Tag Archives: Freestival

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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Edinburgh: critic Copstick ejected from Gilded Balloon; Freestival venue burned

Papa CJ with two passing strangers in Cowgate

Papa CJ with two passing strangers in Edinburgh’s Cowgate

On Sunday, I thought Papa CJ was going back to India on Monday.

Then he announced an extra show in Edinburgh tonight (Tuesday). I had no idea how or why.

I didn’t ask him until last night.

“I had 18 back-to-back full-houses,” he told me. “Then, during a coffee chat with (comedy critic) Kate Copstick, she mentioned it would be great to be able to say ‘extra shows added’. Also a few people who wanted to see me weren’t able to. So I found out what rooms might be available, changed my return flight to India and added one show. The only catch is that there is no publicity about it out there. So I’m hoping people come in on the back of flyering and social media. Also, in all honesty, I’m really enjoying the response the show is getting from audiences… so subconsciously I probably just got greedy for one more gig.”

So do I know what is happening in Edinburgh?

Well, to be honest, I have never claimed to.

Arthur Smith, alien, in the Royal Mile last night

Arthur Smith on Royal Mile tour

This was proved yet again yesterday when this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith (who is not in the comedy business but seems to know everybody at the Fringe) told me that, this year, Arthur Smith is probably not doing his famous – some might say infamous – last-weekend-of-the-Fringe tour of the Royal Mile.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because he’s not here at the weekends.”

“Ah,” I said.

“He will be doing it next year,” Sandra told me.

“Ah,” I said, as if this was no surprise to me.

Last night, critic Kate Copstick was ejected from the Gilded Balloon venue for falling asleep in the Wine Bar. Thankfully not during a show.

The Edinburgh Fringe can be tiring even for people who are not performing.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been seeing around seven shows each day (each show = one hour) and, last night, I went to bed at 04.30am and got up at 08.30am.

But that’s my choice.

My highlights yesterday were Mathilda Gregory’s hour-long show on How To Be Fat – just the right balance of comedy and serious fascination. I could say comedy is often better with some meat to get your teeth into but, of course, would never dream of being so shallow.

An even more quirky show was Accident Avoidance Training For Cutlery Users in which Jimmy Frinton (performing as character Ian Crawford) … erm … well, he does what it says in the title. He gives a lecture on how to avoid getting injured by your own cutlery.

Safety can be comic or not.

Earlier today, I blogged about the eccentricities of the PBH Free Fringe.

There has been drama too at the Freestival, who were ejected from their presumed Cowgatehead venue by PBH and belatedly found homes in the New Waverley Arches.

The Freestival Arches

The Freestival Arches: site of a weekend break-in and burning

In the early hours of Saturday morning – around 4.00am to 5.30am – a person or persons unknown broke into one of their arches and their chairs got burned.

“Somebody broke in,” Dan Adams of Freestival told me today,”and appears to have known enough about how we work to get the generator going and plugged in the bar power to the generator. But the lights are on a different power ring which they appear to have been too pissed to realise. So they went into the venue proper and plugged our lights into the bar circuits with an extension causing overload to build.

“They stole one of our PA units and about three cases of booze and left stuff running which caused a fire because it wasn’t set up correctly. The venue’s 40 chairs are covered in burned particulate. Part of the bar burned where the fire started melted cables etc and pump beer coolers. On Sunday it was all hands to the pump and yesterday and we got it all turned around and ready by about 12.30pm. No damage to the other arches at all.”

In Edinburgh, that counts as a happy ending.

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Jaw droppers of the Edinburgh Fringe

Lewis Schaffer Googles himself outside a mosque

Lewis Schaffer Googles himself near a mosque

“You should consider Lewis Schaffer for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for comic originality,” Lewis Schaffer told me yesterday. “I’m so original people are starting to imitate me.”

“No-one could imitate you,” I told Lewis Schaffer.

“Yeah, they’re starting,” said Lewis Schaffer, “I saw this young comic who said he had done 1,000 bad shows.”

“And was he,” I asked, “too young to have done that?”

