy

2 responses to “Edinburgh Fringe Cowgatehead chaos continues: Free Fringe rejections start

  1. It may be an aural agreement represents a contract but proving one exists is notoriously hard. The first rule of promoting is get everything in writing. Also (and this is not legal advice) since there is no cash transaction between the Freestival and the venue is that actually a contract?

    I’ve always said pbh’s “youcantworkforusandthem” pum sounds suspiciously like blacklisting which is illegal

  2. Sandy Mac


    Meanwhile @Wilfredotweets is manning the barricades at Cowgatehead. He’s singing non stop, and saying that he won’t come out until it’s over.

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