(This profile first appeared in JAZZ AT RONNIE SCOTT’S (May-June 1996) and was reprinted in JUST JAZZ (October 2004). The editor of that excellent British traditional jazz magazine, Mike Murtagh, has made it available to me for this blog, knowing of my nearly obsessive interest in Spike. More information about JUST JAZZ below.)
I don’t know many timber merchants, white, middle-class, educated at a public school, devout believers in private enterprise and private education, with the unshakeable belief that Tories had the divine right to rule, who were officers in the Tank Corps, who played jazz trumpet as near to Louis Armstrong as any white man of any nationality ever achieved. In fact, I know of only one — Ian “Spike” Mackintosh, who died on January 18, 1996, aged 77.
He was a much loved man, although frequently, his arrival at sessions with trumpet in hand was cause for alarm. It was no secret that he was very partial to a taste and after over-imbibing his playing was uncomfortably erratic. At his best he could uplift a session; at his worst, he could reduce it to a shambles.
Short, dapper, with a military moustache and a Hooray Henry accent — a gentleman jazzman, you might say — he was the most unlikely carrier of the Armstrong torch.
Two other Spikes
Spike Mackintosh was born in London, on the 9 February 1918. He attended the City of London School where he developed an interest in jazz and took up trumpet to emulate hero Louis Armstrong. He admired the big black bands of the time — Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, Chick Webb and Don Redman, and was particularly fond of the recordings by Spike Hughes and his Negro Orchestra. He adopted the nickname ‘Spike’ as a mark of respect for the Anglo-Irishman who had travelled to New York in 1933 to make those historic recordings with a personnel that included Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter.
Typically, he volunteered for the Army at the outbreak of war, was soon commissioned in the Royal Tank Corps and saw action in France. Following Dunkirk, he was one of the few survivors of a troopship sunk by enemy action. He was picked up clutching his trumpet. He was again in action at El Alemein. Commanding one of the tanks assembled to launch an attack that proved one of the most decisive of the war, Lt. Mackintosh received his order to advance, but at that moment was listening to West End Blues by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five from a Forces station, and it was not until Louis had finished his majestic coda that Spike Gave his order. Hitler — and Field Marshal Montgomery — could wait. First things first with Spike. His tank was knocked out by enemy fire, and German soldiers, believing him to be dead, stripped him of every possession, except his trumpet.
Later, in Naples, Spike was one of a team of judges for a dance band competition. One of the bands included Gunner Spike Milligan on trumpet. Milligan, quite bitterly, recalled the contest in his ‘Where Have All The Bullets Gone?’ one of his very funny war memoirs. He wrote, ‘The compère was Captain Philip Ridgeway. He was as informed on dance bands as Mrs. Thatcher is on groin-clutching in the Outer Hebrides. The other judges were Lt. Eddie Carroll and Lt. ‘Spike’ Mackintosh. Can you believe it? We didn’t win. WE DIDN’T WIN! I wasn’t even mentioned! Why were the 56 Area Welfare Services persecuting me like this? At the contest I heard shouts of “Give him the prize.” No-one listened, even though I shouted it very loud. Never mind, there would be other wars.’
On demobilisation, Spike Mackintosh returned to the family timber business and sat-in on jam sessions, at the height of the Traditionalists v Modernists war. He had no liking for Be-bop, nor banjo-dominated revivalism. He found his musical, and drinking company with the mainstreamers, most of them renegade traditionalists. One of these was clarinetist / cartoonist Wally ‘Trog’ Fawkes, leading his Trogdolytes. They recorded some twenty excellent sides for the Decca label on which Mackintosh proved just how much he had absorbed the essence as well as the phraseology of Armstrong. On some of these sessions the Trogdolytes were joined by ‘modernists’ Eddie Taylor (drums), ex-Johnny Dankworth Seven, and Lennie Bush (bass), a founder-member of the seminal Club Eleven where British Be-bop started.
