INTERVIEW: Brian Tatler – Diamond Head

DIAMOND HEAD are, to many, perhaps one of British metal’s best kept secrets. Heralded by the likes of METALLICA as a major influence, the band have now been going for the best part of forty years. Now touring with a new vocalist and bassist, we caught up with guitarist and bandleader Brian Tatler before a performance in Sheffield (read our review here) to find out what’s been going on recently for the five-piece.

Tonight is show number 5 of 6 on this UK run – how’s it been for you so far?

Brian: Yeah, well, I mean we’ve been going since April but it’s number five of this run. We’ve got London tomorrow and then we’re off to the States. It’s all been good really though. The Academy Group are the promoters behind these so they are well promoted and there’s plenty of people going to the gigs. Some of the shows we’ve probably done ourselves and used different promoters but you always know if you get involved with something like the O2 Academy Group they’re always good, so it’s been nice.

Any particular highlights you can think of?

Brian: Well, the whole tour I think one of my highlights was Sweden Rock, which was great, and then we did Bloodstock which was brilliant. We’ve done Malta which I’ve never been to before and they were mad for it and telling us “Tell more bands to come to Malta”. There’s been some really nice gigs on this tour though – even The Robin, which was our local gig in August where we haven’t played for eight years and that was really great. I always worry about local gigs because you’re thinking “Oh, I don’t wanna make a fool of myself in front of my mates” and all. But it was a bit of a relief – you’ve got a big long guestlist and there’s endless people to say hello to, but it’s great.

The band’s recent album, Diamond Head, has been out for about six months now – how have you found the response to be?

Brian: Oh it’s been great, the press have been amazing, I did not expect it to go as well as it’s gone and be so well received. Because, I mean, you’ve got no idea. We did it for ourselves really and we had this brief where it just said it should “sound like DIAMOND HEAD” and we deliberately made the record in the room as a band and wrote the songs like that – just kind of made the best album we could with the budget and the circumstances we’ve got. And then you release it to the world and hope people will like it, because you’ve got no real idea, and then off you go – the press leap on it. But it’s been brilliant press this time, we’ve had 10/10’s and 5/5’s and people saying it’s the best album we’ve done since Lightning To The Nations. And even a couple of people have said it’s the best DIAMOND HEAD album we’ve ever done which after 40 years is just phenomenal. I mean, it could’ve gone completely the other way so I’m very lucky and very happy with the outcome of the album.

And obviously with this being almost another new beginning for the band with Ras (Bom Andersen) now on vocals, it must be an especially nice feeling?

Brian: Exactly, yeah. Ras is great and he’s made a huge difference.

How strange was it, having to make that new start once he initially joined?

Brian: Well obviously we didn’t really want anything to change at first – we hung onto Nick (Tart) as long as we could. He emigrated in 2008 and we kept flying him back and forth because we didn’t want to change the lineup again. I mean, Nick was only the second singer we’d ever had, but that’s huge to get a third singer and it was a bit like “Oh bloody hell, what are we doing?”, but we had to try. And we had a load of gigs already booked, so we thought we’d try those with Ras and see how we got on really. And it all worked out really really well and Ras is just fantastic, so it’s going like a steam train at the moment.

You recently put out a video for All The Reasons You Live, what was the experience of filming that clip like?

Brian: Well it was a long way down, right on the east coast – almost Ipswich/Suffolk, that way. It was at this old RAF base and there was this big room called Hush House where they test jet engines, they used to bring them in and fire engines down this big tunnel to see how powerful they were really. And we just thought it was a great location y’know? Ras found it and we went down and did the video during the day, and then a few days later Bob’s your uncle.

What led you to choose that song in particular as the single?

Brian: Well, we’d already done a little sort-of in-house video for Bones but we all decided (including the record company) that there’s no point in doing another better video for Bones and that we should pick another track. And so the consensus, and my personal preference, was to do All The Reasons You Live. So we went for that one.

Are you planning to put out another video during this cycle at all?

Brian: We might do, we’ve got footage of us at Bloodstock doing Diamonds and we might try and spruce that up a bit and get it out, that’d be good.

Now being seven albums deep into your career, how difficult is it to create setlists for live shows?

