Tag Archives: free fringe

Edinburgh Fringe Day 5: How to win a Fringe comedy award – make ‘em cry

Humdinger of a black eye caused by falling while sober…

Shows I saw today included the always wildly inventive and surreal Cheekykita with Somewhere in The Ether which opens with her inside a duvet.

Nai Bowen is Brave! (she is one half of comedy duo TittyBarHaHa) includes a stunningly good song about suicide and she performed it with a humdinger of a black eye caused by falling onto the cobbles of Edinburgh when she was sober…

The secret of many successful comedy shows

In Jane Hill’s show Cow, about middle age, the audience was encouraged to call her either ‘a cow’ or ‘lovely’. She was lovely. Though, like a magician revealing secrets of the Magician’s Code, she revealed the secret format of many successful comedy shows at the Fringe – which is that you include a ‘dead dad’ section at about 40 minutes into the show. Laughter + tears goes a good way to getting you a Fringe comedy nomination.

This does not have to be a story about an actual specific dead dad, but requires the revelation of some true, traumatic and unexpected autobiographical anecdote to pull the emotional carpet from under the audience’s metaphorical feet. Having done that, you then uplift them for the climax.

Tonight, I also saw Mother’s Ruin, a bizarrely potential cult-like cabaret celebration of gin at the Gilded Balloon’s smart new Rose Theatre venue in Edinburgh’s New Town.

“as if I had entered some secret society of which I was not a member"

I had entered a secret society of which I was not a member

With Mother’s Ruin, it felt as if I had entered some secret society of which I was not a member. Admittedly, I don’t drink, which is a drawback. But three talented Australians sang songs about and told the history of gin to a large, jam-packed audience who seemed to know all the more obscure songs and whooped, cheered and clapped. It was like being in an Evangelical church.

The Edinburgh Fringe, too, has its devout pseudo-religious aspect and it is a truth universally acknowledged that religion has started more wars than comedians have had self-doubts.

This morning, I picked up a wee blue book listing the Free Fringe Festival shows.

The cover says it is the ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE FREE FRINGE FESTIVAL.

About ten minutes later, I was handed the wee blue book listing shows in PBH’s Free Fringe.

Free-for-all? Light the blue touch paper and stand well back.

As Edinburgh Fringe regulars will know, there is PBH’s Free Fringe… and there is the Laughing Horse Free Festival which split off from the Free Fringe and woe betide anyone who mentions the words ‘Free Fringe’ when they actually mean Free Festival. The two words are guarded by PBH with almost religious zeal.

So I can only imagine the wrath which may descend on the upstarts who have risked printing a new blue booklet with the words ‘Free Fringe’ on it.

Light the blue touch paper and stand well back. Blood may flow among the dangerous cobbles of Auld Reekie.

Though not in the final week.

Would it be too late to nominate a comedy tampon?

Sarah Morgan-Paul contacted me asking if a show which started on Monday 21st August and only ran for a week could be eligible for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nomination. She said that, in the show, she performs in a 5’4” tall giant tampon costume. The show is called Tales From a Tampon.

The short-list for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards is decided at noon on 21st August and the opening the tampon show is not until 2045 that night but, as the Malcolm Hardee Award winning baby last year was nominated AFTER we had announced the short-list, I guess we have to accept that Tales From a Tampon can be nominated.

The high-cost back of Lewis Schaffer’s flyer

Dreams of award nominations are also swirling round inside the head of Lewis Schaffer who, I was honoured to see, has used a photo I took of him last year on the back of his flyer.

An invoice and a letter from my lawyer will be winging its way to him after the Fringe ends.

He has visions of (the Prize formerly known as) Perrier success because his show this year – Unopened Letters From My Mother – has the Jane Hill defined potential for laughter and tears.

As mentioned in this blog a month ago, the concept is that, each day, he will genuinely open-up a different letter from his mother. She sent him 23 letters from the US to his new home in the UK between 2000 and her death in 2011 and he never opened them. He does not know why.

“You’re doing your third show tonight,” I said. “I heard you cried in your first two.”

The genuinely unopened letters from Lewis Schaffer’s mother

“I cried a little bit in my first one,” Lewis admitted. “She wrote in the letter that she thought I was probably going to be a good father. That was in 2001. One of my sons was about a couple of months old. To me, the letters are full-on scary and sad. But funny for the audience. I am trying my best to open them in order. The next one was written in November 2001. That’s after the World Trade Centre attacks. But people don’t believe the letters are real.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re a comic. Comics lie for a living. The more likely what a comic says, the more likely he (or she) has made it up. If what is said is so ridiculous it can’t possibly be true, the more likely it is to be totally true.”

“Exactly,” said Lewis Schaffer.

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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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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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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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The magical near-arsonist behind the Cowgatehead and Fringe cover parodies

Stu Turner with the fake Fringe cover

Stu Turner with fake Fringe cover yesterday

Two of the few joys in the ongoing Cowgatehead saga in Edinburgh have been videos put online by Stu Turner.

Who he?

I talked to him yesterday at Soho Theatre in London.

His first video was a new parody of the Hitler-in-the-bunker scene from the movie Downfall. It appeared online the day after the Cowgatehead shenanigans blew up.

The second video – a parody of the front cover of the new Edinburgh Fringe Programme – appeared only about half a day after my copy appeared in the post direct from the Fringe Office. That is an impressively-quick turnaround.

The real cover of the Fringe Programme 2015

The real cover of the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Programme

“It’s such a shame I’ve got sod all to promote off the back of these videos,” Stu told me yesterday. “I have no show at the Fringe. I’m just going to be up there for a week doing open spots.”

