Category Archives: Edinburgh

Edinburgh Fringe: Why the Counting House is now free from Ballooning fees

The Gilded Balloon’s Counting House The signposted entrance on the left on the left is not the entrance

Gilded Balloon’s Counting House last year. The prominently signposted entrance on the left is not actually the entrance!

It was recently announced that The Counting House venue is reverting to the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, after it was last year poached by pay venue The Gilded Balloon.

I blogged about this in February last year under the title Gilded Balloon venue’s deal excretes on the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe and, in August, under the title The Edinburgh Fringe venue that doesn’t know where its own entrance is.

The successful poaching expedition by the Gilded Balloon last year ousted the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show and the Grouchy Club comedy industry chat shows from their traditional venue of many years.

I thought I would ask Laughing Horse Free Festival boss Alex Petty about it and tracked him down in Thailand, on his way to Australia for the comedy festivals out there.

Well, “tracked him down” is a slight exaggeration. I FaceTimed him in his hotel in Thailand.

“Which festivals are you going off to?” I asked.

A selfie by Alex Petty in Thailand

A selfie taken by Alex Petty in Thailand

“Perth Fringe World, then the Adelaide Fringe and the Melbourne Comedy Festival,” he told me. “The Australian festivals are basically like a three-month long Edinburgh. I get back to the UK at the end of April or beginning of May, then it’s straight down to the Brighton Fringe. It’s non-stop on Fringes and Festivals these days.”

“Are you looking at any other ones?” I asked.

“We have an eye on doing maybe either New Zealand or Sydney… and we are looking at Glasgow and Leicester in the UK.”

After these polite starters, I asked about The Counting House.

The Gilded Balloon (where acts pay to perform and audiences pay to watch) had billed their newly-acquired Counting House venue as Pay-What-You-Want – free for audiences to enter and they can (if they like) pay at the end plus they can guarantee themselves a seat by buying a ticket in advance. But, whereas under the Free Festival, performers did not pay to hire the venue, the Gilded Balloon charged performers a hire fee and various other fees which meant the venue was free for audiences but relatively expensive for performers.

This cynical dog’s dinner got – it seems to me – the reception it deserved.

“My understanding,” I said to Alex Petty, “is that the bar did not take as much money under the Gilded Balloon at last year’s Fringe as it had at previous Fringes under the Free Festival. And the Gilded Balloon did not take as much money from the shows as they expected.”

“I don’t know the numbers,” replied Alex, “but I think it was pretty obvious to anyone going there that the venue was a lot quieter than expected. And a lot of the performers were saying that. The Counting House very kindly said they would like us to go back and offered it to us for this year.

“I think,” he continued, “that the Gilded Balloon, with the whole Pay-What-You-Want thing, tried to ride on the coat-tails of Bob Slayer (who created the concept), but it wasn’t really Pay-What-You-Want. People who went in told me that audiences were turning up expecting shows to be free and the Gilded Balloon staff were trying to get people to buy tickets in advance. In the end, the Gilded was trying to sell tickets up-front and there were not the same numbers of people hanging around that there had been in previous years.”

(L-R) The Peartree courtyard, Counting House and Blind Poet in Edinburgh

(L-R) The Peartree courtyard, Counting House and Blind Poet

The Counting House is part of a triple venue – three pubs next to each other all with the same owners – The Blind Poet downstairs, The Counting House upstairs and The Peartree downstairs with a courtyard.

“The venue is being renovated, isn’t it?” I asked.

“They’ve just started now,” Alex explained. “It sounds like what was The Blind Poet is going to become the back end of the Peartree bar and become a performance space like it was before but letting you walk through into the Peartree courtyard. That will also give people access up the inside stairs into the Counting House as well.  So, in the Counting House, there will be the Lounge and the Ballroom and, upstairs from them, the Attic and the Loft.”

I asked: “Is Brian going to be back sitting outside on a stool by a barrel?”

The pub’s manager Brian had tended to sit on the pavement outside the entrance, giving information to audiences and interested passers-by. This was missing last year with a swarm of (in my view) officious and often ill-informed people in Gilded Balloon tee-shirts. On one occasion, the Gilded Balloon ‘helper’ on the pavement thought the entrance to The Blind Poet was actually the (entirely separate) entrance to the Counting House.

“Brian was very keen to have us back,” said Alex. “He had put so much work into things the year before (2015) and it really pushed the venue on and we had had so many plans for last year (2016) which did not happen when the Gilded Balloon took it over.

“We are going to try to sort out a slightly better place for him to sit in the Edinburgh ‘summer’ weather. I think, for a lot of people, Brian and his barrel were two of the mainstays of the Fringe a couple of years ago.

“It was such a shame to lose it but I completely understand what the owners did. It was a business decision.”

“I’m glad it’s back,” I said.

“So am I,” said Alex.

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show will be held 11.00pm-01.00am in the Ballroom of The Counting House on Friday 25th August. And The Grouchy Club will be in The Lounge live every afternoon for the second half of the Fringe.

