Tag Archives: Alex Petty

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

Edinburgh Free Festival boss on PBH fall-out and the Cowgatehead fiasco

The Cowgatehead venue last year

Cowgatehead venue – entrance to the Edinburgh labyrinth… Abandon hope all ye who try to explain what’s happened here.

This year, the Edinburgh Fringe Programme will make the Minoan labyrinth seem like the open plains of the Serengeti (and contain more rogue animals) because of the ongoing Cowgatehead affair. As a result of it, acts are going to be performing in different venues at different times to where/when they are billed. Or not at all.

The Cowgatehead elevator pitch explanation is that there are four organisations offering ‘free’ shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. In order of appearance: the PBH Free Fringe (so-called after its founder Peter Buckley Hill) from which split off the Laughing Horse Free Festival, Bob Slayer’s Heroes of the Fringe and the Freestival.

Freestival understood they had rights this year to programme acts in the Cowgatehead venue. Now the PBH Free Fringe has those rights. As a result, it has been calculated that (overall) acts will lose at least £77,000.

Over a week ago, I had a long-planned chat with Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival (not directly involved in the Cowgatehead fiasco) and I have been sitting on the resultant blog ever since then, awaiting the rumoured sudden announcement of a new venue or venues (unconnected with Alex).

Two days ago, I was told yet another free venue may have been lost because there was no signed contract (again, unconnected with Alex). And not a venue one might have expected. But that (if true) has not yet been announced.

The Edinburgh Fringe thrives on gossip, starts in just four weeks time, the chaos continues… and the most gobsmacking story of the whole Cowgatehead affair (which I believe) seems unlikely to be revealed for several months, if ever. Now there is a tease. I do like a good tease.

Anyway, I met and chatted to Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival over a week ago.

“Cowgatehead has been a mess, then,” was the first thing I said to him.

Alex Petty at Soho Theatre, London

Alex Petty at the Soho Theatre last month

“I think that’s fair to say,” he replied.

“It could be turned into a show,” I said.

“Probably a musical,” suggested Alex. “That’s what usually happens at the Fringe.”

When booked and advertised shows were unceremoniously chucked out of the Cowgatehead, some were given homes by other promoters.

“The Free Festival,” said Alex, “has got about 15 shows that have moved across this year. Bob Slayer has some. And I know Darrell (Martin, of Just the Tonic) has a load. Behind-the-scenes, most venues do help each other. That does genuinely happen. I was lending equipment to Freestival people last year.”

“And,” I said, “The Gilded Balloon had trouble with a new room this year, so the competing Pleasance Dome has let them use one of their rooms. And a couple of years ago, Bob Slayer was short of chairs, so the Underbelly venue gave him some – for free.”

“There is a genuine Fringe community,” said Alex. “The one good thing about the Cowgatehead affair is that people have proved this community idea does happen. I find Peter’s publicity wants to make people believe there is a battle between free and paid venues, a battle between Free Fringe and Freestival and Free Festival but most of the venues just want to get on with it and will help each other out.”

“The whole Cowgatehead thing was unnecessary,” I suggested.

“In reality,” agreed Alex, “if everything that Peter said had happened had happened and Freestival had maybe buggered it up a bit, then if Peter had just put out just exactly what had happened and said We have six spaces rather than nine, so six shows are going to go ahead and we will help out the other shows, finding them other places, then people would have said he was brilliant for saving the venue. But it was the whole way he did it that has made him into a Public Enemy as well.”

“I think,” I said, “the Rubicon was that meeting arranged by Freestival to agree a compromise in London which Peter said he couldn’t go to because it didn’t exist (using the present tense). If that meeting had happened, no act would have lost money or rooms. I think the Free Fringe and Freestival have both (as far as I can see) told the exact truth and, with Peter’s very exact use of present and/or past tenses in what he said, apparently opposite realities can both be true. Did you see the emails between the Free Fringe and Freestival which I posted in my blog? They were both co-operating amiably on all sorts of things. earlier his year.”

Free Fringe

Free Fringe – interesting times

“I would suggest,” said Alex, “that Peter had never seen any of those emails. The problem with the Free Fringe which I had, Bob Slayer had and Freestival had was that, as individuals, you think: I could do this better. If we could change that a little bit, that would help. And you genuinely believe you can take things forward. But then you hit a brick wall with Peter.”

“Why did Laughing Horse and PBH fall out?” I asked.

“We worked with him for two years and it gradually got more and more obvious that we had – and it was probably only slightly – different views on how things should work. Obviously, Peter is well-known for his (acts) not-contributing-any-money-for-anything stance unless it’s voluntary. Whereas we suggested acts should bung in a bit of money to go towards printing a programme. It was a hundred little things like that amplified.

“Essentially, after two years, I came to the realisation: This whole thing is being held together by a very narrow, wet bit of string. It’s not working for everyone. Peter wasn’t happy about it. We weren’t happy. What can we do? Let’s go and do our own thing. In our own heads, not really knowing the full psychology of Peter, the whole idea was: We will go and run some free stuff our way – which is basically the way Peter does it, but we take a bit of money and we supply equipment. Same ends; slightly different route getting there. We can maybe both have a brochure together and work together where we can.

“At that point, there were only four venues – Lindsay’s, Canons’ Gait, the Meadow Bar and Jekyll & Hyde. As part of a conversation we had with Peter, we said: If you speak to them and we speak to them, they’ll make a decision about what they want to do. And, obviously, the moment we said that, we were Public enemy No 1.”

“You started Laughing Horse,” I said, “with just one little club in…”

Free Festival shows in the Fringe Programme

Free Festival shows in the Fringe Programme

“Richmond,” said Alex. “In March 1999. I’ve never had any sort of plan. I went up to Edinburgh one year and thought: Better do something here. We don’t do so many comedy clubs these days. We still have the one in Richmond. One in Brighton. Edinburgh has pushed us on to doing festivals. We still do our New Act competition each year in the UK. We’re probably associated with 4 or 5 different venues but it’s really moved on to festival stuff.

“We do the Perth Fringe World and Adelaide. So much of the stuff has all sprung from doing Edinburgh. Last year we did the Singapore Comedy Festival for the first time: lots of expat Brits, Americans and locals – a good mix of Malay and Thai and other people doing comedy.”

“You co-run that festival, don’t you?” I asked.

“My job mostly is finding the acts, looking after the acts and maybe giving advice on setting up venues. There’s a couple of people out in Singapore who essentially run it.

“This year, we did three nights of shows in Hong Kong, Manila two nights, Singapore three nights. It worked pretty well. It was fun. Twenty-odd comedians all meeting up in Hong Kong and having ten days together in three countries and figuring out if comedy is ever going to work in Manila.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because Manila was certainly an experience. It’s the only time I’ve been nose-to-nose with someone who is meant to be the head of a biker gang who says he doesn’t want comedians anywhere near the venue because they’ve had a bit of a falling-out with one of the acts.

