Tag Archives: Cowgatehead

Edinburgh Fringe Day 6: A terrifying smile and a lack of terrorism security

Yesterday’s blog ended with a mention of believable and unbelievable anecdotes.

Alexander Bennett’s bloody battle to perform

This morning, I had a long conversation with comedian Alexander Bennett – to whom all hail – in which we discussed the idea of simply making up some bizarre – completely false – event which allegedly happened during his Terrifying Smile show today… simply to promote the fact that he is performing at 2.00pm in the Dragonfly venue.

He, like Becky Fury, has been hit by the Curse of Cowgatehead, having previously been booked into the Opium venue, then Cowgatehead (re-named Bar Bados this year presumably to mask the Curse of Cowgatehead) and finally having to leave the Free Fringe venues altogether with no Fringe Programme listing and eventually, happily, ending up in the Heroes of Fringe Dragonfly venue.

We discussed making up a completely false event – well, OK, I tried to foist the idea on him – in order to publicise where he was actually now appearing… But how could we tell an untruth to this blog’s readers?

Alexander Bennett freshens his mouth today

Clearly we couldn’t.

A pity, as I was rather looking forward to writing about two members of his audience: one dressed as a dragon; the other dressed as a fly. Such a thing would not necessarily be unbelievable in Edinburgh during the Fringe. I remember years ago seeing the then-unknown Piff The Magic Dragon waiting at a pedestrian crossing on Nicholson Street. No-one gave any attention to a man dressed as a green dragon.

Truth and reality can vary depending on your viewpoint.

For example, in a Scotsman piece I read today, Kate Copstick describes me as “aged but still sentient”.

I would disagree with this very strongly indeed.

I certainly do not feel sentient.

Mike’s Frank Carson: If I Didn’t Laugh, I’d Cry

‘Aged’… fair enough, because I am so old I remember life before the iPhone 6S and things like a Blackpool lunch in the 1980s with stars of Granada’s TV series The Comedians where Frank Carson just never switched off and Bernard Manning (with some justification) seemed to think he was a bit ‘above’ the others. And I remember Saturday mornings on Tiswas with Frank Carson at ATV Birmingham where, again, he was constantly being Frank Carson.

Spike Milligan famously said that the difference between Frank Carson and the M25 was that you could turn off the M25.

In this blog a couple of weeks ago, fellow comic Mike McCabe said: “For someone to go on and on and on like that, there had to be some problem deep down.”

Mike’s current show about Frank Carson If I Didn’t Laugh, I’d Cry, tries to figure out Frank’s mindset and benefits from the fact Mike actually worked with him.

Steve Best amid his photos at the Stills centre this afternoon

I also felt slightly old going to the current exhibition of Steve Best’s photos of comedians at the Stills Centre For Photography in Edinburgh, designed to promote Joker Face, his second book of photos, quotes and quirky facts – featuring over 450 comedians.

And then I bumped into Gill Smith, the inspiraton for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

She is in Edinburgh for a week, reviewing shows for one4review. She was with her daughter Pippa, now aged seven. I think the last time Pippa and I were in the same room together was when she was a bump in her mother’s tummy.

Gill Smith and her 7-year-old daughter Pippa

In 2008 Gill, as a stand-up comic, sent me an email telling me she was nominating herself for the Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that, by nominating herself, she could legitimately put on her posters MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE. She added that she thought Malcolm would have approved of this.

I had to agree with her and created a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award before she could give herself one. Ooh missus. Since then, of course, all the Malcolm Hardee Awards have become increasingly prestigious.

Today it was confirmed that Malcolm’s sister Clare Hardee is coming up to Edinburgh to sing on the final Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 25th August.

Becky Fury’s Molotov Cocktail Party curse

Which brings us to terrorism and last year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner Becky Fury (her suitably real name).

In the High Street and elsewhere in Edinburgh, giant obstacles have sprouted to deter and prevent  random lorry attacks on the Fringe crowds, but none of the venues seem to make even cursory checks on bags going into shows.