The Blind Poet and Counting House with The Peartree on West Nicholson Street, as seen on Google StreetView

The Blind Poet and Counting House with The Peartree’s courtyard wall beyond (Google Street View)

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh

Reports of an attempted coup within the Free Fringe at the Edinburgh Fringe

Street art at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

Street art at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

NOTE: KATE SMURTHWAITE SAYS WHAT IS QUOTED IN THIS BLOG IS TOTALLY UNTRUE..

I once had to write an encyclopaedia entry on ‘Christianity’ in, I think it was, 23 lines.

It was an utter nightmare because, almost as soon as Christianity started, it broke into schisms which then, themselves, broke into other schisms. One might almost call them catty-schisms.

Or not.

I would not like to write an entry on the Edinburgh Fringe, especially the history of its ‘free’ shows.

The Edinburgh Fringe is like the Great Barrier Reef – a vast sprawling single entity controlled by no-one, not even itself.

Who am I to query the Byzantine plotting, counter-plotting and shadow nether-world of gossip surrounding Edinburgh?

The basic back story is that Peter Buckley Hill rescued the Edinburgh Fringe from high prices and mediocrity by creating the Free Fringe. He was later helped by Alex Petty of Laughing Horse. But they split and Alex formed the Free Festival, competing with the PBH Free Fringe of Peter Buckley Hill.

These ‘free to enter’ shows were theoretically free for audiences, but there was a bucket at the end into which people could throw money. It was like indoor busking.

Promoter Bob Slayer then came along with what was possibly a more honest name instead of ‘Free’ – ‘Pay What You Want’ shows – via his Heroes venues which initially appeared in the Free Festival brochure but which then amicably became more separate.

Then there was another schism within the Free Fringe and this new breakaway group promoted themselves as the Freestival.

A couple of years ago, there were blogs aplenty about the tussle between the Free Fringe and the Freestival over the Cowgatehead venue in Edinburgh. Who knows which brother said what to whom about what or whom? Who knows if some meetings which allegedly did not take place two years ago were actually sound recorded? I merely mention it.

I just know that, if I get sent a good story, I will print it.

A couple of days ago, I got a message from someone I shall call Captain Bird’s Eye. The good Captain told me something I knew and something I did not know. He told me:

PBH was unfortunately poorly and in hospital for a short while.

I knew this.

Then he told me something I did not know:

Whilst PBH was out of action one of his leading team members Kate Smurthwaite took over the reigns immediately ousting Paul B Edwards and then appointing Chris Coltrane as comedy director. PBH is now out of hospital. This was his response:


Dear Friends (I hope) of the Free Fringe

As I wrote to you some days ago, I’m quite ill. Many of you have expressed sympathy, for which I thank you. This is not a plea for further sympathy.

My point is: I’m ill. I’m not dead.

And while I’m not dead, the Free Fringe is still my organisation, in which you of course have a stake.

While I was in hospital, the reins were taken up by some members of the team, some of which was indeed helpful. However, I did not anticipate that decisions and personnel changes would be made without consulting me and presented to me as faits accomplis.

I had, and I sent it to you, a scheme for encouraging more volunteers to come on board in a transparent fashion, so that we could transition to the next generation of management openly and co-operatively. My illness meant that I was not able to set this in motion in October as I had planned.

This does not mean that decisions others have made, no matter how helpfully, are binding on me. I’m still the dictator until a better and more harmonious scheme is put in place.

The only new Artistic Director I have appointed is Ewan Leeming, to replace myself as AD of Science and Rationalism.

Contrary to what you may have heard, I have not approved a new arrangement for Comedy. There will need to be one and I would like to hear from interested and appropriately experienced parties. This is a large portfolio and will require a team.

As of the sending of this email, Kate Smurthwaite has no managerial or organisational role within The Free Fringe. I thank her for all the things she has done in the past, both professionally and personally.

Regards

PBH


I merely pass this on, as I received it, unedited, without comment.

Except to say I feel I have come unstuck in an alternate universe in which the after-events of the Russian Revolution or the start of Christianity have somehow transposed themselves into the world of Edinburgh Fringe comedy.

What further truths, half-truths and fantastical twists lurk in the shadows I know not.

We live in interesting times.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh

Cunning Stunt obsessed comic steals all three Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

Adam Taffler at the Grouchy Club

Adam Taffler – Grouchy Club last year

And so the insanity has begun.

The Edinburgh Fringe has started.

Three-and-a-half weeks when anarchy is the norm.

Yesterday, it turned out that both the Grouchy Club and comedian Paul Kerenza’s show are booked into the same room at the Counting House 3.45-4.45pm on 14th August. So – as it does not affect us as much – and because we are so sweet – Kate Copstick and my Grouchy Club chat shows will now start on the 15th August not the 14th.

Performing at the Fringe is like a needle in a haystack trying to get noticed in the Amazonian Jungle. The haystack may stand out when you see it, but the Amazon is a big place. And, even after you find the haystack, you still have to find the needle.

