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CLASSIC ROCK INTERVIEWS NODDY HOLDER
Features / 02 May 2014 / by Geoff Barton
With half of the original Slade acting as their own tribute band, their former vocalist reflects on the early days, TV celebrity - and his mission to get people to nibble Nobby's Nuts.
It’s difficult to imagine life without Noddy Holder of Slade fame. From the ear-splintering holler of ‘Baby-baby-BAAA-BY!’; to the mizspelt songtitlez; to the never-ending stream of smash hits in the 70s; to the time- honoured cavort-with-your-granny festivities of Merry Xmas Everybody... this glam-rock icon with his Dickensian side-whiskers, calf-length tartan trousers and mirrored top-hat is part of the fabric of British society. One half of the original group (guitarist Dave Hill and drummer Don Powell) is still active as Slade II, but Holder officially left with bassist Jim Lea in the early 90s. Since then Noddy has forged a career as a radio DJ, Grimleys TV actor and all-round celebrity. He gained an MBE in the Millennium New Year’s honours list. “It was for services to music, not spelling or grammar,” he laughs. Now promoting a new range of snacks called Nobby’s Nuts, Holder reminisced about his crazee career.
You were a skinhead band, Ambrose Slade, before you became plain ol’ Slade. But before that, even, you were called The N’Betweens.
There was a midnight curfew when the tourists had to go back to their area of the island but we’d stay on stage until four in the morning and play to the black crowd. We did loads of James Brown stuff, because I could more or less imitate his voice. We did Sam & Dave, Temptations, Stevie Wonder... We thought we were going to die on our arses but they loved us. We ended up staying in the Bahamas for 18 weeks. They couldn’t get rid of us.
It was a big leap from that to Ambrose Slade, and then Slade. We came back to Britain with a whole new show. In the Bahamas we’d picked up records from American tourists that hadn’t been released in Britain – Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf being one of them. We were playing a lot of Amboy Dukes stuff as well.
Notorious music biz svengali Kim Fowley was a supporter of The N’Betweens.
But we decided not to get too involved with him when we found out that he wanted us to go to America and pretend to be Van Morrison and Them, who had just recently split up. A typical Fowley stunt.
Did you ever meet Fowley again?
Slade were a big influence on Kiss.
Simmons once said: “Before Slade, no one really knew shit about how to make an audience riot.” Before us it was just girl screamers at Beatles and Rolling Stones concerts. It was part of the whole package of Slade to send people berserk. But it wasn’t screaming girls – it was all lads. We were probably the first uproaring laddo act.
Slade flopped in America though.
We toured with Santana – can you imagine Slade and Santana? Here’s another line-up for you: we were top of the bill, King Crimson were second and The Strawbs opened. One of the funniest lines I ever heard from was from [King Crimson guitarist] Robert Fripp. King Crimson were playing their set and all the Slade fans were shouting: “Boogie! Boogie!” And Fripp’s just playing this weird stuff that goes ‘bloop-de-bloop-de-bloop’. So he walks up to the mic and says [adopts posh English voice]: “We have no intention of boogying.”
Slade also impressed Kurt Cobain.
I only found out about that recently. Cobain had been to a gig of ours as a very young kid and he was quoted as saying we were a massive influence on him.
Cobain said he admired you because “Slade were a band that would never bend over”.
I know what he meant. We wouldn’t bend in America. If we’d’ve bent we probably would’ve been bigger than we were. But we wouldn’t toe the corporate American line.
After your amazing string of No.1 hits in the 70s, Slade’s career fizzled out. But you made a remarkable comeback at the 1980 Reading Festival.
It was the second time that sort of thing happened. Our first breakthrough from Top Of The Pops to being a respected concert-tour act came at the Lincoln Festival in 1972 .We stormed it – and the Beach Boys had to follow us. Stanley Baker, the actor, was the festival’s promoter; he was a big music fan. For our encore we got Stanley on stage and played the Zulu theme from the movie he was in. Everyone went wild.
What about Reading in 1980?
Ozzy couldn’t do it; his Blizzard Of Ozz wasn’t ready. We were the last-minute replacements. We’d virtually split up because we’d become unfashionable in the punk era. We didn’t even have backstage passes – we had to park in the public car park and walk through the crowd to get to the backstage area, carrying our guitars.
We were supposed to go on after Def Leppard but Leppard said: “Slade have had their day, we demand to go on after Slade.” That was probably the worst move of their career. We tore the place apart. Then Leppard made it even worse – they went on stage and the first thing they said was: “You’ve heard the crap, now you’re going to hear the good stuff.” The sky just filled with cans and bottles.
Slade are one of the few bands to have survived the glam/glitter days with their reputation intact.
There was a period certainly in the 80s when everybody thought the 70s were a bit of a joke. But Slade now seem to be looked upon with a good deal of reverence. People are finally realising the 70s were great.
NODDY GOES NUTS. You’re promoting a new range of snacks called Nobby’s Nuts. Jamie Oliver probably wouldn’t approve...
Why not? Nuts are very healthy. Everybody should eat more nuts, quite frankly. They’re very good for you. And these are flavoured nuts as well. Nobby’s Nuts are more aimed at the drinking market – they’re nice to have with your beer or alcoholic beverage. They’re great-tasting nuts. And crisps. Just be careful you don’t overdose on them. Anything is fine in moderation.
"On November 28th 2014, LIPA was honoured to welcome charming Slade front-man Noddy Holder for a music master class.
Noddy Holder on 'Loose Women' 16 Apr 2015
Noddy's big years; Fame is 'not for the faint-hearted', but it certainly helped set up a nice pension plan for Noddy Holder.The former Slade frontman talks family, royalties and reunions with Hannah Stephenson. Birmingham Post April 2015
His trademark mirrored top hat is now locked in a bank vault, his annual royalty cheque from bestselling festive hit Merry Xmas Everybody provides a lucrative pension, and former slade frontman Noddy Holder has his feet firmly on the ground. "I don't think a day goes by when someone doesn't shout, 'it's Christmas', at me. Merry Xmas Everybody is 41 years old. it's a pension plan we never realised would happen," says the 68-year-old godfather of glam rock. Today, he lives comfortably in Manchester with his second wife suzan, still enjoys a good party - although not to the same extent as 40 years ago - and remains as much fun to talk to as his hits were to sing along to, from Cum On Feel The Noize to Mama Weer All Crazee Now. "We were a very happy-go-lucky band and we remained that way for most of our career. But towards the end, we'd spent 25 years together, the same four guys, as a band, and after that amount of time you're going to start having differences with one another, because you've grown up in different ways and gone in different directions in your personal life. For me, the fun had gone."
He took time off in the mid-Eighties, when he split from his first wife, Leandra, with whom he has daughters Jessica and Charisse. "My personal life was in turmoil. I was going through a divorce and had two kids who had to cope with the divorce, and my dad was very ill. All those things came all at the same time." Personality clashes, egos and 'musical differences' put the final nail in slade's coffin in the early Nineties. After leaving, Holder forged a radio and TV career, with radio shows and voice-over work. He also appeared in ITV's The Grimleys and had a cameo in an episode of Coronation street. Holder was awarded the MBE in 2000 for his services to showbusiness.
Today, he is happily married to TV producer Suzan Price, 20 years his junior, with whom he has a son, Django, named after jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. "in my first marriage, I was away touring and my daughters didn't know any different from that. it had been like that since they were born. I don't think I was a bad dad first time around, it was just circumstances that took me away from the family a lot more. But I provided them with a good lifestyle. "I should have set aside more time with them when they were young, I did miss out on a load of stuff, and you can't get that time back. "With my second marriage, I had a child and I wasn't going to do the same thing again."
Many of his thoughts are charted in The World According To Noddy, in which he shares accounts of his days on the road, celebrity gossip and general musings about fame, friendship and fatherhood, his dislike of social media, how he manages the ups and downs of modern life and the tough realities of ageing. They had Django when Holder was 49, but he has no qualms about being an older dad. "All my friends were aghast that I would contemplate having a kid at 49. They thought I was mad. My second wife really wanted a baby, and I just knew it was the right thing to do." He and Suzan have an unusually good relationship with his ex-wife. "Suzan is probably closer to my first wife than I am! My daughters used to come and stay and they got on really well with Suzan. They set the groundwork for when they did meet. "Every divorce is painful, but it was as civilised as it possibly could be and we both wanted the best for our two daughters."
The book is peppered with stories about slade, the band from the Black Country, who partied hard with drink rather than drugs. "We never got into the drugs scene. I don't know whether it was to do with our upbringing and where we came from in the Black Country. We didn't change much internally when we became famous. We had that working-class ethic that we worked hard and we played hard. We were big party animals, but we knew when to stop." They didn't trash hotel rooms - because they were too worried about footing the bill. "We were never a cool band, we were a successful band. We wanted to be a commercial band and to sell our music around the world. We wanted number one singles and albums, from the day we formed in 1966. We weren't bothered about what the critics said about us."
But while other bands, like Spandau Ballet and Culture Club, put their off-stage spats to one side for reunion tours, it's not something Holder can ever see happening with slade. The band has never seemed able to make up. He doesn't keep in touch, although two of the original line-up - Dave Hill and Don Powell - are still touring as Slade, with two other musicians. The original bass player Jim Lea, with whom Holder wrote many of their hits, was unhappy about that, but Holder says life's too short to bear grudges. "We had 25 years as a band and I didn't want to get into a ruckus with them. I don't want hassle. We never get together. We've been in the same room about twice in the last 20 years. "I would much rather we were close friends and that we could go out for a meal together and have a laugh about the old days, but some of them have chips on their shoulders which are 30 years old."
Today, making a name for yourself is a very different business, he says, although TV talent shows began long before The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent were conceived. "We had Opportunity Knocks and New Faces. The only difference now is that they are big, spectacular TV shows. To me, they don't say anything about current trends in music. I look upon them as a TV variety show. I don't think they are a barometer for the music business. I mean, how many people can you name who won The X Factor? Very few have had long term success." "Fame is not for the faint-hearted," he continues. "if you are looking to get into the business just for fame, you might as well forget it, because you're not going to be around for very long. What it takes to be around for a long time is hard work. Your first hit record is only the first rung on the ladder." He still misses the music, although he went on tour last year with his pal, Radio 6 DJ Mark Radcliffe to do An Audience With Noddy Holder. Now semi-retired, he splits his time between the UK and Portugal, where he has a house, but would like to carry on writing, feels he has a solo album still in him and has lectured at Liverpool University. "I do try to instil in the students that success is all down to hard work. You don't get nothing for nothing."
The World According To Noddy by Nodder Holder is published by Constable, priced £8.99. Available now.
Q.What was your involvement in the box set project?
Q. How come you had no time in the studio? Was it a financial issue or was it because you spent so much time on tour?
A. It was the latter really, Chas keep pushing us because of what had happened to him with the Animals and with Jimi Hendrix. Apparently Hendrix did up to 48 takes of a number, ELECTRIC LADYLAND took forever to finish, it took far too long in my opinion. And the Animals did various versions of "House of the Rising Sun" only to decide on the first version even though they had recorded it when they were dog tired and hungover after a heavy night out in Newcastle, they'd had no sleep travelling from Newcastle down to London to do the recording in Mickie Most's studio. This is why Chas wanted it short and sweet and no fuss.
Q. And OLD, NEW, BORROWED AND BLUE came next.
A. OLD, NEW, BORROWED AND BLUE was a weird story. We had been very successful and could afford Olympic Studios, which were in big demand at the time. We shared the studio time with the likes of the Stones, Rod Steward and the Faces and Led Zeppelin. The studio was practically booked out for 24 hours which meant that there was no time for maintenance. Everything was rather tatty and in poor condition, repairs were done with sellotape. We would work from 10 to 6, and then the Stones took over. They recorded It's only rock'n'roll at the same time as we did OLD, NEW, BORROWED AND BLUE, and there were quite a few music critics who said that the Stones were trying to sound like Slade. I remember a funny story where Mick Taylor said in a TV interview that Mick Jagger was always paying attention to current trends . If 'Soul' was the thing of the day, he wanted do to 'Soul', or if 'Funk' was the fashion, he wanted it funky. Apparenty they had been working on one particular track for two weeks and Jagger kept playing the same song for guidance so much so that the others were getting fed up and kept telling him to leave it. Taylor couldn't remember which song it was but the upshot was that Jagger was trying to sound like us. It did us good to realise that we had that effect on others. Even though they never really understood us in America, we used to have the likes of Kiss, Springsteen Bon Jovi and the Ramones at our gigs.
Q.There is quite a difference between OLD, NEW, BORROWED AND BLUE and SLAYED - what was the reason?
A. You can hear that we were heavily influenced by the Beatles, many songs would have been suitable for a Beatles album. That was due to the song writing. When Chas took over as our manager, he encouraged us to write our own stuff. When we asked him how to do it, he said he didn't know either but he said just listen to the Beatles so we did, time after time. Paul McCartney once asked me to pop round to his place so he could show he how he wrote his Beatles songs, and I didn't take him up on his offer, what a fool I was! But 'My Friend Stan" sounds like a McCartney number, even though I had something completely different in mind - 'Granny Takes A Trip' by the Purple Gang with Honky Tonk piano.
Q. What about 'Merry Christmas Everybody,' your most successful song...
A. Not only that, you hear it every Christmas all over the world, but it is the most listened to song in the world. When I found that out, I contacted the Performing Right Society who look after administration of royalties. I found out on a scale of o to 10, most artists are in the lower range. Then there is a big gap and then you get to round abut 5 on the scale with such people as Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and the Stones. Then there is another big gap and finally you get to Slade and Merry Christmas Everybody. No other song is played in so many different countries as our Christmas song. He said you will never be overtaken in the music history. It took 20 minutes for me to let that sink in.
DAVID ROY - IRISH NEWS 04 December, 2015 01:00
Still crazee after all these years: Slade
1970s chartbusters Slade bring their barnstorming Black Country rock hits to Belfast next week. David Roy spoke to guitarist and founding member Dave Hill about why he still loves playing live after 50 years of music-making
IT never truly feels like Christmas until the first time you hear Slade's evergreen 1973 hit Merry Xmas Everybody blaring from a radio around early December. While guldering guitarist Noddy 'IT'S CHRIIIIIIISSSSSTMAAAAASSSS!' Holder and his bass-wielding songwriting partner Jim Lea might have split from the Black Country rockers in 1991, the Wolverhampton-founded Top of The Pops regulars remain a going concern thanks to founding members Dave 'Superyob' Hill and drummer Don Powell.
Having reignited the Slade flame in 1992, Dave and Don have been on the road ever since, doing what the band have always done best – giving fans a riotous good night out.
The glam survivors' signature seasonal hit will get a pre-Chrimbo airing on Tuesday evening at Belfast's Waterfront Hall during the group's set of badly spelled '70's classics including Cum On Feel The Noize, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Gudbuy T'Jane, Coz I Luv You, Take Me Bak 'Ome and Skweez Me, Pleeze Me.
"Ireland is very similar to England in the sense of the following we have," enthuses Dave, who is looking forward to their gigs in Dublin and Belfast. A lot of Irish people used to come across and see us in England, particularly in London."
No wonder: Slade only visited Dublin a couple of times during their 'crazee' 1970s heyday – a formidable five year run of success between 1971 and 1976 saw the group racking up an impressive 17 Top 20 hits, including six number ones – and they never actually played live in the north as far as anyone can remember.
Not that it stopped these worldwide Wolverhapton wanderers from developing a strong Irish following.