Becky is another victim of the Curse of Cowgatehead and has been thinking of ways to promote the fact she is now in a different venue at a different time (10.00pm in the Black Market) to her billing in the Fringe Programme.

There was her appearance in a London riot the other night.

And she decided today that fire-blowing in the streets or wherever might attract attention. So she bought some paraffin.

..so she bought some paraffin…

It is relevant to point out here that her show is titled Molotov Cocktail Party.

Tonight, she and I went to see the always brilliant Milton Jones perform in the giant main Assembly Hall on The Mound.

In her back pack she had paraffin in a bottle – in essence, a Molotov cocktail. And, low on battery, I had a fairly large re-charger in my inside jacket pocket with a wire to the iPhone in my shirt pocket.

Just as well we were not given any cursory search. Or was it?

I look old and far from sentient with Becky Fury at tonight’s Milton Jones show in the Assembly Hall

 

 

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Cunning comic Becky Fury’s mis-billed Edinburgh Fringe show is already a riot

Bad news for anyone confused by the recent flurry of blogs about fake Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award and connected events.

In a blog two days ago, I mentioned that last year’s winner, Becky Fury, had suddenly had her Free Fringe venue changed and was out-of-pocket to the tune of several hundred pounds for her Fringe Programme entry which now has a totally incorrect venue listed.

Becky Fury (centre with Tony Allen) at an unconnected demo outside the Bank of England. (Photograph by Angus Lindsay)

She had originally been booked and confirmed in the cursed Fringe venue which used to be called Cowgatehead. Now she is going to be in the Black Market venue beside Waverley station.

But, I wrote, although the venue had changed, the show time had mercifully remained the same.

Two days is a long time in Free Fringe anarchy.

Now her show time has been changed – She has now been told she is in an earlier slot – 10.00pm in the Black Market, 6th-26th August.

She has had to have new flyers printed which, with luck, should arrive with her tonight.

But how to publicise the change?

Mmmm…. Where is the best place to publicise a show titled Molotov Cocktail Party?

Where best to publicise a Fringe show?

Last night Becky – a woman not without her own past experience of Class War – decided to go along to a demonstration in London which, somewhat appropriately, turned into a riot in which, according to this morning’s Independent, “Molotov cocktails, fireworks and bottles were hurled at police officers in Dalston, east London, and rudimentary road blocks were made and set on fire.”

“I went along with my little sign to this rally,” Becky told me innocently this morning. “Any publicity. Anarchy, chaos, Spirit of the Fringe.”

I know the Malcolm Hardee Awards are increasingly prestigious and her show is called Molotov Cocktail Party and she needs to get publicity for her venue and time change. But, even to me, this seems a tad excessive.

Enterprising, though. Definitely enterprising.

Becky’s rescheduled Molotov Cocktail Party

Her publicity for this year’s show already carries the legend: “Double Malcolm Hardee Award-Winning Becky Fury”.

In truth, she only won the single increasingly-prestigious Cunning Stunt Award last year. But then some chums of Malcolm in some dodgy South-East London pub decided they were going to give her an award too and they would also call it a Malcolm Hardee Award.

So fair enough.

You can’t blame a Cunning Stunt award winner for being cunning, can you?

While I was finishing writing this blog, I got this email from Becky:

“John, could you put in your blog that I in no way condone graffiting FUCK THE POLICE or FUCK THE BANKS on Barclays’ window… as it is a cliché.

If they were going to spray anything, it should have been:

MOLOTOV COCKTAIL PARTY
10.00pm
BLACK MARKET
EDINBURGH

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Cunning comic Becky Fury, banned by Facebook, is to go into sexy wrestling

Becky Fury was at Mama Biashara last night

Yesterday’s blog was partly about the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award given at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Last night, I saw last year’s award-winner, Becky Fury, preview her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show at Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara emporium in London.

Becky has been having a run of bad luck.

About a week ago, in the course of one day, she lost both her Edinburgh Fringe venue and her Edinburgh accommodation. And, when I saw her last night, she had just finished a 24-hour ban by Facebook. She remains unbowed, though, and has plans for making money in wrestling.

