The 10 best NWOBHM songs according to Diamond Head's Brian Tatler

Metallica's James Hetfield, Robert Trujillo, Diamond Head's Brian Tatler, and Kirk Hammett at Day One of the bands' 30th Anniversary shows at The Fillmore on December 5, 2011 in San Francisco
Brian Tatler with Metallica in 2011 (Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder\/WireImage)

I’m 56 now, and whom would have thought that Diamond Head would still be going strong. Not only that, but we are getting some of the best reviews of our career for our new, self titled album.

I suppose the whole NWOBHM era is now regarded as being so mythic, it’s hard to see the reality any more. But there’s no doubt it produced some fine albums and also bands.

It was a generational thing. Those of us who formed the NWOBHM bands all wanted to be the next Sabbath or Zeppelin. The 70s for me was the best time for rock music, and all of us wanted to become emulate what those giants had done. Punk also had an influence. The DIY attitude, the energy… it made us all believe we could get onstage and play. Punk proved you didn’t have to be in a massive band to play in front of an audience. It made everything in music more attainable, and gave NWOBHM its down to earth feel.

None of us could believe there was suddenly this musical movement happening. And without it, I know we’d have struggled to get noticed. I bought Sounds every week, and when Geoff Barton did a big feature on Def Leppard, that got my attention. He went to Sheffield, to see them in a working men’s club, and that made me feel we could also get somewhere. Because they were really little different to us. And when Samson also got huge coverage… well, suddenly everything came into focus. Here were young bands like us getting attention, and that was great for the rest of us.

But so many NWOBHM bands never got to make an album. They only did a single or two, and then had to give up. I know how tough it was for us. We stood by and watched everybody else getting deals, while we were ignored. For a long time, we wondered if things would ever happen for us. 

Eventually they did, but what I have tried to reflect here in my selection of songs is reflect on the fact that so many bands of that time had one great single, or song, and that shouldn’t be ignored. Because these are the bands who did so much to make NWOBHM what it was. The big bands have obviously gone on to achieve so much, but the others are a crucial part of why we remember that scene with such affection.

Def Leppard – Getcha Rocks Off (1979)

This was the title track of their first EP, which had three songs on it. In many ways, I look at this as the moment that kickstarted NWOBHM. I bought it with a yellow label, and found out later that there was also a red label version, and that was rarer. This song had a lot of energy, a great riff and a superb middle eight that sticks in your mind. I remember seeing Leppard opening for Sammy Hagar at Birmingham Odeon. It was just so refreshing to see kinds of my age on such an iconic stage. 

The Odeon was hallowed ground to us, so it gave Diamond Head hope that one day we could do the same thing. I know Joe Elliott insists now that Leppard were never part of NWOBHM. He has a point, in that technically the band were never metal. But they certainly used it to get noticed. Of course, once ‘Mutt’ Lange got involved on the production side they took off, and their career has been so much bigger than NWOBHM could ever have made them. 

But without Getcha Rocks Off, things could have been different. It got them some radio airplay and that helped them so much, and helped the rest of us.

Saxon – Motorcycle Man (1980)

I could have chosen any track from the Wheels Of Steel album. There are just so many cool ones on this record. The title track, for instance, is really strong. But I do love Motorcycle Man. Biff’s vocals comes through so well here; he has one of the best voices in rock, as far as I am concerned. It suits what Saxon do so well, and the power and riffing here is also irresistible. 

To me, this is classic NWOBHM. I saw Saxon play live a couple of times, and they always impressed. I love the fact that they have ploughed on though the years, and are still going today. Like us, they are proper, hardworking, no nonsense band, and they had all their success in the early days despite being on a small label. Saxon were signed to Carrere, who weren’t a major company. They didn’t have a giant organisation behind them, but it didn’t matter. They still had a lot of success, and still do.

Iron Maiden – Phantom Of The Opera (1980)

You can never underestimate how important Maiden were to NWOBHM. This was on their debut, self-titled album, with Paul Di’Anno on vocals. I saw them times with him fronting the band. And we even opened up for them at The Lyceum Ballroom in London during 1980. That was an important moment for Diamond Head, because Geoff Barton came backstage and did a big interview with us for Sounds. It was a turning point for the band. 

What I love about Phantom Of The Opera is that it is just so original, and sounds like nothing else around at the time. Naturally, they have set the standard by which everyone else in NWOBHM is judged. Everything about the band is of the highest calibre. The meticulous way they control all aspects of their career has been a lesson for us all. We all look up t them, and their record sales have become just so big. But I still return to this song as one I do love. It shows what this band were capable of delivering.

Blitzkrieg – Blitzkrieg (1981)

What a great track. It has an interesting timing and a superb riff. Of course, Metallica covered it, but even without this, I reckon Blitzkrieg would still be regarded as a NWOBHM classic. It is just so anthemic. We have played them a few times, and they are a nice bunch of guys. I think these days, only singer Brian Ross is left from when this was recorded. 

