Friday, May 2, 2014

Sparks Drummer Project (5): Dinky Diamond, 1974-1975 - As Remembered By His Peers


Kimono My House at 40: The First in a Series

Dinky Diamond played drums on Sparks albumsThis is the first of a series of planned articles commemorating the May, 1974 release of the seminal Sparks album Kimono My House. Kimono was the first of three Sparks albums to feature the great drummer Norman "Dinky" Diamond, the subject of this article.

Kimono My House put Sparks on the map. The two albums that followed, also considered classics, are Propaganda (1974), and Indiscreet (1975). On these albums, Dinky Diamond made an indelible contribution to Sparks history. He brought originality and an innate sense of how to incorporate the drums into the complex arrangements of Sparks' principal songwriter, Ron Mael - not an easy task. As I discuss below, Dinky Diamond went far to set the template for Sparks drumming.

Diamond, who was voted Drummer of the Year in a 1975 poll conducted by Premier Drums, tragically took his own life on September 10, 2004. He will be forever remembered by fellow Sparks drummers, by those who contributed to those classic Sparks records and other musical colleagues, and by the fans of his music. Here, in their words, are tributes and thoughts about the great Norman "Dinky" Diamond - including a few additional thoughts of my own at the end. 

These individuals took time from their busy schedules to make these contributions. Needless to say, I am truly grateful.

Muff Winwood, Producer, Kimono My House and Propaganda
Muff Winwood produced Sparks "Kimono My House" Lp
Dinky was recruited by (Sparks' manager) John Hewlitt and Ron and Russell, after we had discussed a strategy to give the new material a much more rocking sound, which to my mind was more suited to the UK scene at the time. At rehearsals, I was impressed with all the musicians chosen.
 
Dinky was by no means a great drummer but he suited the material perfectly, giving it a solid backbeat without pushing it too hard into a heavy rock kind of mode. Dinky was also a very 
likable person and willing to please so was open to trying various styles and feels, which undoubtedly helped us to experiment with the rhythms and find a group sound that worked alongside Ron's keyboard style. He had a good studio sound which didn't entail hours of fixing and exotic miking, which helped to create the right vibe and got the sessions off on the right footing.
Dinky Diamond drummer on Sparks albums
Dinky married my secretary Lee Packham so I kept in touch with him after Propaganda. A few years later, he developed a serious drinking problem and the marriage broke down.  He disappeared into obscurity and there were reports that he had hit rock bottom. A few years passed when one weekend I took my family to a day out at a large amusement park and water park. We took a ride on one of those steamer boats that take you around the lake when the captain, dressed in full amusement park uniform with peaked cap, jumped toward me shouting "Muff it's me Dinky!" He had pulled himself together and found a job. He said he was happy but I'm afraid it didn't last. 

Our lives crossed for a very short period, but at least we contributed to some fine music that stood the test of time. That's my story of Dinky Diamond.

David Kendrick, Sparks Drummer, 1982-1986

I never met Dinky Diamond but he was behind the kit the first time I saw Sparks live in Chicago, at the Riviera Theater in 1974. Now THIS was a band, I thought! Dressed in suits, looking very suave, they also were a very tight and very rocking and very eccentric band, and being new to the world of professional drumming at the time I thought, "this is the goal for me." 

The groups that I pushed into learning Sparks tunes resisted until I finally got to play Talent Is An Asset. It was soon dropped as "too difficult" but it was a yay moment and Dinky's iconic beat on that song was one of the things that so made me want to play for real. Later I got to play that song and a few other early numbers with the Maels at Whisky A Go Go shows in Los Angeles, around Whomp That Sucker time. I was true to Dinky's parts and it is hard to explain how great it felt to actually be the drummer for a band you loved before there was even a thought of "that could be me." 

The Talent rhythm is one of those special beats, like Dirt by the Stooges, or Satisfaction. Asset is up there for me - it's one of a kind.  The hyper arranged and frantic In The Future is another Dinky standout. He was a high-hat based rhythm guy who played the whole song, not just along with the bass. Sparks songs of that era had a crazy amount of parts (and words!), and that is why they were so great. 

Russell later told me that after the shows Dinky always liked to stay dressed up, and to this day I agree, I love suits as well. The shirtless drummer thing was not our mode, Me or Dinky. 

So thank you Mr. Diamond for those three great albums of work. You were an inspiration to me.

