Diamonds are forever!

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER! by CHRIS WELCH | Melody Maker 29.1.1977.

A MAJOR new British rock band is launched this week, featuring David Byron, the lead singer sacked last year from Uriah Heep. Joining Byron in the venture is top lead guitarist Clem Clempson, late of Humble Pie, and ex-Wings drummer Geoff Britton. Details of the new band are exclusively revealed to the MM today in the first interview with Rough Diamond, as Clempson, Byron and Britton talk about the set-backs which have dogged their careers.

The band’s first album, “Rough Diamond,” on Island Records is scheduled for release in Europe on March 21, followed by release in Britain, America and the rest of the world on April 2.

The group, which also includes keyboard player Damon Butcher and bass guitarist Willie Bath, begins a headline tour of Scandinavia on April 15, and makes its British debut in May, followed by a tour of America.

One of the most exciting aspects of the band is the emergence of Byron as a gifted vocalist who shows much greater sophistication and style than was evident from his work with Uriah Heep. And Clem Clempson has at last blossomed as a major lead guitarist after his long apprenticeship.

Rough Diamond — a real gem

WHAT threatens to be one of the most exciting new bands launched in a long while has finally gone through the gestation period and is about to enter the cruel battleground of rock in search of fame, money, and ears.

Rough Diamond is an extraordinary group and yet typical of the times. The members are hardened professionals who have known all manner of upset, disappointment and even despair that the music business can bring in its wake.

And while perhaps aware a “loser” tag might be attached to them by equally hardened and cynical observers, they have such a strength of commitment that they will rise above the tide of sewage and appeal directly to a potentially vast audience. The constituents of this battle-scarred brotherhood are David Byron, sacked from Uriah Heep; Geoff Britton, dropped from Wings; and Clem Clempson, at whose feet Humble Pie collapsed.

As Byron raged at what he thought were ineptitudes of Heep, Geoff was suffering a mental wipe-out, resulting from the loss of status in an internationally-celebrated group, and the break-up of his marriage. Clem Clempson broke a wrist. Not much fun for a lead guitarist attempting to extricate himself from the demise of Pie and form another group, the shortest lived on record, Strange Brew.

But the three musicians found in each other not just a catalogue of woes but a sense of freedom and release from the constraints of many years. Equal partners, they could communicate with each other and be inspired by the new injection of life into their various performances. As they got together during 1976, they drew in old friends Willie Bath on bass guitar and Damon Butcher on keyboards, good musicians, eager to play.

With the help of manager Stephen Barnett, and co-producer Steve Smith, they began work on a debut album for Island Records, and the results will fend off the cynics and convince fans of the merits of good, uncomplicated British rock.

David, Clem and Geoff met up at Island’s office last week for a mixing session and to talk to the MM about their aspirations and musical objectives. From the evidence of the early mixes, their music is no way a rehash of either Heep or Pie, but has a combination of intelligence and emotional drive that is satisfying indeed.

The biggest surprise of the whole venture is the emergence of David Byron as a singer of real quality and character. I had thought of him as the archetypal mindless screamer of the heavy-metal mob, a vocalist without taste, concerned only with fraudulent effects. But on such songs as “Rock And Roll” and “Lock & Key” from their first album, he locks into easy loping, but exciting, tempos, his voice rich and authoritative.

Rough Diamond: Clem Clempson, David Byron, Willie Bath, Damon Butcher, Geoff Britton

About the fastest the band get is on a piece called “Looking For You,” has strong country overtones, while on the bluesy “Scared” he gets into a dirty blues that will set head-shakers bopping in the front rows of the world’s rock venues.

Rough Diamond, in fact, are far from rough. They even tackle a ballad with “Sea Song,” where Byron’s contribution features some of the finest singing I’ve heard in a long time. Here too, Clem Clempson plays with immense fluidity and sincerity. The music has that electricity which only develops in a meaningful situation. Each man has something to say, and urgently wants it said.

The chords show that at long last Clem has found a happy union between the style he played in Colosseum and the simpler one he employed in Humble Pie.

It would be a shame if Rough Diamond are blasted as a “supergroup” before they even get a chance to get off the ground. They aren’t aiming at such pretensions: they don’t want to change the course of rock, but they do want a chance to play, alone together, at last.

David Byron, black curls flying, is the most outgoing of the three, although Geoff Britton, a highly-trained athlete, ain’t exactly bashful. Only Clem is quiet, a mite shell-shocked, and, I was sorry to observe, a lot thinner in the face since we last met. They leaped in and out of the Island Records office as they commuted between the MM and their mobile studio.

“It’s been hectic,” said David, jumping around the room. “We were given a ridiculous schedule. But that’s good, because if you’re given six months to make an album, you spend weeks thinking about it. If they say ‘Write a lyric tomorrow’ then you DO it. We did 19 straight days in three studios with three engineers, and a mobile.

“I’ve never met anybody like our producer before, Steve Smith, from Muscle Shoals. Our ideas about mixing coincided and you can hear everything — not the voice out front and the guitar way back. On this mix you can listen to the hi-hat if you want to! Like the Robert Palmer album, you can hear everything on it. He got a drum sound people have been trying to get for years.”

It struck me that the band played as if they meant it — in other words, they were enjoying themselves.

“Oh yeah!” said David, as if surprised that it could be construed in any other way. “With this band, you can’t get neurotic, it’s impossible. They’re all real pros and everybody listens to each other. I like people to tell me straight: ‘I don’t like that third line’ or whatever. The way it was done before with Uriah Heep was terrible. Now we’re ready to go: America, Japan, Australia, Scandinavia, anywhere!

“In Heep it was all over, man, and nobody could see it. There was nobody to channel the drive or direction. and they had to have excuses for everything. In the end I started to do me bloody nut, to be quite honest. I was saying things were wrong and going to the manager. In the end I thought, well if they don’t give a f———, then I don’t give a f——— either. After a show, they’d say, “Can you get him to turn down.’ Why not get together? Is it so difficult? It was a sad situation.

“You’d be sitting at a bar after the gig and I’d say to Boxy (Mick Box) who is an old friend of mine (and still is): ‘Mick, it wasn’t good tonight.’ And he’d say: ‘Well there’s a lot of things wrong, not just with us but with the whole thing around us.’ And I’d say: ‘We’ve gotta do something about it, because if we don’t then it’s all over.’

“He’d say: ‘Yeah,’ and have another port and brandy. Nobody wanted to own up.

“When I owned up, everybody said: ‘Ah, Byron has gone over the top.’ It was the biggest relief of my life when we had a meeting and they said: ‘We don’t think we can work with you any more.’

“But I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Geoff Britton called me up three days later — I had known him on and off for years, and tried to get him into Heep twice. He asked me what I was doing and I said: ‘I dunno, make a solo album, I suppose.’ And he said: ‘Okay, if you want a drummer, I’m about,’ like he always does.

“The next day Geoff calls again and says that as I’m a singer, I should get a band together and not do a solo album. Then we thought, right, a guitar player. Let’s work with a really good musician for a change, somebody you can work with, trade off ideas from.

(to be continued)

Author: Elena Stepanova

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