Hoping to prove the sixth time’s a charm, Diamond Head was among a number of veteran British Metal bands to make the rare trip to perform in the states for the annual Heavy Metal Meltdown weekend show in Asbury Park last month. While “sixth time” may seem exaggerated, maybe third or fourth puts it better, the fact is Diamond Head is another of the previous NWOBHM greats known more for their inconsistency, not to mention a “Metallica” connection than for their early, if fleeting, contributions to the scene. For reasons, well-documented among anyone who’d been there since the beginning, talented upstarts with genuine skill and style broke with a bang and broke-up with a whimper managing to live on, if barely, through the nostalgia struck passions of fans and traditionalist record collectors. So Diamond Head dropped from sight. returned, departed, and basically continued an on/off process that would continue to stunt their growth and dog their progress as a band where two or three times over, even fans amped for a reunion must’ve seen enough. From the period covering 1993 until 2000, indeed no one would see anything of Diamond Head. struck down with only a sad legacy of split-ups, what-ifs, and rusty-reels worth of unfulfilled potential left behind. Diamond Head’s resurfacing occurred innocently enough as had their past reformations. A few of the members got to talking and decided this time would be better than last time. When I set down to write this interview, even back when I first recorded it, I was caught between. On the one hand, I can’t call myself the ardent fan from way back who can reel off one tune after another from one of my dusty twenty year old LPs. In fact, I’d suspect many, particularly American fans, are coming from the same angle-not that the record companies have made it any easier by any stretch. I knew no more of Diamond Head than what I’d actually first heard of “Am I Evil,” and “Helpless.” from earlier records. Metallica’s! But lack of knowledge notwithstanding, after seeing the band live one night earlier, closing the Friday evening set as headliners following fellow odds-beaters Saxon, I was impressed and intrigued to know more.
And it is with that approach that enthused me to move forward. an approach to uncover a rare gem that long ago lost its luster but still maintained the vision to revise a left for dead legacy. So what’s to stop a basically old band from repackaging and representing themselves as something new? Granted, they’ll give ’em what they came for and then some-nobody left the performance disappointed-cutting through their biggest hits like the aforementioned “Helpless,” and “Am I Evil.” “It’s Electric,” and “The Prince.” And I suspect a band as talented and vibrant as theirs can go much farther than even they might’ve projected when they first got together with a couple of stools and acoustics. Only time will tell but the time is right for a new approach and Diamond Head can go as far as their individual members are willing to take it. Singer Sean Harris, an extroverted personality to say the least, and I, sat for nearly an hour, worth mentioning if you happened to catch him on stage a night earlier, to discuss the band’s latest bout with Rock and Roll reform.
Vinnie: Well it seems like I’ve been saying this a lot lately. like three times now in the last two hours! But welcome to the states and how does it feel a day after your closing the first night’s set?
Sean: Great to be here. The promoters actually kept hounding me about playing this fest the last few years but I had to keep turning it down cause we really didn’t have a band together. Back in ’93 we split up again. hit the self-destruct button. But just recently we started over again with a new guitarist and playing acoustic sets. So as a three-piece, we’d spent the last eighteen months doing acoustic shows around the UK and just before Christmas we were asked again to play the Meltdown. I spoke to everybody and we found a new bass player and since we were already playing, it was just a matter of plugging in and just doing it!
V: So this wasn’t just some quick one-off appearance then, you’d already had designs on performing again and doing something more.
S: Right and we were very happy with doing the acoustic stuff back home. We think we’ve still got the power even with an acoustic set and everyone enjoys it, but obviously electric’s a nice change.
V: And of course allows you to cut loose a little bit and get back to your roots.
S: Allows me to go a bit nuts. which I like doing.
V: So that was you up there jumping around like a lunatic. for a second I was thinking Axl Rose was in the building!
S: (Laughs) Yes, there’s a certain mobility you’re afforded under these conditions!
V: Let’s see, so with Diamond Head it’s been pretty regularly on again, off again throughout your career and so it’s not like you haven’t had to field the “Where did it all begin” question each successive regrouping. but maybe for people who think many of the NWOBHM bands began and ended in the early 1980s, let’s take up from the beginning.
S: We formed in 1976. When Brian (Tatler – Guitarist) and I were still at school-at fifteen. you know we’re just coming off the 25th anniversary of our formation that we started last June. So our getting together is part of a continuation of that too. We were inspired by the classic British bands like Free, Deep Purple, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Priest. and at the time Punk Rock was just beginning to happen, around ’76 or ’77, and that was basically the catalyst for us. Punk Rock just said, “Hey, you don’t gotta be great players. You can just make any old racket,” or rather, you can ‘aspire’ to be great. We started off writing our own originals, spent three years writing and had just enough songs to do a show. and so the songs like “Am I Evil,” “Helpless,” and “It’s Electric” sort of came together over that period around 1980.