Paul Ricketts who, in this blog two weeks ago, mentioned he was organising a comedy show in a toilet, tells me he now has several comedians interested but still has no confirmed (or maybe that should be engaged) venue:

Ceci n'est pas une affiche Édimbourg

Women wanted for stand-up urinal comedy

“There’s interest in the show,” he says, “and it’s been nominated on the Sell This Gig Out! Facebook page, even though it’s impossible to sell-out a show when no-one knows what day or in which toilet it will be held. But there is already standing room only. And I would also like to reach out to women comics to get involved and break down this last bastion of male oppression. If any ladies want you to do stand-up comedy in a Gents, they can contact me via the event page on Facebook.“

Paul helpfully sent me a link to the YouTube video of his last toilet exploits.

Twonkey this is a “haunting photo

Twonkey says this “haunting photo” is from a final rehearsal of Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop

Meanwhile the inexplicable Mr Twonkey sent me an inexplicable photo of what he claims was the final rehearsal for his show Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop.

And the unavoidable Lewis Schaffer, appearing in his first play since his schooldays, sent me a message: “I’m super busy trying to remember my lines so I don’t destroy Giant Leap the play I am in AND also I am thinking about the funny stuff I need to say at my own show Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous, £5.”

Lewis Schaffer is never knowingly under-sold.

Which brings us to the core of this blog.

Lewis Schaffer (extreme right) in rehearsal for the Giant Leap

Lewis Schaffer (extreme right) in rehearsal for the Giant Leap

As I – perhaps foolishly – decided this year to come up to Edinburgh on an overnight coach rather than by car, I – perhaps foolishly – left the three increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards with performer Juliette Burton. She promised to deliver them to me later today – she is driving up from London to Edinburgh today. At least, that is what she claimed.

Juliette has always shown an obsessive, possibly unhealthy interest in the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

Now, this morning, I have received an e-mail from her with photos attached and a link to an 8-second online video. The photos are of a letter she has written to me. It says:


Dear John

Ransom letter, page 1

Ransom letter, page 1

As you know you gave me your awards. Thankyou for trusting me/falling prey to my masterplan. 

I’ve wanted to get my hands on these awards FOR YEARS! Now I have them I thought about not letting them go. I thought about holding them to ransom (because, let’s face it, that’s the only way anyone performing at EdFringe will make any money, right). 

But I’m keen to challenge mental health stigma and misconceptions about people like me, a known nutcase, so I thought the image of “crazed mad person holding awards for ransom; psycho lunatic threatens Fleming” may not help that cause… 

Ransom letter, page 2

Ransom letter, page 2

So instead I thought I’d permanent-mark my name on all 3. But my own plan was foiled… I awoke today, ready to head to Edinburgh with the awards, with permanent marker in hand… only to find the attached security camera footage. And 3 empty boxes.

Your awards seem to have escaped.

If you want to see your 3 empty boxes again, please send me £1,000,000,000,000 … in Scottish notes. 

Ransom letter, page 3

Ransom letter, page 3

With that, I might break even this festival.

Yours,

Juliette.

PS No, I don’t know why I wrote this and then emailed you the picture of it rather than just type it in an email… Artistic? Old fashioned? Crazy?


This is the 8-second video she linked to.

Juliette is fast catching up with Lewis Schaffer in the self-promotion stakes.

Juliette Burton with Russian Egg Roulette medal

Juliette proudly displays 2014 Russian Egg Roulette medal

She is also appearing in the official Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Championship at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 28th August. At least, she thinks she is. She will learn I am not a man to mess with.

But, even if I ban her from that, she is still up at the Fringe performing her Look At Me show (6 performances only) AND her Happy Hour show (9 performances) AND is appearing in the tenth anniversary Abnormally Funny People shows.

Look At Me - Fringe 2015

Happy Hour - Fringe 2015

Inevitably – this being the Fringe – entirely separate from Juliette, last night I was sent a link to the new Abnormally Funny People video.

And now I have very slight toothache.

Fairly regular – every third year or so – I get toothache in Edinburgh and have to get dental treatment.

Welcome to the Fringe. Share my pain.

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Festivals, PR

How to promote an Edinburgh Fringe show – plus some Cowgatehead irony

Kate Copstick, ploughing through the press releases

Kate Copstick assesses the very worst of Fringe press releases

Yesterday ended surreally with (after his show ended) a member of the audience asking marriage advice from Lewis Schaffer.

This is a bit like Peter Buckley Hill (the PBH of PBH Free Fringe) giving advice to a comedian on how to develop and handle a PR strategy at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Earlier in the day, I had gone round to comedy critic Kate Copstick’s home to record our weekly Grouchy Club podcast. Sometimes we record this not just in audio but on video for YouTube and/or we stream it live on Periscope.

Yesterday… no visuals, because of her face.

“I woke up this morning,” she told me, “a horrible puce. Normally I don’t look in mirrors, ever. They crack, of course. Either that or there’s no reflection to see. But this time it was an horrific sight. Massively puffy. Eyes like currants in a dumpling. But a red dumpling.”

So no pictures of her from yesterday.

But we did, in the course of the 39 minute podcast, get round to discussing her job reviewing comedy shows for The Scotsman newspaper during the Edinburgh Fringe and to PR strategies for Fringe comedy shows…


COPSTICK
There is a kind of firewall – which I think is tragic – of paid PRs who can all get to the editors, who can get to the journalists, who have a budget to take them out to lunch or whatever and who, in some cases, have the tenacity of a moray eel once it bites into your leg: it’s just not going to let go.

