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SPECIAL Q&A SESSIONS
COLLECTED SLADE INTERVIEWS AND FEATURES - 2018 to 2020.
With grateful acknowledgement to Mickey Parker, Chris Selby and others who have unearthed them for this site.
JIM LEA TALKS TO THE GET READY TO ROCK
Jim Lea, the former Slade bass-player and one half of the mega-hit Holder-Lea song-writing duo, has a brand new six-track EP out: Lost In Space. I catch up with Jim to discuss the inspiration behind the title track and the other songs on the EP, to talk about his appearance at Wolverhampton’s Robin 2 venue last Autumn and, of course, to hear a few recollections from the old Slade days as well as the challenges that life throws up outside the world of music.
“Lost In Space was written deliberately as a pop song. Of all the songs I have come up with, this is one of my favourites. The ideas portrayed in the song are of someone spending their life living in an inner world, virtually oblivious to normal life. Some might say I have unwittingly written about myself,” states the press release accompanying the EP.
So often, introspection is portrayed as being sad and angst-ridden yet Lost In Space is a very uplifting song with a great catchy chorus. Jim has certainly lost none of his knack for writing catchy uplifting choruses. For such an upbeat song I put it to Jim whether there is a subtle inference here that being caught up in your own world can actually be a pretty happy place.
JL: “It is when you’re happy yeah but you have to find yourself first. You have to be happy with it. I think a lot of people do it to escape. It’s one of the autistic symptoms when people are being diagnosed. They don’t connect. I’ll tell you who came out and spoke about it – Chris Packham from Springwatch. Millions of people must have seen that programme about it. I’m sure I’ve got grains of autism in me but I’m nowhere near as bad as him. He just lives in a tiny little cottage in the middle of a wood with his animals. But to be quite honest for a big part of my life I was not a big communicator. I didn’t really do interviews at all. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I began to look at myself and went into psychotherapy and completely changed my personality. I almost changed my DNA.”
Is that partly why we are hearing more from Jim recently, I wonder. A new DVD, a live appearance at the Robin in Wolverhampton last Autumn and now a new EP. Are we seeing a new Jim?
JL: “Yes, yes. This is the new me. I’m obviously not bothered about talking to you at all. You seem quite a nice chap! I’m a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. Whereas back in the day with the band for a long time I wasn’t. I was better off in the eighties and going into the nineties, but in the seventies I couldn’t cope with all that. If you look at the band there were two who wanted to get their face in the camera and two who didn’t. The idea of fame is very nice. You think that’s what you want but when it comes – well it took me all of a couple of weeks to think hang on I haven’t got a life here. You couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t do anything. So a lot of people want that and they want that attention, whereas with me I wanted to go back to how I was before going on television.”
With that in mind I suppose when Slade were less in the spotlight in the late seventies that was OK for you, as long as the band were still gigging and recording?
JL: “That’s right. That was a good blueprint for me. That was great. And, of course, when we started having hits again in the eighties it was much easier to cope with because it wasn’t that mad teenage chasing-you-down-the-street type stuff.”
Lost In Space is a great catchy pop song. But the rest of the EP really rocks out. For me it seems to channel some of the spirit of Slade in the early 80s when the band had a comeback thanks in part to the heavy rock crowd post-Reading. Was it a conscious decision to go for a more rocky approach here compared to Therapy, your previous solo album?
JL: “No. The songs on this EP – I don’t know whether you know I had cancer – and these songs are from pre-cancer. They’re quite old. You can probably tell I’ve got a frog in my throat and I’ve never been able to get rid of that since I’ve had my cancer treatment. I’m not on the treatment any more but it just doesn’t go away. Luckily I’ve got some vocal tapes from god knows how many years ago that I just re-recorded quickly. Because my brother, who’s looking after me from the record point of view, says do you fancy doing an EP. He’d been talking to the record company. I said yes – four tracks? He said no, it’s six tracks for an EP these days. I said that’s half an album, when do you need it for? He said next Monday! But I did it because the songs were there. I had a vocal. I just slung everything at it and came up with what you hear.”
Live at the Robin
You took the stage at the Robin last November for a Q&A session to launch your new DVD (a live recording of his 2002 solo gig at that same venue) but at the end you surprise everyone when you come back on stage with your guitar to blast out some old Slade classics.
JL: “When I went off – we had a bit of a scam me and Paul Franks (radio presenter and interviewer that day) and he said Jim wanted to share something and he’s just going off. But when I got down there the people who are looking after the stage side of things they’re all chatting together. And I said what are you doing I need my guitar. Where’s my guitar? I was shouting at them and I was really in a bad mood and I said to the sound guy get out the front and get on the desk…. and it was at least three or four minutes before I came out. And there is some fan footage (and we are going to put that out) but just before I come on you can hear people saying ‘where’s he gone?’ Just coming over the microphones you know. And the audience I could hear what they’re saying. And this one female voice says (adopts exaggerated Yorkshire accent) ‘Do you think he’s gone for a lie down?’ Oh dear, it did crack me up that did. And to be quite honest that’s what I do a lot of these days. I have to go and have a sleep.”
It was his brother Frank who had encouraged Jim to do a few songs at the end of the Q&A.
JL: “You’d see these old singers like Frank Sinatra when they’re past it and their voice just cracks up and I said I can’t do that. And then I got this idea of knocking a few backing tracks up and I did some vocals to see what it sounded like. But I only did four tracks and then I thought hang on I could play along. And in this day and age that was my justification. I would have loved to have had the same line-up as the Robin in 2002 – just a drummer and bass player and really thrash it out. But that whole complicated thing with equipment for four songs meant we wouldn’t have even got the balance sorted out.”
Playing along to backing tapes it may have been but that didn’t dampen the outpouring of emotion from fans at the event, seeing Jim Lea playing on stage again, fifteen years after his one and only solo gig and some thirty-four years after Slade’s final UK tour. Jim only became aware of just how emotional the event had been for the audience, however, when his brother finally caught up with Jim and the rest of the family some time later that day.
JL: “All the family went for dinner and my brother was an hour late and we were all starving. Well he said he stayed ’til the end. Nobody wanted to go. People were crying. And the boss of the club came over and my brother asked him why is everybody crying? Why won’t they go? And as the boss was walking towards him he saw that he was crying as well!”
While he is thoroughly bemused at the emotional audience reaction it has clearly made him ponder on how much he enjoyed playing on stage.
JL: “I wish I could find some way of getting on stage again. That would be really good. But you know I was very tired when I played the Robin in November.”
Coz I Luv You
From recent ventures we then delve back into the early days. I mention that he was one of the first to bring the electric violin into a pop-rock setting. Given that this was around the same time the folk rock thing going on I ask if he was conscious of what people like Dave Swarbrick were doing with Fairport Convention around the same time as Jim was putting a violin solo on Coz I Luv You.
JL: “Well I used to play the violin on stage. Really it was the band trying to stand out and I think it was about the end of the sixties and you are quite right about Fairport Convention and Dave Swarbrick and there was East of Eden and Dave Arbus. And that guy played on The Who’s Baba O’Riley on the Who’s Next album. In the studio Pete Townsend came walking through. I was there messing about with my violin and he said here mate can I look at your violin. And I said I’m not giving it to you. You’ll smash it up. No mate that’s just stuff on stage. I don’t do any of that. Can I have a look? I want to play a violin. And the next thing I know it’s on Baba O’Riley with Dave Arbus playing. But with Coz I Luv You we’d had Get Down And Get With It as our first hit and it was about coming up with the next one. Because Get Down And Get With It was an everybody-join-in type thing I thought to write something like that is just going to be a cop-out. So I thought about bridging the fact that we were going to make a pop single with trying to make it a bit gritty as well. So I came up with (sings melody) and I got my acoustic guitar and I went over to Nod’s.
I’d never written with Nod before and really it was like trying to get the singer on board so it’s kind of political in case it was a ‘well I don’t want to do anything with a violin’. That’s what could have happened but it didn’t. And we worked on the ‘I just like the things you do’ bit and obviously I knew that this was going to be really big. And it was and it got to number one within three weeks. And it’s only recently where people have said I saw Jim Lea from Slade with an electric violin playing on Top Of The Pops and that’s why I started playing violin. And you know it’s really edifying to think that you might have set some trail for something that happens in the future.”
While Jim is not exactly comfortable with his former band’s often outlandish image, there is clearly pride at what the four of them achieved together back in the day.
JL: “And the other thing with the band was because of our sort of wacky image which we kept going on with for too long. Well not we but Dave did. You know look at Quo back when they did Ice In The Sun and they changed the way they looked to do a different thing. Same as the Beatles changed but you know that never happened with us. But there was something from the wacky side of it and because we were having hit singles.
Back then if you were having hit singles you were a pop band and we weren’t a pop band. I mean we could always blow off anybody we were playing with. OK there wasn’t the musical virtuosity in the band but it was a fantastic band. And together – you can forget the recording and all that because you can always mess around with that and try to make it sound a bit more sort of credible – but there was something about the four of us playing when we were on stage. And we went to that big studio at Olympic. Get Down And Get With It was the first thing we ever recorded in that studio. And we always went to that studio because it was like doing a gig and we were comfortable with that because we were really bloody good. And I look at people now and you know big names and so on and they all came out to watch us… But we were something special right from the first few notes we ever played.”
With so many insights we then get on to the topic of autobiographies. We’ve seen tomes from all the other three members of Slade but I put it to Jim that many Slade fans would say that the most fascinating and revealing of all would be a Jim Lea autobiography.
JL: (Laughs) “At times I thought about doing it. In fact, I was probably the first one to think about doing it. That was back in post-Reading days. But there seemed to be a reaction that I shouldn’t do that and that if there was going to be any book it should be a Slade book, not me. So I just left it and then Nod did one – which I’ve never looked at and Don did one which I’ve never read either but it’s supposed to be very good I’ve heard. The thing is I’d want to write it myself rather than sitting down with someone with a tape machine. You’d have to be able to taste it and smell it. If I’m talking about the smoke-filled rooms you’d have to be able to visualise from the words what that was like. The way it used to hang in the air in these grey layers.”
Jim also emphasises that his life hasn’t just been about music, particularly in the post-Slade years.
JL: “My musical career has been punctuated by having to look after my father to save my mother because he was driving my mother mad. He’d got dementia and then there were two or three years with my (older) brother - the same thing happened and I was on care duty for both. So that’s six years gone and now my mum herself is housebound. I’ve just come from her now and I’ve always thought being of service to others is a big thing to do in life. It’s hard work because you have to give up your own wishes and your own life. You have to hand over what you want to do in order to help the person that needs the help. So being of service, it’s a big thing. So with my mother, as well it’s probably seven years gone. She became ill about a year ago and so put it all together, you’ve got a whole chunk of life that’s nothing to do with music.”
For all of his musical legacy it’s clear that family is very important to Jim and you get the idea that there is no way he would not have been there for those who needed him most. But it’s also clear that Jim Lea still has something to contribute musically and is enthusiastic about his latest EP. He doesn’t even baulk at the round of promotional interviews that need to be done these days as long as, given his current health, there are not too many of them.
“I’m alright with you today, Darren, because I’ve only got you today – but the other day I had fifteen!”
Lost in Space EP released on 22nd June 2018 by Wienerworld
Legendary Slade bassist and co-writer chats with We Are Cult about his first release in over a decade and his life in music.
“We we had two weeks to put together the songs, now people have two or three years to record an album… I was the musician, but there were no virtuosos in the band. But there weren’t in the Beatles or Stones either, we were just a great band!”.
“I watched Baby Driver and when the Queen stuff came in, I got quite misty eyed thinking about Freddie,” Jim Lea reflects. “I texted Brian May’s P.A. to tell him. I knew all of them in Queen, even before they were famous. John Deacon was always a funny one, I liked him a lot, very dry sense of humour, I don’t see him much anymore obviously. Roger was desperate to be the singer, but he was stuck behind the drums, just as Fred was behind the piano, but they did alright. My wife and I had them over for dinner, we were all good friends. My son brought me to the Queen + Adam Lambert show, terrific show. I had a conversation with Brian about continuing, he said that he and Roger still want to carry on and people want to hear the songs, so give it to them. A bit like Slade, two of the band continued on, you take your cards, I guess”.
Jim Lea is speaking reflectively, as he has every right to have. As one quarter of Slade and one half of Slade’s writing team, Lea watched the highs of seventies rock, flying and journeying with a glam rock band that bit more accessible than T-Rex and that bit more grounded than David Bowie. Although Oasis were heralded as the Beatles of the nineties, anthems Hello, Don’t Look Back In Anger and Some Might Say signalled more to the ballast-rock tunes heralded by Slade, an assortment of fiery riffs, quips and efficaciously misspelled single titles (Coz I Love You, Look Wot You Dun, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Cum On Feel The Noize, the last an Oasis live staple). Guitarists Noddy Holder and Dave Hill embraced the live circuit with live gregariousness and excitability in performance, while Lea (who shared a musical compatibility with Paul McCartney for bass guitar and piano) appeared with a more methodical stance on stage.
“I gave an interview once where I talked about being the George Harrison type” Lea explains. “What I meant by that was that he was more reserved in interviews, Paul is a very good P.R. guy, John had a troubled childhood and deflected by being funny and Ringo, the guy who was in the background, was by far the most popular member in America during Beatlemania. But George could make himself known. There’s that funny story where they’ve just got a two single deal with George Martin and George Harrison says “well, I don’t like your tie”. Liverpool humour that could have cost the band, but very funny! So, that was a bit like me, I guess, but I was very vocal in the band. I had to be – I joined when I wasn’t fully grown and the bass was the same size as me!”
“I always say Noddy put the laddishness in the songs, songs like Cum On Feel The Noize or even on the Far Far Away lyrics, I have the wandered lowly parts “I’ve seen the yellow lights go down the Mississippi/I’ve seen the bridges of the world and they’re for real” and Nod goes “the kids won’t know that”, so he sings “I’ve had a red light off-the-wrist”. His lyrics, my lyrics”.
Music has been a part of Lea all his life. He was a member of the Staffordshire Youth Orchestra in the sixties and though gifted as an artist as well, opted to explore music as a career, joining an early incarnation of Slade when he was sixteen. Lea’s a multi-instrumentalist, the most musically able member of Slade, delving from instruments as diverse as guitar, violin, piano, synthesisers and accordion with Slade in studio- little wonder he was Noddy Holder’s primary musical collaborator!
“I gave a Q and A recently where I was asked about my favourite song. I hadn’t thought of it but I replied How Does It Feel? which was a tune I wrote when I was thirteen, so it must be downhill from here. It was a sold out gig, but a silent one, so I had to laugh at myself. I had the tune and the “How does it feel” and the “Do you know, know, know what it’s like, to be searchin’ in your own time?” bits. The charts were starting to sound like Slade, so we changed. Dave Puttnam suggested we write a theme for a film, and I had the idea already.”
“I always say Noddy put the laddishness in the songs, songs like Cum On Feel The Noize or even on the Far Far Away lyrics, I have the wandered lowly parts “I’ve seen the yellow lights go down the Mississippi/I’ve seen the bridges of the world and they’re for real” and Nod goes “the kids won’t know that”, so he sings “I’ve had a red light off-the-wrist”. His lyrics, my lyrics. I gave an interview a few years ago about the Slayed? Album [Slade’s best regarded album] and I told him we had two weeks to put together the songs, now people have two or three years to record an album. We didn’t do Wembley gigs in those days- we might have done the Wolverhampton cinema and things like that. I was the musician, but there were no virtuosos in the band. But there weren’t in the Beatles or Stones either, we were just a great band!”.
Music remains an integral part of Lea’s trajectory. He released Therapy, a fully-fledged solo album in 2007 (re-released on vinyl in 2016) and these days he’s promoting his latest six song E.P. Lost In Space. It may sound like an extra-terrestrial journey, but in reality it is a focused and finessed rock record, thumping in riff, rocking in bite. What in the World is political in subtext and Megadrive punchy and punky in power pop panache, both likely to appeal to a rocking European audience who amass to the many rock circuits around the continent.
“This E.P. had to be put together quickly, my brother suggested it for this year. As you know, I’ve been sick with cancer, so I had to go to through my archive with pre-cancer vocals. I put together the backing tracks quickly, my brother told me to have them by next Monday or something! Talk about lack of pressure, eh?”
“I never stopped writing, even when the band stopped and I “disappeared”. It’s a lot more pleasurable now when there isn’t so much pressure like the band. Ken Scott told me that John Lennon used to say there was so much pressure on the Beatles to write A-sides, B-sides and album tracks. This E.P. had to be put together quickly, my brother suggested it for this year.
As you know, I’ve been sick with cancer, so I had to go to through my archive with pre-cancer vocals. I put together the backing tracks quickly, my brother told me to have them by next Monday or something! Talk about lack of pressure, eh? He used to head Trojan Records. I didn’t have time to ask a drummer, so I put it down, all very DIY. People are always like woah, but lots of people can put albums together. I play all the guitar, I used to listen to Clapton in The Yardbirds and Jimi Hendrix was my hero. Chas Chandler was Slade’s manager, and he knew Jimi and I would have played with him, even Noel Redding told me Jimi would have loved you! When I played at the Robin gig in 2002, everyone said I was playing like Hendrix.So, yes, I play everything on the E.P.”
Pure Power stomps with heavy metal glory (complete with romping drums and throbbing bass) and Going Back To The Birmingham, Midlands in title, is more California surf in feel than Black Sabbath. They’re rocking tracks. It’s not all rock n roll though. The title track is an esoteric pop piece of existential unfulfillment, complete with McCartney/Wings keyboard intro and soaring string arrangements tastefully throwing back to the 45’s that blissfully balladeered with disco dexterities and hopeful Beach Boy harmonies. It’s a track Lea is very proud of.
“Freddie Mercury was a bit “lost in space”, he didn’t have friends as such, he thought very highly of me, and therefore got more squirmish around me, not less. I miss him.”
“I was writing about a mate and then of course people told me it’s about me” Lea laughs. “Lost in Space, I can be lost in thought, friends of mine will ask me in the evening “where are you, Jim?” In 2010, Magnum asked me to play with them and my dad was ill, so the session was constantly deferred. On the day of the session, it was snowing and one of the engineers thought I wouldn’t come in. The manager told her “Jim won’t even know it’s snowing” [laughs]. But it’s true. Freddie Mercury was a bit “lost in space”, he didn’t have friends as such, he thought very highly of me, and therefore got more squirmish around me, not less. I miss him.
I play the violin, if you don’t play four hours a day, you’ll be crap. I haven’t been practicing, but the part’s alright. I mean, listen to some of the great Jewish violin players-amazing! I want to keep it human, so many songs these days are infantilised by punching through computers, loses the humanity”.
Lea performed boots n braces a song-set following a Q and A at the Robin on 5 November 2017. It gathered rave reactions from audience members, garnering a DVD release as “‘An Audience with Jim Lea at the Robin 2’, currently sold through his personal website. It stands as one of the few solo gigs Lea has performed since leaving Slade in the nineties. “I would love to do more gigs, but my health won’t allow me. It tires me, I have to go to the gym to get back testosterone. I tried practicing for the gig, and it sounded terrible. I don’t know if I’ll sing again, but I may well do. So, I put together some backing tracks to play along to. It was said on the website “do not expect Jim Lea to play”, so there was great surprise when I did my four songs.
It was very highly charged and emotional. I was told it was the second coming, because it’s only the second solo gig I did after Slade broke up. It was also done for charity, which was an added bonus. People said it was the most emotionally charged Q and A they’ve seen. A little lady was trampled on the way out, sadly, while my brother took ages to meet us because of the queues. People ask me is this E.P. the last one, and I say there’ll be more in the foreseeable future. It’ll probably sound completely different to the E.P., but I can’t go into details right now”.
Jim Lea fans have much to expect.
❉ ‘Lost in Space’ – EP by Jim Lea (Wienerworld) was released 22nd Jun 2018, RRP £8.99.
❉ ‘An Audience with Jim Lea at the Robin 2’ DVD was released on 2nd July 2017 and you can order your copy from his website.
Slade icon Jim Lea insists he simply ‘carried on’ when he discovered he had cancer – adding ‘I’ve not battled with anything; I was just normal’.
The bassist and songwriter, who was born in Wolverhampton, was diagnosed with prostate cancer back in 2014.
And though the inspirational star admits the treatment has affected his voice, physical appearance and energy levels, he insists that such a diagnosis leaves no option but to ‘carry on and take what’s coming’.
“If things go wrong, we’ve all got to get on the bus at some point. It’s just a matter of when,” said Jim. “I didn’t really take a lot of notice of the cancer.
