Diz Minnitt interview September-October 2020
MMM: Hello Diz, thank you for taking the time to share your memories, shall we start at the beginning, Can you tell us a little about the young Diz Minnitt and where your love for music started?
DIZ: Earliest memories of music are charging around the room as a 5 year old while playing the Hall of the Mountain King at high volume as it gets faster and faster until I can't keep up with the pace and collapse in hysterics on the floor. My brother took me to see 2001 A Space Odyssey when I was 9 years old and that was a real feast of sound and visuals. Also Sprach Zarathrusta, the Blue Danube and the luxuriant multi layered discordant choral pieces building to the psychedelic end section of the film. He also used to play early Pink Floyd to me with the lights off and just an open fire to light the room. We lived in an old Victorian Vicarage with 14 foot high ceilings so the combination of flickering fire light, shadows stretching up into the darkening gloom and Careful with that Axe Eugene was quite intoxicating to all the senses and I can return to that cocoon of that all embracing memory still now when it's played. I think that drew me to the otherness of music. The opportunity to create a landscape that you can inhabit, get lost in and to connect and take an audience in there with you. At its best a mysterious and almost transcendent experience.
MMM: What attracted you to the bass guitar? Do you play other instruments?
DIZ: I used to love playing the piano as a child, I never learned properly then but enjoyed the atmosphere you could create with it with the sustain pedal, and playing the strings for atmospheric sound. I had a go at learning guitar but was far too impatient to stick with it. Tried the 'play in a day' approach..what a lie. I think ironically it was the birth of punk that kick started me. The notion that you could just form a band and then learn to play. Had a friend who was a guitarist, big Floyd and Hendrix fan, and another who fancied being a drummer. The guitarist s father was a vicar so we started off doing experimental stuff in his dad's church with guitar, me on church organ and the drummer (without drums at that point) singing and doing percussion. Him buying drums and me moving to Bass was the next logical step and we moved from the church to my father's huge and ambient corn mill with its natural reverb. A bass player I knew said that you could master it in a month so I overcame my natural inclination to get bored and give or a go. That and the fact that I was learning at the same time as writing and playing was enough incentive. We added a vocalist, a name, Plastic Surjun and played a couple of gigs (local village halls) and then I found out about the Stonehenge Free Festival (1978) and got us on the bill there for our third gig. I switched to a borrowed synthesiser and got in someone to play bass for the gig. Great formative experience. I have subsequently mainly played bass live, but continued to oscillate between bass and keyboards with some limited guitar work when recording.
MMM: When and where did you first meet Derek Dick and what was your first impressions of him?
DIZ: I need to start by correcting the timeline, the danger of relying on memory rather than checking the dates In the previous response I talked about playing Stonehenge in 1978 but it had to be 1979 as I only started to play bass in December 1978. The process of bands forming and evolving is like watching a chemical reaction form crystals, or the evolution of The Thing in the original John Carpenter version as it evolves through its stages, shape shifting before it settles on the shape it decides to be. As I said it all began with John Perkins a Hendrix inspired guitarist, and a shared wild enthusiasm for weird experimentation in the natural reverb setting of a Village Church, with heavily distorted guitar and church organ creating amateur discordant soundscapes to startle the resident bats. This initial trio of rather static Minstrels, John, myself and Steve Kemp commenced our creative journey in November 1978 and named ourselves 'Strange Activity'. By December with the Minstrels now on the move, and all equipped with portable instruments, (me - bass, Steve - drums and John- guitar) we left the ambient heaven of the church for the darker earthier ambience of an empty Corn Mill, with its silent audience of endless rows of grain filled sacks and the occasional scittering of uninvited guests in the heavy dark. We were joined briefly by a rhythm guitarist (Mick Parkes) and more consistently by a vocalist Mark Blagg. Mick departed in January 1979 and the band name changed to Plastic Surjun'. The first gig was at Ranby Village Hall April 20th 1979. I then switched instruments to synthesiser and we were joined by another bass player for the second gig at Walkeringham Village Hall on May 26th 1979. The third and final gig was at Stonehenge Free Festival on 27th June 1979. Late July 1979 the band quietly disintegrates (my notes at the time say 'Inconsolable musical differences') and John moves to Nottingham. I return to playing bass and there follows over the next few months a musical mystery tour as The Thing seeks to achieve a consistent shape and style. Where Plastic Surjun mixed elements of Hendrix with Joy Division, Iggy Pop and early Pink Floyd the bands that followed wandered here and there across a wider musical landscape. 