Remembering Diz Disley
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.
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.