Trevor White - Guitarist, Propaganda and Indiscreet 
Trevor White, guitarist on Sparks albums
Dinky Diamond...what a character! A one-off, in her personality and, even more important, his unique musical ability.  Playing in Sparks with him (and I'm sure Ian Hampton would agree) was so much fun, and so rewarding. As soon as I did my first rehearsals with Sparks, I knew he was not just your average good drummer, but something special.  His drumming was intelligent, not just laying down a beat, but carefully listening to the song, analyzing the melody and lyrics, and creating his own drum patterns to enhance them as only he could.  There is no doubt that Dinky's contribution to the three Sparks albums that he played on was a huge factor in their considerable success and the acclaim the band received from the fans and from a large number of fellow musicians.

He was the best, and if his life and career had continued, he would have given even more people pleasure and inspiration.

The day we lost him was one of the saddest days I can remember, and I am sure that goes for his many fans as well.

Ian Hampton - Bass Player, Propaganda and Indiscreet


I first met Dinky when he was recording some of the Kimono tracks. I was blown away. I had seen Sparks several times when they were touring London with the old band but this was a whole new ballgame. Really something else. The music they were playing was just off the wall stuff.

Ian Hampton, bassist on Sparks albumsDinky was outstanding. He was so unique. He could pick up any sort of melody and make it his own. This Town – the drumming on that is just superb. So off the wall, different rhythms and things…it takes you by surprise every time. When I joined the band, that was just incredible to me.

Propaganda – these tracks were more like Kimono than what was to follow. He nailed it on every track, some really good drumming. He could do any sort of arrangement, any sort of melody. (He enjoyed) playing Bon VoyageSomething For The Girl With EverythingLady Is Lingering is one of my favorites. They were very complex arrangements and Dinky just took to them like a duck takes to water.

The English guys got on great during the tours. Dinky couldn’t drive. When we were in Los Angeles. Trevor (White) and I would drive and Dinky would tag along in the back seat. We didn’t have to drive, but we enjoyed the freedom. He had a huge capacity for Coors beer. He used to love it, he used to thrive on it.

He was a big part of (the Sparks legacy), absolutely essential. It was a joy to work with Dinky. We jelled so easily. We got on so well, both musically and personally. He was a good buddy, one of the good guys.

One of the best. The most versatile drummer I ever worked with.

Hilly Michaels, Sparks Drummer, 1976
Sparks "Big Beat" - drummer Hilly Michaels
I thought Dinky Diamond was a very creative drummer that came up with very, very structured drum beats. His rolls, his fills going into a chorus…you know, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi that he had…Dinky played a major role in how those songs were received. I really believe he deserves the credit on those Sparks records that has alluded him. He wasn’t just a drummer, he was sensitive to the different parts, never overstepping his bounds, never stepping on vocals or guitar lines. 

He came up with really unique drum parts. Get In The Swing from Indiscreet - that whole record he played great. He really anchored the band, and gave them a zing. He wasn’t a typical drummer. He played smart, he didn’t play hard, and he really captured what Ron had in mind in writing the songs, and I think Ron and Russell were both very happy with what he did. It’s a tragedy he passed on.

I remember watching him on television, and I had my eyes glued on Dinky. I was saying to myself, “wow, he’s making these songs come to life, great energy, great parts.” I (brought in some of Dinky's technique) on the bridges of Confusion on Big Beat – that beat that Dinky was doing. He really contributed a great musical vibe.

Dinky was absolutely an inspiration. I definitely picked stuff up from Dinky. When I bought Indiscreet and Kimono My House, I'd play those records five, ten times a day. You can be assured that his drum beats and patterns found their way into my musical memory, so yes, he definitely influenced me to some degree.

(I never met him) which is really unfortunate. He seemed like a nice guy. 


Harley Feinstein, Sparks drummer, 1972-1973

Harley A. Feinstein Biography - SparksThe first time I heard Dinky Diamond was when Sparks made their triumphant return to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. I, along with everyone else connected with Sparks, went to see the show. I was very impressed. I can't remember his drum playing specifically, but I remember how powerful the band sounded. Mr. Diamond has a lot to do with that. His powerful drumming had a lot to do with how the band sounded.

It's a shame I never had a chance to meet him. According what I have read, Dinky was apparently playing covers of Sparks songs when he was "discovered" by (Sparks manager) John Hewlett. If that's true, he would have been aware of me and would have listened to my drum parts before meeting the Maels. 

If I had had the chance to meet him he probably would have been friendly. Unfortunately, he died before the social media phenomenon took hold. Too bad for that. 