'The Black' lasted 2 months as embroyonic New Wave. This was followed by a failed attempt to reform Plastic Surjun with a different guitarist before in September 1979 I left for North London Polytechnic to train as a Maths Teacher. By December I had dropped out and returned to Nottinghamshire with a new drummer in tow (Pete Catley) and at the beginning of 1980 formed a new band Battle Catley playing a New Wave / Ska crossover. The new line up included 2 drummers with the return of Steve Kemp and a new guitarist Chris Smith. It lasted until May 1980 when The Thing began to shape shift again as the passion for experimentation and atmosphere rose to the surface. Chris, Steve and myself formed what would become the Stone Dome Band. Long immersive improvised pieces using the instruments as well as additional percussive assaults on the Mill's machinery with its dark heavy reverb took us away from the brief forage into the more mainstream and back to our shared progressive roots. We were joined in July 1980 by Steve Procter on keyboards and the music became more structured, more contained and with a distinctly prog shape as The Thing began to settle. We were just missing a vocalist and so an advert went into Musicians Only. We received a letter, photograph and tape from one Derek Dick at that time living in Dalkeith. We chatted on the phone and discussed shared musical interests - Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Genesis and Peter Gabriel. He talked through a number of his lyrical ideas which included the concept behind what later became The Web. We met I think in August 1980 when Derek came down to audition and then joined the band. I have a very clear image of that first meeting as he arrived and came in the front door at my parents house. Although he had written on the photo how tall he was, this was obviously on the back and I hadn't noticed. So when I first met him I was struck by his height, he arrived when the sun was shining directly behind him so this created the impression of a huge visible aura of light around him as he came into the house. I jokingly went down on one knee to shake his hand which made him laugh and immediately broke the tension and nerves of meeting someone for the first time. Derek moved down to live with us and the process of songwriting commenced. I think there are only 2 of the songs that got recorded as rough versions. The first started as a song called Astral Stroll and then became The Web. The lyrics in slightly different version making a reappearance in the Marillion song of the same name. The second rough recording was a song about reincarnation called Eyes in The Sand and I don't think Fish has ever used those lyrics or the melody anywhere else
MMM: Prior to joining Marillion you were in a band called Stone Dome Band with one Derek Dick, can you tell us a little history of that band?
DIZ: Somewhere I have a pre-Marillion version of The Web from The Stone Dome Band (different lyrics and music) and also a part of another song Eyes in the Sand that I don't think Fish has ever recorded. I have the originals on tape but after 40 odd years it may well have degraded. Stephen Procter the keyboard player from the Stone Dome Band has the original recordings.
Eyes in the sand: the other track I referenced - again an early very rough rehearsal with Fish's honest appraisal at the end, I don't disagree. Random guitar solo while Fish is trying to sing. This is also pre-Fish as he was Derek Dick back then - he introduced himself as Fish when we joined Marillion.
Recording was at The Mill , Main Street in Laneham , Notts (it was my family's business) a Corn Mill for making animal feed - The Mill is now a micro brewery and what was the Village Shop next door (also part of the family business ) is now a pub connected to the Micro- Brewery which is called the Bees Knees. The landlord of the pub (David Anderson) also makes Gin and has made a gin called Dilly Dilly (inspired by the Marillion song Lavender as he is a huge Marillion fan) .
