Diamond Head's Brian Tatler: 10 records that changed my life

Diamond Head
(Image credit: C Brandon / Getty Images)

"I think I'm a 70s kind of guy," says Brian Tatler. "My brother was in The Beatles fan club, and he would bring home Black Sabbath albums and Led Zeppelin albums, and that's how I developed my taste."

Classic Rock is talking to the Diamond Head guitarist at the Gibson Rooms in London, where history stares down from the walls in the form of familiar, iconic guitars: Les Pauls, SGs, Flying Vs.  

Diamond Head's own history started when the band formed in Stourbridge, in the West Midlands of England, in 1976. Swept up in the NWOBHM movement in 1979 with the release of the classic Shoot Our The Lights single – followed in 1982 by their well-received debut album Borrowed Time – the band looked set for stardom but faltered after a change of direction for third album Canterbury.

It was Metallica who brought them to a wider audience, initially covering Am I Evil on their Creeping Death EP. They followed this by recording versions of Helpless, The Prince, and I'm Electric. But Tatler hasn't rested on his laurels, lying at home and waiting for the cheques to roll in. Instead, Diamond Head are very much a going concern, and the band have a new album out, The Coffin Train.  

“All along we wanted to make sure we didn’t lose sight of what we call ‘The Brief’'," says Tatler. "I would never want to deny our NWOBHM style and sound, that’s what originally got me excited and Diamond Head noticed. And I still enjoy the creative journey we go on."

Below, Brian Tatler reveals the 10 records that changed his life. The Coffin Train Is out now. 

Led Zeppelin - II

"This is the first album I ever bought, when I was 12 or 13 years old. Obviously, it had a big effect on me and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The dream was to be a musician, even at school, even if I didn't necessarily know what that was. 

"When I left school, I became a car mechanic for four years, but at the same time I'd formed Diamond Head, and we would practice the guitar every night and rehearse at my house. 

"Being a car mechanic was a means to an end in that I can earn money. I could buy equipment. I bought a Fender Strat like Ritchie Blackmore and then I bought a Flying V like Michael Schenker. 

"From brilliant riffs like Heartbreaker, Whole Lotta Love, Ramble On and The Lemon Song to the brilliant combination of blues rock dynamics and sex, Led Zeppelin II is a marvellous album for me. 

"And Jimmy Page produced it – as he produced all the Zeppelin albums – and it's very rare for a guitarist to produce every album from a successful band. What a job he did! Incredible."

Deep Purple - Machine Head

"This was the second album I ever bought, after hearing Ritchie Blackmore's solos on songs like Highway Star, Lazy and Pictures Of Home. I knew I wanted to be a lead guitarist, even though I haven't got a guitar at this point, but I could play my brother's. 

"I had that moment where I thought, 'I'm going to have to get serious here and practice the guitar if I'm going to get any good'. So Highway Star was a big track for me. I'd listen to records and slow them down, and I had a reel-to-reel. I would tape them on the reel-to-reel and keep going backwards and forwards, trying to work them out."

Black Sabbath - Master Of Reality

"The power of the riff came through to me on this album. It's another classic 70s album full of killer riffs: Children Of The Grave, Into The Void, After Forever, Sweet Leaf, Lord Of This World. I stole lots of things from Sabbath, and from this album in particular. 

"I love the way the riffs churned while Ozzy would sing a brilliant top line, and I think that was very influential to Diamond Head. I'd come up with a riff, and it would then be up to Sean [Harris, original Diamond Head singer] to sing a lyric and a top line.

"I could never work out why Sabbath sounded so much heavier than every other band, but this album was the first album recorded in dropped C sharp [an alternative guitar tuning with a heavier tone]. It's a common occurrence now, but back in 1971, it was groundbreaking so if I tried to play along with it, I couldn't. It took me years to figure that out!"

Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti

"This is, in my opinion, the greatest album of all time. It contains my favourite song of all time (Kashmir) and Led Zeppelin are my favourite band of all time. So it doesn't get much better than Physical Graffiti. I've been worshipping Kashmir for over 40 years and never get tired of it. I don't think there's a better song in the whole rock canon. 

"It's a wonderful album of many different diverse styles of music. No one seems to record albums like this anymore. People are too afraid of stepping out of their recognised style, in case they lose fans, or critics think they've lost direction. Few bands have the balls to experiment like Led Zeppelin did.

"There's such a variety of styles across their catalogue: In My Time of Dying, The Rain Song, Good Times Bad Times, Going To California, D'Yer Maker, Southbound Suarez, Black Dog, Down By The Seaside. It's almost like no two songs are alike. 

"So this was influential to Diamond Head. We thought it would be okay to experiment and try different things, like Led Zeppelin. But you do need to have a huge following, ideally, because you can lose fans. And we became a little unstuck doing this on the third Diamond Head album, Canterbury."

 Judas Priest - Sad Wings of Destiny

"This was released in 1975 on the short-lived Gull label, before they signed to CBS. I had seen Judas Priest at the Birmingham Town Hall supporting Budgie for 70p, and liked the band. So I went and bought the single The Ripper, backed with Island Of Domination. Two brilliant tracks. Both these songs blew me away, and I had to have more, so I bought Sad Wings Of Destiny and thought it was sensational. 

"It was worth buying just for Victim Of Changes, which was very influential on early Diamond Head. It's a long song, it's got dynamics, it rises and falls. So we would try and write songs a bit like Victim Of Changes from time to time. 