Brian: Well we like to change them up, mix things up a bit so they don’t get stale. But there’s so many big songs that we have to keep doing that the standards are in there night after night really – you can’t take The Prince out, or It’s Electric. So we’re really all about trying to promote the new album, so we’ve been doing I think 8 different songs from that so far. And I think we’re doing about five tonight, which seems a lot, but people seem to be enjoying it so I don’t think we’re ramming it down their throats too much – I think people actually want to hear us do the new songs. And we’re doing a song called Knight Of The Swords tonight, which is off the Canterbury album and I don’t think we’ve done more than 4 times since about 1984.

Since we last spoke in March, you’ve had another line-up change, with Dean Ashton replacing Eddie Moohan on bass in August. How much has that change altered the band dynamic, if at all?

Brian: He’s really good and he really suits what we’re doing – he really locked in well with Karl [Wilcox, drums] when we first auditioned him. His sound is more aggressive than Eddie’s though, he plays with a pick more. Because Eddie’s more of a finger player, but he’d play with a pick for DIAMOND HEAD to get that bit more aggression. And Dean only plays with a pick really – I mean he can without, he’s a really good musician. But it really suits what we’re doing, really locks in beautifully with the drums and the two guitars, but be the judge on that yourself I suppose. We’re all really happy with Dean though, he’s a nice guy.

Diamond Head live 2016
Diamond Head live @ 02 Academy, Sheffield. Photo Credit: Sabrina Ramdoyal Photography

Ignoring the hiatus, DIAMOND HEAD has been a part of your life for near-enough 40 years now. Is the passion still just as strong as in the early days?

Brian: It’s mad isn’t it? I formed this band in 1976 in my bedroom, just coming up with the name, and here we are in 2016 still talking about it. And yeah, it’s still there – I like DIAMOND HEAD, it’s my baby in a way. I’ve tried to protect it and keep it going, look after the back catalogue whenever possible; keep everybody happy y’know? You’ve got to keep the band members happy when possible and I just try to do all that as best as I can. So we have had breaks and we’ve lost members along the way, but the songs tell the tale in a way, they’ve stood the test of time. Am I Evil?, The Prince etc. – those songs are 36 years old a lot of them, and they still sound good and people want to hear them so I don’t mind playing them. At the end of the day I always think it’s about the songs – you go to see a band because you like the songs, and so if you’ve got some great ones in your set, you’re very lucky really.

DIAMOND HEAD are obviously well-known within the rock & metal scene for influencing acts like METALLICA and MEGADETH. how does it feel knowing you’ve impacted the industry in such a major way over the course of your career?

Brian: Oh it’s great. influential bands are always well-respected. You need those kinds of bands to take things forward and take it somewhere new, and not just copy what’s been done before but try and give something back to the style you love. And the fact that METALLICA, in particular, picked up on us and started covering DIAMOND HEAD songs and kind-of bigging us up in a way to the world, it’s helped keep us going. No question about it – I don’t think the band would have survived without METALLICA crediting us and covering us, and the money I’ve received from royalties has given me a better life and given us so much credibility so I’m forever grateful.

You’re heading off to the US and Canada next month for a fairly large tour lasting virtually the remainder of the year. How does touring out in the States differ to the UK for you?

Brian: It seems like everything’s further away, y’know? The distances you can’t really appreciate until you go – like you’ll get there and realise tomorrow’s gig is something like ten hours away, so you’ll sit there and after five or six hours start thinking “Blimey, when are we actually going to get there?” Some of the gigs, we’ll drive all day and not get there until about ten o’clock at night, and then you’d have to wait for the support band to finish, quickly move their gear off and put yours on, and go. There’s no soundcheck, you just haven’t got the time. You can’t be there from five in the afternoon or something if it’s a ten-hour drive, unless you want to leave at seven in the morning, we ain’t doing that. So some of the drives are shocking, but usually the crowds are great and really excited to see us. I think they just appreciate us going out to see them really.

Have you got any plans for next year you can talk about yet?

Brian: Well, not really – we’re talking about maybe doing Hard Rock Hell and we’re writing some new songs we might do something with, but nothing’s set in stone yet really.

Well, thanks very much for your time Brian.

Brian: No problem, my pleasure.

Diamond Head is out now via Dissonance Productions.

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