Legend and reality...... When Fish and I were playing in the Stone Dome Band the guitarist, Chris Smith, was an English Literature enthusiast. the original plan was that Chris would join us in Cambridge once we got settled but this never happened. He subsequently went back to University and studied English Literature in Wales and when I was last in touch (probably around 1982) he was living in the Gower area in Wales..... Why is this relevant? Well as part of his passion he studied the Anglo Saxon stories..... Including Beowulf and so he came across the book by John Gardner,.... telling the story from the perspective of the antagonist, Grendel. Chris told me about the book and when he had finished reading it he lent it to me just before Fish and I set off on our journey to Cambridge, planning to get it back when he joined us there. I didn't get the chance to read it in Cambridge but once we moved to Hawkshaw in Ettrick Bridge I took the opportunity. The surroundings we were in added hugely to the experience of the book. Picture a snow swept landscape at night and in the valley bottom the lights from a small village nestled beside the beck that runs along the valley bottom. Let the minds eye drift gently up to rising hill on the right, as a single track road snakes up the hillside in the snow. Half way up the hillside to the leftside of the road set back a little a single point of light illuminates the bleak landscape. Over to the right half a mile away lies a castle tower attached to a farmhouse, but no sign of lights, just the biting cold of the winter winds and the endless snow scape. That point of light is Hawkshaw and inside seen as they were 40 years ago, sit out wannabe progressive rock musicians trying to entice others to this lonely landscape with the siren call of shared creativity having managed to convince the landlord that they are a band called Sirius writing their next album. By this point their grasp of the circadian rhythm is so far out of balance that they sometimes awake at 5pm when it is already dark and crawl back into bed at 5am, long before dawn. This is the context in which I read Grendel in that nocturnal existence and it has a huge impact on me in this other worldly setting and existence. When I finished I gave it to Fish to read just before we packed up to leave Hawkshaw preparation for heading south to Aston Clinton at the dawn of the coming New Year. The story has the same impact upon Fish and the rest, as they say, is history. I reiunited the book with Chris via his parents some years later and received a postcard thanking me and updating me on his exploits (the experiences in the Gower).
MMM: Can you remember what songs were on the demos you exchanged with Marillion
DIZ: I can recall that on the Marillion tape there was Close and Lady Fantasy but I don't remember what if anything wise they included . On the tape that we sent I remember that there was a Genesis song and a Yes song that Fish sang along with to demonstrate his vocal ability. We also did the Guards of Magog section of Suppers Ready with just bass and vocals. In addition there was a bass and vocals version of Garden Party written about the experiences gained whilr living in the girls Halls of Residence at Cambridge University for a few weeks whilst we tried unsuccessfully to form a band there before we headed off to the Scottish Border and Hawkshaw in Ettrick Bridge. I can't remember if we also sent any of the Stone Dome Band recordings or Blewit but I don't think we did. Brian might be able to answer that s one of the recipients
I have just found a copy of the original tape that we sent to Marillion so rather than guess I will go through and see how accurate my recollection was
Track 1 - Fish singing along to Genesis - More Fool Me
Track 2 - Fish singing along to Genesis - Dancing With The Moonlit Knight
Track 3 - Fish singing to Jon Anderson - Take Your Time
Track 4 - Fish singing to Mannfred Manns Earth Band - Belle of the Earth
Track 5 - Bass and vocals version of Guards of Magog section of Suppers Ready
Track 6 - Fish giving an audio biography of his previous experience as a singer. Interesting to hear the original shy Derek before the development of the Fish persona. This is followed by me giving an audio biography of my own musical history. It is clear that I did send down a recording of the Stone Dome Band and I refer to Fish as Derek throughout as he hadn't yet fully adopted this. This then goes into Fish giving a history of Stone Dome Band and the subsequent attempts to form a band in Cambridge including the story behind.....
Track 6 - Garden Party - Bass and Vocals only.
And the story behind.,.... (this version has echoes of Instution Waltz)
Track 7 - Crystal Epitaph - Bass and Vocals only. This captures some of his common themes about life including the line 'son watches father scan obituary columns in search of absent school friends' as well as Harlequin reference and he then gives the story behind what was at that point the '4th arrangement' of.....
Track 8 - The Web. Bass and Vocals only. The introduction of the crying Jester
MMM: This question is from Jerry van Kooten! I am very interested in whether Diz remembers any song titles from before he joined and after, what they changed into. Why there is such a confusion about Haunting Of Hill/Gill/Your House. And what the title of Herne The Hunter became after there were lyrics..?
