‘Ladies, Jellybeans and Non-Binary Sweets’: Inside Open Ya Mouth! by Trash Arts

On a cold and quiet Monday evening, Paul Beresford found himself in Portsmouth’s iconic Wedgewood Rooms, watching Open Ya Mouth, an open-mic event hosted by local creative group Trash Arts. He spoke with Omar Mahmood Lagares, the vibrant and charismatic host, to learn more about the event, its background and the qualities that make it unique.

My hand gently caresses a pint of Cola as the room, bathed intermittently in a glow of green and magenta from the stage, begins to fill with the incoherent chatter of spectators and performers alike. As the clock strikes 8pm, the flood of gossip is swept aside by a new voice that pierces the growing atmosphere and resonates around the venue.

‘Ladies, jellybeans and non-binary sweets, welcome to Open Ya Mouth!’

Held on the first (or sometimes second) Monday of every month for the past six years, Open Ya Mouth has always welcomed the curious novice and seasoned veteran alike. It’s where the spoken word is celebrated in every form, and creativity knows no limits. But what makes the event stand out in a vibrant city with a strong open-mic scene?

Like many good stories, my chat with Omar started at the beginning, talking about the origins of Open Ya Mouth at the Fat Fox pub on Albert Road. It was co-founded by Will Bill, who now runs Paralytic Promotions, an independent live music event organisation in Brighton. The original idea, Omar recalls, was for it to be a new home for ‘a diverse poetry scene’. Since then the event has changed venues with stints at Southsea Emporium and the Loft above the King’s pub, to name a few. Nowadays, it’s settled in the Wedge, a dedicated performance venue with a 200+ capacity – and their crowds do get that big.

But while Open Ya Mouth was originally set up for poetry, Omar says it didn’t take long before the event ‘attracted a variety of acts’. Now you’ll see the likes of acoustic guitarist Just Lucy and pianist Million Pebble Beach, in addition to the witty performance poet Philip Jeremy Wilson. However, where Open Ya Mouth distinguishes itself from other open-mic events is what co-organiser Rocky Harkiss has, in an interview with the Portsmouth News, called its ‘melting pot for the off-the-beaten-path artists’. These have included drumming groups, comedians, storytellers and even magicians – all showcasing their skills to one of the most appreciative audiences around.

Such a variety of acts and personalities is made possible by Open Ya Mouth’s inclusivity. The event has – and always will be – free to enter, and every performer gets a ten-minute slot. This is unusual, as most open-mics only offer three to five minutes per act, which often doesn’t allow for setting up instruments or other equipment. Such fairness and openness is also reflected in how the group is run. ‘Anyone can sign up to become a trustee to help develop the organisation,’ says Omar.

Moreover, Open Ya Mouth is a ‘Community Interest Company’ (CIC), as they put it on their Facebook page, that ‘runs projects for the benefit of the community of Portsmouth’. What this means is that they are a ‘not-for-profit’ outfit, so any profits and assets they have at their disposal are used for the good of the public rather than for their own financial gain. As for its economic model, ‘we run a number of local projects that require a bit of extra funding to run,’ Omar says.

One of these projects took place last September, as for the first time, Open Ya Mouth ran their own festival in Victoria Park. The all-day event showcased a wide array of local talent, including dance troupe The Neptune Girls, acoustic musicians Megan Linford and Just Lucy and headline act Rishky. The running order included hour-long spaces dedicated to their ever-popular open-mic session, which added some audience participation to the mix. It was ‘a great success,’ says Omar – so much so that they’re ‘already planning for next year’s event’.

With the discussion shifting to the future, it seemed appropriate to ask Omar that most open-ended of questions – what’s next for Open Ya Mouth? Where do they go from here? And with that charismatic smile on his face, his response was simple: ‘The sky’s the limit.’

Picture courtesy of Trash Arts.