“You hear all these words like ‘remission’ and ‘battling with cancer’... I’ve not battled with anything; I was just normal. They warned it could travel to my bones, so I’ve been lucky in that sense. The cancer treatment affects my voice all the time.
“That’s what happens when they remove the testosterone – and it takes a whole range of times to come back again. But I don’t think it will for me.
“They’ve said it’s best to exercise to get it to come back. I’ve been left with muscles, but no power. I’ve got what looks like a beer belly, but I don’t drink. My legs have gotten fat."
“They told me all these things would happen, and it started just two weeks after the treatment. It also left me very, very tired.” Since Slade released the band’s last single Universe in 1992, which was written and produced by Jim, the members have had little contact with one another as a group.
The 69-year-old artist, who co-wrote the majority of Slade’s catalogue of hits, says he does not ‘feel any real loss’ over the lack of communication. “I sometimes bump into Dave or Don. But Don lives in Sweden, so it’s rare I get to see him,” added Jim. "When we met up as a band it was not good. There was a bit of screaming and shouting. In the end, we just had to talk about other things about business. But there you go. “To be honest, I can’t think of any band that didn’t happen to in the end.”
Jim’s latest solo EP Lost In Space went on sale on June 22 – his first mini album release in more than 10 years. For more info or to buy the record, see jimleamusic.com
There was one of the tracks which is Going Back to Birmingham which I played, which I wrote for the Robin Hood – I only did one gig on my own, as a solo gig in my life. And that was in the Robin 2 in Bilston.
AH: Oh yeah.
JWL: In 2002. There’s a DVD out of some of that, some fan footage which we’re putting out. Yeah, and they do this song Going back to Birmingham. So there’s no record of it, I just wrote it and showed the guys I was playing with. There’s only two guys, have you seen that DVD? [ You can find it here: ]
AH: Ah no, it was more a case of I noted, you’d got it on your discography and I did wonder where that had originated from. So that was the 2002 show that you did.
JWL: Yeah, and so we had some fan footage and there was you know, I thought people should see this. I know its fan footage but – and we did it just – that’s what the Q and A was about, launching that. We raised a lot of money for charity that was the idea. No more than that, but then somebody reviewed the DVD and this guy has reviewed the Therapy [Jim’s solo album from 2007] album so that once again pointed the way for doing the EP. During the Q and A, I played along to what I’d recorded, I actually played the guitar for real and sang along. But believe it or not, the fans, the people that were there were all crying. I thought, “Is it that bad?” and you know, and–
AH: It’s that opportunity for them to see something that they probably thought was never possible.
JWL: Yeah, never going to happen and I’ve done a few interviews, a few of the people who’ve interviewed me have said, “Yeah, we were all crying,” I said, “We were all crying? Were you there?” they said, “Yeah.” I said, “Always crying?” A few of the blokes you know, “What? Everybody was crying?” When you walked on everybody was crying. And I don’t why it was sort of a risen from the dead type thing, but I’m trying to get over this, the treatment from the damn thing which has just fogged me out completely–
In 2014, Lea was diagnosed with – and treated for – prostate cancer, which he revealed publicly the following year.AH: I’m not surprised.
JWL: I have to get my testosterone back, which is not easy to do. So I’m going to the gym but you know, it’s not happening I mean. I had an interview and I dropped to sleep before I got in the car to go to it. And my wife came, said, “What? You’re supposed to in the car going to the interview?” So that’s how it affected me really. You know I’ve spent a lot of time sleeping.
AH: Yeah. And just on that, I mean is it all going in the right direction?
JWL: Yeah, yeah. I was very sanguine about the whole thing. I didn’t freak out and people use this word remission. I really don’t know what that is, I’ve never heard that word mentioned. I just thought, well I’ve got it , I’ll just do the treatment and then just carry on. I didn’t – I wasn’t flustered at all.
AH: That’s a very positive approach isn’t it? I mean if it doesn’t, if you don’t let it get to you. I mean your body’s natural defense mechanisms if in your mind you’re sort of trying to fight it. It’s got to be a good thing.
JWL: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and people use that you know they all battling cancer and all this. I didn’t battle cancer but I did continue going to gym on a regular basis while I was all the way into the treatment. But strangely enough when I came off the treatment after three years where they remove your testosterone, I got a lot worse and I really was dragging myself around. I’m hoping that that’s going to disappear and that – whether how I ever get back to normal and put weight on. I’ve got a bit of a tubby belly now and I’ve a bum. I had legs before the treatment that females would have been jealous of, they often used to say, you’re out in the summer. “Oh your legs are any woman’s dream. My wife would love that……” [laughs] The statue of David you know, that sort of thing, they’re not like that anymore within two weeks of taking that treatment. Oh my God, I looked at and I said to my wife, “They beat off my legs.”
AH: All that hard work you’d put in and it’s disappeared so quickly.
JWL: So this treatment, it’s just you know.. I got some fat around on my umbilical, just sort of dropped down my legs. Christ, I have legs that joined together at the top.
AH: It affects people in so many different ways. Some will look so debilitated by the whole thing and shadow of their former selves and whatever, but it sounds like you’ve approached it with totally the right sort of mental attitude.
JWL: Yeah, well. I didn’t really take it as, I sort of – when I went to the doctors I thought there’s something wrong here. It’s liable to be prostate cancer and then they did the test. The score was through the roof. It’s the scale when you’re okay. If you’re over four, you’re in trouble. Mine was in the sort of, round the 60 or something like that. It was high risk but then, when they did the biopsy and they told me. I just said, “Fancy that.” Because I did 20 years of psychotherapy I can turn myself inside out and I became a completely different person. It became a lot more easy with who and what I am and taking my place in the scheme of things.
AH: I would imagine there’s a lot of musicians in the world that could do with that approach that you have taken there in terms of dealing with yourself as an artist and a musician and just being comfortable with whatever place you are at in your musical career. Because it’s got highs, lows, dips, troughs, everything, hasn’t it? It’s never a straight life as a musician.
JWL: No, no. I don’t think life in itself is ever straight forward and that would be really boring if you just carried on the same, wouldn’t it?
AH: Oh goodness yes. Yeah, you end up in the rat race like me then, doing the same thing day in and day out. Same train, same suit, same office, same seat.
JWL: What do we need to do that for? And planes, I had enough of that when I was young. So I became anti-travel, so and because I’m at peace with myself and there is a danger of that becoming boring, but anyway the thing is by doing this music thing which came about because my brother. He went to this little record company called Wienerworld and they listened to a couple of tracks. They said, “Oh, this is good,” Now when Therapy came out some 10 years ago. It sold for about 8 and a half years and then finally dwindled. I asked the guy at the label, I said, “So, who else has had this sort of phenomenon? Where we sell for years.” He said, “We’ve never seen it before, he said, “Well, you know I think we’re still finding out about that album.” And then we put the Robin Hood mix off the sound desk with it and reissued it.
And the guy I mentioned earlier, just wrote this review and it was
the most fantastic review I’ve ever seen of anything in my life.
And he ended up by saying, “This gig must have been the greatest
thing that happened to Wolverhampton ever since Billy Wright was
captain of the England squad. Love it,” So you can imagine what
the rest said?
AH: Oh goodness yes. And I mean for you to say that as well in terms of the best review you’ve ever read. The output that you’d got with Slade and the like over the years. The number of singles that did so well. You must have seen a thousand positive reviews if not more, so for this one to really resonate. It must have been something.
JWL: With the Slade ones, because obviously we were top of the pile and there were some people out there that would have knock at us. But stuff like this was 100% and daubed with wonderfulness. I never expected that, so I said to my brother, “Why don’t we print up some more copies and try, just get a broader audience for it?” And he said, “Well, we can do that if you want.” I said, “Yeah.” I said, “I’d love to,” and then came the idea of the EP out of the question and answer at the Robin Hood.At the Q n A, there people were coming up saying, “Hello, my name Maria, I come from Moscow. Hello, my name is so and so. I’m from Switzerland, and all this.”
AH: And these guys had all
flown over specially for that?
JWL: Yeah, yeah and I was literally almost crushed to death. Unbelievable, unbelievable. And my granddaughter, she saw it all going and she said, “Gosh,” she said, “I would have loved to have had that done to me.” I said, “No, it’s quite scary!” They’re all pushing and you can’t breathe, they’re trying to get a bit of you. You know they all want something writing, you know pictures and so on.
AH: Quite overwhelming I
JWL: Yes, yes. I never liked that back in the day and but yeah, but for Slade there was always the crowds and of course the journalists that were around at the time would have been probably say the Melody Maker or something like that, which of course doesn’t exist now. But can you imagine it? When the band stopped, I never stopped writing. It just gets – it’s a bug that gets you and if you don’t do it, there’s something missing in your life. When it came to getting the tracks for the Lost in Space EP, it took me ages to go through it all. But I just had a quick listen to each single and then we said it was going to be Rock and Roll. I added some bits to it and it was re-mastered.
But, when you’re a teenager, looking back at it all, you’re just
getting into like you want something that nobody else knows about.
So, it started off The Shadows and that’s what got me playing and
then, Beatles came along then, I didn’t like girls screaming at
bands– get rid of that you know like, as bands came along they’re
screaming. The band that I joined which was to become Slade–
they’re called The In-Betweens, there were five in the band, Nod
wasn’t in the band. The bass player, he was a really good bass
player, left. I mean, they had a great sound and they had a great
presence on stage and then the singer, he was really good, he left
and we got Nod, they knew Nod and so, he came in.And then, once
the singer left we just left to his voice really and then we all
just sort of, with Nod singing, Dave and myself were vocalists in
the background, you know?
AH: Around that time you were getting a lot of interest from some big names? You as a musician rather than just Slade the band.
JWL: That’s it, yeah– Eric Clapton. So, yeah and he said, “We have worked together before,” you know? I said, “We’ve never played with you guys.” He said, “No, no,” he said, “Many years ago at the beginning of Cream.” He said, “We all came out to look at you,” he said, “We all came to watch you,” and I said, “Oh, yeah.” He said, “Even Jack came out.” Jack, you know, he’s got a big ego, he said, “He came out to have a look as well.” He said, “We thought the band looked great.” He said, “We thought you were great,” and he said, “The way you played the bass,” he said, “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.” He said you know, “Even Jack was going to want you.”
AH: To get that sort of commentary from Jack Bruce and also Eric Clapton I believe? That’s high praise, isn’t it?JWL: Yeah, I mean I don’t know whether Eric would remember. He wanted me to go around his house with a guitar. I was asked many times to go and do things with other people, big– really big names as big as you can get really and the people like The Zombies and even Rod Argent and Russ Ballard, a great songwriter Russ Ballard, and they talk in really reverential terms about when they saw Slade and about the way I played. This is pre-hits.And then, who else? Oh, yeah– Noel Redding, do you know about Jimi Hendrix connection?
AH: A little but this is fascinating so please.. go on.
JWL: Noel had come down with drummer Mitch Mitchell and had seen us play and Noel was saying, “It was fantastic, absolutely fantastic.” And “Bloody hell you know, I can’t compete with this,” And I said to him, “What are you talking about?” I said, “You’re the bloody Jimi Hendrix Experience. What are you talking about?” And “You’re worldwide famous you know, and respected and revered,” and Noel said, “No, no,” he said, “We’ll be humiliated.” I said, “Humiliated?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “We weren’t that good.” He said, “The other band was fantastic, he said it was you.” I [Noel] said to Mitch, I said, “Fucking listen, if Jimi sees this bloke I’m out of a fucking job.” So, what I’m saying is over the years this is what’s happened then you bump in to your heroes and they tell you great things about yourself, you know?That you didn’t think there’s a lot more respect that I have there than I thought we had and I thought that I had. I’m treated really people in a revered way which I never knew anything about until I started sort of getting after a bit old, you know?
AH: Yeah. Presumably, the buzz around this– has it caught you by surprise as well that you’ve had so many people obviously wanted to review it, wanted to talk to you about it. Did you anticipate you just sort of excitement?
JWL: No, I didn’t think anybody would be interested?
AH: It’s your music I’m listening to on all of those tracks and that’s what sticks in the mind.
JWL: Yeah, I would always do the what they call the, “The song.” I always say the music came first but then, I would always have lyrics as well. And then looking back on it I mean, Nod (Noddy Holder) really put this sort of, laddishness into it, a bit cheeky with the lyrics.That’s what it’s all about. Now of course people say to me you know, “Jim, where are you? What you’re doing? What you’re thinking?” I can be in a roomful of people and we’re all talking about the same thing. I’ll be no good in X-Factor or something like that to be sitting there and I’d just would be off in my own world. I just live in another world altogether.
AH: So, that point where the individual’s finished their little piece and you’re supposed to provide a commentary from the judges chair and you’re like, “Oh, are you done? Sorry, I missed that.” Yeah.
JWL: I’d be ‘lost in space’, yeah!
AH: Very good. Very good.
LOST IN SPACE can be purchased here: and here:
It’s not, erm, everyday you get to talk to a childhood hero, but Jim Lea definitely falls into that category for me.
I was barely four when his band scored the first of six UK No.1 singles with ‘Coz I Luv You’ in late 1971, but my older brother was soon blasting lots of Slade out in our bedroom. What’s more, teen magazine coverage and Top of the Pops appearances ensured the megaphone-voiced guitarist Noddy Holder, lead guitarist/garish clothes-horse Dave Hill, gum-chewing drumming legend Don Powell, and multi-talented bass player/ violinist/ pianist Jim were as good as housemates to me.
The latter was always deemed the best musician, but also the quiet one. And that never changed. He never looked to stand out, and I guess that was relatively easy when Messrs. Hill and Holder shared the same stage. In fact, that’s why he chose to play bass rather than guitar, in a bid to just get on with it and put the music first. So I was mightily surprised when word reached me that he was up for an interview, plugging new EP, ‘Lost in Space’.
That release comes barely eight months after a triumphant return to Bilston’s Robin 2 in the heart of the band’s old Black Country heartland, Jim starring in an emotional Q&A session at the R&B club where he also staged a rare live appearance in 2002, a decade after the Lea-Holder songwriting team finally called time on the band that made their name.
What’s more, we ended up on the phone nearly an hour, Wolverhampton-born Jim proving to be one of my most engaging and definitely entertaining interviewees over the years.
It had been a shaky start, mind, my ice-breaking opening question met with a jocular response by this talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Perhaps it was just early nerves, but he quickly homed in on a rather awkward, ‘Where do I find you today, Jim?’ In essence, I might as well have said, ‘Hi Jim, when are you, Nod, Dave and Don getting back together again?’
He was parked up outside his gym – ‘just down the road ‘ from his rural South Staffordshire base – after a work-out, part of his on-going mission to regain full fitness after treatment for prostate cancer, having been diagnosed in 2014. And his energy levels appear to be on their way up again, Jim throwing my initial enquiry back with exaggerated quaintness, asking, ‘Where do I find you, kind sir?’ He was soon rolling though. And rocking.
“I just ate a couple of boiled eggs with spinach, and there’s an article I’m reading about creepy-crawlies, how without them we wouldn’t exist. So there you are, that’s how you find me, Malcolm!”
“I’ve got to get my testosterone back, so have to come to the gym, push myself to the limit so I don’t keep falling asleep all the time.”
Does music help you on the path towards recovery?
“Music? Well, not really. That’s just something that’s been around the whole of my life. It’s just there, you know. Especially songwriting. Once you’ve realised you can do it, I don’t think you can really stop. It’s essential.”
For some older musicians – Jim recently turned 69 – live performance helps keep them young, I suggest. But he’s – how can I put this? – hardly been a gig regular since quitting Slade.
“Ha ha! Well, the thing is, Malcolm, I don’t know how much you know about me, but I was always very low-key in the band, but did do one gig in 2002 that I can’t get away from, at the Robin Hood R’n’B club in Bilston.”
I butt in there and tell him I have my copy of the CD of that performance in front of me, part of a rather splendid gatefold version of his defining 2009 album, Therapy, billed under his Sunday name, James Whild Lea. And there’s a lot of energy on that recording, I suggest.
“I only ever played with energy. I was always loud .,.. and proud. But that gig – they still get phone calls at the club 16 years later, seeing if I’m coming back.”
You did go back for a recent Q&A session, didn’t you?
“Ah, you do know your stuff … yeah, I did. But that was a bit of a strange thing. I’d never done anything like that in my life. The only thing I’d done was stand up and talk to the crowd 16 years ago. Funny thing is that I’ve found some more footage, not great, but you can hear what I’m playing. At the end, I say to the audience, ‘I bet you’ve been wondering where I’ve been since Slade split. Well, it’s to get away from you lot! They then laugh, and I say, ‘You think I’m joking?’ So I said to the audience when I walked on this time, ‘Guess what? I said that 16 years ago and here I am again, talking to you lot again!”
Did you recognise some of the faces out there?
“Yeah, and I was mobbed on the way in and on the way out.”
They’d probably been queuing out in sleeping bags for 16 years, just in case you changed your mind and put on a repeat-performance.
“Ha ha! I tell you what, I wouldn’t be surprised with some of them. It’s amazing. They were about 30 deep. I was properly mobbed … more than I was in the days of the band. They were shoving things to sign in my face and all that. I had to get my arms in the air to sign anything, I was getting so squashed. They were from Moscow, Sweden … all over.”
Perhaps they got a flight over from Denmark with Don Powell.
“Ha! I didn’t see Don there.”
Maybe he was hiding at the back, chewing gum in the 31st row.
“Yeah. Well, some of them had come from a long way away.”
Far, far away, to be precise (I didn’t add). When Slade finally split in 1992, after more than a quarter-century of sterling public service, Noddy Holder went on to an array of media engagements, from radio presenting to writing (notably 1999 autobiography Who’s Crazee Now) and TV cameos, including his memorable acting role as Mr Holder in cult ITV comedy drama The Grimleys (1997/2001), Coronation Street (2000), Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere (2004), and even Bob the Builder (2001). Listeners to Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe’s BBC radio shows also got to hear him a lot, and Nod’s occasionally out on the road talking about his illustrious career with the latter.
Meanwhile, Dave and Don, both previously interviewed on this site (see links at the end), have also written accounts of their story (Dave with So Here It Is last year and Don with Look Wot I Dun in 2013), still touring as Slade and remaining as busy to this day around the world, having been out there without Nod and Jim longer than they were with them. Yep, there’s a staggering thought.
As for Jim, he seemed to just happily step back to the South Staffordshire countryside to write and record on his own, away from the spotlight. But there seems to have been a slight shift of late. Does he keep in touch with his old bandmates?
“We’ve all lost contact with one another, which is by the by, really. It’s okay for me though, because I‘ve always been writing and sticking things down on tape recorders or whatever was there at the time – computers and what-not. And I always play all my own instruments, so I’m self-supporting!”
What do you head for first when writing songs? Piano? Guitar?
“I used to write on the piano … but then I found it was much better to use some paper.”
I fell for that. But while he’s a joker, he’s also an amazing musican, first shining on violin in the Staffordshire Youth Orchestra. Did that very different world provide a good grounding for him?
“To tell you the truth, with the violin playing, my Grandad was the leader of the orchestra at the Hippodrome in Wolverhampton, mainly in the variety days. He died a horrible death of throat cancer, and I was born nine months to the day after. Actually, I was a month late coming out – I must have been gripping on the womb walls. I was reluctant even then!
“Anyway, my Mum said to me when I was about nine, ‘Your grandmother and I have been wondering if you might want to play violin’. I wasn’t bothered really, but went along for lessons. and though I didn’t really like them, I kind of picked it up, and was later in the youth orchestra. But I always felt I was a bit out of place there, listening to John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, and The Yardbirds – a bit of (Eric) Clapton. I was thinking, ‘How does he get his guitar to sound like a violin? Because he was really the first who came along in Britain who was able to bend strings to play the blues. I didn’t know anything about that. I was still at school. But I was talking to him about it at the Tommy premiere (1975) and told him I’d wanted to come down to The Marquee but was only a little kid and didn’t know how to get to London and find him, ask how he got his guitar to sound like a violin.
“He said, ‘Well, you should have come down, I would have shown you. You’re shy, like me, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m not very forthcoming’. He then said, ‘Why don’t you come around and have a play?’ But I never did.”
Well I’m sure the offer’s still there.
“Erm … I don’t know, he seemed a very nice bloke. He said he was also shy and could understand me, and how Chas ( former Animals bass player Chas Chandler, the Slade and Jimi Hendrix Experience manager) had told him what I was like. But he said, ‘You’re writing all those songs and doing a great job of it’. That was wonderful, but I wanted to get away. I didn’t want to get dragged into anything. I didn’t know if there’d be any follow-up to that, but whoever you talk to …. I’ve blanked so many people! Big names, you know.”
