IT WAS THE KIND OF REVIEW THAT ENDS CAREERS.
Looking back on it, Jonathan Ryan, founder and lead singer of Dirty Diamonds, muses, “There is no doubt that the band changed shortly after that…”
Located in the west of Ireland, the city of Limerick boasts a working-class population that falls just below 100,000—cozy enough to breed a suffocating familiarity among its blue-collar residents and big enough to cultivate a jaw-dropping violent crime rate that has earned the city the dubious appellation, “Stab City.”
Growing up in a place famous for its stabbings understandably presents a young man with myriad social complexities, but for Jonathan, simply fitting in with his mates proved challenging. “Being the kid who was picked last for sports at school,” he recalls, “being somewhat sensitive and a bit of a loner, I knew that I was different. When I found bands like Queen and Metallica, it suddenly clicked why I hadn’t been interested in the same things as the other kids. I clearly remember imagining myself playing guitar on stage and thinking ‘That’d be cool,’ when I was 6.”
Young Jonathan would follow his muse, learning various instruments, devouring the denim-and-leather meat and potatoes of classic rock, finally gravitating to the brawny swagger of heavy metal, particularly the Bay Area scene of the 80s. Yet while legends like Metallica, Slayer, Exodus and Testament would inspire Jonathan to dabble in the nihilistic fury of thrash, ultimately it would be a Northern Irish band that would give shape to his musical vision. “It was when I followed The Answer on tour in Australia in 2007,” he recalls, “I thought, ‘I wanna do a rock band, but with its roots in the 80s not the 70s.’ And so Dirty Diamonds was born.”
Eight time zones away from the storied row of rock clubs known as L.A.’s Sunset Strip, the original lineup of Dirty Diamonds modeled themselves after the glam-rocking legends of the late-80s, tapping into the sleazy swagger of bands like Motley Crüe and AC/DC, with lyrics celebrating the hedonistic ethos of sex, drugs and rock and roll. In 2012 they self-funded the release of an EP and as indie groups are wont to do, they drafted an accompanying press release and showered Ireland and the UK with copies, hoping that some rock magazine or web site might give it a listen and publish a favorable review.
Enter “Harry the Bastard.”
In the summer of 2012, author and rock critic Harry Paterson accepted an assignment from England’s Powerplay magazine to review the Dirty Diamonds EP. Speaking personally, I know Harry to be a genuinely warm guy with a barbarous wit and a feverish passion for music. Like most critics, he champions creative innovation and he rails against the faintest whiff of contrivance or unoriginality. The aphoristic, “tough but fair,” offers a concise assessment of his musical critiques and unfortunately for Dirty Diamonds, Harry was no fan of their EP. His review would prove a watershed moment for the band.
Jonathan recalls how he first heard of it. “I was randomly networking for the band on Facebook by adding friends based around their role in the music industry. I spotted on Harry’s profile that he was a freelance writer for Classic Rock magazine and I decided to add him as a friend. He messaged me almost instantly, saying something like, ‘Are you sure you want to add me after the slating I just gave your band’s EP?’ All I could think was ‘Wow, we got a review! Awesome!’”
Ryan’s enthusiasm withered when he located that review. Harry’s coverage, published in the summer of 2012, began as follows, “Here is a band that embraces every cliché at which you’ve shuddered.”
From there, it would only get worse. The flogging continued, “These are the sort of third-rate trash-glam wannabes that play the Salutation to a cluster of long-suffering girlfriends and mates who lack the bottle to tell ‘em to wrap it up.”
Picking apart both the album and press release with surgical precision, Harry awarded the EP Powerplay’s lowest possible rating, concluding, “[p]rimitive recycled riffs of little imagination with the most moronic lyrics…ensure Dirty Diamonds earn themselves just one Powerpoint, purely for the guts it took to be this shit and not care.”
