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DIAMOND HEAD - Interview with Brian Tatler
By Wojtek Gabriel,
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Diamond Head metal band
I suppose quite a few of you have met someone who thought that "Am I Evil" is actually a Metallica song. I have. Diamond Head, the true creators of this timeless metal classic came back last year with a self-titled studio album, their first in 9 years, and they positively surprised their fans with its sound. The new release might as well be a follow-up to the band's debut "Lightning to the Nations", as all the ingredients of the classic Diamond Head are present there. I had an immense pleasure to speak to one of the NWoBHM's godfathers, the riffmeister Brian Tatler.
When your last album was released, it made quite a buzz and both press and fans saw it as a return to the early Diamond Head sound. Was it a conscious decision to make it sound that way?
A lot of the material I had had been around for a while. I keep coming with the guitar riffs so, when Ras joined we made a decision to try and make it sound like Diamond Head. We rejected a lot of things that were too heavy or too modern or too prog. That would take it somewhere else. So, occasionally we'd come across a riff and we'd say, "Yeah, that's very Diamond Head", like for example "Shout at the Devil", that riff, we thought that was so Diamond Head. So, we worked on those kinds of songs and we kind of had this brief where we thought, "Don't go too far from what's good about Dimond Head in the history. Let's just celebrate the legacy." That was the plan.
There was a 9-year gap between your last two albums "What's in Your Head?" and "Diamond Head". Why did it take so long?
It was partly me. We were working with Nick, Nick had done two albums with us, then Nick emigrated in 2008 to Brisbane and it became almost impossible to write new songs together. He was always out of the country or if he did fly in it would be purely for gigs and then he'd go back again. Because he of course had a day job in Brisbane, wife and kids and all that. And I kind of thought, "I don't really fancy just doing another album that would sound like the last one." So, that went on for a few years and we did all kinds of things and then come 2013 we sort of had a band meeting and we decided we should start looking for an English singer, because we thought it was crazy to keep flying Nick backwards and forwards. It was becoming very expensive and complicated. So, we just didn't think about doing another album and I would pretty much say, "I don't really want to, I've got no motivation to do another one." But when Ras joined that all changed and I felt we should definitely try, we should at least try. And once we did start I realised it would be good so I'm glad we did.
Did you also write and record the album the old school way, I mean all together in studio, the whole band?
Pretty much. We had rehearsal room and we'd have sort of bones of songs. I'd come in with like a verse and chorus and we'd try to develop it really. We had more than we needed so we would chuck some out, and we just pretty much focused on the ones that sounded the most Diamond Head, as I said earlier. And then when we'd record it we were all in the studio together, drums in the studio, the rest of us would be in the control room and we went through every track like that, you know, recording the guide vocals, recording the guide guitars, guide bass. And then we just overdubbed everything on top of the drums. But we were there, at the same time in the same room. There was no sending files, which we'd done before, but we kind of felt you lose something that way.
You said you had a backlog of material collected over those 9 years?
Yes. It's an advantage to have a backlog, isn't it? I'd keep putting ideas down, not really for a Diamond Head album, but in the end, I built up lots and lots of ideas so, we could pick from all these songs when we went to start rehearsing. Some songs developed from scratch like "Silence" for example, I had one riff for that and we just jammed it and bits came, I suggested the bridge and then I came with another part, it just evolved in the rehearsal room. We didn't even nail the arrangement until we were recording the drums and we said, "We need 8 of them and 12 of them", things like that and we'd just let that one roll right up to the last second.
So, as you had more material than you needed, how did the screening process work? How did you decide which songs would make the final cut?
I think really as I said earlier it's what sounded the most Diamond Head and which ones we liked. We would try and have faster songs, I always think fast songs are quite hard to write. I seemed to be coming up with a lot mid-paced songs though, but the faster ones we seemed to get more excited about and it ended up being about 5-6 fast songs on the album now. I think that ads to the energy and they're fun to play. So, we'd just pick at the ones we liked best, "We like this, we scratch that one, we're not gonna do that one." We had a list of songs and we just worked on the best ones.
Ras wasn't even born yet when your debut album was out. Was it easy to find a young guy willing to sing "old" music?
He just got recommended really. We started looking around and we tried a few guys in the Midlands and then Ras was suggested to us. Once I heard him I thought, "Oh yeah, he's good, he'd be good." So, we got him for an audition. He was keen. I mean he knew of the band and I think he'd probably look on the website and see that we were busy and we've done albums and been over to the States and Japan and what have you. So, he would probably think, "Great", you know, "Let's do it." I mean he wasn't really that familiar with the material in the past, he knew the Metallica versions and things which a lot of people do but once he listened to the catalogue he could tell, "OK it's proper rock, it's a singer, there's some melodies there." As you can tell he's got a nice strong powerful voice, his range is outrageous so, he'd want to sing something that's good to sing and not just growl. I think once he listened to the material and realised what kind of band it is he was all keen to get involved.
