The Coffin Train rides into town. Interview with Diamond Head.

Interview by Adrian Hextall

With the success of the eponymous titled album firmly bringing NWoBHM stalwarts Diamond Head back into the public view, the follow up, the wonderfully titled Coffin Train gave us the opportunity to speak to guitarist Brian Tatler and singer Rasmus Bom Andersen and how the band are finally getting the recognition and their time in the spotlight that’s been die to them for over almost four decades.

MGM: Excellent. Thank you very much. It’s good to talk to you again. It’s been a couple of years, of course, since the last album. And of course, in that time, the generation of a new album. What a fantastic title. Please tell me the meaning behind it.

BT: I’m gonna let Ras do that.

RBA: OK, so the meaning behind the album. The title The Coffin Train came from an image that, in itself, derived from a dream or nightmare that I had, which was sort of a dystopian dream of– imagined this train that’s sort of an old steam train with carriages as coffins, and body parts flying out and sort of racing away from the background and horizon. It’s like a nuclear mushroom cloud, and it’s sort of a very dystopian end of the world kind of thing. I guess it was sort of my subconscious talks to me about how I feel about the current state of the world.

BT: Yeah. We had a bunch of titles and we whittled it down to the titles on the album, the 10 song titles. We just thought The Coffin Train was a really strong image and we go, “Well, that’s going to work as an album cover.” We do have a train on it. We made a few ideas and sketches and it developed from there. It was just the best title.

MGM: You couldn’t have picked a better hard rock or metal album title if you tried, could you?

BT: Thank you very much.

RBA: And the award for best metal name goes to? [laughing]

MGM: Exactly, exactly. But if nothing else, it draws everybody in straight from the off, doesn’t it? You don’t even have to know what the music sounds like or who the band is. It’s like, “Hang on a minute. What a cracking name for an album. I need to investigate this.” So it does the initial step of making you pay attention.

BT: Yeah, it is a great title and people like trains, and it’s a great cover. People are going to get it. I think that The Coffin Train– I think we both do, we both think The Coffin Train, the track, is the best track on the album. It all works perfectly. Funnily enough, the name Diamond Head comes from an old album back in 1975 by Phil Manzanera, and that album cover had a train on it. I feel it’s almost gone full circle. Our new album’s got a train on it, as well. It’s weird.

RBA: Yeah, very freaky.

MGM: If you think back to some of the classic rock bands over the last few years that have done it– I mean, when AC/DC toured with Black Ice, the whole centerpiece of their stage set was the big locomotive coming through the middle of the stage

BT: That’s true. The single Rock ‘n’ Roll Train.

MGM: That’s it. And of course, Van Halen’s new, as we’ll call it, album when they reformed with David Lee Roth, that had a big train on the cover of that, as well. So yeah, you’re hitting the theme, and picking up with all the classics here, so it works perfectly.

BT: So we’re gonna have to get a train for the stage setup now. [RBA: Yeah] A giant steam train.

MGM: No pressure. At all. [laughs]

BT: We’ll try and make one with our equipment in the garage.

RBA: I’ve got some cardboard. [laughing]

MGM: Now, of course, this album and also the self titled one, Rasmus, that you sang on last time, as well; both of them or in fact, everything the band is doing now, has triggered a bit of a resurgence. Your name is out there now, it pops out. We see you at more and more festivals every year. Looking at your touring schedule for this year, the Saxon shows aside, the majority of them are festival appearances. So you’re clearly in everybody’s eye line again.

RBA: Yeah, we’re sort of– I mean, I don’t think that’s down to me. I think it’s just that the band has done really well with the last record and it got received really well by the fans, and we’re hoping that we get the same reaction with this one. I mean, we are doing a lot of festivals, that’s all been put in the diary. But we are, as far as I know, looking at touring aside from that, and we’re just seeing what happens and how it all comes together right, we’re sort of waiting for it.

BT: There’s a lot of metal festivals around now all across Europe, and so we have to go out and play festivals, meet new people, play in front of new people. So, it seems the perfect time, with the album coming out the end of May. You’ve got the whole of this summer. We do what we can to get ourselves out there.