Blitzkrieg are one of those NWOBHM bands I mentioned earlier who are known for just one song. That’s a shame, because there are other good ones in their catalogue, but that’s the way these things go sometimes. It’s rather like Europe and The Final Countdown, in that everyone who goes to see Blitzkrieg waits for the moment when this is played. And where do they put it in the set? Surely, it has to be the last one they do every night!

Fist – Name, Rank & Serial Number (1980)

I always liked this single. I think it was Sean Harris (Diamond Head vocalist) who bought this when it came out. We always liked to check out what the competition were up to. Usually, we’d sit there and play a record from any other NWOBHM act and slag it off! But this one, we really enjoyed. I listened to it again very recently, and it still sounds very good. They are still going, aren’t they? Good for them! This is the sort of song Metallica might have once covered. 

I suppose it’s part of a long list of NWOBHM tracks they could have done. And that might have made them more well known, giving this song the attention it deserves. I suppose it must annoy some bands that we had four songs covered by Metallica, and they had none. Not that I’m saying Fist think in that way, but you can understand why it would irritate some musicians. But that was a lucky break for us. 

Fist were on Neat Records, a small label in the North East of England, and the fact they were not with a bigger company might have hurt them. But it’s a fine song, worth anyone checking out.

Marseille – Armed And Ready (1979)

You know, for a long time I thought they were a French band! Well, that’s what the name suggested anyway. But I always thought NWOBHM wasn’t just about British bands of the time, but had a more global appeal. There were NWOBHM-style bands all over the world. And Marseille proved it had infiltrated into France. 

Well, I now know they were British, but this is still a fine song. It’s from their second, self-titled album, and is a beautifully constructed rock song, with a lovely dynamic. It also has some unexpected twists in the arrangement. This is the slowest song of my selection, but works because it is so well paced. I recall seeing this lot play live once, opening in Birmingham. 

The guitarist (Neil Buchanan from TV’s Art Attack ) ran to the front of the stage in the first song, but his lead was too short, and he pulled the amp off the top of his Marshall stack and is crashed to the floor, smashing! What a thing to happen at the beginning of your set!

Deep Switch – Pigfeeder! (1986)

Now, this is where things might get a little contentious. Are Deep Switch a NWOBHM band? This came out in 1986, and I suppose the argument would be that NWOBHM really ran from 1979 to about 1983 or 84, and no later. But I would say this still fits into that category. Musically, it has so much in common with what happened earlier in the decade. 

I recall taping this off The Friday Rock Show on Radio 1, when Tommy Vance played it. My mates and I loved it so much we learnt all the lyrics, and had a lot of fun quoting words from it at each other. It’s very OTT. There’s a mad reverb snare drum sound, which was typical of production at the time. A very distorted guitar sound. And the vocals are crazy. Everything bar the kitchen sink has been thrown in here, and it works. This was from the band’s debut album, Nine Inches Of God, and is definitely worth a listen.”

Sweet Savage – Eye Of The Storm (1981)

This was the Irish band who included Vivian Campbell, who went on to join Dio, and is now with Def Leppard. I first heard this on the compilation New Wave Of British Heavy Metal ‘79 Revisited, which was compiled in 1990 by Lars Ulrich and Geoff Barton. And I liked the sound of this song. Diamond Head had two songs on this album, It’s Electric and Helpless

I recall Lars phoning me, because he wanted to get the master tapes for our tracks. But our manager had sent them to a German label called Wolf Records, and we had no back up tape, and didn’t know how to get back the tape from that label. Typical of Lars, though, he called his label Phonogram in Germany and got them to send someone round to the guy who owned Wolf and get the tape back! I now have it safe and sound, thanks to Lars. I do know that some of the tracks on the compilation had to be mastered from vinyl copies that Lars had of the originals, because they couldn’t find the master tapes for them. I’m not sure if the Sweet Savage track was one of these. It might have been. 

Lars had such a huge NWOBHM collection, and one time when he stayed with him, he went out and bought 50 records from Bullet Records, who were a big distributor at the time. Bands like Sweet Savage owe a lot to Lars, because he kept their names alive.

Jameson Raid – Seven Days Of Splendour (1979)

Jameson Raid were a Birmingham band who started just before we did. So, we went to see them play live a few times, because here was a proper band at a time when we were still messing around with forming a band in the bedroom. I know they were a really good live band, and we used to look up to them, because they were so obviously more professional than we were at the time. 

I recall seeing them opening for John Miles, and liking this song. It was the title track of their first EP, and had something really cool about it. This was a band who should have gotten a lot further than they ever did.

Satan – Trial By Fire (1983)

This is from the band’s first album, Court In The Act, and is a classic NWOBHM style song. I remember this came out around the same time as Metallica released Kill ‘Em All. If you listen to these two albums back to back, then you’ll find there are strong similarities in what they were both doing. 

I suppose you could say that what Metallica did was take the style Satan had on this song and took it to America, and the rest is history. Not that Metallica at all ripped off Satan, but there is a musical connection between the albums. This is a brilliant song, and shows why the band are so highly regarded.