As Diamond Head begin to gear up, releasing yet another album we managed to catch up with lead guitarist Brian Tatler to ask him a few questions.
Here Dillon Grant puts questions to one of rock and metal’s most influential bands. We gain a valuable insight into what we can expect from their upcoming Bloodstock appearance, what a tour with Diamond Head is really like and which band’s Brian Tatler feels could be leading the way for metal in the coming years…
The new album is self-titled, your first studio album for almost ten years. What was the inspiration to get back in the studio?
Our last singer Nick and his family emigrated to Brisbane in 2008 so it became almost impossible to write and record with him. In March 2014 we had a band meeting and decided to start looking for a singer that lived here in the UK. We found Rasmus and once he had joined and I realised how good he was I thought we should try and write some songs together.
Ras is Danish but lives in London so it’s just a train ride up to the Midlands. Since 2007 I kept writing new material for an album project but it didn’t happen and I am glad we did not try do another album over the internet.
I gave Ras two CDs with 45 pieces of music on in December 2014 and then in Jan 2015 we got together in a local rehearsal room to start working on the songs. Ras have given Diamond Head a kick up the arse, he is a brilliant singer with great ideas. I found a studio in Walsall through our last co-producer and occasional live sound engineer Dave (Shirt) Nicholls and once we agreed on a price I booked it for July 2015.
Do you see any more albums in the future for Diamond Head?
We have already discussed writing another album with Ras. We have three songs left over from the new Diamond Head album that were shelved just before we started recording and I have some new stuff that I have already given to Ras so at some point we will get together and see if we can conjure up some more magic! I am sure we can write some more good stuff.
Which song from the newest album do you feel has the ability to go down as a classic Diamond Head song?
For me it’s ‘All The Reasons You Live’, I love that song, the vocal melody is brilliant. We have done it twice live now and it sounded great. I didn’t appreciate just how good Rasmus is until I heard the guide vocals on the album. He is a fantastic singer. I also like ‘Bones’ and ‘Set My Soul On Fire’, I am proud of all the songs on this new record
What bands do you feel will be leading the front line for metal in the coming years?
I don’t know metal well enough, you would have to ask a young guy. I like Gojira and Ghost BC and Avenged Sevenfold. What about BMTH, Monster Truck, Colour Of Noise or Collibus?
Am I Evil, the legendary Diamond Head song. How does a song like that come about?
Every band needs a signature song to be identified with, and ‘Am I Evil?’ is ours. I wanted to write a song that was heavier than Black Sabbath’s ‘Symptom of the Universe’ that has a humongous riff and I tried to out-heavy it. It also has the same flattened fifth chord (the Devil’s note).
When I came up with the riff both Sean and Colin said that it was good and should be worked on. We deliberately arranged it so that the same riff relentlessly repeats for two-and-a-half minutes but with key changes and the beat moving around underneath it.
The song evolved over a period of about a year as we kept adding to it, including the fast section which has a similar (but speeded up) rhythm to Sabbath’s ‘Children Of The Grave’ and the ending where we go back to the original verse riff.
I don’t know why I thought of borrowing Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars, Bringer Of War’ theme as an intro, but I always liked it as a kid and just thought it would make a great start because it’s dramatic and it draws you in. Ours is a different rhythm though, similar to the middle eight of Deep Purple’s ‘Child In Time’. I must also give a nod to the intro to Rainbows 1979 song ‘Eyes of the World’.
I re-wrote the solo while we were in the studio, the bit where it changes key under the tapping section. I finally figured out all the changes with the recording engineers help and when it was finished I was extremely proud of it.
I still play the solo now as I did back then. ‘Am I Evil?’ has got fabulous dynamics, I have realised over the years how hard it is to write a song like that, It’s just something that came naturally at the time, probably spawned by a blend of confidence and naivety. To match my heavy riffing Sean came up with suitably dark lyrics which included the most extreme opening of any metal song up to then: “My mother was a witch/she was burned alive/thankless little bitch/for the tears I cried…”.
If you were to choose one show that stands out in your memory, what would it be and why?
Diamond Head were asked to play the Friday night of the Reading Festival on 27th August 1982, appearing in the special guest slot just before headliners Budgie. The scheduled band Manowar had been forced to pull out due to visa complications (some wag suggested they could not get their swords through security) and with top booking agent Neil Warnock at The Agency on our side plus a £7,000 buy-on from MCA we were in business.