"In the 1970s we had three to four very strong years in the days when you had to sell 100,000 copies to get a number one," remembers Dave, who is currently writing his first ever autobiography (Noddy recently published his second, while Don Powell's Look Wot I Dun: My Life In Slade is out now).
"The beauty of the time when we were having success was that Radio One was the main station in the UK and we had Top Of The Pops. When you were on the telly it went out right across England and Ireland. There's a lot of good memories with our band because of the kind of music we wrote. We were always focused on writing strong songs because we were influenced by Motown, The Beatles, the Stones and all those people. But we never wanted to be like anybody else. We had a very direct sound, I think, and of course we had a very strong singer."
With Noddy and his perturbingly powerful pipes still firmly retired, Mal McNulty is the current Slade shouter. He came to the group in 2005 after a spell fronting Andy Scott's Sweet, while bassman John Berry is a veteran of Les Gray's Mud. Although nobody can out-Noddy Noddy (who gave his blessing for the band to continue in his absence), most live reports suggest Mal does a good job of belting out the band's favourites. The reason that people are still getting the chance to hear these Slade classics at all is because, unlike Noddy and Jim, Dave and Don never lost their passion for touring and live performance.
"It's nice to still be able to do what I do and do it with enthusiasm," confirms Dave. "Myself and Don are a driving force. We formed Slade and were actually playing together for a few years before I asked Nod to join in 1966. It will be our 50th anniversary next year but for half of that we've been doing without our original singer! I missed Nod a lot when I first had to do it without him, but now I'm OK. So Slade is a fascinating story and it's still going on today, because we're playing places like Russia that we would never have gone to in the old days – because you just couldn't!"
Slade now spend their summers entertaining thousands of fans on the European festival circuit before hitting the road in the UK during the winter. Dave admits that he loves coming home to Wolverhampton, where he still lives with wife Jan.
"I think that living in Wolverhampton has kept me kind of rooted in a way," explains the guitarist, who was born in Devon before being raised in the West Midlands town. I walk the streets, I see people out walking the dog and say 'good morning' and they all call me Dave. It's not like they're going to start banging on about the band. You become part of the scenery, but at the same time you've still done something that people are proud of. Although I've been successful, I still feel like the same guy who grew up in the council house all those years ago."
Indeed, Dave and his fellow rockers remained Black Country-based throughout Slade's glory years, when he could be spotted driving around in his distinctive gold Rolls Royce with the numberplate 'YOB 1' ("eventually the plate was worth more than the car," Dave laughs). The guitarist was actually still living at home with his parents when the band enjoyed its first number one, Coz I Luv You, in 1971. By the time of their second chart-topper, the appropriately titled Take Me Bak 'Ome, it was time for the guitarist to find a pad of his own.
"I was nosing it in Solihull one night with this estate agent," recalls Dave. "He takes me down this posh road to have look at a lovely big pile across from what looked like a big manor house. I put in an offer, got it and went off on tour. Then somebody said to me, 'what are you doing buying a house next to Malvern Girls School?' I was like, 'what?!'"
Sure enough, the 'manor house' turned out to be a high school stocked with 500 screaming Slade fans. The local news filmed Dave driving through the hysterical throng to get to his new front door and he was forced to hide indoors during the school lunch break to prevent playground frenzies.
"We stuck it for about four years before moving back up the road to be closer to Jan's parents," the guitarist admits. "It was not good. But it's funny to look back at the pictures of them all screaming – I suppose they're all married with their own kids now!" No doubt a few of them are still coming to the gigs. After all, as the faithful like to say, Slade are for life – not just for Christmas.
Just ask Dave and Don.
Classic Rock Magazine website December 2015:
Their most famous song is a Christmas anthem. But there was way more to them than that.
The outlook for Britain in 1972 was even bleaker than it is in these times of austerity. Throughout that wretched year, unemployment and inflation continued an inexorable rise. A long and bitter strike by the miners led to fuel shortages and the declaration of a state of emergency by Prime Minister Edward Heath’s embattled Conservative government. As Christmas loomed, Heath imposed a three-day working week in a desperate attempt to conserve electricity supplies.
DAILY MAIL INTERVIEW WITH NODDY HOLDER - 12th DECEMBER 2015
'People think I live in a cave and come out in December shouting "It's Christmaaass!"':
Inside the head of... Noddy Holder
By Angela Wintle Published: 22:03, 12 December 2015 | Updated: 22:03, 12 December 2015
Also see the article HERE.
So here it is... the Slade singer on his bitter split with his bandmates, the 20-year-old son he still calls ‘babby’ – and why Mary Poppins is really quite atrocious
What is your earliest memory?
What sort of child were you?
What is your best trait?
... and your worst?
What phobias do you have?
What is your biggest regret?
The last film you saw?
Who would be your dream dinner date?
What are you scared of?
What is your most treasured possession?
Describe the best night of your life
What one law would you change if you could?
Who would you like to say sorry to?
What do you believe in?
When did you last feel really happy?
What has been your biggest disappointment?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
How would you like to be remembered?
‘The World According to Noddy Holder: Life Lessons Learned In And Out Of Rock ’N’ Roll’ is published by Constable at £8.99
Thanks for the memoirs – catching up with Slade’s Dave Hill
Looking at the extensive list of past shows on Don Powell’s website, it’s clear that Slade are old hands at this touring lark. An impressive archive of on-stage engagements runs from March 1963, and it’s fair to say Don’s diary remains relatively chock-a-block to this day.
Back in those early days Slade were two separate entities, with drummer Don and guitarist Dave Hill in club circuit blues band the Vendors (later the ’N Betweens) and guitarist/ singer Noddy Holder with Steve Brett and the Mavericks. But the trio – all now aged 69 – met on a ferry to Germany on their way to separate engagements 50 years ago, and not long after their return to Wolverhampton, Nod decided to take up Don and Dave’s offer to join their band.
By that time bass player and multi-instrumentalist Jim Lea, three years younger, was also on board, and history was in the making, this newly-honed four-piece in time becoming Ambrose Slade, then – with ex-Animals bassist and Jimi Hendrix manager Chas Chandler in charge – simply Slade, that classic line-up going on to enjoy mesmeric world success.
While the original Slade story ended in 1992 and chief songwriters Nod and Jim moved on to other projects, Dave and Don were soon touring again, initially as Slade II and since 2002 back under the original name. And they haven’t stopped rocking up at venues all over the world since, as Dave told me on his return from one such trip to Scandinavia earlier this week.
The old band occasionally gets together for the odd event, but live it’s just been Dave and Don of the originals for 23 years now, the last decade alongside Mal McNulty (vocals, guitar) and John Berry (bass, vocals, violin). And while every interview with the band still seems to include that inevitable question about the chance of Nod and Jim rejoining, Dave’s happy carrying on as things are.
So, five decades after that fateful meeting which ultimately led to the classic four-piece, does he ever ponder on what might have happened if Noddy had missed that ferry?
Any idea what yourself and Don would have done for a living if the music hadn’t paid off?
I should explain here that ours was a two-part interview, with an initial questionnaire I forwarded last weekend – returned a couple of days later – followed by a midweek morning chat on the phone from his office in Wolverhampton. So while some of the answers are a little more concise (those penned by Dave), others were more in-depth and philosophical in places (those transcribed by myself after our call).
And you’ll be pleased to know – as those who’ve met Dave over the years already knew – that the David John Hill I had the pleasure of catching up with this week was every bit the amiable, genuine rock legend I’d hoped he would be. There’s certainly no front to this fella, just plenty of down-to-earth, straight-forward honesty … as well as that occasional impish laugh and those distinctive Black Country tones.
Dave also proved to be refreshingly laid-back and somewhat pensive as we covered a wide array of subjects, from making best use of all the waiting around between shows and his on-going world travels to inspiration for songs, the band’s relationship with their loyal fans, and much more. And we also got on to his current project, following in Noddy Holder and Don Powell’s footsteps in writing an autobiography, although full details remain under wraps at present.
So Dave, seeing as I’ve caught you at something of a non-rock’n’roll hour, I should ask if you’re an early morning person these days?
It’s a good idea. How many times have we had perfect melodies at times only to forget them when something else happens or we’re interrupted some way or other.
Dave knows a fair bit about hits, Slade having more than 20 top-20 singles and seven top-20 albums in the UK alone, with six of those singles and three of those LPs reaching No.1. between 1972 and 1974. Knowing he’s a big Beatles fan, I mention a certain Paul McCartney dream that he turned into Scrambled Eggs and ended as Yesterday.
After all these years, I’m guessing the trips between gigs, checking-in to hotels, sound-checking and hanging around doesn’t get any easier. I wonder how many of those hours you’ve lost over the decades while waiting or travelling between engagements.
“If you weren’t travelling to do my job, you may just be sat around at home, which is alright for a period of time, but … Anyway, after 50 years of ‘travel, gig, hotel’, I make a point of seeing a town these days, whereas in the ‘hit’ days we whizzed from one place to another. I see far more of what’s going on these days, often travelling out a day earlier. We were only 20-something then. I’ve seen a lot more in the last 20-odd years than I saw in the entire career of the original band, visiting more interesting places.
“John Lennon talked about getting to meet your fans and knowing them by name, and that’s how it becomes – especially the loyal ones, such as those travelling over from Germany and other countries for this show we’re doing at the Robin 2 in Bilston (Thursday, December 17th, so apologies if you’re only reading this now), where we formed.
“But we work in their countries too, and people over here don’t always realise the amount of people we play to in big venues out there, sometimes packing arenas out. It’s nice that people here talk to me about that Christmas song, but there are all the others from the albums too, not just the ‘70s stuff but our ‘80s hits too.”
You mention Lapland, having just played northern Finland, and it seems that you’ve always had a great affinity with Scandinavia.
“My son grew up in the ‘80s so didn’t know so much about how it was before, and when he came with me on the road he saw all these foreigners besotted with the image and the music, thanking us for all the pleasure we’ve given them. Yes, it’s about playing and being on stage, but it’s also about all the other things that enhance your life while you live, and the travel’s been a big part of what I’ve done.
“A lot of artists decide not to continue touring and become studio-based, but I’ve never lost my love for it, and neither has Don. To me there’s nothing like the experience of standing on a stage and getting involved with the audience, seeing their reaction to it all. One of my daughters came to Belgium to see us, bringing her partner, and they were both amazed at the reaction and how people knew all the words. Yet people who see me around Wolverhampton might end up asking what I’m up to these days, and I have to tell them I’m still doing the same!”
Which is a nice way of bringing me back to Don’s online diary of past engagements, where I see there were very few days off in those early days. Take for example 1965’s festive season, with shows on the doorstep on Christmas Eve (Harold Clowes Hall, Bentilee), New Year’s Eve (Mossley Youth Club) and New Year’s Day (Sedgley Parish Hall). And as far as I can tell there were few breaks over that period from then until around 1972, by which time they’d moved on to wider touring, TV, promo and recording commitments.
“To be honest, especially around then, we must have knocked on most doors in our country, and certainly did in Manchester, Liverpool, Preston … it becomes a haze. We were a young bunch of guys travelling in an Austin J2 van, then a Transit when we could afford it, travelling up to your neck of the woods, whether it be playing a ballroom, a Mecca, a pub … we covered a lot of ground. That included Germany of course. We were booked for a month there. Mind you, we didn’t last a month! The boss of the club didn’t like us, and we cleared off actually. We wouldn’t play pop hits for him, you see. He wanted us to play chart hits, but we were never that sort of band.
“I can’t actually think of what Preston was like then, and there was an awful lot going on at that time. We’d already been in the ball park a long time, but by the time we actually started to score a goal – as in our first hit with Get Down Get With it and with Coz I Luv You reaching No.1 after that – we were everywhere. Certainly by ’72 and ’73 we were the biggest thing of the time, like The Beatles of the ’70s. That’s definitely the impression I got from our Russian fans about us, and that from a nation that’s very loyal to rock fans from working class backgrounds.”
As it turns out, 44 years after Slade’s first Preston appearance, the current line-up are back this weekend, with the 2015 version of Mud supporting. Is this Dave and Don doing their charitable bit for the Lonely this Christmas?
I’m guessing there were occasions back in the day when you were on the same bill as the original Mud, at least on the same Top of the Pops. Any memories spring to mind?
Meanwhile, Slade remain in great demand to this day over the festivities, unsurprisingly seeing as we hear the mega-selling Merry Xmas Everybody almost daily from around October. So has it historically been a case of the band having to put off their own family festive celebrations until they’re free?
And what do family Christmases involve these days for dad of three Dave – who also has grandchildren aged six and five – and his wife Jan, once the shows are over?
Are the little ones aware of what Grandad Hill does for a living yet?
Has Dave calmed down with the stage costumes these days? And is there a costume or a haircut he thinks – on refection – he wished he hadn’t gone with?
Speaking of which, what became of that infamous ‘Metal Nun’ outfit he previously sported on stage? And how about the original YOB 1 number plate?
We use the term ‘branding’ now, but in Slade’s 70s heyday it was just plain marketing, and you definitely had some innovative ideas with regard to the Superyob fashion range. Was that a lucrative sideline?
As he did to Madness, ‘Chrissie Boy’ Foreman playing it in the video for their 1981 hit Shut Up.
Forty years on from the band’s critically-acclaimed feature film, Flame, I get the impression you all had differing views. For me it’s definitely stood the test of time, depicting the music scene better than any rock film from that or any other era.
Staying in 1975, George Tremlett wrote in The Slade Story, ‘Hill is an extrovert, hard-working, superstitious, more sensitive than he cares to admit, perhaps over-conscious of his working class background – and at the same time warm in his personal relationships, an easy person to interview because he appears to enjoy relating anecdotes’. Did he get you about right?
Absolutely, and while you’ve clearly always been ambitious and always wanted to make it big, you’ve never shunned your working class roots, coming over as very loyal to the area and those who helped break the band.
“But they’d seen me play several times, and there wasn’t really an argument. Mum was cautious, as she was quite business-like and wanted me to be a doctor to something – but that was never going to happen! I think she also recognised a musical ability, and they looked at each other, then went, ‘Well, give it a go’.
“From that, the next great thing my Dad did for me was to buy me a very special Gibson guitar, because our manager Chas Chandler wanted me to have a better one. That cost him £220 and in those days it was a case of him getting the cash and going down to London to buy the guitar. That guitar’s on some of the biggest hits we ever had, and hangs on my wall now.
“As far as the personal thing is concerned, I’ve a side to me that runs quite deep – poetical but also probably spiritual in a sense, without putting a finger on anything I do. I think a lot of musicians have a faith or purpose or a feeling that runs alongside what the power of music is, and that gift. I’m not spouting this to anyone, but when I had a stroke five years ago I think it changed me a lot and shook a lot of the debris out. I’m now half-way through writing my life story and there’s a lot there where the journey I’ve been on all these years has been re-lived.”
While priorities may have shifted – Don Powell also suffering a couple of health scares – the live shows carry on apace, 23 years after the very first Slade II gig on December 11th, 1992 at Mora in Sweden. Did it seem a little odd going back out there again without Nod and Jim?
Mal McNulty has been with you 10 years now, and John Berry for 12 years. I guess they’re not just the ‘new boys’ these days.
The line-ups have changed, but I make it 23 years since Nod and Jim left, after 27 years alongside Don and Dave. I guess they don’t plan too far ahead now, but it’s feasible that there will be a Mk. II silver anniversary by the end of 2017.
It’s been a sad year for Dave and Don with the loss of their good friend, Graham ‘Swinn’ Swinnerton to cancer, the former Slade tour manager who was immortalised in 1974 hit The Bangin’ Man having also been associated with their previous bands.