“It was completely not the act’s fault. But there was a disagreement with the act and the wife of this guy who was really kicking-off – irate, with hands all over the place. We ended up just basically bundling the comedians out the back door and saying: Let’s not do any more comedy here. He was a really irate man. It was my first trip to the Philippines; never been there before.”

“Are you going to be back in Manila again next year?”

“Yes.”

“So, after this,” I said, “the Cowgatehead kerfuffle was a stroll in the park?”

“Absolutely.”

“Laughing Horse,” I pointed out, “has not done the obvious leap from comedy promotions and venue-running into comedy act management. Why?”

“I like to be out doing shows. Management is just more admin, more sitting in front of a computer, more shuffling numbers and contracts around. We’ve had conversations about Laughing Horse having a small agency but it’s not what I’m interested in.”

“How are you going to expand?”

“Well, Perth has only happened the last couple of years. That is a cracking festival. At the moment, I just produce shows there. I’d eventually like to find a venue to run and push it forward that way. In Adelaide, we’re involved in a couple of venues – one we run; one we co-run. I’ve been at Melbourne two or three years now and I’m hoping to build up and see what happens there. The Sydney Comedy Festival happens in May and that could be added on to the end of Melbourne. We may look at that one year. There’s also the New Zealand festivals that happen in May. So there are some other things out there to look at. Though May clashes with the Brighton Festival back in the UK, which has ended up being the Edinburgh preview festival.”

“Next year?” I asked.

Alex Petty at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

Alex Petty at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

“For Laughing Horse, the plans are more of the same, really. I would like Freestival to continue. The more promoters of free shows there are the better. This nonsense happens at Edinburgh every year in one way, shape or form. It’s chaos. My experience of other festivals around the world is you just turn up and do your thing. Why not at Edinburgh? Is it lack of spaces? Is it bigger egos? I don’t know. I think it was Brian Damage who said to me that the Fringe basically is always chaos for everyone but you get there and always get through in the end and that’s a philosophy that has always been true. Somehow it all works. But I don’t think anyone really knows how.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

Venue chaos at the Edinburgh Fringe (yet again). What have they said so far?

The Cowgate acts programmed by Freestival and potentially by the chaos

Acts programmed by Freestival and potentially affected by the chaos.

There has been a bit of chaos in the last few days about who has the right to programme shows at a couple of venues at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. As there has been so much verbiage flying around, it may be worth just putting the key parts together.

Just for the record – and because it will remain interesting to read in the future, looking back – below are the main to-and-froings so far.

The background to this is that Peter Buckley Hill (known as PBH) started Free Fringe shows in which performers pay nothing to hire their venues and audiences pay no entry fee. Instead, on a voluntary basis, members of the audience can donate money on the way out, having seen the show. In effect, it is the long-established system of street busking moved indoors.

PBH’s Free Fringe then combined with Alex Petty’s Laughing Horse outfit to run the Free Fringe. But that soon fell apart due to ‘creative differences’.

Alex Petty then formed the Free Festival as a rival to the Free Fringe (the view of PBH) or as a complement to it (Alex’s view). The same format of ‘indoor busking’ with no entry fee applied.

The Free Festival then became, in PBH’s eyes, The Great Satan (my phrase).

This (in my view) one-sided feud went on until last year, when a group of Free Fringe organisers also broke away from PBH over ‘creative differences’ to form The Freestival which was another rival to the Free Fringe (the view of PBH) or a complement to it (Alex Petty and the new Freestival people’s view). The same format of ‘indoor busking’ with no entry fee applied.

The Freestival then became, in PBH’s eyes The Great Satan (my phrase).

The final deadline for shows to be included in this year’s official Fringe Programme was 8th April. the Programme itself is published on 4th June (next week).

Now read on…

On Thursday last week, Peter Buckley Hill posted this on the Chortle comedy industry website’s Fringe Forum:


COWGATEHEAD 2015.
READ THIS IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE A SHOW

This post is addressed to all shows who believe they have a Fringe slot in Cowgatehead organised by Freestival.

I regret to have to tell you that Freestival never had permission in 2015 to book shows into Cowgatehead. The slot you think you have is not real.

We have a confirmation from both the owner and the licensee of Cowgatehead. Freestival’s bookings never had their approval, and these bookings are null and void.

I appreciate this will come as a shock to many of you. You will have proceeded on the basis that you had a confirmed performance slot. But you do not.

Even if you have paid Freestival, even if you have paid to be in the Fringe Programme, you do not have a slot.

Your first reaction will be not to believe this message. But it is true.

The licensee has recently approached us, the Free Fringe, to book this space, and has explicitly stated that Freestival has no right to make such bookings. We, The Free Fringe, are now authorised to book all performance spaces at Cowgatehead. No bookings other than those made by us are valid, and none will be honoured, whatever the circumstances.

I appreciate that many of you will be taken aback by this, and most of you will have acted in good faith in applying to Freestival. You are not to be blamed. Freestival, however, is to be blamed for taking bookings into a space which they were not entitled to book.

You could, of course, pretend this is not happening and turn up in August expecting to do a show. But you will not be able to.

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.

By applying to the Free Fringe, there is a chance that your slot, or something close to it, may be given back to you. It depends on your application itself and the speed with which you make it.

We will look upon such applications as sympathetically as we can. You will need to mention the slot you thought you had and the length of the run you thought you had.

I have no doubt that Freestival, having been caught doing something they should never have done, will attempt to spin the situation in any way they think might exonerate them. But at the end of the day, they cannot deliver the slot they have promised you, and they have never been able to deliver that slot.

We are also informed that bookings at St John’s are equally invalid, but in that case we have no power to rectify this. Such shows are also welcome to apply to the Free Fringe, but we cannot give you space at St John’s. That is all the information we have about St John’s.

We deplore the actions of Freestival. To run free shows, thus emancipating performers at a Fringe in which many organisations seek to exploit performers, one must be honest. It is difficult enough even if one is fully honest. But to promise you something that they cannot deliver, and to charge you for it, is in our eyes deplorable.

We do not know who you are. But we do know that (according to Freestival’s web site) 171 shows have been promised space by them. The overwhelming majority of these applications are invalid. We urge you to spread this post so that all such shows can be reached.

No doubt they will call this venue poaching on our part. It is not. They never had the venue for 2015. Nothing has been poached. We, the Free Fringe, were contacted by the licensee and asked to programme Cowgatehead for 2015, as the sole programmers. If you thought otherwise, you have been deceived. We will help to the extent we can, giving weight also to our own unallocated applicants.

Free shows need to be honest. Even so, mistakes happen and are difficult enough. I regret that some of you have been the victims of what appears to be dishonesty on the part of Freestival.


That same day, Chortle ran a news item.
I have edited the below to remove repetition:


CHAOS AT THE FRINGE

It’s fast becoming a Fringe tradition – and today the annual row between rival free Edinburgh show promoters flared up in earnest.

The dispute centres on the Cowgatehead performance spaces, which newcomers Freestival operated last year. They have again been programming the space for 2015, with many comedy shows now locked into the official programme.

However Free Fringe founder Peter Buckley Hill has today claimed Freestival had no permission to book shows into the venues, saying that his organisation has the deal to programme the space.