"A vocal masterclass from Rob Halford. I love the riffing – Island Of Domination is one of my all-time favourite riffs. And what made it even more incredible to me was that they were all from the Midlands: within touching distance! Very inspiring."

AC/DC - Let There Be Rock

"It's feral. It bristles with a raw energy that was so exciting to me at age 17. I had glimpsed them on The Old Grey Whistle Test when they performed Problem Child. I think it was a film from Australia, just that one song, and I was completely blown away. 

"So I thought okay, I have to see them live. There was a were touring not long after that, and they played a place called the Mayfair Suite in Birmingham, and I bought tickets. It was probably £1.75 or something, and they opened with Let There Be Rock and blew me away. Pinned me to the wall.

"There's 300 people in the room and sweat and snot poured off Angus as he came to the front of the stage. I was three feet away from them, and they use a much cleaner guitar sound than most other rock bands, but it's razor-sharp and it just cuts through. They leave space in their riffs for the drums and vocal and bass, and not many bands did that. I just loved the discipline of the drums and bass to play very simply.

"Malcolm was in charge of that band with an iron fist, and just said, 'this is how it's going to work. We've got the right chords. We've got the choruses. We've got a brilliant gimmick with Angus, and we just got to take it around the world.' It's a beautiful thing, AC/DC. 

"Somehow they captured that live energy on Let There Be Rock. It almost sounds like it's done live with the whole band. It's chock-full of great rock anthems: Let There Be Rock, Whole Lotta Rosie, Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be, Bad Boy Boogie, Problem Child. 

"Diamond Head were lucky enough to support AC/DC in January 1980, at the end of the Highway To Hell tour. Two amazing gigs, both sold out. We had a fantastic reception from their fans.

"We were invited to a party at Bon Scott's flat the following evening. So we got his address, and drove around London trying to find it. We couldn't find it. We thought all of AC/DC would be there as well as lots of interesting people, but we couldn't find it, so we gave up and drove home.

"A few weeks later Bon was found dead, which of course was a terrible shock to us. Diamond Head played the last ever two dates with Bon Scott. It was very weird. And you know, very sad."

Van Halen - Van Halen

"An unbelievable debut album, setting the bar for lead guitarists like me very high. I immediately tried to figure out what Eddie was doing and how he was getting that sound. Eruption was just out-of-this-world. The tapping! I've never heard anything like that. He moved rock guitar forward a few notches on from Hendrix, Blackmore and Page. 

"It's mainly one guitar, panned, with a reverb send or delay send on the opposite side, but I couldn't believe the confidence of the band, and the way Eddie would play a rhythm track but also have licks all over it. That's really hard to do. When I recorded I would put down a double-tracked rhythm guitar and then I would overdub the lead solo, but it felt like Eddie was just doing it in one take, having fun in the process, and that was just unbelievable to me. 

"I saw Van Halen give two extraordinary performances. One at the Birmingham Odeon hoping for Black Sabbath in 1978, and then at Donington Monsters of Rock in 1984. They were a great band. They gave rock a kick in the arse!" 

Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon

"This is the most perfect album ever made. It's a beautiful work of art, beginning and ending with a heartbeat, each song flowing into the next. Superbly crafted melodies and dynamics, and universal themes exploring the nature of human experience. 

"I learned to play every song on this album, and figured out all the guitar solos. It's not a direct influence on Diamond dead, just an absolute joy to experience. My favourite track is Us And Them. 

"It's the peak of the album as an art form. So even though it's my second favourite album – I'm still putting Physical Graffiti first – I'm putting this one first as the most perfect album, as a piece of music and as a as a work of art. I don't know how they did it, especially in 1973 on a 16-track. Unbelievable."

Rush - Moving Pictures

"With Moving Pictures, I think Rush reached the culmination of a work in progress from the previous six albums. It was all building up to this masterpiece. I find it a little bit English in places – Witchhunt evokes the middle ages and mob rule – and the references to an 'English rain' on Camera brings you into heart of London. All this despite YYZ being the call tone for Toronto airport. The lyrics were still highbrow, but talked to me without making me feel dumb because I hadn't studied Tolkien or 18th century poetry. 

"In Diamond Head we strived to emulate Geddy Lee's bass sound. That was always our benchmark. It's a brilliant album. I love Xanadu and Hemispheres, but this felt more concise and clean. It was just seven perfect songs, so I still love it now. The minute you hear Tom Sawyer it's instantly Rush, whether it's on a little system or a PA."

Metallica - Garage Inc.

"This album came out in 1998 and sold over five million copies. It contains four Diamond Head songs, and the royalties have changed my life a lot. I bought a house with my wife, and the constant flow of royalties mean that I no longer have to work.

"In 1998, I was visiting our drummer Karl in San Francisco, and I got a call from Lars Ulrich, who invited us to come and visit him at The Record Plant studio in Sausalito, California, where Metallica were recording Garage Inc. Lars showed us around and treated us to a playback of It's Electric, that they'd just recorded.

"Later on we drove back into San Francisco to celebrate, and l asked Lars how many copies the record would sell. And he said, 'this is probably going to sell five million copies, based on the the last few. So the beers are on you!'

"To get four songs on a Metallica album... I've been very lucky there. It's just the way it is. They did great versions of our songs. They are very tight and make it rock. They introduced Diamond Head to millions of American fans that didn't know Diamond Head, because we had never toured the US back in the day. 

"I sometimes think of some of the other NWOBHM bands that didn't get covered. It could have been Angelwitch. It could have been Tygers Of Pan Tang. I'm just very lucky."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.