Diz Willis ‘Sketches In Steam’


01 King David (8:39)
02 Frenchy (8:01)

8″ clear vinyl on Stinky Horse Fuck, UK, mid-1990s.
All drawings by Diz Willis.

dizwillisDiz Willis (1938-1999) was a british poet, painter and performer. During the 1970s, he was a member of performance groups Welfare State, Australian Dancers, Matchbox Purveyors, Portable Theatre, John Bull Puncture Repair Kit, Burton Richards, Birdyak and later Smell & Quim. Stinky Horse Fuck was a label run by Smell & Quim member Milovan Srdenovic aka Davy Walklett, releasing noisy records with usually offending covers. This record is Diz Willis recollecting memories from his days in Soho (he lived in Soho at the end of the 1950s-early ’60s), mythologizing the area while including personal memories. He’s backed by a ‘Steve’ on saxophone and by Srdenovic’s background ambient noise from library/ethnic records – in a mysterious and surreal vein. This is spoken world with background music re-enacting the area’s pub life. Willis’ voice is sometimes overdubbed for a dialogue with himself or a background pub song. The narration is mostly in a charming half Monthy Python, half Paul Bowles tone. The character on the cover refers to Ironfoot Jack, one of the liveliest denizens meeting in Soho’s French Pub on Old Compton Street, the place where the artistic community gathered during the mid-1950s.

‘It was also, for better or worse, the haunt of the notorious Ironfoot Jack, the self styled ‘ King of the Bohemians.’ The portly Jack flaunted long hair, a Homberg hat and a long black cape hung over his short leg which was elevated by an iron boot. He would approach the unwary and try to sell them copies of his poems on pieces of grubby paper. Jack’s abysmal personal hygiene – he was the man who put the BO in ‘Bohemia’ – meant he always had plenty of leg room in the French’. [from article]

The A side is a portrait of King David, one of the caracters foundly remembered by Willis. The track called ‘Frenchy’ starts with a brief but horrible rendition of the French national anthem on a cheap keyboard preluding to an evocation of The French Pub. The recitation includes a list of alcohols in french at end of side 1 and beginning of side 2. While I enjoy the drunkard’s anecdotes about this artistic community, I’d have appreciated mentioning famous visitors in these pubs, namely Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. Anyway, I really love this record, despite being oblivious of situations described. The great nostalgia pervading these stories is universal. Another of Diz Willis’ sound poetry recordings, ‘Travels of Burton Richards’, is available here.


24 Responses to “Diz Willis ‘Sketches In Steam’”

  1. 1 Vojja Ruub December 23, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    With a description like this, who on earth can resist it?
    Merci & hauska joulua.

  2. 2 continuo December 24, 2008 at 9:02 am

    Yeah. Someone should hire me as a Sales Manager. I am very efficient at selling Stinky Horse Fuck records. Peace unto you Juju, whatever language you’re currently speaking.

  3. 3 Crazy Monkey December 26, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Cool!!! Thanks for the weird stuff, hehe (btw, “hauska joulua” = “merry christmas” in finnish ;-)


  4. 4 Nenad December 26, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    ”Don’t you think it’s just the other way round? People getting tired of too much blasé Mutant posts and coming here for the real thing?”

    oh, absolutely ! yes ! your references usually don’t mean much to me as much as some other – more strictly genric blogs -, but your writting manner, Continuo, is really something to admire and look upon to. i love it.

    you somehow give an entirely different, anti-modern, almost noble meaning to eclecticism.

    again thank you for yet another precious oddity from the bizarre workshop of Yorkshire’s most notorious outsider art clique.

  5. 5 continuo December 27, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Wow! Thank you CM and Nenad. I feel re-ignited for yet another year of Continuo! Keep on the nice comments.

  6. 6 Rob Mullender December 28, 2008 at 2:20 am

    Hehe. I live opposite the French House. I’m looking forward to this one…

  7. 7 continuo December 28, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Hi Rob. I’d be curious to know if the french alcohols/liquors listed by Willis are actually available at The French. Any idea?

  8. 8 Scott December 29, 2008 at 1:01 am

    One of a kind blog here. Thanks for sharing these obscure treasures. Where do you find this stuff? I love the avant garde, art rock music, anything unique & original or just plain beautiful. Happy 2009

  9. 9 continuo December 29, 2008 at 8:25 am

    Hi Scott. Stuff appearing on Continuo comes from personal collection from the 1980s, flea markets, eBay auctions, European mail orders and readers contributions from time to time. I avoid Soulseek for its lack of originality. As a rule I don’t repost anything that’s already on the web. I crave the unique.

  10. 10 Grk! January 5, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Chuffed to find this one here. I’ve been enjoying ‘Travels of Burton Richards’ greatly too. Thangyew!

  11. 11 continuo January 5, 2009 at 10:15 am

    I’m glad many people are enjoying the art of Diz Willis.