The news would throw dozens of shows into chaos, as it comes after the programme has gone to press. Acts lined up to appear in Cowgatehead include Adam Vincent, Birthday Girls, Christian Steel, Katia Kvinge and Alison Thea-Skot.

However Freestival say the have ‘no idea’ why Buckley Hill – universally known as PBH – had made his statement and reassured acts that their slots were secure.

Alex Petty of Laughing Horse said: ‘Hoping this is bullshit, as whatever games that are be being played here, it only affects performers who will have already paid a considerable sum to be in Edinburgh already.

’However, If any performer has lost a performance space as part of this, and they need to find somewhere, I have gained three additional spaces today, at the Jekyll & Hyde & Meadow Bar, both of which I wasn’t expecting to be running this year.’

Online, the consensus among comedians was that if the PBH Free Fringe was running Cowgatehead, they should honour all the slots offered by Freestival so as not to punish acts who had made considerable outlay to be there.

The Cowgatehead venue was at the centre of a similar row last year, when PBH again claimed that Freestival had no right to run shows there – although in the end they did.

Confusion reigns as the site is effectively controlled by three generations of the Waugh family – all called Kenny. PBH said it was Kenny II promised him the use of the space in 2014, and again this year.

Last year’s deal with PBH fell through after an email was sent from Waugh Taverns Ltd, of which Kenny I is director, which stated that the venue would be programmed by Freestival and stating: ‘Last year we worked with Mr Peter Hill, due to irreconcilable differences we regret we will not be renewing our agreement with him for this coming year.’

Chortle has not yet been able to contact Kenny II about this year’s dispute.

But until it is resolved, at least 90 shows have been thrown into limbo. Currently 67 shows are programmed into Cowgatehead and 23 into St John’s.


Yesterday, Saturday, the Freestival issued a press release:


Performers in 150 Edinburgh Fringe shows fear they have been left without venues after Peter Buckley Hill, ex Fringe Society director and principal controller of  ‘The Free Fringe Ltd’ claimed that an Edinburgh venue manager is planning to switch the management of his spaces to the Free Fringe from another Fringe promoter without warning.

The performers have already paid £360 a piece to register their shows in the Fringe Programme, have designed promotional materials and many have also booked and paid for accommodation in August.

In a statement on Facebook and other public forums, Mr Buckley Hill, announced he had, on 21st May,  signed a contract with the Licensee of Freestival’s Cowgatehead venue, which has already been fully programmed with the consent of the licensee and owner. The statement also sought to imply Freestival did not have the use of the St Johns venue. The licensee of that venue has since refuted this, stating that it remains a Freestival venue.

Freestival organisers, Jools Constant, Alex Marion and Dan Adams say:

“This has devastated people who are hoping to perform at the 2015 Fringe. We have spent the last two days dealing with distraught phone calls from people who fear their shows will not be able to go ahead.

Our greatest concern is the acts, who have put their trust in us and have already invested time, energy and money in bringing shows to the Fringe. We are appalled that their shows have been thrown into doubt by this senseless and unwarranted action. If the situation cannot be resolved and it is true that the licensee has reneged on his agreement with us, we will do our utmost to work with Peter Buckley Hill to ensure that the performers are disrupted as little as possible. We will do our best to ease their transition to PBH or another provider if they wish.

We are taking advice from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society and hope they can help us find a way to intervene and find definitive answers to a number of outstanding questions including:

How is this able to happen after acts have paid to register and advertise with the Fringe Brochure?

Why would PBH agree to sign the deal so late in the year without first speaking with us, in full knowledge of the commitments already made by ourselves and the performers?

What has prompted the licensee to switch over to PBH after Freestival has been dealing constantly with both him and the building owners regarding the venue since the end of the 2014 Fringe? This included booking performers into the venue at the request of the licensee (and of the only other party originally bidding for the venue’s lease earlier in the year), ongoing discussions about building new rooms to complement those we built in July last year and about improvements to facilities, all with no indication that any other provider was in the running.

Why, when the Licensee has a full 9 room programme in place, would he switch to PBH and a smaller offering of only 6 rooms with smaller capacity?

Why did PBH wrongly include St John’s in his statement, adding needlessly to the number of acts suffering distress?

As no confirmation of the switch has been received by us from the licensee or PBH despite our attempts to obtain clarification, we are not in a position to answer these questions or even to confirm the truth of PBH’s statement.

The welfare of our acts and their shows is our first and only priority. If an act wishes to move to The Free Fringe to keep their allocated slot at Cowgatehead, anything Freestival can do to assist the moving process will be done. As a contingency against the possible loss of the Cowgatehead venue, we are sourcing alternative premises to mitigate any damage that may be caused. We are also in discussions with other promoters to ensure alternative spaces should the news be true and PBH refuses to house affected acts, although we hope PBH will reconsider and agree to transfer the show programme in its entirety. Alex Petty of Laughing Horse has kindly reached out to us and we thank him for his proactive and constructive approach in an uncertain and difficult time. Any of the Cowgatehead performers affected by this who wish to join another organisation will receive a without prejudice Freestival subscription refund.

We firmly refute all allegations of dishonesty or misconduct contained within the PBH statement and in follow up comments from individuals and related parties.

Freestival will not engage in further discussion regarding these; a public social media court is not the correct forum for such matters, given how important it is to ensure our performers interests and commitments are safe guarded and respected. We are hugely sad – given Peter Buckley Hill’s long standing commitment to supporting fringe performers – that he should choose to cast so much doubt over our acts so publicly.

We reiterate our commitment to a fair multi promoter Fringe that works for the good of performers and audiences – those performers who know us understand this and we thank all those who have expressed public support for us in this uncertain distressing time. We will be contacting all the acts affected by this situation on email with proposed alternatives and information updates over the next 48 hours.”


On Friday, Chortle editor Steve Bennett penned an opinion piece:


CAN WE END THIS BRUTAL FRINGE FREE-FOR-ALL

Free shows have been THE success story of the Edinburgh Fringe.

It has transformed the festival, opening it up to more performances and audiences than ever before, built on the excellent, simple principle of no risk on either side. If as a punter you hate the show, leave having paid nothing, if you like it, you pay what it’s worth. And as a comedian, you don’t need to commit thousands for your performance space.

Yet despite the shared basic principles, the main players in the game seem riven by bitter factional in-fighting. It’s often said that in politics the left spend more time fighting themselves than fighting the right, and it’s the same here.

The latest flashpoint over the Cowgatehead venues shows how deep those divisions are. Both Peter Buckley Hill, the founder of the entire movement and still kingpin of the Free Fringe faction, and upstarts Freestival believe they have rights to programme the spaces, right in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Freestival had already put together a full programme for the venue, with acts paying up to £393 to get listed in the official Fringe brochure – more if they took an advert.

Now, after that has gone to print, PBH has publicly told all the comedians who were happy in the knowledge their space had been secured that their deals are worthless, as his Free Fringe will be programming shows there. Freestival cry bullshit.