Well, I doubt if anyone could properly take exception. At this point I tell Jim how another band I grew to love, The Undertones, also turned out to appreciate Slade and that glam-rock era. What’s more, like Slade they came over as boys-next-door, with no hint of pretentiousness, and a little wary of other musicians, occasionally turning down encores with others nosing around backstage. And that inspired another Jim anecdote.
“Yeah, it’s really strange, because the band I joined … when I was at school, I didn’t have any equipment, but I played in a little band, and …”
Was this Nick and the Axemen?
“Yeah, it was, then we changed our name to The Stalkers, and were really into stuff like The Yardbirds and that whole burgeoning scene with John Mayall at the forefront, and the Graham Bond Organisation with Jack Bruce, and I loved all that. But I left that behind and got into Dylan, then left that behind and went into Memphis Slim. When I was that sort of age, I was moody and a bit angry, wanting people to piss off and leave me alone. I wanted to find somebody who nobody had ever heard of, and Memphis Slim was my man. I wasn’t fully grown, and looked like a child, with rosy cheeks and a bass as big as me, and in the ’60s you couldn’t go into pubs if you were a child, and I couldn’t have got away with it. But I went to see a concert where the ’N Betweens were playing.”
They were local heroes at the time, weren’t they?
“They were, yeah. They were really fantastic. And getting back to what you were saying, the backing sounded like The Undertones. I always felt when ‘Teenage Kicks’ came on the radio, it sounded like the early ‘N Betweens. It was really pushed forward … it’s difficult to explain, but it was exciting, and the sound was really great.”
Do you remember well your ‘N Betweens audition at the Blue Flame club (on premises which later housed Club Lafayette, less than half a mile from Wolves’ Molineux base) as a 16-year-old?
“Yes, I went along with no equipment, my bass in a polythene bag, and I was the last to be auditioned.”
Did that add to your nerves, that pressure of being last up?
“Yeah, because unbeknown to me, when I walked in there was … they had this singer, then …”
Was that Johnny Howells?
“Johnny Howells! Bloody hell, you have done your homework! He was a good singer and a really good harp player as well. They were doing all that sort of blues stuff, but it really didn’t sound like blues. It sounded very English, and this big, ‘Waahhhh!’”
Was that the Mighty Wah? I’m not sure. It sounded more like a big cat announcing himself, Jim getting into the part. And he’s still going.
“A bit like that, but a lot louder, y’know. But anyway, I walked into the Blue Flame Club and they were on stage and there was a guy who looked like a blond Mick Jagger, playing, and he was singing ‘My Girl’. And it sounded fantastic. So I was thinking, ‘Oh my God’. He went home, but unbeknown to me they’d told him he’d got the job. But then I walked up there. Don told me later, ‘We looked out there and said, ‘Is there anybody else out there?” Because when you’ve got the lights on stage, all you can see is the light and anyone right down the front. He was told, ‘There’s a little kid out there with a bass as big as him, in a polythene bag. And they agreed, ‘we’ll get him up and let him play a song, then we’ll send him home.’ Of course, they didn’t reckon with what they were going to get!”
Well, you clearly impressed.
“Yeah, well, Dave broke a string and Don said, ‘Hey mate, come over here.’ He’s got this quick wit and he said, ‘It says here you play the violin, is that right?’ I said yeah, and he said, ‘Do you play anything else?’ I said, ‘Well, a bit of piano and err ..’ and I just lied and said, ‘Oh, and the cello’, which I’d never even played. He said, ‘Ooh, cello as well?’ and I said, ‘Well, I didn’t get very far with that.’ And he said, ‘Did the spike keep sticking in your neck?’
“And I’m not kidding you, Malcolm. Imagine all the tension in me, and the nerves… whenever I tell people about this … do you know that wonderful thing when you get one of those big hour-glasses and just turn it upside down, with all the sand just coming through, going the opposite way to what it was? That’s exactly what I felt like when Don said that. It just calmed me.
“Then Dave said, ‘Hey mate, we’re just going to check out this string, and it’ll be you and me playing – quiet, no band. I wanna see if you’re bluffing, ‘cos you play really fast. But then, I wasn’t nervous at all, and just thought, ‘Bring it on, what you’ve got.’ And I think I was auditioning Dave rather than the other way around. I was playing nothing like a bass player, playing really fast, doing riffs, doing chords, doing drum parts, doing sax parts. You name it, I was doing it. But I got the job!”
I gather your Mum wasn’t so pleased at you turning down offered places at art college and the youth orchestra to join.
“Oh yeah, my Mum and my Gran didn’t like it at all, because I was really turning my back on the youth orchestra and anything like that. I got into loads of art schools. Big ones. But again, I was really nervous when the acceptances came through. I was just a little kid at those interviews, really out of my depth. But as the years went by, you’d meet all these people, in a bar somewhere, or having come to see Slade at a meet and greet. Someone said, ‘I saw you when you came to Hornsey Art College and we felt, ‘We’ve got to have this lad’. But that was a long way from home. They’d have around 200 applicants but only be taking around 20. And if you lived at a distance you’d have even less chance. So I said, ‘But you said at the time my work wasn’t any good. And he said, ‘It wasn’t that. It was just you – you were so different. We said we’ve got to have that lad here.’ And all the people I bumped into said the same thing. So I must have been scared, but must have come across in some esoteric way.”
Glammed Up: Slade in their pomp. From the left – Dave Hill, Noddy Holder, Don Powell, Jim Lea.
How long did it take your Mum to forgive you? When did she finally realise you had a ‘proper’ job after all?
“Oh, I think about two years ago! I played her something I’d written, with me playing cello, double bass, and my Mum said, ‘That sounds great, James. Do you know, you could have done something with yourself.’ So does that answer your question?”
I think it does. And what age is your Mum now then?
“She’s 93. She’s had a lot of trouble with osteoporosis and became housebound earlier on this year, out of the blue. But I’m always down there. I looked after my Dad, and I looked after my elder brother, who died of dementia.”
I saw you’d been raising funds for the Dementia UK charity – which provides specialist dementia support for families through its Admiral Nurse service – through recent events, not least through sales of the limited-edition An Audience with Jim Lea at the Robin 2 DVD.
“Well, my dad died of it and my older brother had vascular dementia, becoming difficult and violent with it. I think we’ve all been touched by it, but it’s the managing of it. Before they go into places where they can’t be managed anymore, it’s the controlling of it – giving them a life, walking around with them and all that. My Mum did it with my brother and I did it with my brother with her, because the rest of my family were all working.
“While we were on holiday, my Mother said to me, ‘James, you said you wanted to give to charity, and dementia is just sort of left somehow at the back of all these various charities. It’s a terrible thing and we’ve had two people in our family affected. Will you give them a thought?’ And I said, ‘Mum, you know what? You’re absolutely right.’ It’s a terrible thing, but the dementia charities are so glad when you give to them. And at the Robin Hood we raised just over eight grand by the time we’d finished … in just three hours.”
At this point Jim overhears my other half talking in the background and remarks on it, leading me to telling him that at 29 years together we’re still some way behind him and his beloved Louise. Is that right it’s now 45 years of married life for him?
“Erm, probably! You know a lot, Malcolm. More than me anyway. I’d have to work it out. The thing is that we got together in 1966 and didn’t even bother about the getting married bit, because we were an item, y’know … I liked her. And I was never a womaniser.”
I’m sure you were surrounded by temptation, with a lot of opportunities over the years.
“Yeah, but I was never interested. People always told me I was different, and there you are again, I suppose. I’ve been with my wife for 52 years, which must be a record in rock’n’roll terms. And the thing is, as time goes by, you change – you’re not the same people. We got together when we were 16 and 15.”
Are you suggesting it’s like meeting a new partner every few years, but staying faithful?
“Yes, my wife and I are nothing like we were when we met. I went heavily in mid-life into finding out who or what I was. And when I came out the other end, I wasn’t the person I went searching for at all.
“Did you see that documentary, Elvis Presley: The Searcher (HBO, 2018)? They’re kind of saying Elvis was always searching. And I was always searching. But I didn’t know what I was searching for, and didn’t know I was morphing into what I am now, which is nothing like I was. I now know who and what I am. And it was well worth doing. And you can hear that on Therapy too.”
Now you’re courting a few interviews, you’re bound to get those inevitable questions about band reunions, so I best not disappoint you now and miss that one out. So Jim (I drag my question out for full effect), when are you going to get The Dummies back together again?
For a short while, there’s silence at the end of the line, followed by a real belly laugh.
”That was a bit of a curveball, Malc! Ha!”
He soon composes himself again though.
“Dave Clarke, when he set this interview up, texted me and told me, ‘Malcolm will calm you on your mobile.’ So I texted back and asked, ‘Do I need calming?’ He said, ‘That’s predictive texting for you’, and I said, ‘Yeah, tell me about it!’ But that was a real curveball, and one that did more than calm me down!”
For those not in the know, The Dummies was a late 1979 side-project involving Jim and younger brother Frank (who earlier sat in for Don Powell after the tragic accident that led to his girlfriend’s death and major surgery and hospitalisation for the Slade drummer), wondering if their material would be better received if recorded by another band. They released three singles, all receiving plenty of radio airplay, but sales suffered from distribution problems. And when Slade split in 1992, an album, A Day in the Life of The Dummies, was released. gathering all the material recorded by the brothers.
“Yeah, The Dummies was just Frank on the drums and me on guitar. Of course, I played bass in Slade because I didn’t really want to be noticed, but when I did the Robin Hood in 2002 I walked on stage with my guitar, with everyone going, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be terrible!’ That night, I also had a drummer I didn’t know personally (Michael Tongue), plus Dave Caitlin-Birch, the bass player from the Bootleg Beatles and World Party. Karl Wallinger (World Party’s frontman) had rented a flat of mine. That’s how I got to know Dave. And when we cracked on … I mean, bloody hell! It almost knocked me off the stage. People have since told me that when I walked on, they thought it was going to be terrible, worrying about hearing me sing, and knowing I was so shy. They weren’t ready for what they got!”
It’s certainly a very powerful performance, judging by the recording.
“That’s all I ever did. Even going back to that audition in January 1966, and before that. I bumped into a woman a few weeks ago, who took me back. They used to put me in for these violin competitions, and because I was shy and not into the norm, there was this kind of anger coming out of me, because I didn’t really want to be there. And this was the mother of a girl who would win all these competitions, and she said how they had followed my career. I remembered her daughter and always thought if she was there, she was going to win anyway. But she told me she later gave up, got married, and that was that.
“She also said, ‘If every I saw your name on the rota, we’d say, ‘It’s that lad again!’ They used to be frightened of me. But I said, ‘What on earth are you talking about? There’d be seven people and I’d come fifth’. But she said, ‘Yes, but Jim, you weren’t like anyone else’. I told her I was really nervous and she said, ‘You didn’t look it. You played with fire. It was as if you were going to break the violin’.”
I take it you never did break a violin.
“My Grandad’s violin was an heirloom and the neck broke on that, but I got it fixed, and that’s what led me – in making reparations to my Grandma, – to do this big string thing. Whether anyone will ever hear it, I don’t know, but I really like it.”
One of the tracks you re-imagined with The Dummies was one of my favourites, ‘When the Lights Are Out’, from 1974’s Old, New, Borrowed and Blue album.
“Yeah, I had a big argument with Chas (Chandler) about that. We were going to Australia, travelling first class, and there used to be this bubble in the 747s where the restaurant would be. It wasn’t posh or anything, it was just like a café, and Chas and I spent about 10 hours arguing about which should be the next single. Chas was going for ‘Everyday’ and I said ‘When the Lights Are Out’, because it was more up tempo. And we could have released ‘Everyday’ afterwards.
“But I was singing that track, and when I spoke to Chas years later he said, ‘To be quite honest, Jim, when I first saw the band I saw what you could do and saw what you were like, and then you started writing and I thought he’s going to see what he can do and then he’ll leave the band. So I didn’t give you a lot of interviews and I sort of kept you away from the press and a raised profile. But if we’d have had ‘When the Lights Are Out’ as a single, you’d have been having your face in the camera, and that to me was a danger.’
“And when I saw this Elvis documentary, I saw how Colonel Tom Parker wouldn’t let anyone who he thought was a threat to come near him. And to Chas, there was a threat that I would leave the band.”
Talking of Chas Chandler, what about his link with Jimi Hendrix? I know you were a big fan, as indicated by your cover of ‘Hey Joe’ for the Robin 2 gig.
“Yeah, and I’m sure I would have played with Hendrix. We were skinheads at the time, and Chas called us down to London. We couldn’t work out why and it took us around five hours to get there. Eventually, after lots of small talk, he told us that Jimi had rung him up and asked him to manage him again. And I said, ‘Well, I think it’s fantastic’. Jimi Hendrix was my hero, you see, and I thought I’d get to play with him. I wouldn’t have left the band but I would have loved to have played with him. I played bass like he played guitar. I wasn’t bothered about bass players.”
Come to think of it, there’s a Hendrix feel to ‘Goin’ Bak to Birmingham’ on the latest EP, a track you also played during that 2002 live show.
“Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny with the Robin thing. So many people said that up on that stage I played as well as Jimi Hendrix. But from when I rang Mike at the Robin to ask if it was a good idea – because I wasn’t going to play Slade songs, but songs that inspired me – I knew what I wanted to do, but only had about five weeks to get up to speed with a guitar.”
So tell me more about this latest release, your ‘Lost in Space’ EP?
“Well, Frank, my younger brother, who is often kicking my ass, said,‘What about an EP? I’ve been talking to the record company’. And I said, ‘Fine, we’ll do an EP’. He then said, ‘When can I have the tracks?’ So I said, ‘When do you need them?’ and he said, ‘Next Monday’. I said, ‘You what?’
“Of course, I can’t sing now because of throat trouble, that lack of testosterone. But I hunted around quickly and found some songs I felt might fit the bill. They’d got finished vocals on them but only sketchy backing. So I threw something at it, and that’s what you hear, because we only had a few days to get it together. ‘Megadrive’ was already done.”
That was the song I was going to mention first. Proof, as if it needed proving, that you can still write a great melody.
“Oh yeah, there was always a melody. It’s always memorable, whatever it is. Even my string thing is memorable … but it’s beautiful as well.”
The title track, ‘Lost in Space’, has a nice kind of George Harrison and Tom Petty vibe to it, I ventured.
“Ha! Funny you say that. Not many people have compared it to anything else, but I’ve had Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty mentioned. Nobody’s said George Harrison before. Even Del Amitri were mentioned. I can’t see that, but I can’t see any of those. I just put it down and forget about it, then I’m on to the next song.”
On two of the songs, I could hear some heavy metal band coming in and having a lot of fun with them. ‘Pure Power’ has a real anthemic feel, and ‘What in the World’ is another heavy rocker. In short, you haven’t lost that metal edge.
“I can still rock out, you know. It’s just having the energy to do it. That’s the trouble.”
That got Jim back on the subject of his memorable 2002 show at the Robin 2, and then the late 2017 Q&A event.
“The boss there rang and said, ‘The phone’s ringing off the hook. Everyone’s saying, ‘When are you going to come back?’ I said, ‘I’m never coming back. I’m going to make an album, and it’s going to be called Therapy. And it’s gonna be psychologically-based. But he said, ‘Well, if you wanna come and play, any time …’
“When he rang the day after that show, he said, ‘I stood at the bar and thought I might watch one number. But when you walked on stage I almost felt sick. I thought it was going to be a disaster. It was so loud and powerful, and I’d never heard anything like it in my whole career, playing in bands or at the Robin. But I took a swig of my pint and looked up, and I saw you playing guitar, one-handed with one hand up in the air, and you were singing. And I thought, ‘I can’t go home’. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.’ And his right-hand man was a big AC/DC fan who’d seen all the gigs he’d put on there and felt that had to be the best.
“This last time, at the end of the Q&A, he told me everyone was crying. I didn’t have a band but had backing tracks, and played along with them. But I was very tired because I hadn’t played since the cancer. And I didn’t know the crowd were crying, because of the lighting.
“At the end, I was mobbed again on the way out, but finally got to the car and was driven off, then went to have a dinner with my family. But my brother Frank wasn’t there, and we were all waiting, starving. He only came in about an hour later. I said, ‘Where the heck have you been?’ And he said, ‘James, I stayed ‘til the death. Everybody was crying and hugging each other, people who didn’t even know each other, and then the boss of the club was walking towards me and I said, ’Mike, what’s going on?’ And he said, People won’t go home. It’s as if James has risen from the dead’. Then Frank noticed he was crying as well, asked why, and was told, ‘I haven’t got a bloody clue. It’s just all so emotional!”
“Someone also told me Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre was set to play that night, and wondered if he had the right venue. He was asking, ‘Why are all these people crying?’ He was told, ‘Jim Lea from Slade has just done a Q&A’. And he said, ‘Bloody hell!’”
Well, you’ve spoken about therapy, and you did train as a psychotherapist a few years ago. Maybe you’ve released some kind of energy in the room.
“Well, when my brother said, ‘What about a Q&A at the Robin?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, okay’, my wife couldn’t quit believe I’d said that. But I just thought it was another way of pushing myself forward as a person.”
So where are you at with your cancer treatment now?
“Wolverhampton’s NHS really looked after me, but then sent me to Leeds for treatment.”
Was that at the aptly-nicknamed Jimmy’s (St James’s University Hospital)?
“It was, yeah. I’d go up there a couple of times a year and stay up, and have got to know people up there, and we’re just one big happy family when we go. So although the treatment was uncomfortable to have, it’s been brilliant. In fact, we went up there for my wife’s birthday – for no other reason – on April 1st. I was up there about three months, then I had these injections. But I’ve finished those now.”
You’ve said no to a Robin 2 return, but I’m still hoping we can tempt you out for another gig at some stage.
“I tell you what, Malcolm. I would love to do it if I got the energy back. I was talking to one guitarist about that live DVD and he said, ‘You were giving it a lot of energy. I know what I do leaves me tired. You could do a gig, but you couldn’t do that again’. And I was kind of dropping at one point.”
Well, hopefully you’ll be back to full fitness soon, and we may see that day yet.
“Yeah, well, I would love to do it if I got the energy back. My brother’s got all sorts of ideas to get me up there. I’m just looking at the back of this copy of the Big Issue, and it’s got an advert for a festival (Cropredy’s Fairport Convention in Oxfordshire next month) with Brian Wilson, The Oyster Band, Police Dog Hogan, Smith & Brewer … so maybe you might be seeing me down the bottom at one of those.”
That would be brilliant. I look forward to that. And until then, there’s always that amazing Slade and solo back-catalogue.
To catch up with this website’s feature/interview with Dave Hill, from December 2015, head here. And for our conversation with Don Powell from December 2017, try here. You can also check out the lowdown on Noddy Holder’s live show with Mark Radcliffe from May 2013 via this link, and find a WriteWyattUK appreciation of Slade from December 2012 here.
Jim Lea’s six-track EP ‘Lost In Space’ is out now, with details of that, plus the limited-edition An Audience with Jim Lea at the Robin 2, various versions of the Therapy album, and lots more product available from his jimleamusic.com website.
'Quiet? I was Slade’s bad boy!': Jim Lea
talks The Kinks, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and living in the
By Kirsten Rawlins | Express and Star | Wolverhampton entertainment | Published: Jul 13, 2018
Rumour had it he was the quiet one in Slade, but songwriter and bass icon Jim Lea says in reality he was 'the trouble-maker' - and even had a fight with The Kinks' Ray Davies which led to the band's manager being banned from the BBC bar for 12 months.
The skirmish broke out backstage at Top Of The Pops and, one way or another, ended up with Ray dragging Dave Hill around by his hair, adds Jim.
Slade's manager, 'a big, tall Geordie' by the name of Chas Chandler, was the original bassist for The Animals and former manager of Jimi Hendrix. "We were banned from the BBC bar for a year after that. Well, we could get in, but Chas couldn’t," says Jim. "He got Ray around the neck. And Chas was a big guy.
"Ray had attacked Dave as well. I think he thought he was wearing a wig because he was dragging Dave around the place by his hair. Chas soon sorted him out. He came over and said ‘tell me what’s going on here or I’ll f***ing strangle you’. I’m actually a big Kinks fan, so it’s not something that’s ever mattered.
"I bumped into Dave Davies’ son and told him about this. He said his dad and Ray still talk about it. He said ‘dad thinks he just didn’t like you because you were writing all these number one hits’.
"When I was in Slade, everyone thought I was the quiet one, but really I was the trouble-maker. I was always saying things I shouldn’t. Chas used to go mad because I was always saying stuff I shouldn’t have. He was a big, tall Geordie… He used to say ‘you can’t go around saying things like that’. I was very blunt. To be honest, I couldn’t repeat a lot of what went on. I should make an audio book… There were a lot of things that went on which would make for a good book."
