Monday, March 07, 2005

Hugh McIntyre 1936 – 2004 | Nihilist Spasm Band

I thought I would give a little attention to an acquaintance / friend of mine who died recently: Hugh McIntyre 1936 – 2004.

Hugh McIntyre playing his hand made bass with the Nihilist Spasm Band.

I first met Hugh McIntyre, most notably the Bass Player for the Nihilist Spasm Band as a young man of 14 in 1969. At that time, I was attending Catholic Central High School (CCH) in London Canada. As students at CCH, a downtown school, we often used the London Public Central Library to research and find resources for the various assignments handed out by our teachers. I remember the first time I laid eyes on Hugh at the library where he was a librarian, as he was a formidable man, large, weighty and with a full beard and long hair, he demanded your attention. At the time and at such an age I think I probably feared Hugh. I thought he might represent the Book Collector, not in the traditional means of someone who collects books, but rather like the bill or debit collector who the library sent out to get overdue books or truant returns – you know the strong arm of the library. He was a bear of a man and from the outside like a bear deserved respect.

I actually got to know Hugh a few years later when I started studying art at H.B. Beal Technical School (1973) and was drawn into the London art community. I started to attend openings and artistic venues were invariable Hugh would always be. Many an opening at the Forest City Gallery spent sucking on a beer and if only superficially spent exchanging platitudes with Hugh. I was able to see that behind the bear of a man was a bright, sensitive, and creative person.

After graduating from Art School (1974), I took a studio in the downtown core of London and would often spend a Monday night listening to the Nihilist Spasm Band followed afterwards with a few brews down at the Richmond Hotel, then a seedy hardcore beer-drinking establishment, in a world which was then turned onto Disco. Suffice it to say what a rare pleasure it was to listen to the experimental music of the Nihilist Spasm Band and to then join the likes of Greg Curnoe, Hugh McIntyre, John Clement, John Boyle, Bill Exley, Murray Favro, and Art Pratten. Greg and Murray being two artists for whom I had the greatest admiration for, even being lucky enough to have worked for and with Murray on his project “Van Gogh’s Bedroom” a few years before. Murray Favro’s art remains some of the best art I have ever seen even to this day. In many ways, Greg and Murray were responsible for me even believing that one could survive a life as an artist and inspired me to focus on alternatives to the then apathy of Disco and my dedication to the early roots of Punk in Canada. When I became a member of the Forest City Gallery in 1976 (an artist collective), I got even more chances to see Hugh and in life considered it an honour to have been influenced by the likes of these guys in the Nihilist Spasm Band. Not many young artists living in a small Canadian city during the early seventies had such privilege. I owe so much to their pioneering spirit and their generosity in allowing young artists like myself to join in, if even only by joining them for a beer, let alone being a member of the same artists collective.

Then came a time were I spent many years living away from London, Canada but on my return in the eighties there they were. Still producing the same great art, still upholding their community and as generous as I had always known them to be. This is a real testament to the likes of Hugh, Greg and Murray, because their generosity just never waned and because of it I think the London art community could indeed produce excellent art and world-class artists – yes right here in a small Canadian city 1000 km or 600 miles to the west of New York. I mention New York because of my love of Greg Curnoe and the one thing he always taught me and that was “good art can be made anywhere, yes even here”, one didn’t need to be in a major capitol.
When Greg Curnoe died in 1992, after being killed on his bike in a tragic car accident, I got to see a bit more of Hugh at all the events commemorating Greg’s memory, some of which I helped organize at the time. The loss of Greg was a real blow to me as he had been at first a childhood hero, his art touched me even as a teen with visits to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa were I saw it prominently displayed – I really liked his shit. Who would have ever thought that he would also become my friend? He showed me confidence in my own work, for which I borrowed his Dadaistic lexicon also, but he also supported me. We went on many a bike ride together as I was a cyclist at the time and he used to love to cajole me with his deep sardonic wit. His premature death came as not only a shock but also a blow to me; suddenly London was missing something of great importance, which in my humble opinion has never been replaced. I even dedicated this piece to Greg after his death based on my relationship with my grandfather who also died the same year. Later, I went on to curate a show of his work with the help of his widow Sheila at Redeemer College where I was a member of the Arts Faculty. I mention Hugh in this correlation with Greg because I always knew him in those circles with Greg Curnoe and Murray Favro: both of whom I owe a great deal and have the ultimate respect for as artists.

By Gerard Pas "Greg Curnoe in the Forest CityMariposa T.T." 1993-94
watercolour on paper
click image to enlarge.

Now much has been written in eulogy of Hugh at the Nihilist Spasm Bands website for which this is the link. Much of what is written there is better than my contribution because it is written by true friends who lived and dealt with Hugh on a daily basis. While I knew Hugh, enjoyed his company on many an occasion, drank too many beers with him on occasion, I would never be so arrogant as to think of myself as anything more than admirer of his character and work as a bassist. That said he left an indelible impression on me as a teen, fleshed out in a real person when I became a man and I will miss him. I grieve his loss to our community and his contributions through his music with the Spasms. All of this has conjured up the same sadness as the day I received a telephone call from a fellow cyclist who had been on the same London Centennial Wheelers ride (our cycling club) announcing that Greg Curnoe was killed earlier that day.
I lament your death Hugh and give credit to you for the great things you have done for London and our artist community. He did so much. I loved his smile!

Adieu Hugh may we meet with God.
Now I can finally return those overdue books.


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