Born: 28 September, 1951 in Glasgow. Died: 8 October, 2015, in London aged 64.
Jim Diamond was a singer from Glasgow whose commercial star burned briefly but brightly in the early half of the 1980s. Influenced strongly by blues and particularly soul music, but executed in a slick and well produced fashion which made them emblematic of their times, his major hits were 1982’s I Won’t Let You Down, as a member of PhD; his only number one, 1984’s I Should Have Known Better; and Hi Ho Silver, the 1986 title track to the highly popular British drama series Boon.
The defining feature of Diamond’s work to anyone who heard it was the distinctive quality of his voice, a clear and natural instrument with a certain androgynous quality when heard on record. Not quite a falsetto, in his youth Diamond sang at such a pitch that he might easily have been mistaken for a female singer; it was a style which offered smoothness and clarity, and the resonant lustre of a choral soloist.
Raised in the East End of Glasgow, the young James Diamond’s earliest role model as a singer was his father, who would eagerly get up and sing at parties. It was this confidence and sense of enjoyment which first inspired his son to sing. Diamond also found inspiration in the soul records of his older brother, particularly those of Ray Charles, Otis Redding and his personal hero Sam Cooke.
He started his first band when he was 14, and in 1969 his homegrown group Jade saw him make his earliest forays into London as a performer, playing alongside future Sensational Alex Harvey Band bassist Chris Glen. “It was fantastic, the best days of my life,” Diamond told Blues & Soul magazine in 2011 of his early days playing pubs and clubs in Glasgow.
“There were no thoughts of making records, no thoughts of making a living. It was just the pure joy of getting out there and singing classic songs.”
Moving to London permanently, Diamond spent the 1970s as a journeyman blues and soul singer with a number of groups, never achieving crossover success but racking up an impressive list of collaborators. Perhaps most notably, he was in a rock group named Bandit between 1976 and 1978, appearing on their self-titled first of two albums.
The group also featured Cliff Williams, later the long-serving bassist in Australian-Scots rock titans AC/DC; Danny McIntosh, now the husband of and guitarist for Kate Bush; and guitarist James Litherland, father of contemporary singer and producer James Blake.
Despite such a pedigree and a deal with Arista Records, the dawn of punk contributed to Bandit’s lack of success. Diamond left the group before their second and final album, 1978’s Partners in Crime, but not before accompanying the rest of the original line-up on the highly-respected British bluesman Alexis Korner’s 1977 record The Lost Album. Following Bandit’s dissolution, Diamond briefly decamped to Los Angeles to form a duo named Slick Diamond with sometime David Bowie and John Lennon guitarist Earl Slick. The pair played shows together, but the project came to nothing.
In 1982 Diamond finally found the success which had eluded him until this point, with PhD’s lone hit, the UK top three single I Won’t Let You Down. A trio, the band also included sometime Jeff Beck Group members Tony Hymas and Simon Phillips, but saw little success beyond that one single and the eponymous debut album’s minor chart placing. A bout of hepatitis suffered by Diamond meant the band were unable to tour and they split in 1983, reforming again for the 2009 comeback album Three.
By now, however, Diamond was a known quantity, and his 1984 solo signing by A&M Records saw him paired with Bellshill songwriter Graham Lyle (of Gallagher and Lyle fame), resulting in I Should Have Known Better. It was his only number one, although he also appeared on The Crowd’s chart-topping 1985 charity version of You’ll Never Walk Alone in aid of the Bradford City fire victims.
In 1986 came Hi Ho Silver. Diamond was averse to writing a television score, but the song had actually been written for his father, a fireman, who had died the year before. When he read the first episode’s script and discovered Michael Elphick’s title character was a former firefighter turned freelance troubleshooter, Diamond agreed to the song’s use.
Although he never quite hit the same heights again, Diamond’s further career was busy, and appreciated by his hardcore fans. His self-titled 1993 album went into the top 20, and the following year’s Sugarolly Days saw him cover his favourite Scots folk songs. He played with celebrated session saxophone player Christopher ‘Snake’ Davis as the Blues Shoes, and his 2011 charity record City of Soul featured Hue & Cry’s Greg Kane and Wet Wet Wet’s Tommy Cunningham.
The Diamond family’s announcement of his death said that he died unexpectedly but peacefully in his sleep. “It was always such a pleasure to him that his voice touched so many people and brought them so much happiness,” the statement continued.
He is survived by his wife Christine – nee Bailey, a New Zealander – and adult children Sara and Lawrence.