There must have been times – not least as those record sales fell off in the late ‘70s – when Dave wondered just how long this would all last. But he’s still out there. That’s some achievement, isn’t it?
I thoroughly enjoyed Don’s Look Wot I Dun (2013, written with Lise Lyng Falkenberg), and before that Noddy Holder’s Who’s Crazee Now (1999). And now Dave’s working on his own memoir. What can he tell us at this stage?
It sounds like you’re taking the same approach as you do with your time on the road – it’s about the journey as much as the arrival.
“Yes, it’s not about the arrival – it’s about the journey. I might even say I haven’t arrived yet. Some might disagree when they look at what’s been achieved, but I don’t see it like that. The initial thing I did when I formed a group is still the same now. Otherwise, I wouldn’t still be doing it. It all comes back to why you did it in the first place, and that’s usually the joy of playing guitar and making music.”
I’m guessing it’s proved a cathartic experience, thinking back on certain memories.
That’s true, and I have to say the author had you down as being born on April 4th, 1952, with the same discrepancies over the ages of your bandmates too.
Dave’s trademark cackle follows, and it’s good to hear – taking me back, in the same way that his book project has taken him back home.
“People can initially be taken by your success, but once we meet and start to talk, they realise I’m just like them, and haven’t really changed in that area. I understand the fame thing and I’ve had to live through that. But round here these days it’s mostly people out walking their dogs, saying, ‘Morning, Dave’, rather than me being in some other town and people seeing me as that bloke from Slade.”
Again, I don’t want to pre-empt the book, but I was always intrigued by the fact that you were born in Devon, at a castle serving as a maternity home, but very soon relocated to Wolverhampton. What was the story there?
Well, they say every Englishman’s home is his castle.
Moving on a few years, I believe you also had a science teacher who helped you learn the guitar.
“He also had quite an influence on me switching over the way I played. I was left-handed and had my guitar upside down. He told me, ‘You can’t have it that way! You’ll have to play it right-handed. You’ll get used to it.’ He was right. I did get used to it, and he may have done me a big favour.
“I later met someone in Middle of the Road who was left-handed, He said that was the best thing I could have done, saying, ‘I’m left-handed and play left-handed, but I think it’s a weakness, because my left-hand is on the fretboard and my right’s on the rhythm’. It works for some, and a lot of left-handers like Jimi Hendrix, who had his guitar upside down, and Paul McCartney play left-handed. But there’s a lot of power in my left hand, so it works well for me.”
All these years on, who does this left-handed, right-handed axe hero rate as his personal guitar favourites?
I read somewhere you gave music lessons at a local school in recent years.
Yourself and Don are clearly survivors. What advice would you pass on to the next generations out there hoping to follow in your footsteps?
There must be nights when you find it hard to play certain songs after all these years though, especially those a crowd expects every night. But I guess there are also certain tracks you rediscover from time to time and feel justifiably proud of.
I spotted a photo of Don with Nod at a ‘Scribblers, Pluckers, Thumpers and Squawkers’ lunch in Barnes recently. Is it always good to catch up again, despite the fall-outs?
And if you had a quid for every time you were asked about putting the old band back together again, would that come anywhere near the royalties that come the way of the Holder/Lea estate every year for that big Christmas hit?
“I’d never have known the journey I’d take, the places and people I’d meet and the success I’d enjoy in the pop world, and just how big we’d became and the effect on the world we’d have when I started playing my £7.50 guitar from a Kay’s catalogue, when I was 13. And I’m still on that journey.”
For this blog’s review of the Noddy Holder and Mark Radcliffe show at Preston Charter Theatre in May 2013, head here.
There are certain things you can always rely on at Christmas: family fallouts, a Bond film on TV and Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody playing on a loop on the radio and filling the dancefloor at the office party. More than 40 years since its release, it’s still the number one festive feelgood song. How ironic, then, that relations between the band members who recorded it are so bad that they are no longer on speaking terms.
Needless to say, the thorny issue of money lies at the root of their spat, not least the fact that while lead singer Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea (who jointly wrote Merry Xmas Everybody) net an average £250,000 each in annual royalties from their most famous song, the two other members don’t earn a bean from it.
This week, Holder revealed: ‘It really saddens me that the four guys who were in Slade [himself, lead guitarist Dave Hill, Jim Lea and drummer Don Powell] can’t get together and sit round the dinner table. ‘Five years ago I got the four of us together so we could air our grievances face to face, but it was so painful I’d never want to repeat it. I was shocked.’
Not as shocked, perhaps, as the millions who loved Slade’s brand of feelgood pop so much that the band sold more singles in the UK than any other act in the Seventies.
In their pomp, Slade were a pop phenomenon. The first group to have three singles enter the charts at Number One, they amassed a total of 23 hits in the Top 30. Though they complained that most of their earnings disappeared in tax — then levied at up to 90 per cent — all the members initially enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. Guitarist Hill bought a gold and cream Silver Cloud Rolls-Royce, with the tasteful personalised number plate ‘YOB 1’.
Today, however, it is Holder and Lea who are cushioned by the royalties that amount to the kind of salary a City banker might expect. While Holder is worth somewhere in the region of £20 million, with Lea not far behind, in comparison Hill and Powell are left scratching around to make a living. During the winter months they can be found playing at Butlins and on cruise ships, and during the summer they are slogging out their old hits on the festival circuit.
Holder, meanwhile, has no intention of pursuing pop stardom again and lives in state in a sprawling £3 million house in Cheshire. Contrast that with Hill, who was reduced to selling his Rolls just to meet the household bills, and you can perhaps understand the animosity.
It is a far cry from the team spirit that saw the band come together in the Black Country in the late Sixties, took them to their peak and would pull them through leaner years in the late Seventies and Eighties until the band imploded in 1991.
Certainly, it was always Holder — with his powerful, rasping voice and mirror-covered top hat — and Lea who cashed in most. They formed an inspired writing partnership, churning out raucous songs with gleefully misspelt titles — Coz I Luv You; Mama Weer All Crazee Now — that drew outraged complaints from Britain’s teachers, but lucrative royalties. During the years of plenty, this unequal distribution of the spoils was offset by the band’s earnings from touring and the endless public appearances for which Slade were in constant demand.
Buck-toothed Hill, a natural showman, was crucial to the band’s image and took huge pleasure from his leading role, resplendent in pudding bowl fringe, platform heels and futuristic jumpsuits. As Holder recalls, there was a recurring moment for the band where they would fall about laughing at Hill’s latest outrageous outfit (which he would squeeze into in the dressing room toilet, just to add to the suspense). ‘Jim Lea, the “serious” member of the band, would have his head in his hands and say: “I’m not going on television with you dressed like that.” ‘Dave’s classic reply to that was: “You write ’em, I’ll sell em!” ’
It was fair comment. Ask the average older pop fan what they remember of Slade and, almost without fail, it will be Noddy Holder and Dave Hill. This duo were, as the cliche has it, box office. The other two constitute little more than a shadowy memory in the public consciousness of long curly dark hair, scowls and not much else. Cutting a dash, however, does not pay the bills.
When Holder, struggling to deal with his wife filing for divorce, decided to step off the bandwagon and quit, his songwriting partner Lea felt there was no point in continuing without their talisman, and followed suit. But as Hill and drummer Powell would point out, it’s easy to walk away from your job when your wages are being paid in the form of royalties.
Needing revenue from touring the country, and still very much in love with performing, they set up Slade II, with the name soon reverting to the original (despite half the band being newcomers). In Holder’s words: ‘It’s well known in the music industry that many groups carry on working together for financial reward, even though they don’t get on with one another at all. Sorry, but that wouldn’t be for me. ‘What made Slade special was that the teamwork was real. We were at our best when we were working together and heading in the same direction, offstage as well as on.’ He lays the blame at the door of what he euphemistically calls ‘complications’.
In any male rock group, these issues tend to involve egos, money, women, drink and drugs — and the perennial ‘musical differences’. ‘Yes, and sometimes all of the above,’ says Holder. Insulated by his ‘pension’ (as he refers to Merry Xmas Everybody), Holder has happily turned down lucrative offers to appear on Celebrity Big Brother, I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! and Strictly Come Dancing, among many others. Instead, he has enjoyed the luxury of picking and choosing his work, from starring in the comedy series The Grimleys to a cameo in Coronation Street, a guest slot on Have I Got News For You and stints as a radio DJ. Once an unashamedly intimidating figure in his mutton-chop whiskers, he now more closely resembles a Victorian alderman and boasts an MBE — not to mention the freedom of his native Walsall. His fellow songwriter, Lea, studied psychotherapy after the break-up of the band and dabbles contentedly in solo music.
For both men, it is a more comfortable life than that enjoyed by Hill and Powell, who have been on the road with the new incarnation of Slade ever since 1992. Powell, in particular, has had difficult times. Shattered by a near-fatal car accident at the peak of their fame, in which his fiancee Angela Morris was killed, the drummer went on to become a chronic alcoholic with a series of failed relationships. Today, he has finally found some peace away from his old West Midlands haunts and lives in Denmark with his partner Hanne.
Hill still lives in Wolverhampton, but has a quieter life (he is a parish councillor and his favourite outing these days is for lunch at a garden centre in nearby Kingswinford). However, Slade is what helps him pay the bills. Even a stroke, which he suffered while on tour with the band in 2012, did not derail Hill’s passion for performing.
Don Powell, who keeps (and publishes online) a daily diary to help him deal with lingering memory issues from that horrendous car crash, still describes Noddy Holder and Jim Lea as ‘dear friends’. And Dave Hill speaks candidly about how much he missed Noddy when Slade began playing without him.
But as Holder has acknowledged, there is no escaping the money factor. ‘Money, rather than fame, brings freedom — being able to say no to things you don’t want to do, not being subject to the whims of others and to choose how you live your life are all easier if you have money,’ he says.
‘If the bubble bursts once you have achieved a level of fame and the work dries up, it can be very hard. How do you go from being on a big TV show or in a popular band to trying to get a “proper job” to make ends meet?’ It is a question only half the members of Slade have ever had to ask themselves. And it has opened wounds that may never heal, as Holder found when he called together his old bandmates five years ago.
‘At the back of my mind was the thought that it would be worth seeing if there was any spark left and the slightest chance we could get back on stage together for one last tour,’ he says. ‘For my own peace of mind, I wanted to be sure.
‘The meetings were not an experience I want to repeat. It was like being back in the school playground, going over things that had allegedly been said over the years, much of which I knew nothing about. ‘So the answer to the question “Will you ever get back with Slade?” is still a resounding: “No!” ‘Maybe I’ll put it down to us all being grumpy old f***s. It makes it funnier and easier to accept.’
All of which sounds a long way from the summer of 1973, when Noddy and Co were recording Happy Xmas Everybody in a hot New York studio, using melodies from songs they had discarded years before. Holder recalls, with justifiable pride, that he wrote lyrics that were ‘upbeat and optimistic’ to counter the general gloom of those days, with Britain gripped by strikes and working a three-day week. The record went straight to Number One in the charts on the first day of its release and stayed there for five weeks.
No other Christmas song in modern history has come close to emulating its success as the tune that brings the nation together in the festive season. How sad that for the four people who brought it to life, the end result has been the exact opposite.
Interview: Slade's Jim Lea talks ahead of band's 50th anniversary show
Wednesday 5th October 2016
It’s the most frequently heard song on the planet.
Slade bassist Jim Lea
Merry Christmas Everybody has been heard by more people more times than any other tune. Forget The Beatles’ Yesterday and The Righteous Brothers You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling. The song that most people have heard was written by a bloke from Bilbrook while he was in a pig of a mood.
Jim Lea, the bassist with Slade, was in the USA when he wrote it. Homesick and depressed, he’d been told to write a festive number by Slade’s manager, Chas Chandler, the guy who also looked after Jimi Hendrix. Lea popped into the shower and started humming. A billion listens later, he’s glad he did.
Jim doesn’t thank his lucky stars for his moment of genius. He thanks John Lennon; for had the iconic Beatle not finished recording a solo album on time, the song would never have been written.
Jim says: “I came up with Merry Xmas in America. Our manager was always ringing saying ‘how’s the writing going’? I said I hadn’t got anything. I wasn’t very well and was really depressed and I just wanted to go home. There was a studio in New York, called the Record Plant, and John Lennon had been recording there.
“Lennon’s finished his album on schedule but his management had booked an extra two weeks in case he’d run over. He’d got his work done so didn’t need the studio. So Chas booked it for me. I told him I’d got no songs.
“But Chas said ‘The thing is Jim, it would be nice to be in the charts at Christmas’. And he said ‘You know what, it would be even nicer to be number one at Christmas’.
“So I went into the shower and got the lovely warm water on me. I just said to myself – and I was almost talking to my own brain – ‘Come on, do it now’. And lo and behold I pieced the whole thing together. I was really pleased with it. I got that melody – the chorus – and I thought what’s it about?
“Then I remember what Chas had said. And I literally started singing ‘So here it is, Merry Xmas, Everybody’s having fun’.”
Jim went back to the band to tell them about his latest tune. And they laughed in his face. Don Powell and Dave Hill didn’t want to record while Noddy Holder, the band’s singer and lyricist, thought Jim was off his rocker.
“The band didn’t want to record it. You know, it wasn’t Christmas and they had no interest. And I realise that these days a lot of people hate it because they hear it too often. But I’m proud of it.
“I found out a few years ago that Merry Xmas Everybody is the most heard song on the planet. I was absolutely humbled by that, really.
“Merry Xmas was my Archimedes moment. It came together in a perfect storm. Don and Dave didn’t want to know about it. I told Nod I’d come up with a Christmas song and he told me to get lost. I had to talk him round. He eventually said,‘Okay, I’ll finish the lyrics off’.”
Lea was one of the truly virtuosic musicians of the 1970s. He was the indispensible member of Slade, even more so than Noddy Holder. Because he wrote the tunes that made them international stars. He’d been bought up at The Grange pub, in Bilbrook, which his parents owned, and started playing music at Codsall Comprehensive. He played violin in the Staffordshire Youth Orchestra and gained a first class honours at a London Music School before moving onto piano, guitar and bass. He was out of his depth when he auditioned for Slade.
“I was playing for a long time before glam rock. I wasn’t like other kids. I wasn’t interested in girls and bumping them. I hated all that. I wasn’t besotted by women. I was besotted by music. I bought my first guitar early on. I was 13.
“I saw the guy who sold me that guitar a while back, in an Indian takeaway. He said: ‘I only sold it to you because it was a piece of crap’. He wanted to get rid of me because I was an annoying kid.
“After school, I was going to go to art college. People have often asked me what I’d have done if I’d not been in Slade. I’ve said it would have been the same.
“I auditioned at the Blue Flame Club, which was like a village hall, in Wolverhampton. It became the Lafayette. I walked in there and hadn’t got any equipment and wasn’t fully grown. I looked like a child. I was very naïve. I didn’t even drink.
“My bass was as big as me and I had to take it in a polythene bag because I couldn’t afford a case. The singer was Johnny Howells, rather than Nod, and he was really good.”
Jim blew the band away. Dave Hill couldn’t believe what he was hearing and asked him to jam for a while. “In the end, it was like I was auditioning them rather than them auditioning me.”
The most extraordinary ride had begun. Slade dominated the 1970s as The Beatles dominated the 1960s and Oasis dominated the 1990s. They were THE band, the epitome of great rock music. They were the first act to achieve three straight-in-at-number-one singles, they had 17 consecutive top 20 hits and a total of six number ones
Jim was always the band’s loner. He wasn’t as full of braggadocio as some of its other members. He didn’t have to be. He was the one who sprinkled the gold dust on their music. He was the brains, rather than the face.