Did he contribute to the album in any way?
Oh yeah, he wrote all the lyrics for a start. And of course, he's never written an album before so, this is his first album. He was involved in a range of ideas and things and he did the string arrangements as well. He can play keyboards, he can play guitar, bass so he was able to do stuff at home.
Why is the last album self-titled?
We didn't have a good title. None of the song titles were appropriate and then our bass player Ed suggested we could call it "Diamond Head". We could call it "Diamonds" because there's a track on the album called "Diamonds" and I thought, "Not bad an idea." So, I said "We'll call the album "Diamond Head" unless anybody can think of a better title," and nobody could so we went with "Diamond Head". And I thought to myself, "Well, not every band's debut album is called that." For start you've got Metallica, the black album, it's their 5th album, Genesis, their 8th album or whatever it was is called "Genesis" and The Beatles' white album is called "The Beatles" and that's about their 7th album or something. So, I thought, "It's been done before, Diamond Head's gonna do it." I didn't see the point of calling it, you know "Shout at the Devil" or "Bones". Nothing quite worked, you know?
NWoBHM band Diamond Head
Let's go back a few decades. "Borrowed Time" and "Canterbury" sound like they were recorded by two different bands, but they were released only one year apart. Was there a label behind this change of sound, pressing you for a more commercial approach or was it the band's decision?
I don't think it was a decision. It was partly the producer, two totally different producers, different studios and partly the fact that we'd been writing songs in the background. Even when we were doing "Borrowed Time" we had songs left over from our early days plus we'd been writing new ones. "Borrowed Time" pretty much used up quite a few of our earlier songs that we hadn't already included in the "Lightning to the Nations" so we'd already written "In the Heat of the Night", "Don't You Ever Leave Me", "Borrowed Time", they were written in 1980 and then "Lightning to the Nations" and "Am I Evil?" were thrown on off the first album and then we'd written "Call Me" 'cause our label wanted us to write a single. So we'd got all these other songs lying around, "To The Devil His Due", we'd got "Knight of the Swords, we had "Ishmael", we had "One More Night" and then we wrote a few new ones specifically for that album. So, I think the band did change slightly. I think we were forever searching for the right formula, possibly successful formula, but we kind of just wanted to write something that would be, you know, magnificent and sell. And even though we'd already written a rock classic with "Am I Evil?", we didn't appreciate it, I don't think. I mean we couldn't even get a deal with that initial album, labels didn't want to release it. So, "Lightning to the Nations" even though it's become a kind of rock classic, you know, influential album, at the time nobody was that interested in it. And fans liked it and we had at least one good review in Sounds, but it didn't get the fanfare that it probably should have.
You've mentioned Reading Festival in 1982 in numerous interviews as your favourite and biggest concert. It that true that you landed that gig only because Manowar pulled out in the last minute?
Yeah, it's no longer my biggest gig, I've done a lot bigger since. But it's true that we had about a week's notice, maybe just over. I think Manowar pulled out because of visas, they had trouble getting work visas or something like that. So, we got offered the spot and we were called to do it and we just rehearsed and did the gig and it was fabulous for us. I think partly the fact that we hadn't been looking forward to it for six months made it even more exciting, the fact that it was just thrown down, "Do you wanna do Reading Festival next week?" kind of thing. But at that age, you know at the age of 21, 22, totally amazing. It was a great gig.
Speaking of gigs, you supported AC/DC on their two last dates with Bon. How did you end up supporting AC/DC, without even having an album out?
I think it was Peter Mensch, he was their manager. He was on the lookout for talent so he would have asked journalists who's hot, you know, and they would have said, "Diamond Head is hot, check them out." They had Def Leppard on the rest of the tour, the Highway to Hell Tour 1979, but two dates had been rescheduled, which were Newcastle Mayfair and Southampton Gaumont at the end of January 1980 and Def Leppard couldn't do them 'cause they got into the studio to record "On Through The Night". So, they gave them to us and I think specifically so that Peter Mensch could watch us and check us out. So, he came to Newcastle and he came into our dressing room and we had a chat. I didn't probably realise the gravity of that meeting but I think he was sounding us out and as it turned out, nothing happened. But they were two fantastic gigs for Diamond Head. Both gigs were sold out, we went down very well, and it really gave us a sense of belief in ourselves. This little band from Stourbridge could go play Newcastle, where we knew hardly anyone to 3,000 AC/DC fans and still go down really well. So, we kind of took a lot of confidence from those two gigs and of course we loved AC/DC so it was marvellous to be involved and meet the band, meet Bon.