With Chas' connections to rock idol Jimi, it's perhaps unsurprising that the band had their own dealings with the guitar legend. More unexpected, however, is that the Wolverhampton-born Slade star says The Jimi Hendrix Experience's bassist Noel Redding admitted he'd been to see the glam rock stars back in their 'skinhead' days, around 1970. Jim claims Noel said he believed that had Jimi ever spotted him playing bass back then, he would have surely found himself replaced by the Midland musician.
"When Chas died, Noel Redding from the Jimi Hendrix Experience said he’d been to see us when we were skinheads," explains Jim. He said he actually felt humiliated and that we were fantastic.
"He said the band was great, but if Hendrix had seen us he’d have been out of a job. He said he’d never seen anything like the way I played bass. He said ‘that’d have been me finished’, which was a huge compliment.
"I’d have never left Slade, but I would have loved to played with Hendrix. He was my influence. I played bass because of him. In Slade I had to stick to a certain style, so I’m not known for being a fancy bass player. Back in the day, I was asked to collaborate by people who were as big as it gets. Chas was always worried about me being pulled away from the band. I do get asked by people about doing things now, but I figure I’m best on my own."
Jim, aged 69, still remains in the area, living in South Staffordshire and though he's never really strayed from Wolverhampton and Staffordshire, the star did wryly tell of the confusion caused by false information online, which leads people to ask about him being born in a pub in Codsall - something which is entirely fictional.
"It says on the internet I was born in a pub near Codsall - and even that I used to play on their lawns," laughs Jim. I was born in a pub in Wolverhampton, which we left when I was two. It was just at the top of Snow Hill. We moved to Heath Town, then into a council house in Bilbrook when I was six. Then mum and dad bought their own home and we’ve been in the area ever since."
Jim's latest solo EP Lost In Space went on sale on June 22 - his first mini album release in more than 10 years.
The six-track record features title track Lost In Space, a song which Jim says ended up accidentally being about himself. I was always very sombre and lost in space in my mind," adds Jim. "I wrote the song about someone I know, but in hindsight it was about me. It’s very autobiographical. But then, your creativity comes from who you are and what you are. The reaction to my EP has been phenomenal. My brother Frank called me saying there have been fantastic reviews. The reviews have said ‘just go and buy it’. I never expected any of that." And though Jim's last Slade song was written and produced in 1992, the star says he's never stopped writing; spurred on by a once consuming drive which fed the glam rock band's constant stream of hits back in its heyday.
"Even though I wasn’t seen for a while, I never stopped writing. People think I just went away, but I didn’t," explains Jim. "I guess it all goes back to the days of the band, when I just had to keep the songs coming. There was a great amount of pressure. When I went to parties, I’d always find myself sitting back watching everyone else, thinking about where the next song was coming from. It was a big responsibility. I’ve always been a big fan of The Shadows. Jerry Lordan used to write for them; his song Apache is what made me pick up the guitar. He used to feel the same pressure - so did McCartney. After getting used to that feeling over the years, you find you have to keep doing it, because it’s what your life has become. Joan Armatrading said the exact same thing."
It's not the decorations in the shops, the festive adverts on TV or even the growing stress of having to buy presents. The one thing that tells you Christmas is on its way each year is hearing Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody. This year is the 45th anniversary of the Christmas classic.
And guitarist Dave Hill, 72, will be fronting Slade when they go on their annual UK tour to get you jingling like Santa. He said: “I’ve become part of people’s memories. There’s a kid who works in the paper shop up the road from me who told me he couldn’t imagine Christmas without our record. He associates it with his parents playing it. It’s part of Christmas now. Before Slade, it was Bing Crosby’s White Christmas that was the song. But after we put our song out, it became the one most associated with the time of the year – not just in the UK but across the world.”
Slade will play Glasgow on December 6. The line-up includes Dave and drummer Don Powell. Singer Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea, who wrote the famous track, quit in 1992. Merry Xmas Everybody has sold more than a million copies since it was released originally on December 7, 1973. It charts every year – last year reaching No16. In 2009, PRS for Music announced that up to 42 per cent of the world’s population could have listened to the song. Dave added: “Christmas is difficult for some people and financially it can be a real struggle, so I hope the song can bring a smile to someone’s face, even for a few minutes.”
Dave, who was born in Devon, but moved to the Midlands as a child, was one of the iconic stars of the 70s. His outlandish costumes and hairdo and his megawatt toothy smile made him as recognisable as other glam rockers like David Bowie and Marc Bolan. Merry Xmas Everybody was Slade’s sixth and last No1. From 1971’s Coz I Luv You, the band had dominated the charts with hits including Mama Weer All Crazee Now and Cum on Feel the Noize. Bands including Kiss, Nirvana, Sex Pistols, Ramones and Oasis have all been influenced by Slade.
Dave, a grandfather-of-five, had the biggest smile of the 70s. And he keeps on smiling today, despite having a stroke on stage in Germany in 2010 and battling depression that has blighted him, on and off, for the past decade. He said: “I was in a dark hole. But being on stage, I’d have an adrenaline and endorphin rush and I’d be OK. The next day, I’d be depressed again.” He was given anti-depressants and reckons he’s on “good form” now. But two years after Dave had freed himself from the grip of depression, he had a stroke.
He said: “We were in full swing when everything suddenly went very strange, but I kept playing. It affected my left arm, which was a bit floppy. "But the top guy at this German hospital, who happened to be a Slade fan, told me to give it time and I’d be able to play again.” Dave took three months off and practised guitar every day until he was able to get back on stage again. Now, he refuses to think about hanging up his guitar. He added: “Life is uncertain, but I don’t want to think about retiring or not doing it. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t do it.”
Dave knows all about the hard slog to the top. He became a professional musician at just 18. In the mid 60s, Dave and Don were in a band called the ‘N Betweens. They asked Noddy and, later, Jim to join. They changed their name to Ambrose Slade but their debut album bombed. Noddy’s powerful voice and the band’s raucous live act caught the attention of Jimi Hendrix’s manager Chas Chandler. Going on tour was their best chance of making a name for themselves.
Dave said: “I have fond memories of playing Scotland in the late 60s. “It was one of the best times of my life – not being famous but working towards something. “We played the Electric Gardens in Sauchiehall Street. We played Greens, which would become the Apollo, and Arran. We even played Wick. We’d play Scotland and then drive through the night to get home to the Midlands as the sun was coming up. We were all living with our parents so we would just go home and go to bed. Very rock ‘n’ roll.”
At the turn of the decade, the band hit their stride. By 1970, they’d shortened their name to Slade and after hitting No16 with a version of Little Richard’s Get Down and Get With It, they became part of the glam rock wave. But by 1975, after various attempts to crack America, the band’s popularity began to wane. And by 1978, as disco boomed and punk changed the musical landscape, Slade were in crisis. Dave tried to find a gimmick to get the band’s music heard again – shaving his head and buying a leather jacket.
But it was only when Ozzy Osbourne couldn’t play the Reading Festival in 1980 and Slade got the call that they had a final hurrah. They found a new generation of fans in the heavy metal crowd, which saw them get a few last hits with We’ll Bring the House Down, No2 ballad My Oh My and Run Runaway. A year after Noddy and Jim called it a day in 1992, Dave realised he wanted to keep playing as a band. He said: “I sat down with Noddy and we agreed I could carry on.” Ex Mud bass guitarist John Berry and singer Mal McNulty have taken the places of Noddy and Jim. Slade’s music has resonated around the world in places including Russia, Ukraine and Germany. Dave added: “If fans stop me in Moscow or wherever, they usually say thanks for the music or thanks for making my youth great. How nice to know that I’ve made someone smile.”
Slade: It’s Christmaaaas is on at Glasgow’s SWG3
on December 6.
Dave’s autobiography So Here It Is is out now.
Slade's Jim Lea: “I got the job because I didn’t play
like a bass player”
By Dave Ling (Bass Guitar) MUSICRADAR November 2018.
The UK bassist on his solo album and failure's silver linings
Passing him in the street, you could be forgiven for failing to recognise Jim Lea, and that’s just the way he likes it. As the principal songwriter of Slade, the bassist, violinist and multi-musician was a driving force behind one of the most successful rock bands of all time. Their record of 17 consecutive Top 20 hits and six Number Ones during the 1970s is unlikely to be surpassed. However, while two members of Slade would have sold their grandmothers for the spotlight – step forward Noddy Holder and Mr Superyob himself, Dave Hill – by comparison their rhythm section of Lea and drummer Don Powell were shrinking violets.
It’s no surprise, then, that Lea maintained a low profile since Slade’s final dissolution in 1992, keeping himself busy by studying psychotherapy for 20 years, nursing his father and an elder brother through dementia and now looking after a housebound mum, in addition to beating prostate cancer.
Issued in 2007, a solo album, Therapy, saw him sidestep Slade’s usual terrace anthems for more thoughtful, considered territory, and there were just two professional live appearances, the most recent being four songs performed last year following a Q&A session in the Midlands. Attended by fans from all over the world, many of whom were reduced to tears by what they saw and heard, the brief set proved to be a revitalising experience.
The result is a six-song EP called Lost In Space. With Lea once again performing all of the instruments, its contents were written before the cancer battle but recorded afterwards, save for his voice. “I can’t sing now, due to the treatment which removes your testosterone and leaves you permanently exhausted,” Jim reveals. “Luckily I had some decent vocal takes from years ago.” Save for its Electric Light Orchestra-esque title song, Lost In Space is a hard-rocking set that tips its mirrored top hat back to those halcyon Slade daze.
“I was the writer in that band, and it’s easy for me to write songs that sound like Slade,” he states. “But I’ve got more in me than that. I want to talk about other, deeper stuff and that’s why I made the Therapy album. I never stopped writing; you wouldn’t believe the amount of material I have stockpiled. There will definitely be more albums from me.” However, Jim is forced to admit that barring a sensational recovery, his days as a live performer may now be over and done. “I hope not,” he comments, sounding surprisingly chirpy. “My testosterone levels are rising, but I need them to go higher. What I don’t do is think negatively about it all.”
Looking back, Lea admits to harbouring regrets over a chain of incidents that began in 1983 when Slade were forced to cancel a US tour supporting Ozzy Osbourne, sowing the seeds for an eventual break-up. “I developed liver disease so we had to come home,” he relates sadly. “America just didn’t get Slade, and it didn’t feel that they ever would, but I wish we’d have finished those dates with Ozzy – because little did anybody know that the whole MTV revolution was just around the corner. Quiet Riot’s version was rather cabaret – and I never, ever dreamed it would be a hit in the States
What happened next was almost comical - a Californian band called Quiet Riot took a cover of Slade’s classic 1973 hit Cum On Feel The Noize into America’s Top Five, singer Kevin DuBrow rudely dismissing Holder as “a poor man’s Steve Marriott” before their own house of cards tumbled down. All Slade could do was count the royalties and rue their bad luck. “Quiet Riot’s version was rather cabaret - and I never, ever dreamed it would be a hit in the States,” Lea laughs. “I just sat around in the garden and earned more money than ever before in my life.”
Lea is no tech-head. Because Slade tended to use rented or borrowed gear throughout their heyday years, he has no loyalty towards a particular brand, though at first he used a Gibson EB-0, followed by an exact replica made for him by John Birch Guitars, after it was stolen. He played these through a Laney bass stack with two 4x12 cabs. Later on, two further Vox 2x15 cabs were added. During the 80s, his arsenal was supplemented by a pair of Martin bass bins “for good measure”. His violin had its own amp, “a Marshall 100-watt 8x12 stack for top end.”
Oddly, for all of the kudos afforded him as a bassist, Jim simply fell into the role. “I got the job with The ’N Betweens [who became Slade] because I didn’t play like a bass player,” he admits. "My technique was just to play extremely fast, and I played octaves and used distortion to create a style of my own. I started out as a guitarist and became a bassist through necessity when somebody left a band. It didn’t feel like a big deal. My technique was just to play extremely fast, and I played octaves and used distortion to create a style of my own. I was Stanley Clarke before Stanley Clarke.”
Slade’s legendary wall of sound was based upon him “blocking out the chords” in time with a four-to-the-floor beat, Powell adding a shuffle on the snare drum. “We found it at the end of a rehearsal and it served us well down the years,” he smiles at the memory. “It’s all about the confidence.”
So many years later, a reunion of Slade is most unlikely, it seems. Dave Hill and Don Powell continue to tour under the name but Holder, whose foghorn delivery was so pivotal to their sound, is now 72 years old and has long since abandoned music for a broader-based career as an entertainer. “Some [unpleasant] stuff has gone on between us, though that’s the same with any band,” Jim reveals, an element of sadness creeping in for the first time. “I never thought that would happen, but it did. And yes, of course Nod’s voice would be a problem - I don’t see how he could do it again. That would be like expecting Mo Farah to run a marathon at 60. He could probably finish one, but it would take quite a while!”
Lost In Space is out now.
Slade-mania is back… and everybody’s having fun:
Drummer Don Powell looks ahead to Glasgow show. Written by Bill
Gibb, 27 November 2018. Sunday Post.
THEY were at the height of their fame, with smash hits, adoration and money flooding in. Then Slade drummer Don Powell was in a devastating car crash in 1973 which left him in a coma for six days and his girlfriend Angela Morris dead.
Don’s skull was fractured, his heart stopped beating twice and he suffered ongoing memory loss. But as Slade get set to play a Glasgow gig, Don says his return to the band was incredibly quick – and incredibly painful.
“We were No 1 at the time with Skweeze Me Pleeze Me and had just played the biggest gig of our career at Earl’s Court in London,” Don, 72, told iN10. “Then three days later came the crash. I’ve still got no idea what happened. When I got out of hospital, I went straight back on our American tour. It was very tough both physically and mentally. I had seen a brain specialist and he said I never would remember the crash. He said the brain switches off in moments of trauma and switches back on when it’s ready and I wasn’t even to bother trying to think about it. I just relaxed then, because trying to recall what happened had been driving me nuts.”
The physical toll was just as troubling for Don – although there was some black humour involved. I had broken ribs and two broken legs and playing the drums really took its toll,” admitted Don. “The roadies used to have to carry me on stage, put me at my drums and take me off again at the end. Well, sometimes they’d just leave me on the kit when everyone else had gone off and I’d be stuck there. Although I was all broken up and it was the last thing I was up for initially, the surgeons said that if I didn’t do it then, I never would. That was the best advice I ever had.”
In their 1970s heyday Slade were a chart phenomenon. They had 23 top-20 singles, six of which were No 1s. The band were mobbed everywhere they went and Don says that was a contrast to their home-bird ways. “We were still living with our parents and I remember driving round to see my sister who lived a few streets away,” recalled Don. “Of course it was just as the kids were coming out of school and she was saying, ‘What were you thinking!” It was absolute mayhem. There was a mania all the time, it really was crazy. But we always tried to take the time to chat if we were at a railway station or whatever as it meant so much to the fans.”
Don, Dave Hill, Jim Lea and, of course, Noddy Holder were the foursome who never seemed to be out of the charts with hits like Cum On Feel The Noize and Coz I Luv You. Now Don and Dave are the original members who’ll be taking to the stage at SWG3 Galvanizers at the start of next month. Don diplomatically says Noddy just had other avenues to explore when he left and Jim didn’t want to carry on without Noddy. But he insists they still get together several times a year for a catch up with other musicians and friends. Prime among their hits, of course, was 1973’s chart-topper Merry Xmas Everybody which will be getting its annual money-spinning festive outing over the coming weeks.
However, Don says it almost never made it on to vinyl in the first place.
“We were in New York at the time and Nod and Jim had this song that the manager said we had to record during a week off. It was 100 degrees outside and there we were singing that record, getting some strange looks off of the American technicians. We didn’t want to release it afterwards as we weren’t sure it was right for us. But we were told it was coming out regardless of what we said and the rest is history.”
Slade played Scotland numerous times, including in the remotest locations before they hit the big time. “At one time we had a tour that started in Wick and we drove all day from our homes in the Midlands,” says Don. “We were in our old van and there weren’t lots of motorways or good roads so we left at 6am and got there at 6pm, just in time to lug all our gear in as we had no roadies.”
Slade, SWG3, Glasgow, December 6
If it’s December, Slade must be doing the rounds again, in the post Holder/Lea configuration they’ve worked in for 25-plus years. And it’s not long after ‘Super Yob’ guitar hero Dave Hill calls me from his home in the Black Country that he mentions ‘that song’, as bandmate and fellow original, Don Powell, puts it, the festive classic that’s come to define Wolverhampton’s finest at this time of year.
All I did, by way of an ice-breaker, was ask whether Dave (guitar, vocals) was looking forward to his latest festive live outings with Don (drums), Mal McNulty (vocals, guitar) and John Berry (bass, vocals).
“Yes, it’s something that’s always a pleasure and I’m comfy to be doing. And not just because we have the biggest Christmas song ever. I think also it’s all to do with the history of the band. It’s 45 years now since 1973, which gives us an immense history in existence as Slade. And I’m still performing – really I never stopped – carrying on regardless … like an old Carry On film. Ha ha!”
That yuletide smash was of course ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, one of six UK No.1 singles and 16 top-10 hits for Slade (added to three No.1 and five top-10 LPs).
In fact, 45 years ago Slade became the first band since The Beatles to go straight into the UK singles charts at No.1, a feat they managed three times in ’73. The first time was with ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ (four weeks at the top), followed by ‘Skweeze Me Pleeze Me’ (three weeks), and then – having just missed out with ‘My Friend Stan’, which peaked at No.2 – for five weeks with a Christmas ditty recorded in New York City the previous summer, shifting half a million copies in the first week of release. And there wouldn’t be another British chart-topper until The New Seekers got there on January 19th, 1974.
What’s more – and these were the days that record sales really counted for something – that ‘straight in at No.1’ feat wouldn’t be repeated again until The Jam managed it – also three times – with ‘Going Underground’/’Dreams of Children’ (1980), then ‘Town Called Malice’/‘Precious’, and their swansong, ‘Beat Surrender’ (both 1982).
But let’s get back to Slade, and last time Dave and I spoke was three years ago, when he told me he was working with Anthony Keates on a project that would became So Here It Is: The Autobiography, sub-titled How the boy from Wolverhampton rocked the world with Slade, published by Unbound in 2017. So a lot’s happened since, I’m guessing.
“It most certainly has, and in a very good way. Anthony was a brilliant choice. It wasn’t on my radar, but it’s a bit like so many things that have happened to me in life. You’re going one direction, when actually it’s the other way. And what Anthony did was help me find my way as to exactly how I would do it.
“I’m quite a good talker and people like listening to me, so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be good to have a book that sounds like me having an evening with you where I tell you a story’. I’ve got my own accent, and people like that, and I thought that was the way forward. I could record it all, and I had quite a journey with Anthony. We spent quite a lot of time finding people out to help with their personal stories of me at the time. And there was a lot to get through and a lot we discovered.”
It sure beats therapy, and it’s probably a lot cheaper than having your own shrink.
“Well, I think it is therapy. There are some things that weren’t quite explained, like the business of finding your Mum and Dad had a fake wedding, trying to make it look right for the pair of us (Dave and his sister Carol) when they couldn’t actually get married. But I find it quite romantic actually, what they did.”
I’ve only recently read the book, and while I’m familiar with a lot of the back-story, I learned a fair bit about you that I wasn’t aware of.
“And it’s out in paperback now too.”
Ah, good plug, Dave. With an extra chapter too, I see.
“Yes, and two different covers. Sainsbury’s have got an exclusive silver cover for their shelves, and there’s the red version – like the version you’ve got – elsewhere. Red’s always nice for Christmas, and silver’s nice as well … part of my stage clothes were silver, of course.”
Indeed. As Stuart Maconie put it in 2004’s Cider with Roadies, he had a ‘jumpsuit made of the foil that you baste your turkeys in and platforms of oil-rig-derrick height’.
While we were on the book, I also mentioned to Dave the number on the spine of my hardback version, wondering what it related to, prompting him to look at his copy, then admit, ‘I don’t know what the story of that is mi’self!’
So how would Dave best sum up his 2018?
“Well … how can I put it? It’s been a year of playing the regular places I do, but also Israel, doing a show in Tel Aviv. That’s not a place that was on my radar either, but it turns out there’s a promoter out there who’s an absolute fanatic of us. And I couldn’t believe they knew the songs.
“I didn’t particularly think of Israel having Slade’s music pumping out of the radio, more associating it with religion, tourism, and all that. But when I got there, Tel Aviv was like any other city, a very vibrant place, and so enjoyable.”
So was there a love for your music there back in the ‘70s?