Difficult comments to stomach for the boys in Dirty Diamonds, and yet within Harry’s vitriolic appraisal, Jonathan saw a juicy opportunity. “I was kind of nervous on the first couple of lines,” he explains, “but within seconds I was bursting my hole laughing out loud. It was so well-written, and it was hilarious!” In a brilliant gamble, they published the full review, in all its venomous glory, on their Facebook page, advising, “[w]e here at Dirty Diamonds HQ have never been ones to shy away from criticism and it has to be said that this is one of the funniest, best written reviews we have ever read about anyone! Big thanks to Harry ‘The Bastard’ Paterson from Powerplay Magazine.”
Talk about getting in front of bad press. The world loves an underdog, and within minutes, comments from Dirty Diamonds’ loyal Facebook legions poured in, many of which aimed barbs at the author:
- “What a delightful fellow. He should possibly spend more time doing and saying something worth while and less time stroking his scabby penis in front of a computer screen while reading his own shit reviews. I’d give him one Powerpoint too, a powerful point of my middle finger in his direction!”
- “I give his journalism 0 power points.”
- “He sounds like he’s got some sand in his vagina”
On and on it went, until finally Harry, deeply impressed with Jonathan’s sporting response, (not to mention egged on by some of the more colorful comments), dove in and began bantering back and forth with his own critics. Eventually, Harry stepped back and stated, “On a serious note, Mr Ryan’s response to the, admittedly excoriating, review, is an object lesson to any musician. If any of you are in shitty little bands that suck and spend half of your time with your heads in the clouds and the remainder choking on your own inflated (and woefully misguided) sense of self-importance, learn from Mr. Ryan. Humour, dignity and balls to take a few knocks and come back and make me piss myself laughing. That’s the way to go. I now *want* to see his band and am hoping they’ll be great live.”
Soon after, Harry would publicly praise Dirty Diamonds, and Jonathan in particular, for their amiable response to his review. Publishing his own account of the incident at Midland Rocks, Harry would ultimately become one of their strongest proponents, ending his editorial with, “Please check out http://www.dirtydiamonds.ie/ give ‘em a ‘like’ on their Facebook page and let’s see if we can’t get these lads over here for a couple of shows. They deserve it.”
Though the two have never met in person, an authentic friendship has unfolded between the two. “Harry’s a humorous and intelligent man, and I admire him greatly. We were going to meet up for a drink or twelve at Download Festival last year but a family emergency prevented Harry from coming, though we still plan to meet up in the near future. We’re currently arranging a UK tour and hope to be dropping by the Salutation Inn in Nottingham and we’re hoping Harry comes to see the show. I have no doubt he will.”
Meanwhile, the band’s Facebook post of Harry’s review, along with the eye-wateringly funny exchanges between Harry and the commenters, would be shared, re-quoted, re-posted and referenced across Facebook countless times in the ensuing weeks. Dirty Diamonds was on the map, and yet, despite their spike in publicity, there would soon be fallout within the ranks. “There is no doubt that the band changed shortly after that,” Jonathan says. “I think all the guys were happy with the way I dealt with things, but one guitarist left shortly after and we fired the singer too. I can’t say either of those things was totally down to that review, but it may just have been what set the wheels in motion. We felt we needed a change. There was definitely something to be learned, whether we learned the right lesson or not, I don’t know!”
Nonetheless, Dirty Diamonds would commemorate their first public slating with a t-shirt.
Fast forward to the dawn of 2014. While Dirty Diamonds have yet to conquer the sun-blanched boulevards of Hollywood, the frontman remains hopeful that his band stand at the beginning of a long, gig-filled rock odyssey. “You hear the cliché of a band being like a marriage all the time, but it’s true,” he says. “It’s extremely difficult to balance all those personalities and satisfy all those egos. Music is a release that we all need, so if we all had to keep our day jobs, but could still be together doing what we love then that’s success for me right there.”
Dirty Diamonds are:
Jonathan Ryan – Lead Vocals
Alan Ranahan – Guitar
Evan Daly – Guitar
Shane Moloney – Bass
Joe Betts – Drums