Jim’s new project is Therapy – literally and figuratively.
It’s a two CD re-issue of his critically-acclaimed solo album, which also features a solo recording of a gig at the Robin, in Bilston. It’s one of only two solo gigs in his career. After he left Slade, he studied psychotherapy and the CD is the result of those studies. His brother Frank secured him a deal with a record company and he’s proud of it.
“It’s a thinking man’s album. There’s a lot to contemplate in that. I did the Robin gig when my dad died.”
Jim Lea’s Therapy is out now on double CD with the vinyl edition following, with six extra tracks, in October.
Slade featuring Dave Hill and Don Powell will appear at the Robin 2 on December 16 in celebration of their 50th anniversary.
By Andy Richardson
Class act Jim adds a new string to his bow
He couldn’t make the call when we’d originally planned to speak. Jim Lea, the Black Country rock star responsible for writing Merry Xmas Everybody, was doing more important things. His grandchild was looking forward to a significant birthday so Jim was buying food and drink for 80. Lucky kid. Celebrating your 18th with the world’s coolest granddad is the only way to party. I hope he serenaded her with Coz I Luv You.
But when Jim did call, the usually out-of-circulation bass-playing, Slade songwriter could have talked for hours. And he very nearly did. We ran out of time initially – Steve Punt, one half of Punt and Dennis, was due on the other line and we had to call it a day. So Jim called back a little later to make sure we’d got all we needed. You can’t buy class. And he had it in spades.
Jim’s a fascinating man. Typecast as the curly-haired quiet one with one of the greatest pop-rock bands of them all, he’s always been viewed as the man who doesn’t say much; a dyed-in-the-wool technophobe who happily admits to not using email or a mobile phone. While the other members of Slade were partying and trying on new be-mirrored top hats or stack heels, he was probably sitting in the corner gazing at the sky. Never a naturally-public figure, Jim was always the guy standing to the side. While Noddy Holder relished the applause and Dave ‘Platform Boots’ Hill was next in line, Jim was there but never there.
A man who lived in his own head, rather than in the full glare of the spotlight, he retreated into the shadows where it was safe to write 17 consecutive top 20 hits, six number ones and mastermind the band’s status as the most successful British group of the 1970s.
Every Lennon needs a McCartney, every Liam needs a Noel and Slade probably wouldn’t have made it out of Walsall without the songwriting brilliance of Lea. He was the one who added substance to their style, who meant they could walk the walk as well as talking the talking. Jim was the engine room and the fulcrum, the glue that bound.
There’s an art in not outstaying your welcome. And Noddy knew when to call it a day on the band. After 25 years, a successful comeback and belated American breakthrough followed by a second decline in popularity – hell, at that point, they couldn’t get arrested and even their Greatest Hits album stalled at number 89 – Noddy did the sensible thing and left. Jim explored the options of bringing in another frontman, but realised no one could cut it like Nod, so followed him into the world of retirement. Dave and Don Powell teamed up with three other musos to flog a dead horse in Slade II, which was never going to be a good idea.
Marilyn Monroe was right about break-ups: “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” And, in Jim’s case, that’s what happened. The man who had lived in his head while the Slade brethren were partying their way around the world decided to study what had been going on in his mind for all of those years.
The man who co-wrote Skweeze Me Please Me, Mama Weer All Crazee Now and who wrote My Oh My after listening to Noddy and Dave tuning up before a gig at the University of Wales and imagined ‘bagpipes’ decided to study psychotherapy. He decided against taking it up as a career; mindful, perhaps, that potential patients might run a mile when lying on the couch beside a man who used to earn a crust by dressing in tartan and knee-length boots. “And you think you’ve got problems?”
The kid who grew up in Bilbrook and was inspired by jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli rather than Little Richard or Elvis learned other stuff. He immersed himself in particulate psychics and became probably the only man to have written six UK number one hits and develop a working knowledge of string theory. String theory, for the uninitiated, describes the the way in which strings propagate through space and interact with each other. It’s the sort of thing that you normally hear around the dinner table at King’s College, Cambridge, as masters pass the port – rather than in the dressing room of Bilston’s Robin 2. But then Jim’s always been a one-off.
His next record will feature violins, cellos, double bass and other instrumental music. And, you guessed it, he’s calling it String Theory. “I don’t blow and I don’t hit,” he says. And he’s referring to musical instruments rather than recreational drugs or hand-to-hand combat, before you say it.
Jim started his career in the year when England won the World Cup. And he’s still as creative as ever.
ITV Report: 20 November 2016 at 11:36am
Christmas classic thought up 'during 20 minute shower'
Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody is the most-played pop classic in the world, bringing in royalties only second to Happy Birthday.
Lea, now 67 and a qualified psychotherapist, is still making music, having long ago established his place in pop history.
“There was a problem. The phrase ‘So here it is, Merry Christmas’ meant the timing had to be changed – it had to be shoehorned in. But Nod wouldn’t change the timing, and he didn’t want to do a Christmas song. None of the band wanted to do a Christmas song, in fact. It has more royalties from more countries than any other song in publishing history.”
It isn't too early to have a little listen... is it?
Don Powell’s supergroup set sights on Robin 2 gig
PUBLISHED: October 31, 2016 11:29 am (Express and Star)
He will forever be known for being the powerhouse behind the anthems of Slade – but drummer Don Powell is looking to show a new side to himself with a new supergroup.
He will forever be known for being the powerhouse behind the anthems of Slade – but drummer Don Powell is looking to show a new side to himself with a new supergroup. Don, who provided the thundering drums behind the Black Country glam gods has joined up with bass player and vocalist Suzi Quatro, as well as Andy Scott of the Sweet to form QSP – a play on all their names. The band is the brainchild of Quatro, who invited Scott and Bilston lad Don to come together for a jam session earlier this year, and now Don has his sights set on a hometown gig at Bilston’s Robin 2.
The trio clicked and recorded an album’s worth of covers and new tracks which they will release in the new year after inking a deal with Sony Music, who were instrumental in convincing the band to get out on the road. Don said of the formation: “It all started a few years ago. We did a big show in Birmingham and afterwards we were having a cup of tea and Andy said we would make a good band.
“We all made contact with each other, had a few days’ rehearsal and it worked fantastically so we decided to do some recording together. We started recording in Peter Gabriel’s studio in Bath which is a fantastic place. That’s where we recorded the album. Sony have signed us and it comes out in the new year. We then head over to Australia to do some shows. “The album is a bit easier and more melodic than what Slade do. We’ve had a great time doing the project together and known each other a long time. It felt like we’d been playing together for years and we were pleasantly surprised. I’d like to think we’d be coming to the UK for some shows. There’s lots of places that we would like to go to across the country . And it would be nice to play the Robin 2!” Don enjoyed the recording process. “We used girl backing vocalists, keyboard player and a sax player. The album is all finished and mixed, we recorded in the old fashioned way of all being in the studio together and playing together.”
The band will support Quatro, who is taking her Leather Forever tour Down Under in the new year. Prior to the tour, Don is set to celebrate 50 years of Slade with a triumphant homecoming show at the Robin 2. The band is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and the current line-up, which includes original members Dave Hill and Don, play the venue on December 16.
Next year, a convention marking the band’s achievements will be held at the same venue on May 28.
SLADE’S DON POWELL: THE QSP TOUR INTERVIEW
Slade drummer Don Powell talks ahead of anniversary shows
No man is more Black Country than Don Powell; Slade’s drummer has an accent thicker than the fat on KVE pork scratchings. His vowels are rounder than the wheels of a JCB. And the absence of ego and airs and graces makes him sound more like a metal basher who’s just done a shift on the production line rather than a rock star who helped ship millions of records. In short, or, as Don himself might say: ‘heez a top bloke, ay ee. Proppa bostin’’.
The kid from Bilston who showed promise as a teenage boxer and runner but gave it up all for sex’n’drugs’n’rock’n’roll – and, let’s face it, who wouldn’t – is celebrating 50 years behind Slade’s drum kit. He developed his interest in music after joining the Boy Scouts. And no, I’m not making this up. The Bilston-born rocker sat behind a kit at his local Scouting group and the die was cast. Having left Etheridge Secondary Modern School and studied metallurgy at Wednesbury Technical College, he found work in a small foundry. His love of music remained and during the early 60s he formed his first band, taking a hat into the audience after shows to collect a few bob for his drinks. It all started in Bilston.
And on December 16, Don and fellow Slade mainstay Dave Hill will return to where it all began. They’ll headline the Robin 2 to mark the band’s golden anniversary and belt out such classics as Get Down & Get With It, Coz I Luv You, Look Wot You Dun, Take Me Bak ‘Ome, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Gudbuy T’Jane and Cum On Feel The Noize…, among others.
“I’m looking forward to it,” says Don, down the line from Prague.
“There used to be an old theatre which is now the car park next to the Robin. There was a big theatre there and our original singer, Johnny, his parents had a B&B. We used to rehearse there in the front room. That would have been 1963. At the time it was just me, Johnny and Mick, the original rhythm guitarist. There was only the three of us in the band. They were listening to Eddie Cochran and Billy Fury and Buddy Holly. I’d never heard that stuff before I met them. They turned me onto rock’n’roll.”
He never looked back. Don learned to play Buddy Holly songs and he was on his way. The trio were approached by a manager, Chalky White, who told them to add another guitarist. He knew a kid playing with a showband, Dave Hill. He came along one Sunday morning and was in.”
Jim Lea came next. “Our original bass player, who was also called Dave, wanted to leave to settle down with his girlfriend. So we auditioned for a bass player and that was Jim Lea. He was the obvious choice.”
Noddy Holder was the final piece in the puzzle. Don and Dave wanted to form a band with two lead guitarists and Nod was playing with a group called The Mavericks. “We’d met Nod at the Park Hall and the Ship And Rainbow. We used to work together there. Then one day we saw him in Beeches Coffee Bar, in Wolverhampton. We just got chatting and he was on about leaving The Mavericks. We said we could get this group together and he joined.”
It was 1966, the year England won the World Cup, and excitement was in the air. The band took to the road, slogging around the toilet circuit to play anywhere and everywhere. “We were the best of mates – but we’d never buy each other a drink.” How Black Country is that? “We had a great relationship really. It was quite unique. And it was wild, of course it was.
“We were four lads out to have a good time. We were just kids. We were playing all the pubs and clubs around the county. We were living it.”
They met a guy, Jack Baverstock, who signed them to Fontana records. And then something strange and brilliant and unexpected happened. Slade, four snotty-nosed kids from the wrong side of town, found themselves on a plane to the Bahamas. As you do.
Don laughs. “It was 1969. We got stranded there. We’d had this thing come through to go to the Bahamas. You imagine that, four scumbags from Wolverhampton going there. We’d never been outside Wolverhampton before. It was through this guy who used to watch us at St Giles Youth Club, in Willenhall. His sister had married this guy out there and they had an outlet in the Bahamas for an English band to entertain people. That’s how it came about.
“It was for eight weeks and we’d get US$100 each per week plus our hotel and food. But it wasn’t like that. The club was making no money and the hotel bill wasn’t being paid. After six weeks, the hotel owner came up to us and gave us a US$35,000 hotel bill. We weren’t being paid and we were just living on room service, thinking it was all being paid.
“He told us we couldn’t leave the island until the hotel bill was paid. So they did a deal where we were paid US$100 per gig and he took US$75 of that. After three-and-a-half months we’d had enough so we decided to sneak home. Dow get me wrong, what a fantastic place to be stranded. It was incredible. But in them days, we hadn’t a clue about anything. We didn’t know what room service was until it was explained to us.”
When Slade touched down in the UK, they had the bit between their teeth because they’d been through so many difficulties. They met their new manager, Chas Chandler, who signed them to Polydor. For a while, they became skinheads. That was Chandler’s idea because he wanted to get them noticed. But pretty soon they followed their own path. Suddenly, they were unstoppable.
Don laughs. “It was chaos. It was mayhem. We couldn’t go anywhere because of the mania. We were at No1 in the charts and we were all still living with our moms and dads. You’d get crowds of people outside your parents houses wanting to see you.
“It was a fantastic feeling. They used to call us the resident band at Top of the Pops because we were on there so many times.
“Nod and Jim were coming up with great songs and everything was like a big whirlwind. We didn’t get back home much. We still lived with our parents and it wasn’t until ‘73 that we started to get our own places.”
By then, they’d been to No1 with Coz I Luv You, Take Me Bak ‘Ome, Cum On Feel The Noize, Skweeze Me Please Me and Merry Xmas Everybody.
“From ‘71 we were just non-stop on the road. In those days it was great. Each country in Europe had their own currency, there were no Euros.
“It was so busy that I only knew where I was by looking at my money. If I’d got Deutsche Marks, I knew I was in Germany. If I had Guilders, I knew I was in Holland. That’s how crazy it became.
“In those days we never knew where we were: it was just airport, concert, hotel. Very rarely would we have the chance to look around. We never saw anywhere. It was hotels, concerts, airports. I’ve always promised myself that when I stop, I’ll have to go around the world again to see all the places I missed the first time.”
The pressures of fame were easily dealt with. Make another joke, grab another drink, play another tune, meet another girl. “We were all mates before we’d made it so we knew each others’ likes and dislikes. We knew when to leave each other alone. There was never a problem.”
They rubbed shoulders with the biggest names in rock, from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin and all points in between.
“We met a lot of people. Ringo Starr was a great down-to-earth bloke. He came to a gig in LA and just stood on the side of the stage. It was great. John Lennon was a bit sarcastic, but yeah, we knocked about with a few of them. We knew Robert Plant from the early days, even before Zeppelin. Robert was a great bloke, he still is. I still see him now. He’s a good ‘un. We did a lot of work with Status Quo in the early days and they’re still the best of mates now. It was the same with Cream. We used to see them a lot in the mid-70s. We’d basically meet up with people at Top of the Pops or when we were on the road.
“It was great being on the road. It was the best part of it. Who else can look back and say they’ve been round the world? And we’re still doing it now. In the past few years we’ve been out to the old Communist states that we couldn’t visit before.”
The good times came to an end, of course, and Don looks back with equanimity. There are no grudges, no axes to grind. He’s sanguine about his time in the band, just grateful it happened.
“The thing is we still enjoyed playing live on stage so we just kept on going when we were no longer in the charts. We weren’t worried we couldn’t play the big concert halls, we just loved playing. We just swallowed our pride and played wherever we could. We had no ego. We just loved playing. When Nod and Jim left, Dave and I kept going. We wanted to carry on. There were still places that wanted us to play. I’ve got to tell you, it’s been fantastic. I’ve got more than 50 gold and silver discs on the wall in my home. I look at those and tell my son he can have them one day – as long as he doesn’t bloody sell them.”
Don keeps in touch with his old bandmates. “I catch up with Nod two or three times a year. A big gang of us get together at this pub-restaurant in London and we have the upstairs room and we have food and drink and we all put a few bob in. It’s a fantastic afternoon. Some of Quo and The Shadows come as well as a load of actors and musicians. We all swap stories and have a great time. Nod and myself are always the first there and the last to leave.”
He’s formed a new band, too. And at the tender age of 70-years-young, he’s got a record deal with Sony and being asked to tour Australia. The band is QSP and comprises Suzi Quatro, Andy Scott and Don. “We have a great time. Sony have signed us and we’re off to Australia. We’ll just have a great time doing it.”
Don chronicled his stories in Look Wot I Dun, his well-received autobiography, and after 50 years with Slade he sees no end in sight. “When I was 14, it was all boxing and running for Bilston Harriers. That was great. It was no women, no drink, nothing, just training. But everything went out the window when I found the drums.” And then things got a little bit crazee.