Tosh Berman, author, Sparks-Tastic: Twenty-One Nights With Sparks in London 


In two years or less, Norman "Dinky" Diamond made a huge impression on the world that is recognized as Sparks. When Ron and Russell Mael landed in London, they needed British musicians to do part two of their planned world dominance. The first two albums (before they came to the UK) struck hardcore fans as essential, but they didn't get the airplay or the proper attention of the masses. Alas, perhaps the change of weather would address the problem, as well as having additional musicians from the London area to assist in mapping a new world. It took just over 40 recordings to re-shape one's world, and Dinky Diamond, if nothing else, affected the world through his poinding of the skins, as well as being a man of certain charm. 

The two albums produced by Muff Winwood and the third by Tony Visconti are different from one another, yet identified by Ron and Russell's unique ability to match words with melody.  Their music sort of reminds me of classic Duke Ellington music, where there are many hands in the making of the soup, but it is still essential Duke. Dinky Diamond played against and with the orchestration that at the time was a perfect fit. This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us was a sound I had never heard before, and to this day it strikes me as an awakening of the 20th century, in all its glory and horribleness. Dinky's relentless madness on the drums expressed a world in disarray. There is a sound of gunshot in the recording, but what I hear in my head is the sound of a firing squad surely led by Dinky. 

The way a band works is mysterious. Everything has to either fit perfectly. I'm thinking of Keith Moon in The Who or the great jazz drummer Chick Webb. I think Dinky is more like them than say Ringo. What made him great was his taste, skill, and execution of his work that is already perfection in theory. Dinky brought that perfection to the real world.


Brian Robinson - Early Bandmate and Friend


I first met Norman "Dinky" Diamond at the "4A's Youth Club" in Aldershot in 1967 where he was playing with his band the "Sound of Time." Pip McNaughton, the guitarist, left the band and I was asked to step in until his replacement had learned the set. I enjoyed my new lifestyle and friendships, we seemed to hit it off - especially on stage. Dinky's drumming was powerful and solid, he was a showman even in those early days.

One evening the band turned up at my flat in Aldershot and offered me the job on a permanent basis. I was pleased, especially as at the same time they also offered to help me decorate the flat from top to bottom. Dinky borrowed my overalls to keep the paint off and it was the first time I realized how small he was - all that power and energy from such a small frame!

We became friends outside the band and he would bring records around for us to listen to.  I still have a "Yes" album of his. Dinky was always interested in more unusual or complex styles of music.  He was a "musician" drummer and would contribute ideas towards musical arrangements at rehearsal. He was a great harmony vocalist.

My previous band had by this time gone professional and offered me my old job back.  Dinky came with me and we had a few more months back on the road together. I was growing tired of life on the road and by this time I was a dad. I got a "proper job" and formed a semi-pro band which for some reason was called "Shalimar." Dinky came with me again (but) I knew this wasn't Dinky's ideal band!

Dinky (eventually) got the "Sparks" job. We had a gig at Cliftonville the day Dinky phoned to tell me he wouldn't be able to make it. I was pretty mad with him until I saw him on "Top of the Pops;" then I forgave him. It was strange seeing my old pal with those odd American blokes!

He'd been with Sparks for a few months before I saw him again, at the peak of their popularity. We went out for a drink at a pub in Fleet. He seemed jumpy and wanted to sit in the darkest corner of the pub. He told me that being famous was no fun and reminded me of a gig we had done in the Midlands which was a lunchtime and evening job - we'd spent the afternoon sightseeing and having a laugh before getting back for the evening gig. He told me that he had played the same gig with Sparks but the band's security people wouldn't let him go out of the building. He told me to be careful what I wish for...  

Dinky was articulate, intelligent and had a mischievous sense of humor - he was always in the thick of any "adventures." He was level-headed and people listened to what he had to say. I'd found out where he was living a few weeks before he died and regret not visiting him when I had the chance.

Jim Wilson, some-time Sparks Guitarist

I have an old four-track reel to reel recorder, and Russell transferred all his old reel to reel tapes on to digital and he was using my machine.  I got to listen to all these old Kimono rehearsals and things that no one else has heard. The powerhouse that is Dinky Diamond…those records are drum and guitar fantasy records. Even Indiscreet, it’s just a different style, and you could just hear his creativity. I know they respected him and were sad when he passed, and I wish I could have met him. I got to know Trevor and Ian also, and I wish that Dinky had been around.

He's the exact thing Sparks needed to take it worldwide the way they did. You don't listen to This Town or Amateur Hour and think about the drums faltering  - they are super solid.