Everything was settled for her Edinburgh Fringe show Molotov Cocktail Party – including her paying the exorbitant fee to be listed in the Edinburgh Fringe Programme. She was due to perform at the exotically-named Bar Bados Complex which, apparently, is the new name for the Cowgatehead building, a legendarily cursed comedy venue at the Fringe.

Becky’s expensive but now incorrect Edinburgh Fringe listing

But, around a week ago, well after the Fringe Programme was published, the Fire Brigade refused to allow two rooms in the venue to be used for performance and Becky was moved to another new venue in a different location though mercifully at the same time – 10.45pm – 6th-26th August. (EDIT! This changed two days later: See HERE.) The new venue, the Black Market, beside Waverley Station, was still being built when last heard-of.

Simultaneous with her venue loss, she lost her free accommodation in Edinburgh but was able to get some temporary accommodation for the first few days of the Fringe.

It never rains but it pours.

Particularly in Edinburgh.

“And,” I said to her last night, you have just been banned from Facebook for 24 hours. How did you manage that?”

Becky’s temporarily-banned non-cummunity standard Facebook

“Two jokes I wrote,” she explained, “included the word ‘Paki’. So I am on my third warning from Facebook. If I say anything else that ‘does not adhere to Facebook community standards’, the Facebook Thought Police will come, detain me, detonate my profile and ‘disappear’ me.”

“What were the objectionable jokes on your Facebook page?” I asked.

“The first joke was about genuinely meeting a racist at a train station who was talking about the three ‘P’s – Poles, Pakis and Paddies.”

“So,” I checked, “what got you into trouble was the reported speech of another person which happened in a real situation?”

“Yes. The joke was that I said I agreed with ‘no platforming’ so I pushed him off the platform under a train. That was the joke.”

“So,” I checked again, “Facebook had no objection to you saying you pushed a man under a train but they did object to the fact that, in objecting to his racism, you quoted him using the word ‘Paki’?”

“Yes,” said Becky. “That got me a ‘First Warning’. This second time, I got banned for 24 hours because there was a discussion around Daniel Kitson’s use of the word ‘Paki’ in his show and I don’t like the other politically correct words like POC or BAME so I suggested we might compromise and use the word Poci instead. I was agreeing with the idea of political correctness but I got banned because, again, the word ‘Paki’ was in there.”

“So what’s next after Edinburgh?” I asked.

“Wrestling,” she replied.

“Wrestling what?” I asked.

“Probably existential questions.”

Wrestling with existential questions?

“Fury is a good name for a wrestler,” I said.

“I’m not sure,” she replied, “if it’s a good idea for my actual, real name to go up on the internet and be immortalised as a sexy wrestler. So I am going to be Minerva, the goddess of war.”

“What sort of wrestling?” I asked.

“I’m going to be a sexy wrestler…a bikini wrestler.”

“In front of crowds in stadia?”

“No. Mostly one-on-one.”

“Wrestling men or women?” I asked.

“I don’t mind. It’s obviously mainly men, because they are…”

“Stupid?” I suggested.

“Stupid perverts,” Becky laughed. “Yeah.”

“Define one-to-one wrestling,” I said.

“It’s wrestling with a guy – usually a guy – for money. That makes it sound like marriage, I suppose. But you basically play-fight with them for an hour and they pay you for it and you wear a bikini.”

“What do they wear?” I asked.

“Usually a teeshirt and a pair of shorts. Them wearing clothes is a pre-requisite. You are alone in the room with them. They could just attack you in that situation and fuck you. But there is always someone else in the building.”

Becky wants to get a head in wrestling

“How much?” I asked.

“£150 a session. There’s about three different centres in London do it.”

“If it’s wrestling,” I said, “it’s a competition. Someone must win.”

“Usually the woman wins,” said Becky. “As always in Life.”

“This is not really wrestling,” I suggested. “It’s hugging and stroking.”

“There’s no fondling going on,” replied Becky. “It’s sensual, semi-competitive wrestling.”

“Where does the ‘semi’ come into it?” I asked.

“I don’t want to think about that.”