Slade, featuring Dave Hill and Don Powell, are on at the Robin 2 in Bilston on Friday, December 16. Tickets cost £20 in advance and £22.50 on the door. Visit www.therobin.co.uk or call 01902 401211 for details.
By Andy Richardson
Slade's Dave Hill on why Merry Xmas Everybody isn't such a hit
Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody took bass player 20 minutes to write in the SHOWER
The next time you wash your hair, look to the future – because it might only have just begun. Those sentiments 43 years ago have turned a 20-minute shower into the world’s most enduring rock song that’s heard at Christmas parties, in shopping centres and on radio stations galore. Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody is the most-played pop classic in the world, bringing in royalties only second to Happy Birthday. Yet the band’s musical mastermind and bass player Jim Lea says he dreamed it up while enjoying a douche. The ultimate festive party singalong song has guaranteed lifelong security for Jim and co-writer frontman Noddy Holder, as well as a long career for Dave Hill and Don Powell.
Lea, now 67 and a qualified psychotherapist, is still making music, having long ago established his place in pop history. He has just re-released his Therapy solo album via Wienerworld, with a live album recorded at the Robin 2 as part of the deal. That he’s also had his stage feet resting for 25 years is testament to the power of a good shower. And here’s why..
How Merry Xmas Everybody was conceived:
“Nod came round in the end but there we were with Don, who had no memory after his car crash, and we were trying to put the record down, trying to force it through in the New York studio where John Lennon had just done Walls And Bridges. I would always add lyrics – ‘Don’t stop now, so come on’ – the bits that would stand out, but the session was very stressful, and when I listened to it back it was a big mess. Nod kept singing in c**p timing on part of the song, but after John Lennon’s engineer worked on it, I was very pleasantly surprised. Do you know that it is the most heard song on the planet, though not for total royalties, because of what Happy Birthday gets? It has more royalties from more countries than any other song in publishing history.”
What might have been:
Well, after a false start as skinheads, the long-haired Slade roared their way to 20 weeks on top of the charts from 1971-73 with raucous singalong numbers like Coz I Luv You, Take Me Back ‘Ome, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Come on Feel The Noize and Skweeze Me Pleeze Me. Their biggest hit of all, Merry Xmas Everybody, was, ironically, their sixth and final No 1 while four other hits – Gudbuy T’Jane, My Friend Stan, Far Far Away and My Oh My – stalled at No 2. Jim says their musicality has never been appreciated. I never saw anyone who was as good as we were as a band,” he says. “We didn’t have Eric Clapton and we weren’t a supergroup, but we were a band and we were different.”
Will Slade ever fully reform? Fans must dream of the classic line-up taking their chart-topping hits out on to the road again.
How a bass player became the musical brains of Slade... Jim Lea admits he LIED to get into Slade – and then took over within three weeks, ready to orchestrate their rise to the top. He was the baby of the band, the youngest by three years. Jim didn’t have Noddy Holder’s tartan trousers, mirrored hat, bushy sideburns and raucous voice, he lacked Dave Hill’s crazy barnet with its shock-cropped fringe and didn’t have a story to tell like Don Powell – the drummer who lost his memory after a near-fatal car crash which killed his partner Angela Morris on July 4, 1973.
“Nod used to call me the dormouse,” he says. “I was the quiet one in the band... until anything needed doing. I looked cherubic, with rosy cheeks and was a bit like Bill Wyman, whose bass covered his whole body. “I arrived with my bass in a polythene bag and told them I couldn’t get my gear on to the bus. The truth was I didn’t have any, hence the bag. Don and Dave were the only members of The ‘N Betweens remaining at this club and said they’d hired someone. Don said to Dave: ‘Give him a play and send him home’. Lea says he was nervous but started playing – and it became obvious his style was something they had never heard before. I had a dry throat and felt heat in my chest,” he says. “I couldn’t speak because it would have given away how nervous I was. ‘You play really fast,’ Dave told me. ‘I’ve never heard a bass player like that. I can’t tell what’s going on. We’ll turn our amps down and just you and me will play.’
“Don called me over and said, ‘It says on this form you play the violin (I was in the Staffordshire Youth Orchestra) and the cello (I’d lied about that). He asked, ‘Didn’t the spike stick in your neck?’ That was my egg-timer moment. Suddenly, I was super-confident. I played with Dave and got the gig. I think I was then auditioning him. I was the one making all the running. I was three years younger but after three weeks I was telling them what to play. I was Slade’s musical director right from the beginning. Musical training was in my genes.”
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
Where does an ability to write a hit song come from?
"I am creative... I can design things and could be an architect,” says Jim. “I don’t know how, or why, but I can. I never knew where the writing came from. Suddenly, it was just there.Mozart used to say it came from the Lord God. But it’s looking like it’s from the right hand part of the brain, the emotional side. The left half is intelligence and reasoning, so the two halves can battle against each oter like fight and flight. Every living thing has it, like plants fight for the sun. Tests show dendrites are longer in creative people and when you ask a jazz player to improvise you can see a screen going red on the other side of the brain. It’s where Eureka moments come from. The only time I use a phone is if my wife phones me up to ask if I can bring a cauliflower home. I don’t want an email address if it’s the last thing I do in my life.”
What is Jim up to these days?
After leaving Slade in 1992 when Noddy quit, Jim became a qualified psychotherapist (without ever practising). Jim has recently released his 2007 solo album Therapy – including a vinyl edition – full of meaning-of-life songs written during his ‘introspective period’. The two-disc CD features Therapy on the first disc, including three bonus tracks, with all tracks written, produced and arranged by Jim who also plays most of the instruments, too. Disc two was recorded live during a charity fundraising gig at the Robin 2 R ‘n’ B Club on November 16, 2002 when Jim played guitar in a trio called Jim Jam, featuring Dave Caitin Birch on bass alongside drummer Michael Tongue. With tracks including Pretty Vacant, Wild Thing, You Really Got Me and Substitute as well as Slade standards Cum On Feel The Noize, Far Far Away and Mamma Weer All Crazee Now, it’s a blistering souvenir of the only serious show Jim has played after leaving Slade. The Robin 2 owner Mike Hamblett recalls: “Jim was playing the guitar one-handed while holding it horizontally above his head. Some years later a mini disc from Mad Hat studios emerged from a desk drawer.
“Many hardened and critical concertgeors at the club said that the gig ranked amongst the best they had ever seen, in fact, arguably ‘the best’. People kept asking when he would be appearing again, but Jim says it was his ‘existential one-off gig’ and it was for one-night only – and what a night!”
Slade Member Threatened BBC With Legal Action Over “Merry Xmas Everybody” Authorship Row
Jim Lea, the former bass player and songwriter with Slade, complained that two BBC programmes said Noddy Holder was the sole author of the band’s most famous song. It might be the best-known Christmas pop song, but one of its co-authors is not so full of festive cheer when it comes to getting credit for writing it.
Jim Lea, the former bass player with Slade, who with singer Noddy Holder wrote “Merry Xmas Everybody”, has complained to the BBC for claiming that Holder was the song’s sole author. The song, which topped charts on its released in 1973 and has sold more than a million copies, is still a mainstay of radio playlists in the weeks before Christmas – and the BBC has warned staff not to get it wrong when talking about the song on air.
An internal email, which has been seen by BuzzFeed News, was sent to staff this week. It said that Lea complained during Christmas last year about two TV programmes, Top of the Pops 2 and Back in Time For Christmas, that Lea claimed had implied Holder was the sole author.
“The BBC agreed to correct these statements without any admission of legal liability,” the email said. “Jim Lea’s lawyers have recently written to ask that any proposed BBC output does not repeat the suggestion that ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ is the sole work of Noddy Holder. We wish to ensure that wider programme teams who are likely to refer to the authorship of the song are aware of Jim Lea’s position that he co-wrote it.”
Thought to be one of the most widely heard songs in the English language, “Merry Xmas Everybody” came to Lea while he was in the shower, he has said. He told Native Monster in October: “Chas [Chandler, the band’s manager] said ‘The thing is Jim, it would be nice to be in the charts at Christmas’. And he said ‘You know what, it would be even nicer to be number one at Christmas’. So I went into the shower and got the lovely warm water on me. I just said to myself – and I was almost talking to my own brain – ‘Come on, do it now’. And lo and behold, I pieced the whole thing together. I was really pleased with it. I got that melody – the chorus – and I thought what’s it about? Then I remember what Chas had said. And I literally started singing ‘So here it is, Merry Xmas, Everybody’s having fun’.”
The BBC declined BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Jim Lea interview with Goodtimes Magazine, published January 2017.
Always tired - but many new projects
Noddy Holder may have been the voice and the face of glam rockers Slade but their bass player / violinist Jim Lea was mainly responsible for the songs even though he preferred to stay in the background. Both their former colleagues Dave Hill (guitar) and Don Powell (drums) are still touring using the old band name, whereas Holder and Lea finally retired in *1992. In our ‘Good Times' interview 2015 Lea made a first public statement regarding his problems with cancer, so our reporter Philipp Roser thought it was appropriate to enquire about his health while he was talking to him about the re-release of his only solo album THERAPY.
Q: First let me ask the most important question: how are you feeling now?
Q: You have re-released THERAPY - what was the reason?
Q: There are a number of bonus tracks on the double CD and the vinyl version….
Q: Like on the 2009 release you have included a bonus CD of the live recording of your show at the Robin 2 RnB club in Wolverhampton from 16.11.2002…
Q: This has been your only ever solo gig hasn’t it?
Q: You were mentioning new songs earlier. Can you tell us a bit more?
Q: Is this the STRING THERAPY which you have been working on for years?
Q: You have always made yourself scarce and had almost disappeared altogether - why?
* (The date of Nod and Jim's eventual 'retirement' is corrected above. The magazine stated it was 1987, which is when the band ceased to function, until Polydor offered them the 'two singles and a possible album' deal).
Money Fame and fortune
Interview with Don Powell
by Steve Grantley. April 3rd, 2017
We had been thinking of including Slade drummer Don Powell in our Great British Drum Heroes section for some time. As Steve Grantley, drummer with Stiff Little Fingers and The Alarm, co-wrote a book titled Cum On Feel The Noize – The Story Of Slade for Carlton books a few years ago, he seemed the perfect person to interview the man himself. Steve agreed, so here we pass over to him to give us a brief overview of Don and Slade’s enduring career.
Don Powell is the drummer with Slade, who are arguably the greatest glam rock band ever! Don was a working class boy playing local clubs and pubs when he first started with the band, but he went on to achieve huge chart success and all the fame, fortune and madness that goes with it. Slade became a ‘70’s phenomenon and one of Britain’s most successful pop acts of all time. Their good-time-vibe anthems and scarves-in-the-air sense of rock balladry has lasted them throughout their entire career and they’re still going strong.
In the early ‘70’s Slade were simply massive – they notched up hit after hit and seemed to have a permanent slot on the TV show Top of the Pops. They stomped all over the competition; bands like Mud, Sweet, Roy Wood’s Wizard, T Rex and even the masterful David Bowie or the prolific Elton John couldn’t keep up with Slade’s runaway success. The band also featured in their very own movie ‘Slade In Flame’, which has subsequently become a seminal classic of the glam genre. Film director and movie critic Mark Comode claimed that ‘Slade In Flame’ was “the greatest British rock movie ever.”
Slade have many varied and unexpected fans including the comedian and writer Ben Elton and Goth rockers The Mission. US heavy metal band Quiet Riot and Brit-Pop kings Oasis are also huge fans; both have covered Slade songs. Punk rock star, Ramones singer Joey was a dedicated follower; he stated, “I spent most of the early 70s listening to ‘Slade Alive’ thinking to myself, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do.’ A couple of years later I found myself at CBGB”s doing my best Noddy Holder.” Shock-rocker Alice Cooper announced proudly, “Slade was the coolest band in England” and Kiss mastermind Gene Simmons said that his band based much of their act on Slade. The band was a massive influence on generations of musicians including, surprisingly, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain who was a fan commenting on their refusal to compromise by saying, “Slade, a band that would never bend over.”
Their legacy remains and matures with each passing year and reveals them as true pop legends. At their peak in the ‘70’s they sold 50 million records worldwide and had 6 No.1 singles – a record equalled only by Swedish music phenomenon ABBA. They’ve recorded 20 studios albums, made an influential film, forged an unrivalled ‘live’ reputation, plus made a surprising but triumphant comeback in the ‘80’s. Most of all they became much-loved heroes – not only household names, but also part of the very fabric of British life itself.
Drummer Don Powell has constantly been at the very heart of this veritable ‘hit machine’ legend and he’s still there today. I caught up with him for a couple of chats whilst we were both promoting Stick It To MS in 2009; I found him to be open, friendly, funny and down to earth, you know – like a typical drummer.
When did you first start playing drums?
Were you using traditional grip at that point?
How old were you when you received your first ‘real’ drum kit?
What first attracted you to the drums?
What was the pivotal moment when you knew you were going to be a drummer?
Did you have a drum teacher?
Who were your early influences?
There were no drum machines back in the ‘60’s – how did you develop your rock steady time feel?
A lot of great bands came from The Midlands – who were your drumming contemporaries as a young man?
So you and John were good mates then – what did you think of John when you first saw him?
What about Bev Bevan from ELO, he was from your neck-of-the-woods; did your paths ever cross?
What was your first paid gig?
How did you meet the other guys in Slade?
Slade had been working for many years – how did it feel when you had what seemed like overnight success in the early ‘70’s?
As a professional, what drums and cymbals were you using at this point?
Is it true that on some Slade records you double-tracked the entire drum kit?
Did you have any problems sync’ing up with the first take? Was it difficult avoiding flamming; were any of the early hits recorded like this?
Was it your idea to record in the loo?
How many takes, on average would it take you to ‘nail’ a Slade song?
What was the high point of the bands career for you?
Why is that – I would have thought it would’ve been your first No.1 record – something like that?
How many times did you appear on Top Of The Pops in the ‘70’s?
What is your favourite drum performance on a Slade record and why?
Did you enjoy acting in the bands seminal and innovative rock movie, Slade In Flame?
What bands were you listening to when Slade were at the height of their career?
Progressive rock was popular in the ‘70s. What did you make of the likes of Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes and Genesis?
You had a horrific car crash which led to short-term memory loss – do you still suffer with this condition?
How did you feel when Noddy decided to quit the band?
Slade are still a huge live act – what kind of gigs do the band play now?
Have you ever played sessions with any other bands or artists? If so, who and what?
What did you think of the Oasis cover of ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’?
When Slade had a career resurgence in the ‘80s drum machines and click tracks were the order of the day. Did you record with a click track and if so, how did you get on with it?
How do you get along with producers: any ‘nightmare’ experiences?
You wear gloves on stage, which is fairly common these days but you also wear a gum shield? Is that in case the guitar player gets a bit stroppy?
What drumming advice do you have for all the young drummers out there?
Who are your favourite drummers now?
Did you like what he did with The Who? I thought he did a sterling job but I was a bit surprised by his appointment – any comments?
What music are you listening to these days? Are there any contemporary bands you like?
The Slade set is a tough work out for you, where do you get your energy from? Do you stick to a keep fit regime?
Can you ever see yourself retiring?
Is there anything you would like to say to finish?
Thanks for your time Don.
Slade's Noddy Holder talks his love of the Black Country, playing in weird places and that Christmas tune
He’s one quarter of Slade who had huge success in the 70s. Noddy Holder talks about his love of the Black Country, playing in weird places and that Christmas tune. . .
