Interview - Diz Minnitt of Marillion
Diz Minnitt was the first bassist of Marillion, one of the most related bands to the Marquee Club during the early 80's. He was witness and protagonist of the first days of the band before it became the most acclaimed act from the neo-progressive London scene, which was mainly hosted at the Marquee Club. He played several nights at the club before he would quit the band in March 1982 to be replaced by Peter Trewavas. Diz Minnitt has shared with us his memories on those days.
- What is the first image that springs to mind when you hear the words "Marquee Club"?
A few different images. The elaborate winding almost Dickensian backstreet and archway at the rear of the venue because it was a nightmare to get the van in with all the gear, and in the early days we didn't have the luxury of roadies and so I was invariably driving. I also remember being amazed how small the backstage was and picturing all the bands that had been there before us, and those that would come later. The Marquee always had an incredible atmosphere, even when empty, you could feel this sense of excitement and anticipation in the air, as if it was soaked into the fabric of the building. It was a sad day when it moved and I never went to the new venue as I felt it wouldn't have the same sense of tangible history.
- Do you remember the very first time you ever visited the club?
I think the first time I went was the first time we played as a support, Girl were the main act and they spent absolutely ages setting up and sound checking so that we had virtually no time. I remember being really annoyed and deciding that if we got to headline we would always make sure that the support act were left with time to prepare. I also recall them pretty much sabotaging the sound as well before we went on. We were lucky in that we had a brilliant Sound Engineer, Privet Hedge, who could make the most basic rig sound like an expensive system, so he managed to turn it round quickly. And then the sense of elation as the crowd tuned in to what we were doing and Fish got well into his stride to great effect. At the end of the gig Girl accused us of trying to sabotage their set up, which was a classic case of transference. I guess it was the fact that we went down better in front of what should have been their crowd.
- Many of the legendary bands from the 70's that probably influenced Marillion played at the Marquee on numerous occasions. Do you remember seeing any of them or is there any gig that you remember especially?
No sadly I missed out as I grew up in Nottinghamshire and so we only experienced it after Fish and I moved down to Aylesbury to join Marillion in January 1981.
- Marillion played at the Marquee club for the first time on the 20th of October 1981. At the time, you had been playing for five months in different places around England, such as the Red Lion Pub in Bicester and the celebrated Friars at Aylesbury. How different was the atmosphere at the Marquee from the rest of places you played before?
Very different, other venues would have varying feelings from positive to downright turgid. I recall a gig at the White Hart in Bletchley where there was a handful of disinterested drunks in the audience offering low level grumbling abuse. Fish dealt with it by using the opportunity to accentuate the inclusive nature of his stage performance and percussively beat time on one of their heads with the tambourine. Needless to say the verbal abuse stopped. It's interesting because the other venue that had a similar tangible positive atmosphere to the Marquee was Friars in Aylesbury. Both Friars and the Marquee represented key milestones in the ascendant trajectory of the band , and became firm favourites for future gigs. The first Friars gig we did supporting in a side hall of the main venue saw us start the evening with a group of hard core fans numbering less than 20 and by the end we had well over 400 crammed into the room, and demanding more. I remember coming off stage and turning towards Steve and we both had these incredible maniacal grins on our faces, and there was this palpable sense of euphoria. I think it was the same resonance that we felt when we arrived to play at the Marquee for the first time and it brings out the same kind of performance.
- Can you remember who got you the first shows at the Marquee club or how this happened?
Fish was the one who got us all the best gigs. He was this walking PR machine and was just very driven. When I first met him he was still a bit self conscious as he had been in another Progressive band (Not Quite Red Fox), that hadn't given him a good experience. He introduced himself as Derek rather than Fish . When we joined Marillion he used that as the opportunity to introduce himself as Fish and this seemed to act as a catalyst to let him project a more self-confident part of his personality. From then he just grew in his confidence and would set himself targets of getting gigs or chasing record companies, with sometimes surprising results. I remember answering the phone one day to find Peter Gabriel on the other end who had called to give us some positive feedback on the first demo Fish had sent him .
- Can you remember which was the band's repertorie at the time?
A lot of the material that came out of the initial creative burst of writing in early 1981. From memory I think we used to open with "He Knows You Know" or "Skyline Drifter", and the set would normally include "Garden Party", "Charting the Single", "The Web", "Forgotten Sons", "Three Boats Down from The Candy", "Chelsea Monday", "Madcaps Embrace", "Market Square Heroes" and if a headline then we would finish with "Grendel". "Margaret" was the encore. There was an instrumental "Time For Sale" that dated from pre-Fish days but that got dropped. In earlier sets we used to do a track called "Snow Angel" (formerly Alice) but this evolved into part of "Forgotten Sons". Another track that was only played twice was "Institution Waltz" (Fish later recorded a version on one of his solo albums).
- During the period that you played with Marillion at the Marquee there were also other bands on the club's schedule which were put under the banner of neo-progressive rock, such as Pallas, Twelfth Night, Pendragon and Solstice. Did you really have a connection with all of these bands around the Marquee Club and would you go to see each other's concerts?
