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Remembering Diz Disley

Mike Harding | 12:51 UK time, Tuesday, 30 March 2010

It was a drizzly night in Manchester, way back in the mists of Aunty Kitty, I was making my way to the Manchester Sports Guild for the Saturday night folk club there. I was playing support but had no idea who I was supporting. Jenks, the guy who ran the place, had phoned up the night before and, with an economy of speech found usually only in KGB officers had said "Harding, you free tomorrow?" When I said I was, he said, "Five quid for two support spots. 7 o'clock."

I found myself arriving at the doors of the old Victorian building that housed the MSG just as a Rolls Royce hearse pulled up. Black and shiny with long etched glass windows to the rear of the driver, it was immaculate. Somebody must have snuffed it, I thought. But in the back was no coffin, just a guitar case and what looked like a hundredweight of carrots in a large string sack.
A man with black hair who blinked a lot got out and seeing my guitar case said, "Hello cock. You and me is it?" And that was my first meeting with the legendary Diz Disley: jazz guitarist, cartoonist, raconteur, Good Time Charlie and genius.  He shuffled off this mortal coil a few weeks back and the world is a poorer place without him.

Diz was a Lord of Misrule who hated humbuggery and pretension and who could shoot down the pompous with barbs of delicious wit. George Melly gives a great account of him in his book Owning Up. During the heyday of the Mick Mulligan Band, Disley and Melly were boozing and musical companions. Diz performed with the great gypsy jazz fiddler Stéphane Grapelli, playing guitar in the style of his hero, Django Reinhardt. He toured with Grapelli across the world during the last decades of the fiddler's life.

So what was a jazz guitarist doing in a folk club? Well, Diz had a great sense of humour, knew dozens of monologues, stories and crazy songs and rightly regarded folk clubs as a natural place for a bit of a rave. Throughout the boom years of the folk clubs and the festivals he was one of the most booked performers and many, many thousands will mourn his passing.

We became good friends over the years, mostly because we had the same sense of humour and because we both had strong Northern roots. In fact, Ingleton in the Yorkshire Dales, just up the road from where I'm sitting now, was where Diz first took guitar lessons with a local teacher and jazzer. Diz's mum was headmistress of the school there.

He was a naturally funny man, a generous man and a great lover of what now we would call 'the craic' but was then called 'a rave.' Massively talented, yet as far as I know, he left only a few records behind, and those mostly jazz. I haven't been able to find a single recording of his folk club days, when he had so many people howling with laughter in between his pieces of brilliant guitar pyrotechnics. I'll keep looking.

And the carrots? Well, at that time Diz was known to be partial to the odd drink or three and he had a theory that carrot juice cured all ills; so he travelled the folk clubs in his old Rolls Royce hearse with a hundredweight of carrots and a juicer in the back. After the gigs he would rave until late and cure all with a pint of freshly made carrot juice.

So, William C. Disley, late of Ingleton and Planet Earth, I know you won¹t mind me saying that you will be missed and that, for you to have gone before your time like this, some of those carrots must have been swedes.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Mike catches the spirit of the Disley genius.
    He was very fond of pork pies so when he did our folk club we had a special wooden pork pie box made - a brass handle and inscribed brass plaque.
    Once – when I was in a group – we were the support act for Diz at Leeds Irish Centre – he insisted the club book us so that we could return as the main act. A generous man.
    He told us when touring he would buy a second hand car – tour – then sell the car before he left – it did not seem appropriate to ask him mundane questions about tax and insurance.
    He mesmerised the audience by just standing there - improvising on his guitar - amazing to watch - king of charisma.
    Ed Pickford

  • Comment number 2.

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