“Well, I don’t know if he had done it. I’m not saying I am the only failure in town, but I think people are realising it’s very easy to be a success at being a failure because most comedians are failures. There is heavy competition for my spot as the premier failing comic in the business.”

“And for this reason,” I asked, “we should nominate you for the increasing prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for comic originality?”

“Well,” argued Lewis Schaffer, “when people come and see my show, they say: God! I’ve never seen anything like it. That means it’s original.”

Everyone has to have a publicity angle in Edinburgh.

For me, yesterday, it was worth seeing Cassie Atkinson & Oh Standfast (Graham Goddard)’s Comedy In Progress show simply for the reference to the great Dudley Sutton who has one of the great unpublished autobiographies, as evidenced by his 2003 and 2006 Fringe shows Killing Kittens and Pandora’s Lunchbox. Anyone who mentions Dudley Sutton is OK with me.

Giada with some cutting-edge Fringe comedy

Unflyered by Giada in Edinburgh yesterday

Then I bumped into Italian comic Giada Garofalo in the rain about 20 minutes before her show started. She had been feeling ill, it was raining quite heavily and she had done no flyering, so expected me to be the only member of her audience for Live in the Staff Room (Sex, Fairy Tales, Serial Killers and Other Stuff). The second half of the title is very commercial; the first half not-so much.

But people in the full-to-overflowing audience yesterday seemed to have come simply because of the word-of-mouth. There were people listening to the show from the corridor because they couldn’t fit in. One couple had been unable to get in the previous day (no room) so had come back again, determined to see it. They were not disappointed.

Then, on the way to check-out The Counting House Lounge for my Grouchy Club with Kate Copstick (which starts today), I bumped into Giada’s fellow-Italian Luca Cupani, who has got through to the final of the So You Think You’re Funny comedy competition.

Does this look like an Italian character? Luca Cupani

Does this look like an Italian character?

“It was unanimous,” Luca told me, “but one of the judges thought I might not be Italian. He said I looked like an Italian ‘character act’ though he admitted my accent was very good. I asked him: Why should I pretend to be Italian? I would not wish anyone to be Italian.”

“I have just seen Giada’s show,” I told him. “She got a full room and had not done any flyering.”

“Yesterday,” said Luca, “I flyered two tramps. I thought it would be kind to offer them to come see a free show on the BlundaBus. But they were smelling in a wonderful way. Sometimes poverty stinks. Then I thought, if they get on the bus, maybe the act on after me will be not so happy. Luckily, they were a little bit drunk and didn’t take the flyer.”

Then I saw Harriet Kemsley’s show Puppy Fat. Immediately afterwards, I texted someone:

Harriet Kemsley with an owl

Harriet Kemsley with a stuffed owl

Good grief! I just saw Harriet Kemsley’s show. I think the audience and I need counselling. Talk about suddenly changing the tone without warning! There was no hint of it coming. Mouths were open and jaws dropped. It was like a trapdoor suddenly opened.

Then I went to see Elf LyonsBeing Barbarella. I bumped into Kate Copstick by accident in the cafe next door to the Voodoo Rooms. She was going to see Elf too. There was a mystery girl manning the door of Elf’s room who recognised both of us (always unnerving). Under intensive grilling, she admitted she performed comedy “occasionally” and was taking part in an Edinburgh Fringe show, but refused to say who she was or what the show was.

“But it’s publicity,” I suggested to her.

“I like anti-publicity,” she said.

Kate Copstick (right) with an unknown

Kate Copstick (right) with an unknown girl

She has something to do with shadow puppetry. The first person to grass her up and tell me her name and the show’s name gets a copy of Malcolm Hardee’s increasingly prestigious but tragically out-of-print autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

Anyway…

Elf Lyons’ Being Barbarella: mesmerizing, barnstorming, hyper charismatic performance.

Then I saw The Story Beast (John Henry Falle)’s show – mesmerizing, barnstorming, hyper charismatic performance.

Yes, both mesmerizing, barnstorming, hyper charismatic.

In between, I went to the launch of Freestival’s new venues at the New Waverly Arches where I bumped into Nicole Harvey.

“I didn’t know you were doing a show up here,” I said.

