by Kip Doyle
Having missed their first brush with stardom, Diamond Head rocks on
Not many bands can fuel a career with the latent energy of what could have or should have been. Diamond Head is one of those rare bands. They never achieved the superstardom that appeared to be theirs for the taking, instead achieving cult status among America’s biggest heavy metal acts.
The band is a riddle that won’t be solved, a three-decade simmer of anticipation. Diamond Head didn’t get their big break, but the impression they made on the metal bands that followed them keeps the questions, and the interest, coming from new fans even today.
Diamond Head held the potential to become the biggest NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) band of them all. Sticking out from a horde of often similar sounding (and looking) bands, Diamond Head captured that magic balance of unshakeable riffs, well crafted songs, and soulful vocal hooks, a la Deep Purple, while adding an updated emphasis on speed and heaviness.
This was an ideal band for teenage metal heads worldwide to fall in love with, but the band’s history was plagued with problems that had little to do with music.
Some of the blame may lie with original singer Sean Harris’s mother’s management (or mismanagement) of the band at the height of the NWOBHM movement. While their peers were signing big record contracts, Diamond Head’s most highly regarded recording (a full-length known as 1980’s Lightning to the Nations, although never officially titled) was released by the cash-strapped band in blank white cardboard sleeves.
That recording, stacked from top to bottom with classics, was followed up by two albums on MCA Records, Borrowed Time and Canterbury. The prog-leaning Canterbury floundered, sounding distant from the rising tide of thrash from which Metallica would explode later in the decade.
Diamond Head lost their record deal in 1984, split up in 1985, and were well on its way to being lost in rock and roll history for good.
But funny things can happen when you let a Diamond Head-obsessed, teenage Lars Ulrich stay at your house and soak in the magic of the British metal scene. Ulrich flew from San Francisco to London to see a Diamond Head gig in 1981, but he failed to book his return flight properly.
Diamond Head guitarist Brian Tatler let the young American stay on his floor for a few days. The experience was a major life event for the young drummer.
After Ulrich finally flew back to the US, he placed an ad in the newspaper looking for musicians, met James Hetfield and formed Metallica.
When Metallica’s covers of Diamond Head songs were released to their millions of fans, interest in Diamond Head spiked. The band reformed in the early 1990s and again in 2002, continuing today with Tatler as its sole constant member.
Now embarking on only their second North American tour (the first being in 2011), Diamond Head, 34 years after forming, is preparing for its first show in Buffalo.
In retrospect, it’s easy to wonder if Diamond Head would have joined the ranks of British metal gods like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest had they capitalized on the US live metal market when it was at its hottest.
“It’s a real shame that Diamond Head never toured the US back in the 1980s when we should have,” Tatler said. “I always [thought] that our management at the time could not get it together, and we had built up an entourage of roadies, making it expensive to tour.”
While the troop of roadies has slimmed down to one, Diamond Head has an advantage in touring the US thanks to drummer Karl Wilcox, a Brit who has lived in America for more than 20 years.
Wilcox booked Diamond Head’s tour and worked out the logistics of traveling the country. Pending this tour’s success, Wilcox is hoping that Diamond Head will continue to tour clubs in the United States on a regular basis, a rarity among bands of the NWOBHM era.
Along the way, Wilcox enjoys the opportunity to play with local acts across the country.
“We like to give the local bands the exposure to come and play with Diamond Head,” Wilcox said. “When I was starting up it was always nice to say, ‘Yeah, we’ve supported a name band,’ especially a band that has the connection that Diamond Head has through the songs ‘Am I Evil,’ ‘It’s Electric,’ [and] ‘Helpless,’ which immediately just take you straight to Metallica. There is an immediate link.”
The band is comfortable with its unending connection with Metallica. Despite the circumstances that held them back at their peak, Diamond Head seems to understand the rarity of their current position. Each time a Metallica fan looks closer at the liner notes of Garage Inc. to see a Diamond Head-penned tune, curiosity, and a potential fan, are born.
Where much of the band’s marquee material was nearly impossible to track down even 10 years ago, the Internet has allowed new fans to dive in to Diamond Head’s classics with ease.
“People want to see why Diamond Head [are] considered highly influential. They may want to see what all the fuss is about, and hear the songs that Metallica covered played by the band that wrote them,” Tatler said.
The band is excited for this month’s trip through the US, but they understand the challenges of a pulling off a largely do-it-yourself tour. With members aging over the half-century mark, the physical stresses of touring are only made more challenging.
Nobody understands this better than Wilcox, who suffered a health scare that shortened Diamond Head’s European tour last year.
While preparing for a show, Wilcox fell ill and was taken to the hospital. Two stomach ulcers that had been bleeding internally for several months were discovered.
Ultimately, the drummer required an emergency blood transfusion.
“I didn’t collapse on the drum stool, a la Spinal Tap, although if I hadn’t had the blood transfusion, that would have happened,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox is back at full health, but the incident was a reminder of the band’s duty to stay healthy if they plan to continue.
“The higher up the food chain you get in the realms of rock-and-roll stardom, the more personal chefs you have, the better quality food, the more rest,” Wilcox said. “But as you come down that ladder, everything starts to digress, and you need to fill your body the way an athlete would.”
Tatler, who is known for his precise, infectious guitar trickery, goes through a series of warm-up exercises before each show.
“Before I started doing [the exercises], I would often be stiff and I could not make a fist with my left hand some mornings. The exercises have allowed me to continue playing,” he said.
That’s good news for fans planning on attending Diamond Head’s show at The Forvm on April 17 at 7pm. Local support acts are The Long Cold Dark, Low Road Revival, and Seven Faces.blog comments powered by Disqus
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