Tag Archives: Dan Adams

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.”


Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh

What sort of a person can organise a comedy festival in three months?

Dan Adams - the sort of man who can

Dan Adams is the man who can quickly organise a festival

Just three months ago, comedian Dan Adams was asked to set up a festival in aid of the umbrella charity I Love Kingston, which looks after five smaller local charities on the edge of London.

The four-day Laugh Kingston Comedy Festival starts this Thursday with a very full bill of acts including Jarred Christmas, Nic Coppin, Pete Firman, Ashley Frieze, Shazia Mirza, Sara Pascoe, Matt Price, Diane Spencer and Rosie Wilby.

I spoke to Dan about it last week at the Soho Theatre in London.

Over 40 acts in over 20 shows in 9 venues

Over 40 performers in over 20 shows in 9 venues in 4 days

“There’s over 20 shows in 9 venues and just over 40 performers,” he told me. “All of the money raised goes to charity and everything we raise is match-funded – doubled – by a Lottery-type fund, the Community First Programme. Basically what I’ve done is ticket splits. So the performers make some money – they don’t perform for nothing – and all the printing costs have been covered by the ads in the festival magazine – including printing posters for the acts.”

“You live in Kingston?” I asked.

“Surbiton: just next door,” Dan replied.

“You’re obviously earning too much money,” I said.

“God no,” he laughed. “My mate has a house and, a while ago, he asked me if I’d move in and look after his cat for a small amount of money while he was living with his girlfriend – I’ve just stayed there and not suggested he review the rent.”

“And the cat’s happy,” I said.

“The cat’s dead,” said Dan. “Not my fault. Just old age.”

“I know the feeling,” I said. “Children don’t aspire to be festival organisers when they grow up, so…?”

“When I was young,” said Dan, “I liked acting and making stuff – woodwork, metalwork – and I also liked writing.”

“And I know you did a BA Honours in Journalism course at Bournemouth University,” I said. “So you wanted to be a journalist at that point?”

“Not really,” shrugged Dan. “The degree course was actually called Multi-Media – radio, TV and print – but I spent most of my time getting drunk and playing computer games.”

“Surely that’s what university education is for?” I suggested.

“Most of the others got through it,” said Dan, “and managed to sort their lives out, but I didn’t manage that one. I wasted my 20s. I should not have gone to university, I should have gone into a job that paid me money and learnt that way.”

The Kingston Comedy Festival in aid of charity

Kingston Comedy Festival in aid of charity

“Has anyone ever done a comedy festival in Kingston before?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” replied Dan. “There’s comedy clubs round there – Crack Comedy and Outside The Box – so I talked to them and they’re running things within the festival.

“It’s really difficult organising this much stuff. You’re trying to meet two disparate objectives. You’ve got to get good individual acts, but also make the festival a reasonably well-rounded entity in itself with the acts that are available.

“If the venues say Well, we don’t really want that type of show, you have to tell them Well, you don’t really get a choice because they’re getting extra takings at the bar and thousands of pounds worth of free advertising. There’s 38,000 copies of the Festival Programme going round Kingston and Surbiton.”

“How did you get involved?” I asked.

“I was looking for something to do,” explained Dan, “because I’ve had a really shit last couple of years. Dad got ill in March 2012 and was in intensive care in Oxford for around 12 months, got pneumonia six times, got a thing called a lung empyema. He started off with a brain aneurysm – that’s what put him in hospital in the first place. When they couldn’t treat the brain aneurysm immediately, they put him in a medically-induced coma for a month and a half; then they had trouble bringing him up.

“All this went on for months and I basically had to run his life while he wasn’t there and taxi mum to-and-from Oxford – a 70-mile round trip every other day – because she had a bad back and, if she drove herself, she couldn’t see him for a week.

“Plus my dad ran an auction room, so was something of a hoarder and we had to make plans and preparations in case he died.

“Then, at the end of January this year, he did die. So, when this guy came up to me after one of the comedy nights I run in Surbiton and asked to set up this comedy festival for charity, I thought that might be a good thing for me to do because it would take the focus off my misery and it does something a bit positive.”

“My mother died in 2007,” I told Dan. “After she died in the January, comedian Janey Godley persuaded me to go to New York in the April or May. It took my mind off it a bit.”

“The worst thing,” said Dan, “has been the dreams. They’ve been the weirdest ones.”

“I don’t remember my dreams,” I told him. “I wish I did. Maybe once every six months if I actually get woken up in the middle of one.”

“Mine were exacerbated,” explained Dan, “because I…”

“Is it OK, recording this?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Dan. “Mine were exacerbated because I was giving up smoking at the time. The NHS has this wonderdrug which you take that stops the nicotine receptors in your brain working… but it gives you really, really vivid dreams. So I kept having these dreams where everything was perfectly normal and dad was alive and then I’d wake up with that sense of loss all over again every morning. It was pretty horrible.”

“You weren’t hallucinating?” I asked. “There were no people or goblins coming through the walls.”

“No, no,” said Dan. “That was what made it worse when you woke up. Because it was so normal it was enough to convince you that you were not dreaming. It made the sense of loss more complex.”

“I was stuck out in Clacton for about a year when my father was dying and after he died,” I said. “And you were out of circulation for…?”

“A long time,” replied Dan. “At least a year. I had actually gone to Chicago for a month to stay with my girlfriend at that time. I was booked to do Second City and a couple of other gigs but, before any of that happened, on day three, my dad had his aneurism and the next flight I could get back was two days later.”

“So organising the festival is a way of you getting back into the comedic swing of things,” I said. “The festival ends next Sunday, so what are you doing after that?”

“I have no idea,” said Dan.

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