“I was coming up for a jolly and to support mates anyhow,” she told me, “and was warmed up after the Brighton and Camden Fringes and I saw Freestival had a new venue, so I thought Why not? But I wasn’t expecting to have to wrestle my Gorgeous Gavin from a rough drunken Scottish girl.”

NicoleHarveyFreestival_CUT

Nicole Harvey with her Gorgeous Gavin

Part of Nicole’s show Delicious and Dateless involves an inflatable man.

“This girl actually wanted to start a fight with me over Gorgeous Gavin,” Nicole told me. “His rather extended protrusion had been modestly covered with boxers but she was carting him off flashing all in sight.”

I don’t normally give show time and date details because it means bugger all to people reading this blog in Paraguay or in three weeks or two years time but, in this case, Nicole is performing her show Delicious and Dateless at Freestival’s New Waverly Arches:

15th August: Arch 1 at 6:45pm

16th August: Arch 2 at 6:15pm

18th-22nd August: Arch 2 at 6:15pm

Welcome to an everyday story of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe fucked-up by the mess at Cowgatehead.

But the Fringe is all about surprises.

Chris Dangerfield in Thailand yesterday morning

Chris Dangerfield in his prime in Thailand

This morning, I texted comic Chris Dangerfield to ask if he was coming up to Edinburgh. He told me:

“Avalon asked me to do their Comedy Central shizzle This Is Not Happening.”

Well, that should be interesting, then…

Chris Dangerfield is not Mr Mainstream Showbiz.

I asked if I could mention it in my blog.

“Of course,” he replied. “Just say …with Fringe big hitters like Chris Dangerfield not doing a show this year… or …with Chris Dangerfield successfully bribing me with drugs for copy this year…”

It is all about publicity. It is all about self-promotion.

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Edinburgh Freestival organiser faced 2 murder attempts and got neck broken

Al Cowie drinks his own Laughing Juice brerw

Al Cowie – a man who has several stories to tell

The venue chaos at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe got even more complicated yesterday when venue organisers Freestival announced they had a new venue which will host up to 40 free shows on four stages every day. I had hinted about this venue in a blog earlier this month, which also mentioned another rumour which has not yet happened and one particular jaw-dropping fact which may eventually emerge, I suspect, next year.

“So I hear Freestival have a new venue,” were my opening words when I talked to Al Cowie. He was involved in organising the original Freestival last year but this year (entirely amicably) he is not involved with Freestival.

“Mmmmm….” said Al. And that was that subject over with.

Al last appeared in this blog last month when he was organising a laugh-in in a brewery. And, in February 2014, I blogged about his ancestor Horace Cole who was a massive practical joker.

“So,” I said when we met this time, “titter-making runs in your blood?”

“I do quite like a practical joke,” Al agreed, “Horace’s idea of a practical joke was a friend of his waking up with a carving knife embedded in his pillow. OK, that might seem a little bit mean, but I can see the funny side of it.”

“What’s a good example of a practical joke?” I asked.

“I was,” replied Al, “growing chilli plants in my house and so, one evening, we decided to squeeze the chilli onto one of the flatmate’s toothbrushes, which I thought was very funny, though he didn’t think it was so funny the following morning when he brushed his teeth.”

“Schadenfreude?” I suggested. “Did he get his own back on you?”

“He squeezed chilli onto my toothbrush. But I knew he was likely to do it, so I checked. And he was driving to Newcastle the following day and when he put his contact lenses in… Oh yes! With chilli! Really strong chilli!

“Is that not dangerous?” I asked.

“Well,” Al said, possibly avoiding an answer, “there’s the tequila suicide where you snort a lemon and put tabasco in your eye.”

“And you die?” I asked.

“Oh no, it’s just a horrible way to drink tequila.”

“It surely can’t be good for your eyes,” I suggested.

“I don’t think it is. It is too dangerous to do practical jokes now: you would get arrested. We’ve become too serious. I really do enjoy popping brown paper bags behind people. I have a 120 decibel air horn on my bicycle.”

“You have aristocracy in your blood, don’t you?” I asked.

“A little bit.”