DIZ: A tale of 'What there was and what each became' ...... Which sounds like a J R Tolkien book long forgotten and unpublished. Start with the easily remedied before we go wandering into the clinging reeds and murky waters of half forgotten memories, and partially submerged inspired guesswork. The original song 'Close' became The Web, that one is easy well established and in clear fresh water. Next we have 'Time For Sale', which was an instrumental. This didn't get repurposed as anything else and stayed around until we had enough new material to quietly retire it. Next we have 'Alice' which initially became 'Snow Angel' partly metamorphosysing into the final section of 'Forgotten Sons'. 'The Haunting of Gill House' having just relistened to it I think is what became 'Skyline Drifter' but I dont think I have a recording of Skyline anywhere to compare. 'Herne the Hunter' in early parts sounds like some of 'Grendel' but reworked, but from memory I thought that was based around 'The Tower' but I don't have a recording of that to compare. I remember playing 'Herne the Hunter' but I can't remember Fish's vocals so if / how often it was played live we are definetly into the murky water and I think like 'Time For Sale' it was quickly replaced by new material.. 'Lady Fantasy' evolved into 'Madcaps Embrace' a song about Syd Barrett which senses to stay in the set for quite some time. It is interesting to contrast the Doug era songs with the songs after Fish and I joined, a very different band reflecting the different writers and influences.
MMM: Can you tell us a little bit about the famous Saliva tears image?
DIZ: I would have been living at 13 Winchester House along with Fish and Brian. Guy would have either been at 64 Weston Road in Aston Clinton (where Fish and I first lived with the band) or 41 Ingram Avenue in Bedgrove Aylesbury (where Steve and Privet the sound engineer subsequently moved to and where I first painted the eye in the mouth logo on the wall which became the logo for the Saliva Tears Tour). The very original was painted directly on to the wall in the sitting room so the next owner will no doubt have painted our wall or papered over it. Someone else copies it for the t shirt. Likewise the art work I did for the poster with the synergistic hand plant that feeds itself (reflective of the community spirit of Marillion with its fans), I designed the original and someone else created the poster from it. The original was just sketched out on a piece of paper so I don't think I have it.
MMM: Friars Club Aylesbury was a special venue, I believe Fish had asked the audience to turn up in fancy dress on one occasion and you famously acquired some Hammer House of Horror props from an auction for the show.
DIZ: We had 4 gravestones I think. 2 had the same name on because one had a crack in from being struck by lightning in whatever Hammer House of Horror film it was used in. Those 2 looked similar to the top photo and had arched tops. Can't recall the name. The other 2 were made from wood that had then been plastered and painted grey. The more we used them the more they fell apart hence I suspect why we decided to get rid of them. We used to have a 6 foot black cross as well which originally came with a hook so it could be hung upside down. Then of course there was the ( plastic) rubber plant that fish dismembered every show. No specific song reference for the black cross it was a case of using as much of the Hammer House of Horror props to create a whole stage set in time for the Friars gig in May1981 in the Aston Hall in Aylesbury as we were aware that we were on stage at the same time as the main band who were in the large hall (Art Noveau with Nick Beggs in) . We had dry ice, a smoke machine and pyro technics and it was the first appearance of the sack cloth monks outfits (the cloaks with the eyes on were added later after we realised that the sack cloth tops were completely see through when the stage lights came on) . Fish had face paints and other than the dismembered rubber plant very few other props. The exception being at one of the later Friars gigs when he introduced Garden Party as the Great Cucumber Massacre and chopped up a cucumber on stage which was full of tomato ketchup and handed out cucumber sandwiches to the audience. All in all very Spinal Tap
We had other 'special effects' that we never used. A lever for the lightning scene out of one of the Frankenstein films and also a large electrical device (which was effectively 2 squash bottles cut in half and the top halves stuck end to end. Oh and the alien creature that for a while we had hanging from the outside balcony at 13 Winchester House. Oh and about 7 umbrellas (foreshadowing The Umbrella Academy).... Missed opportunity
MMM: We have a question from Stephan in Germany he wants to know if you have any memories of the 18th March 1981 show or the setlist? I believe that was Bletchley!