V: Which would ultimately set the stage for your first “Lightning To The Nations” classic.
S: Right our “white” cover album which we put out ourselves. it didn’t have the title at first cause we couldn’t afford a cover! People like Lars Ulrich got a hold of one and came to England to see us and obviously the rest of that is history. in that context. MCA picked us up in ’81 and we did the “Borrowed Time” album and tour but I don’t think MCA had a lot of clout at the time and we were basically stuck as far as where we could go. So we ended up making another record, the “Canterbury” record in ’83. But soon after we basically just split the band up. We’d been working non-stop for nine years and we’d had problems with the bassist and drummer. In ’84 we did do a few bits and bobs in Europe with a different lineup but by ’85 we were totally finished. we just sort of evaporated.
V: The story’s the same just the names have changed. as cliché as that sounds. But it’s really unfortunate that so many good bands had to shut it down, not for lack of quality music but more so the opportunity. But typically, you were to be heard from again a while later.
S: We all did our own various projects for a while and they eventually folded. So around 1990, Brian and I started talking again and I mean, it was our baby and we were very hurt when it broke up cause we really didn’t have a fair crack at it and to control what happened. So we got back together, made some more demos, which would become the “Death And Progress” album. We got a band together, did a few tours, had a great time. then sort of imploded again after the Milton Keynes concert.
V: What about the Milton Keynes concert?
S: It was an outdoor show in a town just outside of London that we actually played with Metallica in 1993. we played with them and Megadeth, it was a great gig. So we came out and opened with “Am I Evil,” which at that time I think the Metallica fans thought we were covering their song! (Laughs) It was very bizarre. Me: Of course now everyone knows better.
I don’t know if it’s related to history or if Metallica’s less cool now. but it does seem people realize we wrote the song now! (Laughs) But at the end of the concert, we had a new album ready and again the band imploded on itself! Egos and various differences this time played a role. We really thought we were ready to rock but unfortunately we weren’t. So we disappeared again for quite a few years and then we started up with the acoustic thing in 2000 and so here we are.
V: Nothing happening in the period leading up to your 2000 reunion?
S: Well I’d done this album called “Live In The Heat Of The Night,” which was basically off a video bootleg. Our manager, who was a friend of mine and a fan, thought we might be able to promote it by doing a couple of acoustic tunes and so we got together again with Brian and it all really sounded quite good. It was funny to think about originally because when you find out a band like Diamond Head are playing an acoustic show, fans might think, “Oh no, not that,” and won’t really get it. But when they’d come to see us they realize the power’s still there. For me personally as a singer, it really allows you to get your voice across.
V: So why could it work this time where it never could before?
S: We’ve matured. I think a lot of the ’80s bands-bands even that we evolved from, were inclined to aspire to carry on the tradition of the great Rock bands. And we do it for the right reasons. We’ve never been in it for the money or fame but because we loved what we’d seen before and we think we can still carry on that tradition.
V: Well especially since so many bands can’t or won’t.
S: I think that’s maybe why we keep coming back to it. It’s in your heart, deep down, and I still don’t think we’ve hit on our full potential yet.
V: Brian and yourself are the original members left at this point?
S: That’s right, yeah.
V: What of the rest of the originals, been out of touch for a while?
S: None of them were interested anymore. They’ve moved onto have a normal life with wives and children. and just basically retired from it.
V: I understand you reach a certain point where you have to grow up and play the adult role, but wouldn’t there always be a place in your life for music? You spend so much time and come so close, you know. and nobody’s saying spend ten months of the year on the road and break up the family. But to create music and connect with fans.
S: Absolutely. I can’t understand why. I mean who wouldn’t want to play a bit of Rock and Roll even if it’s only on the weekends!
V: After viewing your performance last night, it was evident the enthusiasm’s still there and I’ve got to admit to being unexpectedly surprised. There was a definite buzz in the crowd afterwards as well. If I were a gambler, I’d bet on you making a successful comeback on an even grander scale just on your songwriting potential alone. just have to keep it together long enough.
S: And we actually do have a new song which we play in our usual sets but couldn’t last night because of a lack of time. We’ve got songs left over from different points of progress from ones that go way back. so yes, songwriting’s definitely not a problem, but it’s just focusing ourselves and optimizing the focus of those songs and the direction of the band. At the moment we’re trying to just pull ourselves together as a unit and go out and play live. Now our proper show is about 90 minutes long and we do everything we think everyone wants to hear and that’s what we’d like to do here in America really. You just saw an advertisement for the full show last night, realistically. But at this point, we’re still trying to decide between playing live and doing an album.