“That means a lot?”

“Not at all. I come from a military family. Winston Churchill’s 2IC was a guy called Alanbrooke and he was my great-grand-uncle.”

“What’s a 2IC?”

“Second in Command. He oversaw the retreat from Dunkirk and was generally credited with saving 300,000 there. And the Germans reckoned if they had had Alanbrooke to advise Hitler, they would have won.”

“Difficult for anyone to advise Hitler,” I suggested.

“True enough, but I think Churchill was equally difficult. He needed someone like Alanbrooke to temper his worst tendencies… and keep up with his drinking… I grew up very much in the countryside in Gloucestershire and Northern Ireland.”

“Your family were…” I prompted.

“We were sent over after the (Irish) Clearances. We were sent over to land that had already been cleared, rather than…”

“Where was this?”

“Donegal and Fermanagh.”

“There’s no reason I can’t print this, is there?”

“No. One of my cousins was Roger Casement, who was hanged by the British government. So I have family on both sides.”

“Cousin?” I asked. “Not a direct cousin.”

“Well, in Ireland, if you’re related, then you’re cousins. I was reading the history of Ulster recently and it’s quite clear that most people changed sides many many times. But I don’t really know my history. My great-grandfather was Prime Minister.”

“What was his name?”

“Brookeborough.”

Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough was third Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. 1943-1963.

“So,” I said. “Military family. Why weren’t you in the military?”

“I was in the Territorial Army for ten years. I joined in 2000 and the general feeling then was that there was going to be no more war. I joined the TA as a fun thing: keep me fit and a nice group of guys. And then 9/11 happened and suddenly everything gets a little bit serious.”

“When did you leave?”

“2011. I stopped really going after I broke my neck.”

“When was that?”

“Six months before I got into comedy, about seven years ago. I was riding one of the Household Cavalry horses out in Hyde Park first thing in the morning while I was working with the City of London Police and, of course, the Commissioner of the City of London Police would sometimes ride out with me…”

“Of course,” I said.

“…and he would then give me a lift into work. So I was galloping down Rotten Row and the horse tripped up and pitched into the ground on its head and so did I and I got compression fracture in my spine and, yeah, it was really annoying.

“I got an X-ray where it didn’t show up. I was in so much pain. It was like someone taking a sledgehammer and smacking it into my back every time I took a breath or took a step. I went to my GP, who was called Dr Savage, and she said: Well, you don’t know pain. You’ve never been through childbirth.

“She didn’t want me to have a second opinion, but I went and saw a neurologist and he said: Don’t do anything. You’re going straight in to have a CT and MRI scan. By that stage, I had already been on a military unarmed combat course for a week. Someone had grabbed my arm in that and I had lost feeling in my legs. I also rode a green horse who threw me off…”

“A green horse?” I asked.

“A very young horse. Then I went and saw a chiropractor who successfully cracked my back because I just couldn’t breath. Then I went to the South of Ireland and bonnet-surfed on a speedboat in a storm on a lake in Galway. That would not be sensible even if I hadn’t broken my neck. I do consider myself very lucky.”

“I think you should reconsider the facts,” I said.

“Someone has tried to murder me a few times.”

“You mean different people have tried?” I asked.

“Yes. Different people. Someone tried to stab me in the head because he thought I was posh and should therefore die.”

“In Ireland?”

“On Battersea Bridge in London. He heard my accent and tried to stab me in the head with a Stanley knife but missed. He swung at me seven times, but I kicked him onto the ground.

“Someone tried to murder me in Argentina. I was hitch-hiking in the desert and this guy gave a lift to me, my friend and a random Argentine bloke. Then we set up camp in the desert and the Argentine bloke came up to us and said: Look, I think you guys should probably get out of here, because the other guy has just suggested to me that we murder you and take your kit. So we left that situation.”

“Has your neck mended?” I asked.

“I have an ache, but it’s nothing important. I don’t believe in pain. I think it’s your body complaining. Pain is not real. the damage is real, but the pain is not real.”

I must have looked bemused.

“Does that not make sense?” Al asked.

“Not remotely,” I said.

“Pain is not real,” Al repeated. I was not convinced.