He’s a bit chesty. Noddy Holder’s just been on a flight and has caught some bug. Imagine being the person who was sitting beside him. “Are you. . .? You’re not that bloke from Slade. You look just like him?” Though the mirrored top hat and platform boots might just give it away.
He tells me not to worry if he starts coughing, though he barely pauses for breath. Once Noddy gets going there’s no stopping him. Our allotted time runs over into 45-minutes of rambunctious chat about drink, drugs and debauchery, about the blessing/curse that is Merry Xmas Everybody and the totemic rock album that is Slade Alive.
It’s the 45th anniversary of their seminal live album, Slade Alive, which was their breakthrough hit. It went to number two on the UK chart – their first record to enter the top 40 – and stayed there for more than a year. It’s being re-released to coincide with its anniversary as part of a record company series of Classic Album promotions.
The record cost £600 to make and was recorded over three nights at London’s Command Theatre Studio in front of an invited audience. It was a hit around the world and in Australia it was the biggest selling album since The Beatles 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Noddy has fond memories. The record was the idea of their manager, Chas Chandler, who also produced it. It followed the single Get Down and Get With It, which had given the Black Country quartet their first hit – a number 16 placing on the Top 40.
Noddy says: “Chas wanted something to keep the fans interested so we went along with it. He booked us into a studio on Piccadilly in London for three nights on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“On the Wednesday we were called into Top Of The Pops with Coz I Luv You, which was our next single. It was selling like hot cakes and looking like going to number one.
“So we went straight from TOTP to Command Studios after the recording. We’d done TOTP and had a few drinks. We were buzzing. We walked on stage and the atmosphere was brilliant. In the end, we scrapped the recordings from Tuesday and Thursday and just used the gig from Wednesday because it was so good.
“We captured the raucousness of our live shows on that record. We’d been trying to capture it on record before because that’s what Slade was all about. It was all about that spontaneous, raucous guitars – we were a real rock’n’roll band.
“Before then, every time we’d been in the studio the engineers would be telling us to turn the amps down because we were always too loud for everyone. But we played at full poke on Slade Alive.”
The record was recorded in late November 1971 and came out in early spring 1972. It changed the game and earned them the acclaim they’d sought. No longer were they viewed as a happy-go-lucky pop band from the Black Country. Suddenly they were being taken seriously. A month after the record’s release, Slade played Lincoln festival alongside bigger acts and stormed it. They took the front pages of the music press and became the hottest band since The Beatles.
And yet, remarkably, they had yet to enjoy the fruits of their success. Noddy says: “At the time of recording we were all still living with our parents, although we were hardly ever there because we were touring that much or recording in London.
“But the Midlands was still our base because we couldn’t afford to move anywhere. We hadn’t started making any money at that point.”
Slade Alive opened the floodgates and they were sent off to Europe to tour. In Australia, the record went to number one and stayed there for six months. “It was only knocked off the week we arrived and released our next album, Slayed? We had the number one and number two album and three singles in the chart. It was the same in Canada.
“But we were never an overnight success. That was the culmination of five years of hard slog and trying to break down doors.”
Slade experienced something akin to Beatlemania during the early 1970s. From 1971 to 1973 they enjoyed six number one hits, two number two hits and a single, Look Wot You Dun, that made it to number four. They breached the USA chart and enjoyed success in Europe. When they got off the plane in Australia, there were crowds at the airports. The band were so big they had to play racecourses in every big city, where 40,000 to 50,000 would gather every night. It was the same round Europe. But none of that happened by accident. They’d spent five years honing their act, becoming the tightest band on the road.
Their live shows were the foundation for that. Noddy was the first frontman to encourage audience participation. And though people mocked him for encouraging audience sing-a-longs, soon everyone was doing it. “So many bands nicked our act and everybody started doing it. We got so much flak because it weren’t cool. But we weren’t cool. That was the point.
“We went to America and nobody could follow us on stage. Bands were all scared of us because we were tearing it up and the audiences loved us. They loved the sound and they loved the look.”
Slade had met their manager at a disco, of all places. Chas had played bass with The Animals before managing Jimi Hendrix and becoming a talent scout, producer and studio owner.
Chas saw the band play in a small venue in the heart of the West End. The owners put on bands in between the DJ’s set. Slade were halfway through their first set when he walked in and the audience had started a riot. They were on stage with the band, rocking the joint for all it was worth.
“Chas couldn’t believe it. Back then, bands in London were there for the audience to dance to and we were still unknown at the time. But the next day Chas signed us. He said we were like a real rock’n’roll band should be. He’d had Hendrix, who’d been a phenomenon all around the world. And he wanted a raucous rock’n’roll band who could tear a place apart. He found that in us. As soon as he started managing us, that was it. It didn’t happen overnight. It took us a year-and-a-half. But he never lost faith. Everyone was telling him we wouldn’t break through. But he knew it. I got to give it him.”
The early 1970s were mayhem. Slade was living in a bubble. They hit the road with their mates working as roadies and didn’t look back. It was first class flights, first class hotels and as much drink, drugs and women as they could manage.
“We wuz four blokes from the Black Country playing in all these weird places, like Japan. It was all on top of us in one fell swoop. We didn’t have time to catch our breath. We didn’t realise what was happening. We could only gauge it by going to number one or getting in and out of gigs in the back of police vans. Kids would jump on the top of our cars and bend the cars in to get at us. One night in Glasgow we sat on the side of the river, the Clyde, eating fish and chips with the coppers because we couldn’t get into our hotel. They had to protect us. That was our life.”
And then they’d come home to Wolverhampton, Walsall, Selly Oak and Solihull and see their pals for a pint. Their feet would be back on the ground in an instant. “I was living near Brum but used to come to my local haunts in Wolverhampton to have a drink. At the time we were home for a few days off and we’d feel comfortable when we came back. We were in a whirlwind. It didn’t let up for six years. We were on a merry-go-round non-stop.”
They’d play 200-250 shows a year. Then they’d release an album every year. Occasionally, they’d moan at Chas for a day off. But Chas would tell them it was the partying that was wearing them out, not the touring. “We were four Black Country blokes having a bloody good time.”
Their biggest hit was Merry Xmas Everybody, which is one of the UK’s favourite festive song and was recorded in New York, next to a studio being used by John Lennon for his album, Mind Games. Slade used Lennon’s harmonium on the disc.
“It was late August, early September and it was clammy and hot. We’d booked this studio time and Chas didn’t know what we were coming up with. Don had had his car crash and was in a bad way – to be honest, we didn’t know if he’d survive. The record company wanted a record out at Christmas so we come up with Merry Xmas Everybody. We played it to Chas and he flipped. I don’t think even Dave and Don had heard it at that point. Chas said the record company would go mad over it and he was right.
“At the time, Don’s memory was shot to pieces because he’d banged his head when he had the car crash. We’d be on stage and he couldn’t remember the intros to the songs. While I was talking to the audience, Jim would whisper in his ear how the next song should start. Physically he was in a bad way. But we booked the studio and recorded it.
“Don couldn’t remember it from start to finish and I’d be starting talking in his headphones saying ‘the drum roll comes here’. We made that record like painting by numbers, everyone put a bit on separately.”
Slade had already enjoyed a slew of number one hits, with Coz I Luv You, Take Me Bak Ome, Mama Weer All Crazy Now, Cum On Feel The Noize and Skweeze Me Please Me. Merry Xmas followed the gold rush.
The pre-orders built to 100,000 then 200,000. Before its release, the record had sold 500,000 copies and the record company was having to press it across Europe because the British pressing plants were all full. After two days of release, the record had sold 800,000 – topping a million before Xmas.
“My God, that song’s had a life of its own. People come up to me and think I go into shops and ask them to play it in October. You can’t go anywhere at Christmas without hearing it. Last year I was walking round Manchester, I saw a whole display of 50 toy penguins dancing in and singing to Merry Xmas. It was bizarre. But I’m proud of it. It’s great when a young kid of five or six comes up and they love it. On the other side, people think it’s the only thing we’ve done.”
We chat some more, about the spirit of rock’n’roll, about the lack of great bands, about the lifestyle he led and more. One of the few bands Noddy felt a kinship with, post-Slade, was Oasis. “They were a rock’n’roll band. After a while, they brought in better musicians but although they could play better they didn’t make them a better band. They had that rock’n’roll spirit at the start.
“The same thing happened with us. You know, we weren’t all playing on our record in the late 1980s. I don’t think I picked up a guitar on Rogues Gallery. Rock’n’roll is not about playing the right notes in the right order, believe me. It’s a feel a style a lifestyle. It’s four guys playing together. It’s magic when you get it right. That happened with us and Oasis.
“With Slade Alive, the record company came to us with the idea – it wasn’t our idea – because they were doing something called The Art of the Album. It’s exactly as it was. I haven’t remixed it or anything. Because when we did that it was magic. And it was rock’n’roll. So why f*** about with that?”
NODDY HOLDER INTERVIEW - THE SCENE MAGAZINE SEPT / OCT 2017
DOWNLOADABLE AS A PDF HERE
Slade Interviewed: Don Powell on the Legendary 'Slade Alive!' Album
Slade drummer previews the re-release of iconic live album, talking to Dave Jennings for Louder Than War.
It’s remarkable but true that, despite all the singles success that Slade enjoyed (and they enjoyed a serious amount), the one album that their fan base would always agree as being their best is one that was recorded shortly after their first Number 1, and one that contains only Get Down and Get With It of their legendary hits. Slade Alive is also frequently named as one of the greatest live albums of all time and it will be re-released by BMG in late September as part of their Art of the Album series.
I recently caught up with Slade drummer Don Powell who was happy to confirm the status of Slade Alive among the fan base and also reminisced about the recording process.
Don: “We’d already released an album called ‘Play it Loud’ which didn’t really do anything so because we had such a good reputation as a live band, it was our manager Chas Chandler’s idea to release a live album. We thought it was a great idea but didn’t know how to go about it but Chas put the feelers out and found a studio called Command which was actually a theatre that only held around 200 people but was set up for live recordings. We put the invites out to the fan club as it was in those days and we booked it for three nights with the aim of picking the best from each night to make up the final album. As it happened the whole album is the second night, we just thought that was the best and it all worked out perfectly. There was a great atmosphere in there and we were just playing our live show from the time so it was all like second nature and a live album just seemed the right thing to do.
It did massively well at the time. It was in the top 3 in the Album Charts for a couple of years and at one stage Slade albums were vying for top spot. Nowadays, when we’re touring the world, that album is still the one that everyone talks about, it’s still the one that most people bring to get signed. I can’t explain the popularity of it really, it’s just a bog standard, honest live album. We just went in and did it and that was it but maybe that was the appeal, the honesty of the whole thing.”
Another striking feature of Slade Alive is the fact that the track list consists of only two Slade originals, the rest being covers from the likes of Ten Years After, Lovin’ Spoonful and Steppenwolf.
Don: “It is a little strange when you think about it but that was our set at the time. We toured with Ten Years After in the 1970’s and Alvin Lee told us that he made more money out of our version of ‘Hear Me Calling’ than he ever did from the Ten Years After original as it was such a massive album. But we had been playing these songs for a few years before and we had them nailed down so it just sort of worked perfectly.
For a musician growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s in England, there must have been a range of influences that you took on?
Don: “When I was young, just finding my way as a drummer, the two guys I was playing with at the time, Eddie and Mick, were older than me so they turned me onto Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly. I’d been listening to sort of Billy Fury stuff down the youth club but hearing Buddy and Eddie just changed my whole musical outlook really. I suppose each generation has its heroes or people who shape their musical tastes and they were certainly mine. I would say that especially Eddie Cochran records influenced my drumming. There’s nothing special there, just straight down the line rock and roll drumming, but it’s just the power of the sound that struck me and what I tried to bring into my drumming.”
The late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s in the West Midlands is “one of those periods” in music history with the emergence of a number of influential bands and styles alongside yourselves. Did you feel part of a scene?
Don: “Oh yes, I remember playing with The Move before they even became The Move and the original Moody Blues with Denny Laine and Mike Pinder. Everyone was on the scene and we would all meet each other at New Street Station in Birmingham after gigs. There was a caravan open until 2 or 3 o’clock so all the bands knew where they could get something to eat. All the vans would be parked up and we’d all be sitting there having a chat about how the night had gone and swapping stories. It was a great time. Ozzy has said about the influence of the industry in the area on the music and I think he’s right. It was a working class area and we were playing straight down the line rock and roll and it just connected with people around the world.
Slade were very much of the “Glam-era, but were never a Glam band.
Don: “I would certainly agree with that. OK we were a bit colourful for a while, but we never really embraced all that Glam stuff to be honest. We were a rock band and serious about what we did and the fact that we stood apart from the more extreme elements of Glam helped us to get the more serious work that we did later. We kept our feet on the ground even during the height of our success. We were having Number Ones in 1973 and still living with our mums and dads.
Sometimes fame made things a bit difficult, if I was visiting my sister’s crowds sometimes would gather but it all worked out ok generally. It was the price to pay but we were in our home town and all our mates were around so it was all usually fine.”
From being a regular hit machine in the Early to Mid ‘70’s, things quietened down a bit before what has become one of the great Festival appearances at Reading in 1980.
Don: “Well we did spend quite a bit of time in the US before that and lost some ground in Europe. We were playing smaller places because we wanted to play and then it was just a fluke that we got the Reading gig. We hadn’t worked together for a few weeks and then Nod called me up to say Ozzie had dropped out of Reading and we were the replacements, which I thought would be interesting. We got together for a couple of days and then we just went for it. We had nothing to lose as we were last minute additions to the bill but that meant we didn’t have any passes. We were just walking through the crowd with the punters and then we got backstage and people were asking what we were doing there and we told them we were actually playing.
What was great was the BBC were recording the festival so we bought the tapes from them and released them as a single and that’s what helped to bring us back again really. We had nothing to lose, we hadn’t done anything in a long time, and we just went for it and it worked for us.
Looking at music today, a number of people have named Slade as influences, not least The Ramones, Kiss and Oasis. How does that feel?
Don: “I’m really proud of that to be honest. Funnily enough a few months ago, we bumped into Noel Gallagher at Heathrow and he came over and said “I’m a massive fan”. We just said thanks for all the comments he made about us and had good old chat and a cup of tea with him. It was great. I went to see KISS recently and Gene Simmons has always been very kind in his acknowledgement of our influence on the band. Apparently they used to come down and watch us at the New York Academy of Music and they decided they were going to get our show and take it further. Quiet Riot made Cum on Feel The Noize a hit in America and we’d released it 10 years earlier so to me that is also a great compliment to the song-writing of Noddy and Jim Lea. When you think of the success we had and the number of hits we achieved, I don’t think they quite get the credit they deserve as song-writers to be honest.
Final thoughts on Slade Alive?
Don: It’s just a great Rock album that captures the essence of what we have always been about.
Slade Alive is released on 29th September 2017 as a BMG Art of the Album Deluxe edition on vinyl LP with a 6-page 12” booklet and CD with hardback cover and 28-page booklet.
All words by Dave Jennings. More from Dave can be found by checking out his Louder Than War Author Archive. He is also on Twitter as @blackfoxwrexham.
Slade’s Dave Hill talks to Northern Life about life on the road, ‘the Christmas song’, and John Lennon.
With winter around the corner, a 71-year-old man in the West Midlands is dusting off his gold lamé jumpsuit, polishing his six-inch platform boots and trimming his fringe into a perfectly straight line, all ready to hit the road.
See the full original article here.
Slade's Dave Hill chats about his new book ahead of Bilston show
You’d expect him to be the showiest of all of the members of Slade. After all, Dave Hill made a career from modelling silver wigs and platform boots. He was the brightest star in Slade’s firmament, the one who’d dress most outrageously, who’d model a great scooping fringe for more years than was sensible.
