I went yesterday evening to Edinburgh’s Word of Mouth Café in Albert Street. It’s an open-mic event for music and poetry, and I didn’t know what to expect. The first thing to say is that it’s a great place, intimate and atmospheric. The MC, Mira, seemed really nice, as did most people in the audience. Charlotte Runcie was there and told me that the home-baking was terrific.
Unfortunately, the event was marred (but not ruined, as I’ll explain) by two dimwits who can go by the names of 'Tom Waits Wanabee' (TWW) and 'Drunk Moron' (DM). TWW was on first with a couple of musicians. He wore a hat, just like Tom Waits, and sometimes he attempted to reproduce a throaty growl, but to little effect. The songs were unadventurous 12-bar-blues of a kind you might find in any pub populated by six paralytic, leather-jacketed, fifty-something, lonely men after eleven at night on any weekend. It was like Status Quo might have sounded before they learned to sing or play their instruments.
I was on next. TWW and DM obviously didn’t appreciate the switch to poetry and decided to disrupt my reading by shouting out stuff and talking loudly while I read. The audience would say, “Shhhhh! Shut up!” which only seemed to encourage them. To be honest, I’m more than a little annoyed at myself for allowing it to rattle me and I didn’t read very well although, in my defence, it wasn’t easy. I had planned to read two poems, but read a third just to piss them off – that probably wasn’t a good idea either… My set-list (although I might as well have been reading a telephone directory) was:
1. Hangover Hotel
2. The Deconstruction Industry
After my set, Mira asked them to stay quiet during performances. TWW (or perhaps DM) shouted at her that she was behaving like a schoolteacher. Actually, that’s the first sensible thing he said all night, likening himself, I guess, to an eight-year-old spoiled child.
The thing was, there were some terrific acts to come. A band called All at Sea were brilliant. I even bought their CD. I picked up some Smiths influences, a touch of Pulp – great songwriting. An un-named duo comprising of a bass-player and a woman singer – something between Ella Fitzgerald and Mary Margaret O’Hara – were also superb.
Drunk Moron started getting annoyed at this guy who refused to shake his hand, not unreasonably protesting, “I’m not your friend!” DM became verbally abusive. Luckily, before Charlotte went on, Mira helpfully ejected DM, explaining that this was one advantage of being a woman. She could eject drunk and disorderly men from the premises without it seeming like an act of aggression. Very true. Charlotte read some excellent poems and read them very well.
So I’d recommend this place as a café and as a venue. It was just unfortunate that TWW and DM were around. TWW sat down at my table and started asking those present whether, if they were trapped in a room with a red-hot floor, they would step on their daughter to save themselves. What insight he had into this moral dilemma was never made clear. When given answers, mainly from women (e.g. “No, that’s horrible”) he tried to intimidate them by saying, “What do you mean, “horrible”? That’s no answer. Give me a proper answer!” – that “Are you talking to me or chewing a brick?” routine, in which any answer you give is going to be the wrong one. One woman refused to say yes or no, and he became angry. I got angry too and decided it was time to have a go at him:
TWW: Give me an answer. You can’t refuse to answer!
Me: Why should she answer? Why should you control this conversation and tell people what they can and can’t do? They can do anything they want.
TWW: (for the first time, taken aback, and discomforted – yeah, triumph at last!) eh…um…by the way, your poetry is really bad.
Me: Not that you listened to any of it! In any case, your music was total crap. It’s the most boring stuff I’ve heard in ages.
Nearby Woman: Yes, it’s like you were trying to be Tom Waits and couldn’t get anywhere near (or words to that effect).
The conversation swiftly turned to politics and TWW asked people to name their favourite politician. No one had a ready answer for that one. Then someone said ‘Nelson Mandela’. TWW replied, “No. no. I’ll tell you who my favourite politician is – Robert Mugabe!”
It took a few seconds for everyone to register that TWW was, in fact, being absolutely serious. It wasn’t irony or a joke. He really believed Robert Mugabe was a good guy. Coming from TWW, that makes prefect sense. Of course, he would admire Robert Mugabe.
I had to leave before Anita Govan and Fiona Lindsey performed their poetry sets – a shame, as I like Fiona and Anita, but I had to get home. I’ll be back to the Word of Mouth though. I want to stress that, despite how this article might sound, it is a great place with some really interesting poetry and music going on. Definitely a venue well worth supporting. Thanks to Mira and everyone else for their kind comments on my set (!) and for the delicious mince pie.