Interview November 2019 by Kimmo Tattari, all photos by Hannu Juutilainen.
Diamond Head, one of the pioneers of NWOBHM, got a great new album Coffin Train out now. The band are also having a gig at KK’s Steel Mill on the 7th of December 2019. Prior to that, Steel Mill had an honour to have a chat with the founding member, guitarist Brian Tatler.
You started in the late 70s, during the days of NWOBHM. How do you remember those days?
We started in 1976, and punk rock happened in 1977. That was influencial to me, you got young guys playing new bands, making simple rock music, really. I was at an age when I hadn’t been playing very long, and I could play that sort of simple rock guitar riffs and powerful songs, and I liked all that punk rock scene. It influenced me to keep going, to get on stage, not to wait to become a virtuoso, you know, sort of just go, let’s rock.
The NWOBHM happened in 1979, and by that time Diamond Head had been going three years, so we were perfectly timed to become part of that scene. We were 19 years old when the attention came on us, and we got to play places like London. Record companies came to check us out, we were ready to be signed, you know. The NWOBHM was a fantastic opportunity for Diamond Head to get a record deal, to get noticed in the press.
How was the rock/metal scene in Black Country?
It was good, because we had the legacy of Black Sabbath, and then we had Judas Priest, and of course Robert Plant and John Bonham, both from Midlands. It felt like bands from that area can make it all over the world, selling records. I drew some confidence, it felt possible, it felt plausible, that a band from Midlands playing rock or heavy metal, could make it following the footsteps of Sabbath or Priest. I just used to think that if they can do it, maybe we can do it, too. We could be the next band to get attention…
So these previous generation masters, Sabbath and Priest, were kind of role models for a young starting band?
Yeah, definitely Sabs and Priest. My favourite Priest album was Sad Wings Of Destiny, it’s brilliant. It came out in 1976, and we were formed at that point. It’s a very important album to Diamond Head. I mean Deep Purple’s Machine Head, Led Zeppelin II, Master Of Reality, big albums, you know. I tried to absorb these albums, trying to figure out how to write my own songs. Sean and myself concentrated more on writing, trying to write something great.
The first Diamond Head album Lightning to the Nations was released in 1980. What do you remember about recording this album, which is nowadays considered a metal classic?
It was all recorded and mixed in a week, so it went quite quick. We had written about a hundred songs when we went in studio, and we were just doing the seven songs we felt were the best at that time to go on that album, cause some songs are quite long. Sucking My Love is 9:30 and Am I Evil is 7:40. I think it was pretty much just the cream of our live set at that point. We had other songs that we liked, but they wouldn’t go on that album. We had To Heaven From Hell, Wild On The Streets and Dead Reckoning, and they went on later albums.
It was all recorded very quickly. Live set up in a room to capture the drums, bass and guitar, and then you’d do the vocal. Very often I would do the second guitar and maybe redo the solo. We’d only redo the bass, or a rhytm guitar, if it was out of tune or badly timed or something. Now you can correct even tiny sections, but none of that was possible at that time, you just tried to capture a take, you know.
Is it true that it was first meant to be a promo only?
Yes, that’s what we decided. We’d been in the studio in Worcester before, the Old Smithy, where we recorded the single Shoot Out The Lights with the b-side Helpless in 1979. Our magager Reg said ”why don’t we record a whole album there”, and he did this dodgy deal where he signed away half of the publishing in return for a week in the studio. I didn’t know what publishing is, I didn’t question it. I was just ”great, we’re doing an album”, you know.
So, I think the plan was to record the album and get the tapes to the record companies and they all go ”oh yeah, brilliant”. But they didn’t. None of them wanted to sign us and that was really a confidence knock because we liked it, we thought it’s good with good songs on it. Then our manager said ”ok, why don’t we just press them on ourselves”. We pressed a 1000 copies selling them at the gigs making a bit money, keeping the band on the road. We sold them for 3,5 £ each. They all sold and we did a second pressing, they all sold. It took ages to get an actual deal with a major label, it took another, you know, almost 2 years. We signed MCA in January 1982.
One might say buying it for 3,5 £ at the time was a good investment. These first pressings are quite pricy nowadays…
Yes, and there was also a little quarter page ad in the Sounds, and that’s how Lars Ulrich got his copy. He used to get Sounds when he was in L.A., and we thought, ”oh somebody in America bought it realising the potential”. We had a fan in America, just one fan, but what a fan…
After the second album, Borrowed Time, there was a change of direction, which, I think, led to losing a certain momentum. What was the reason behind that change?
