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Intervju – Brian Tatler, Diamond Head – om de tidiga åren och återkomsten

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På årets upplaga av Sweden Rock spelade det brittiska bandet Diamond Head under onsdagen på Rockklassiker Stage. Rocknytts Niklas Webjörn fick träffa Diamond Heads grundare och gitarrist Brian Tatler för en intervju. På grund av tekniska problem med inspelningsappen publiceras intervjun först nu (och på engelska).

Diamond Head räknas som ett av de absolut viktigaste banden under den så kallade New Wave of British Heavy Metal-eran (NWoBHM) under tidigt åttiotal. Tillsammans med både stora och små band som Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Tygers of Pan Tang, Savage och Saxon påbörjades ett nytt kapitel i hårdrockens historia, och hade det inte varit för den nya vågen så hade sannolikt thrash- och speedmetal låtit helt annorlunda, om det ens hade funnits.

För den breda massan är kanske Diamond Head mest kända för att Metallica haft dem som idoler och gjort deras hit Am I Evil? till en odödlig metalklassiker. Metallica har dessutom spelat in ytterligare tre Diamond Headlåtar genom åren; Helpless, It’s Electric och The Prince. Diamond Heads relationer till Metallica, men även till Megadeth har varit mycket goda, och har resulterat både i samarbeten och spelningar tillsammans.

Diamond Head grundades redan 1976 i Stourbridge, West Midlands, av gitarristen Brian Tatler och trummisen Duncan Scott, och firar alltså 40 år i år. Första plattan Lightning to The Nations (1980) trycktes på egen bekostnad i 1000 exemplar, med helvita omslag och hade bandmedlemmarnas autografer på omslaget. Skivan är numera en minst sagt eftersökt raritet bland skivsamlare.

Med andra plattan Borrowed Time (1982) tycktes det som om bandets genomslag var givet, men deras karriär dalade efter att bandet försökte sig på en musikalisk nyorientering med Canterbury (1983) och de splittrades ett par år senare, för att återuppstå i ny upplaga med Death and Progress (1993) där Toni Iommi (Black Sabbath) och Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) var med och skrev låtar.

Trots en hel del motgångar och medlemsbyten genom åren har Brian Tatler ständigt kämpat vidare med Diamond Head. Under 2000-talet har de släppt två album och spelat på de största festivalerna runtom i världen, och turnerat tillsammans med Megadeth. Deras senaste självbetitlade platta Diamond Head släpptes tidigare i år och är deras största kritikerframgång sedan de gyllene åren i början av 80-talet.

I think that the new album Diamond Head captures the sound of the two first albums, yet it feels very new and fresh. Would you agree that the band Diamond Head has got a new fresh start?

Yes, its because we got a new singer (Rasmus “Ras” Bom Andersen). Since Rasmus joined he’s given us a big kick. He is younger than the rest of us, so he’s given us a bit of fresh energy. An he has definetly added a lot to the songwriting on the new album. You know, when we first got him in the band it was mainly so that we could play live. When he auditioned he only did back catalogue kind of things, but we never considered writing new material at first. It wasn’t until he was in the band, that we realised we could write songs together.


So this all happened in 2014 when previous singer Nick Tart left the band?

Yes it did. Nick emigrated to Brisbane with his family in 2008, and he quit, in 2014 , after I explained to him that we had to get a singer who lives in the UK. I told him about Ras so Nick said he was gonna announce he was quitting the band on Facebook because he did not want people to turn up at gigs expecting to see him.

What did Rasmus do before he ended up in Diamond Head?

Well, in 2005 he moved from Denmark to London, and got himself a Masters Degree in Vocal Performance (at the London College of Temporary Music). He was in a couple of bands, and he was a waiter for a while, just to make some money. He’s never made an album before. And this is the biggest band he’s been in. You know, he’s never played on festivals likte this before.

He looks young. How old is he?

Yeah, he’s young. Ras has just turned 32.

Of course, I can’t avoid asking some questions about the early ears. How did it all started?

Well… it all started with med and Duncan Scott talking music in my bedroom. We just decided to start a band. We all lived in a little village called Wollaston (a suburb of Stourbridge, West Midlands) and we were still at school. I sort of pulled friends together, and we auditioned for a singer. Somebody recommended Sean Harris. It was all very innocent. But we decided we didn’t want to be another coverband! We wanted to write our own songs. We learned to get better and better writing, recording – and using cassette player. We recorded the songs, listened, and then we analyzed what we could do better. We got Colin Kimberlay on bass in ’78, then everything just came togheter naturally. It all just grew from there really.

