Heavy Metal Loyalty: an interview with Brian Tatler

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Guitarist & Songwriter

The career path of Diamond Head is a strange one. When they first arrived on the rock scene in 1980 (they existed before that, but had no official releases, only demos), the major labels who had been signing other British metal bands at the time were not interested, so they ended up putting their first album out themselves. Its reputation, and theirs as a live act, eventually earned them a deal with MCA, but that peak in their popularity only lasted another year or so, and they were dropped when their second album for the label, Canterbury, wasn't a commercial success.

Since then the band have gone through further ups and downs, not necessarily related to their own activity. Famously revered by Metallica, public interest from them was often enough for Diamond Head to experience a momentary rise popularity. Sometimes that led to a new album (like 1993's Death And Progress after they were invited to reform and appear with Metallica and Megadeth in Milton Keynes), and sometimes it didn't. None of these periods of activity ever lasted very long, or with much consistency besides the constant presence of founding guitarist Brian Tatler. He, and popular vocalist Sean Harris, tried again in 2000 for a few years, buoyed by Metallica's inclusion of several of their songs on their 1999 Garage Inc. covers album, but that reunion only lasted four years or so, and didn't produce an album.

The band would likely have ended when Harris left, had it not been for the recruitment of Nick Tart. Line-ups based around Tatler, Tart, and drummer Karl Wilcox, recorded two albums over a ten-year period, and kept the band alive with regular touring of the UK. It wasn't until 2014 though, when they parted company with Tart and recruited Danish singer Rasmus Bom Anderson purely to fulfil some live commitments, that their career took a somewhat unexpected turn for the better. So much better in fact, that they're arguably busier now than they've ever been.

"In '82 when we were signed to MCA, we were busy. We had an album out, and we did quite a lot of work and did a lot of press around that time, but it's to be expected when you've got an actual record deal. Now, we've got a licensing deal with Dissonance [Productions], but we do seem ever so busy. We were really busy last year, we're really busy this year, we're doing another album - I didn't expect this, I didn't plan for this. At my age I was probably thinking it will peter out one day, but it seems to be ramping up and going faster and faster, so it's not easy. The work's been coming in now, steadily, and we do what we can - sometimes it's impossible, but we do what we can."

Brian Tatler is now 57 years old, and is just as much the humble, traditional Englishman he's always been. He's rightfully very proud of Diamond Head, and the music they've created over the years, and maybe fame and fortune were his dreams in his youth, but now all he seems to want for the band is to be able to keep going, in whatever form that may be, and it's that enduring spirit that he thinks is bringing people back to the band; "It's more because of the name, the Metallica connection, and the length of time the band's been going. It's becoming a cool band. People have got a lot of respect for Diamond Head, and the fact that it's still going, and we're prepared to do the work, and we're not ego-maniac, big arseholes who charge ridiculous fees. We play all over, been to so many different countries now, and get stuck in and do the work. We'll be on stage on time, off stage on time, no rock star tantrums, we don't smash up dressing rooms and demand Cristal champagne, and things like that. I've been doing it over 40 years now, and when you first start, you think anything's possible, the world's your oyster, and you've got a kind of confidence that you can conquer the world. Whereas as you go on, you realise some things are not gonna happen, some things are out of your reach, or out of your control, so you just try to make the best product you possibly can with the budget you have, and the people that are around. I think I'm still quality control. I like me to like it, and I will say if someone comes up with an idea that I don't think fits. I think the rest of the members of the band respect that, me being the original member, they need to give me a little bit of credit."

“ I didn't expect this, I didn't plan for this ”
- Brian Tatler

He has that same forthright, honest attitude when discussing virtually any aspect of the band and its history. It's widely known, both from simply listening to the band's self-titled 2016 album, and reading virtually anything about Diamond Head in the last two years, that they have returned to what has always been regarded as their classic sound, with the addition of Anderson on vocals. Their last couple of albums with Harris were considered too poppy by most, and the albums with Tart were somewhat heavier and more aggressive, without the subtleties of classic Diamond Head; "I think genuinely what happened was, usually you have to do what's right for the singer, because if the singer's really uncomfortable it's not going to work, I don't think. So you kind of have to write so that the singer's comfortable, and I think that's what we were doing. We were trying to provide material that would work with Nick, and again we did the best we could with what we had, and a lot of people really like it. But I think when Ras came in, it definitely changed, it definitely improved, and a lot more people seem to like the band with Ras than the band with Nick. And that's no disrespect to Nick, we probably wouldn't be here now had Nick not stepped in and helped keep it going, and did what he did. But it feels like it's gone up a notch with Ras. There is something in his tone that sounds a bit like Sean, and I think fans pick up on that and really like it."