The gig was booked at such short notice that it was too late for us to be included on the posters or in the programme so not many people knew Diamond Head were on. We rehearsed our 50 minute set solidly the entire week before, we knew there would be no sound check and wanted to be ultra-prepared.
We were picked up and taken to Reading in a coach that had no heating and was blowing cold air because it was off to Spain the following day for Julio Iglesias. We were all frozen and entered the festival site like pensioners wrapped up in coats and some old tartan blankets we found on the coach.
The set-up at Reading used two stages so while the crowd was watching Randy California and his big frizzy afro, our gear was being set up. We went on stage to check our amps were all working and sounding OK and as I stood playing a few chords a woman wearing headphones came running over from the other stage shouting, “Do you mind, we’re recording a live album!” I stopped for a minute and then thought, ‘Fuck off! I’m about to play the biggest gig of my life! Why should I care about a bit of spillage on your mics?’
I was told later by some Diamond Head fans who didn’t want to see Manowar were on their way back to the camp site when they heard the intro tape to ‘Am I Evil?’ blasting out from the PA. Some said that they ran all the way back to force their way to the front of the stage. It was amazing to see and hear so many people reacting to Diamond Head.
There were no monitors working on my side of the stage and the only way I could check I was still in time with Duncan was to glance round and follow his snare drum arm going up and down.
There were video cameras onstage so that the people backstage could see what was happening. I only wish someone had stuck in a tape and recorded it. This is probably my favourite ever gig and took the band up to another level.
The crowd was great, we had a major deal, it was a good performance, and everything seemed to be going so well. Reading 1982 was about as good as it got for us. It was the peak of four or five years of hard work.
How do you describe what a tour is like with Diamond Head, is it relatively calm or does it tend to get wild?
Hopefully it’s well organised. It’s important that we get some sleep and eat at the right times. If we are onstage at 9pm we need to eat no later than 6pm. Sometime in the US or Canada the journeys are so long we don’t have time to sound check, we may not get to a gig until 9 or 10 pm so we will set up and go on straight after the support band. We might have a little drinkie after the show but nothing before. Our bass player Eddie has Irish parents so he like a Guinness or two!
If you’re doing 10 nights on the trot you cannot afford to party every night, you need to conserve your energy for tomorrow night’s performance. I know you wanna hear about sex, drugs and rock and roll but it’s tough when you have no crew and are all travelling in a van with the gear in the back, plus of course I am the wrong side of 50!
What is your opinion on the difference in numbers of genres compared to when Diamond Head were formed? We can now see genres such as the rhythmically complex ‘Mathcore’, ‘Unblack Metal’ and we have also seen a parrot front a band, ‘Hatebeak’.
Never heard any of these particular styles. It’s a shame it has got so segregated. When I started it was Rock, Heavy Rock or Progressive rock. That covered everyone from Camel and The Eagles to Black Sabbath and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
Do you still view the bands as an NWOBHM band or have you evolved from that title, if so how would you classify Diamond Head?
I have always thought of Diamond Head as a rock band. We got some press attention when the NWOBHM movement took off and we have since been called Heavy Metal and even proto thrash! When Diamond Head started in 1976 the term Heavy Metal had not been used, I think it first came up about 1978 to describe Judas Priest. I don’t see anything wrong with being called a NWOBHM band, it defines a style of music that fits us.
You’re also headlining the Sophie Lancaster Stage at Bloodstock Open Air on Friday this year, what can fans expect from you there?
Really looking forward to playing Bloodstock again after 14 years! It’s a great festival and we are honoured to be asked back. We have a one hour spot so it will be a mixture of old and new songs, so far we have performed Bones, Shout At The Devil, See You Rise, All The Reasons You Live, Speed & Set My Soul On Fire from the new album live so we will probably do a couple of those.
Finally, if you could choose two other bands to tour alongside who would it be and why?
Metallica because they are friends and I know they would give Diamond Head all the help they could, plus of course they are brilliant live and pull huge crowds all over the world. Band two would be AC/DC because I love all their songs and it would be very cool. I met all of AC/DC in January 1980 when Diamond Head opened for them at two UK shows, these turned out to be Bon Scott’s last two performances as he sadly died a few weeks later.
Photos by Darran Scott, Darren Griffiths and Simon Dunkerley
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