Brian Ferguson: Time to start shouting about the 70th Edinburgh Fringe
I hoped it was not an omen for the summer the icy chill in the air coincided with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s first press call in its 70th anniversary year.
Joining a gaggle of photographers patiently waiting on a virtually deserted Mound precinct beside a newly-rebranded open top bus for culture secretary Fiona Hyslop and Fringe chief executive Shona McCarthy, it was hard to believe the same spot is a bustling hive of street entertainers and short-sleeved crowds in August.
The bright purple double decker, a striking contrast against the gloomy backdrop of dark clouds hovering above Edinburgh Castle, was the visual hook for an announcement of an ambitious global campaign.
I have to admit it took me some time to get my head around the concept of a World Fringe Day being staged around the world in July - almost a month before Edinburgh’s festivals properly burst into life - especially as details of what actual events would being staged were in short supply.
But if all goes according to plan, the largely virtual campaign, which will see the story of the Fringe’s 1947 origins, and the 200-strong family of “open access” events it has given birth to, spread around the world like never before over the course of 24 hours.
It was curious then that neither Ms Hyslop or Ms McCarthy were prepared to do any interviews on the day. Television cameras and journalists were noticable by their absence.
I could not help but think a golden opportunity had been spurned to bang the drum on behalf of not just the Fringe - but all of Edinburgh’s festivals - over the 70th anniversary.
The same thought occurred the following day when I ventured through to Glasgow to take in VisitScotland’s annual Expo trade fair at the SECC.
While the booming heritage and whisky sectors appeared to have pulled out all the stops, the tourism agency’s biggest annual event was crying out for the vibrancy and colour of Edinburgh’s festivals to brighten things up - and also make a bit of a collective racket.
The Fringe is perhaps keeping most its 70th birthday powder dry until its official programme launch in June. But with a General Election the following day it will have its work cut out to get its normal share of the headlines.
It is not all down to the Fringe Society, which is not exactly awash with resources. There are hundreds of venues, with some very experienced promoters, involved in the Fringe, yet there has been little heat generated from them so far on what will be on offer this year.
The biggest selling point of the Fringe is that it is the world’s biggest festival, but it is only one part of a much bigger picture in Edinburgh, which has the culture at its disposal as arguably its biggest calling card to the world.
Why then is it not making more noise about the 70th anniversary? It may all be happening completely below my radar, but I have yet to get a sense of a real collective push for what will be unfolding in the city this summer.
I would have though that this year would have seen city’s public agencies, arts organisations, marketing bodies and politicians pull together more than ever before now.
Most of the chat I have heard from local politicians in relation to the festivals is how visitors should pay an extra tax on top of what they would in any other part of the UK.
And at a recent music industry gathering in the city the Edinburgh Festival was described as “the elephant in the room”. No-one battled an eyelid.
If it is the big beast of the Scottish cultural scene why has it been resembling a timid pussycat rather than a roaring lion?