Not Tying Nooses Yet

This blog post is probably of little interest to those acts currently in limbo, hoping for a room at the Edinburgh Fringe after the Cowgatehead debacle.

I would like to explain why I have not pulled out of the Free Fringe benefit at the Bloomsbury theare and why this does not mean that I am ambivalent towards the currently frustrated, venue-less acts.

Firstly, let me make it clear that neither Stewart Lee nor I, or indeed any of the other acts, were asked to do a benefit “to help fund the smashing of people’s dreams”. Though anyone who knows us will be aware that most of the benefits we agree to are based on our desire to create a dystopian future that maximises people’s misery, this is not such a venture.

I agreed to the benefit, as I have all the other free fringe benefits, to support the acts and the idea of it. The money goes towards creating the PBH’s Free Fringe brochure so hopefully helps all the shows get an audience. The money does not go to Peter Buckley Hill’s beer and Ferrari fund.

I, and other acts, have been criticised for not pulling out of the show due to the current stalemate and confusion.

Why have I not pulled out?

Because as yet, I have not seen enough evidence of heinous skullduggery. This is a fucked up situation, but it still does not seem clear to me who is to blame.

The version of events I have seen so far, and this seems to be changing depending on whose facebook statuses you monitor, is that a venue was booked full of acts before the landlord was confirmed. When the landlord was confirmed, he did not want that particular booker and, again from the version of events I have been told, was angered when he heard it had all been booked without his permission. A further problem was that there were far more rooms needed than the landlord wished to create for the fringe. The story of how this hopeless scenario occurred is still a mess.

I have not seen a full account of why the initial booker believed it was definitely theirs to book. I have read some status updates, though they seem far from transparent.

I have also seen status updates that seem fueled by animosity towards Peter Buckley Hill that has built up long before this incident.

The most important part of this is to house those acts currently with fringe listings and without venues and work out the most effective way to publicise where they will be.

It would also seem to be useful to hear from the current landlord and those who were the potential landlords as this could make thing far clearer.

I know we are always meant to act like a government reacting to tabloid rumours of dangerous squirrels, act first and fuck the evidence, follow the flags of popular outcry, but I try to make decisions based on the clearest possible version of events.

Too many egos, not enough facts.

I am sure there is more to be revealed in the next hours and days and I will keep up to date with what information comes out and my actions and reasoning may change, but I’d rather not lynch now and regret later.

Addendum: Much is being made of the fact that the Free Fringe only informed the Fringe the day before the brochure deadline (8th april) . Some acts believe this was done maliciously to punish them for joining Freestival. Surely it would then have been better to say nothing. If the Fringe had taken this seriously, they could have contacted the acts. The brochure is not printed the day after the deadline, in fact, there is still  a week to change from the proof copy (at least from my experience), so all this nonsense could have been stopped in time.

This is a statement put up on Facebook from Frank Gailbraith, with intro by Paul B Edwards.

“Perhaps it would be a good idea to read this statement just released by Frank Galbraith (our man in Edinburgh and one of the only people who knows all about the Cowgatehead fiasco:

“Hi Guys,
Just to keep you all updated we have now completed discussions with the Cowgatehead licensee and the Fringe Office regarding the mis-reported claims that Freestival had rights to use the venue during Edinburgh Fringe 2015.
These continued claims by Freestival that PBH, the licensee and the owners are all to blame is only a shameful smokescreen to cover up their mishandlings and I can only assume avert possible civil action claims.
So that everyone is clear on these issues, having previously had discussions with the building owners and a potential licensee, we emailed the Fringe office on 7th April 2015 of a possible conflict of interest in using Cowgatehead this year and to be wary accepting advertisements from performers until the venue licensee and promoters were confirmed. We were then contacted by the newly confirmed licensee on Tuesday 19th May, and had Edinburgh meetings with him on Wed 20th and Thur 21st May, agreed and exchanged contract details on us promoting events at Cowgatehead & Cowshed, Bar-Bados (St Johns) and Tron Kirk.
We also had further Edinburgh meetings with the licensee on Tuesday 2nd and Wed 3rd June 2015, and also met with the Edinburgh Fringe Society management on the Wednesday afternoon when the licensee, Peter and I further confirmed the position with the fringe office.
It has been very disappointing to read some of the social media reports and comments, from several performers and a few bloggers/journalists, that Peter Buckley Hill and the Free Fringe organization team had irresponsibly taken use of the venue, left 150 performers without a stage to perform on and £1000’s out of pocket. It was also disturbing to read Freestivals claims that we refused to compromise on relinquishing or sharing the venue and that we further refused to attend pre-arranged mediation with the licensee, fringe office and Freestivals sponsors in London on Tuesday 2nd May 2015.
Whilst it’s understandable that the concerns of the performers have foundation, it is disappointing that some of them have taken to shamefully denouncing PBH in their social media posts based on grossly inaccurate information given to them by their promoter.
It is also extremely concerning to us and the licensee that Freestival are continuing their claims that a verbal agreement existed and that the FREESTIVAL LTD board have backed a petition demanding they be given the venue and are considering legal action against the licensee.
The recent claims by Freestival that they had hammered out a compromise agreement with the licensee and that we had declined the compromise deal was incorrect. Their further claims that a London compromise meeting, with the licensee and the fringe office being in attendance, was cancelled due to our non attendance was also fabricated.
Not only was the reported meeting never agreed or programmed by the licensee, the fringe office management had no confirmed details of it either, other that what was told to them by Freestival.
On the alleged London meeting date the licensee was at pre planned meetings in Edinburgh with members of the PBHFF team.
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. What was apparently discussed during Freestivals Edinburgh meeting on 25 May, was that the licensee would meet with Peter to discuss the affected acts, as apparently Freestival informed the licensee that Peter had refused to take any of the displaced acts.
As Peter has already reported, the genre AD’s are presently working extremely hard finalising offers with the affected Freestival acts and 51 of the 89 CGH acts that are listed in the EdFringe programme have already had their allocated slots with us confirmed.
However, despite our efforts to sort out this mess, it is still shocking to read recent posts by Freestival that an Eleventh hour compromise may still be possible if PBH can be convinced to give up the venue. This is simply not an option we could consider, as the licensee has already informed the Freestival organization that they were never promised use of the venue nor would they be offered usage in any of their venues due to the yet unreported conduct of Freestival during the venue bidding process.
In recent statements Freestival reported that discussions had been on going since 2014 with the prospective licensees and the building owners, whom they claimed are the same management company as their sponsors La Favorita. These statements were grossly inaccurate and served no purpose other than to mislead people.
The facts are that La Favorita and their owners have never had ownership of the building and as such no agreements or authority could have been given to Freestival. The actual owners of the building and both perspective licensees (The decision makers) confirmed to us that no agreement with Freestival was ever in place. They (The decision makers) have also pointed out that this can be backed up with Corroborating Evidence.
I am also personally angered to see the barrage of abuse towards PBH, the Free Fringe committee & organising team, the licensee and the building owners. Some of the posts include suggesting people should veto our venues AND that our London fundraiser performers should reconsider their association with PBHFF. This in my opinion has exceeded the acceptable lines of voicing their protestations.
Please be assured that we have all conducted ourselves in a professional manner throughout this and we do not deserve the criticism that has been thrown at us. We do however take on board that the emotional outbursts from the performing community is only on the back of information given to them by their promoter.
We are also extremely saddened to hear about several acts that expect substantial financial losses this year due to the unfulfilled promises and agreements they had with Freestival. We of course cannot guarantee putting all the affected acts back into the rooms promised to them by Freestival due to the fact that three of the rooms simply do not exist. Had Freestival been in discussions with the licensees, as they have claimed, they would have known that one of the floors they claimed to have as a staged area in will in fact be a music bar. Simply put there is only enough room for six stages. However, we are presently in discussions regards putting in place contingency plans to secure additional venues/stages to accommodate the remaining displaced acts that wish to apply to us and our own acts that have been waiting patiently.
It is our hope that the Freestival team will now move on and concentrate on their own show preparations and cease this senseless course of vindictive action towards the Free Fringe organisation.
I trust this explains some of the many questions asked of me recently and that we can now concentrate on our own final preparations in ensuring Edinburgh Fringe 2015 is our best to date.