  12. 12 Phil January 12, 2009 at 9:55 pm


    I’m a friend of the late Diz & have run a little myspace on him for the last few years, which all new fans here are very welcome to join up to. (there is also another myspace made by mine & Diz’s friend Holly, which features music from his “Songs For Bum Lovers” opus!). I was just doing a rare update & came across this whilst googling, which led me to the excellent (relatively new I think) encyclopedic site of his work that you mention. One or two other tidbits can still be found over on my page, for the completist, and the friends section features a lot of people that he and Smell & Quim worked with. He would really appreciate all the nice comments.

  13. 13 continuo January 12, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Hi Phil. Your Diz Willis MySpace page was actually an inspiration for this post. While admitedly unfamiliar with the man’s work, I now have the feeling he has a dedicated host of followers, including yourself, and can still raise more devotees among music/poetry lovers. I think I can understand it from this ‘Sketches Of Steam’ alone. The warmth of his tone, the very personal universe, the uniqueness and weirdness of his behavior are inspirational in a way. I’d love to hear more from Diz Willis. If you think you can help… Thx for dropping by, anyway.

  14. 14 Phil January 13, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Great, I’m glad I helped.

    He was an EXCELLENT painter as well. The site you mention has a vast array of his paintings as well as downloads of his Burton Richards recordings, which were his original spoken word pieces & the starting point I think for Sketches In Steam. So between here, the site mentioned & Holly’s myspace, you have the majority of his recorded work (sadly). The rest of Bum Lovers is floating around between a small army of fans & maybe someone brighter than me will work out how to upload it somewhere.

    His work with Smell & Quim was more performance art than music & best examined visually. To find this material, you need the In Bed with Smell & Quim video on SHF, which I suspect is now way way out of print…maybe someone will upload it one day…I guess his performances previous to S&Q are pretty much lost to the wind now…

  15. 15 continuo January 13, 2009 at 7:47 am

    I was asking since Sketches In Steam is tagged ‘vol. 1’.

  16. 16 Phil January 13, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Ah yes…I think the Sketches record came out around 97ish & was part of a series of great, very limited lathe-cuts that SHF put out. At that time, the S&Q camp were extremely productive, with loads of releases coming out on fistfuls of labels, so I presume Milovan & Diz planned more but just hadn’t got to it by the time Diz died mid-99. The schedule also partly died back I think because of d foist’s leaving, as he was always quite instrumental in getting releases together.

    I should add that the Burton Richards & SFBLovers recordings were originally tape releases (mid-80s, I think) – I have an inlay for the Burton Richards one but his close family don’t remember SFBLovers getting that far. They were certainly both taped for plenty of people then though – anyone want to own up to having an original? My myspace mentions a few other dribs & drabs, including Diz’s contributions to the American ‘Muckraker 9’ magazine & CD (around the time of ‘Sketches In Steam’) and the fact that he (& a cast of 499 others) had a loop on the legendary RRR-500 LP on RRRecords (1998).

  17. 17 continuo January 13, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks for the detailed information, Phil. I’m currently trying to get hold of the Muckracker CD. To sum things up:
    Phil Bear’s MySpace dedicated to Diz Willis.
    Tremendous photo galery on MySpace.
    A short mp3 of a Diz Willis sound work.

  18. 18 Rob Mullender January 17, 2009 at 1:02 am

    i ‘ll undertake a detailed survey at some point. i wonder if the french house know about the record. i expect they do…

  19. 19 Nicholas H April 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Rather late in the day as usual, I have but lately found out that Diz is no longer on the planet. With Jeff and Tim also gone, that must make me the last surviving ‘member’ of the Australian Dancers.

    Not that it’s of any importance, except that I was the only one who actually danced – only danced!

  20. 20 continuo April 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Hi, Nicholas. I’d certainly like to know more about Australian Dancers and your recollections of the late Diz Willis. Feel free to write it in a comment below or as a message to me at:

  21. 21 veryan March 22, 2011 at 11:39 am

    …there seems to be a break in the link on this download…very sadly, as I don’t really know a huge amount about Diz, apart from attending his funeral and playing afterwards with Lol Coxhill who later gave me a copy of Travels of Sir Burton which I love….even more than 4’33”

  22. 22 continuo March 22, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    The link still works fine for me, Veryan – surprisingly so, as it is 2 years old. You should try again later. In the middle of the day, the Mediafire servers are too busy to perform all download routines.

  23. 23 veryan March 23, 2011 at 11:28 am

    yes, thank you for that advice….did try again, and it worked fine!
    best v

  24. 24 Wig September 21, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Dear Continuo, Thanks for all your work…some notes about some of the Diz Willis stuff online…. due to my server upgrading itself, the links to all the things have changed. The easiest route is to go to http://www.plastiquetotale.co.uk and click on the Diz Willis link. This leads to all the other bits… however they are as follows
    biography and index – http://451f.org.uk.184-173-23-58.microlite11.com/plastiweb/dizweb/diz/diz.html Travels of Sir Burton Richards – travels http://451f.org.uk.184-173-23-58.microlite11.com/plastiweb/dizweb/travels/travels.htm interviews – http://451f.org.uk.184-173-23-58.microlite11.com/plastiweb/dizweb/dizvid.htm paintings – http://451f.org.uk.184-173-23-58.microlite11.com/plastiweb/dizweb/dizlib/index.html hope this is legible, best things, Wig

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