“Isn’t it,” I asked, “something like electricity travelling down your nerves?”

“Exactly,” said Al. “The pain is just a signal. I once tried to take the blade off a circular saw. I put a spanner onto the central lug and pulled the trigger. The spanner flew out the window and the circular saw went straight through the side of my palm; I’ve still got the scar. I am so lucky; really very lucky. It’s enough to make you believe…

“…that God hates you?” I suggested.

“No,” said Al, “believe in multiple universes: that there are many other universes in which I’ve died.”

“Apart from running comedy gigs in breweries,” I said, “what are your plans?”

“Well, I do a drivetime radio show on Wandsworth Radio, 7.00-9.00 in the morning on Fridays. It’s only online – great for people who live in Hong Kong. And I’m setting up three technology businesses at the moment, which I can’t really talk about. And I’m moving more into clowning now. Clowning and cabaret and burlesque. I really enjoy doing different things. I had an awful lot more fun when I first started doing comedy. I once ate a girl’s sock on stage. Now I am enjoying myself again and having fun.”

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

The Cowgatehead venue last year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Petty at Soho Theatre, London

Alex Petty at the Soho Theatre last month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Fringe

Free Fringe – interesting times

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Festival shows in the Fringe Programme

Free Festival shows in the Fringe Programme

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

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

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

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

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

“Because?” I asked.

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

“Absolutely.”

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

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

“How are you going to expand?”

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

“Next year?” I asked.

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

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

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

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Cowgatehead chaos: the unseen emails

This week’s Grouchy Club podcast

Copstick argues her point in this week’s Grouchy Club podcast

This week’s Grouchy Club Podcast features a slight disagreement between co-host Kate Copstick and me about the mess over the Cowgatehead venue at this year’s upcoming Edinburgh Fringe.
VIDEO HERE
AUDIO-ONLY HERE

In the podcast, I say that I think Peter Buckley Hill (known as PBH) of the PBH Free Fringe and the competing Freestival organisers are both telling the truth as they perceive it, even though their versions of what has happened seem mutually exclusive. You would have to listen to the podcast to get the idea. (Never knowingly underpromoted.)

The basic highly-simplified situation is that both organisations claim to have had rights to the Cowgatehead venue. The PBH Free Fringe now have a written contract; the Freestival claim to have had an earlier oral contract. Under Scots law, oral contracts are legally binding.

The key point to me is the point at which the Freestival offered a ‘compromise’ solution of splitting the rights to the building in two (as they were last year) with the PBH Free Fringe staging shows in the upper half of the building and the Freestival staging shows in the lower half.

It was the point at which this proposed ‘compromise’ meeting did not happen that it became inevitable that acts could lose an estimated £77,000.

As I understand it, the idea of splitting the building is currently totally unacceptable to the PBH Free Fringe. There is also disagreement over the number of venues possible in the building, with PBH saying it is not possible to put nine performance rooms in the bottom half.

In a statement on 5th June, Frank Galbraith of PBH Free Fringe wrote (the capitals are his):


So that we are all clear on this point the licensee has confirmed with us and the Fringe Office that NO COMPROMISE MEETING WAS EVER AGREED OR EVEN DISCUSSED WITH FREESTIVAL FOR THEM TO USE OR SHARE THE BUILDING.


As I understand it, the compromise suggested by Freestival involved splitting the high-rise venue (as last year) with the Free Fringe running six rooms (at the top) and Freestival running nine rooms (at the bottom), three of which they would specially build.

As I understand it, the PBH Fringe holds that it is not possible to have nine rooms in the bottom half of the building.

On Scots comedian Alan Anderson’s Facebook page, there is a posting from Al Cowie, who was part of the team administering the Freestival last year (but who is not working with them this year). He writes that, last year, Freestival themselves built the six rooms used and he continues:


Freestival had budgeted for building a further 3 rooms this year, and would no doubt have done so in the current situation had PBH allowed this. So while PBH has made claims that the 3 rooms never existed, this is correct but also disingenuous.