JOHN
We’ve all been there.

COPSTICK
And it’s hard… I always give out my personal email because I’m happy for anyone to contact me. A lot of reviewers don’t. But I find myself drifting off if I start reading one of these standard It’s all marvellous! – Whoa! – One of London’s top… No! You’re not. If people up here (in Edinburgh) haven’t really heard of you, you’re not one of London’s top anything.

I much prefer – as I’ve had – a few little emails saying: I’m bricking it, terrified, blah blah blah… That is much more likely to appeal. That shows the right attitude. It shows – No 1 – a respect for the Edinburgh Fringe, which is a monumental entity in the comedy industry now… and an acceptance that life – much less the Fringe – much less the press – owes you nothing at all. It is what you make of it.

So, if you’re an individual, some corny pro-forma press release with all the usual buzz words in it is not going to work. A direct e-mail – for me – is much more likely to work. Not a press release, just an e-mail.

Then, once you get up to Edinburgh, play your little heart out, paper your show, just get people in to see it. If you’re on the free Fringe, just try and get as many people in as possible. Because, if you are any good, every single one of these people is a human flyer and you are sending them out there. They are a talking, walking, smiling, reminiscing, sadly often joke-quoting flyer. And they will do you more good than bits of paper.


Much, much more in the online podcast, including Copstick’s e-mail address and one of 21 things you did not know about pornography.

See? Marketing is all about teasing.

Meanwhile, to round off this blog – which started with a humorous suggestion of Peter Buckley Hill giving advice to a comedian on how to develop a PR strategy at the Edinburgh Fringe…

In the continuing saga of one of the worst examples of Fringe PR in recent years, the Cowgatehead saga trundles on. New readers will have to refer to previous blogs, as I am not going to plough through the whole sorry mess of a background again.

Suffice it to say that I have been contacted by an act performing at the PBH Free Fringe “probably for the last time ever, because of the way the Cowgatehead debacle was handled”.

The latest e-mail received by this act from Peter Buckley Hill apparently ends with:

“Here’s to an excellent Free Fringe 2015. The more co-operation there is between shows, the more excellent it will be.”

The act tells me: “I find that kinda ironic.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Marketing, PR

Doubt cast on the legality of PBH Free Fringe contracts at Edinburgh Fringe

An Edinburgh street during the Fringe

An Edinburgh Fringe street scene: this could be a comedian…

Yesterday’s blog about the unnecessary chaos surrounding PBH Free Fringe and Freestival shows at the Edinburgh Fringe estimated the financial damage to around 150-170 acts at around £77,000 in total.

As I wrote yesterday: It does not matter who is right and who is wrong here. There was a compromise on the table which would have meant no act lost money, no act lost their advertised venue space and no act lost shows.

As an example of the effect of the intransigence on one individual act, 2015 UK Pun champion Leo Kearse has told me this:


Short answer – I’m currently down about £1,200

I had two shows booked in to Cowgatehead and St John’s – Pun Man’s Pun Party and Hate ‘n’ Live (a show where comedians improvise rants about audience topics pulled out of a bucket).

They are both great shows. They will be replaced by some shit from the PBH z-list. I shudder to think how shit that’ll be.

I have paid Freestival fees, Fringe registration, train tickets, accommodation deposit.

I’m baffled as to how the current situation is beneficial to the venue owners, the Fringe Society, the audiences, or the acts.

I think PBH and his evil cohorts have behaved despicably to cause maximum disruption to the acts.

I doubt I’ll do the Edinburgh Fringe again. Other festivals offer better gigs and better exposure.

There is a clip on YouTube of Leo performing:


Promoter Bob Slayer has also issued a press release about surrealist act Michael Brunström:


MICHAEL BRUNSTRÖM: THE GOLDEN AGE OF STEAM

Michael Brunström, nominated last year for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality, has moved his Edinburgh Fringe 2015 show to Heroes @ The Hive, following the dispute between PBH Free Fringe and Freestival over programming rights to the Cowgatehead venue.

More money wasted: the poster Michael Brumstrom had designed for his Freestival show

More money wasted: the poster Michael had designed for his once-a-Freestival-show

Heroes promoter Bob Slayer offered Brunström a slot at the Big Cave in The Hive in exchange for a large (400g) bar of Toblerone. This agreement was made orally.

“Both PBH Free Fringe and Freestival could learn a thing or two from Bob Slayer about professionalism, efficiency and mature behaviour,” said Brunström.

Heroes will also be hosting Phil Kay and Russell Hicks – whose show Psychedelicious had also been scheduled at Cowgatehead – in Bob Slayer’s Blundabus.

In 2014 Michael Brunström was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for his show The Human Loire, in which he impersonated the longest river in France, nailed grapes to Ted Cruz’s face and chewed the legs off a heron. Brunström’s 2015 show, The Golden Age of Steam, includes further surreal stunts involving his body, voice, legs, some ping-pong balls and a tiny fern.