I must say I’m blown away about how young you were. When you recorded Lightning to the Nations back in ’79 (released in 1980) you were still in your teens.

When we recorded Lightning we were about 19 or so… yes … very young and ambitious.

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It must have been a blast being young working class teenagers from Stourbridge, to suddenly be on tour with the giants of rock like AC/DC, Foreigner, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath?

Yes, it was great. Especially AC/DC, because we were all big fans of AC/DC.

Did you hang out with them a lot?

Yes, we hung out with them a bit. We were supporting them on tour in january 1980, and Bon Scott died in February… so we supported them on the two last gigs he ever did.

A couple of years later something happened with the popularity of the band. Diamond Head released Canterbury. A very different album compared to the two preceeding ones, but I think there are some really great songs on it, like Out of Phase and Making Music. Why, do you think, was the Canterbuty album so badly received?

Yeah… It was a difficult time. Some fans thought we changed to much. Gone too far. We used piano on one song. Out of Phase… Nah, we don’t do that anymore.

Did people find it too progressive?

Well, yes. Or probably they just expected some more Am I Evil, you know, and Helpless. What people liked so much about Lightning to the Nations and Borrowed Time we almost abandoned on Canterbury. It was too much too soon for some people.

But at the same time 82-83 must have been the heigth of your early carreer? You played Reading in 1982 and Monsters of Rock, Donington in 83.

Oh yes. Happy days!

And someone captured parts of the Reading show on the Live at the BBC-album. It’s an amazing copule of songs. You can almost feel electric atmosphere.

Yes, it was one of my favourite gigs. Ever.

For a fan of Diamond Head it’s very hard to navigate throught your discography. Your first album has been re-released several times in different versions. There are loads and loads of compilation albums, some with rare tracks, and some are almost identical, but with varied sound quality. Especially live stuff. How come?

A lot of that’s dying off now. We had a manager who exploited the band. He was rehashing various versions of the first albums, a lot of singles and B-sides stuffed together, with namnes like Am I Evil, From Heaven to Hell, Behold the Beginning and Lightning to the Nations… He died in 2006, so since then a lot of this stopped. Since then we’ve done the one you mentioned, Live at the BBC which is in The MCA Years box set. I’ve got more control over the back catalogue now. I would not do any little re-releases with different album covers now.

Did you even consider yourself as NWoBHM back in the 80’s, or was it rather a kind of label thing that were put on all kinds of hard rock bands?

Yes we did! Definitely. I thought it was a good thing. Since it first apperared with bands like Def Leppard, Samson and Angel Witch and all that, I just thought we could be part of this. We could get noticed, you see, by record labels. We could get a lot of press ’cause suddenly this thing was on the front page.

Back then, we only had three important music magazines in the UK – Sounds, Melody Maker and New Musical Express, and Sounds was the only one who covered a lot of rock. So, I just dived into it. I saw Def Leppard got signed, Iron Maiden got snapped up by EMI and Saxon were on Carrere, the French label. But i thought, we got to get signed. It did took long time to get signed, two years, but we got there eventually.

But the first album was already out, and you pressed 1000 copies yourselves…

Yes, the white Lightning to the Nations, we did it ourselves. Our manager at the time said that if you don’t get a record deal, just press the album yourselves and hand it out on gigs. So we made about three and a half grand. It helped us pay for beeing on the road, hire a PA and all of that stuff…

Of course, you know that since then Lightning to the Nations is considered a major hard rock classic. But not back then?

At the time record labels were not interested. Maybe they just thought our managment wasn’t up to speed, or they just didn’t think the album was good enough. It was recorded and mixed in just one week.

In one week!? I had no idea.

Yes, recorded and mixed. A lot of labels thought it was too rough n’ ready. They didn’t see the potential.

I think the rough n’ ready sound is the charm of the album.

Well, it’s become very influential, but a lot of labels didn’t see that at the time. A few journalists did. Geoff Barton, Malcolm Dome, Paul Suter.

Were you ever inspired by other NWoBHM-bands?

No, we were never inspired. We liked Def Leppard though. We could see that there was a movement happening and we just wanted to be part of it. It was perfect timing and we were ready to go.