Yet Dave Hill is as far removed from the caricature as is possible. Our scheduled 15-minute chat turns into 45. And the subjects aren’t just Rolls Royces and drink, six number one singles and outrageous apparel – Dave talks about depression and importance of our shared history, about his deep, deep affection for the Black Country and a long-lasting marriage.
The man nicknamed Superyob who rocked the world with Slade is more sensitive and thoughtful than anyone might imagine. Yes, there’s Merry Xmas Everybody and six smash LPs in his new book, So Here It Is, which is published this month by Unbound. But there’s also talk about post-War Britain and his office job at Tarmac, about sliding into depression during his later years and suffering a stroke, there’s an honest assessment of Slade’s split – to paraphrase, everyone started to hate Noddy, though Dave and Nod are the best of pals again now – and there’s the slow revealing of a gentle soul.
Superyob? Dave Hill. You’re having a larf.
“I was born in a castle and then grew up in a council house in Wolverhampton. I had a smashing mum and dad but things were tough growing up in post-War Britain. My life really changed when I heard rock‘n’roll music. I said goodbye to an office job at Tarmac and never looked back. I played in various groups before fame came knocking at my door.
“Slade’s success didn’t happen overnight but boy, were we big when we took off! We had 23 top twenty hits and six number one singles. Three of these went straight to the number one spot – a first, not even matched by The Beatles. Topping it all was Merry Xmas Everybody, which sold over one million copies. We also had six smash LPs, and one time had the number one and two spots on the LP chart. All this made Slade the biggest band in the UK in the 70s, and we were massive all over the world, too. Slade had some great years but fashions change and the break-up of the original band was heartbreaking. I thought that would be it for me. I battled through depression and got over a stroke, and decided to carry on doing the thing which I do best: I went back on the road with Slade. I’ve seen more of the world, and more fans, in the last 25 years than I did when the band were at their most famous.”
Dave’s autobiography, inevitably, was created in his beloved Black Country. He met a writer, from Walsall, who was a big Slade fan and encouraged him to jot down his memories. Publishers were slow on the uptake so they took it to Unbound, the pledge-funded organisation. Dave smashed his target – achieving 116 per cent funding from 564 backers.
“It was a nice process. If I’d been with a different publisher, they’d have been telling me what to write. With these guys, I was just allowed to get on with it. I worked with a ghostwriter, he was from Wednesbury. It was important to do it that way. I was working with somebody who understood the way I talk and who related to my upbringing.”
Dave, who is performing at Bilston's Robin 2 on Tuesday, didn’t just want to write about the good times. He wanted to tell the truth, to write down his experience of mental health issues.
“The Slade years were incredible. We had the most original Christmas song. We influenced a lot of people. Those years took me to destinations I wouldn’t have dreamed of. Everything was good until the break-up of the band. I didn’t know what I was going to do. But I’d got a good wife and three children. I had a lot to carry on for.”
Dave is more candid in his book about the break-up than others have been.
Dave’s book is equally remarkable for his exploration of depression, which followed routine surgery.
“I was in a dark place for a while. I had two years of really bad depression and was wondering whether I would ever feel good again. It was scary, it was hard on the family. I didn’t trust medication. I found the right person who helped me, a great psychiatrist, who knew about medication. She was a specialist in her area and great to talk to. She told me I was 100 per cent depressed.”
The joy returned when he listed to some old 60s music in his car. “The music gave me that joy inside. I went on a shopping spree buying clothes, I was Dave Hill again, that bloke, going out and getting stuff. The dark areas faded away. But I wrote about that in the book.”
So Here It Is: How the Boy From Wolverhampton Rocked the World With Slade, by Dave Hill, is published by Unbound on November 16.
I grew up living in the next street to Dave Hill from Slade but never managed to speak to him. So 27 years after leaving our mutual stomping ground, it was a pleasure to chat to one of the most glam rockers of all time. Ahead of Slade’s UK tour, he discusses his new autobiography, So Here It Is; starring in my favourite rock film, and why ‘without Slade there would’ve been no Oasis’.
At what point did you catch the showbiz bug?
At one point Slade were the biggest group in the country. How did you keep your feet on the ground?
Aside from the UK tour, what are you working on at the moment?
Becoming famous I don’t think we ever realised the roster of number ones we would’ve had. But our manager Chas Chandler, who was Jimi Hendrix’ manager, believed in us immensely. He saw us as the follow on from the Beatles. He said in his mind we were that kind of group. You know, ‘working class people who made it’. We got writers; we got abilities; and we got an image, which was a lot to do with our success.“Mobbed”
Slade never seemed to let fame go to their heads. How did you cope?
I was still living at my dad’s house when I had two number ones. I moved and my dad was signing the autographs and I thought that was really great (laughs). Coping with fame. We were good with each other in the band. Each one of us occasionally might kick off and couldn’t cope, but the others would pull you together you see. We had this camerarderie in those days.
“We did have difficulties”
And having a good manager was obviously a bonus.
Midlands humour is pretty unique so that probably helped you cope with fame.
We had four years of huge success. A lot of bands now are lucky to get 12 months. Never mind the kind of songs we had. And also records were selling in their hundreds of thousands. Not like now. With 10,000, you’d be number one. In them days you had to have hundreds of thousands to get to number one. Records were all and everything to people. Plastic records. Vinyl. The ritual. We did have difficulties like every band does. You do change. I didn’t particularly change because I had the same focus in my life as respects a group that I did when I left my first job to become professional.“Paid dividends”
So why did the original Slade split up?
The revamped Slade has obviously brought those classic songs to a new and different audience.
You document that rise to fame and life in post-war Britain in your autobiography.
“Trying to survive”
What was the reaction to the film overseas?
‘How Does it Feel?’ from that film is one of my favourite Slade songs.
‘So Here It Is’ by Dave Hill is released on November 16, 2017. Slade are touring the UK, with dates at Sheffield Foundry, 8th Dec, Wakefield Warehouse 23, 9th Dec and Hull Welly, 23rd Dec. All images of Dave Hill: Chris Floyd
Slade's Dave Hill opens up about depression
Flamboyant glam rock band Slade achieved 23 UK Top 20 hit records and global success. But one band member - known for his sunny attitude to life - was quietly struggling. Guitarist Dave Hill has opened up about his battle against depression.
DAVE HILL INTERVIEW
Slade guitarist Dave Hill: My best six albums including Adele, The Beatles and more
THE BEATLES: 1 (Apple) This is the album I would take to a desert island. It’s a way of remembering the good things they did early on. When they were successful, I grew my hair and wanted to be George Harrison. When I saw the humour in the film A Hard Day’s Night, it was the start of my romance with being a travelling musician.
ADELE: 21 (XL) When I listened to this, I didn’t know anything about her but it was the first time in a long time that I’d sat and listened to an album where each track wasn’t a fi ller. Like Aretha Franklin, she came along and sounded great on radio but she had worked for it.
THE SHADOWS: The Shadows (EMI Gold) This came out in 1961. Classical music was played at home and that moved me as a kid so I’ve always been strong on melodic playing. Hank Marvin was probably everybody’s go-to melodic player in the early 1960s. It was the fi rst time I’d heard echo on a guitar.
FLEETWOOD MAC: Tango In The Night (Rhino) I was in St Louis in 1975 and we were invited to see them. They played what became the album Rumours and they came across so well. But it was this album that I used to play a lot in the 1980s. Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham are brilliant artists.
BILLY FURY: The Sound Of Fury (Hoodoo) There was Cliff, Marty Wilde and others but Billy was a real nice guy and wrote his own songs. Out of all of them in England, he had the best songs such as Like I’ve Never Been Gone, and the best voice.
JOHN BARRY: The Beyondness Of Things (Decca) Barry is famous for the Bond films, Dances With Wolves and Out Of Africa but this is a solo album and it touches on some of his film work. It creates a good mood in the background. Although I’m a rock and roller, I also write bits and bobs of classical music for myself.
You can find the interview online here
Slade's Dave Hill on family secrets, surviving a stroke and his days as a pop star
IN the bar of the Mount Hotel in snow-smothered Wolverhampton this December afternoon there’s a Christmas soundtrack playing on the public-address system. Carols and pop tunes go around and around. Old songs, familiar songs, overfamiliar songs, the odd newish song. And yet by the time Dave Hill arrives – a little late, but who’s keeping time? – I tell him that Merry Xmas Everybody still hasn’t come on. “It will,” he replies. In fact, by the end of our couple of hours together we still won’t have heard it. It might be the longest time this December either of us has gone not hearing it, to be honest. But I guess he can probably remember how it goes.
“Dave of Slade.” Is there any phrase more likely to plunge you back into the 1970s than that one? For those of us of an age, it is a pop madeleine plugging us directly into childhood, the three-day week, Top of the Pops on the telly, Tony Blackburn on the radio, Fab 208 on the newsstand. In person Hill is, at 71, a little jowlier than in his silver-haired, silver platform-booted prime. But he still has that haircut, a kind of inverted U that has been cut by unfeeling, uncaring robots. The straight-across fringe may have migrated a little further up his forehead these days, but even now, and even in his civvies (puff jacket rather than old man’s cardie), he is still recognisably “Dave of Slade”. And yet … And yet over the next couple of hours he will talk to me about vulnerability, about depression, about guilt. He will also tell me much he loves the poetry of William Wordsworth. I don’t remember any of that getting much coverage in Fab 208. Rather like the memoir he has written, Dave Hill can be a bit of a surprise.
The cover of So Here It Is has a picture of the guitarist wearing a cape, thigh-high boots, a mandala of glitter on his forehead and holding a guitar labelled “Super Yob” (famously, he also once had a car bearing the number plate “YOB 1”). This is the Dave Hill we remember, the Dave Hill that Reeves and Mortimer would later turn into a comedy sketch. Yet while he does tell the Slade story inside, it’s also the story of the dreariness and social confines of post-war Britain in a way, the story of how childhood marks the man and how patterns of behaviour are passed down from generation to generation. With a chorus of Cum On Feel the Noize thrown in for good measure.
Hill has always lived in Wolverhampton. He tells me his daughter married in this very hotel. Indeed, Slade, before they were Slade, played here too. That was in the days before they were scoring six number ones, of course. In 1973, their annus mirabilis, I was 10; the perfect age to love their teacher-baiting song titles, their glitter and tat look, Noddy Holder’s Dickensian sideburns and their devotion to the three-minute single. Managed by ex-Animal (and ex-manager of Jimi Hendrix) Chas Chandler, Slade were a people’s group, Hill reckons. The Oasis of their day, perhaps. But less derivative.
“If you think of Slade, you’ll think of some happiness,” Hill suggests. And much of that was down to his own, shall we say, eccentric stage gear. In the NME in 1973 Keith Altham (who doubled as the band’s PR) describes Hill as coming onstage looking like “an over-decorated, perambulating Christmas tree”. And that was one of his more conservative looks. “I know I am an extremely strong part of that visual image of Slade,” Hill agrees. “I don’t have to be told that. Nod and I quite accept our positions. Who are you going to remember? It will be me and him.” That said, he adds, “We did take our music seriously. Chas was pro my guitar playing. And after all, he managed one of the best guitarists in the world. I’ve always loved melody, but I know there is something in me that can make people move. It’s a driven sound. We had a passion for it and Nod was a good lyricist. He was a clever bloke. But his lyrics to the Christmas song … It’s clever in its simplicity. We’re probably the only band at that time who could have written a song like that.”
Merry Xmas Everybody remains a cash cow of a song. There are stories that Noddy Holder and Jim Lea, Slade’s songwriters, each earn in the region of £250,000 every year (some reports put that figure much higher) thanks to Merry Xmas Everybody. Hill and drummer Don Powell don’t. Such is the nature of music publishing. I must ask, Dave. Does it rankle?
“My best answer to it is that is the way it is. Really, a lot of people are having a tough time. They don’t want to be hearing about blokes in groups whinging about something they haven’t got. I sense what I’ve got, what is right for me. And it’s not based on a financial achievement. The benefits of the Christmas song is the bigger picture of joy. People come to me and go: ‘It’s your time of year, Dave.’ That is enough for me. If someone said: ‘It’s your time of year, but someone else is making the money,’ it wouldn’t mean anything. You benefit in a different way.”
How long has it taken him to reach such a level of equanimity? A lifetime perhaps.
David Hill was born in a castle in Devon on April 4, 1946, but grew up on a Wolverhampton council estate. The castle can be easily explained. The local hospital had been bombed in the war and a wing of the building was being used as a maternity hospital. Some of the rest of his childhood can’t be explained so easily. His father was a mechanic, his mother a secretary and something of an enigma. She came from middle-class stock. Her mother – Hill’s grandmother – was a teacher, her father a doctor of music. The family even had a car. They were, as Hill points out in the language of the time, “well-to-do”. But when she was 17 Hill’s mother had an affair with a married man and discovered she was pregnant. She attempted an abortion. Her daughter Jean, Hill’s half-sister, was born with epilepsy. He thinks his mum might have carried a weight of guilt about all this. “Grandmother died,” Hill says. “I really don’t know whether it was the shame … No-one ever talked about it.”
Hill’s father always told him there were things he didn’t need to know. One of them turned out to be the fact that his parents had never married. Researching the book, he discovered they staged a fake wedding. Hill’s mother was clearly a capable woman, someone who would write letters to the local MP (in this case Enoch Powell) and expect him to respond. She was fine when she was working. And yet she also suffered from depression. And at its worst it could lead her to being violent or even suicidal. Hill found a letter his mum wrote to her sister when he was just one year old. “It said: ‘Sometimes if it wasn’t for him I’d just try to end it.’ So, at one it was going on. She may have been plagued with the idea of God punishing her. You’re trying to work it out long after they’ve all gone. She attempted to go for my sister with a knife. This is not my mum. She wouldn’t hurt anybody.” That was the norm. Mum working, Hill and his sister Carol going to school in a bombed-out, grey post-war Britain. The only colour was to be found at the movies and then, in the 1950s, with the arrival of rock and roll.
Hill got his first guitar from the Kay’s catalogue. He was clearly looking at different pages than I was as a boy, I tell him. The guitar arrived in a cardboard box. “For me it was a life saver,” he says. “What were my options? Not good at school. I was a bit of a loner. My sister said I was up the corner of the playground. I wasn’t one of the kids with the right hairstyle. I had big ears and a lot of complexes.”
Well, yes. For someone who would make his name as a showman he talks a lot about his insecurities. When Slade did break big he bought a big house in Solihull for himself and his wife and then felt guilty about owning it. “I didn’t think I deserved it. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have this.’” And yet he spent so long trying to get to a position where he could. Hill spent much of the 1960s in bands without breaking through. Indeed, Slade took their own sweet time to make it too. Chandler started managing them in 1969. For a time, they tried to chase the skinhead audience. Chandler even encouraged them to smash up a hotel room just for the publicity. “Couldn’t do it,” Hill says. “We couldn’t do a lot of things that weren’t us, because we weren’t naturally nasty people. Keith Altham, when he came up with the idea [of making them skinheads], he didn’t like suggesting it. ‘You can’t do it to them, Chas. They’re nice guys.’ And Chas said: ‘Too late. They’ve gone to the hairdressers.’ “And after a time even Chas realised it wasn’t making any difference. The audience of skinheads weren’t into us.”