DIZ: Yes I remember it well - tiny audience (less than 10) of hardened drinkers who were completely apathetic and disinterested in the band which they clearly viewed as an irritation in their usual drinking. Consequently as the gig went on Fish got more animated and progressively irritated with their behaviour and decided to incorporate them into the performance (in theatrical terms breaking the fourth wall) and so at one point he wandered over to the one of the louder more belligerent of the drinkers and kept time on the tambourine he was holding by using the drinkers head. Suffice to say that the passive / aggressive disinterest stopped to be replaced by a begrudged silence during the songs and polite applause . Strangely we were never invited back ........
MMM: What were the origins of black and white poster of the woman holding a baby?
DIZ: We had a few occasions where fans created their own posters and then gave / offerred them to the band. I remember a couple of guys down in Maidenhead who designed a load of posters that they had got printed (full poster size) with a logo they had come up with and they also organised a gig. After the gig they invited us all back to a house party with lots of free drinks etc and when much partying had taken place started suggesting that they could manage the band. Fish gave them very short shrift .
MMM: During your time in the band you played many different venues, are there venues that stick out in your mind as highs and lows?
DIZ: Highs would be the very first gig at Friars in the Aston Hall which we did with the full stage set (6 foot black cross, 4 gravestones, plastic rubber plant that was regularly dismembered in The Web, dry ice, smoke machine, lots of lighting including strobe, intro tape). Despite the fact that we had done only a tiny number of local gigs before that we aimed to create a show that was a spectacle and made a statement. The whole thing was very spinal tap. It was also the first appearance of the, as we discovered, see through monks outfits, but not at that point the later cloaks with the eye on the back. We didn't realise that the monks outfits were completely see through until the lights came on and Steve and I discovered we were partly dressed with guitars shielding our decency. We started that gig with a following of about 14 people but their enthusiasm combined with the stage set and performance was infectious and the response and audience built as the gig went on until we had over 400 crammed into a room for 200. The electric atmosphere and the ecstatic response was intoxicating . That was the alchemist moment when the leaden local band began the transformation into something very different. Other excellent venue was the Marquee always brilliant when playing with both Marillion and later Pride of Passion (I did an interview about the Marquee a few years ago which I see is still kicking around the Internet). In relation to crap venues the White Hart in Bletchley stands out which I discussed earlier.
MMM: After Marillion you joined a few bands, most successful of which was probably Pride of Passion? Loyal Marillion fans at the time also followed you, Can you tell us about this project and the amazing musicians you played with?
DIZ: After I left Marillion I joined A Harrow based band called Benzene Jag / Benzene with Nigel Spennewyn on guitar. I then brought in Brian on keyboards. The three of us along with the drummer Barry Talbot later left to form Pride of Passion when we were joined by Deb Hopper on vocals. Brian left after a few months and we had a few changes of drummer (John Sullivan, Graham Collins) before a brief Barry Connell (Liaison) and finally with Grant Gilmour (formerly Solstice and The Enid). We were then joined by Steven Wilson on keyboards to complete the line up.
MMM: a few years back a few videos turned up on YouTube of your band The GrandMarstonberries live, you had a special guest on guitar that night! One Mr Rothery, Is this a regular gig for you? Are you still playing live music,are we likely to see yourself on a stage again soon? (COVID permitting)
DIZ: Not on a regular basis. I did a few local gigs with Zealey and Moore (as well as an album 3468 and a couple of EPs Stay in and Sulk, and A Sample of Zealey and Moore). Prior to that we did a couple of Granmarstonberries gigs when I was asked to play at a local fundraiser so put together a band to do it. Line up was me on bass, Steve Rothery, Nigel Spennewyn (also known as Childs - from Pride of Passion) guitars, Derek Timms (Moondogs) guitar, Howard Rogers, vocals (Liaison), Lissie Minnitt vocals (age 14), Richard York drums, Jo Rothery and Jennifer Rothery (Sylf) vocals. Nothing recently but we may do another Granmarstonberries gig at some point as all enjoyed it, but nothing specific planned at the moment.
MMM: As the museum is a collectors group, we have to ask if you have any memorabilia from your time in the band?
I donated my stage outfit along with a lot of other memorabilia to the band via Steve when they were raising money following the tsunami. I think Steve said they would keep the outfit (it has some moth damage) for the Marillion museum so it should be around somewhere. Worth a conversation with Steve to clarify.