We did gigs with both Pallas and Twelfth Night. I remember getting on well with Pallas and we teamed up a few times. I remember a less positive relationship with Twelfth Night who seemed to view us as kind of proggy upstarts for some reason, and this led to a more competitive rivalry between us. Solstice were the band that we were most closely linked into and we were all great friends. Andy Glass the Solstice guitarist was the original guitarist either from Silmarillion (before Steve Rothery) or its predecessor Electric Gypsy. When Pride of Passion did their first gig at the Marquee as a support it was for two nights supporting Solstice, and they were happy with us encoring as a support band, which was rare, and it established the fan base that led to the later headlines. Really great people and one of those bands that should have had a better deal than they got.
-Do you remember hanging out at the Ship pub with other bands?
I think I only went in the Ship once. I used to wander off round the area around Wardour Street, usually with Steve or Fish. Or just hang around in the Marquee soaking in the atmosphere. Being quite shy I've never really got into the idea of hanging out with other bands unless you have something in common and used to find talking to other people often more interesting. Fish was a great one for going in there and he was always more comfortable with making those connections.
- Marillion was one of the first bands in the early 80's to play progressive rock oriented stuff at the Marquee. In those days this kind of music was still suffering from the punk hangover and was not very well received by some music newspapers. Do you remember if there was any kind of animosity in the new pop/rock scene from progressive rock bands?
I don't remember any music orientated animosity in either direction and both Fish and I were into a number of New Wave bands (Joy Division, Teardrop Explodes, Talking Heads, Random Hold, etc). I do remember some gigs being disrupted by the National Front who were on the rise at the time . The Hanborough Tavern in Southall had an awful atmosphere when we played, with a sense of suppressed violence in the air. It was burned down in a riot that took place the following week. At another gig in High Wycombe, a number of National Front supporters turned up and watched the whole gig before giving Nazi salutes and then pelting us with glass bottles and chairs at the end, presumably they wanted their monies worth before they rioted. I remember being grateful that I had an Orange stack to take shelter behind rather than a small combo. It was rather reminiscent of the scene in the Blues Brothers.
- In 1983 there was certainly a comeback of the British progressive music and Marillion would become the most popular band from this scene. Do you remember having the feeling that something important was happening?
I think there was a real sense of it around and it felt like the breakthrough when Marillion got signed and started to have success, and then with the arrival of bands like It Bites.
- How much do you think your residency at the old Marquee club helped the career of the band?
Enormously. It is one of those venues that was brilliant to play and it carried credibility in the music business with both fans and musicians.
- What can you remember about the club's manager, Jack Barrie?
Nothing. We used to deal with Nigel (I can't remember his surname) and I think at the time I didn't even think further than that as to the idea that someone else might manage it.
- Your last gig with Marillion at the Marquee club was on the 7th of March 1982, just a couple of weeks before your departure. How do you remember that particular gig and what was your relationship with the band at that point?
I remember it being a really good gig , in common with all the ones we did at the Marquee , and we had a lot of record companies turning up at that point so there was quite a buzz around. As far as I can remember the relationship with everyone was good. We had recently done a Radio One Session that was broadcast about a week before and created a real sense of excitement and so it felt as though something was really beginning to roll and recognition was just around the corner. We were also gearing up for a tour of Scotland.
- Did you ever check out Marillion at the Marquee after your departure?
No. I did go to see them at a number of venues, but never I think at the Marquee after I left the band.
- Did you keep in touch with people from the club after your departure from the band?
Not initially. But I did make contact with Nigel after forming Pride of Passion and the club again played a significant role in helping us to reach a wider audience through a number of headline gigs.
- What have you done after leaving Marillion?
I played in a couple of other bands before forming Pride of Passion with Nigel Spennewyn who I had met and played with in another band. The initial line up also included Brian Jelliman , the original Marillion keyboard player and Deb Hopper on vocals. By the final line up it included Grant Gilmour on drums (from The Enid) and Brian had long since departed to be replaced by a very young Steven Wilson on keyboards (before he formed Porcupine Tree). The band ended in 1987. Since that time I have played a few sessions and composed music for a number of plays. More recently I've been involved in collaborative projects with other musicians under the pseudonym of The Spiritual Tourists but no intentions to release anything. Recently met up with Nigel and Deb and the prospect of a Bands Reunited reunion looms large in the rose tinted world of nostalgia. Time will tell.
-What did you think when you heard about the demolishing of the original building at 90 Wardour street in the 90's?
I didn't see the commercial sense in trying to move The Marquee , although you could argue that it had already moved before the relocation in the 80s. To me the Wardour Street Marquee was the real one and you can't transfer the experience and atmosphere the building had accrued to a new location, simply by taking the name there . Very sad indeed that it only exists now in a virtual format and in memories.
-Have you ever told your children about the Marquee club days?
Some discussion. The weird thing is that with your children you are just who you are, and always have been. They don't really understand in a meaningful sense that parents may have had a life before they were "the parents", so when you talk about it it can seem to them as though you are talking about someone else. Interestingly enough my eldest who is now 18 had never understood how successful and widely known Marillion were, until he saw a reference made about them on an episode of The Young Ones, which then freaked him out for a couple of days.
-If you had to define the effect that the Marquee club had in your life or in your musical career, how would you put it into words?
Playing at the Marquee represented musical achievement, and was about walking in the footsteps of some of the bands and musicians that we most admired. It felt like if you had achieved a headline there then everything else would follow.
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