Interestingly, Pear Shaped Comedy’s Anthony Miller had this comment to make on my blog of yesterday, in which I mentioned the PBH Free Fringe’s contract which (uniquely among Fringe operators) bans acts appearing or wanting to appear at a PBH Free Fringe venue from appearing or negotiating to appear at any other free venue. I called this a restriction of trade. Anthony Miller wrote:


Anthony Miller

Anthony Miller asks Why? Why? Why?

I still maintain that by applying exclusivity terms to people over who else they can work for BEFORE employing people (and he is an employer even if he pays people by venue barter) he is attempting to run a de facto pre-entry closed shop system. This is illegal.

Someone said it doesn’t matter if it’s illegal or not just that it’s stupid, but the law – when it works – exists to protect us from destructive patterns and practices in society.

So why is it illegal? Why is it more than just an old man with eccentric rules on which of his competitors his acts and people who want to gig for him can also gig for?

It is illegal because the effective purpose of all pre-entry closed shop systems is effective control over entry into the labour market by one body with the effective result of decreasing the overall number of people in the labour market. And that is exactly what is happening here.

It is not an accident that a load of people are now going to the Fringe NOT to work. It is by design.

PBH wants to be a monopoly controller.

Why?

He wants to control the number of people entering the labour market.

Why?

Then he can decrease competition.

Why?

He has become a victim of his own success…. Monopoly of £0 entry gigs gives him control of who does and doesn’t enter the labour market. And that is what he wants.

This situation is not an accident. It is the inevitable long term consequence of any closed shop system. A system which always puts one-person coterie in charge of who can work and who can enter the workforce.

I am sure PBH has an incredibly long waiting list… but would it be so long if people who were not on it did not fear blacklisting?


Robin Ince (Photo: Vera de Kok)

Robin Ince (Photo by Vera de Kok)

I also this morning received some reaction from Robin Ince to a reference in yesterday’s blog to an upcoming benefit gig for the Free Fringe which includes performers Stewart Lee, Nick Helm and Robin Ince. Robin writes:


Stewart. Nick and I agreed to do benefit to support acts doing Free Fringe; we have no gain from it. Maybe it is time we stopped doing benefits and let the lazy comedy fucks who can’t be bothered to do any to start doing ten minutes here and there.

Do I support the acts who have been fucked over. Yes. Would I do a benefit for them? Yes.

Do I think Freestival are innocent victims and PBH is the big villain?  No.


Meanwhile, the saga continues.

A general perception I think (including by me) was that the fact there were three members of the same family – all called Kenny Waugh – somehow involved in the saga meant there was chaos between Kennies. In fact, I understand, there was only the one Kenny – the middle one – involved in talking to both the PBH Free Fringe and to the Freestival.

The Waugh family – one or more of them – rent the Cowgatehead building from the Crolla family. 

A Crolla family is involved in ownership of the La Favorita pizza company which sponsors the Freestival. But, as I understand it, they are different Crolla families.

Elio Crolla, who was involved in the Cowgatehead building last year, died on 26th January this year, which will not have helped the tangled web of ownership, rentals and rights within the building.

I think my head may soon explode.

 

8 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Legal system

Performers at ‘free’ Edinburgh Fringe venues could lose estimated £77,000

Cowgate_Edinburgh

Along these mean streets performers must go – including the Cowgate in  Edinburgh

My first blog about the ongoing ‘free’ venue chaos at the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe was posted over a week ago.

Now, NOT changing the subject…

I think, as a generalisation, most religions tend to be a good thing – most religions are amiable – but most organised religions are a bad thing. ‘Organisation’ inevitably means politicking and power corrupting originally admirable ideals.

As I say, I am remaining on-subject here.

The elevator explanation of the current chaos is that the PBH Free Fringe was created by Peter Buckley Hill (PBH) as an altruistic alternative to the increasingly commercialised and (for acts) expensive traditional Fringe where the acts pay to hire venues and audiences pay in advance of seeing the show.

The Free Fringe used the centuries-old model of busking and took it indoors. The acts do not pay to perform in a space. The audience sees their shows for free and decides, on exit, how much to pay, if anything.

PBH then joined forces with Laughing Horse promoter Alex Petty. There was soon a schism and Laughing Horse formed the Free Festival as either complementary or a rival, depending on your concept of the ‘ownership’ of the model of indoor busking.

Years trundled by and there was another schism. More of the PBH helpers – described by some as his “right hand men” – split off and last year formed The Freestival.

PBH had previously seen Alex Petty and the Free Festival as (my words) The Great Satan. Now Freestival became The Great Satan. It is a bit like the schisms in Christianity or Islam. I think calling PBH “the ISIS of free comedy” might be going a tiny bit too far, unless people start being beheaded in The Royal Mile. But at least ISIS take hostages and the Sunni/Shia aggro is not a bad analogy.

This year, as last year, there was a tussle over which organisation had rights to programme the Cowgatehead venue, owned and run in labyrinthine ways by three men from the same family, all called Kenny Waugh.

Last year, the Freestival ran shows in the bottom half of the Cowgatehead building; the Free Fringe ran shows in the top half.