As for the meeting between the licencee and Freestival, before PBH then phoned the licencee again (according to PBH’s own words), apparently when the licencee met with the Freestival team, he agreed in principal with PBH getting the top of the building (above George IV Bridge). PBH had it last year, and 6 spaces could be housed there with ease (there is space there for substantially more stages in fact). Freestival would stay in the bottom. As compromises go, it was a good one.

Of course, this is if we are to believe both PBH and Freestival (and the words used by PBH denying the compromise are very careful in not saying that Freestival have lied about their meeting with the licencee or whether the licencee agreed, it is other people interpreting those words as him saying that Freestival lied).

PBH’s response to Freestival arranging a meeting and reaching out to PBH and the Fringe Society to moderate (again, taking my information from what PBH wrote) was to phone the licencee. After that conversation, there was no compromise on the table, there was no meeting in London to happen, and further, it was at this stage the PBH also said that he now had two other Freestival venues as well, the Tron Kirk and St John’s, so disrupting many more shows.

The Cowgatehead building is massive (it used to be a library) and can take at least 19 stages, plenty of space for the 9 stages for Freestival’s, 6 stages of PBH’s and at least space for 4 more. If PBH had wanted to allow Freestival to use the space, he would still have had his 6 stages. But doing so would not damage Freestival as much (and I genuinely don’t think that PBH did this to harm the acts, I think that they are merely collateral damage in his entirely public desire to make Freestival to fail and collapse. And fair play to him, he’s probably succeeded in that).

However, the fact that the damage to acts wasn’t meant personally, doesn’t change that the damage was deeply personal to those of us who were booked into the venue by Freestival.


It would be easy to assume that this whole anarchic ongoing mess was partially caused by the PBH Free Fringe and the Freestival being at each others throats in the whole run-up to this fiasco and that neither side knew what the other side was doing.

This was certainly what I thought had happened.

However, it seems that, earlier this year, there was co-operation between the two apparently opposing organisations and that the PBH Free Fringe, as an organisation, was perfectly prepared to share the Cowgatehead building with the Freestival and acknowledged that a nine-room Freestival operation was at least entirely possible.

In the emails below, the people involved are:

FREE FRINGE
Frank Galbraith
Paul B Edwards

FREESTIVAL
Julian (Jools) Constant

At one point, the Fringe Office itself becomes involved.

Suruchi was a Fringe venue in 2014.

The Elio mentioned is Elio Crolla. I understand the Crolla family own the building and, this year, have rented it out to Kenny Waugh who is the gent farming out rights for the Fringe performance rooms.

I have altered abbreviations to make the correspondence more understandable – For example, I have changed Cgh to Cowgatehead.


20th JANUARY 2015  

From: Julian Constant
To: Frank Galbraith

Hi Frank.

I hope you and mags are well. We are looking for another bar of our own this year and wondered if you were going back into the top half of Cowgatehead. If you are we will stay well away and not tread on toes.

Any pointers for other empty spaces for bars which you don’t want would be appreciated.

By the way. We won’t be doing Suruchi  this year if you guys want it. It’s a 30 seat nice room.

Warmest regards

Jools


20th JANUARY 2015  

From: Frank Galbraith 
To: Julian Constant

Hi Jools,

All well here, hope all ok with you.

I had agreed with Elio to use same space again this year.

However Elio has now taken seriously ill with cancer and is presently in hospital. I understand he may not be with us for much longer, days as opposed to weeks.

Very sad situation for a young man (46ish) and his family.

I will check with his brother, when the time is right, what his plans are for the upstairs level.

I will let you know about other available spaces you can approach, including void spaces suitable as pop up bar, when I get home.

Cheers for now.

Frank


5th MARCH 2015

From: Paul B Edwards
To: Julian Constant

Hi Jools,

Frank’s alerted me to the Freestival listing of nine stages for Cowgatehead this year (I’m trying desperately hard not to get involved). Can I just check with you that this is maximising the space below the George complex and doesn’t include George itself?

We’re obviously keen to have our venues back again and I’d rather know in advance what you’ve negotiated if it affects us. I hope to God you haven’t encroached on it (I don’t think you would have) and would appreciate it if you could let me know asap. Things have been fairly quiet and aggro free this year and I really would rather keep it that way!

