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The last day of January didn’t start out great. Us Galwegians are besieged by the never-ending, howling wind, its low moan our constant companion, and today was no different. It gets you down after a while. A few of us decided to get together for an oul’ sketch in Busker Brownes pub in Galway City, because I’d heard that the Galway Bay Jazz Band do a Sunday morning session. Sketching jazz in Galway seemed like a great opportunity. But at the last minute lots of people couldn’t make it and I began to wonder if I’d be on my own. Then I remembered that I wanted to draw scenes of the fun to be had in Galway pubs for a project I’m working on, and that I sketch on my own most of the time anyway, so off I set.
When I arrived the band was just setting up and I got a ringside seat without difficulty. A gentleman sat just behind me, soon to be joined by his beautifully-dressed lady wife in shocking pink, her blonde hair immaculately coiffed.
“You were lucky to get a seat,” said the lady. “It’s very popular here, you know. We’ve come every single week for years, all year round.”
I told her I was there to sketch.
“You won’t be able to see much in a minute,” she replied. “The floor will be full of dancers.”
“Dancers?” I asked. “I didn’t know there was dancing too. What kind?”
“Swing dancing,” she said. I realised things were going to get rather hotter than I had imagined. I wasn’t too worried about my view being blocked – dancers move, and all I needed was a glimpse at a time.
The room filled up and I began to sketch, remembering the rule to draw whatever I could whenever I saw it, as you never know when it will be gone. Men got up to dance, pulling their lady friends onto the floor. These people were not in the first flush of youth, but they could have given most of the youths I’ve seen lately a lesson in loving life. They could really move. The band played jazz standards from the fifties and sixties, including from one of my all-time favourites, Ray Charles, the Genius. Not for a second was the dance floor anything other than hopping with terrific dancers.
A brand new Urban Sketcher called Neasa (pronounced Nasa) joined us. “I haven’t drawn for about three years,” she said. I expected the sort of rusty drawing I make when I haven’t drawn for a long time, but Neasa turned out a delicate pencil drawing of two of the musicians.
I was just thinking that maybe I should be dancing too…when a lean, grey-haired man grabbed my hand and whirled me onto the dance floor. Just as well I wanted to dance, as there was no taking no for an answer. After whirling me around to a Bossa Nova number he let me go and got Neasa up for a dance. His regular dance partner was a most stunning teenager – the sort of beauty it does your heart good just to see. She wore a poppy-print dress which swirled as she danced, clearly in her element. Afterwards the man chatted to us. It clearly wasn’t the first time he’d witnessed someone sketching jazz.
“I go to Prague to dance the tango,” he said. “A fellow drew me once while I danced. It was truly incredible.”
“Next time I come here I’ll sketch the dancers,” I said to him.
“Next time YOU will dance,” he said. “Now you must excuse me, ladies. I have to escort my niece home.”
Off he went with the vision in poppies (in a huge coat against the horrible January weather) by his side.
(I did go back, and I did sketch the dancers…you can see the Tango enthusiast on the far right. And that’s his beautiful niece in lime green.)
The elegantly-dressed lady behind me called the band over to see the sketch.
“A photo is great,” said Gerry on the piano. “But you’ve caught an eternal moment.”
“Music is always an eternal moment,” I said. It felt true at the time.
But isn’t that the thing about urban sketching? That we catch eternal moments, such as they exist?
Sketching jazz in a cosy Galway pub – I can’t imagine a better way to see out January.