Album Borrowed Time from British NWOBHM legend Diamond Head is an absolute classic and one of my personal favorites. On 10th of March, I had very strange Friday night, where I needed some good drink and even better music. I needed something moody, not heavy, passionate, emotional, tasty rock classic! My choice was quick and when I looked at release date, it was just two days before its 35 years anniversary. It was a perfect moment to pay the respect to this album and Brian Tatler.
How do you judge this album, with a 35 years distance?
It contains some great songs, the production is ok. Our A&R man Charlie Eyre wanted a producer who could capture a live sound rather than a super tight, layered production and chose a friend called Mike Hedges. Mike was fun to work with and the whole thing was recorded and mixed in three weeks at Playground studio in Camden, North London. Diamond Head still play five of its seven songs live.
If my sources are correct, you describe this period of the band, as the best. What were the main reasons?
1982 felt like everything was finally going right for Diamond Head. In that year we signed to MCA records, made an EP and toured the UK in April to packed venues. Recorded and released Borrowed Time which made its debut in the national charts at no 24. We headline a thirteen date major UK tour in September and played at the legendary Reading Festival. We got on TV and the Radio, It felt like the only way is up!
How did the songwriting go for this album? Result sounds very natural and you wrote some masterpieces, including some longer songs. I believe many things have to fall in its place, in order for something as miraculous to happen…
Thank you for saying that, the song writing for this album began in 1980. Sean and I wrote three new songs that were to become a new direction for Diamond Head, they all had a slight Zeppelin feel and relied less on riffs and more on melody, these were: In The Heat Of The Night, Borrowed Time and Don’t You Ever Leave Me. They were demoed in an eight track mobile and these tapes were then touted around labels for our elusive record deal. Then when it came to choosing the tracks for the album those three songs made up the bulk of it plus we had To Heaven From Hell (which started life in 1978) that was ready to go, Call Me (which was written to order for MCA as a potential hit single) plus live favorites Am I Evil? and Lightning To The Nations, both re-recorded at the request of MCA taken from the previous promo album Lightning To The Nations.
All tracks were written by you and Sean Harris. Tell us a bit about your chemistry please. Legendary voice, same as his legendary shirt in live footages…
Sean and I wrote very well together, we complimented each other, I was mainly responsible for the riffs and Sean wrote all the lyrics and vocal melodies. We both had arrangement ideas and would never fall out about songwriting. We seemed to have a clear goal to write something brilliant. When Diamond Head started, Sean could not play the guitar, I taught him a few chords and he progressed pretty quickly, he was never really interested in lead as I guess. He thought I can take care of that department but by being able to play guitar he was able to contribute more and more musically until eventually (by around 1983) he could write a whole song without the need for me. That’s when the songs became less riff oriented.
You had the same writing team also for your fist album Lightning to the Nations (1980). I was always wondering, why did you use some songs for both albums? Did you feel these songs deserve proper production?
Yes. Am I Evil? and Lightning to the Nations were on both albums. It was our A&R man’s idea, once we signed to MCA and had the chance to get a proper release in shops, not just mail order 2000 copies. He decided we could take a couple of the best songs from Lightning and re-record them for Borrowed Time. I was ok with the idea, Sean was not so happy and kept complaining when he was having to re-record his vocals.
How come Call Me was not used in mass media more often?
I don’t know, it was just a single released in 1982 and was not a hit, so I don’t see why it would get used in mass media. Maybe everyone prefers Call Me by Blondie? Or even Go West?
After all those years, I tend to love the most: Don’t You Ever Leave Me. It’s a ballad, but not a typical 80’s ballad. It is an epic rock piece. Do you agree that relationships are the best source of inspiration?
It’s fairly easy to write about love and unrequited love, but there are lots of subjects. I don’t write lyrics so I am not really the one to ask. It’s a bluesy sort of epic I guess. As usual it’s based on a big riff. I have not listened to that song for years.
What are your feelings, when you listen to it now?
I don’t listen to old Diamond Head records. I try to concentrate on either new songs or learn from other people’s songs. The only time I would listen to a song like this, would be if it were for remastering or making a compilation album.
What makes you go for long songs?
A lot of my favorite songs are long, epic songs. Kashmir, Suppers Ready, Achilles Last Stand, Cinema Show, Xanadu, Us and Them, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Comfortably Numb etc. You have time to build and change moods, take a journey. I was never trying to write a hit single. I just wanted to write something that felt good.
In general, how do you personally know something is good enough? Or do you need to make a compromise and respect deadlines? Personally, I know it’s perfect, when I get goose bumps about a result…
It’s never perfect you get to a stage where it’s either as good as you can make it within the time/budget constraints or you cannot think of any way of improving it. Normally I spend so long listening to demos, rehearsals, recording, mixing then mastering an album that I am glad to take a break from it. Leave it for a while before I can get some perspective on it.
