I am writing to keep you informed on the latest situation on Cowgatehead.
The venue is in the effective control of the Waugh family; there are three active generations, all called Kenny, whom I shall refer to as I, II and III.
Kenny II has been our main contact throughout; a difficult man to get hold of. It was he who gave us use of Cowgatehead in 2013, and it was he who promised us use of Cowgatehead in 2014.
He has various business partners, not all of whom I know, and the ownership details are complex. Since it does not operate as licensed premises year-round, there is no licence currently in place, nor does there need to be.
On the promise given to me in December, we have booked four rooms worth of shows into Cowgatehead.
It came to our notice in January that the breakaway “freestival” was also claiming Cowgatehead. It came as no surprise that they had tried; they have been round all our venues trying to capture them. That’s the sort of people they are.
We sought clarification from Kenny II. He mentioned in passing in the street that things were still on course, and that was all we could get out of him. There are many things to do with the building that are none of our business, such as the potential conversion to hotel for which planning permission has been sought.
Last week the fringe office brought an email to my attention. This purported to be from Waugh Taverns Ltd, a firm which we have not dealt with but which is clearly connected to the Waugh family. This is what it said:
“We have an agreement in place with a team known as Freestival headed up by a Mr Jules Constance. We have every plan to use this organisation to run this venue and maybe 2 of our others venues for the purposes of arts, comedy, music and entertainment during the festival period.
Last year we worked with Mr Peter Hill, due to irreconcilable differences we regret we will not be renewing our agreement with him for this coming year.
PA to Kenneth Waugh (Waugh Taverns)”
Disgracefully, the fringe office had received this on 27th January and not told me about it at all, even though we had corresponded about venues since that date. They made me aware of it on Friday 7th March, and only after pressure did they tell me on Monday 10th March when it was dated.
The fringe office have refused to forward the email itself to me and there is no email address online for Waugh Taverns Ltd.
Even more disgracefully, it appears that the fringe office is now telling anybody who asks that “as far as they know” freestival have the space.
Kenny Waugh I is a director of Waugh Taverns Ltd; Kenny II and III are not. If the signature above is genuine, it presumably belongs to Kenny I.
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.
Remember that, when we filled Cowgatehead three-quarters full with shows last year, we did so at less than a month’s notice. Kenny II clearly thinks we could do that again, as indeed we can. The deadlines imposed by the fringe office are of no importance to him. Nor is the quality of the shows except in so far as better shows are likely to bring in more people, hence more sales.
It is therefore unlikely that this matter will be resolved quickly.
We continue to try to contact Kenny II, and if anybody thinks that should be easy, it is not.
The big fat fringe programme is of less and less importance as the years go on. More and more fringe performers question the value for money the participation fee provides. Many Free Fringe shows in the past have been successful on the strength of their listing in the Free Fringe Programme (the Wee Blue Book) only.
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.
In the event of Cowgatehead not being available, the Artistic Directors will redeploy all shows scheduled and accepted for that venue, as a priority over all other commitments. A slot will be found, if at all possible, for every show that has accepted a Cowgatehead offer.
To assist in that process, I shall cancel my own double-length show at the Canons’ Gait, thus creating two further slots for the redeployment of shows.
And if my faith in the word of Kenny II turns out to have been misplaced, I shall not come to the Fringe.
We continue to search for more venues so that the maximum number of applicants shall get a venue.
Meanwhile please remember: the Free Fringe is a collective effort. Whatever you can do, you should do. Your role is not confined to performing your show. If you can help in the venue search, you should. If you can do anything else useful, you also should. If you have a way of contacting the Waughs that we do not have, please use it. The Free Fringe is under threat, as it always has been, and if you want to bring the pay-to-play fringe back, all you need do is sit back and do nothing. Or behave, as regrettably some of you do, as if we owed you a full service.
I wrote the above in the week of 10th March. This evening I have received notification, still via an intermediary, that Kenny II has decided to go with the freestival people. Furthermore, although they have told Kenny II that Stewart Wilson is no longer on board with them, he still is a major part of their organisation. I was not contacted directly or given an opportunity to re-make our case. I received an email half an hour ago from Kenny II informing me that they had “decided to go with freestival and La Favorita” and hoping he and I could do business in the future.
I therefore confirm that I shall not be a part of Fringe 2014. My reasons are my own and none of you has a right to know them or assume them.
I shall continue to offer my administrative expertise and considerable knowledge to the Free Fringe in the run up to Free Fringe 2014.
I am extremely confident in the current team including the artistic directors and the Edinburgh-based team. They are all dedicated and have worked tirelessly on your behalf, as indeed have I for 17 years.
I will say that it is a priority to get more venues. Others say not, but they are wrong. In an ideal world a large empty space would be found that could be converted into many stages; we have plenty of contacts who could provide bars. We have invested in chairs. It would be an enormous mistake to allow freestival to soak up any acts that we cannot place; we should do our utmost to place them. They have shows that they are happy to pay venues to use them; this is a development which if unchecked will lead to the end of the entire free movement within five years. I have fought for these principles for 17 years; it is now up to others to continue that fight. It is important to see all the implications of free shows and the integrity of the model; no other organisation putting on free-admission shows has seen the wholeness of the model.
Have a good Fringe.