“It definitely had an impact, as it did in Russia, where they weren’t supposed to listen to our music. It was frowned upon. Western rubbish, I suppose. But I’m afraid the Russians didn’t listen (to that advice), and thankfully we have many thousands of fans there too. It was interesting hearing from this Israeli person discussing with me his memories of the past. And he knew so much about me, not just the regular questions, but probing back to my first guitars, obviously having done his homework. It was great. Having said that, I went to the Falkland Islands many years ago, wondering how that would work too, playing to the troops. What would we do? Would we be ‘entertainers, playing to the boys’?”
Dave writes about the band’s South Atlantic visit in So Here It Is, and I seem to recall it was quite soon after the Falklands War.
“It was still tender, a subject you didn’t really bring up with them. Not so much, ‘Don’t mention the war!’ It was more personal than that. Someone had lost his friend, and there was that sort of feeling. Our job was to play their club for a full week, staying on the base while they entertained us, taking us out on the helicopters and all that. It was a hell of a long flight, but it was worth it.”
That’s the closest Slade got to playing South America, it turns out. But who knows, maybe they also have a big Argentine following that they’ve yet to discover.
“Possibly. It’s never cropped up.”
These days, is it a family affair when you tour? I don’t mean the immediate 21st century Slade family of yourself, Don, Mal and John. I know your son has travelled with you in the past. How about your beloved, Jan? Or do you prefer to keep those parts of your life separate?
“With regards my wife, you’ll see a picture in my book of us and the whole family, and that’s the greatest achievement we could ever really have. In a sense, my wife met me before fame, so she’s been through it all, and she’s more private. I’m a very tactile person, so people approach me and I’m very friendly, while my wife’s a lot more reserved and cautious about people. I suppose my real answer would simply be that there are two sides to me. There’s the man who walks on the stage, and for that period of time I’m more focused than in anything else I do. That’s when I lose myself in it, the actual experience of entertainment.
“Then, when I come off the stage, I go back to the hotel and go to bed, looking forward to the next date. I treat every show as if it was my first. I don’t under-play and don’t go through the motions.
“When I come home with bits of stories, I send pictures of the action we got, but then it’s usually, ‘That hedge needs cutting down there!’ And when I go out walking locally, people see me and it’s like, ‘Morning Dave. Alright? Where you been?’”
I should imagine that’s what always kept you grounded, and the same goes for Nod, Jim and Don too by all accounts.
“Yeah, Noddy and myself are the most recognised, but I think people see us as friends as well as famous people. Also, we’re not a band people associated with politics or making a point. It’s nothing to do with music being used for a purpose of opinions or reactions. Our music has come from the stable of good records and meaningful songs – a rock’n’roll band.
Over the years you were perhaps seen as an escape for people from everyday concerns, I suppose.
“Well, I’ve probably been escaping the system ever since I got out of that job!”
He’s alluding to his time at Tarmac in their offices in Wolverhampton there, when Slade’s predecessors The Vendors, later known as The N’ Betweens, were starting to make an impact. If 72-year-old Dave had stayed in the day-job, how long does he think he would have been retired by now?
“Well, let’s put it like this. It’s no longer Tarmac. It’s now an Indian school (the Ettingshall site is now home to a vocational training centre and the British Sikh School). I did for a period of time before I made it see people still walking the same walk though. And let’s not be wrong here – my place was not there. It never was. But I had to have a job and had to start somewhere, and it was a fiver a week. I was an office boy, and three years later I still was. I hadn’t improved. It was a bit like a school report. ‘If he could concentrate … he’s disruptive in the class …’
“The thing is, life is life, and I can’t say what’s right for anybody else, but being involved in something which is not just about the money – if money was the reason I did it, I would have failed dismally on that score, as there was never a great deal of money. It certainly never came my way anyway.
“But I see it now the same way as when I first went professional – it was about a freedom of travel, and the journey continues, and I’ll take it as far as I can in this life, because the purpose is still important to people. If they didn’t want it, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Some of those you worked with at Tarmac probably saw you on Top of the Pops and told their mates the next day, ‘I see Dave Hill’s still got that same job. Did you see him last night on telly, wearing that metal nun get-up?’
“Well, yeah! Probably saying, ‘Get a proper job!’ At Tarmac I was told, ‘Stick with the job, it’s a proper job, musicians don’t always make it’. That was true, but years and years later I was in the Tarmac monthly magazine!”
Dave’s had his health battles in recent years, and my most recent interviewee was with his old adversary-cum-ally, Andy Scott of The Sweet, who’s had his own run-ins as well as losing two bandmates far too early.
“Oh yeah, Andy’s a mate.”
So how’s your health these days ?
“Well, I’ve experienced serious depression, but got over that, and the stroke was not planned, but is it ever? I’ve always been a jogger and things, but who knows what led to that? I really don’t know. That was quite a time ago now – 2010. I’m eight years on and on medication for that, but quite happy.
“Andy had prostate cancer, something our bass player, Jim Lea, had too, and of course Jim suffered some bad health towards the end of the original band. We were in America and he caught hepatitis. That knocked him around. In fact, we never worked together again really. We were having a hit record at the time.
“I’ve not seen anything of him. I see more of Nod, even though Jim only lives up the road, while Nod’s in Manchester. But the point is that I’m thankful to Jim, Nod and Don for their contributions to my life. Without each other … it certainly wouldn’t have happened in the configuration we had.
“I’ve had a brush with stuff, and my wife’s had a brush with cancer this year – a minute form of breast cancer – the surgeon said if anybody was going to have cancer, she had the best type.
“That was something that happened that we dealt with together, and marriage is a friendship and a partnership, and it’s about supporting each other … until you pop your clogs, I suppose.”
If he sounds rather dismissive of his issues with depression and his stroke in that answer, I can assure you that’s not the case. He goes into it all in far more detail in So Here It Is. And again, we come back to Dave and his bandmates all being very grounded. What’s more, the time he’s been with Jan and the time Jim’s been with his wife Louise seem to defy the cliché about rock’n’rollers, temptation, and long-term relationships.
“I don’t think we were quite like that. There were bands spending lots of money, being flash, and while we were flash in the clothes, I felt quite uncomfortable with some of it. When I bought my first house in Solihull I thought, ‘Do I deserve this?’ Going from a humble council house across to that situation felt a little unreal, where people weren’t really like those I grew up with. It felt sort of empty somehow. Nevertheless, it was a good experience, living there, and I certainly did work for it.”
Fasten your seatbelts, dear readers. Dave’s about to get philosophical, even quoting a line from William Wordsworth’s Sonnets from The River Duddon: After-Thought.
“I walk across the meadows in the mornings and think about those things, poetry and all that. We all need to earn money, but there are so many things that give you the trueness of life and what really matters in life. It’s about family and it’s about yourself. As Wordsworth put it, ‘We feel that we are greater than we know.’
“I read a book by a Norwegian explorer (Erling Kagge) who crossed the Antarctic and wrote, Silence: In the Age of Noise (2017), about stillness of mind, a very spiritual thing in a way. And there’s a Tyrone Power film, The Razor’s Edge (1946), where a guy goes up to the mountains, up to a teacher. He leaves him there for months, where he has an experience with the morning sunlight and something touches him in a way that sends him back to civilisation a completely different man, and he starts to help people. And that also struck a nerve in a way.”
You mention Erling Kagge, and you mentioned in our last interview how there’s something about Norway that draws you in. Meanwhile, Don has his special link with Denmark, where he’s based with his wife and family.
“Yeah, I love it in Norway, and my son proposed to his wife there. It’s a love affair with a country where the scenery is awesome.”
Dave also reiterated that now he’s finished the book, he’s hoping a Who Do You Think You Are? appearance might reveal even more about his family roots, saying, ‘There are one or two subjects that still haven’t been uncovered.’ And he’s got plenty of other future plans.
“I also know they possibly want me to do an audio version of the book, and I’d like to do ‘an audience with’ type format show, playing a bit of acoustic guitar. The book has opened up a few doors for me, and there was also talk of a movie, a drama. I’ll be promoting the book well into next year. But right now there’s work to be done with this tour.”
I should imagine the process of writing the book and dwelling on your past has added a few more years to your life. You seem to be a man at ease with yourself more in recent years.
“I think so. And it’s not selfishness, as some might think. You’re the only person who can help yourself, although people can help you along, give you kind words … as my parents used to do. But when it comes down to the existence of us all, it’s more about an inward contact, rather than talking about God and religion and being dictated to. It’s about self-discovery.”
He might even have a solo album project lined up somewhere down the line.
“It might be a bit too personal, but then again it might be an important journey for me, never mind anybody else.”
Interesting. Would we hear H’s singing voice?
“I’d attempt that. I don’t particularly like my voice, but often you get guitar players – even Clapton – who have a feeling in their voice, not trying to be anyone else. Mark Knopfler’s the same, a guitar player with the voice around it.”
For the first time in a dozen or so years, I watched Flame all the way through over the weekend. It still makes for great viewing, 43 years on, and not just because of that cracking soundtrack. But one thing that’s struck me today and last time we spoke is that you’re definitely not Barry, the character you played in that film. He was a bit of a diva, and a moody one at that.
“Well, I suppose I’ve been a bit of a negotiator. I’ve never been a businessman, but I’ve been someone who probably talks people into something. The idea of manipulating to get hold of a van for the band in that film … well, gosh, I think we were all a bit like that. Dad would call me a jammy bugger. He said, ‘If there are no spaces when you come around the car park, there would suddenly be one there!’ I’ve never thought of myself as lucky as such though, and I don’t think anything’s ever come easy. I saw this all as a ticket for a lifetime. It’s not about money, and it’s more than a job. It’s a way of living.”
You’ve shared bills with Status Quo too, and I recall the late Rick Parfitt mentioning in his XS All Areas joint-autobiography with Francis Rossi about occasionally driving back to his childhood home in Woking and sitting outside, contemplating his past.
“I’ve done that.”
And I don’t mean going back to Flete Castle in Devon, where your story started, but Rindleford Avenue, the old estate in Penn, Wolverhampton.
“Yeah, I do. I sometimes park outside, where nobody knows I’m sat in the car, with this vision in my mind of the boy from Wolverhampton sat on the grass in front of the house, as it was, this boy with a wind-up record player, putting the needle on. I can still see it all. Because you live in an area where you grew up, as John Lennon said (‘In My Life’), people and places, ‘Some have gone and some remain.’ That’s basically what it is to me. The cinema’s gone, where I had my introduction to movies, but the youth centre’s still there, the old school’s been pulled down, and supermarkets have come along and spaces have become car parks. But in my memory it’s all still there, in that personal computer in my head.
“And because I wrote this book in Wolverhampton, I was surrounded by the memories of it. I could walk around this council estate and see the kid that got his first guitar. He might not still be alive, but I’m still here and I still walk around the streets where I rode my bike. Ha ha!”
You did move house at one point, mind, as we discussed earlier … all the way to Solihull.
“Yes, I did. Ha! That was a brief encounter!”
And where will Dave and the Family Hill be spending this Christmas?
“There’s only one place to be … ‘Take Me Bak ‘Ome’!”
And does anyone dare put that song on over Christmas dinner?
“Well, I’ll keep the radio off. I usually put the Ronettes on!”
Fame and Fortune: Dave Hill: Slade bells ring but I’m not earning
The rocker gets no royalties from the band’s Christmas anthem unless he plays it live — but that’s always a joy.
Sarah Ewing, December 23 2018, 12:01am, The Sunday Times
PHOTO BY ANDREW FOX
‘I’m proud of that song and never tire of playing it,’ says Dave Hill. ‘We weren’t convinced it was going to be a hit . . . but it sold a million copies on the first day’
You might think December would be a lucrative month for Dave Hill, the lead guitarist in Slade, best known for the 1970s hit Merry Xmas Everybody. However, he gets paid for it only when he performs the song. The group’s lead singer, Noddy Holder, takes the lion’s share of the earnings because he wrote it with another bandmate.
Hill, 72, grew up in Wolverhampton with his mother, father and sister, and knew from a young age that he wanted to be a musician — although he had an office job for three years after leaving school at 15. He turned to music professionally at the age of 18, playing in various bands before forming Slade in the 1960s with Noddy, Jim Lea, who was on bass, and Don Powell on drums.
Slade went on to have six No 1 hits and 17 consecutive top 20 singles before the original line-up split in 1992. Hill, who stood out in the band with his helmet fringe and flamboyant stage clothes, still tours regularly with Powell.
What was your first job?
I grew up on an estate in Wolverhampton. Dad was a mechanic and Mum was a war cabinet minister’s secretary. People on our estate were grafters. They were cautious with their money and didn’t waste it — it was a big deal when we got a car and a TV. My parents taught me pride and Mum was always helping people out locally.
I was a typical postwar kid who would have been thrilled with a tangerine in my Christmas stocking. Dad always told me to put some money aside, but if I got my pocket money on the Saturday morning, it’d be gone the same day.
Throughout her life, Mum was in and out of psychiatric hospitals. She wanted me to be a doctor, but I wasn’t that clever. I worked in a Tarmac office for three years when I left school but always knew I wanted to be a musician.
Hank Marvin [of the Shadows] was my influence. I bought my first guitar as a teenager for £7.50 from a Kays mail-order catalogue. When I had my first lesson, Dad said he’d pay for half and I’d have to pay the rest from my paper round.
Dad bought me my original Gibson guitar in 1968 for £220 [the equivalent of £3,600 now]. I played it on all of Slade’s hit records.
What credit cards do you use?
Just a bog-standard Visa but, to be honest, I’m not that fond of it. Years ago, when cash was king, I think you had more control over your spending, whereas now it’s so much easier to get into debt.
Are you a saver or a spender?
Although I’m cautious, I’ve never been good at saving. I see money as a means to an end but I don’t have a greed for it — it’s not my motivation. I do like nice things but, from the moment I turned professional at 18, I’ve worked really hard and I still do to this day.
When was your golden age?
The Seventies were great for us — we made lots of money. But most went on tax — up to 90% of it. Some artists moved abroad to avoid paying so much, but we were very British and stayed in the UK.
Our big break came in late 1968 when we were spotted by Chas Chandler, Jimi Hendrix’s manager. He said we were a breath of fresh air but that we had to start writing more of our own songs, because up until then we were doing mostly covers.
We all wrote at one point, although it was Nod and Jim who wrote Merry Xmas Everybody. My flashy clothes and funny hairstyles became my persona, and after I wore a metal nun outfit on Top of the Pops, our record went to No 1 the next week. Our costumes were as important as the music because, while a good song got you airplay, performing and doing it memorably was what drove sales.
I’m proud of that song and never tire of playing it. We recorded it in New York in the summer of ’73. We weren’t convinced it was going to be a hit when it was released early that December, but it sold a million copies on the first day and shot to No 1. They had to import more from Germany to meet demand.
How much do you make from Merry Xmas Everybody?
I’ve heard it gets more royalties from more countries than any other song that has ever been recorded in the history of music, but I only get performance royalties. It’s only fair Nod and Jim get the lion’s share of the royalties. Nod gets the most, as he wrote more of it, but I honestly don’t begrudge him that.
People assume I’ve made millions and millions, but I never did. I’m not against doing well and earning money, but it’s never been about that for me. I just really enjoyed entertaining people. Our music is nostalgic and makes people smile.
When did you buy your first house?
In 1972. I was still living at home with Mum and Dad at the time, and it was the year after our first No 1 hit, Coz I Luv You. The house was in Solihull in the West Midlands and it cost £35,000. When I went to view it, the bedroom of the owner’s daughter was covered in posters of me.
Unbeknown to me, the local girl’s school grounds went round the back of my house. Along with the neighbours, they were very curious about a pop star living next door.
It still felt a little uncomfortable not being able to have much privacy, so I sold up and bought a new place with my soon-to-be wife in Wolverhampton. Today, Jan and I still live in the city. I can actually see my old house, where I grew up, along with my old school.
When did you first feel wealthy?
I didn’t go berserk, because my first royalty cheque was only £1,000 — although it felt like a lot and came in handy because Jan and I had just got engaged. Even when you become successful, it can be up to 12 months later until the royalties start to come in.
You don’t become a millionaire overnight, like you’d think, but I did treat myself to a new car, a silver Jensen CV8 — just like my idol, Cliff Richard. I moved out of Mum and Dad’s to my Solihull house in it.
What’s been your best business decision?
To stay in it [rock music] as long as I have, really. Retiring is a foreign word to me, even though I’m more careful about my touring schedule now. The feeling I get when I go on stage is priceless. It’s nice to feel appreciated.
I love my job and I want to continue for as long as I’m passionate about making music.
And your worst?
I don’t like to look at life in terms of regrets. When I was young, I did things not really knowing if I was making the right decision or whether I could make a proper living.
One thing I wish I could have changed is to have got Mum better help with her serious mental health issues. There were weeks, months even, where she was just existing and not communicating well — and then the times she had electric shock treatment, she was like my mum again.
What’s better for retirement — property or pension?
I don’t disagree with having a pension, because there is some sense in having something ticking along.
Property can also be good, because renting a house out helps bring in passive income. However, buying property can involve tax issues; I don’t want the hassle and it doesn’t bring me any satisfaction.
I’ve never owned more than one property at a time. Too many people focus so much on making things right for retirement that they forget to live now.
Do you invest in stocks and shares?
I don’t really understand them, so I don’t. I live such a high-octane life performing — sometimes two shows a weekend — and I’m exhausted afterwards. So I’d rather enjoy simple things than use up mental energy to follow the market.
What’s the main lesson you have learnt about money?
The small things in life can bring the most pleasure.
DAVE HILL - Guitarist magazine interview published September 2019
Words Rod Brakes Photography Olly Curtis
Dave Hill shot to fame in the 70s with national glam-rock treasures Slade as they exploded in the UK charts with no less than 13 Top 10 singles. He acquired his first guitar in 1959 at age 13, and this year marks the 60th anniversary of Dave Hill the guitarist – a man who, while touring with Slade to this day, is still very much feeling the noize. We caught up with Dave on home turf in his native Black Country to reflect upon the glam, the glitz and the guitarz…
My First Guitar
“My first guitar was a really dreadful acoustic from the Kays catalogue. I was only 13 and I knew I had music in me, but it wasn’t the piano, it wasn’t the violin, and it certainly wasn’t the recorder. I spoke to dad and he said, ‘I don’t want to be wasting money buying expensive guitars if you’re not going to continue with it. I’ll buy you this one [in the catalogue].’
“It turned up in a cardboard box and, because I’m left-handed, I tried playing it upside down, so dad said, ‘I think you’re going to need some lessons. There’s a jazz guitarist at your school and he’s teaching a few kids how to play acoustic. I’ll tell you what, as it’s five bob a lesson, you put in half a crown from your paper round, and I’ll put half a crown in.’ When I turned up at the lesson with this guitar, the teacher said, ‘The first thing you have to learn is to play it the right way around’. I said, ‘But I’m left-handed,’ and he told me, ‘It doesn’t matter – you’ll get used to it.’ And I did.”
Starting With Skiffle
“When I started playing guitar in 1959, it was all skiffle. My first band was a skiffle band called The Shamrocks. My best mate, Tony, encouraged me to get my own acoustic guitar so we could get it together.The first song we learnt was Tell Laura I Love Her and from that we started to formulate something. We used to go up the youth centre on a Sunday morning and have a go.
“From those early beginnings, I started to move towards ‘the twang’ – I’m talking Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran, then Buddy Holly, then The Shadows. By this point, I’d moved up a grade to electric guitar and we were learning to play FBI by The Shadows. Anyway, it started to work and we started gigging. That’s the strange thing about bands: you never know how it’s going to work out. You just do it. Years later I spoke to Keith, the drummer, and he said, ‘The thing is, Dave, you always knew what you wanted.’ I never realised that, but the one thing I do know is, I’ve always pushed forward with the journey. It’s still going on now.”
Rock ’N’ Roll Revelations
“In the early 60s, The Shadows and Cliff [Richard] were in the charts and it seemed like they were the big deal. Cliff was sort of an English Elvis and Hank [Marvin] was the guitar player people would go to because he had a Fender and most people had never seen a Strat before. When the solid body electric guitar] came to the UK, it was like a revelation. In those days, it wasn’t like it is now. Back then, you’d go to the local music shop and there were hardly any guitars on the wall because most people were in big bands.