Cheers,

PaulyB


5th MARCH 2015

From: Julian Constant
To: Paul B Edwards

Well well. Last year aggression & rudeness… I offered to meet you last year to discuss talk about all of this properly in a adult fashion. Then I get first hand reports from two different people that you were loudly & openly slagging me off in the loft bar to anyone who will listen… & now you’re making semi polite requests for information. I will discuss whatever is or isn’t happening in Cowgatehead with Frank (as he is a reasonable man worth having a conversation with) as and when it becomes appropriate.

Jools


5th MARCH 2015

From: Paul B Edwards 
To: Julian Constant

You’re damn right I was slagging you off last year. I made no secret of it and how I thought you acted was disgusting. It wasn’t just you though. It was all of the Freestival people. I myself suggested we talked about this year at the end of the Fringe when you attempted to glad hand me in The Loft itself, but not until after the dust had settled. This year I’ve sent a discreet request for information to you in the hope Peter won’t get ill again because you’re trying to take our venues. It was also in the vain hope you weren’t being underhand.

I’ve refused to get involved this year and sent the email below in an attempt to avoid any nastiness. I see it was in vain. Let’s just put it this way – If you have the nine stages that are potentially available in Cowgatehead this year – great, I’m pleased for you, well done. If you have made attempts to nick the George complex you’re just proving what I have (sadly) long suspected.

I really do hope I am wrong, for pete’s sake, for Peter’s sake.


10th MARCH 2015

From: Fringe Office (Participants) 

To: Julian Constant
CC: Fringe Programme

Hello Jools,

Thanks for letting me know. There were a few things to add to the venue to make it live and I’ve done that just now. I think it was the confusion around people asking about Cowgatehead as a venue and not the new name of Cowgate Tops George IV Bridge with the space names of Cowgatehead 7, Cowgatehead 8 and Cowgatehead 9. I’ve copied the programme team in so that they are aware as well.

Just so you know, the Free Fringe has not told us they aren’t using this space this year, and they do have an active venue at the same address as Cowgate Tops George IV Bridge called the name they gave it last year, George on the Bridge. We’ll monitor how things go to ensure shows end up in the right spaces.

You’ll also always have the proofs as well to double check.

Best wishes,

Kevin


19th MARCH 2015

Frank Galbraith  
To: Jools Constant

Hi Jools,

All well here, hope you’re well and not getting too stressed!!! the fekin Edinburgh Fringe does that to people.

Also, that fekin building attracted enquiries from all over the world this year, including the Bangkok girlie boys. When they lost the meadows this year Giorgio told me he was offered £50k for Cowgatehead.

Its a great building but it does come with high levels of stress at times, especially when the EdFringe deadlines keep getting earlier.

Hope all goes well for you this year and off course stress free.

Cheers for update,

Frank


19th MARCH 2015

Julian Constant 
To: Frank Galbraith

Hi Frank

I hope you and Mags are well.

After hearing 6 different versions of what is happening to Cowgatehead all from credible people all claiming to have the definitive answer from someone on the inside… We now finally have a conclusion.

Kenny Waugh has signed the deal to take the lower half & you have the floor at George IV Bridge Street street level.

I should have just listened to you in the first place.

I will alter the location description we have used on edfringeware so that no more confusion is caused.

Warmest Regards

Jools


As I understand it, the signed deal referred to in the final email is between Kenny Waugh and the owner of the building for rental (by Kenny Waugh) of the building.

 

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

An Edinburgh street during the Fringe

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a clip on YouTube of Leo performing:


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


MICHAEL BRUNSTRÖM: THE GOLDEN AGE OF STEAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Anthony Miller

Anthony Miller asks Why? Why? Why?

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

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

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

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

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

PBH wants to be a monopoly controller.

Why?

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

Why?

Then he can decrease competition.

Why?

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

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

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


Robin Ince (Photo: Vera de Kok)

Robin Ince (Photo by Vera de Kok)

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


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

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

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


Meanwhile, the saga continues.

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

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

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

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

I think my head may soon explode.

 

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