If we can talk about artwork, I am also a big fan of an album The Battle from Jorn Lande and Russell Allen. I remember since those days this press line: “If you think that the style of the album cover looks familiar, it’s because is was done by Rodney Matthews who designed the covers for such classics as Diamond Head’s Borrowed Time and Magnum’s On A Storyteller’s Night.” How was the cooperation with Rodney and how close were you in finalizing the cover? Were you giving him ideas or gave him a free hand?
Sean had seen a painting he liked and we took that to Rodney Mathews when we met him at his house. He obviously didn’t want to be accused of plagiarism so opted to do something ‘similar’ but not copy it and of course give it his own style. On a second visit he showed us a pencil version of the sleeve he had done to make sure we liked it before he started coloring it in. Sean said he didn’t like several things about the sleeve which probably upset Rodney but he agreed to make some of the changes. When we went for a 3rd time it was finished, Sean still didn’t like certain aspects of the artwork but by then it was too late. Sean is quite the perfectionist.
Regarding a piece Am I Evil? – What were you trying to create, at the first place?
Diamond Head’s most famous song is ‘Am I Evil?’ Every band needs a signature song to be identified with, and ‘Am I Evil?’ is ours. I wanted to write a song that was heavier than Black Sabbath’s ‘Symptom Of The Universe’; that has a humongous riff and I tried to out-heavy it. It also has the same tritone (the Devil’s note). When I came up with the riff both Sean and Colin said that it was good and should be worked on. We deliberately arranged it so that the same riff relentlessly carries on for two-and-a-half minutes but with key changes and the beat moving around underneath it. The song evolved over a period of about 18 months as we seemed to keep adding to it, including the fast section which has a similar (but speeded up) rhythm to Sabbath’s ‘Children Of The Grave’. I don’t know why I thought of borrowing Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars, Bringer Of War’ theme as an intro, but I always liked it as a kid and just thought it would make a great start because it’s dramatic and it draws you in. Ours is a different rhythm though, similar to the middle eight of Deep Purple’s ‘Child In Time’. Another classical heavy riff was Mussorgsky’s ‘Night On A Bare Mountain’ but I couldn’t work that into a song – or haven’t been able to yet, anyway! I must also give a nod to the intro to Rainbows 1979 song ‘Eyes Of The World’.
Tell us a bit about your early music education?
I am self-taught and never had any proper guitar lessons. My older brother Dave got me started and showed me a few things like the Barre chord, the rest I picked up from practice or copying records. No YouTube in those days so learning things was much harder. Having said that, it probably helped me develop a good ear and an original style. I still cannot read music, it’s all instinct and trial and error.
When did the first covers start to come out? Was Metallica the first and main “coverer” of yours?
The first Diamond Head cover released was Metallica’s version of Am I Evil? On the B side of their Creeping Death 12” single. It was released on Music For Nations record label in Europe 1984. After that Metallica covered Helpless on the $5.98 EP 1987 then The Prince on the B side to One 12” single 1988 and finally Its Electric on the Garage Inc double album 1998. I have heard a few different bands cover various Diamond Head songs over the years but nothing like as famous as Metallica. I think we have been very lucky to have four songs covered by the biggest metal band of all time. It has done so much for myself and the band.
Tell me, how do you believe one should behave towards younger colleagues? (I believe in positive rather than “leading by a hand” support). How did you let say behave towards Metallica guys? As a “Cool uncle” or did you keep your distance?
Never thought about it. I was always flattered to be covered. When I first met James, Kirk and Cliff in 1986 I could tell they were treating me as a musical hero, there was a lot of respect coming from them. I always try and pass on my experience to young bands if they ask for it. I have produced a couple of bands and I like that side of the business.
What was the feeling when you saw a footage of BIG4 playing this piece live together in Sofia?
I was immensely proud, I though WOW! All of all the rock songs they could have chosen they chose one of mine! It’s a simple riff with a good chorus and still sounds good after 37 years so it must have something. I am always keen to keep Diamond Head in people’s minds and things like that really help.
Did you feel rising interest for your band since then?
Yes a bit, we got to play with the BIG 4 at Sonisphere UK & France in 2011. The new album has helped too. We are being offered some nice festivals now and it was great to sign the album deal with Dissonance that may not have happened had we not been on the radar.
On the other hand, with all respect, as I am experiencing the same with some of my projects – did you expect bigger effect on your social media?
Not really, I don’t follow social media very much. Rasmus is interested in it, since Ras joined Diamond Head we have had a lot more hits and likes etc. He is aware that you have to keep posting stuff to get people to come back.
I must congratulate you on your latest album Diamond Head. There are both spectacular and straightforward rock pieces. Next to a great singer, there are all aspects of your identity. Was that also a reason, why you named it “Diamond Head”?
We did try and think of a title but nothing quite fit. Usually one of the albums song titles gets used for the album title but in this case nothing felt right. Eddie Moohan suggested we call it Diamond Head and after thinking about it for a while I thought it was a good idea. I thought hey The Beatles, Genesis and Metallica have all had self-titled albums that were not their debut so why not. It’s also a very strong statement of intent. Diamond Head are back!
What are your dreams for upcoming years?
Maybe make another album, do some good festivals, keep the band going and hopefully everyone will enjoy the live experience.