July 1981, and Diamond Head – the perennially underachieving kings of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) – have just played a routine gig at south London’s Woolwich Odeon.
A 17-year-old Danish-American kid muscles his way backstage and explains that he has saved up years of pocket money to fly halfway around the world to see his favourite band, one that he’d followed in California through airmail copies of the British music weekly, Sounds.
“We were impressed that he’d come so far,” says Diamond Head guitarist Brian Tatler, in his doleful Brummie tones. “And rather shocked that he didn’t have anywhere to stay. He ended up kipping on my floor in Stourbridge for a week, in me brother’s old sleeping bag, and then spent a month with the singer, Sean. He was a lovely kid, bursting with enthusiasm, freaking out and playing air drums while me and Sean wrote songs together”.
That kid, of course, was Lars Ulrich, and a few months later he was back in California leading a Diamond Head covers band called Metallica, who by the end of the decade would be one of the biggest rock bands on earth.
For Lars and thousands like him, The Head seemed to have it all. They had a good-looking lead singer – cocky Steve Tyler look-alike Sean Harris – and they wrote ten-minute rock anthems that welded together hook-laden punk energy, prog precision and metal abandon.
Unfortunately, an almost comical run of bad luck put paid to these ambitions . . .
Diamond Head sent the master tapes for their first album to a German label, which promptly lost them. It took them years to get a deal with MCA, and when they did around 20,000 copies of their ‘difficult’ third album were rendered unlistenable by a pressing fault. They were offered representation by the mighty Q-Prime Management, but they turned it down to be managed by the singer’s mum.
They supported AC/DC on tour in January 1980 and were declared “facking great” by frontman Bon Scott, but when he invited them as special guests for his end-of-tour party the next day, they got lost.
“We didn’t have an A-to-Z,” says Tatler. “We couldn’t find this house he was staying in. So it was back up the M1 to Birmingham for a bottle of cider and a game of Monopoly. Bit of a shame that we missed that party because Bon died a week later . . .”
More than any other band, Diamond Head seem to sum up the pulse-quickening excitement, brilliance, bathos and idiocy of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.
The band’s first new studio recording in 12 years, All Will Be Revealed (2005), featured 12 new songs with new vocalist, Nick Tart. The album followed their first European tour in 20 years (supporting Megadeth).