“Why do they pay to do it?” I asked.

“I think part of what’s going on is that these guys are submissive, so they normally have a control issue in their life. They are normally guys who are in control, maybe OCD, very obsessive-compulsive. What they like is that, in the ring, they have to maintain control over their own lustful desires while you are asserting yourself over them. So it’s like very, very light BDSM.”

“It’s in a wrestling ring?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Why have a proper ring?”

Becky with her 2016 Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

“It’s the theatricality of it. Makes it more fun.”

“With most theatrical experiences, there’s a build-up, development and a climax,” I prompted.

“There’s no happy endings,” said Becky. “It’s about maintaining a level of eroticism.”

“You seem to know a lot about it.”

“I did it for a couple of months a few years ago, but I’m a lot stronger now. I’ve been doing loads of yoga and going to the gym. If you’re not strong enough, they don’t want to wrestle you. They don’t put up a great deal of resistance, but you do need to give them a proper fight. The women fighting women are really going for it, though. You really have to fight, until you get your arm ripped off by some psychotic Ukrainian.”

“Women fighting women?” I asked.

“If you just want to go and watch girls wrestle each other competitively,” said Becky, “that goes on for a few hours, so that might cost £70 for a ticket.”

“Are you going to do that as well?”

“Yeah. But they tend to be really hardcore Eastern European women, much more interested in beating-up other women for money than I am. It’s the women that I’m scared-of, not the men. I may get my arse kicked by some big fuck-off scary Russian female shot-putter. The men are little, weedy, runt-boy men.”

“When you were involved in it before, how old were the men?”

“Generally in their 40s.”

“Is it a fetish?”

“It’s just something people want to pay for. People pay for all sorts of nonsense. One time, I did a filming session. The guy was wearing a Santa Claus hat with a little white ball dangling on it and the woman was riding around on his back half the time. At the end, she got the hat and shoved it into his mouth and, when he took it out, he told us: I’ll be wearing this for Christmas dinner when I go and visit my family. People have got all sorts of really bizarre fantasies and, if they want to spend money realising them, they can.”

“What was Father Christmas wearing apart from his hat?”

“Shorts and a teeshirt.”

Becky Fury’s Molotov Cocktail Party show

“What is the attraction to you?”

“Money.”

“So, basically,  these people are like the Medicis to your struggling artist? Supporting the Arts with their cash.”

“Exactly. Because I can’t be bothered to fill-out Arts Council grant forms…” She paused. “I don’t know how this blog will come out. I don’t want to sound like a whore.”

“Would I do that to you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“No,” I tried to reassure her. “You will come out as a lover of eccentricity. A worthy Malcolm Hardee Award winner.”

“Well,” she said, “it’s just more fun than working in McDonalds, isn’t it?… And also you get to kick men in the testicles and not get sacked… again.”

“Will you be wrestling up in Edinburgh?” I asked.

“If anyone wants to wrestle me in Edinburgh,” she said, “it will be £200 – or mates’ rates, which will be £250.”

Becky also appeared in this 2016 music video

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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.

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Gilded Balloon venue’s deal excretes on the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe

Like Malcolm, a unique one-off

Publicity for the 2012 Hardee annual show

We hope to stage the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show this year, as usual, on the final Friday of the Edinburgh Fringe – 26th August – but not in its normal venue of the Counting House Ballroom.

This is because, today, The Gilded Balloon (a pay-to-enter venue) has ‘poached’ The Counting House venue(s) – including the Pear Tree and Blind Poet – from the Laughing Horse Free Festival and so we are looking for a new venue in which to host both the increasingly prestigious (but now homeless) Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and for the daily Grouchy Club.

I am saddened that the Gilded Balloon has taken this decision to poach three free venues. In a blog chat with me in 2012, Gilded Balloon venue runner Karen Koren said:

Karen Loren inside the Gilded Balloon

Karen Loren inside Gilded Balloon venue

“I did have another venue called The Counting House at the beginning of the 1990s. I named it The Counting House because that’s where they counted the money above the Pear Tree pub and that was around the time I gave up my full-time position as the PA to the Norwegian Consul-General in Edinburgh.”