No doubt both sides sincerely believe they are right. The building is owned by three generations of the same family who don’t always seem to be on the same page, to say the least. But the way this has become a conflict – part of a wider, antagonistic land-grab for as many venues as possible – has caused huge anxiety for the nearly 70 performers already, allegedly, booked into Cowgatehead.

The movement that was supposed to let them concentrate on their show and relieve some of the stresses of Edinburgh has done the exact opposite.

There are only two possibilities here.

One, that PBH is wrong, and that Freestival have the right to the Room – in which case this is needless scaremongering, and will have done severe damage to his reputation as one of the good guys.

The second is that he is right and they don’t. In which case PBH should honour every booking that Freestival made so as not to mess up a single performer. He has said his organisation ‘will look upon such applications as sympathetically as we can’ but also, less encouragingly only that ‘there is a chance that your slot, or something close to it, may be given back to you’.

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.

The only thing that’s clear is that this is unclear. The two fringe organisations, and the owners of the site,  are using the divisions on either side for some power games that the performers should not be troubled by. PBH should at least allow performers to apply to both organisations and guarantee their slots should the Freestival deal be built on sand, as he believes. If he’s right, he will be their saviour and none of the comedians will trust Freestival again… he need not use the prohibitive, anti-competitive stick of the contract to win them over.

Differences between the free organisations are minor and, when it comes to the greater good, should be put aside, even – maybe especially – on such a troublesome venue to lock down.

Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly put their decades-old differences aside to publish a joint venues programme. How much more powerful would the free movement be if they could issue a similar comprehensive brochure advertising all their offerings? But until they can put their sectarian feuds to one side, it’ll never happen.


In response to that Chortle piece, the Freestival issued this:


To answer both your questions:

(1) Are you conceding that PBH will be running Cowgatehead? – we are not, for the simple reason that neither the licensee nor PBH have contacted us regarding this, or responded to our attempts to communicate with them. As things stand the only information available is PBH’s statement. We have asked him to end speculation by producing a contract. So far we have received no response. However we are putting in place contingency plans to protect our acts as best as possible, including offering to work with PBH to place our performers in the slots they have legitimately been offered and accepted. We have also acted to ensure that any acts who cannot, or do not want to, move to PBH  are taken care of, by opening discussions with Alex Petty, who has been hugely constructive in his support, and by starting to source alternative venues. Bear in mind it’s only May – last year we sourced 2 new venues with less than 48 hours to go and got audiences into them. We have no doubt we can find quality alternative venues.

(2)  Do you have any written deal with the venue? – we do not. What we do have is a good faith agreement based on the following facts:

– Acting on our behalf our sponsors secured an agreement with the building owners that we would provide entertainment in Cowgatehead, regardless of who had the license to provide bars

– there were 2 parties bidding to be licensees, including the current operator. We had verbal agreements with both parties that we would provide entertainment at Cowgatehead, and had been requested by both to provide a programme. We then entered into discussions with both, not about whether we would provide a programme, but the particulars of how a programme that had already been agreed would be provided, including disposition of stages, installation of toilets and improvements to access and signage. In other words, we had oral agreements with not just one but 4 parties (owners, sponsors and both potential licensees). It’s worth pointing out that under Scottish Law an oral agreement constitutes a contract.

– the issue of who would be the licensee was not resolved until a little over 2 weeks ago, long after the deadline for brochure entries and even longer after all parties involved had assured us we would be providing a programme of events in Cowgatehead.

– 3 days after the licensee signed a deal with the building owners we sent a draft agreement to the licensee, which we assumed would be discussed, amended and signed.

– On 21st May PBH posted his statement. Up until this point no other potential provider had ever been mentioned and PBH had programmed no acts into the venue.

– In light of all this we have no doubt that we have acted appropriately and in good faith throughout this process and were justified in doing so in legal, moral and practical terms.

Now we have a question for you:

(3) Why do you keep describing this as in fighting between us and PBH?

There is no fight. We are not, and never have, fought. What there has been, consistently, since the moment we suggested working with PBH to improve the Free Fringe, is attacks, by PBH and his team, against us. Let’s be absolutely clear, we have never openly criticised PBH or the Free Fringe, we have never engaged with the attacks against us and we have never sought hostility. In fact we have put our admiration of Peter’s pioneering work in founding the Free Fringe on record, and we have welcomed, indeed encouraged, Free Fringe acts to share Freestival stages whenever they wished (although some preferred not to appear in the publicity for fear of reprisals).

Not only that, in January we were offered 2 PBH venues, Whistlebinkies and the Globe, but we turned them down because we believe in a healthy free sector and we don’t want to damage Peter’s offering. Beyond that we have done all this because frankly we are not interested in somebody else’s vendetta. We are only interested in providing the best experience possible for our acts and audiences and for that reason, because now he has caused unforgivable anxiety and distress for the acts we have worked so closely with for months, just for today, we are going to break that rule.

Peter’s behaviour in this matter has been reprehensible. He cannot pretend that he did not know his actions would lead to at best deep distress and at worst the destruction of dreams for dozens of performers, exactly the people who he has always claimed to champion. He cannot claim that his actions have been in anyone’s best interests – he has acted purely in pursuance of an imagined feud with us, people who have never set out to do anything to him. He must know that he doesn’t have enough acts to fill even the down sized 6 room venue he is planning, and that he is in danger of throwing acts onto the street so that his spite, selfishness and thoughtless cruelty can play itself out in empty rooms.

The truth is, as anyone but his most ardent supporters (who by the way have verged on the libellous in their social media comments – we are considering taking legal advice) must realise, that Peter should have said no. He should have said, in the interests of the acts, “I won’t do this – look me up next year”. But he didn’t because he could not resist the opportunity to attack us, and he didn’t care about the collateral damage. After all, they’re just people, with dreams and as the Free Fringe ethos states: “Abandon your dreams. It’s not going to happen.”

Of course, the same ethos says repeatedly: “Don’t be a dick”. Clearly a case of do as I say, not as I do.

That’s it. We will return now to what we have always done – looking after our acts.


In my view, the key sentence in that last statement is:

“It’s worth pointing out that under Scottish Law an oral agreement constitutes a contract.”

If the Cowgatehead people made any verbal agreement with the Freestival, it would invalidate any subsequent agreement with PBH. 

As far as I am aware, the Free Fringe has, as yet, programmed no shows into the Cowgatehead venue.

The magician Stu Turner has made a parody video which is not irrelevant to all this the chaos. It is on YouTube.

7 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Legal system

The Edinburgh Fringe’s free festivals as seen by The Free Festival’s Alex Petty

GrouchyClub_MalcolmHardeeAwards2014

Blatant self interest at Edinburgh Fringe

I have to declare an interest. At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, the annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show AND the daily Grouchy Club which I am hosting with critic Kate Copstick are both being staged at The Counting House – a Laughing Horse Free Festival venue. The Edinburgh Fringe is strangely complicated. Pay attention. This year, the Fringe officially starts on Friday but, as always, actually starts this Wednesday. The Laughing Horse Free Festival and Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe/Pay What You Want shows start on Thursday. The La Favorita Freestival starts on Friday. And the PBH Free Fringe starts on Saturday. There are two types of venues in Edinburgh. There are the traditional ‘pay’ venues. That means audiences pay in advance to see the shows and the performers pay large amounts to rent the rooms and facilities.