“At the same time, a lot of American music was coming over. It was like a melting pot. There was all the swing piano stuff like Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis, and along with that came rock ’n’ roll bands like Bill Haley & His Comets. When electric blues and Chuck Berry arrived, we were like, ‘Wow! Have you heard this guy?’ I imagine Keith Richards was listening to Chuck Berry around that time. That’s when I learned the barre chord. And that has a lot to do with Slade’s music. When I met Don [Powell], I was doing the barre chord, but before Chuck, everybody seemed to be playing country and western-style open chords. It was all a bit C, F, A minor, G…”
The Best Day Of My Life
“I think the best day of my life was in 1963 when I told mom and dad, ‘I really want to do this,’ and from that day on I’ve not really stopped. I was 18 and I’d been in an office job filing – very badly – for three years. They um’d and ah’d about it, but mom and dad knew I could play, and dad really liked Hank Marvin – everyone copped an ear from Hank. He’d say, ‘That’s pretty good, son.’ The Beatles had made it and I thought, ‘That’s really what I want to do.’ I was looking at these four guys and imagining how great it must be to be in a band and not have to work a day job. “I’d met Don Powell by that time and his band had been offered a gig in Germany. I was thinking, ‘Wow! The Beatles went to Germany!’ I’d met him and they’d all got slightly longer hair. And you couldn’t have long hair in an office. It was the best time because I could grow my hair and, as I lived with my parents, I didn’t have to worry about money. I had the freedom of just going off playing music and travelling in an Austin J2 van. The bloody thing had no windows and the only warm place was at the front in the middle near the engine, but it doesn’t matter when you’re 18.”
Ain’t Got The Blues No More
“We had a lot of strong melodies and my style is in the songs. Slade’s music is very major/minor – a bit like The Beatles – and everything’s always moving [plays riffs from Cum On Feel The Noize and Mama Weer All Crazee Now]. We didn’t use weird tunings, but we’d do quirky things like leaving open strings in and we’d often play unusual chords. We’re a rock ’n’ roll band, but we don’t play 12 bars. Like a lot of bands, we went through the blues prior to success. We were listening to BB King, Josh White and Sonny Boy Williamson [II], but we moved away from that. We loved Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and Lonnie Johnson, and we took an interest in it, but it’s different when you’re an English person. I think we’re a small country and we’ve got a lot of good people who’ve listened to the stuff from America, but the point is, we learned from America and gave back something different.”
“Chas Chandler was one of these people who always looked for originality. The Animals were very much into the early blues stuff and they understood the records. He was very experienced in old rock ’n’ roll music. It wasn’t overproduced. It was all about the excitement – which was what Slade had. We were raw. Although we had the glamorous side, we were quite a serious band and we had a definite drive. Chas always said, ‘We’re trying to get your live sound on record,’ and we never brought anybody in to do overdubs.
“He first saw us in a small club in London called Rasputin’s Club. I remember he just sat there and watched us. We were thinking, ‘Wow! It’s Chas Chandler – that’s Jimi Hendrix’s manager!’ Then he got up and walked over to us and said, ‘I think you’re great.’ And that was it. From that point on, he got involved with us [as manager and producer]. He said something to me early on: ‘If you want to play like Hendrix, you’d better be better than him.’ Well, I never wanted to play like Hendrix, because I was nothing like Hendrix; I always wanted to have a style of my own. I think one of the best things he ever did for us was to encourage us to write our own songs. He said, ‘You’ve learnt all these songs by other people. Now put it into your own music.’ It was just after that when Jim Lea and Noddy Holder wrote our first No 1, Coz I Luv You .”
Merry Xmas Everybody (Again)...
“Some people might say, ‘It’s a pity you made the Christmas song because it detracts from all the other great records you made.’ I’d say it’s a double-edged sword: it wasn’t the total purpose of the band, but it was a great idea at the right time and people will always remember us for something good. There may be an emphasis because of a certain song, but if you look at the body of work we’ve done, we made strong albums. Even our B-sides were never so-so B-sides. We made [Merry Xmas Everybody] in New York in the heat of July  at the Record Plant. John Lennon cancelled his studio time and we took it. He popped in when Chas was mixing something and said, ‘I like him. He sounds like me.’ I think we used his Mellotron for the organ intro.”
“Slade was about the whole; we were the sum of its parts. We were a serious group and we were always thinking outside the box, but we were also conscious of entertainment. Early on, we used to do songs like Nights In White Satin and some Frank Zappa tracks, so we didn’t always get a lot of work, but then we got to play the more interesting, forward-thinking venues. And I think Chas saw something in that. He said, ‘You’re like a breath of fresh air in the business.’ It had become very indulgent with bands doing long, boring hippy-dippy guitar solos. Whereas we were like, ‘We don’t want to hear that.’ We were a bit more down to earth and we were never drunk when we played. But we had quirky things about us, and we always had humour. “We never purported to be a cerebral albums band – it was about the singles, as it was with The Beatles. It’s not like we were sitting there programming what we were going to be – we were too busy just doing it, and that’s really what signifies where you’re going. As band members, we were quite different from each other, but, collectively, we had something really different. We didn’t always agree with each other, but me and Nod were a fairly flamboyant pair. The sound of us, the visual appeal and the humour was all different. It was musical entertainment.”
“In 1992, I had a phone call from Suzi Quatro’s ex-husband [Len Tuckey]. He’d just divorced from Suzi and he rang me up to ask how I was doing. I said, ‘I’m in a very awkward position. Nod’s left the band, Jim doesn’t want to do it, and there’s just me and Don left.’ I didn’t want the band to break up. But it did. It was a really odd time. The hits we’d had in the 80s had sort of dried up and I was trying to form another band. I don’t know whether Len thought of me because he’d read the Guitarist magazine feature I’d just done with [editor] Neville Marten back then, but it was a phone call out of the blue and he said, ‘Don’t go back to the pubs; you’re Dave Hill from Slade – that’s what you should do. Use the name that everybody knows you for,’ and that drew me back to everything that I’d done in my life. Of course, it was hard, because I was used to having Noddy with me, but Len became something of a Chas Chandler. He focused me. And then Neville recommended a singer [Steve Whalley], so we tried him out and he joined. “I’m still friends with Nod, but it was hard carrying on without him. I mean, it’s bound to be difficult when somebody leaves and you’re still into it. Going back out on the road with new people was very strange. It was a bit awkward at first and a bit scary, but it was exciting. Since then, I’ve been driving forward with Slade – the thing I know. And that’s where I am now. As time moves along, people sometimes dismiss what happened, but, when I look back, I realise that perseverance made me the musician I am today.”
Slade star Dave Hill talks about buying his outfits in Zara
By Stacey Mullen, Glasgow Evening Times, November 2019.
SLADE star Dave Hill has never shied away from daring outfit choices – except when it comes to wearing a kilt. The musician confessed that he always wanted to wear the traditional Scottish dress as a child - but never got round to it, despite showcasing unforgettable flamboyant outfits in Slade.
"When I was a kid, I always wanted to buy a kilt," he beamed. "I know it is a tradition and all part of the past. We used to go up to Scotland to visit a relation in Dundee and there were all these kilts. My dad said, 'Do you realise how much that costs?' "I never did get one," he laughed.
The star, 73, might just get a chance to explore his inner Scotsman when he visits the city next month to perform with Slade as part of The Rockin' Home for Christmas tour. Having played iconic Glasgow venues in the past such as the Apollo, they will now be taking their show to SWG3 on December 17.
"Coming to Glasgow has always been something special to me," he said with a smile in his voice. He laughed: "I always remember staying in a dodgy bed and breakfast on Bath Street, and the Scotsman (who owned it) said, 'Are you in a band? There is one rule, no birds' It was so funny. I will always remember it."
The band, now without former frontman Noddy Holder, has sustained a career for more than five decades with hits Cum On Feel The Noize and Coz I Luv You propelling them into rock n roll history.
Today Dave continues to perform Slade's music around the world, a task which appears to be an easy feat considering how successful the band has been. He said: "The show that we will do is based on all those really big songs. I can play for an hour and 15 minutes and there isn’t one song which is either a number one or a top 20 hit. I have so much to choose from, because we had hits in the eighties as well, you see."
Dave has also promised fans he will continue to show off his stylish side on stage - except these days you are more likely to find him looking for outfit inspiration in the store of a popular High Street retailer. "I shop in Zara," he said. I can find glitzy things in Zara, it is a good shop. In the early days, I had two people making my clothes because you couldn't buy them, it was my ideas. Sometimes when I was young, I used to fiddle about buying the long frock coats women would wear. They were black and I would spray them silver and put moons on them. I had so much fun. I used to get car paint to spray these coats up against the door. One day I pulled away and there was an imprint on the door. My dad was like, 'You stupid so and so, you should have gone outside and done it," he chuckled.
Despite still being rock n roll about his image, Dave has made an effort to look after himself more on tour especially after health scares in recent years which included a stroke. He said: "What I try to do on the road is I don’t drink. After a show within half an hour, I go to bed. I always make sure that I have winded down and I rest. I respect my body. I am pretty exercise orientated I shall walk every morning regardless of the weather for at least an hour and I'll come back and have my breakfast and that is what I do as a routine. I have been doing that since the stroke I just think you always feel better when you go for a walk."
The timing of this tour will also allow the band to play their most iconic hit Merry Xmas Everybody, which remained in the charts for nine weeks after its December 1973 release. "It clicked worldwide that record," Dave said. He added: "It did something, it made sense to people that needed something. It was great to be part of. Nobody thought 50 years later anybody would remember it, let alone want to buy it."
Now a grandad of five, Dave plans to spend Christmas surrounded by his family but downtime aside the guitarist promises that he will continue to perform as long as he possibly can. He said: "I am a musician, I've never done anything else, it is the only thing I am good at. I am in a job where people come to me and say thanks for making me happy or thanks for making my childhood. I don't take it for granted. While I can still physically do it, and as long as I enjoy it, I will continue."
For tickets to the show, call the Box Office on 0844 249 1000 or visit https://www.eventim.co.uk/artist/slade/?affiliate=HEJ
By Rob Picheta, CNN London (CNN) - DECEMBER 21st 2019
When Freddie Mercury decided his band Queen would record a Christmas song, he gave Jim Lea a call.
"He was a very shy chap," the bassist and songwriter of English band Slade recalls. "He said, 'I'm trying to get some ideas together, and if you say it's alright with you -- I don't want you to think I'm some sort of bastard for copying you..."
"I said, 'what are you ringing me for? Go on, do it," Lea tells CNN.
The Queen frontman did indeed go on to record the song "Thank God It's Christmas," but his deference illustrates the unique lore an artist can unlock if they happen to stumble on a festive hit.
For Lea, that happened a decade earlier, when he was in the shower. "The pressure was so great to come up with the next single all the time," says Lea, describing his retreat from a tour of the United States in 1973 to rattle off melodies in a hotel bathroom.
He had nothing -- until he remembered the urges of both his manager and his mother, who had read a newspaper article about Bing Crosby, and asked why the glam rock superstars hadn't written a Christmas song.
Lea started mumbling the outline of a verse, then a bridge. "As I started to piece it together, it came to the chorus..." he recalls, before bellowing the next nine words that fell impulsively from his mouth: "So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun!"
"I was over the moon when I thought of it," he says. "I thought: this is great."
This is how much money Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is raking in
Getting the rest of the band on board was a struggle. "We ain't doing a bloody Christmas song," Lea recalls the band's lead singer Noddy Holder replying when he presented the idea. "The whole thing was like Sisyphus rolling the stone up the hill," he adds.
But Lea's persistence was vindicated. Nearly half a century later, the lyrics he stumbled on in the shower remain a staple of British radio airwaves, office parties and Christmas dinner soundtracks.
"Merry Xmas Everybody," a sardonic and brazenly British romp through the oddities of Christmas Day, regularly ranks among Brits' favorite festive tracks. It re-emerges in the country's charts each year, selling 1.3 million copies in its lifetime, and it's fondly celebrated across Europe, too.
The song also elevated Slade to a musical immortality, placing them alongside the few artists to have achieved the ubiquitous, enduring relevance that only a Christmas hit can provide. "It'll never go away," Lea says. "You can't get away from the bloody thing." But festive classics have a certain lore within the musical industry for another reason, too: they're unrivaled money-makers.
Not long after decorations are boxed up and trees are brought down each year, royalties start to roll in through artists' and songwriters' letterboxes. A 2016 estimate by the Economist figured that Mariah Carey's megahit "All I Want For Christmas Is You," which finally hit number one in the US this year, would have raked in $60 million for the artist.
Other publications have made their own guesses, with some claiming writers would receive hundreds of thousands each winter.
Lea disputes those eye-bulging estimates, but admits that his own seasonal hit has left him more than comfortably-off -- and far outstripped any of Slade's other chart-toppers. "It's like having a pension... it's a pension plan," he says. "My grandkids and their kids will still be getting royalties from 'Merry Xmas Everybody.' It'll never go away."
Many happy returns
The esteem of creating a seasonal breakout song -- and the promise of long-term earnings that comes with it -- has been too strong for many artists to resist.
That's led to plenty of unlikely stars turning their hand to a festive effort; think David Bowie, months removed from reportedly living off a famous diet of cocaine, milk and red peppers, putting a period of avant garde experimentation on hold to record "Little Drummer Boy" with Bing Crosby.
Like most of the Christmas classics we still hold dear, that collaboration occurred during a period in the 1970s and 1980s, when contemporary artists started to challenge older crooners like Crosby, Andy Williams and Perry Como for seasonal domination.
What makes for a good Christmas song?
"Most of the biggest Christmas songs we hear aren't recent -- a lot of them go back to that golden era," says Tony Barton, head of writer support and relationship at PRS For Music, the company that manages royalty payments in Britain.
"Some of our biggest-earning members have a Christmas song that really helps their earnings," he says.
The organization never releases figures about their members' royalty payments. But what of the commonly held idea that Christmas hits mean songwriters and singers never have to work again? "Because of the longevity that a Christmas hit has and the fact that they get played so heavily over a long period of time, it can have that effect," says Barton.
That means artists dream big when they pen a festive number. "As an artist, you want to reach as many people as possible," Wham!'s George Michael told Smash Hits in 1984. "My aim is for our Christmas single -- it's called 'Last Christmas' -- to sell a million and a half."
Of his Christmas anthem "Stop the Cavalry," British singer Jona Lewie told the BBC: "It's played a major role in terms of looking at my whole catalogue. It's provided about 50% of the total income stream."
In the UK, artists and songwriters wait until April before receiving their Christmas royalties, and the wait can be longer in other countries, says Barton.
But that pay day is almost certain to come, he adds. "We never guarantee royalties to anybody -- but if you have a current, perennial favorite at Christmas you will generally see a healthy return."
Landing on the naughty list
Still, while countless artists have dipped their hands into the stocking, most have come out with a lump of coal; and for every Christmas hit, there are many more misses.
"You can count on your fingers the artists who have broken through in the last 25 years that had a Christmas hit that is still played on the radio regularly today," says Dan Vallie, the President of the US-based National Radio Talent System.
"Almost every hit artist does Christmas songs," he adds. "You can still find those songs, but most people are not listening to them."
What you probably didn't know about 'Jingle Bells'
"It's one of the things you want to tick off your song-writing list, to feel that you've had a successful career," adds Barton.
So what's the secret to striking gold, and avoiding the listening public's naughty list? "If I knew that I wouldn't be working -- I'd be getting paid," he jokes. "The tricky thing with Christmas songs is that the best ones sound so simple -- but writing simple songs is very difficult," he adds.
"It has to be something you can hum and sing along to," he goes on, suggesting that most Christmas hits fall into one of two categories: bombastic, joyful tracks with sleigh bells, children's choirs and all the other season cliches; and those which are more heartfelt and focus on missing loved ones, like "Driving Home For Christmas" and "Last Christmas."
The magic ingredient, however, may just be luck. It's a unique feature of Christmas music that, no matter how famous an artist is, it's the tune itself that counts.
That's why Shakin' Stevens, Mud and Darlene Love have succeeded where Britney Spears, Whitney Houston and Kanye West have not; all have put out Christmas songs, but only a select few are slated for airtime and royalties year after year.
"That's the beauty of songwriting," says Barton. "If the nation takes your song to heart, then you will continue to earn from it."
'The appetite is growing each year'
Christmas songs that have been welcomed by the public aren't going anywhere, Vallie says. "Every indication is the appetite for Christmas music keeps growing every year." In the 1980s, Vallie's firm started encouraging US radio stations to switch to an all-Christmas line-up far earlier than they previously did.
In other words, he's the reason your ears bleed with tinsely pop each December. "We saw, as did a few others, the incredible appeal of Christmas music, and it started with us recommending stations go all-Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving," he tells CNN.
"That was considered risky at the time," he adds. "Now the big discussion every year is not whether to do it or not, but when to start."
"I say it every year: Christmas music programming is the most successful and impactful strategy I have ever seen, or heard, on radio," Vallie says.
The future looks merry and bright, too: a Nielsen study in 2017 found that millennials are enjoying festive songs more than older generations. But don't expect the Christmas catalog to get an overhaul any time soon. Even as streaming services allow festive songs to reach new audiences, experts say the classics will remain top of the tree.
It won't stop big names trying; Taylor Swift is the latest big star to put out a Christmas song. Still, a glance at most countries' charts shows where the power lies; in the US, despite Swift's cultural dominance, it's Carey, Brenda Lee and Burl Ives sitting in the top 10.
"These are the classics, and isn't it interesting that the songs that are so loved are loved by almost every demographic?" says Vallie. "These songs are part of the celebration of Christmas itself."
Talking to Mister Hill: A chat with the legendary Dave Hill, guitarist with Black Country icons Slade.
Birmingham Press / 20th July 2020
There’s nothing much that can be said about Dave Hill, or Slade, that hasn’t been said many times before. The sort of chart success that only a handful of bands could ever emulate, a reputation as one of the hardest-hitting live acts of all time and THAT song. When you get the opportunity to talk to someone with that sort of pedigree, you make sure the tape’s running and you’ve got fresh batteries.
To state the obvious, Christmas seems to come round faster every year, and it would take more than a global pandemic to keep Slade off the road in December.
“It’s coming quite fast this year. The plan is to put optimism in the market place and start the idea that there could be a possibility of seeing some live music, and of course, us being the band we are, and having made certain records, would be an option to get people out of the house and into a theatre or whatever.”
You’re getting on a bit and there’s all that trouble outside. Shouldn’t you be taking things a bit easier by now?
“That’s probably what I have been doing. After one or two months taking it easy isn’t an option. I’ve been utilising my time wisely, along with a spade and various things in the garden. When you’re ever frustrated dig a hole, then you end up with a bad back but in the meantime I’ve been quite productive on the writing front, because of this time and not being able to go out before.
“It was definitely ‘You won’t go out dad,’ so I’ve concentrated on writing and it’s been quite fruitful because I want to do something myself. It won’t be a new solo album, it’ll be the guitarist from Slade doing something different.
“I’ve got involved in what you might call a creative bubble which has helped because it’s not easy for a performer, someone like me who’s been doing it for fifty years, to suddenly be out of work and told you can’t play there or do that, and this year particularly was going to be my best year work-wise.
“Everybody wants to keep the work but move it to next year; if anything does go wrong there’s always next year but the idea from the promoter and everyone involved is to get everything motivated. It’s things like I hadn’t been doing interviews for several months so today and yesterday it’s been full of them. It was making connections with people again.
“It’s quite a nice feeling and we don’t know how what we’re dealing with is going to pan out but rather than looking at it grimly I do miss the live shows. Retirement? I couldn’t spell that word so to be honest that was never an option, of course there will come a time when I know I’ll want to come out of it but at the moment I’m like an old vaudeville entertainer. I might drop dead on stage.”
The Slade line-up has changed a lot since the classic days and now Russell Keefe is singing and playing keyboards.
“Russell is a talented keyboard and piano player who brings a nice clarity to the band. I play all the guitar work and he’s a nice blend underneath that but when he’s featured on piano on such songs as Everyday or My Oh My, they sound more authentic, like they do on the records.”
Your setlist has been a bit more adventurous for the past couple of years and you’re playing lesser-known songs such as those two, plus How Does It Feel and My Friend Stan – and it says so much about how massive Slade were that records that got to number two or three can be called ‘lesser known’.
“Noel Gallagher came up to me a few years ago at Heathrow. He said how much of a huge fan he was and he loved How Does It Feel, because of Nod’s lyrics. It never dates, it always points to the future. We chatted, I took his number and asked him to give me a quote for my life story, So here It Is and he said ‘No Slade, No Oasis’. That was a good thing of him to say.”
Whatever else they might get up to, the Gallagher brothers have always acknowledged their influences. A lot of musicians might not do that, but it’s always good when it happens.
“I certainly do. With me it was Elvis at first, then I took up the guitar, bought myself a Burns. The early guitars we had were dreadful. You bought them out of the catalogue, they had bad acoustics, the strings were awful – try to push them down and they’d hurt your fingers but of course that was part of the learning curve. It doesn’t matter how bad the guitar is, if you have a will there’s a way, and for me it was a guiding light because I was well bored when I was a young kid. The neighbours had an acoustic and I didn’t understand what it was.