This year (as far as anyone publicly knew until after the deadline to be listed in the main Fringe Programme was past – it is published tomorrow) the Freestival had rights from one or more of the Kenny Waughs to programme acts at Cowgatehead.

Then, out of nowhere, PBH suddenly announced (I think only on Facebook) that he owned rights to programme Cowgatehead although, as far as I know, no acts had, at that point, ever been approached or accepted to perform there.

The Freestival were (like almost everyone else, I think) surprised but eventually suggested a compromise which was that PBH should book acts into six rooms in the top half of the building, as they did last year. And Freestival would book acts into the bottom half of the building, as they did last year. Freestival would run nine rooms by building extra ones, as they did last year.

Freestival suggested a meeting to take place yesterday between them, PBH, a Kenny Waugh and (added into the equation later) the Fringe Office and Freestival’s sponsors.

This compromise would mean that PBH got the six rooms he proposed in the Cowgatehead venue. Freestival would get the nine venues they proposed there. And no acts would be adversely affected.

Any alternative would severely affect all acts who had – months ago with no squeak of any kind from PBH – booked into Cowgatehead with Freestival, paid the Fringe Office for a listing in the main Programme, written shows over the last six or more months and booked accommodation (with deposits) as well as having posters and flyers designed and, if they were abnormally efficient, printed.

Yesterday, Freestival issued a statement (I have not corrected the spelling):


Today’s meeting with PBH, the licensee (of Cowgatehead) and representatives of the Fringe office will now not take place. The Licencee agreed to travel to London and take part in compromise talks with PBH and ourselves. He, along with ourselves invited PBH to that meeting but despite multiple requests and invites from us, the licensee and the Fringe society and also our Sponsor flying to London to meet with Peter, Peter has refused to attend or to open a constructive dialogue. 

As a result the licensee will now not attend the planned meeting. We are very saddened by PBH’s complete intransigence and the subsequent devastation this will now cause to many peoples Edinburgh program. We will be releasing a full statement soon with any further details we can obtain and will be continuing to work with the Fringe office on a solution. 

While we haven’t given up on a solution if PBH can be persuaded to enter into discussions we must, for now, assume the Cowgatehead is no longer our primary venue. We also believe that PBH has taken control of St.Johns – Victoria Street and Probably the Tron Kirk although we have as yet had no official notification of this. 

We are so very sorry that after everyone’s hard work since the last Fringe all our efforts and energies regarding these venues have been wasted. We have secured a number of alternative spaces in order to accommodate those acts not moving over to PBH’s ethos, we hope to have the complete number of new spaces required signed up by the end of this week. We will be contacting all acts involved shortly and making a statement once that is done.


It does not matter who is right and who is wrong here. There was a compromise on the table which would have meant no act lost money, no act lost their advertised venue space and no act lost shows.

In a posting on PBH’s Facebook page on 25th May, performer Ray Davis wrote:


Some 170 odd performers are booked into a performance space, with the considerable personal investment they would have made (these are “free spaces” yet accommodation for the month is typically £600-£1000 for a room in a shared house, almost £400 to be in the Fringe Programme, advertising, flyers, pre-booked transportation, etc.). 

The venue was offered by an organisation called “Freestival” and only after the festival programme deadline had passed (£400 remember?) did PBH claim that these bookings were null and void as he had right to the venue. 

PBH has held out what I believe he thinks is an olive branch in so much as he’ll consider acts transferring over “where he can” but they have to sign an exclusivity deal to do so, breaking links with any other organisation at the Fringe – so if they have another show elsewhere… can’t do it. If they’ve been invited to participate in a showcase… can’t do it. Bit like going into McDonalds and having to sign to agree not to buy (or eat) fast food from anywhere else for all of August.


To avoid accepting or even discussing the compromise in pursuit of personal revenge over people PBH regards as (my words) renegades from the true Free Fringe religion and a personal one-sided vendetta knowing for certain – for certain – that this will without any doubt at all result in mental anguish, financial damage and career damage to the performers you claim to champion is behaviour so self-centred and uncaring that is likely to mean that, even if PBH were to win this self-perceived battle, he would be likely to disastrously lose the self-declared war. Because all credibility and all past positive actions are likely to be wiped out by this act of sheer short-sighted selfish vindictiveness.

The PBH position is to refuse to even discuss a compromise where the Cowgatehead venue would accommodate a suggested 15 performance rooms. The PBH Free Fringe would prefer to accommodate 6 performance spaces featuring so-far un-booked acts simply to bugger-up the Freestival which had already booked acts into 9 rooms which a Kenny Waugh had told them they had the right to do.

PBH has said he might book some of the pre-booked acts into ‘his’ rooms but maybe at different times to those advertised (and paid for) in the main Fringe Programme. And all acts would have to sign his draconian 3,600 word contract which says the acts cannot appear elsewhere.

The Free Fringe is the only Fringe operator with this extraordinary restriction of trade preventing performers from performing.

Around 150-170 acts who have been writing, rehearsing and paying for their presumed hour-long, month-long Edinburgh shows for the last six or nine months now face cancellation of their shows, loss of earnings, loss of payments made, loss of deposits on accommodation and more. Even if they can find an alternative venue or are ‘given’ a room by PBH, their Programme listings will be wrong and paid-for posters/flyers will have to be changed.