Once he also found Anderson to be a good songwriter - Brian needs a songwriting vocalist, because he doesn't write vocal melodies or lyrics himself - the band went full tilt into writing what became Diamond Head, because it's Diamond Head and heavy metal, or nothing for him; "I shall never do a solo album. I'm not Joe Satriani who can widdle at a million miles an hour, I can't play like that. I'm only interested in writing good songs, and I therefore need a songwriting partner like Ras, or Sean, or Nick. And what's the point of putting out an album with “Brian Tatler” on it, when you might as well just do a Diamond Head album? You're gonna sell more copies, and it's so difficult to make a whole album anyway. This new one has been out nearly a year, and it takes up so much time and energy, that I might as well make a Diamond Head album, if I'm going to make an album. I do like a bit of pop. I'm a big fan of The Wildhearts, and I like all sorts of stuff like Steely Dan and Pink Floyd, but I can't really write like that, and I'm not craving it enough to do the work to write songs in that style, I'm not that prolific. I can come up with guitar parts and riffs and things, but I don't reel off songs, I'm not like Ginger, who can write ten songs a week. It's a slog, I have to tweak and craft, and get the hammer and chisel out. "

But those riffs pile up in almost every song he writes, like thrash metal within a heavy metal song, with groove, flow, and melody; "Growing up with bands like Black Sabbath and Zeppelin, they would open with a riff, then there'd be another riff, then another riff, and that kind of rock really worked for me, so I try to do that, I try to come up with great riffs. But the trick, I think, is to get a great melody on top. Once you get that, you get the magic. You can have a great track, but if the vocal's not right, it won't be very good, you've got to get both things right. Ozzy, I think, was particularly good at coming up with counter-melodies on top of the band. That's always been the thing, and I think Sean tried to the same, and Ras somehow does the same. It's not easy to do, and sometimes you can spend hours, or days, trying to come up with the top line. I pretty much give him free reign to do the tunes on top, and if he really can't do it, we will either not do the song, or we will tweak the song until he can. But usually he's pretty good. He did say to me “I can sing on anything,” and that's perfect, because that means I can fire any weird riff I like at him."

The way Diamond Head have found a home with heavy metal crowds is perhaps also a little surprising for him. For a long time Diamond Head's music was either considered a bit too refined or more commonly a bit too poppy by most metal fans, but now it's the metal crowds which they attract, and that crowd has been a revitalising factor for Tatler himself too; "I like the energy, I like to get the madness going sometimes, when there's a mosh pit, I quite like that, it helps keep everything on its toes, I can see why the metal guys do it, the mayhem is so exciting. The metal market, the metal crowd, is so strong, so loyal, I think we're better off trying to put our fingers in that pie, than go down some other avenue. It's difficult enough to fill a venue as Diamond Head, let alone be experimental and make people say "what style are you?" I mean, people didn't like it when we brought in a keyboard player, and a lot of people didn't like Out of Phase and One More Night, so we almost don't want to make it too poppy, or too light."

The uplift in interest in the band has, over the last few years, presented Tatler with other opportunities as well. In 2009 he wrote his autobiography, which sold out its entire print run and has since been known to change hands at high prices online, prompting him to re-publish it in limited quantities with some new content to bring it up to date. And back in April, he was afforded the chance to stage a talking show for the first time, discussing his and the band's history for a small audience in his home town of Stourbridge; "It was quite stressful. I quite liked it when I was actually doing it, but for a month before I was really worried about it. I do worry about things, and I kept thinking "I'm no stand-up comic or raconteur," but it was good, and they liked it, and I got a lot of positive comments. But I do remember years ago listening to cassettes of myself when I've been on the radio, and thinking "this sounds like a boring, black country bumpkin," and like a lot of people I don't like the sound of my own voice, so I wasn't mad on the idea. After the guy pitched it to me, I said OK I'll do it, because it's a real challenge, and I quite like the idea of saying yes rather than no, and at least I'll learn something from it, but I don't think it's for me. I can't imagine me doing it very often, shall we say."

Therefore Diamond Head's 2018 kicks off not with a talking tour, but in front of the most metal of crowds, with a few shows supporting Saxon in the UK, Holland and Germany ("We haven't done a lot in Germany, and we could never quite work out why"), with the next album projected to be completed shortly after. Festivals are getting booked up for the Summer, and the band have signed a new management deal with Dave Mustaine's Thrashville Management - likely paving the way for further touring of North America - so there's not going to be much time for Tatler and co. to catch their collective breath just yet.

Written by Andy Lye
More: Interviews,

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