Spike was equally authoritative at a private party session in the company of veteran US saxophonist Bud Freeman, the set captured on portable equipment. He was not the least bit in awe of his distinguished session mate.
Wild Bill Davison
But he was not a consistent performer. On one occasion he moved, uninvited, to sit-in with a band led by the brilliant Welsh pianist, Dill Jones. Jones, himself no stranger to the juice, perceived Spike’s condition and turned him away. Undeterred, Spike made his contribution from a seat in the audience. He had his insensitive side. He was at a party given in honour of the white US trumpeter, Wild Bill Davison, and the tactful Mackintosh said to Davison, “Ah, Wild Bill, my fourth favourite trumpeter.” “Oh, yes,” growled Davison, “and who are the other three?” Mackintosh replied, “Louis Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Red Allen and Roy Eldridge. No — you’re my fifth favourite!”
Spike ran a weekly record session at the one-bar Drum and Monkey, Blenheim Terrace, St. John’s Wood, NW London, his fellow enthusiasts including Jack Hutton, ex-editor of the ‘Melody Maker,’ clarinetist Ian Christie, trombonist Mike Pointon, and pianist Stan Greig, dubbing themselves The Codgers. The rest of the clientele, whether they liked it or not, had their ‘quiet drink’ shattered by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Mills’ Blue Rhythm Band and the like, at a mind-blowing volume. They were also regaled with Spike vocally duplicating Armstrong’s singing and playing. The irrepressible enthusiast! The landlord approved. His takings shot up at those sessions.
When Spike turned up at Ronnie [Scott]’s, the eponymous Mr. Scott was treated to Spike singing (or, rather playing) Louis phrases. In face, Ronnie used to do an imitation of Spike imitating Louis. Not many people know that.
Spike continued playing trumpet almost up until his death, along with Wally Fawkes at the King Alfred, Marylebone Lane, West London. His thirst remained undiminished, and his ‘lip’ often faltered, but on his good nights the stirring resonances of Armstrong licks sang throughout the pub and beyond.
One of the familiar spectacles of these sessions was pianist Greig, with a tense expression on his craggy features, his hands anxiously poised over the keys waiting to plunge them down for the resolving chord(s) to bring a Mackintosh coda spectacular to a triumphant finish, and when it finally happened there was a great sigh of relief from musicians and audience. Not that all of these finishes came off. Spike’s cliff-hangers were fraught occasions.
He was indeed a combination of the opposites; the reiterative soak and erratic trumpeter when too deep in his cups; the amusing companion and fine player when he’d paced himself; the High Tory who was one of the chaps.
Shouldn’t that child be in bed?
There are hundreds of stories about Spike, some of them undoubtedly apocryphal. One of them about him, totally legless, being apprehended by a policeman and solemnly telling the officer, in that public school posh voice of his, that any unsteadiness was due to a war injury, but my favourite tale concerned him at a party given by Wally Fawkes. Spike, well loaded, fell against a bamboo room divider, bringing down the ornaments with a tremendous clatter. The noise awakened Joanna Fawkes, then about five, and, in tears, she stood at the top of the stairs leading to the drawing room. Spike, wiping bits of Italian pottery and trailus acanthus from his person, looked up, and said, “Wally, it’s none of my business, but shouldn’t that child be in bed?”
I can vouch for that tale. I was there.
He is survived by his wife Diana, and three sons, Nick, Robert and Cameron, the latter a famous theatrical impresario.
Spike’s glorious sound:
Of course, if any UK collector or Bud Freeman fancier can unearth a copy of that private party tape, I know I would be interested in hearing it. Spike must have been captured live somewhere, sometime, but so far no holy relics have emerged.
About JUST JAZZ: it’s a well-written, candid magazine devoted to traditional jazz in all its forms. The editor is Mike Murtagh, and the offices are at 29 Burrage Place, Woolwich, London SE18 7BG. I haven’t found an official website, but you can contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org. to inquire about subscription rates.
May your happiness increase!