It does not matter who is right and who is wrong here. There was a compromise on the table which would have meant no act lost any money, no act lost their advertised venue space and no act lost shows.

The reason acts are going to be damaged – and they definitely are; they already have been – is solely because that compromise was not even discussed by PBH.

There is a show at the Bloomsbury Theatre on Tuesday 30th June to raise money for the PBH Free Fringe. Tickets cost £15 or £12.50 concessions plus a £2.50 booking fee. The acts advertised include Alistair Barrie, Nick Helm, Robin Ince, Stewart Lee and Howard Read. It would be interesting to know if these same acts are going to organise any gig to raise money for their far less well-off fellow performers damaged by PBH’s scorched earth actions.

I asked various people for estimates of how much acts are likely to lose. One reply came from Ian Fox, performer and author of the book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show. He told me:


I am not a Freestival act, but I would estimate the £150 Freestival fee, and £295 for a discounted Fringe Programme entry. It is a bit early to have paid for posters and flyers, but there could be advertising fees if they had a quarter-page advert in the Fringe Programme (around £1,500 says John), or bought space on a Fringe type website for £50. 

If they get a new slot, they could still make use of accommodation and transport costs. Otherwise, the deposit on a flat could be anything from £300 to £500 and a rail ticket costs £75 approximately, unless they’re flying in from somewhere… So £1,000 is a feasible number, for worst case scenario.

Those shows in Cowgatehead 7,8,9 (the Freestival’s extra venues in addition to the Free Fringe’s six) which are automatically lost, based on 11 shows per room if they started at noon and went till midnight with a 15 minute turnaround between shows… £11,000 per room, £33,000 total. Add into that The Tron Kirk and St Johns and that’s another £22,000. 

Then factor in the 6 remaining rooms at Cowgatehead… Some of the shows will have been moved over (from Freestival to Free Fringe) but say a third of them were not – that is another £22,000… So £22,000 + £33,000 + £22,000, means potentially acts have forgone up to £77,000.

Bearing in mind the amount of money potentially lost from a last-minute decision to switch a provider and break a verbal agreement… which I think puts them in an actionable position, as their actions have directly caused others financial loss… Who in their right mind refuses to turn up to a meeting?


Ray Davis, in his posting on the PBH Facebook page on 25th May wrote:


PBH’s Free Fringe is promoted as a collective, a freely run not for profit organisation,  yet this smacks of the worst sort of bloody nosed business practice. Audiences of course won’t know nor give a shit.

Individual acts have only a small voice.

If PBH is a volunteer then this sort of who-hah won’t cost him financially. But in the longer term it could of course cost him the years of good will and hard work he’s put in to build a Free Fringe model.


Yesterday, to my knowledge, at least three performers cancelled the London previews for their Edinburgh shows. Presumably because they believe they will not be able to stage their prepared shows because of all the shenanigans.

Yesterday, too, an act who has performed on the Free Fringe for several years – and who has a show there this year – told me he had been thinking of cancelling his show because he felt uncomfortable being associated with the “stench” (his words) of the current Free Fringe. He said he had, however, decided not to cancel because of the cost.

It is a pity many acts will not be given this choice.

And still the saga continues because, this morning, I was told off-the-record of the existence of an e-mail which will further muddy the waters.

We live in interesting times.

And so the labyrinth stretches onwards.

7 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh

Madness in Edinburgh – It’s not only comics who have psychotic interludes

cropped-blackfordhill1.jpg

As per several of my blogs last week, madness reigns and financial damage to performers comes ever closer as the Edinburgh Fringe approaches because of a tussle between the Freestival and the late-to-arrive PBH Free Fringe organisation, both claiming to have rights to programme the Cowgatehead venue.

Today, there is a meeting to try to sort it out after a compromise was suggested by the Freestival – although, in correspondence last week with critic Bruce Dessau, Peter Buckley Hill (the PBH of the Free Fringe) said: “Such a meeting is not on the cards. There is no compromise deal on the table… There is no meeting.”

So someone somewhere either has to be telling porkie pies or is delusional.

I merely report the facts as a detached observer with a raised eyebrow.

But – surprising as it may be to some – there are other people in Edinburgh during August in addition to comedians and, indeed, some of them actually live there. Lucky them.

I have been going to Edinburgh every year since I was an embryo. When I was a kid, we used to go up every year to visit my father’s aunt who lived there. My mother also had a cousin living there. And, later, my father’s sister lived there.

I also – again surprising as it may be to some – know people other than comedians.

And psychotic interludes are not restricted to comedians.

Take my chum Sue Blackwell (not her real name).

“Have you ever wanted to be a performer?” I asked her on Skype yesterday.

“No,” she told me. “I was in three AmDram plays in the 1990s. I wanted to just try it. The minister at the local church was a very flamboyant character and held the rehearsals in his manse. It was fun. It was an experience.

“I did enjoy it but, at the end of the third one, I became ill. That’s when it started. They held a barn dance after the third one and I went feeling I was alright. The next day, I was telling people I had been hypnotised. It was a quick as that.”

