I have been sticking my nose into the Cowgatehead debacle at this year’s Summer fringe and I am not sure all is as it is being portrayed.
It seems like PBH is being made the villain here, but reading through reports and events, it looks more to me like Freestival may have cocked up, perhaps unknowingly, and PBH is getting the blame. The problem is that it is ultimately the acts who end up being victims. The main points seem to be –
1. more rooms were offered than will exist at the venue for the fringe, eleven rooms when there will only be six, as much of the space is being used for music.
2. Peter did not approach the landlord, he approached Peter to book the venue. This seems to be where one of the issues may be, the lease had not actually been assigned to the venue at fringe programme deadline. As far as I can see, it is a very poor idea to book a venue based in the hope your chosen landlord gets control of it. Perhaps Freestival were talking to someone they believed was in charge of the venue when they were not.
3. Peter put a hold on booking any alternative acts for a week until those who believed they had a place under Freestival made it known they still wished to be at Cowgatehead. As there are not as many rooms as were offered, it seems there is no way of accommodating all. This is where the parlous state comes in. PBH’s Free Fringe is being blamed for leaving acts out in the cold when it is down to the fact there are just not going to be the rooms promised.
I thought it was important to get these important to put these points up again as it seems this situation is being turned into a heroes and villains situation unfairly.
The saddest thing is that this debacle is making all the free fringes and festivals look like the whole thing is a turf war and leaving acts with dashed hopes and debt. There may have been many people who have been misled in this situation, and I am not entirely sure why the Fringe office didn’t act when they were warned that the Cowgatehead venue lease was still on the table. Shouldn’t they have spoken to those booking it and warned them that it wasn’t safe practice to book out rooms in a venue when you don’t know who will have ultimate control of it?
The free fringes and festivals have helped revitalise much of the fringe and encourage more experimentation and given opportunities to new acts without the money to play major venues, it is great pity that it has descended into this.