Being a skinhead wasn’t Hill anyway. He worried about those ears. And there was always a showman in him desperate to get out. “I bought a cape once. And a hat. And I walked through Woolworths to see if anyone would notice me. I got a reaction and I quite liked that.” When the band did a residency in the Bahamas in 1968, Hill started modelling women’s clothes, bought a wig and began looking for stage wear that would make him stand out. He even bought himself a denim dress. “I’m on stage at the Tropicana club and a girl comes in at the back and she’s got the same ruddy dress on. And she comes down the front and she’s a big-mouthed Yankee: ‘My God. I don’t believe this guy. He’s got my dress on!’”
He started wearing platform boots because he was the shortest member of the band. When Slade went to number one he ordered double platforms. He was wearing triple platforms the time he fell over on stage in New York when the members of Kiss were in the audience. They thought it was part of the show. What I want to know about is that Slade hairstyle, though. Did his wife Jan never complain? Did she never suggest a perm? “No, she was involved in that idea. She’s a hairdresser so she used to trim the sides. She came into Slade prior to success. Her mum and dad didn’t think I was a good idea. ‘A bit of a no-hoper. What kind of future does he have? He’s probably on drugs.’ We never were on drugs.”
For all the glitter Slade were always more of a real ale kind of band. And it took them longer to go flat than you might recall. They were having hits well into the 1980s before splitting in 1987, reforming and then finally calling it a day in the early 1990s when Holder had had enough. Holder and Lea could afford to take a step back. Hill, however, needed a new source of income. “There was quite a while thinking: ‘What are we going to do? Got a mortgage to pay, got three kids.’ Reality strikes. And then I had this phone call from Suzi Quatro’s ex-husband [Len Tuckey]. He said: ‘What are you doing?’ I said: ‘I’m a bit screwed. Looking to form another group, maybe.’ He said: ‘You don’t want to do that. You’ve done the pubs.’ And he was right.”
Tuckey clued Hill into the huge audience in Europe desperate to see Slade or a reasonable facsimile thereof. “The problem with England is if you’re not on the telly, you’re not in the charts, you’re not happening. But it’s not like that elsewhere,” Hill points out. He got on the phone to Don Powell, who was working in a hotel pub serving drinks. Some 25 years later they are both still on the road with Slade II. Nostalgia is a business opportunity. “My past has given me a future,” he says, smiling.
Can you imagine not performing, Dave?
Still, life catches up with you. In recent years Hill has had a stroke. He’s suffered depression. And yet he has hauled himself out on the road again. I wonder if the fact his mother went downhill when she could no longer work plays on his mind. Yes, he admits. Last year he broke his arm in Brighton. A serious break, the surgeon told him. “And my wife is looking at me and I know exactly what she’s thinking. ‘You’re thinking about your mum right now and the damage done.’ And I was.”
Is he happy? He gives every impression of being so. “I’ve settled a lot of things by doing this book. I’ve even had a good sit down with Nod for four hours to go over some of the crap that I didn’t have a clear picture of and both of us, I think, enjoyed talking about it. We’d been through so much together, Nod, Jim, Don and I. And the split was tough on me. I thought we were in it for a lifetime. Some people can get caught up in the strangest ideas about other people and they carry some bitterness to their grave and it doesn’t benefit them. Whereas I’ve let go of all that some time ago. I’ve thought there have been benefits of Nod leaving the group to put me in the position to go on doing it. Look what I’ve gained from it. I’ve gained an income, but I’ve also gained a lot more connections with people and places than I would have if I’d left it alone.”
He does seem very chilled, right enough. “When I had the stroke, I got rid of a lot of things. Your vulnerability suddenly comes upon you quite strongly and yet in some ways it made me make decisions. I feel better for it … Not that I would recommend a stroke. I’m not so worried about what’s going to happen to us all as I used to be.”
These days Dave of Slade can quote you tracts of Wordsworth’s poetry if you ask him. These days Dave of Slade loves it when the grandchildren come around. These days Dave of Slade is not the man he was. But isn’t that something to be proud of?
So Here It Is by Dave Hill is published by Unbound, priced £20
Takin’ Me Bak ‘Ome – talking Slade with Don Powell
Posted on December 15, 2017 by writewyattuk
Christmas was way into the distance when I tracked Don Powell down in Denmark, but the legendary drummer – on a rare break from the live circuit – soon brought the subject up.
As I properly introduced myself and mentioned interviewing long-time Slade bandmate Dave Hill around the same time of year in 2015, he butted in, asking, “You mean about that song?”
What could this genial 71-year-old drumming legend possibly mean? Surely not a certain seasonal ditty that became the legendary Black Country outfit’s third No.1 of 1973. I’m surprised anyone even remembers that track. It’s hardly got any airplay since.
“I don’t know if you know the story, but when we recorded that in 1973, we were on a world tour, in New York in a heatwave, around 100 degrees. Yet there we were, recording that song.”
I understand it started life as one of Noddy Holder’s more hippy numbers, Buy Me a Rocking Chair.
At that point, Don – a big Beatles fan – got on to how Lennon and McCartney often helped each other out with songs, sometimes fusing them together, giving the example of 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night, with John stuck part-way through and Paul suggesting a tune he’d been working on as the bridge. And with that, I suggested there were clear Beatles influences on 1969’s Beginnings, when his band were called Ambrose Slade.
There’s another parallel between The Beatles and Slade – you both had those amazing ‘apprenticeships’ in Germany.
The second stint was in Kiel in early ’67, by then with Noddy and Jim Lea also involved. That whole experience must have sharpened them up as a musical unit, I suggested.
I should fill a gap there, explaining how Don and Dave were with club circuit blues band the Vendors, later renamed the ’N Betweens, while Noddy with The Memphis Cutouts then Steve Brett and the Mavericks. But the trio met on a ferry to Germany en route to separate engagements in November 1965 (Dave and Don to Dortmund, Noddy to Cologne and Frankfurt), and not long after their return to Wolverhampton, a chance meeting led to Nod deciding to take up Don and Dave’s offer – at the second time of asking – to join them.
Bass player and classically-trained multi-instrumentalist Jim Lea, three years younger, was already on board by then, with history in the making, the band soon down to a four-piece, in time becoming Ambrose Slade, then – with ex-Animals bassist and Jimi Hendrix manager Chas Chandler in charge – simply Slade, going on to enjoy stratospheric success.
While we’re talking history, the ’N Betweens actually saw chart-topping success five years before Slade, albeit on a local level, with December ‘66 single, You Better Run a No.1 for six weeks in Wolverhampton, keeping Tom Jones’ Green, Green Grass of Home off the top. But it’s clear that they worked hard to reach the top.
By the end of 1971 they’d truly broken the UK and much of Europe and Australia, their summer cover of Bobby Marchan’s Get Down and Get With It cracking the top-20 and followed by first UK and Irish chart-topper Coz I Luv You that autumn. Usually, I’d go into a potted biography there, but it seems pointless with Slade. Surely you’ll know all that. I’ll add a few more UK chart facts though, because they speak volumes.
In just over 20 years, Slade amassed six UK No.1 singles, the last of which was ‘that song’, straight in at the top this week in 1973 and staying there five weeks. In fact it was in the top-40 come February, and has returned many times since. As I finish this piece, it’s No.62 in the charts, 44 years on.
That was their third single entering at No.1 that year, and on their own shores they’ve had 16 top-10 singles and 24 separate top-40 hits, managing 20 weeks at the top and 213 in the top-40. You can add a few LP stats too, with three No.1 LPs and 12 top-40 hits and a total of 153 weeks on the chart.
The original Slade story ended in 1992, chief songwriters Nod and Jim moving on to other projects. But Dave and Don were soon touring again, initially as Slade II and since 2002 back under the old name. And they haven’t stopped rocking up at venues all over the world since. It’s now been 25 years in this format, the pair joined by Mal McNulty (vocals, guitar, ex-Rockin’ Horse, Paddy Goes To Holyhead, Sweet) since 2005, and John Berry (bass, vocals, violin, ex-Mud) since 2003.
But let’s go back to the early ‘60s. Am I right in thinking Don, who started out playing drums with the scouts in the late ‘50s, was 15 when he first sat in with The Vendors?
Don’t say that. Someone’ll have them on EBay as soon as this goes out.
You were at school with Swinn (long-time Slade associate and road manager, Graham Swinnerton, who inspired 1974’s The Bangin’ Man, and died in 2015 after battling cancer), weren’t you?
“Apparently (when he grew ill) he didn’t want to see anybody, but I said to his wife, ‘I don’t care what he says, I’m going to see him.’ And we had a laugh. It wasn’t long after that. He was poorly. It was the worst thing I ever experienced when the doctor at the hospice said, ‘Will you help me put him back to bed?’ I never thought I’d be doing that. It was only about two days later that his wife called and said he’d gone.”
At least you got to see him.
Talking of key components of your success, I was thinking of another who’s been gone since 1996, Slade manager, Chas Chandler.
I’m guessing his experience with The Animals taught him a few lessons about the industry.
Don’s been based in Denmark for around 12 years, which on the face of it seems at odds with his long-term dream – as shared with music writer George Tremlett in 1975’s Futura band biography The Slade Story – saying one day he wanted to run a small farm in the Staffordshire countryside, not so far from his Bilston roots.
“As it was, after that we were touring non-stop and never at home, so I just bought myself a flat in Wolverhampton. I could just lock it up and forget it, as we were away around nine months of the year.”
So where’s home now?
Slade always went down a treat in Scandinavia while touring.
It’s clearly a rarity to be home for Don, whose busy 2017 included a spell touring Australia and recording with side-project QSP, alongside fellow ’70s glam stars Suzi Quatro and The Sweet’s Andy Scott (with loads of details of that on Don’s website) to be home. Can he describe his surroundings there in Silkeborg?
Remind me how you got to meet Hanne, and ended up moving to that part of the world.
“She has three children from a previous marriage, two girls who were teenagers when we got together, and a son who was seven. They were willing to move to England, but Andreas didn’t know any English then and I thought it would be easier to move here. And when she can, Hanne comes with me a lot when we’re traveling in Europe, getting the overnight train or driving down.
Do you ever get back to Bilston?
“We were playing pubs and clubs, and as we were getting back they’d be getting ready to throw stuff away, so we’d buy it all for pennies, with loads of chips. And it’s still there! When we played The Robin last year I went across and got myself pie and chips, and that brought back a lot of memories.”
Word has it that Don, Dave and Nod visited Jim Lea at home in Codsall on March 12th, 1966, to invite him to join their quest, going on to the Three Men in a Boat pub in Walsall to seal the deal, his official debut following a week later at Walsall Town Hall. Meanwhile, Mick Marson had left by mid-March ’66, and three months later Johnny Howells was also out, ahead of that following month’s booking at the Star Palast, Kiel, where the newly-slimmed band shared the bill with a certain Paul Raven (if I put his later stage name, Gary Glitter, in brackets, will that be more acceptable?).
Don has a great archive of his live performances through the years, and much more, on his website, his information also suggesting Dave and Don’s first gig together was also at the Three Men in a Boat, in early January ’64, and that the band first went out under the name The ‘N Betweens at the Ship and Rainbow, Wolverhampton, that November. I’m always fascinated, I tell him, by the Pete Best type characters who just missed out on the big time, and Johnny – as the last man out – was perhaps the closest Slade had to that.
Incidentally, for far more detail of Don’s amazing career, I recommend his excellent Look Wot I Dun autobiography (Omnibus Press, 2013), lovingly put together with help from his Danish friend and established writer, Lise Lyng Falkenberg.
I mentioned George Tremlett’s earlier biography of the band, and his dates don’t always tally up. For one thing the party line was that you were born in 1950, four years later. Were you all pretending to be younger?
Which was true, of course.
Then there’s confusion over the date you met Noddy on that boat to Germany. He suggested 1967, while I got the impression it was October ‘64, outside a snack bar somewhere between Ostend and Dortmund …
I’m guessing you already knew each other by then.
You’ve been in bands with Dave for nearly 54 years now. Did you hit it off right away?
Was that the audition at the Blue Flame Club?
I understand Jim was already a fan, and guess you were already big news as a local band by that stage.
While I was only six the year that song first topped the charts, my older brother loved Slade and got me interested at a very young age. I finally got to see you – aged 15 – in December 1982 at Hammersmith Odeon on the We’ll Bring the House Down tour. And what a night that was.
Yet somehow 35 years have passed since, while it’s been 25 years since Jim and Nod went their own way.
And I see Dave’s followed you down the autobiography road now, having published So Here It Is in time for Christmas.
I look forward to reading that.
And you’ll be able to get a copy of that on Slade’s ‘Christmas Shindig’ tour as well as online, talk of which prompted Don and I to talk about their North West dates – at Manchester Academy 2 and Liverpool’s Hangar 34.
We talked about your work ethic before, and I was thinking how taking that chance of being with a band professionally must have been a big decision. You could easily have given up that dream and settled for the 9-5 world.
And when it mattered your parents supported your dream. That counts for something. Dad was a steelworker, wasn’t he?
If you’d stuck with your job at the local iron foundry, you’d be retired by now, or most likely laid off many years before.
“It’s been fantastic. It makes you realise how big that place is. We flew from Moscow to Vladivostok on the east coast and it took us 13 hours. That’ just one country! That’s like flying from London to Los Angeles.”
Of course, a lot of column inches have been devoted to Dave Hill over the years and his fashion sense …
Well, I was going to bring up your own natty dressing. There was a lot of velvet in that wardrobe of yours, for a start.
But there just happened to be someone stood in front of you, who the cameras went to first. You were a couple of peacocks, really.
When was the last time you watched 1975’s Slade in Flame? (which included starring roles for all four band members as the fictional band in the title).
It’s stood the test of time for me, its appeal growing over the years, despite its gritty take on the glam rock era largely being seen as a failure at the time.
Indeed, including fellow film critic, Mark Kermode, who called it ‘the Citizen Kane of pop films’.
While clearly fictional, there were a few stories in there pretty close to things that happened to you.
You certainly came over as a natural on camera (although it would be 25 years before his next role, a small cameo in a BBC TV adaptation of Lorna Doone).
There must have been a lot of hours standing round, getting cold, waiting for filming to start around Sheffield.
Lots of great stories tend to have two-thirds points where everything briefly goes awry, and for Slade that twist came at the height of their fame, three days after a show at Earl’s Court on July 1st 1973, just after Skweeze Me Pleeze Me became their second single to go straight into the UK charts at No.1 (becoming the first band to achieve such a feat since The Beatles in 1969).
On July 4th, Don was in an accident in his white Bentley S3 in Wolverhampton, with his 20-year-old girlfriend Angela Morris killed and the Slade drummer in a coma, serious multiple injuries leading to a long stay in intensive care, finally coming round to major short-term memory and sensory issues, which remain with him to this day.
Later that month, Jim Lea’s brother Frank filled in on drums as the band played two pre-arranged shows they didn’t want to cancel on the Isle of Man, and by the end of the summer Don was back, first having to be lifted on to his kit, playing dates in America and recording that Christmas single out there.
As it was, the diaries his doctors suggested he wrote to aid his memory would provide a rich archive when it came to his autobiography and website. And the interest generated by that tragic story proved how much love there was out there for Don, the world eagerly following his recovery. Is that whole period still a blank?
How’s the memory these days?
Those diaries must have proved a great help for Lise when she was working on your book. Few people in your position have such meticulous records of that period.
There were plenty more painful memories to come, alongside the many further highs in the years that followed, not least Don’s battle with the bottle. Does he drink at all these days?
I’ve said it before on these pages, but for me you had a boys-next-door feel that Bolan, Bowie and Ferry – much as I loved them – couldn’t quite pull off. You were far removed from the art school acts and the more self-important songwriters of that era.
So has Don still got the best job in the world?
Dave Hill: Five things I can't live without