'Cowgatehead is no longer our venue' | Freestival concedes PBH will run Edinburgh rooms

'Cowgatehead is no longer our venue'

Freestival concedes PBH will run Edinburgh rooms

Freestival have conceded defeat in the battle for Cowgatehead, after failing to secure a meeting with rival Peter Buckley Hill.

The organisation has told comedians who thought they were booked into the Edinburgh venue: ‘We must, for now, assume the Cowgatehead is no longer our primary venue.’

They had hoped to meet the Free Fringe founder with the venue’s licensee and representatives of the Fringe Society yesterday – but said Buckley Hill declined to respond to their invitations.

And PBH told Chortle: ‘The much-touted London meeting, mentioned in so many statements, never existed.’

He said that he has accommodated 51 of the shows booked by Freestival into Cowgatehead, adding: ‘Most have accepted; we await a response from others.’

However the performers hoping for a resolution before applying to PBH’s Free Fringe will now have to compete with other shows for the remaining slots. And he says there are fewer spaces within the venue than Freestival had promised, so some will inevitably be disappointed.

Many shows had already paid £360 to go into the official Fringe Programme, which is published tomorrow, and will therefore carry incorrect listing details.

After yesterday’s meeting failed to materialise, Freestival said: ‘We are very saddened by PBH’s complete intransigence and the subsequent devastation this will now cause to many people’s Edinburgh programme.

‘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 will be contacting all acts involved shortly and making a statement once that is done.’

Buckley Hill accused Freestival of throwing up ‘smokescreens’ around the issue – restating that all the problems have arisen because Freestival never had permission to book the venue. The full statement he issued to Chortle is below.

Meanwhile, the third major provider of free shows at the Fringe, the Laughing Horse’s Free Festival has today unveiled its full programme of more than 250 shows, here

PBH’s statement

1.  Freestival never had permission to book Cowgatehead, St John’s (now Bar Bados) or Tron Kirk for 2015.  They nevertheless booked shows into these spaces.  They, and only they, are liable for any consequences of these misbookings.

2.  The Fringe Office were warned in March that Freestival were booking acts into Cowgatehead without authorisation.  The Fringe Office chose not to act.

3.  There are six stages in Cowgatehead, not the nine that were booked. There will be no shows in Bar Bados other than music.

4.  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.  He was not aware that Freestival had booked any shows and stated firmly that they had no authority to and would not be given such authority.

5.  As soon as we received the signed agreement from the licensee, we alerted the world to the situation via social media and your site.

6.  We are not responsible for any bookings made by Freestival.  No promoter can be expected to automatically honour bookings made by another promoter.  Anybody who has acted on an unfulfillable promise by Freestival should take it up with them.

7.  Even if we were minded to honour all Freestival’s bookings wholesale, they could not be honoured.  Eleven stages into six will not go.

8.  Anybody who wants a Free Fringe venue, including Cowgatehead, must accept the Free Fringe Ethos and Conditions, and apply in due form.  We are still taking applications.  The Free Fringe model works only if all shows agree to do the things set out in the Ethos and Conditions, and carry them out on the day.

9.  We set aside a period within which only ex-Freestival shows would be considered for Cowgatehead.  During that time, we made great efforts to offer such shows (who accepted the Ethos and Conditions) a slot with the same start time as they thought they had, or failing that one as close as possible.

10.  That period has now elapsed and all applications are now being considered equally.  I thank the non-ex-Freestival shows who were already on our waiting list for their patience.  Their needs are as great as the ex-Freestival ones, and their claim if anything greater.

11.  The much-touted London meeting, mentioned in so many statements, never existed.  The much-touted compromise position never existed either.  No concrete proposals for any such compromise were ever put on the table. No compromise exists which could collapse eleven stages into six.

12.  The licensee does not wish to work with Freestival.  He has chosen the Free Fringe as his preferred partner.

Nothing has changed from my statement of May 21.

Accusations and smears have been made which do not accord with the facts of the case.  Some of these accusations have been highly personal and derogatory.  Others have sought the return of the status quo.  But that status quo never existed and was never available.  We have done nothing to merit these accusations and smears, and have worked throughout for the greatest happiness of the greatest number.  In these circumstances, the happiness of all is unattainable.

Any venue can change its mind at any time, and cancel its shows. That has happened in the past and will in the future.  But this situation is different.  Freestival had no good reason to believe they had booking rights.  If they can produce written evidence to the contrary, I will withdraw that statement.  And, unlike the Free Fringe, Freestival took money from its former performers in exchange for the spaces.

Published: 3 Jun 2015

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