“It seemed alien but it spoke to me, I was only twelve or thirteen then I had this guitar out of Kay’s catalogue. Ten pounds fifty, arrived in a cardboard box, I get it out and I’m left-handed so that wasn’t going to work, the teacher I went to said I had to get used to playing right-handed and it’s worked out well for me.”
We mentioned How Does It Feel and Everyday. Far Far Away as well, those three songs – if they’d been written by Lennon & McCartney they would be regarded as all-time classics and be played on every radio station in the world.
“I think Paul would probably agree with you. He knew quite a bit about us, and he’d agree on the quality of the lyrics. Nod’s lyrics on that were exceptional. It wasn’t one of our biggest hits but we stick it in the act and sometimes you pick on something like that and you see how well it goes. We’ve got two singers now – Russell does the more gritty stuff and John Barry the bass player does the ballads. He’s a good singer, he’s a good guy and that’s the main thing.”
On drums you now have Alex Bines.
“He’s very solid, versatile, loud, which is good for me. Alex is a really nice guy to be around, there’s a really nice atmosphere now. I’m hoping to meet up with them in some sort of rehearsal situation in the next week or two just to whack out the act, loosen your collar. They love it and they miss it. Russell and Alex are new to working with me but they’re good to be around. It’s important to have people that are, especially when you’re my age - you don’t want hassle, you don’t want problems with strangers.
“Sometimes when I first reformed the band you got people coning in, although they’re quite good they tend to be the types who’ve read guitar magazines and think this is the way things happen, which isn’t true. So they come into a name act and they think they’re rock stars, which can be awkward. We had some problems at first, but eventually these people don’t stay. John knows the score, he understands what it’s like. Being in a band is unique – some people might wonder how you can put up with the travelling, getting into vans and driving round. I thought, when I was eighteen that was how I started and I couldn’t see any reason why I’d want to change it. Admittedly we fly now but when you get on stage and do the show it might have taken you more than a day to get there and back but it’s very rewarding to go somewhere new and play to a new audience that know the music as well as anyone else does.”
On the December tour you’re playing the Asylum in Birmingham, which is a new venue for you.
“No, I’ve not played there before. I don’t know it. We played the 02 Institute before but these rock clubs are ideal for me. A lot of the gigs in Germany are on a similar kind of circuit. I don’t always play the clubs, we can play festivals with bands like Andy Scott’s Sweet and Smokie with Terry Uttley, one or two original members in the bands and they do very good business. People don’t realise the size of the audiences I play to.”
You’ll not have a chance to nip to your old haunt, the Trumpet in Bilston?
“You know it, do you? Does Reg Keirle still play there? He’s a good man, we used to have our after-show parties there and Reg would play the piano. He was an influence on us, same as Tommy Burton was. Tommy played piano on one of our records, Find Yourself a Rainbow from 1974. It was a funny song – Max Bygreaves covered it – but it was very much in a music hall style. I like the entertainers from the past, whether it was Bruce Forsyth, Arthur Askey, all those old names. My manager Les Tucker, who was Suzi Quatro’s husband and guitarist, they toured with us in the seventies and he said that the main thing was that everybody knew my face but when I was on stage I was an entertainer. I agreed with him and because it’s fun is the reason I never came out of it. Why leave something that I’d built?
Talking to Mister Hill – Part II
Birmingham Press / Continuing the conversation with Slade guitarist Dave Hill.
You may have thought that you could never leave what you’d built, but it’s a matter of record that you came close when the band’s fortunes were at their lowest ebb.
“I tried to walk away from it in 1980, when I had to be talked into doing the Reading Festival, because I was in financial trouble. Our manager Chas Chandler convinced me to do Reading and the rest is history. After that we went on to have more hit records and all sorts of stuff but in a way it kept me there. Then when Nod left in 1991 that was difficult because I didn’t know what I was going to do. Jim left because he didn’t want to do it without Nod, I was in a bit of a quandry and I was either going to form a new group or use the Slade name in some shape.
“I was talking to Status Quo’s manager about it and we were getting into doing something, then I got a call from Len Tucker and he told me that I didn’t want to be starting again, playing pubs./ Everybody knew who I was and we had all these great records so why shouldn’t I go back out again as Slade? As he said, so many bands don’t have their original members and now a lot of them aren’t with us anymore, so when push comes to shove it’s about peoples’ memories. When they see us they know me and more importantly they remember what they love about the music and the things that were important about the band. We were, as Nod says, a great rock’n’roll band. We had good style and good songs.”
Good songs indeed, which leads us onto the chief frustration of many Slade fans. Do you think that the band’s back catalogue could be looked after better? There’s never as far as I know been a proper video collection, it took ages to get Slade on Spotify, no unreleased material ever comes out and when you look at the amount of stuff that’s available now from bands who were around at the same time – Sweet, Thin Lizzy and Queen for example - they seem to have a remaster with bonus tracks or a new live album coming out all the time that keeps them in the public eye.
“Our albums were good and a lot of things we did later on when we were struggling, on independent labels, the writing and the ideas were still there. You’re absolutely right there’s some really good stuff there. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the deal that’s been struck. We have someone who looks after Slade’s catalogue, he knows what he’s doing which is why you won’t see us on cheapskate compilations like some bands.”
While that seems a sound commercial decision, other things that happened during Slade’s heyday have led to frustration for fans who would have snapped up anything that came their way had it been release commercially since the original line-up went their separate ways in 1991. The acclaimed Slade Alive for example, was around thirty-eight minutes long, the same length as the Who’s Live at Leeds, but the Who’s album has since been extended and a release more than two hours long is now available while there’s never been any more from the Alive sets despite it having been recorded over three nights.
And there’s so much other stuff that’s gone down in Slade mythology – the Earls Court show from 1973 when they were at the peak of their success, the Lochem festival of 1981, the legendary Reading show that revitalised the band. All sorts of tantalising glimpses come up on YouTube and elsewhere but the full footage has never been available to show the world just what a great live act Slade were.
“I sometimes think our career needs a reappraisal. It’s very difficult when you’ve got several members who don’t perform anymore. I’ve kept the flame going a bit for years and the band still being in existence is helped by that but there is a situation where there’s a missing link of appraisal. You’ve got Live at Leeds and Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous, they’re excellent records, of course they are, but when you do weigh up when you hear How Does It Feel on the radio, you stand back and think, there’s something not quite right here, in a sense of the quality of stuff like that and where it could have led to.
“Sometimes we’re not being remembered for our best work – with the Christmas song, we’re being remembered for a great record but it maybe clouds some of the great things that we did until people finally realise what other great things there were.”
When you put all that together, it seems that somebody, somewhere, has decided that cultivating and maintaining Slade’s heritage is more trouble than it’s worth.
“I don’t know about that. We’re with BMG, they’ve got all the back catalogue so they might do something. They’re a good company, they haven’t disappeared so maybe this year, next year there’ll be some reappraisal of us. I can play all the gigs in the world but it doesn’t mean I’ll be back in the charts. I’m constantly in people’s memories, the ones that care and the ones that know. The general public might not realise the quality of the work you’re talking about until they hear a song and think ‘Blimey, is that you?’ They’re thinking of Coz I Luv You or Cum On Feel the Noize. They see you in the aspect of singles, when in fact our albums were really good, and our live albums and our shows were spectacular.”
Which makes it such a pity that they’re not out there for the world to see.
“There’s a film of us on YouTube live from the Winterland in San Francisco from 1975. Nod says to me, “Have you seen that H, it’s really good”. Now we were struggling to make it in America and we’re on that stage, it’s one of the better nights we had over there, we were supporting somebody and when you listen to it you realise how good we were. We start off with Them Kinda Monkeys Can’t Swing, and watching it you realise how great Nod’s vocal is, and how tight we were. The rhythm of it and at Lochem in particular, listen to how fast we played. Bloody hell…”
Finally, I was talking to Hazel O’Connor some years ago and she said that the man who played the sax break on Will You, the song she’s best known for, sued her for royalties after it became popular. The case went on for so long that nobody except the lawyers really won in the end so although it’s her most famous work she said that it still hurts to think of it. Do you have similar mixed thoughts about the Christmas song – if that had never happened the subsequent history of Slade would have been completely different?
“It might have been, but we might not have been talking about it forty-odd years later. And for the reason of the Christmas song I’ll always get the interviews and the tours. You can’t really monitor which side to go. Some say Christmas isn’t the way, some say ‘Great record.’ It’s not just a great record, it’s a bloody monster so I don’t think we’d have been better off without it. Maybe it might have pulled in some of our other stuff but that’s speculative and all in all we are where we are because of what we’ve done. As the song goes, look to the future now so I want to continue playing and keep the flame flying.”
Slade play the Asylum, Birmingham on Friday 18th December.
September 10, 2020
Slade’s Dave Hill: “What we wrote about is still valid today”…
“When you’re standing at the side of the stage and the lights go down, and there could be 10,000 people out there, or there could be 500, because it makes no difference to me – it’s exactly the same, but that moment you walk on it’s instant… and what you see is smiles everywhere, it’s all about audience participation – and people say: “how can he move like that? - he’s like 70 years old!” but you can’t stand still playing Slade songs – you are what you are - it’s entertainment you know?”
Slade‘s Dave Hill is on the phone from the UK and reflecting on the feeling he still gets today before a show… but how did it start all those years ago?
“Around 1963 I joined up with Don Powell (Slade drummer) in a group called The Vendors, grew my hair and turned professional, coz mum and dad let me, and dad always believed in me saying ‘you’re a natural’; my grandad was a classical pianist so the music’s always been there. Then there was a chance meeting with Nod (Holder, vocals, guitar) when Don and I were looking to reform our last band, The ‘N Betweens, but I’d never heard his voice. And Nod had been the backup singer and lead guitarist in the band I’d seen him in. So we saw him outside a club in Wolverhampton and I just went up to him and asked: ‘What you doin’?’ And he said: ‘I’ve just quit this band’, so over a chat and a coffee he agreed to give the new band a go. I told him my idea was a band with three lead guitarists: me, Nod and this guy I know (Jim Lea) who plays bass like Jimi Hendrix… he liked the sound of that. A weird combination, you couldn’t have written it down on paper. So before the first get together Jim asks ‘What’s this Nod guy sound like?’ I said ‘I don’t know, I’ve not heard him!’ (Laughs). And a lot of people didn’t like Nod’s voice and were saying ‘you’ll never make it with him!’ And at that first get together – at the local pub – we just knew. It felt exciting. There was a spark”.
And the spark kicks a career off!
“Yes, but when you’re starting out it isn’t about hits – it’s about ‘ooh we got a show at Ronnie Scotts’s Jazz Club‘ – which was a big deal… although I’m not sure anybody liked us… and then years later Chas (Chandler, Slade manager) says: ‘I’ve got all these record company people coming and I’m gonna put you in Ronnie Scotts’ and we say: ‘Ronnie Scott’s? It’s a bloody Jazz club!’ thinking why would we go back there? And Chas says: ‘you play and they’ll just watch you’ – and we played our set and in Get Down And Get With It we get on the tables coz all the press people are trying to be cool and we start stamping on the tables and knockin’ all their drinks over -and they signed us! (Laughs). We weren’t sure what we had but we knew we had something. Chas had seen it. Early on we seemed to find a style, and he kind of took us forward with the uniqueness that we had, he always believed that we cut through all the snobbery in music and stuck a fist up in the air with something that was rock, but it was rock n’ roll with a difference, with a modernness for the time. Also the abilities in the group – a bassist/violin player who also played piano, Nod’s raucous voice being kind of Little Richard-ish and my style of guitar”.
Slade always had an eye-catching look – and you personally always did it one hundred per cent- what were your favourite outfits and were there ever any funny situations arising from them?
“There was the outfit I wore on (British TV show) Top Of The Pops, that was sort of Egyptian but I believe it was Steve Marriott who called it my Metal Nun outfit – then of course there was the Super Yob outfit… I remember the time at Liverpool Stadium with a sell-out crowd going absolutely bananas and with my platform boots I twisted and broke my ankle so Chas came up with the idea of building me a throne- with my leg in plaster wrapped in silver bacofoil to match my outfit- it was really funny, me sitting there with my leg stuck out, girls screaming and I cannot move! So we were able to finish the tour. Then there was the time we played in New York and Kiss were in the audience, in 1973. I’ve got these massive platforms on and I go down the walkway to stir up the audience, slip and end up on my back and my feet stick up in the air with these platforms on! So I try to pretend it’s part of the act, kicking my legs around and of course the band are behind me laughing and they’re like- ‘er, bloody pillock, he fell over!’ – So I roll my guitar around, and get up and a few years later Kiss make it and I meet them and Gene Simmons says: “I saw you in New York, Dave- you came out with the big boots and you stuck a V- sign up with your fingers (which I’m sure I didn’t do but he seemed to think I did so I didn’t argue) and then you did something amazing- you got on your back and kicked your legs up and absolutely man that was great”- and I didn’t wanna spoil the story so I let him believe that I actually did it as part of the act (Laughs). The show goes on regardless”.
Listening through Cum On Feel The Hitz one thing that stands out is the overall energy and spontaneity of the songs – the band sounds like a real live band and like they were recording ‘off the floor’ as opposed to constructing a song bit by bit…
“That’s exactly what Chas Chandler was all about- he understood rock and roll records played by musicians who played well together- there was no cut and pasting then- the Beatles records were two and four track! And what we did in those days was, every chorus was actually sung and differences happened spontaneously- and with my guitar parts- though I know what I’m going to play, sometimes new things appear as I’m listening back- all those lead parts on Coz I Luv You were done on my feet- or on the hoof, as we call it, coz when I was in there Chas would say ‘just do it’. You can do something by accident and everyone really likes it. And the other thing about recording that way was that the tempo of the record in those days might start at a certain pace but by the end it’s gone up a notch and that’s what gives it the edge you feel… those records… the magic is in the added nuances, like one song, Mama Weer All Crazee Now… right at the end, there’s one extra bass drum beat, and it was left in, because no way were we gonna go through the take again, and then in time little things like that become valuable. When we recorded Cum On Feel The Noize – that was never rehearsed, so we’d play it together, and then put it down, and it was just the intro chords and that was Nod warming up, adding his ‘Baby Baby Baby’ as a way of letting everyone know ‘we’re here’- unplanned. Gudbuy T’Jane – that was done totally off the cuff- we were in the studio with half an hour to go and Chas says: ‘Have you got anything else, we’ve still got half an hour’… well, yes, we have a new one, so Chas says: ‘play it then’, and instantly from Don’s drum intro it was exciting and we nailed it and that was the take that we put out- it was in the moment and it just worked. My Baby Left Me– that was the guide vocal that we kept. It just sounded so natural. And the ‘It’s Christmaaaaas’ scream at the end of Merry Xmas Everybody… spur of the moment and it lets everyone know- this is it- the last chorus. Like Nod always said, and I agree with him, Slade were a great rock and roll band. It was the fun of the stuff- not writing political songs, which might date later. What we wrote about is still valid today”.
You had a couple of pretty iconic guitars: the double cutaway SG/Les Paul guitar and of course the Super Yob guitar… how did you end up with those?
“The double cutaway Gibson, which I’m actually looking at right now, it’s on the wall – dad bought me that by the way- two hundred and twenty quid-cash! It’s maple, with a Gibson neck and a kind of SG vibe but with a fatter body- with a very bright sound that cuts through with a hand-wired pickup and there’s something lived in about it. I bought that one in London coz Chas said to me: ‘You’ve got this Burns guitar but it doesn’t record very well, go get yourself a decent guitar’. So I found it in a shop and asked the guy to hang on to it for a couple of days, and I got dad to pay for it, and me and Don went down with dad in the car and it wasn’t in the window and I thought he’d flogged it but he’d put it away for me. And as soon as I started to record with it Chas said it was a really great sounding guitar. I mean it’s the sound of those records y’know?”
And the other one? The Super Yob?
“And then the other one is a guitar which was a construction by me and my costume designer who said ‘You need to get a guitar that fits your clothes,’ so I got the Super Yob guitar which became a bit of a phenomenon, that was made to match my clothes, not made to play well… coz it never did play well but it did look great! And it used to be black with some chrome on the front but Chas said ‘that’s a great guitar but you’ll never see it from the audience – have it sprayed silver’. So I went back and John Birch (who also made Tony Iommi’s guitars) sprayed it silver for me. And Marco Pirroni, who was a kid and would later form Adam And The Ants saw me playing it on Top Of The Pops and fell in love with it. Years later, when all the hits dried up and I no longer had much use for it I sold it to a shop in Broad Street Birmingham where they stuck it in the window- not for sale. Adam and the Ants were playing Birmingham when Marco saw it in the window and couldn’t believe his eyes. He walked in asking to buy it – he was told it wasn’t for sale but asked the shop to name a price – they told him some ridiculous price and he bought it! And he’s still got it. He currently has it loaned out to an exhibition along with stuff that belonged to people like Marc Bolan and Mick Jagger et cetera. They tried to get Nod’s hat for it too but he wouldn’t risk it. So when I went back on the road in 1993 I went back to John Birch and asked him to remake it for me. It’s the same but I had LED lights put in the neck and it actually plays better than the original”.
During the height of your success in 1973 things were shaken up pretty seriously with Don’s involvement in a serious car crash. How did that affect the band at that point?
“I read a review once where the guy talked about how we’d changed, that in 1973 we were all about Cum On Feel The Noize, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Gudbuy t’ Jane and all those songs that year and how in ‘74 we became a little bit more reflective with songs like Far Far Away. And maybe it’s because we’d had such a year, and yet in amongst it we had a massive tragedy with Don (the car accident) where his girlfriend got killed and we went through a trauma where we were the biggest band around and then something happens – the accident happened right when we were actually number one in the charts with Skweeze Me Pleeze Me. I mean, it was such a tough time for us all because we hadn’t got a clue that he’d even live. And when he did recover he’d forgotten all the songs and we had to work hard at getting him back. It was quite an ordeal but when you look back at it, amazingly, the Christmas song (Merry Xmas Everybody) came at the end of that year and we were to have the biggest most memorable song ever! No one saw that one coming”.
LD: Merry Xmas Everybody is the Christmas song – how did that come about?
“Nod said to Chas: ‘We’ve got this idea: nobody writes Christmas songs anymore and me and Jim have come up with this idea”’. A chorus idea of Nod’s about an old guy watching the world go by and then Jim coming up with the idea of ‘are you hanging up your stocking on the wall’ – so Nod went to his mum and dads’ house one night and had a few beers and came up with lyrics that touched on what everybody does at Christmas- it was just about people and that’s what made it lovable. It was like, yeah, this is a good idea. We were in New York when we went in to the Record Plant and didn’t really know the song. We sort of recorded it as we learnt it in the studio. We had our guitars but the gear we used was all borrowed studio gear. The studio was in an office block and we were in the foyer doing backing vocals at half nine in the morning with office workers coming in and out and wondering about these bonkers Englishmen singing about Christmas in July’s one hundred degree New York heat! So Chas takes the tapes back to England’s Olympic Studios and mixes them and we never heard the finished song until we were in Belgium and one morning a record company man played it to us in his office – and he loved it. And after a couple of bottles of breakfast champagne we thought ‘yeah, this sounds really great!’ (Laughs) – And that started it off. It was just right at the right time. It’s not our best song, but it is a great song”.
You first visited Australia in 1973 – what do you remember best about that trip?
“Yes! I’ve been to Australia three times by the way- obviously the first time when we had that phenomenal success with Slade Alive!. We came over with Status Quo, Lindisfarne and Caravan supporting us and we didn’t know what to expect. We heard there was this popularity and thought ‘What’s this all about?’ so we came over. My dad had worked in Melbourne for around seven years in the thirties so I heard a lot of stories about the place and I know he loved it. The experience of us arriving there, six o’clock in the morning, there was all this press and film crews waiting for us, imagine when you’ve been on a long flight like that- and there was all that Fosters beer there for us and we were already all a bit zombified coz we’d been drinkin’ on the flight but it was great- the hospitality…we had a lot of fun. And I believe at the time you’d had a lot of dry weather then, you had this enormous rainfall which caused floods and we came right at that time- so Randwick Racecourse in Sydney was pretty wet- and with so many people there! And our manager Chas was stunned- he said (in very credible Geordie accent-LD) ‘well I thought they said you were popular but I didn’t quite realise HOW big it was!’ (Laughs). Then we went another time (1974) and it was the best tour coz there was only us and we did theatres, which was real fun, and we’ve got all these screaming girls there coz we were obviously popular with the teenagers and all that”.
Looking at pics from the time it looks like you brought out your entire backline for the tour?