Album number three, Canterbury, there was a change of direction, a little bit. In hindsight we should have stuck to the heavier style, but I think we were forever looking for something that was gonna propel us to the stars. At that time bands like Zeppelin were quite diverse. You can take a song like Going To California, Down By The Seaside or Ten Years Gone, you know. Strange Zeppelin songs in their catalogue. We liked that and thought we can experiment as well, we can try different styles. In hindsight that’s a difficult thing to do. The fans get confused, and if you are only a small band you could lose the fans you got. If you’re big and you lose a few fans, that’s not too bad. We didn’t realise it at the time, we just thought the world is ours.
Anyway, Diamond Head is now back at full force. Two excellent albums with the new vocalist Ras (Rasmus Bom Andersen). How did you find him?
Through a friend, really. Our previous singer (Nick Tart) emigrated to Brisbane in 2008, and our bass player Eddie (Moohan) was in another band with a girl singer, Suzie, and she said ”I know a singer”. She went to university in London to study vocals and Ras was in the same class with her. She said ”he’s a good rock singer”, and put us in touch. I phoned him, and he came up to Midlands for an audition. Within about 30 minutes I thought he was great, he’s got great voice. It will suit the back catalogue perfectly. I wasn’t thinking we can write songs, we can do this, we can do that. I was only thinking about the upcoming gigs we had booked where we needed a singer.
Ras was great on tour, we got on well. He liked Diamond Head and we liked him. During the tour we offered him the job, if he’d like to do it. This was around November 2013.
The new album, Coffin Train, is out now. How was the writing process this time?
It’s still similar to all the other Diamond Head albums, really. Normally it starts with the guitar riff. Every time I come up with a guitar riff I tape it, and then I review the tapes. I could come back to riff after year or two and think that’s really good, I want that one. So I’ll work on that one, trying to make it a song. I’ll produce a rough track with no vocal on it, and then give that to Ras. I think I was able to give him maybe 40 pieces of music. Then he would just go through them, and say ”that one’s great, that’s very Diamond Head, that needs a chorus, this one needs a bit of an arrangement” or something…
Then we get together and go to the rehersals and try things out. Some songs didn’t make it, some songs did, some songs got rewritten, you know. Until We Burn, the last track, I had that idea in 2006, and I demoed it at least five times and we rewrote it again for this album. That took a long time to write, that song. Some of the other songs were done in 2016 after the Diamond Head album was done. A lot of the ideas date back to 2016, once that album had come out, and I had some free time, you know.
Coffin Train has been one of the highlights of this year for me. An album that’s been in heavy rotation. How’s the feedback been so far?
Thank you! I’m very pleased with it, it sounds great. Feedback’s been really good. Nobody said they didn’t like it. The press and the fans said it’s a great album. It’s part of the legacy, it still sounds like classic Diamond Head.
How do you see the future of Diamond Head? Have you already discussed the next album?
We are not talking about the next album just yet. We are more discussing what we are doing next year, and in 2020-2021. We got some ideas, I always continue to write, I still enjoy that side of it. At the moment we’re concentrating on pushing on this album, and seeing what goes next year, trying to step up to the plate a little bit. We got a management now, the Siren Management, we got the Silver Lining label and we got an agent called Martin Jarvis in UK who’s handling Europe. We’re in a good position now, we got dates coming up with Saxon and Uriah Heep, some festivals and a cruise, so it’s all looking good. We hope to get over to the US next year.
Also next year is the 40th anniversary of Lightning to the Nations, so we’ll probably do some shows around that theme, you know, do the whole album. We did that in 2010, and I would imagine that we’ll do it in 2020. It makes perfect sense.
Diamond Head will be at KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton on December the 7th, opening for Uriah Heep. Any message for your local fans?
When we got that gig at KK’s Steel Mill we thought that would be great, we’d like to do that. Wolverhampton is about six miles from where I live, in Stourbridge, so it’s a local gig, really, a Midlands home gig. Just come along and check out this fantastic venue, KK’s Steel Mill! We’re opening for Uriah Heep, we got four dates with Uriah Heep and I’m looking forward to that, and I’m really looking forward to playing a hometown gig. It’s the first one this year, we don’t get to play in Midlands that often.
I met K.K. at a festival, I think it was in Bridgnorth, about three years ago. My stepson was in a rockband, and K.K. was there with a band he was producing. We said hello and had a picture taken. He’s a nice guy!