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

But there are now four organisations hosting ‘free’ shows. That means entry is free (though you are expected to donate money on the way out) and the performers pay nothing to perform in the venue. The original Free Fringe was started by Peter Buckley-Hill (known as PBH) in 1996. He was later joined by Alex Petty of Laughing Horse Comedy, but they split in 2004 and Alex started the (in Peter’s eyes) competing Free Festival. My understanding was that Peter did not agree with Alex’s view that they should charge the acts a small amount to cover the cost of appearing in the printed Free Fringe programme (although the PBH Free Fringe runs fund-raising pre-Fringe shows in London). Last year, Bob Slayer started his ‘Pay What You Want’ version of the free model which means you can either get in for free or guarantee a seat by buying a £5 ticket in advance. This year, there was another breakaway from PBH’s original Free Fringe organisation. The breakaway organisers – calling themselves The Freestival – have managed to get £25,000 sponsorship from local La Favorita pizza chain, matched by £25,000 sponsorship from Arts & Business Scotland.

Alex Petty talked to me at the Soho Theatre

Alex Petty talked to me at the Soho Theatre

“PBH seemed to feel threatened by your Free Festival,” I said to Alex Petty when we met at the Soho Theatre in London. “Do you feel threatened by the new Freestival this year?” “Not at all,” said Alex. “I think the more free organisations the better. And let’s not forget the Scottish Comedy Festival down at The Beehive, where they do a mixture of paid and free stuff.” “Would you take sponsorship like the Freestival?” I asked. “I think that’s given them a good foundation this year,” said Alex. “They’ve started as quite a large organisation with several venues and performance spaces, whereas we started with one venue and gradually grew and acquired equipment and things we needed over the course of eleven years. What they’ve managed to do is get the equipment and stuff in and pay for the set-up for their venues in one go.

The Laughing Horse Free Festival logo

The Laughing Horse Free Festival logo for this year

“The Free Festival gets sponsorship in little ways – Kopparberg sponsor various bits of The Counting House. The Three Sisters is sponsored. It tends to be the venues themselves in partnership with sponsors, not us. It pays for the stages. “And then a lot of the companies behind the venues put money in as well. Our three main venues – The Counting House, Three Sisters and Espionage – spend a lot of money on advertising themselves, supplying equipment and staff. “We’ve never got to the point of having a big headline sponsor for the Free Festival. A lot of companies who want to sponsor comedy are alcohol companies and they want to get their products into the venues, but we have 22 venues all tied to different breweries, different companies. Some are owned by bigger companies; some are independent; trying to get them all to sign up to the same thing is difficult.”

The new Freestival 2014 logo from sponsors La Favorita

The new Freestival 2014 logo from pizza sponsors La Favorita

“Now, with the Freestival,” I said, “there is even more competition.” “We’ve all got slightly different ideas,” said Alex. “It’s going to be a friendly rivalry.” “Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want shows are listed in your Free Festival brochure,” I said. “Can you see a joint Free brochure coming out?… Although presumably not with PBH Free Fringe shows in it.” “Peter can be very combative about stuff,” said Alex. “It’s his way or no way. He’s got a very set vision and sticking to that is good in many ways. You would think Peter would be happy and proud that there are so many people now doing free shows, but he’s not happy with other people doing similar things.” “The perceived problem with free shows,” I said, “is the quality.”

Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want hybrid of free and pay to book

Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want hybrid of both free & book

“Well,” said Alex, “there are good and bad free shows. There are good and bad paid shows. There used to be a lot of Oh. It’s free. It must be rubbish. But now people are just treating them as normal shows. Every individual show, free or paid, rests on its own laurels. “The more people put on serious free shows and set up decent venues, the more people will come across to the free shows. In the last eleven years, it’s grown ridiculously and we have not seen a dip in audiences even though, every year, there are more shows – We have grown; PBH has grown; Bob Slayer has come along and expanded things. I think, with bigger and better acts and more venues running for free, that is going to pull audiences away from paid to free venues rather than taking any numbers away from the existing free audience.” “But the quality of the free shows,” I persisted, “must be lower, because you haven’t got the technical back-up. You can’t do a 10-person musical.”

The cast of Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel (Image by Idil Sukan of Draw HQ)

The cast of Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel (Image by Idil Sukan of Draw HQ)

Austentatious was in The Counting House Ballroom last year,” Alex pointed out, “and this year we have Who Ya Gonna Call? (the Ghostbusters musical). In terms of putting on large, complex productions, it’s difficult. But the Ballroom at The Counting House means we can put on things which have 6-10 people on stage. It has programmable lights; we can do scene changes and lighting changes. The Three Sisters is getting there as well, with a couple of its bigger rooms.” “I understand,” I said, “that the Freestival have put soundproofing into the Cowgatehead. So things ARE looking up. But what do you get out of it? Not vast amounts of money.” “Sadly not,” said Alex. “Laughing Horse gets work and good PR. When performers go up to Edinburgh and then progress their career, we go on with them to other festivals where we do make money and we get a lot of good PR which pushes us up in the industry a bit for getting further work.

Janey Godley at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show last year (Photo by Stephen O’Donnell)

Janey Godley at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in the ballroom of The Counting House (Photograph by Stephen O’Donnell)

“We don’t run quite so many comedy clubs any more. We have 10 or 15 places where we do regular monthly gigs or on-and-off. But we do a lot of corporate bookings and one-offs. We have 22 venues in Edinburgh during the Fringe – about 35 performance spaces. We have four venues during the Brighton Fringe. This year we did the Perth Fringe in Australia for the first time. Our main one in Australia is still the Adelaide Fringe; we manage some spaces out there. And we’ve done the Melbourne Fringe for the last couple of years. The Singapore Comedy Festival we started doing this year: we actually run that festival with guys out in Singapore – we pay acts to come out and do the festival. So we run venues and promote and produce shows and make money throughout the year.” “So how can you expand in Edinburgh?” I asked. “We’re comfortable with where we are at the moment. We’re at a size which is manageable. We want to do better what we are doing now.” “Have you ever wanted to perform yourself?” I asked. “No,” said Alex,. “I see all the stresses and strains the acts go through. I like being in the back room, enjoying it and putting stuff together.” “How did you get into the business?”