I hope everyone can now move on, as he suggests. I don’t think this post merits discussion but it is worth reading. Thanks.”

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5 Responses to Not Tying Nooses Yet

  1. Mark Cotton says:

    I’ve followed story, but just wanted to say what a seriously reasoned blog from you Robin … as I’d expect to be honest.

    I think we can all at time be quick to jump, it wouldn’t do us any harm to maybe let the batteries run down a bit on our ranty-net 24/7 society.

  2. Mark Cotton says:

    Bloody hell … when will I learn to proof read … I’ve NOT followed the story, oops.

  3. mraemiller says:

    Well, there’s been a considerable lack of veracity from both sides. For example Peter claims in statement that “Despite all the nasty implications, we did not poach the venue. The licensee, having received the concession no earlier than mid-May, approached us on May 19. We did not approach him.” But reading the emails leaked to John Fleming which are an expert lesson in how not to write corporate emails …. and reading the group emails on Peter’s own website it’s clear to the most stupid idiot (me) that both parties have been in continuous negotiations with the management or potential managements of Cowgatehead since 2014. It would be pretty amazing if this was not true… since PBH’s original statement came out on the 21st of May. This gives a timewindow of only 48 hours between the licencee first approaching PBH, PBH and the licencee signing a contract and the Free Fringe issuing PBH’s statement on the Freestival to Chortle. None of the parties have done themselves any favours by making public statements that are not only of dubious veracity but in some cases issuing self contradictory. I mean I’m not Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein but you don’t have to be to read their websites and their public statements and find some obvious contradictions in them.

    Honestly a verbal contract is worth nothing in this situation even if the Freestival had one (which I doubt) rather than a delusion since it’s hard enough to prove such a conversation took place let alone the nature of any penalty clauses in that conversation. When I challenged them on this Sean Brightman he said they had a signed contract in 2014. “I know I was there” so it’s clear that they knew that they shouldn’t have been taking bookings just on the back of that but were. They did know better but they thought they would chance it – Fools. They’re all fools. On PBH’s website he says (or did until I pointed out it was commercially sensitive information but it’s still on my computer and google cache) “In my opinion, we should not be intimidated by the excessively early deadlines imposed by the fringe office, nor too eager to part with a participation fee that may or may not aid our shows. We cannot now be sure whether we have Cowgatehead as agreed. Equally, we cannot be sure that we do not. I have always been of the view that Kenny II’s word can be trusted” so it’s clear that aural agreements have been used in the past.

    The problem is both in 2014 and 2015 the licencee is appointed with only a couple of months to the Fringe making it impossible to get the correct listings into the official program. So either you do what the Freestival did – take the bookings in advance and hope that it will all work out okay. Or you do what PBH does … don’t take any bookings till you get a contract which means that no one can be in the offical program and print your own Wee Blue Book and slag off the Fringe Society. Neither of these are sensible long term solutions. But both PBH and the Laughing Horse take bookings for shows are the main program has been printed so … maybe some people don’t care but are they getting the best deal? It you look at the process logically at some point you have to connect the acts with the venue. PBH thinks the venue should be selected first but that means he has acts waiting round for ages who might not get a slot at all so he solves this by insisting that they cannot apply to any other “free” provider. I think this is illegal and borderline closed shop/restrictive practice. However, since he doesn’t charge people up front if they jump ship late in the day they’re costing him a lot of time any money. I think he should consider instead charing people a non-refundable deposit of £80. He already asks people for an £80 donation after the Fringe …he could turn this into a refundable deposit which they can apply for back at the end. That gets some liquidity into his barter system without actually charging acts. There’d be interest on this money too so he could give that to the people who waited 9 months and got nothing. I think it’s viable to charge people a deposit to be on the waiting list. It’s one thing having the Free Fringe entirely run by volunteers who give their time for nothing (not even most charities run such a utopian socialist system) but there should still in my view be protections on the exploitation of their labour. At the moment there aren’t and this is why PBH keeps losing people and having schisms. Then again if you look at the number of venues he and Alex run these days it’s a wonder either of their systems hold together at all…

    Also neither PBH or the Freestival them seem to have grasped the fundamental rule of promoting that loyalty from the venue is the most important thing. It’s far better to have a rubbish venue with a trustworthy landlord than a good venue that might throw you out tomorrow… or invite in a business rival. But then who does the venue owner trust when the Freestival consists of the people he’s previously worked with who fell out with PBH? I think last year they hedged their bets and this year they thought … no let’s go back to PBH.

  4. mraemiller says:

    I’m sure you can use your own brain to correct the above bad grammar…

    Of course it may be that with one organisation calling its self the Free Festival and another calling its self the Freestival and the Freestival containing people who used to be in the Free Festival and what seems to be a very complicated chain of command in both organisations with many people seemingly having duplicated responisibilities and similarly so around the Waugh business empire it might be that Kenny Waugh or someone did unintentionally give a vague aural commitment to someone at the Freestival thinking they were the Free Festival. On the PBH site Peter Buckley Hill complains that Waugh Taverns Ltd wrote in 2014 to a Mr Peter Hill not Peter Buckley Hill so it seems Mr Waugh is apt to be a bit vauge about the middle bits of names. On top of that we have the 3 Kennys problem. Says PBH last year (the topic is actually still on the free fringe forum … but there is a defunct old one I think) “I do not recall ever meeting Kenny I, and certainly have no irreconcilable differences with him, his son or his grandson. Nor does he have my name right. This whole email is highly suspicious. Unless Kenny II tells me otherwise, I believe the existing deal stands. Since then I and the team have been attempting to contact Kenny II, having no means of contacting Kenny I, who we have hitherto believed was not connected with the management of Cowgatehead and indeed retired from active involvement in the family business.” Is it any wonder there was a cock up?

    If they wanted to not be linked with or muddled up with PBH they should have invented their own brand identity. No one steals the pear shaped brand name … except for some artist called Carolyn J. Faseler who painted the website and hung it in an art gallery in Oklahoma …

  5. mraemiller says:

    See even I’ve got the Free Festival and the Free Fringe confused now in the above post …

    As I have explained on John Fleming’s blog I think the underlying problem is market over-saturation. The Free Fringe used to be put some performers in a bar and increase the bar take… and get the room for free.

    This has morphed into …. find any space and if it’s not a pub that’s okay we can still apply for a booze licence off the council late in the day … construct our own rooms … (sure the planning department at the Council and HSE just love that … and try and get all these extra logistics done before the Fringe Program deadline and support the whole system out of the same bar takings, fundraising and small ads in the Wee Blue Book …

    Well, for one thing that’s going to turn the whole town into one huge Pub (exactly how many venues so close together can you support simply on bar takings) and for another …are there actually enough alcoholics even in Scotland during the Fringe to support this? The Freestival’s fans seem to think it’s as simple as find an empty building in fill it with rooms …but the rent and licenceing (which is a new cost because these buildings are not already licenced for the whole year as entertainment or booze venues) and all other costs have to all be supported by the bar take …and footfall doesn’t automatically turn into bar take,.. the whole thing’s got very complicated. According to PBH’s website in 2011 he was operating nearly 40 venues/stages … including a lot of music and non stand up stuff… according to the Free Festival site Alex is operating 16 venues. Heroes of the Fringe have 1 and a bus … all operating on beer sales for fincance… but surely there is a finite amount of beer and booze even in Scotland?

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