The original Diamond Head singer Sean was singing on your 1993 come-back album "Death and Progress". Were the two other original members Colin and Duncan ever interested in getting back together after the original split in 1983?
They weren't invited. We'd moved on by then. In 1993 we'd already have Karl and Eddie involved because we'd done two little tours in '91. It never seemed the right thing to do. I mean Colin left the band in 1983. He'd already wanted to leave in '81 but we persuaded him to stay. Then he left again. I think it seemed like no point in even bothering to contact Colin, because it was his decision to leave. He sold his gear, he took on a day job, he obviously wasn't interested in playing bass guitar. It wasn't like he joined another band and continued to play. He almost didn't want anything to do with music. Duncan, we had to sack Duncan, which was horrible, but we sacked him for a reason. And so, when we got Karl we thought Karl was a great drummer so, we just continued that way, you know? It just seemed logical not to go backwards. Even now I'm still friends with Colin and Duncan, they're such lovely people.
If you could travel back in time to the late '70s, what advice would you have given the young Brian?
I would say, "Get some good management." What else I'd say to him... "When you meet Lars in 1981 ask if you can join his band," ha-ha! Especially when he happens to kick out Dave Mustaine.
Are you surprised that your debut album which is now almost 4 decades old is still considered a metal classic?
I am, yeah. I mean, who knew? We recorded and mixed it in a week. It was done quite cheaply, we put it out ourselves, sold a thousand copies, you know? The fact that it's up there with some huge albums as an influential album... I mean I've seen it in lists with things like "Appetite for Destruction" or "Master of Puppets" and these albums sold millions and millions of copies and ours was like a home release. We pressed them and just sold them at gigs and through mail order, we didn't even have a record label, there wasn't even a picture on the cover, just a blank cardboard sleeve. It's amazing that people have really seen the quality in the songs and the song-writing and that it still sounds good now.
What would you say makes Diamond Head sound like Diamond Head? Is it the song structures, the guitar sound?
I think it's the writing, I mean certain chords, certain style of playing, certain vocal melody. There's detail in there that helps make it unique, you know? It's also a mixture of the influences I think that I had along with all the guys, Sean, Colin and Duncan. It wasn't like we all only liked band A. I was listening to tons of stuff through my older brother and I think it all sort of sinked in there into this mix and made Diamond Head a little bit different. We didn't sound like a lot of bands. I mean you can put say Tygers of Pan Tang on and say Tank and Diamond Head is quite different. It was incredible variety in the NWoBHM I think.
Like you said you were listening to a variety of bands, so what drew you to heavy metal? I mean you could have played jazz or blues...
Oh no, I couldn't play jazz and blues is old-fashioned to me, boring. I didn't like rock'n'roll really, I wanted to do something different, I wanted to do something riffy. I wanted to play, say like Ritchie Blackmore or something but there was no way, it was lightyears ahead of me. So, I took quite a bit from punk rock, the fact that it's all simple chords and it had a lot of energy and that was mixed in with things like Black Sabbath and Zeppelin and we just kind of forged this style. We liked epic songs, you know, "Kashmir" and "Xanadu" and "Stargazer", we liked the big songs but we also liked some excitement. We wanted to go down well live so even though we didn't have a record album we would play to an audience and we would want that audience to respond. We realised slow songs didn't really work, fast songs seemed to get them excited and get them jumping about so, we focused and tried to write faster, bigger songs.
Now that you have a "local" singer in the line-up, are you planning on writing and releasing a follow-up to "Diamond Head" any time soon?
Oh yeah, we're nearly there. Everything's written except some of the lyrics. We've already done all drums, bass guitars and we've done around 70% of the vocals. So, we think the vocals will get finished by Christmas and we'll be mixing it in January.
What's next for the band after this tour?
We've got 9 dates with Saxon in February and the album will probably be out April/May hopefully. And we've got more dates coming in but the big thing will be the new album which will be pretty much two years after "Diamond Head" and that's it. It's all looking good.
Interview by Wojtek Gabriel

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Tags: Diamond Head, NWoBHM, British metal, Brian Tatler, Am I Evil
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© 1997-2020 Wojtek Gabriel. All rights reserved. Unauthorised use of any works published on this website is prohibited.
Materials may not be reproduced in whole or in part by persons, organisations or corporations without the prior written permission.
© 1997-2020 Wojtek Gabriel. All rights reserved.
Unauthorised use of any works published on this website is prohibited.
Materials may not be reproduced in whole or in part by persons, organisations
or corporations without the prior written permission.