History of Bath Fringe Festival|
The origins of Bath Fringe go back to the sideshows which sprang up around important Temple festivals before and during the Roman Occupation, to the street fairs that surrounded the Abbey for the coronation of Edgar in 959... Well they don't completely, of course, but it's worth remembering that Bath has been a town of arts, visitors, travelling performers, even before the Georgian era that our Heritage Industry makes so much of.
It makes more sense to trace the Fringe back to the Bath Festivals of Blues & Progressive Music of '69 & '70, but the connections to the current crew are a little tenuous, so let's say the real start were the Walcot Festivals of the '70s & 'early 80s, mostly run by a community group called Bath Arts Workshop (the name still exists for the company that runs the Natural Theatre Company of Bath [www.naturaltheatre.co.uk].
In 2000 we commissioned a project to put some material about these festivals on-line at www.walcotstreet.com. These events were inspirational, some of their perpetrators now pillars of the alternative establishment locally and nationally; the contemporary Fringe's Walcot Nation Day is our homage and acknowledgement of how important that all was and is to the Spirit of Festival and to Bath.
Around the end of the Walcot Festivals (things change, people get tired and move on...) it was recognised more widely that there was a great deal that people wanted to experience and celebrate that wasn't covered by the classical music centred Bath Festival, and a Bath Fringe was set up with the support of the then city council in 1981, with dates related to those of the 'main' festival but an independent organisation (Bath Arts Association) and a lively interest in many more artforms. There was financial support, at least for staff, available under various Community programme initiatives in arts and, ah, community events, but with political shifts and internal developments those resources dwindled over the next decade to the barest handful of events.
A group of local promoters and artists were unwilling to let the idea die, and constituted a new group in 1991 to promote a festival that same year. That group, Bath Fringe Ltd., is a cooperative and still consists of promoters, artists, performers, venue volunteers, and audience members. It was briefly, at council request, part of Bath Festivals Trust, but the arrangement didn't work and the Fringe went fully independent again. Many of the bigger Fringe events have their own dedicated volunteer team and run their own affairs under the Fringe 'banner' and couldn't be done any other way: see programme entries for the Visual Arts Programme, Fringe Art Fair, Children's Art Festival, Bedlam Fair street performance, etc. Local council support has always been part of the picture and council money is used to employ a part-time administrator (9 months a year, half a week) for the whole programme and support work throughout the year, as well as to subsidise specific events like free street performance, Children's Festival etc. The festival is still very dependent on sponsorship, outside grants, much volunteer work and local goodwill.
Over the years the Fringe has investigated and developed artforms events and audiences that have in many cases become mainstream, others of which have been taken on and commercialised by other promoters and festivals. 'Affordable Art', Spoken Word, Digital Arts & Media, Standup Comedy, Cabaret, Physical Theatre, Circus Arts, Folk & World Music, Latin Dance, Jazz, and the serious presentation of major figures from Pop, Rock and Black Music have all been Fringe centrepieces, some of which have been maintained and others developed elsewhere. That's part of the nature of Fringe and as such can't be regretted...
Past performers include:
Arthur Smith, Nola Rae, Jonathon Burrows Dance Company, Ken Campbell, Jeremy Hardy, Rich Hall, Mark Thomas, Julian Clary, Bill Bailey, Rory Mcleod, Baka Beyond, James Fagan & Nancy Kerr, Eliza Carthy & Nancy Kerr, Martin Carthy, Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Davy Graham, Robin Williamson, The Tiger Lillies, Jeff Green, Billy Childish, The Wrigley Sisters, Chris Newman & Maire ni Chathasaigh, Peter Hammill, Jah Wobble, Ed Byrne, Mike Maran, Guy Masterton, Zion Train, DJ Yoda, John Shuttleworth, Andy Irvine, Dave Swarbrick, Jazz Jamaica, Lumiere & Son, Bob Downe, Forced Entertainment, Red Shift, The Cosmic Sausages, Steve Arguelles, Kate Rusby, Howard Marks, Mark Steel, John Hegley, Head Mix Collective, Leon Rosselson, Peepolykus, Ridiculusmus, Alan Parker Urban Warrior, The Kosh, Lee Evans, Malcolm Hardee, Bill Jones, Tinariwen, Lo'Jo, Garth Merenghi, Marcos Valle, DJ Suv, KAOS Theatre, Angela De Castro...
..add your favourites if you were there too.
You can see some past Bath Fringe programmes elsewhere on this site - click on the years below to see the archived sites (apologies if some links do not work any more):
fringe 2006 | fringe 2005 | fringe 2004 | fringe 2003 | fringe 2002 | fringe 2001 | fringe 2000 | fringe 1999 fringe 1998 | fringe 1997
plus a documentation project created in 1998, '99 & 2000 by The Process Art in Progress at www.artuk.co.uk