“So why do the videos?” I asked.

“Just for fun,” he told me. “I just fancied doing the videos for a laugh. I had the Hitler video at home, just sitting waiting for something suitable and, when Cowgatehead kicked off, I thought: Perfect!

“You are only doing open spots in Edinburgh?” I asked. “Why? Remind me who you’ve worked with.”

“In a former life,” said Stu, “I was part of a double act called Magic Incorporated and I’ve worked with Bob Monkhouse at the Lakeside club in Frimley Green and appeared on TV with Des O’Connor many moons ago on his awful talent show Pots of Gold on primetime ITV.

“The acts all got 30 seconds. For weeks and weeks, we rehearsed one of our big illusions, which normally took several minutes, down to 30 seconds and then we were told we couldn’t do it: Oh no: you’ve got to walk up and do a quick visual gag. You can’t do an illusion. We were a magic act! So we did a quick visual gag and the person who won played the piano. We were quite cross. We were not allowed to do an illusion because it had to be a visual gag, but this person could play the piano! We weren’t happy.”

“Was the magic act you and a lovely assistant?” I asked.

“We were a male double act. We did mainly comedy.”

“So why are you doing open spots in Edinburgh?” I asked.

Stu Turner

Stu Turner: back in not quite the old routine

“I’m sort-of starting again. The double act was quite a while ago – some years ago. We almost went full-time pro. We did a bit of TV. We did shows round the country and it got quite big. We had girls – dancers, assistants – on bigger shows. We did illusions, magic, juggling unicycling, fire-eating, all sorts of stuff. We did it for a few years and it just kind of petered-out after a while. Stopped it. I got a day job.

“So I had a few years’ break, but I missed performing, got back into it three or four years ago and have sort of got back into it as a solo stand-up act and it’s very different. Rather than touring with illusions and big stuff, it’s now just me and a bag of props. Back then we were doing cabaret and theatre and big stuff; now it’s all comedy clubs. Very different to back then.

“You have to start again. You can’t go round saying: I worked with Bob Monkhouse. At the moment, I’m doing open spots on pro nights, headlining smaller nights – doing half hour closing spots on some of the smaller out-of-town clubs. There’s no rush. I’m enjoying it. Doing it for fun and working towards an hour-long show at some point. Because of the magic background, instead of just comedy clubs, I can do cabaret, theatre, burlesque, the whole range of…”

“Burlesque shows?” I asked.

“Yes. They have a variety of acts.”

“Being a magician is almost a vocation,” I said.

“It was never serious,” said Stu. “I always did it with a comedy angle. I never did the cards and the doves and the rabbits. We once almost set fire to the studio on Bob Says Opportunity Knocks.”

“This is what the public wants,” I said.

“We had,” explained Stu, “a trick which involved a box which ‘accidentally’ caught fire. We would put the fire out and produce whatever out of the box. But, for Bob Monkhouse, we thought: Let’s make this a big one… So on went the lighter fluid, a bit more, a bit more, bit more. The box catches fire. We try to put it out and the lighter fluid goes everywhere.

Stu Turner has put magic behind him now

Jester Stu has put magic behind him

“They had just put down an expensive new studio floor and the burning lighter fluid went all round the studio floor. Luckily, they thought it was part of the act. Everyone laughed. Almost a nasty disaster. We didn’t get through.”

“What is next on the video front?” I asked. “You have done two. Rule of Three. You have to do another one.”

“I think I need to do a video after the Fringe,” said Stu. “I’m going up the middle week. I need to see how it pans out.”

The Downfall Cowgatehead parody which Stu made is on YouTube.

This week’s Edinburgh Fringe cover parody is also on YouTube.

The original, rather over-arty poem on the front of the real Edinburgh Fringe Programme reads:

This may contain material that may shock or offend,
it’s not a stunt or some attempt at a trend.
There are no rules only exceptions,
and exceptional acts challenging perceptions.
Stand-ups standing up for what they believe,
uppercuts to the upper classes, quick jabs at the masses.
Shows without boundaries or even a stage,
crossing lines, becoming headlines on the front page.
The audience can become the cast of a show,
basking unexpectedly below a spotlight’s glow.
A song may have no words or even no rhythm,
nothing is certain, nothing’s a given.
Here anything goes, anything can happen,
the greatest show on earth, entertainment heaven,
the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, defying the norm since 1947.

Stu Turner’s parody words are arguably an improvement and even more realistic:

This may contain humour that may shock or may jar,
it’s not a stunt or some attempt at PR.
There is no compromise only pure frustration,
& pissed off acts challenging no concession.
Stand-ups standing up for what they booked,
spending a fortune to attend, and now they are fooked.
Shows without venues, rooms, or even a stage,
broken promises becoming headlines, they’re all full of rage.
The audience cannot find the advertised show,
seeking unexpectedly when the venue says no.
A show may have no room nor any address,
nothing is certain, it’s all a complete mess.
Here nothing’s allowed, nothing can happen,
the greatest fool on earth, entertainment hell.
The PBH Free Fringe, being totally draconian since, well…

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

Cowgate_Edinburgh

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

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

Now, NOT changing the subject…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Individual acts have only a small voice.

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


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

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

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

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

We live in interesting times.

And so the labyrinth stretches onwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And psychotic interludes are not restricted to comedians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long did these psychotic incidents last?”

“I was away from work for three months.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your husband?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What were the voices telling you?”

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

“What for?” I asked. “To get jumble?”

“Not necessarily. Any old notice.”

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

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

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

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

“At being pulled back?”

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

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

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

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