Jo Ann Sieger - Drummer, Fan

Dinky Diamond - what a great name for a drummer in a rock band. And not just any band, but the incomparable and influential band, Sparks. I first saw Sparks on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert in 1975 and they immediately crashed into my heart and have stayed there ever since. Since this was the band that introduced me to Sparks, I always have a special fondness for this "English" band in their glam haircuts and elegant suits.  Dinky looked great drumming away in his white suit - blond hair flying while he went into a frenzy on This Town or played beautifully on Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth or happily laid down a swing beat to Get In The Swing. He was a versatile drummer and was a great steady force for the band, and ruled the drum roost during Sparks' English heyday. He always played with style and grace no matter what the Maels threw at him - whether playing with wild abandon to glam rock anthems, steady and sure on beautiful pop classics, or just having fun shuffling along to funny 1940s influenced ditties.

Long live Norman "Dinky" Diamond - my favorite Sparks drummer (I am a drummer today).  May he continue playing Here In Heaven for eternity, for eternity, for eternity, as the song goes. You were as sparkly and precious as any diamond ever found on this planet.

Monte Mallin - Drummer, Fan...Blogger

I first saw Sparks on ABC's In Concert in November, 1974 (Part One is here; and here's Part Two). As a 14 year old kid, I was riveted by the entire thing - the performance, the music, the somewhat disturbing oddball behind the keyboards - all of it.  I knew immediately I had never seen or heard anything like it and fate was sealed.  As a drummer, I was riveted by Mr. Diamond.

Dinky Diamond built on, and made definitive, the template for Sparks drummers established by his American predecessor, Harley Feinstein. He knew when to “lock in” with the bass player, providing stable rhythms to anchor the band, or to play off of the guitarist and/or lead vocalist – a very different proposition. In so doing, the drums in Sparks songs are just as integral to the music as the guitar or the keyboard.  All Sparks drummers must do this; Dinky showed how it was done.

Take a listen to Thank God It’s Not Christmas on Kimono My House. The song begins with powerful, staccato 16th notes from the brilliant guitar of Adrian Fisher. Dinky then joins in with 16th note single strokes on his High Hat until the guitar abruptly changes direction, accenting the first two quarter notes of the next four measures; Dinky’s cymbal crashes are right there, adding just the right emphasis.  When the vocals start, Dinky switches gears and locks in to Martin Gordon’s steady and powerful bass lines. Soon after the verse, Dinky is back with the guitar.  Thus Dinky goes from a prominent role in establishing the melody, to a traditional, anchoring role, in step with Gordon and ensuring a steady rhythm as Russel Mael sings. As the song progresses, the pattern of alternatively locking into the guitar and then the bass plays out through all the intricate aspects of the arrangement.

Another song that captures Dinky’s touch is Something For The Girl With Everything from Propaganda. As the verses cascade forward, Dinky plays a drum pattern that provides playful counterpoint to the guitar and vocals. When  the song moves into a high energy guitar-driven break, Dinky locks in with bassist Ian Hampton to create the steady rhythm section that keeps the whole thing anchored. As the song concludes and Russell Mael repeatedly shouts the title line of the song, Dinky plays off the vocals to provide fast paced fills that provide counterpoint to Russell’s singing. All in one two and a half minute song.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out something that may seem almost trivial to the average listener, but to me has always been a source of great fascination: in particular on Kimono My House, Dinky had an AMAZING use of his hi-hat. Subtly playing open or closed hi-hats, he would provide just the right accent to so many songs that gave the rhythm just a little "oomph." David Kendrick mentions the wonderful rhythm Dinky deploys in Talent Is An Asset; listen closely and you'll hear Dinky's manipulation of the hi-hat that adds such a special touch to the distinct rhythmic play. Listen closely to many of the songs on which he plays. You'll hear it. And appreciate it.

Whether it’s the well placed tom toms fills in BC, the rapidly played drum strikes, accents, and change-on-a-dime rhythmic patterns throughout ThisTown Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us, the beautiful and perfectly realized contributions to the moving, almost melancholy, jams that end Thanks But No Thanks or Bon Voyage, or even the simplicity of the bass drum on Tits from Indiscreet, Dinky always got it just right.

If you’re gonna drum for Sparks, you gotta get it just right.  That’s what being a drummer for Sparks is all about. We know that, thanks to Norman "Dinky" Diamond.

And finally...

Someone out there put together this nice tribute. It's worth sharing.