But that link with The Counting House was over twenty years ago.

It in no way mitigates this new cynical and amoral move – that the Gilded Balloon has intentionally ‘stolen’ three existing venues painstakingly built-up over the last nine years by the Laughing Horse Free Festival – rather than find and build-up a profile for a new venue of its own.

It is a cynical and amoral move that is in no way in the spirit of the Fringe. And it echoes last year’s unforgivably venal and vicious move by the PBH Free Fringe in knowingly financially fucking-over acts in the Cowgatehead venue dispute. (Copious blogs about it last year.)

Wreaths on the hearse at Malcolm Hardee's funeral

Relevant wreath at Mr Hardee’s funeral

Ironically, when the shit hit the fans of Cowgatehead last year, it was the Laughing Horse Free Festival, Bob Slayers’ Heroes venues, Just The Tonic and The Pleasance pay venue who helped out the suddenly homeless acts.

Now The Gilded Balloon has shat on the Laughing Horse’s Free Festival and the acts already booked into the Counting House, the Pear Tree and the Blind Poet.

This cynical move is all the sadder because the first Malcolm Hardee Awards were presented at the Gilded Balloon, its owner Karen Koren staged a Malcolm tribute show at the Gilded Balloon in the year of his death and, at her own cost, she produced a Malcolm tribute video in the year of his death (2005).

As far as I am aware, the Gilded Balloon’s tenure during the Edinburgh Fringe at its Teviot building is still renewed on a year-by-year basis, so what they have done logically means that they could have no objection if other operators put in higher bids for the Teviot building at the 2017, 2018 etc Fringes.

Once you start shitting on people and fucking-over the spirit of the Fringe, the consequences can be incalculable.

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PBH Free Fringe act sacrificed on a road paved with good Edinburgh intentions

TheGospelAccordingToStephenSit back with a good supply of tea for this blog. Extensive, exhaustive and possibly exhausting quotes are included. People not living inside the bubble of the Edinburgh Fringe might be advised to look elsewhere.

The whole Cowgatehead saga at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe is too complicated to go into yet again. Read past blogs for clarification but beware your head may explode with details.

Suffice it to say that the Freestival organisation believed they had rights to programme acts in the Cowgatehead venue at the Edinburgh Fringe and Peter Buckley Hill’s PBH Free Fringe ended up with those rights resulting in, by one estimate, an overall financial loss to performers of £77,000.

This could have been avoided if the various parties had met to sort it out and (in my personal opinion) PBH himself was a bit slippery though not telling any direct porkies with careful use of the present tense and an implication but not a statement that a meeting had never at any point been agreed with the Kenny Waugh involved in the fiasco. This being the Fringe, there were three people in one family all called Kenny Waugh.

Anyway…

On 18th August, I posted a blog headlined BAD SIGNS AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE criticising the awful signposting at the PBH venue Cowgatehead as well as at C Venues and Just The Tonic’s Mash House and Caves.

I wrote:

The What’s On Where posters and signage in The Counting House is fairly good, which is not standard at the Fringe.

The Cowgatehead venue – fought over and proudly won by the PBH Free Fringe – is a disaster. The tiny doorway onto the street is barely visible and not even clearly identified as the Cowgatehead. Once inside, there is a vast bar and music area unrelated to the Free Fringe rooms and you have to spot that you have to double back, go down steps and then turn corners and go up stairs to get to the upper storeys which have venue spaces called things like UP2L. Even if you get vaguely near the rooms, the pieces of paper with their identification numbers/letters tend to be on the outside of the doors of the rooms so that, near performance times when doors are left open, they are hidden from sight.

This policy of putting names on the outside of doors which, when open, are completely invisible seems also to have been followed by C Venues at their Nova building – and probably in their other buildings, as C Venues have always been notable for appallingly bad or non-existent signage within their buildings. There are giant bleedin’ signs outside proclaiming what the venue is. Good. But, once inside, you have to guess, explore and try to find someone who knows which floor or room a show is in. There ARE some small notices, but hidden on walls amid an overwhelming visual patchwork of brightly-coloured show posters.