Laughing Horse came out of the Black Horse

Laughing Horse Comedy originally came from a Black Horse

“I used to go to a comedy club in Richmond with a mate of mine, Rob Lee. He wanted to get into comedy. It ended up not being the thing for him. “But I had sat down with him and his brother and we wrote a bit of material for him and he did do a few gigs and one of the local pubs we drank in – The Black Horse – said You should run a comedy club. That’s where the name Laughing Horse comes from. A couple of the guys he’d done open spots for – Kevin McCarron and Fenton McCoot…” “Fenton McCoot?” I asked. “He was an ex-hairdresser who, about a year-and-a-half in, just vanished completely. I’ve not heard from him since. He moved back to Ireland, apparently. But he just vanished at one point and him vanishing was when I started booking the acts because no other bugger would do it. So we started running a comedy club and we fucked everything up as we went along but gradually got our thing together and we got a second comedy club and, over the course of two or three years, learnt what we were doing and started to go up to the Edinburgh Fringe. We just learnt as we went. Now I can book all the acts I want to see myself.” “I like comedy,” I said, “ because it gives me a chance to meet bizarre, mentally-deranged people.” “There’s certainly a few of those around,” said Alex, “But I think the one thing that’s lacking on the comedy circuit these days is there are not the good entertaining nutters around that there used to be. People who would go on and do bizarre acts and be great at what they did for five minutes. I miss that element of the comedy circuit. It has got blander.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

A revolution at the Edinburgh Fringe. New Freestival organisers explain what to expect from them and their sponsors

The Festival Fringe is not part of the Edinburgh International Festival

The Fringe is not part of the Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh Fringe is a thing of Byzantine beauty organised by no-one and, within that non-organisation are lots of people organising things. 

I organise the annual highly-coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Fringe. Last year they were the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. This year, they are the highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and my blog has taken over the mantle of being increasingly prestigious. Say it often enough and, with luck, people will start believing it.

If I were to attempt to simplify the organisation of the Edinburgh Fringe’s non-organisation, there are venues where you pay in advance (pay venues) and there are ‘free’ venues where you pay nothing to enter but, if you want, you can donate money on the way out (a bit like indoor busking).

There were, until this year, three free organisers:

PBH’s Free Fringe started it all, organised by highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee Peter Buckley Hill.

Around ten years ago, there was then a split in the Free Fringe ranks and the Free Festival began, organised by Alex Petty of Laughing Horse, in one of whose venues I stage the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

Emerging from the Free Festival in the last couple of years has been the Heroes of Fringe Pay What You Want venues run by highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Bob Slayer. At his venues, you can either walk in for free or pay for a ticket in advance to guarantee a seat.

Then, back in December, I blogged about another rift in the Free Fringe which has now spawned the Freestival, organised by a hydra-headed committee of performers all of whom, I imagine, aspire to win a highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

If you need any more background, I suggest you either take counselling or settle down, take Valium and read the blog I wrote last December about the genesis of the new Freestival group.

On the Freestival website (soon to be re-designed) there are eleven members of “the current committee and helpers” listed.

Last night, four of them – Dan Adams, Sean Brightman, Al Cowie and Alex Marion – explained more to me.

Last night (from left): Sean Brightman, Dan Adams, Alex Marion, Al Cowie

Last night in London (from left) four elevenths of Freestival: Sean Brightman, Dan Adams, Alex Marion and Al Cowie

As they are part of a hydra-headed collective speaking collectively – and, frankly, because I can’t be bothered to differentiate between the four voices on my sound recording – I shall quote what the four of them individually said as coming from a mythical single beast called The Freestival.

“You had a big bust-up with Peter Buckley Hill,” I started. “You suggested ways in which you thought the Free Fringe could be improved.”

“An innocent mistake,” said the Freestival. “In hindsight, we should probably not have done that but, then, we would have ended up doing shows somewhere else.”

“So you would have broken away anyway?”

“We might have gone with Laughing Horse,” said the Freestival, “or Heroes of the Fringe without the hassle.

“With the Free Fringe, it’s PBH’s name on it and however much he’s set up committees in the past, it’s pretty well established it’s always him. With Laughing Horse, it’s Alex and he gets other people on board to help, but it’s him and he works very very hard. Bob Slayer, same thing: he’s keeping it very small – very wise – and he’s going great guns with it but, again, it’s just him.

“We set the Freestival up as a committee and the thing that differentiates us from any of the other free groups is we have an accountant. Plus, should any issues happen, we’ve got some flexibility in the system, because what we’ve done is looked round at who has the expertise in various different areas, so that we can call on them and genuinely use them. None of us knew about accountancy, so we’ve got in a fantastic accountant performer – Gemma Beagley.

“Essentially, we want to bring in the money from outside that will allow us to put on really good free Fringe sh…”

“You can’t use those two words together,” said the Freestival, interrupting itself.

“Free Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied the Freestival, “apparently it’s illegal for us to use the two words together.

“It’s difficult to describe without using those words,” continued the Freestival. “But essentially what we want a festival full of acts we believe in so we can promote them to the public with genuine honesty. With all due respect, all of the other free organisations are pretty much open to anyone.”

Random visual plug for my Fringe show

A random plug for Bob Slayer

(Before I get a complaint from Big Bob Slayer, I should point out that, keeping things small, he is very choosy about the acts he allows to perform in his venues.)

“What we have,” continued the hydra-headed Freestival, “is the manpower to select the acts we really want to put on. It’s like running a comedy club where we put on the best acts available to us on the night. So, when people go to a Freestival show, they will know it’s going to be a good show in a good venue. We want all of our venues to be a pleasure to go to. In Edinburgh, for performers and audiences, that’s not always the case. There was one in a toilet last year.”

“There seemed to be some doubt,” I said, “that you had The Tron as one of your venues.”

“We do have The Tron,” said the Freestival. “And The Cowgatehead, which is opposite the Underbelly. Last year it was called The Cowshed.”

“They were both PBH venues last year,” I said.

“Yes. The reason they’re coming with us this year,” said the Freestival, “is that they are directly linked to our sponsor. We do have a sponsor – La Favorita, a chain of Pizza restaurants, a local Edinburgh business. They’re a restaurant group (the Vittoria Group) with a small chain of pizza delivery restaurants. They had a concession outside the Tron Church at last year’s Fringe.”

The new Freestival 2014 logo from sponsors La Favorita

The new Freestival 2014 logo from sponsors La Favorita

“How many venues have you got,” I asked, “and how many rooms within those venues?”

“We’re currently working on getting around twelve venues,” replied the Freestival.

“Each with multiple rooms?” I asked.

“There might be more spaces, but we’re working towards a 12-venue plan. We’ve got the Cowgatehead, the Tron, St James, which is a brand new venue near the Grassmarket. Inside that, we’ve got two floors with a main room for about 150 people and we’re going to put two rooms on the top floor, each of which will be 60-80. It’s going to be built to our spec.”

“Why are you different from the other free venue organisers?” I asked.

“We want people,” said the Freestival, “to be astounded by how good our venues are. And we want to publicise all of our shows. It’s not enough to just say They’re in our brochure, so that’s our responsibility to them discharged. If both the acts AND we publicise those shows, then all of us benefit.”

“Is that where the sponsor’s money is going?” I asked.

“The sponsor,” said the Freestival, “is paying for the brochures, the publicity costs, the new website and the setting-up of the venues. The acts are spending six months preparing the best show they can create and we don’t think they should have to set up the venue themselves.”

“So,” I asked, “will each of your venues have a venue manager and a sound person?”