MGM: And some really big named festivals on your list, as well. You’re in France at Hellfest. You’ll be playing to tens of thousands of people there.

BT: Yeah, that’s a huge one. We’ve never done Hellfest before. We’ve been trying for years to be on there. We still want to do Wacken again. Diamond Head did Wacken in 2003 and we haven’t been back since. Hopefully, it will all start coming in our favor as soon as possible.

MGM: Well, if this album’s as well received as the last one was, and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be, then of course, you start to gather momentum then, don’t you? And more and more promoters, and more and more festival organizers start to sit up and take notice again.

BT: Yes, that’s definitely true. You appear on people’s radar and they start thinking, “Well, what about Diamond Head? We should put Diamond Head in.” I think that’s how it will work.

RBA: Yeah, that be lovely.

BT: Yeah. We’ve done a few huge stages and we always feel a little bit of pressure, but it always feels right and pretty comfortable. We did Rock Hard, and we did Bloodstock and Rocklahoma. We’ve done some big ones in the past couple of years.

RBA: Psycho, Las Vegas.

MGM: I would imagine the Bloodstock reception for you guys was through the roof because it’s exactly the right fit, isn’t it?

BT: Yes. It was fabulous. Yeah. 2016, it was a big crowd and it was great.

MGM: You came on stage there just as Twisted Sister finished, I believe, didn’t you?

BT: That’s right. They were on the main stage and we were on the Sophie Lancaster stage.

MGM: You’d got the right crowd there that day. It was a perfect fit. All those classic rock fans that have come to see Twisted Sister do their farewell set, and then they get the added bonus of you that as they go off stage, you guys just kick in.

BT: Yeah, that was perfect.

MGM: Now with the last album, before we do look at the new one, you had some real stompers of tracks on there that kick-started things. You even open the shows, I believe, with Bones when you were out on tour. You’ve got Shout at the Devil and Set My Soul on Fire. what can we expect from the new one? What can people really latch on to, do you think, in the same way?

BT: We’re hoping to open the set with Belly of the Beast. We think that will be a strong song. [RBA: Vocally, it’s gonna be–] Ras is wincing in the corner.

RBA: No, I suggested it so it’s fine. It’s my own fault.

BT: I think that’ll work. It’s a fast song. It harks back to the classic past songs of Diamond Head in the past. Helpless, Streets of Gold, The Prince. That’ll work well live. I would imagine The Messenger will work well live. There’s probably a few. We haven’t done any of them live yet because the album’s not out, and we wanted to wait till people could hear it. We’ll start rehearsing and get those up and running soon. I’m sure it’ll be great. Several songs up to the last album worked really well live, especially Bones.

RBA: Diamonds?

BT: Diamonds, yeah, that goes down well live. So, hopefully, they’ll dig the new album too.

MGM: So the guys at Hellfest, presumably, could well be the first audience to get to hear some of the new material?

RBA: That’s very correct, yeah. We definitely have to have a proper rehearsal before we get to the first show of the year, which is Hellfest. Bit of a big show to kick off the touring of the year. But we’re hoping to play some of the new tracks there. Hopefully, it’s going to kick off.

BT: Yeah, that should be good. I mean, at festivals, you do have to do the hits a little bit, but I think we’ve got an hour spot, so we will be able to slide some new material in.

MGM: Nice. And that’s a decent length slot for a festival bill, isn’t it, to get an hour on stage?

BT: It’s the way it is, isn’t it? We’ve done 30 minutes. Rocklahoma is 30 minutes. So we went all the way to America to play for 30 minutes. It’s the way it is.

MGM: Good grief. And on some of the longest songs that you’ve got as well, that must narrow your set list down to five, maybe six songs if you’re lucky.

RBA: We’ve had to rearrange material to make it work.

BT: Yeah. Sometimes, we even edit down a little bit. On Helpless, we chopped the middle section out, just so that the fans get to to hear the sound that they want. But we, unfortunately, can’t do all of it.