Do you know that the NWoBHM-band Demon is playing here on Saturday?

Oh yes. I’ve met Demon in the past.

They made an album back in ’85 called British Standard Approved, and it certainly don’t sound like the average NWoBHM-album, maybe more like The Wall-era Pink Floyd.

Never heard of it (laughs).

My point is: A lot of the bands were considered NWoBHM, but had already gone in totally different directions. Take for instance Venom which became part the first wave of black metal. And bands like Motörhead and Judas Priest actually existed long before the NWoBHM-movement. It was when British Steel was released that people suddenly called it NWoBHM.

Exactly. They weren’t real NWoBHM-bands. Judas started already in 1969. They were more like Black Sabbath. I think the movement was between ’79 and ’83.

And then it just dissolved when the big companies picked up some of the leading bands?

Yes. There were four hundred NWoBHM-bands and probably about ten were signed to major labels and the rest of them just dissapeard. A lot of bands just made a couple of singles.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I have always had the feeling that Led Zeppelin is one of your biggest influences. I feel that presence very clearly in the early song In the Heat of the Night, but also on your new album, especially the closing track Silence.

I like Zeppelin. It’s my favourite band. It creeps in now and then.

It’s in your blood?

Yeah, it’s in my DNA. My all time favourite album is Physical Graffiti. I love Jimmy Page’s work.

What kind of music you listen to today?

I still listen to a lot of old stuff. 70’s bands.

Any new bands?

The Struts. I like Muse, but they are not so new anymore… Gojira, Ghost BC. I went to see Cradle of Filth… i like Children of Bodom. But I don’t buy a lot of new stuff. When I was younger I bought hundreds of vinyl albums. Not so much theese days.

It seems like you have quite different musical backgrounds. Not only heavy metal, right? I saw on the Diamond Head web page that Andy “Abbz” Abberley have been studying and playing jazz and progressive music?

Well, he is mainly a Rush fan. He likes a bit of obscure stuff, avant garde. Sigur Ros.

And Eddie Moohan played in a Steeley Dan-tribute band.

Steely Dan, absolutely. He has great musical taste, and listen to all kinds of stuff you know, a lot of Aretha Franklin

And Karl Wilcox have also had some different kinds of musical experiences, right?

I think for pleasure he listen to things like Buddy Rich and Frank Sinatra.

These guys has been around Diamond Head for ages, right?

Oh yes, Eddie and Carl has been around since ’91. Abbz been around for ten years. There is a bond there, a musical connection.

I think it’s quite interesting that with a band playing a certain kind of hard rock music, the different band members have had such a diverse musical background and taste.

Yes, you know we listen for pleasure… we just don’t sit around listening to heavy metal every day. There is a difference between what we play and what we listen to.

Reminds me of The Doors, ’cause just like Diamond Head they made such an impact with their own special sound. But the drummer was a jazz drummer, the guitarist was a flamenco musician, and so on… and they made something completely different of it.

You want to be something different, something original. When the music labels look for bands they look for something different. Not the same band all over again and again.

But I think it was a good thing that Diamond Head didn’t caught up with the Metallica hype when All Will Be Revealed and What’s in Your Head was released. I was actually a bit surprised about the direction.

You know, these albums were OK. It was the best we could do at the time with what we had. I think the new album is way better! I think Rasmus has given us a kick. The reviews on this album is spectacular compared to the ones me made about ten years ago with Nick. I didn’t expect that. But there is something special about this new album. Partly the songs, partly Ras.

There is a song on All Will Be Revealed that I really like, It’s the opening track Mine All Mine. Will you ever play that one live with Rasmus?

We used to do with Nick, but not anymore. Guess we’ve played it two hundred times. We want to do more of the new stuff. We used to do Give It To Me a lot. We did Mine All Mine a lot. Then shelved it. Moved on.

Sadly, we have to finish this interview now, but I have one last question for you – Any bands or artists you are going to see here on Sweden Rock for yourselves?

We´re going home tomorrow. Back to the hotel, get off early in the morning. But we wanted to see Queen with Adam Lambert. Ras is into the band Halestorm. We all wanted to see Halestorm, but there was no chance.

A very big thank you Brian for participating in this interview with Rocknytt. And good luck in the future!

You’re welcome Niklas.

 

Se hela spelningen med Diamond Head på Sweden Rock Festival 2016 här:

 

 

 

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