Painting the Town Read

The words “culture” and “pub crawl” rarely sit side-by-side, but an award-winning tour in Edinburgh is proving that you van mix pints with poetry. Yeahbaby took a tour with one of its actors.

By Angela Dewar

Every night ends in a pub crawl for Simon Tait, and that's just the way he likes it. But while he does bar-hop until closing, it's not in a drunken stagger: he's an actor and one half of a duo who between them make up Edinburgh's Literary Pub Tour. Simon's stage is a cobbled street or winding alleyway in the Old Town and his audience a mix of visitors and locals interested in learning about Scotland's rich literary heritage ... and enjoying a drink or two along the way. "The tour's been going for ten years now," Simon explains. "I did the first four years then came back last spring. It's great as an actor because you're so close to the audience. You have to treat them the same as a theatre audience, but the difference is that on stage there are no drunks crossing at traffic lights and shouting at you! And here you can have a chat with the audience during the show." Along with theatre, Simon does TV and radio work - on the day yeahbaby meets him, Simon is reading the afternoon short story on Radio 4. Getting in character for Clart - the know-it-all man of the people who leads the tour - is different altogether.

“It takes me 35 minutes to drive into the city centre from home and that’s when I do my preparation,” he says. “I go through the show in my head, thinking about what lines I have for which part of the town we’re in.” “Last year I was doing the Edinburgh Festival, appearing in a Sherlock Holmes play, Macbeth and a comedy show, as well as doing the tour on foot and by bus. I had five different scripts in my head, so it was tricky at times.” A glass to the past Simon meets the group at the Beehive Inn on the Grassmarket. The pub was once a stabling inn and both Robert Burns and William Wordsworth lived nearby. The tour is a light-hearted mix of wit, prose and fascinating facts (with the odd song thrown in for good measure), following the lives of the literati of Edinburgh from the 1700s right up to the present day. Everyone from Sir Walter Scott to Irvine “Trainspotting” Welsh gets a mention. But it's the writing of Scotland’s own Robbie Burns that Simon really loves. "My favourite part of the night is in the courtyard outside of the Jolly Judge on the Royal Mile," he says. “That’s when I get to sing Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss very badly!”


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The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour © 2019