“Yes,” said the Freestival, “though there might be a couple of venues that share sound people.”

“Are the sound people free?” I asked.

“There is a small up-front sub,” said the Freestival, “which is on our website. It is £80.”

“What was PBH charging last year?” I asked.

“£3 per each individual day’s performance,” said the Freestival, “and/or you had to organise as many benefits shows as you could for the Free Fringe. If anyone thinks they can find a venue in Edinburgh in August, fully set-up with publicity and technical support as part of the package, for less than £80 over three weeks, they’re welcome to go and take it. What the sponsor’s money allows us to provide is quality venues. And soundproofing wherever possible.”

“Perhaps,” I said, “the sponsor could soundproof the walls with pizzas. You could have the first edible Fringe venues.”

“How we have approached sponsorship,” explained the Freestival, “is How will it benefit what we want to do? NOT How will it benefit the sponsor? The sponsor gets concession stands selling pizzas at a couple of the venues and outside The Tron, exactly as they had last year. They want to get their name seen everywhere because they want to grow as a business and this does that for them.

A random pizza, like the Fringe, full of ingredients

A random pizza, like the Fringe, full of different ingredients

“Having an accountant and sponsor on board informs the decision-making process, but we have control over any artistic decision. There will be nothing about this does or does not fit the sponsor’s brand. None of that at all. What the sponsor wants is to be part of something which will be good. They have no control over the creative side of things. They are just a conduit to provide us with the ability to stage some really good shows.”

“What about the antagonism from PBH over the split?” I said.

“He wants to shout, he wants to scream at us,” said the Freestival, “but really we’re not here to undermine him. We’re just here because we think there’s another way of doing things that can achieve a better set of results.

“Every year, the Free Fringe grows, every year there’s more venues, more shows and inevitably what that means is that there’s less control over the quality of the venues. What we want to do is keep small, keep to a limited number of venues, keep to acts we believe in, that we can publicise with our whole heart, that we can inter-act with and put them in venues they are happy to play in and the public want to spend time in.

“We have made a conscious effort to make relationships with other parts of the Fringe and the comedy industry in general. Hils Jago of Amused Moose will be running Logan Murray’s comedy courses in our venues.

“Whilst we are another free entity up in Edinburgh,” said the Freestival, “I truly believe there’s room for many more free entities up there and many more different models. All of us really believe in our model but, if other people want to go with different models or to perform in our venues AND in other people’s venues, fantastic for them.”

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh

Four unfunny things related to the world of comedy which have happened so far this week – plus one lucky insect

The Heroes of Fringe on a London rooftop

The Heroes of Fringe pose on a London rooftop this week

ONE

So I went to a London photoshoot arranged by Bob Slayer to publicise the two venues he is running at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Both come under the banner of his Heroes Of Fringe outfit so he asked people to come dressed as superheroes. We all had to wear Bawbags’ Scottish underpants over our clothing. They are sponsors.

My So It Goes chat show at the Fringe is in Bob’s Bookshop.

I had been given a Superman teeshirt a few months ago – but it was a rather distressed and faded one so I thought, given my age and the fact I could not be bothered to shave, I should perhaps take along a walking stick (my dead grandfather’s) and wear a piece of green Kryptonite round my neck (a USB memory stick given away as a freebie by the Gilded Balloon venue a few Fringes ago).

The Dark Superman returns

Dark Superman Returns

I reasoned this might turn the fact that I looked older than the other people in the photoshoot from a negative ageist thing into a semi-ironic humorous thing and perhaps give it a slight whiff of The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen.

The strange thing is I do not drink and do not take drugs.

The actual effect of the outfit was, of course, that it just made me look old.

Comic Lewis Schaffer did not turn up for the photoshoot because, he said, he was performing a benefit gig for dogs. When I suggested the dogs should, perhaps, be performing a benefit gig for him, I got no reply.

Dangerous Chris Dangerfield DID turn up, told me about the benefits of Bitcoins and of the parallel, dark internet and then left on a black bicycle saying there were too many other people. (There were twelve).

Frank Sanazi was never going to appear on the show

Führer Frank Sanazi – A conflict with David Cameron?

TWO

While I was coming back from the photoshoot, Frank Sanazi got in touch with me.

He said he had been booked to perform at Cornbury Music Festival in Oxfordshire at the weekend.

But it was belatedly thought by the organisers that his act might offend the festival goers of Middle England who had come to see Squeeze, Van Morrison, The Proclaimers, Alan Davies, Julie Burchill, Malcolm Hardee Award winner Stuart Goldsmith et al.

Frank Sanazi performs looking like Adolf Hitler but singing in Frank Sinatra’s voice. He was billed in the festival programme as headlining the ‘Tew Drop Inn’ Cabaret tent on Saturday night.

He told me he thought his sudden ban might be something to do with the fact the festival takes place in Prime Minister David Cameron’s constituency and the great man (Cameron, not Sanazi) was there last year and was rumoured to be there this year. The management appeared to have booked his act without wondering why he was called Frank Sanazi – a clue, surely, is in the name.

“When the organisers saw my YouTube footage,” he told me, “they decided to bar me. Having paid me already.”

So it was silver lining time for the Führer of Fun.

Anna Smith ignores the BBC in Canada

Anna Smith remembers a man in a box

THREE

When I got home, I found an e-mail from the So It Goes blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. It read:

“Have you ever seen Daniel Rovai? I first saw him balancing ladders on his chin in the circus tent at Glastonbury. He is now apparently living in a small plywood box somewhere in the Netherlands and he appears to be very happy and philosophic.

“I once travelled on tubes and buses and then a long way on foot though a deserted warehouse district, to see him do a performance at a club in the middle of nowhere – Woolwich or somewhere like that. It was very disappointing because it turned out that I was the only person in the whole of London to show up. He approached me, sitting alone in the small cheap theatre, and offered to drive me home.

But aren’t you going to do the show? I asked.

“He said, I can’t do it just for you, and so he drove me home in an old Citroën.”

This morning, I got an update from Anna:

“I just googled Daniel Rovai,” she told me. “He appears to be living in a cheerful-looking caravan now, a step up from the plywood box.”

The Tomatina Festival - people covered in tomatoes - in 2006

The Tomatina Festival – people covered in tomatoes – in 2006

FOUR

I also opened an e-mail from Alex Petty, organiser of the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe. Sent to Free Festival participants, it said:

A unique Fringe  event run by Free Festival’s Peter Michael Marino during this year’s Fringe for your diaries on Thursday 15th August from 3pm-4pm on the Meadows.

Critics crushed your show? Did your lack of stars make you see stars? Want to get even? Join fellow performers, producers, venues, critics and press for the first-ever Critical Mass Tomato Toss!

Inspired by Spain’s annual Tomatina Festival, this special Edinburgh Fringe event is for anyone who’s ever dreamed of letting the critics know what they think of their nasty reviews.

You’ll get your chance to toss tomatoes at the faces of the critics who’ve taken the piss, slammed your show, tarnished your name and lowered your audience attendance. Of course, it’s all in good fun… isn’t it?