V: And there’s nothing wrong with just doing an “advertisement” like last night. It allows fans and maybe prospective ones to see that you’re back as a unit again and there’ll be a renewed interest for when you do release a record or return to tour.
S: I think we’re all mature enough to know that you can’t politicize it. The band is sacred. We’re no scapegoats in this band. We’re going to take care of ourselves and we think we’ve got a future in this business and all we gotta do now is just get with it. get out there and play.
V: The whole idea of “everything old is new again” I think works particularly well for you guys because of being such an obscurity. especially in America where fans are finally catching up. Sure Diamond Head’s got that Metallica connection but I look out on that stage and I’m seeing this real Rock band that ‘s got the moves to go with the music. Hell maybe it’s better for people to think you are covering Metallica’s tunes, they’re not doing anything, let them be the old farts.
S: (Laughs) And I think we’re one of the few bands from that era that can actually still be new. We’ve still got great records in us; great songs; and a great new band together just waiting to explode on the world. I think we can do it just like we always intended to.
V: And you’ve got that great showmanship quality that all the great classic bands had, like a Zeppelin or G ‘n R where there’s something for the viewer to focus on while their listening to the songs. That stood out to me more than anything else, not like some geezers going through the motions with their heads down. But you mentioned earlier that you might either continue touring or work on another record. In the meantime where would people go to find material for Diamond Head?
S: Hard to get a hold of our past catalog cause most of ’em have been deleted. You can’t find the “Canterbury” album anywhere, which was the last MCA record. And I don’t think “Borrowed Time” has ever been out. or you can only get it on vinyl. Sanctuary did just reissue the original white cover album. the “Lightning” album with all the B-sides from the singles and stuff from the early days. They’ve also done the “Death And Progress” record, which was our last studio album in ’93, as well as “Live Evil” from the Milton Keynes concert. So Sanctuary did acquire the rights and recently reissued them last year.
V: But nothing yet on the couple in between?
S: Well MCA and Universal back in England were talking about reissuing “Canterbury” and “Borrowed Time,” so we’ll see. It would be great to see the proper release of all five of our official albums. I think they’ve needed a reason and now with us being around and doing something again.
V: So I’ve commented on your stage presence from earlier and I think that’s something many in the audience could connect with. you simply don’t seem like a “veteran” type band. I think that enthusiasm can only help going forward. there you are doing your Jagger bit and then the band cutting through these easy to follow songs that have their own personality.
S: We like to span the gamut of all the emotions of Rock music from Heavy Metal all the way across to AOR, and Blues. there’s even a bit of R&B in the grooves if you really look down deep. As a vocalist, I can aspire to do it all and make sure the band just goes with me. Our inspirations starting out, like Led Zeppelin, we thought they were quite wide ranging in what they tried to do. So we try to be flexible but also able to be modern without plagiarizing or parodying people. just basically being ourselves.
V: And because the release of Diamond Head music has been such a rarity over the years and maybe the touring limitations, it’s not like you’ve got to reinvent yourselves to compete with anyone, but do what you’ve done all along and draw from your own strengths.
S: That’s what we’ve tried to do. On our newer track from “Death And Progress,” called “Wild In The Streets,” we tried to update that… you know we’ve grown and we’re ambitious-we’re not still living in the 1980s. As it is originally on the album it’s slightly different from the way we played it live. I was inspired by the way Alice Cooper came off with his “Brutal Planet” album. I’d like to take that edge he’s managed to give to the band and build on that whole sort of edginess and dark aura. So we try to make things exciting within the band-obviously if we were to rerecord an old record it wouldn’t sound exactly the same now as it did then, so we want to keep things fresh and moving forward. The audience is still a modern audience and you can be contemporary without sacrificing the traditions you first began with.
V: And now to wind down with some quick and useless quips that might be of some use to someone somewhere.
S: Shaun on the Internet: “The great liberator.”
Favorite food: Reeses Peanut Butter Cups
Vocal inspiration: Nobody can really compete with Paul Rodgers’ early years.
Fans can get up to date with everything going on with the band by checking out their website:
*Lightning To The Nations / The White LP – 1980
*Borrowed Time – 1982
*Canterbury – 1983
Am I Evil – 1987
*Death And Progress – 1993
*Evil Live – 1994
Behold The Beginning – 1991
Singles – 1992
The Friday Rock Show Sessions / Live At Reading – 1992
To Heaven From Hell – 1997
Lightning To The Nations (Reissue) – 1997
The Best Of Diamond Head – 1999
Live: In The Heat Of The Night – 2000
(*) Indicates Official Release