MGM: No, I can understand that. And of course for you guys, you look at those 30-minute slots, presumably, there’s got to be a bit of a sigh where you go, “Oh, God, we’re going to have to play that one as well.” And of course, that automatically shaves six or seven minutes off the end straight away.

BT: Yes, it does happen. We can do a tight truncated set. We can do an hour, an hour and a half or 30 minutes, we’ll just work on it. It’ll be fine.

RBA: It is strange. I think people do feel– like in Rocklahoma, we’re sort of restricted to– I think we played five or six songs because that’s all we can fit into a time slot on that limitation. But then you kind of go, “Wait, that’s it?” “Yep, that’s half an hour.” There you go.

BT: Leave them wanting more.

MGM: And Rasmus, presumably, you’ve got no time for any real decent banter with the crowd, either, because the band are looking at you, “come on next, next, next.”

RB: Yeah, I don’t often get a little time to chat with the crowd. But that’s okay. It’s more about the music anyways. I usually keep it relatively timed, unless there is something where I need to talk. I don’t mind either way. We do have a– I devised a little sort of speech that I always do at the end before Am I Evil, where we’re recruiting for Diamond Head Army or Legion of Evil. And they always tend to dig that. So that goes down well. But yeah, on these short ones, I don’t have much time.

BT: And no drum solos. [laughs]

MGM: There is never an excuse for drum solos, but that’s just my view. Yes. [laughs]

BT: Yes, you said it.

MGM: Over the last few years you’ve had more control over the budget and what the band does in terms of pretty much running the show. Presumably, these festivals and whatever else you’re getting booked on to these days, it’s that element of control that allows you to say yes or no, and what works and which ones you do actually end up going out to?

BT: Yes, of course. I mean, there’ll be a financial consideration, “can we afford to do it? How do we get there and back?” There’s all kinds of little things involved. Our drummer Karl does a lot of the background working logistics, “do we need to book a ferry? Do we need to book a plane, hotels, van?” Getting equipment there, what we’re going to use. The hired back line that the festivals provide, then just take guitars. There’s all kinds of little things going on that needs sorting, but we’re pretty good at doing that ourselves. We’ve been doing it a long time. We’ve got a pretty smooth operation now.

RBA: And very few things will faze us, we’ll find a solution. And if we can, we will go and play. We really enjoy going to countries and places that we’ve not been to before. I mean, last year also we went to Crete. [BT: Slovenia.] Yeah, we did Austria, we did all sorts of places. And it’s fascinating to go to new cities and new countries that we’ve not managed to visit in the past.

MGM: Does it feel like a real new lease of life for the band?

BT: It is a little bit. Somebody said it was a bit of a rebirth. And Ras coming in has brought on a new energy to it, a new drive. And we’re enjoying having– this is our second album with Ras and it just seems to be moving forward into a nice pace. We’ve got this new label involved now, really, really good, called Silver Linings. And we’ve just got management, with Siren management. Diamond Head lacked management. We never really had professional management. So, I’m expecting good things. It’s already going really well, and it can only get better!

Diamond Head will be touring Europe for most of 2019 and are confirmed on the line-up of two very special UK shows with NWOBHM giants, SAXON, which will take place on October 19th at London’s iconic Hammersmith and October 20th at the O2 Apollo in Manchester. 

21st June – Hellfest, France
25 –28th July – Camp Bestival, UK

25–27th July – Rock & Blues Festival, UK 

24th August – Stonedeaf Festival, UK

19th October – Hammersmith Apollo, UK*

20th October – O2 Apollo Manchester, UK*

7-10th November – Hard Rock Hell Festival, Great Yarmouth, UK

29th November – Winter Storm, Scotland, UK

* Supporting Saxon

Diamond Head are:

Brian Tatler – lead & rhythm guitars,

Rasmus Bom Andersen – vocals,

Karl Wilcox – drums,

Andy “Abbz” Abberley – rhythm & lead guitars,

Dean Ashton – bass guitar, backing vocals

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