“Let it live!” - “Let it live!"

“They only live for about three days. Let it live!” So it goes.

FIVE

After reading that e-mail this morning I was sitting on the toilet, as one does, and saw a daddy long-legs in the bath.

I am not good with fast-moving winged insects, especially if they suddenly brush against my face. This one brushed against my face. Normally this is rapidly followed by the death of the insect.

But, a couple of days ago, seeing me try to kill a daddy long-legs with a quick clap of my hands, my eternally-un-named friend reminded me: “They only live for about three days. Let it live.”

So, this morning, I let it live.

Life is random.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour

Edinburgh’s PBH Free Fringe restricts performers’ freedom to put on a show

The Greatest Show on Legs performing in their prime (Photograph by Matthew Hardy)

At the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008, the much-respected comedian Peter Buckley Hill was nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Award for his creation and sustenance of the PBH Free Fringe.

Last week, I blogged that the late Malcolm Hardee’s friend Martin Soan was likely to revive their act The Greatest Show on Legs at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for a one-week run. The show was to involve two other former GSOL performers. Last night, I went with my eternally-un-named friend (who is not in the comedy business) to see Malcolm Hardee Award winning Lewis Schaffer’s ongoing London comedy show Free Until Famous.

I heard there that the planned Greatest Show On Legs’ performances in Edinburgh have, in all probability, been scuppered by Peter Buckley Hill (oft known as PBH).

In my blog in January this year, Peter wrote that the PBH Free Fringe “is a model for the liberation of performers from the chains imposed on them by others”.

“This guy Peter Buckley Hill,” Lewis Schaffer explained to my eternally-un-named friend late last night, “originated the idea of a festival where people are charged nothing to get in, but donate money at the door at the end of the show. It’s basically indoor busking. He didn’t invent anything new, he just put it into a room. It’s a great idea. And a promoter called Alex Petty did the same thing and called his shows the Laughing Horse Free Festival.

“And that,” Lewis explained, “is a good thing, because it means more free shows for more free comics, rather than just having one guy to go to. It’s like somebody opening up a food centre giving food to starving people and somebody says, Good idea – I’ll do the same thing across town. You wouldn’t say, Oh, this guy’s being evil because he’s copied the idea of doing a free food bank! The Fringe idea is indoor busking. But Peter Buckley Hill thinks Alex Petty is doing an evil thing.”

“There are all sorts of stories,” I explained to my eternally-un-named friend. “Some are probably untrue and urban myths but it’s like a one-sided vendetta. If any PBH Free Fringe act applies to perform or does perform at a Laughing Horse Free Festival venue, PBH bans them from appearing on the Free Fringe again. If he knows you have applied to both the Free Fringe and the Free Festival for a venue, you are barred from performing at the Free Fringe venue because you have had the audacity to approach the Free Festival. The legend goes that, if you appear at a Free Festival venue, PBH un-friends you on Facebook, though we still seem to be Facebook Friends. I have a nasty feeling this may change.”

In the case of the Greatest Show on Legs, one of the performers (who does not want to be named) is booked to appear in a show on the PBH Free Fringe this year. The Greatest Show on Legs had been invited to perform at Bob Slayer’s venue The Hive, which comes under the umbrella of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. When this was mentioned to PBH, it turned out (no surprise) he had a problem with it, but said there would be no problem if the Greatest Show on Legs performed, instead, at a PBH Free Fringe venue.

The rule of thumb is… If you apply to or perform at a Laughing Horse Free Festival venue, you are barred from the PBH Free Fringe. The reverse is not the case. The Laughing Horse Free Festival puts no restrictions on performers applying to both free events, nor on people who have performed for the PBH Free Fringe.

There was a story at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe about a PBH Free Fringe venue which was next to a Laughing Horse Free Festival venue in the same narrow street. The latter venue was a little tucked-away and less-well signposted at the front. If any punter or passer-by asked anyone flyering outside the PBH Free Fringe venue, the flyerer had to say they had never heard of the Laughing Horse Free Fringe venue and did not know where it was. I can only presume this was an urban myth and was a totally untrue story, but I heard it repeated widely. Such stories are fertilised by the one-sided vendetta.

“It is outrageous,” Martin Soan told me last night. “PBH seems to believe that, if anyone performs anywhere else, then they’re not allowed to perform at his places. It could destroy young people’s careers because it can come across as intimidating or bullying though, of course, I am sure it’s not intended that way. Imagine if you’re a young act, just starting out. We never believed there was a career for us when we started. But nowadays there is a career path in it. Suddenly someone turns round and says: Ah, you’re not going to perform here if you go off and do a show somewhere else. That is detrimental to people’s careers. It’s restriction of trade. Not a good way of nursing young talent; it is restricting talent’s ability to perform where they want.”

“It’s also preventing an actual show from happening?” said my eternally un-named friend.

“You could have someone else in the show,” I suggested to Martin.

“Yes, but that’s not the point, is it?” he replied.

“Someone Martin wanted in the show and who wanted to appear in the show has been intimidated into not appearing in the show,” my eternally un-named friend said.

“You’ve hit the nail on the head,” said Martin.

“And the show will probably not happen because of that?” I asked.

“It’s just nuts,” Martin said. “I’m not going to lose sleep over it. But what I’m angry about is this PBH character. Who does he think he is? He said, No, you can’t go and perform at The Hive because it’s part of the Free Festival, but the Legs can perform on the Free Fringe. So he was prepared to poach an act. He was just being bloody obstinate and horrible, if you ask me.”

“Would you perform as part of the Free Fringe?” I asked.

“Not now. No I fucking well would not now. On principle. I have banned and barred myself from performing on the Free Fringe. I don’t know what the distinction is between barred and banned but I have done both to myself.”

“If,” I suggested, “if one of the Big Four venues told someone who was doing a show for them that they could not go and perform as a member of a comedy team at a Free Fringe venue because performing at a free venue would undermine the box office for their performance at the Big Four paid venue, I could see that they might have a point. But PBH would be outraged and up-in-arms about the restrictive practices of the dictatorial Big venue throttling freedom of performance.

“In this case – and lots of other cases – what you have is the PBH Free Fringe saying anyone who dares to perform at the other free festival in town is barred from performing at the PBH Free Fringe. While claiming that free performance shows are somehow liberating to the performer. It’s like Communism coming along and saying We will give people freedom and you end up with a dictatorship by the one-Party state.”

“It’s like The Bridge on the River Kwai,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Alec Guinness did a good thing by keeping the men occupied to build the bridge. He saved the lives of his own men. He was a good man. But, somewhere along the line, he forgot what his purpose was. He fell in love with the bridge and forgot about the men and about the War. At the end of the film, he’d forgotten what the purpose of the bridge was. And it’s the same with Peter Buckley Hill. He’s forgotten what the purpose of the Free Fringe was: to widen the opportunities for performers. The Free Fringe is not for him; it’s for other people and the more people who put on more free shows, the better it is for Comedy.”

13 Comments

Filed under Comedy