There should be a prize (perhaps there will be) for worst signage at the Fringe. Just the Tonic might win. As of last night, there appear to be no signs of any kind to any performance rooms in their Mash House venue. And the interior of their Caves venues – particularly for the shows they admirably ‘saved’ from the Cowgatehead debacle – are utterly incomprehensible. I half expect to find a Minotaur in there.

There was no reaction from C Venues or Just the Tonic.

But yesterday, Frank Galbraith of the PBH Free Fringe commented on one of my Facebook pages:

You need to go to specsavers you blind tnuc

and posted the photo below.

the venues on the Cowgate in Edinburgh (Photo by Frank Galbraith)

The venues on the Cowgate in Edinburgh (Photograph posted on Facebook by Frank Galbraith)

I replied:

“The narrow doorway on the left was not clearly signposted a the time I wrote the piece. It is now signed clearly with the door usually closed, giving no access to Cowgatehead. The entrance to Cowgatehead is the larger one on the right, clearly identified as St James’ Gate Brewery. To access Cowgatehead from this entrance, you have to go into the St James’ music space, turn sharp left, go down into a narrow stone gap with a piece of paper identifying it, do a 360 degree turn up stairs and then find the Cowgatehead rooms on the floors above the St James’ Gate space below which you initially went under.”

The full Facebook interchange

Full Facebook interchange

Frank replied: 

“I do have to admit that the external signage could have been more visible during the first few days. However, this hasn’t deterred on average 2000 people per day attending shows on the lower 2 levels and entering the venue via Cowgate. We also have a further 900 per day entering via George IV Bridge doors for the shows on the top level. Not quite the disaster you are attempting to portray.

I was a little bemused by this because I had said the signage not the number of punters was a disaster – and also very surprised by these very concrete audience figures in a venue with no visible close supervision. So I replied:

My admiration on the use of hidden security cameras filming and counting people entering the venues and on the stairway to Cowgatehead from the outer entrance. Must be a Fringe first. Genuine admiration for the use of the technology to gauge punter numbers.

Frank replied:

Haha.. you must know big brother is everywhere. Actually we take average performers audience numbers, we trust implicitly the reports our performers give us, then deduct 10%!!!

I have to say this to-and-fro did not change my opinion of the factual slipperiness of the PBH Free Fringe.

The PBH Free Fringe also has a highly dubious contract of untried legal validity which says acts performing in their venues cannot perform at free venues run by other organisations on the Fringe. This appears to be to be a clear restriction of the right to trade. Others may disagree.

I encountered the illiberal nature of this a few years ago when staging the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Counting House venue. This venue is run not by the PBH Free Fringe but by the Laughing Horse Free Festival.

I wanted to end the 2-hour free show (in which all donations are given to charity with no deductions of any kind) by having The Greatest Show on Legs perform their signature Naked Balloon Dance. This act lasts 3 minutes. One of the long-time Greatest Show on Legs performers was that year performing his own show at a PBH venue and was told by PBH that, if he performed in the three minute act during the 2-hour Counting House charity show, then he would have his own show on the PBH Free Fringe terminated.

This seemed to be a bizarre combination of paranoia and staggering… erm, well… the opposite of laissez-faire liberalism.

That was then. This is now.

Well, what follows actually happened yesterday.

Since the start of the Fringe – over two weeks ago – comedian Stephen Carlin has been appearing as one of four performers in the play Routines at the Laughing Horse Free Festival venue Three Sisters at 3.45pm and in his own solo comedy show The Gospel According to Stephen at the PBH Free Fringe venue Canons’ Gait at 7.15pm.

This is the conversation I had with Stephen last night…

Stephen Carlin talks to me last night on neutral territory

Stephen Carlin talked to me last night on neutral territory

“So what happened?” I asked.

“One of the flyering team for Routines flyered PBH,” he told me. “Then, when I was on stage performing Routines and my phone was off, PBH sent me a text message (at 3.50pm):

“Hello Stephen. I have in my hand a flier for a Laughing Horse show with your name and face on it, for a full run. Can you please explain? Thank you. PBH.

