Comment: A place to showcase Scotland’s culture

Every August, thousands of performers and hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Edinburgh to enjoy the Edinburgh International Festival and the Festival Fringe.

The Fringe first began in 1947 when eight theatre groups arrived uninvited to perform at the maiden Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: TSPL
The Fringe first began in 1947 when eight theatre groups arrived uninvited to perform at the maiden Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: TSPL

The origins of the Fringe are fascinating, demonstrating a truly egalitarian approach to cultural expression that underpins who we are as individuals, as a community and as a country. Promoting diversity, inclusion and creativity, the Fringe has a great deal in common with the principles that unite the Saltire Society and its membership to celebrate and preserve all that is best in Scotland’s cultural life.

The Fringe first began in 1947 when eight theatre groups arrived uninvited to perform at the maiden Edinburgh International Festival. They had one small problem. As they were uninvited, they were not included in the official programme, leading the groups to get creative and stage their shows on the periphery of the actual festival. The following year, more performers followed this example, prompting Robert Kemp, playwright and Evening News journalist to write: “Round the fringe of the official Festival drama, there seems to be a more private enterprise than before... I am afraid some of us are not going to be at home during the evenings.”

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The notion of a Fringe stuck, and in 1958 the Festival Fringe Society was created. Unlike other festivals, the Festival Fringe’s constitution celebrates the fact that the Society has no deciding say over the Fringe programme. Instead it is shaped by the creativity and ideas of the performers who choose to come to the Festival every year to showcase their work.

Now, 67 years on and the legacy of the original eight performers continues to flourish and grow. The 2013 Fringe Festival saw 45,464 performances of 2,871 shows and sold a staggering 1,943,493 tickets, making it the largest ever arts festival in the world. 2014 is set to be even bigger with a jaw-dropping 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows across 299 different venues. According to the Fringe’s official Twitter site, the number of tickets sold for Edinburgh Festivals is exceeded only by the World Cup and Olympic Games.

Indeed, the Edinburgh Fringe has been so successful that it has been emulated and recreated throughout the world. Most notable are the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa and the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, each of which attracts thousands of tourists as well as international and home grown performers every year.

This year the Saltire Society is hosting its first Saltire Speakeasy as part of the 2014 Fringe Programme. We want to take full advantage of our newly renovated,headquarters by using it to present writers, poets and musicians from Scotland and internationally, allowing audiences to get up close and personal with some of Scotland and indeed the world’s most exceptional talents.

Each day will see a new line-up and programme from the day before and promises audiences a totally unique and engaging experience. Guests such as Jenny Lindsay of Rally and Broad, Dave Hook from Scottish Hip-Hop band Stanley Odd and Guyana-born writer Sasenarine Persaud, the Saltire Speakeasy will offer an eclectic mix of discussion, music and spoken word performance.

Through the Speakeasy series, we are also delighted to be able to showcase the talents of two previous Saltire Award winners: author Tim Armstrong won the Saltire Society’s Scottish First Book of the Year award in 2013 for his debut science-fiction novel, Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach (CLÀR).

Meanwhile, musician Innes White, an accomplished guitarist, mandolin player, pianist, singer, composer and teaching musician, won last year’s Saltire International Travel Bursary for Music which he used to travel to Catalonia, where he spent a month learning about Catalan music, language and culture.

The Saltire Speakeasy programme includes two shows per evening and will run until the end of the Fringe. Performance times are 5pm until 6:15pm and then 7pm until 8.15pm with tickets for non-members priced at £8.

Further information about the Saltire Society, the full Saltire Speakeasy programme and details on how to get your tickets can be found at

• Jim Tough is Executive Director of the Saltire Society