Some pictures are from Xavier Lorente-Darracq's tremendous Graphikdesigns website, and are used by permission. If you want to learn the early history of Sparks, this is the first place to go.

13 comments:

  1. Dinky contributed a great deal to what were majestic, towering cathedral arrangements of complicated songs. Fitting in perfectly between the bass and guitar, and Ron's organ, together with a judicious use of hi-hat, he did have one of the best ever drummer names and laid the while thing down wearing a cream suit. He was Sparks' Art Blakey to Ron Mael's Tchaikovsky. Ever noticed how this Sparks era sounds a bit classically Russian? Dinky, RIP.

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  2. PS: What a dirty anaconda python bass Martin Gordon had on Kimono. I think in hindsight good for that LP only. But what a sound mixed up with Adrian Fishers' strangling serial killer of a guitar. It's never been equalled, although the new Franz Ferdinand promo shots remind me of the first Oasis cover. Guitars will be back: http://www.allsparks.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=8584&start=20

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    1. Martin Gordon's contributions cannot be underestimated. I love your description of both his bass as well as Fisher's guitar. Thank you for your comments, they are right on. Have to think about the "classically Russian" aspect through! :)

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    2. Heavens, what a menagerie! Serial killers, stranglers, anaconda pythons, Pyotr Ilyich and Art Blakey. If only someone had told me at the time, I would have paid more attention. Pop music makes the world a safer place, if you ask me...

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  3. ....and what about Dinky Diamonds Patented Dance Moves? I recall seeing some diagrams awhile back in dim distant memory...

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    1. You're talking about "Legs Diamond" Chris - Dinky was embarrassed about this and told me it had nothing to do with him. Like me he was not a dancer, having seen the ridiculous contortions from behind our instruments!

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  4. Really? Not related to this (later) musical per chance? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legs_Diamond_(musical)
    Hilarious if so. Dinky mixed up with a New York Gangster who really just wanted to dance...you couldn't make it up....
    Maybe that's the secret plot behind Sparks new work in progress? LOL

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  5. Chris writes very well doesn't he? Sadly missed from the Sparks website forums.

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  6. Martin I mention Art Blakey mainly because of the suits (no jeans) the Mael's apparently insisted upon. You would know more about that I guess. But Dinky looked very cool (and rich) on the back cover of Indiscreet chomping on a Havana cigar in that cream three piece number. Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers also had to wear suits and ties, even in hot sweaty clubs under the lights as "respect for the music." I saw him years ago in Manchester, now sadly passed on. So it was that I was alluding too, not comparing the drummers. Dinky was in a totally different plane to Art Blakey's craft. But - he pulled it off for those three Sparks LP's in the rock canon, and we are better off with that.
    Monte, as concerns the Russians, I recall a promo image of Ron holding some Stravinsky sheet music @ "Balls" era I believe. Now if that isn't a tribute, what is? I know my Russian classics well, and I am damn sure Ron does too. A listen to some of Shostakovich may convince. Cheers - Chris

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  7. I don't get too emotional about the passing of musicians, but I was really upset when I heard about Dinky.
    Kimono My House was the first album I bought, I loved it right from the first time I played it, I'd play it every night for months on end, until I got the next one, Propaganda, Two albums in a year(1974) you don't get that sort of work ethic these days. I loved seeing Sparks on Top Of The Pops with Dinky, top entertainment.
    I could never understand why their newer singles always seemed to be less successful than the last one, I guess they were just too sophisticated for mere 'pop music'.
    It brought back fond memories reading the above contributions from his fellow musicians and band colleagues, I'll never forget Dinky or the impression his music made on my teenage life. R.I.P.

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  8. In December 1975 The Sparks played Santa Monica Civic. I was 13, in Junior High School and had a close friend whose Dad was an exec with Island Records. Dad got us backstage passes where we watched the whole concert and met the band. Alot of the kids were big fans of Kimono My House and didnt believe our story. But I still have the pass and a great memory of that night. Dinky was our favorite drummer but I believe he had left the band by then. Sorry to hear of his rough times and demise. RIP.

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  9. Dinky Diamond as many have said was the embodiment of the sound the Maels wished to convey he was able to bring to life the complex creative narratives in a way that transcended the conventional wisdom of the time. Thanks for everything Dinky RIP. Steven Harknett (Sparks fan since 1974)

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  10. Adrian Fisher and Martin Gordon were also a powerful combination that together with Dinky brought a sound to life that allowed one to daydream and contemplate a myriad of subtle sounds that conveyed a newness not encountered before. Thanks guys from a grateful fan.

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