“There there was a second text message sent at 5.20pm saying:

“Hello Stephen. I have had no reply to my previous text message. It is clear from the evidence that you have broken the Free Fringe Ethos and Conditions by being a permanent and billed part of a Laughing Horse show. Your Free Fringe show is therefore terminated with immediate effect. Regards PBH.

“I did go down to the venue tonight,” said Stephen, “just to thank the staff and there were a few people who turned up who couldn’t get in last night because it was sold out. Last night, we had BBC 4 Extra recording it for a feature – They got probably my last ever PBH performance because I think you get excommunicated by PBH. It’s a religious-titled show – The Gospel According to Stephen – so, in a way, it seems only right I should get excommunicated.”

“What is the show about?” I asked.

“It’s a stand-up show basically inside my head. I get to be right for one hour. I am wrong for 23 hours of the day but for this one hour in the day I can give my thoughts on various aspects of life and be correct.”

“Have you any idea,” I asked, “how much it has cost you? – It’s complicated by the fact you were doing two shows.”

“I think it cost maybe about £1,500 or so overall.”

“And you’ve made some money back…”  I said.

“I haven’t broken even yet, so I was kinda hoping in the last week to break even.”

“What,” I asked, “have you been doing since you were excommunicated from the true path of light?”

“Since then,” said Stephen, “I’ve had offers from Laughing Horse, Freestival and Bob Slayer. So, from tomorrow, I’m going to move the show to Bob Slayer’s Heroes of the Fringe at The Hive. But I can’t perform it on Friday and Saturday, because the room’s already booked then.”

“Same time of day?” I asked.

“No. the show at the Hive is at 10.10pm; the Canons’ Gait one was at 7.15pm.”

“Can you,” I asked, “put stickers on your flyers with the new place and time?”

“I think the good old stapler is going to have to come out.”

“Are you a member of Equity?” I asked.

“No.”

“The PBH contract,” I suggested, “surely has to be illegal because it’s a restriction of trade. Any opinions about PBH? I think it’s a case of the road to Hell being paved with good intentions. A good man who wanted to help the acts who ends up financially screwing them.”

“I think,” said Stephen, “in many ways it’s indicative of a lot of revolutions. It starts off idealistic but then you get to a point where people start getting cut out for breaching parts of dogma and then the people it has set out to help are actually being badly affected. The System starts coming before the people. I think it’s a well-trodden historical path.”

“Well,” I said, “given the Animal Farm analogy, is it the case that PBH is standing on two feet now?”

“I don’t think anybody can sue us for that,” said Stephen. “He is standing on two feet. The question is, if I speak to other blogs, would you denounce me?”

“I haven’t yet started a religion,” I said.

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Bad signs at the Edinburgh Fringe while I bristle and Lewis Schaffer kisses me

Lewis Schaffer bestowed his blessings on me yesterday

Lewis Schaffer bestowed his blessings on me

I used to have a beard for 25 years, then cut it off. I think I am going to grow one again but have not yet figured how I can explain this as anything other than laziness.

And I may spend one day without wearing my spectacles.

A couple of hours after I posted yesterday’s blog mentioning Lewis Schaffer, I inevitably bumped into him. He kissed me on the head and launched into his new schtick where he tries to persuade anyone wearing glasses to stop wearing them because it is simply a conspiracy by opticians to sell unnecessary spectacles and the eyes will re-adjust by themselves.

This is partly true, of course. Only partly. But I was always very long-sighted and maybe do only need specs for close-up reading. I might give it a try for a day.

The Rule of Three obliges me to do a third thing but, short of donating my stomach and man-boobs to Oxfam, I don’t yet know what that might be.

Edinburgh Fringe fever may have set in, as it does every year around the halfway point of the festival.

