AFTER months of planning, North Berwick’s Fringe by the Sea is over for another year, with its organisers claiming the Edinburgh Festival Fringe cousin has “become greater than its source”.

Launched in 2008 as an adjunct to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, this year’s event welcomed thousands of people from across the UK.

Many  applauded the organisers for continuing with their plans for the festival, despite uncertainty about what Covid-19 pandemic restrictions would be in place.

While the Edinburgh Festival Fringe saw nothing planned until a few months ago, Fringe by the Sea organisers began announcing events and performers in February, when Scotland was still in the midst of a lockdown.

This year’s event began on August 6 and ran until Sunday (August 15).

One of the festival’s main changes was the introduction of new venues throughout the town, instead of its traditional main hub at the harbour, to help with safety and social distancing restrictions.

As well as the harbour, the Lodge Grounds, library car park and Marine Hotel were also used.

East Lothian Courier: The Belhaven Big Top in the Lodge Grounds is where a lot of the festival's biggest acts performedThe Belhaven Big Top in the Lodge Grounds is where a lot of the festival's biggest acts performed

Dr Alison Sneddon, a local resident, said: “We should applaud the organisers for having the courage to go ahead when we could have been in the fourth wave, but they worked with East Lothian Council and North Berwick should be proud of what the town has created in this brilliant festival for all.”

Rory Steel, director of Fringe by the Sea, said: “Well, we did it!  With the help of a fantastic team and amazing volunteers Fringe by the Sea has managed to put on the biggest festival in Scotland for 18 months.  

“We’ve welcomed audiences from throughout the UK, drawn to North Berwick for the array of acts our general manager Jackie Shuttleworth assembled when many questioned whether any festivals would happen in August.

“Our move outdoors has seen an increase in ticket sales, with a whopping 25,000 people attending events at the Belhaven Big Top, Glenkinchie Lowland Stage, SSE Renewables Envirozone and Marine North Berwick Masterclass Suite, with a further 10,000 enjoying the free music on the Lighthouse Live stage and Mactaggart & Mickel Makers Market at the North Berwick Trust Harbour Home. 

“The feedback we’ve been receiving on our move to the Lodge Gardens has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’re extremely grateful for these messages of support while recognising the sacrifices some have made to their daily lives to accommodate the festival.”

Asked if venues such as the Lodge would be used next year, Rory added: “Our move from indoors to outdoors and using civic spaces across the town was justified as it meant we were able to put on a show and minimise risk from coronavirus, with no infection spreads related to our event reported thus far.

“We have received hundreds of messages of support for our use of the Lodge Grounds, and will be collating this feedback alongside those of residents most impacted by the event before we begin planning for 2022.”

East Lothian Courier: Storm, a ten-metre tall puppet of a mythical sea goddess, makes its way along the seafront at North Berwick on Sunday as part of the festival. Image: Lesley Martin/PA WireStorm, a ten-metre tall puppet of a mythical sea goddess, makes its way along the seafront at North Berwick on Sunday as part of the festival. Image: Lesley Martin/PA Wire

Rory said it was not just the ticket buyers who enjoyed the shows, with many of the acts performing in front of a live audience for the first time in 18 months.

A huge variety of entertainers performed across a range of genres, including music, comedy and talks, with many big names as well as local acts on the line-up.

Rory said: “Their excitement was palpable as they prepared to get back on stage.  They loved the reception they received, both on stage and around East Lothian.”

Comedian Ed Byrne said: “This is my first gig in 18 months and it’s so much better than Zoom and drive-in gigs.”

Soul singer and actress Mica Paris said: “Fringe by the Sea was a phenomenal festival this year!

“Given all the odds, what a way to get back into live music. The venue was stunning, the crowd was electric and I loved every minute of it! Love you Scotland.”

Barry Gordon, of Scottish funk band James Brown Is Annie, said:  “It was great to play in front of a live, open-to-the-public audience again in North Berwick. Despite flooding and rain elsewhere, it stayed warm and sunny throughout. Couldn’t have asked for better.” 

While a statement by The Blues Band said: “We’re not sure how many times we have played Fringe by the Sea but this is our first time in the Belhaven Big Top and we want to say congratulations to the organisers for making a smart move.”

When asked for his highlights, Rory said: “Hearing Maggie O’Farrell tell a story about ‘borrowing’ a skull from North Berwick High School’s biology classroom to dress up as Hamlet, only to discover her biology teacher was in the audience was the kind of moment that makes Fringe by the Sea so special.

“We shall be having a bit of a rest and then begin to plan for 2022. Thanks again to all those who came along to support the festival as well as our sponsors.”