- 30 Oct 18
Irish jazz virtuoso Gay McIntyre continues to weave his unique brand of magic, plus reflections on Mike Leigh’s powerful new movie.
I chanced into Bennigan’s on John Street the other day to find Gay McIntyre on alto sax weaving and winding his way through ‘Take The A Train’. Gay must be 85 now. I was at his 80th in St. Columb’s Hall, and it feels like five years ago. Richie Buckley was among the Dublin contingent who travelled up for the occasion.
Gay is among the handful of Irish musicians who can be called a legend without doing damage to the language. The only comparable jazz figure we have produced is the prodigious Louis Stewart.
The aficionados who over the years have marvelled aloud at Gay’s mastery of the music include Nat King Cole, Humphrey Lyttleton, Chris Barber and Acker Bilk. He’s accompanied at Bennigan’s by the John Leighton Trio. Nobody is ever likely to pull the Saturday afternoon gig, John being bar manager as well as a twinkle-fingered piano player with a doctorate in jazz studies.
Gay has been a professional musician since he was barely 14, formed his first band at 16. That’s more than 60 years on the road. The Stones have some strutting still to do before they catch up.
One of the criteria by which we can judge the worth of a piece of music is how long it lingers and pleasures the mind. I have only hazy recall of close-up attendance at concerts by some huge stars. But I can still hear with pin-point clarity Gay on clarinet deftly ornamenting Helen Brady’s unsurpassed (except by Sarah Vaughan – nobody surpasses Sarah Vaughan) reading of ‘Passing Strangers’.
He has done a bit of everything. We all have to make a living. Nobody gets rich playing jazz in Ireland.
Gay is a veteran of jazz clubs across the water, was in the Clipper Carlton, worked as Inspector of Music in schools across the North. For a period, he was simultaneously a member of the RTE and BBC NI orchestras, and always played jazz any chance that came along.
If you know anybody who’s going to Derry on a weekend, tell them to drop by Bennigan’s and lift their hearts.
Saw Soak’s new video for Everybody Loves You. Sophisticated innocence. Illustrative of wondrous words.
She’ll be down your way soon.
But will we ever see her skate-boarding across Guildhall Square again?
I once saw a thousand miners stand on tables and chairs to roar approval of a Shelley poem.
‘The Masque of Anarchy’ was read at the great democracy demonstration in Tianamen Square in Beijing in June 1989 and in Tahir Square in Cairo during the Arab Spring in 2011.
It is the source of Jeremy Corbyn’s slogan “For the many, not the few”. Corbyn declaimed the poem from the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury last year.
The miners’ ovation followed a rendition by Paul Foot at a rally in support of the strike against Thatcher’s pit-closure plans in the 1980s. If I’ve mentioned it before, it’s on account of it being my all-time favourite poem. Along with the Odyssey and ‘A Pint Of Plain’ (“When the horse you’ve backed it also-ran / A pint of plain is your only man”). ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ was written in the aftermath of the massacre of unarmed women and men by soldiers and yeomen at a 60,000-strong assembly demanding “One Man, One Vote” in Peter’s Field in Manchester in June 1919. “Peterloo” was an ironic reference to the Battle of Waterloo four years earlier.
Every school-child in Britain and a fair number in Ireland knows about Waterloo. Hardly any has heard of Peterloo.
Director Mike Leigh has explained that this was his main reason for making the movie. “Where I went to school, we could have walked to Peter’s Field in half an hour. But it was never mentioned in history class.”
Fifteen demonstrators were slashed or trampled to death, and hundreds left injured. Many women had criss-cross sabre-cuts across their breasts. The fact that columns of women had marched to the rally in serried ranks behind revolutionary banners was regarded by the ruling class as especially intolerable.
Peterloo goes on general release in Ireland and the UK on November 2. It is a ravishingly beautiful piece of work, indoor scenes meticulously choreographed and shot in subdued colours, reminiscent (it’s not an outlandish comparison) of Vermeer.
The massacre is filmed from the centre of the action, garish red uniforms galloping through the panicked compression, glittering blades swishing this side and that, dust from the hooves and the pell-mell scurry billowing up all around, terror, disbelief, bewilderment everywhere.
The butchery appalled even moderate conservative politicians. It boosted pressure for reform and prompted the first modest expansion of the franchise. This is how the vote began to be won in England, prised from the grasp of the ruthless rich by common people arisen like lions. The commoners of England have a revolutionary tradition behind them, which the powers-that-be over there remain nervous of acknowledging. Hence the silence of the history books. Many in Ireland are edgy about it, too. On all sides, it contradicts the stereotype.
Again: “Rise like lions after slumber / In unvanquishable number / Shake to earth your chains, like dew / Which, in sleep, had fallen on you / Ye are many, they are few”.
Relevant to every struggle for justice there’s ever been.