You can hear Brian Mitchell, Edinburgh’s own Karaoke Cabbie, live on the Christmas ’14 edition of Edinburgh Nights. 15:00-16:00, Friday 19th December on Shore Radio. Alternatively you can subscribe to the podcast here.
I tumble into a taxi on Hanover Street, or is this Frederick? I’m never entirely certain, even at the best of times, and it’s been a good night. If I am no longer exactly on the level, here’s hoping the Great Architect of the Universe can keep me straight until I’ve staggered up the wooden hills to Bedfordshire. But this is Edinburgh and you can’t escape unanticipated spectacle so easily.
“Do you like music?” Is there someone else in the cab? Hazily, I remember the first episode of Sherlock, and that there is ALWAYS someone else in a hired hackney. “I don’t mind a tune mate,” I reply to the driver’s enquiry. A pause and then he asks, “You like Barry Manilow pal?” To this I’m …er… less committal. And that is how the conversation started. That’s how I encountered Brian Mitchell, Edinburgh’s very own Karaoke Cabbie.
It’s December. It’s cold and it’s going to get colder. August is a distant memory and yet the spirit of the Fringe moves among us. Turns out I’m the audience at a hopeful’s impromptu show. Brian’s been on Britain’s Got Talent, he’s been on The Voice, and yet he’s still waiting for his break together with the recognition his gigantically gentle stage style deserves.
The backing track comes on as we turn onto Waverley Bridge – not too quiet, not too loud – this is finely tuned improv. Brian’s warms up with classics from the song book of the artist formerly known as Barry Alan Pincus (Did I know Manilow started using his mother’s maiden name after his bar mitzvah?).
“I had a guy in the back one time. Said he was a big pal of Manilow’s. Said I was the best tribute act he’d ever heard.”
The best lounge crooners don’t just imitate, they resculpt the classics to their own range and unique aesthetic. Listening to Brian sing you come to realise this is a guy familiar with the engineering under the artistry. He appreciates it, respects it. Why does he suppose Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra never meshed on stage? “Very different styles, Dan pal, what you have to understand is…”
We’re bumping over the Royal Mile. People come from all over the world to see this view. I’d never imagined it could be improved until I saw it, long after the midnight hour, bathed in the magic Brian can conjures from In the Wee Small Hours. With the Current Mrs Dan away Christmas shopping in NYC, it brings a lump to my throat. “Give us something more cheerful can’t you Brian?” Of course he can!
If there’s one thing living in Edinburgh has taught me, it’s that great art (high and low) doesn’t just happen. Years of practise are required for each single hour of top quality entertainment, and that punters are just as responsible as producers for finding and celebrating artists. Why would you leave it to the corporate clever clogs behind the Saturday Night talent shows?
Consumption isn’t just consuming only what’s been put in front of us. I needs us to go out, explore, trying something new, take a risk and watch it pay off. Yes, you might have to listen to a bit of Manilow before you get to the Sinatra, but it’ll be so worth it in the end. You might even discover that… actually… you quite like Manilow after all.
By: Dan Lentell (Seen 5 December)
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