This morning, I received a long e-mail from Sean Thoburn comparing Lewis Schaffer to the dwarf planet Pluto and expounding a theory in which each of the planets orbiting the Sun can be compared to comedians orbiting Edinburgh in August while “reviewers are like one of those Voyager satellites sent up to send back pictures of undiscovered worlds and maybe comets represent those US comics who make a brief appearance at a particular Fringe and take years to return and get far more attention than their fleeting appearances deserve.”

The e-mail was sent at 09.12am, so I doubt if drink or drugs can be blamed.

It can only be Fringe fever.

Ceci n'est pas une affiche Édimbourg

A previous year’s poster for the toilet run

Yesterday, Paul Ricketts was supposed to be doing his long-planned toilet crawl of Edinburgh – Now Wash Your Hands – Again – in which comedy was to be performed in the toilets at each of the Big Four venues at the Fringe, starting with the Pleasance Courtyard venue. I have asked Paul for a first-hand report of what happened. I could not go because his 3.30pm start time clashed with my Grouchy Club show (3.45pm-4.45pm at the Counting House).

On Day 3 of The Grouchy Club yesterday, audience figures rose again to those of Day One with half the audience being normal Fringe-going punters. This is interesting because the show has only been promoted through social media. There are no posters, no flyers and it does not appear in the main Fringe Programme. It only appears in the Free Festival programme and on the What’s On Where posters in the venue itself. So people appear to be returning to the true spirit of the Fringe and randomly going to shows simply because of the time slot, not because they have any idea what the show actually is.

The What’s On Where posters and signage in The Counting House is fairly good, which is not standard at the Fringe.

The Cowgatehead venue – fought over and proudly won by the PBH Free Fringe – is a disaster. The tiny doorway onto the street is barely visible and not even clearly identified as the Cowgatehead. Once inside, there is a vast bar and music area unrelated to the Free Fringe rooms and you have to spot that you have to double back, go down steps and then turn corners and go up stairs to get to the upper storeys which have venue spaces called things like UP2L. Even if you get vaguely near the rooms, the pieces of paper with their identification numbers/letters tend to be on the outside of the doors of the rooms so that, near performance times when doors are left open, they are hidden from sight.

The seagulls in Edinburgh are not small

Seagulls in the streets are more visible than shows in venues

This policy of putting names on the outside of doors which, when open, are completely invisible seems also to have been followed by C Venues at their Nova building – and probably in their other buildings, as C Venues have always been notable for appallingly bad or non-existent signage within their buildings. There are giant bleedin’ signs outside proclaiming what the venue is. Good. But, once inside, you have to guess, explore and try to find someone who knows which floor or room a show is in. There ARE some small notices, but hidden on walls amid an overwhelming visual patchwork of brightly-coloured show posters.

There should be a prize (perhaps there will be) for worst signage at the Fringe. Just the Tonic might win. As of last night, there appear to be no signs of any kind to any performance rooms in their Mash House venue. And the interior of their Caves venues – particularly for the shows they admirably ‘saved’ from the Cowgatehead debacle – are utterly incomprehensible. I half expect to find a Minotaur in there.

Yes. You need signs to get people inside a building from the street.

But… Surprise! Surprise! You also need to have clear signs to which shows are in which rooms inside the venue. Otherwise punters will be pissed-off with both the guilty venue and the innocent act and, after a shit user experience, the punters may well only go to the venue once.

There also appeared to be no signage inside the Frankenstein’s venue yesterday, where comedy magician Stu Turner was trying out his interesting Haven’t a Clue! format in which six comics play a version of charades in which you can speak.

Later, Sara Mason got a good audience, despite being in the Mash House venue, for her show Burt Lancaster Pierced My Hymen (When I Was 11) – one of the few Fringe shows to live up to an OTT title.

Luca Cupani has the good fortune to perform his show Still Falling on Bob Slayer’s double decker BlundaBus – you can hardly miss a double-decker bus painted in bright colours and it only has one top deck.

Visibility is everything in Edinburgh. Something performers understand but venue runners too often think only applies to the exterior not the interior of their venues.

Life-size poster of Tanyalee Davis by the BlundaBus

Visibility is everything at Edinburgh Fringe – A life-size poster of Tanyalee Davis by the BlundaBus

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