Belfast Telegraph

Eddie McIlwaine's diary

Toibin's hoping for not too hot a welcome

ONE night, many years ago, my old friend Niall Toibin had good Methodists choking in their lemonade with a HOT one man show at the Grosvenor Hall.

ONE night, many years ago, my old friend Niall Toibin had good Methodists choking in their lemonade with a HOT one man show at the Grosvenor Hall.

Toibin remembers the occasion too, and the storm of criticism afterwards. To be honest, the seat of Methodism was not a suitable place for his brand of racy humour.

The fact that the Grosvenor was later demolished had nothing to do with Toibin, he has asked me to make clear. This was no action replay of the walls of Jericho.

Alas, the old place of a hundred great concerts, never mind the stirring sermons, was merely past its sellby date.

Now Toibin, who is all the rage as the veteran priest in Ballykissangel, is making a return visit to Belfast as the central character in a new play called The Salvage Shop by Jim Nolan, which opens at the Lyric Theatre on Monday, October 26, for a week.

We are in for a rare treat as Toibin gives a powerful performance as an alcoholic bandmaster in a rich drama by a talented writer.

We have seen Toibin the comedian in our midst several times in the past several years, but it is far too long since he graced a Belfast stage with a dramatic role. Savour the moment.

Nothing to declare but his genius

OSCAR Wilde, who among other things coined the phrase 'I can resist everything except temptation', was born on this date in 1854 and I hope they remember him today down at Portora Royal in Enniskillen where he was educated.

There was a time, of course, after his infamous libel action against the Marquis of Queensberry and that devastating cross- examination by Edward Carson and his trial and imprisonment in 1895 for homosexual offences, when Portora was glad to forget about their embarrassing old boy.

But times change and Oscar is now very much back in favour.

I mention him today not so much for the anniversary of his birth as the celebration this year of his The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which was published exactly 100 years ago in 1898.

It was based on the two years he spent in Reading Jail where the hardship and humiliation of prison caused him much suffering.

I love the story Ken Branagh's mother once told me about going along to an exhibition in a library in Reading where she brought him up after leaving Belfast to see a picture of her film star son hanging among famous people from the town.

Only trouble was a couple of women behind her got her Ken and Oscar mixed up on the wall.

Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol is still much read today like everything else he wrote. In fact it is included in the anthology of The Nation's Favourite Poems published today by the BBC (£9.99), with a foreword by Griff Rhys Jones.

It is made up of the UK's 100 best-loved poems chosen in a poll.

No 1 in the list is Rudyard Kipling's If, predictably enough. Others include Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott and Wordsworth's The Daffodils, and there, too, is the poignant Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep and one I love, I Remember I Remember.

But listen to this verse from Oscar's jail poem: 'There is no chapel on the day On which they hang a man: The chaplain's heart is far too sick Or his face is far too wan, Or there is that written in his eyes Which none should look upon'.

Wilde was indeed the master and I hope he is looking down with affection on Portora on this his birthday.

WHO invented jazz?It isn't a question I'd normally concern myself with but when one is talking to the fascinating veteran exponent of the art Harry Gold, a mere lad of 92, one has to sit up and listen.

Harry, who will be playing his sax with David McCallum and his Ulster Jazz Band at the Cork International Jazz Festival on Saturday, October 24 and Sunday October 25, says it definitely wasn't Jelly Roll Morton in 1902.

'The truth is,' argues Gold, 'jazz was never invented by anyone, it simply evolved'.

'Jazz developed from a previous form called ragtime,' goes on this man Gold, whose band is the legendary Pieces of Eight. 'And it all happened in New Orleans.'

Gene proves a decent spud

GENE Pitney definitely won't be 24 hours from Tulsa next Tuesday night he will be in the flesh at the Waterfront Hall performing his greatest hits.

Which reminds me of one other day Mr P was arriving here and for the only time ever promoter Jim Aiken was stranded in Belfast and couldn't turn up on schedule at Aldergrove to greet him.

So I, who reside not a million miles from the runway of the international airport, was called by the ever thoughtful Mr A to welcome Gene and make him feel at home until he arrived.

Which is how Pitney came to be relaxing in my kitchen when a farmer down the road dropped in with a sack of new potatoes.

And how Gene and farmer John came to be comparing the price of spuds in Nashville and Belfast over a mug of tea when Jim Aiken eventually turned up.

Then there was the day we picked up Tom Jones at the airport and took him away in Jim's car, ignoring the official limo that had been sent to collect Mr J.

When that swish limousine arrived at a certain hotel minus Tom, oh my, what a furore.

There was even a suggestion he had been kidnapped and wouldn't be released until he promised never to sing The Green Green Grass of Home again.

Jones the Voice will be flying in again in December for a couple of sell-outs at the Waterfront.

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