“Did someone,” I asked Sue, “spike your drink?”

“Well, that was what the psychiatrist asked me, but I don’t think so.”

“Had you,” I asked, “had any psychotic incidents before this?”

“No. But I was in a marriage that was particularly bad and abusive and I had probably earned it after 20 years of what was going on. I think I had probably decided to do the AmDram to distract myself.”

“How long did these psychotic incidents last?”

“I was away from work for three months.”

“This was,” I asked, “hallucination stuff?”

“Voices,” Sue told me. “The first voice I heard was a man’s voice. It’s hard to describe. Eventually, I went to see a psychologist. Then I said: I want to see a psychiatrist.”

“Why did you want to change from a psychologist to a psychiatrist?”

“There was no rational rhyme or reason to my thought processes. But I did see the psychiatrist and I took a newspaper with me. I could no more have read that paper than fly to the moon, but I wanted to appear normal. I wasn’t thinking rationally. My daughter was with me and I was telling the psychiatrist this story about feeling different after the barn dance and she said: You’ve been odd for ages, mum.

Odd? Me? I said. And so it went on and eventually I left my home and went to stay with my daughter. I had this man’s voice in my head and it was really scary. I was still telling friends I had been hypnotised and some of them believed me. It felt like I had walked into the barn dance that evening OK but, looking back now, I probably wasn’t OK.”

“What were the voices like?” I asked. “Was it like listening to me now, in reality? Sometimes, when you dream, other people talk to you in the dream and…”

“It was an actual man’s voice,” explained Sue. “Lots of things I do remember, but I can’t remember the nature that it took. It was very unpleasant to me. It must have been me. It didn’t tell me to kill my husband – it only approached that once. But I was very frightened of the voice.

“It went on because it was not treated and, eventually, I went for treatment and they put me on amitriptyline and the voice dampened down. Then I went back to where I was living with my daughter and then it all started again, except it was a woman’s voice, which was softer. It wasn’t so harsh. There wasn’t the aggression in it.

“Eventually, I went to live with a gay friend of mine. I couldn’t talk about it by this time. I disassociated myself to cope. It was like a big egg. I was outside of it and I was not in contact with what had happened to me. Every time I did attempt to talk about it, my whole body would shake. I had been living in a place where I was scared of the person I was living with.”

“Your husband?” I asked.

“Yes. So I went to live with my gay friend and never went back and my gay friend was just amazing. He said: You need a bloody good scream, dear. So he took me out – but trying to find a place to scream in a city… We were driving around and eventually went up Arthur’s Seat but there were people parked in cars and we thought: We can’t do it here. People will call the police. So we drove down to the Blackford Hill in the south of Edinburgh and drove up to the Observatory car park and it was dusk and we walked round to look at the panorama of Edinburgh, where I know you like to go, and I just screamed my head off.

“We had also both been screaming while driving there. We went out a couple of times and screamed from the top of Blackford Hill and my gay friend was probably right. It helped on some level. Eventually, it got better.”

“Did the problem go away as quickly as it had started?”

“No. I went and saw another psychiatrist and I was barely… I can only remember bits of it. Going into the mental health unit. I accidentally went next door, which was a solicitor’s and I thought they were doing that to trick me. I was OK when I was talking to somebody. I told the psychiatrist: There’s a tiny part of my mind… I probably sound normal… rational… But inside I’m not. He gave me Seroxat.”

“Jesus Christ!” I said. “Did you read my blog about The Amazing Mr Smith committing suicide when he took Seroxat?”

“Yes, I know. But for me it worked. It started to dampen down the voices.”

“What were the voices telling you?”

“Every notice I saw… My anxiety was through the roof… I was getting panic attacks and God knows what. I would see a notice for a jumble sale and I would think it was somebody targeting me.”

“What for?” I asked. “To get jumble?”

“Not necessarily. Any old notice.”

“You thought they were criticising you?” I asked.

“Or something. It was all linked. I said to the psychiatrist I’m a schizophrenic and he said Oh no. that’s a totally different thing. He said: If you want a diagnosis, I would say you were very, very deeply depressed. But I had been functioning in the depression. I can look back now and think I was almost becoming manic. I couldn’t cram enough into my life.”

“To cram so much into your life you would not be aware of your depression?”

“Probably. I didn’t feel depressed but I suppose I was distancing myself from myself. Also another big thing was that I’d had these mental ‘absences’. If I went into the bathroom when I was living with my daughter, I might go into a… you know sometimes people are… just not ‘here’ for a minute. Then my daughter would say: Mum! Mum! and I had a sense of being pulled back from this other place, wherever it was, and I would feel a sense of almost anger.”

“At being pulled back?”

“Yeah. It was happening a lot. It was a deep ‘away’. I couldn’t help myself. It wasn’t just absent-mindedness. It was like going to a safe place.”

“But this was 15-20 years ago and you’re OK now.”

“Maybe that long ago. I don’t know. I can’t remember. I don’t put myself under huge stress now. It’s a difficult thing, mental illness. Because it’s all on the inside. It doesn’t show.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Edinburgh, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology