Behind the scenes of the huge success of the Free Fringe this year, a battle of the venues is ensuing between comedian Peter Buckley Hill (founder of the Free Fringe) and the Laughing Horse.
Tourette’s sufferer Peter claims that the two owners of the Laughing Horse, Alex Petty and Keven McCarron, ‘hijacked’ the event in August this year, after they joined forces to produce the Free Fringe. He claims this even got to the point where he was excluded from his own party.
Peter said: “The truth is: I brought them in to help, initially by providing a show between my two, thinking that the venue owners would respond better to an approach from an organisation than an individual. I told them what to write and after that, they started doing things behind my back.”
Eventually Peter had to negotiate and sign an agreement in order to keep the name of the Free Fringe.
Peter said: “If I had not, the whole Free Fringe would have been billed as theirs. It was my invention and vision.”
The Free Fringe was started in 1996 with Peter staging just his own act. This year there were 69 different shows, a lot of them booked by the Laughing Horse.
Peter said: “Some of the people they booked this year were good, but some should never have been given an hour-long show of their own.”
According to sources, one venue was not ready on time and at another, the PA system failed to work. However, Peter says the Laughing Horse kept him in the dark despite his 13 year Fringe experience.
Peter claims he had no choice but to go along with the Laughing Horse, who were supposed to bill the venues in their joint names, but didn’t.
But Alex Petty, part-owner of the Laughing Horse, compared Peter’s shows as similar to that of busking.
He said: “Peter was never able to get any other performers involved with other shows as he hasn’t been willing to organise an event, and never saw the benefit of offering anything to performers except an empty room that they could use. I believe performers want and need a set-up venue as the performer’s job is to put on the show, not to worry about mic cables!”
Peter was against the idea of spending ‘unnecessary’ money on venues.
The Edinburgh Fringe is growing each year, with the comedy section stretching the brochure ever wider. With this, come increased costs for artists and festival goers. The artists themselves hardly ever make a profit from their shows (about 2 per cent); Peter has been described as the man who ‘wants to set the Fringe Free’.
The Laughing Horse has plans to use the same venues next year, although agreements are being kept quiet at the moment.
Peter said: “I found all four venues used this year. Despite this, immediately after the Fringe the Laughing Horse were after these venues like rats up drainpipes and, because they had corresponded with them as the LH rather than the FF, the venue owners thought that the two organisations were identical.”
Alex released a statement on an online forum, which included the quote: “It is a shame that Peter cannot find it in him to work with others. I do sincerely wish Peter good luck with what he aims to do in the future. His beliefs are good. However his ability to turn
these into reality are what we hoped we could help with - sadly this has proved to be an unworkable situation. ”
Many comedians are backing Peter – known as PBH - who has received many messages of support.
The Free Fringe is currently looking for new venues for 2007, with a preference for centrality and minimal sound leakage.
Peter said: “The excellent people of Edinburgh are helping me and I am in negotiation for some better venues. With luck, I will end up better than I was.
“We need coverage; not only because the shows are free, but that they are ethically so, and run co-operatively by performers for performers, unlike whatever the Laughing Horse will do. We need to undermine the knee-jerk reaction that free equals bad. Much of that work was done this year, but the LH booked some actually bad shows, which didn't help.”
The success of the Free Fringe this year has also been partly attributed to Linsay Watts, owner of Linsays pub in central Edinburgh. She has offered generosity and support to both the Laughing Horse and all of the performers – at all venues – along with organising sponsorship and accommodation throughout the event.
Alex Petty said: “Without Linsay there would probably not have been a Free Fringe Festival of any scale. If we did not have her help the costs of organising the event would have been a lot more, and the hospitality and performers club that she runs in her venue is what gives the Free shows and venues their unique atmosphere of acts that are working together, not against each other competing for audiences – and who all help each other to make the event overall more successful.”
He also praised Robbie who runs the Meadow Bar, and Hayden who manages Jekyll & Hyde.
Peter Buckley Hill, ever the comedian said: “My ship was holed by pirates. But I am repelling these boarders. My hand was made strong by the hand of the Almighty; we
forward in degeneration, triumphantly. Except there's no almighty. But we still sing those songs of freedom.”