“Absolutely! Yeah we did. we brought this backline, all the amps, at the time probably Hi-Watts – and had a special plane to carry all the equipment coz there was quite a lot”.
Wasn’t there another Australian tour, some years later?
“Yes, the last time I came there was when I reformed the band in 1992, and, unfortunately, with the promoter we had it didn’t quite work out that well… we were going to places like Geraldton, then Darwin, then Adelaide and Perth- sometimes we’d be flying, and then we’d be on a bus for ten hours! Good job there was air-conditioning y’know? (Laughs) I mean, we went for three weeks and ended up (staying) six! The promoter ran out of money- it was all a bit complicated (laughs) but it was a good experience. We were playing pubs and you could stay at the motel and walk to the stage and at the end of this big room is the bar with not just blokes, but girls necking bottles of beer and it was all (does Aussie accent) “Yeah Slade mate ALRIGHT!” (Laughs) It was so nice. It really helped me get the new band in shape. And I caught up with Hank Marvin from the Shadows, who lives in Perth- which I must say is quite a nice place. We’ve had many enquiries to come back, but at the moment, of course…”
No one’s going anywhere. So after keeping a lower profile, after the hits, as you say, “dried up”, you were asked to appear at the Reading Festival in 1980- in what became a massive comeback. What led to that?
“At first I didn’t want to do it- I was struggling, you see, towards the end of the seventies I was at a bit of a crossroads- with the lack of hits, with a family, it was a difficult time- I felt I wanted to leave… but really I didn’t want to leave coz that’s my life- what I love, you know… then Nod called and said: ‘Chas has had this last minute offer to do Reading Festival- Ozzy’s pulled out, everyone else is busy and would Slade fill in? We’ll be on with Def Leppard and UFO and Whitesnake‘. I was thinking- ooh-how’s that gonna go? Will we fit in? I was uncomfortable with it and didn’t want to do it. Then Chas comes on the phone, I thought I’d got away with it (laughs), (Geordie accent again) ‘Davey man- Nod tells me you don’t wanna do the festival? I think you’re crazy man! You’ve got more hits and experience than any group on that bill- it’ll be absolutely great for you man! I can’t understand your reasoning,’ -and bit by bit he convinced me!… ‘You’ve nothing to lose man! You’re the best!’ OK I give in… being stubborn wouldn’t have been good- knowing how it turned out!”
The heady days of limos and rock star trappings were long gone - Dave remembers “We drove our hired Ford into a car park- the wrong car park – ‘where in the hell are we?’ The gate attendant says: ‘you’re Slade? What you doin’ here? This is the punters car park,’ and directed us to the right spot…where all these limos are parked and we’re in our old rented Ford. I seem to remember there was a situation where we were meant to go on in Ozzy’s slot- after Def Leppard- and Leppard insisted on going on after us- so we agreed and I can quote that’s probably the biggest mistake they made and I’m sure they’d tell you that quite frankly as truth. (Note: When Dave relates this is without a hint of arrogance or attitude). We had no idea how we would go, but we were well rehearsed from lots of club dates, and went on and opened with three hits, one after the other so as not to give the audience a chance to boo us! (Laughs). We were only announced to the audience when we went on- they had no idea- and there was a bit of a ripple, so we hit ‘em with three songs, then Nod’s ‘woaaarrrgh how ya doin’?’ and there’s a roar from forty thousand people! Then off it went- and the shouts of ‘Christmas’ start half way through the set- but Nod says ‘we’re not doin’ it, it’s not Christmas yet, you lot sing it and we’ll watch’ and that’s exactly what we did. Nod conducted them while we watched them all singing it- and then we went straight into Cum On Feel The Noize! No brainer. We drove back home through the night feeling good about it, then the following week all the papers came out with ‘Slade stormed Reading’ and so on”.
Following Reading, Slade updated their sound and found a new stream of success in the eighties with Run Runaway and My Oh My. Was that a natural progression?
“You see Reading took us to another level, thankfully, and that lead to the bigger successes: RCA signed us and wanted to take us into a more up to date eighties-ish production vibe, so we came up with Run Runaway and My Oh My, and got together with a producer, John Punter, who had a more modern edge to him… I remember we mixed the songs at George Martin’s AIR Studios and of course they were an absolute smash for us”.
Jumping forward to 2020, during the enforced time off everyone’s had to endure- how have you been spending your time?
“One of the things I’ve completed is the audio book version of my autobiography, which I’ve narrated myself, and rather than just repeat the book verbatim- word by word – while I did read it from the book, I added a few extra things and put a bit of emotion into it along with a little bit of guitar playing. So while the recent paper back version has an added chapter, the audio version has that and even more. I loved doin’ it- it felt like I was having a conversation, telling people stories- I hope people enjoy it”.
Sounds good. And besides that?
“Besides that I’ve been enjoying doing some gardening as the weather has been great but I’ve mainly been writing and working on a solo album. Which has been great as while I wrote in the early days of Slade, once Jim and Nod got started with Coz I Luv You and kept writing hits, I didn’t really need to do so much. So once I got a hold of Logic (recording software) around ten years ago and started carting a laptop around with me on the road I was able to put down ideas in vans and hotel rooms. However it wasn’t until Covid hit that I had time to go into a proper studio to work with someone who could help refine it”.
Is the material Slade flavoured or totally different?
“There’ll be elements of Slade in there but there’ll be things people don’t know about me because I play classical guitar and I play piano and lots of different things although paramountly my style of guitar playing is what I do. In a way it’s like being in a little bit of a bubble, being isolated – although obviously I don’t want Covid in my life- in a way it’s allowed me time to be more creative as I’ve never really had the time to work on it (the album). In all the years I’ve been doing this since I was eighteen- I’ve never really had this kind of time off. Ever. The journey in life is ongoing and there are some who maybe think they’ve arrived but I never think I have totally arrived coz I’m still journeying… it’s like ‘Dave how long are you gonna continue?’ and I say ‘it’s not a job”’. What I do is my life. I’ve always had that drive, I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t capable… Why wouldn’t I still want to do it?”
Slade’s new best-of collection, Cum On Feel The Hitz, releases through BMG on September 25th.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE
Noddy Holder interview: ‘We lived like rock ’n’ roll stars – and I don’t regret it’
With a new compilation out, the Slade frontman tells us about the fun, the fallouts and a certain Christmas single
By Neil McCormick, MUSIC CRITIC. THE TELEGRAPH, 22 September 2020 • 7:00am
“I’ve been playing guitar again,” says Noddy Holder. “Well, there’s nothing else to do, is there?”
The 74-year-old former Slade star has spent the past few months stuck at home with his wife in Macclesfield, Cheshire. “I’m in high-risk over-70s lockdown. We live on the outskirts of Manchester, so we’ve been locked down and re-locked down. I’m bored with it now. I’m brushing up on my guitar technique, going back to my roots, the stuff I used to play in the Fifties: country, rock ’n’ roll and R’n’B, even some jazz; songs that turned me on as a kid and made me want to be in a band.”
I wonder what his neighbours make of it? Even talking on the phone, his voice still sounds gritty, raw and so loud he might as well be shouting. “I still have a very powerful voice,” he laughs. “I had to be loud, ’cause I had an incredibly loud band behind me and they weren’t going to turn down just so the singer could be heard!”
Holder surely has one of the greatest voices in British rock. Yet since he quit Slade 28 years ago in 1992, he has never made a solo record, or even gone on tour again. “Well, never say never – I might do it now,” he declares mischievously. “If they ever let me out of the house.”
He even has some songs. “I have a stockpile written over the years. I didn’t just stop, bang, and that was the end of the story. I still have moments, when I get the inspiration. But I couldn’t do it night after night, year after year. Slade were a heavy-gigging band. I got off that treadmill, and no regrets.”
Formed in Wolverhampton in 1966, Slade became a powerhouse glam rock quartet whose anthems still reverberate through popular culture. Their Seventies imperial period saw them score 17 consecutive top 20 hits, with six number ones including Coz I Luv You, Mama Weer All Crazee Now and Cum On Feel the Noize. The deliberately misspelt song titles were intended to evoke the West Midlands accent, which Holder proudly retains, saying “Orroight” for “All right”.
Their seasonal classic Merry Xmas Everybody sold over a million copies in 1973 and has re-entered the charts every year since. He has described it as his pension plan, and, unlike many other festive traditions, should remain unaffected this year, despite tough Covid restrictions. “It’s Christmas every day round me!” he says. “I honestly don’t think a day’s gone by when I’m out on the street and somebody hasn’t shouted ‘It’s Christmas’ at me. Even now, if I’m out for a bit of fresh air. IT’S CHRISTMAAAASSSSS!!!!” Holder laughs with all the relish of a manic elf. “Hee-hee-hee-hee! I love it!”
A new compilation, Cum on Feel the Hitz, celebrates Slade’s 20-year career, from their breakout 1971 single Get Down and Get With It to their 1991 swan song Radio Wall of Sound. Rip-roaring rockers are interspersed with the jaunty singalongs (My Friend Stan, Far Far Away) and anthemic power ballads (My Oh My) that made them such an influence on Oasis. “A rock ’n’ roll band with a great frontman, great guitar player, you can’t beat that. From Buddy Holly all the way to Oasis and that young lot, The 1975. It’s a primal feeling. It gets inside your body. There’s nothing better.”
Holder first sang on stage aged seven in 1953 and started gigging professionally in the early Sixties, sometimes playing six-hour sets, and double that on weekends. “I don’t know how my voice stood up to it,” he cheerfully roars. “In the whole of my 30 years on stage, I only cancelled three or four dates.”
He relates a tale of how his voice “packed up” during a Slade concert in Texas in the mid-Seventies, following 18 shows in a row. “They sent me to a voice coach in New York. I’m sitting in the waiting room, and I could hear a piano player and somebody going through their scales. She came out and it was Rita Moreno from West Side Story. So I went in for my turn and there’s this little grey-haired chap sitting at a grand piano.
“He hadn’t got a clue who I was, and he said, ‘You have problem with your voice?’ like a German professor. I said, ‘It’s packed in.’ He said, ‘Can you give me an example of how you sing?’ I did the opening bars to Get Down and Get With It and he asked, ‘How long have you been singing like this?’ I said, ‘Probably 13 or 14 years.’ And he went, ‘Then there’s nothing I can do for you! Go away!’ ” Holder laughs infectiously. “That was all the voice training I ever had.”
Growing up in Walsall, Holder briefly worked as a roadie for Robert Plant in the days before Led Zeppelin, driving his group Band of Joy around in Holder’s father’s window-cleaning van. “Many’s the time I was sitting in the driving seat, waiting for Planty to finish on the job with a young lady in the back, all my dad’s buckets and ladders rattling. We had fun in those days.”
The offstage behaviour of classic rockers is not always looked on so kindly these days. “Working-class kids, coming out of the Midlands, never been on aeroplanes or anything like that, we are going to go berserk. We wanted to be rock ’n’ roll stars. So you fly first class, stay in first class hotels, you get ladies everywhere you go, the world is your oyster. “To me, if you didn’t live the lifestyle when you had the chance, you’ve wasted the chance. It was great.”
But he insists Slade have nothing to regret. “We’ve all done bad stuff in our time, we’ve all gone over the top, especially on the road in America. We’ve all come to the edge, all of us, but we know when to pull back.”
Holder and the band’s bassist, Jim Lea, wrote all of Slade’s hits. “Jim wasn’t a rock ’n’ roller at all. He didn’t like the colourful outfits. It was like Yin and Yang with me and him.” He recalls guitarist Dave Hill making an appearance in an outrageous costume they called the Metal Nun. “Jim’d say, ‘I’m not going on with him dressed like that.’ Dave goes: ‘You write ’em, I’ll sell ’em!’ ”
Holder laughs a lot talking about Slade. “We never had punch ups or fell out even, but the dynamic changed.” He quit in 1991, pursuing a successful career in acting and voice-overs, but always thought Slade would get back together one day. “But it actually got worse.” There was a meeting in 2010 to discuss reforming. “Within half an hour, we were arguing about the same things we argued about the day we split up, as if it was yesterday.”
He remains friendly with Hill, who has continued to perform in a greatest hits band, Slade II. “If I’m in Wolverhampton, I pop round his house for a cup of tea. Dave’s eccentric but that’s why we get on.” Holder hasn’t spoken to former songwriting partner Jim Lea “in donkey’s years. He seems to have cut himself off from the three of us.” Drummer Don Powell now lives in Denmark and recently had a public falling out with Hill.
“It gets my goat that we can’t all sit round a dinner table and have a laugh about the old days. You’ve got to let that silly schoolyard stuff go. In the great scheme of things, we were a fantastic band, we had fantastic songs, we made fantastic records, we were fantastic on stage, that’s the bottom line. All the other crap is incidental.”
NODDY HOLDER - DAILY MIRROR - 25.09.2020.
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Bangin' Man Don looks back at days when Slade were All Crazee Now
by Mark Andrews | Wolverhampton Express & Star (original article here) 26.09.2020.
Don Powell has just received his copy of the new Slade compilation album, Cum on Feel the Hitz.
"It's strange," says the glam rock band's heart-throb drummer. "Just reading the track list brings back so many memories, all good ones."
Today, the 74-year-old lives in Silkeborg, Denmark, with Danish wife Hanne. But he is still very much a Black Country lad, which is perhaps why it is the track Far Far Away which tugs most on the heart strings.
"When we were recording that, it was in 1974, we were making the film Slade in Flame, and we were recording songs for the film," he says. "Far Far Away wasn't really in line for being a single, but we had a lot of great reaction when we recorded it.
"It was at a time when we were touring the world non-stop, and Noddy Holder's lyrics captured all the different countries we had been to, and all the things that had happened to us. Things that maybe wouldn't mean anything to anybody else, but which brings back memories for me."
It was, he says, a time when life was fast, time was money, and nothing ever went to waste, particularly in the recording studio. "If we didn't get it right in two or three takes, we would move on to the next song, and go back to it later," he says.
While Powell has plenty of great memories, he does not miss the heady days of when the band seemed to be ever present on Top of the Pops, notching up 17 consecutive top 20 hits. "I enjoy it far more now, because there's no pressure," he says. "If we go on tour, I can look around the places we go to, but there was never any of that back then. I used to come back to my mates in Wolverhampton, and they would say 'what are these place like?' I would tell them 'I can tell you what the airport's like, I can tell you what the hotel was like, I can tell you what the airport's like, but I can't tell you anything else', and they didn't understand it."
The album, available on both CD and vinyl, features all 43 of the band's from 1970 to 1991 in a broadly chronological order, with the exception of the evergreen festive hit Merry Xmas Every Body, which is kept until last.
Holder, the flamboyant, top-hat wearing frontman, had the idea for Far Far Away while sitting on a balcony overlooking the Mississippi river in Memphis, and, like Powell, he has no desire to go back to performing night after night around the world.
"I couldn't do it night after night, year after year," he says. "Slade were a heavy-gigging band, I got off that treadmill, and no regrets."
Unlike Powell, Holder has never gone back to performing music. After quitting the band, he went on to enjoy a career as an actor and voice-over artist, famously appearing in the sitcom The Grimleys, set in glam-rock era Dudley.
But Holder says he always expected Slade would get back together one day, and recalls a meeting which took place in 2010 with bandmates Powell, Dave Hill and Jim Lea to discuss a possible reunion. "Within half an hour, we were arguing about the same things we argued about when we split up, as if it was yesterday," he says.
Slade was formed in Bilston in 1966, when bass player, pianist and violinist Lea joined Powell and Hill in a revamped version of their previous band The Vendors, which they relaunched as The N'Betweens. Neville ‘Noddy’ Holder switched from a rival band, and after being rebranded as Slade, the four-piece group became one of the biggest names in glam rock in the 1970s. Slade topped the singles charts six times from 1971 to 1973. Coz I Luv You, Take Me Back ‘Ome, Mama We’re All Crazee Now, Cum On Feel the Noize and Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me all made No. 1, but the band is best remembered for the 1973 Christmas chart-topper Merry Xmas Everybody.
While Lea and Holder were the creative forces behind many of Slade's most successful hits, their very different styles sometimes created tensions in the band. The shy, retiring and classically-trained Lea was particularly uncomfortable with the brash antics of Holder and Hill.
Lea once recalled an occasion when Noddy donned a huge kipper tie Jim, thought made him look like comedian Arthur English, while Dave Hill was dressed in a silver outfit which Lea likened to a cockerel. “Arthur English I could just about accept, but I said there was no way I was going on stage with a soppy cockerel,” he said. To which Hill replied: “You write 'em Jim, I’ll sell 'em."
Lea quit the band shortly after Holder, but Powell and Hill relaunched the band in 1993 as Slade II, later reverting back to plain Slade. But there was a public falling out between the pair earlier this year, with Powell claiming that his friend of nearly 60 years had fired him from the band by email.
Shortly before the fall-out, Powell had been prevented from playing the drums for more than 12 months after snapping the tendons in both knees. And after recovering from that, there was more bad news when he suffered a stroke on February 29. He was released from hospital the following day. Since then, the lockdown has also prevented him from performing, but Don has kept himself busy recruiting for his latest musical venture, the Don Powell Band.
Holder, 74, who is effectively living under a double lockdown at his home in Macclesfield, admits he is finding the restrictions tough, with music providing him with something of an escape. He says: "I'm in the high-risk over-70s lockdown. We live on the outskirts of Manchester, so we've been locked down and re-locked down. I'm bored with it now. I'm brushing up on my guitar technique, going back to my roots, the sort of stuff I used to play in the 50s."
Cum on Feel the Hitz, by BMG records, is out now.
"I always wanted to write something like 'Happy Birthday'; something that would remain in the consciousness of the Western world forever". Jim Lea.
eonmusic: music for life.
Slade are without doubt one of the most exciting bands to come out of Great Britain. With their unique blend of perfect pop-rock'n'roll, outrageous flamboyance and pure fun, the Midlanders scored no less than 23 Top-20 singles, of which 6 were No.1 smash hits. The band have become a firm favourite in the hearts of fans all over the world, so the release of latest compilation ‘Cum On Feel The Hitz’ - The Best Of Slade' is a timely reminder of their brilliance. We caught up with Jim Lea - multi-instrumentalist and co-writer of all of the band's biggest hits - for a chat about their glittering career.
Crazee now; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Jim, how are you today?
Yeah, I’m okay, thanks. I’ve had my trouble for the last decade, but you know, I’m ahead of it now. I was suffering from prostate cancer, but they’re telling me I’m cured, which, apparently, is a word they never use. But they used it in my case! They’re all very proud of themselves.
Congratulations on that! It must feel equal to any achievement that you ever had with Slade.
Absolutely! Yeah, it is, but you know, the band, we’re all getting old now. I’m 71, and I was 16 when I joined, the they were all 19! I was a very young 16. I looked like a boy, but played like a demon!
In those early days, you were described as the ‘cherub’ of the band!
[Laughing] Well, they were a well-known band, The ‘N Betweens [Slade forerunners], in the Wolverhampton area, and they were like Wolverhampton’s Rolling Stones. I’d seen them a couple of times in 1965, and I thought they were absolutely great. They really had something unique. So this was in 1966, and I was at school, and someone at school said; “you know that group you went to see? Well there’s an advert in the paper saying ‘The ‘N Betweens require a bass player; vocals an asset”.
What was the audition like?
On the day of the audition, I went and I didn’t tell my mum or my grandmother, because they wanted me to be a violin player in an orchestra, or they wanted me to go to art college, and I’d got into a lot of art colleges around the country at that time, but I saw this advert, and I couldn’t believe it! So I went to the audition , and, like a blonde Mick Jagger was playing bass, and singing ‘My Girl’ – Otis Redding - and I thought; “crikey! He’s good!”, and then I went up on stage, and Dave said; “here, son” – because I was not fully grown, and the bass was as big as me, and was in a polythene bag!
What happened next?
They asked me about equipment, and I got my bass out of the polythene bag, and they said; “you can’t have a polythene bag in a professional band!” So, I’d got a plan. Because I’d saw the guy play ‘My Girl’ when I came in, I thought; “all the soul songs have got great riffs, but they’re not going to show off my playing”, so Dave Hill, said; “shall we play Mr. Pitiful?”, and off we went, but I didn’t play what was on the record; I played so that they could see that I was some sort of virtuoso - that type of end of things. I was doing a lot of stuff that no one, to be quite honest, in that day and age, had seen.
‘Mr.Pitiful’ is such a great song for an audition!
Yeah, the Otis version, it just grooves along, doesn’t it?!
As a bass player, you incorporated a lot of lead licks into your playing, which didn’t get in the way of the song or the melodies.
Yeah, well, I was always very dexterous about the whole thing. I’d seen Jimi Hendrix in ’66, and I saw how he was playing, and that only drove me on further.
How did your style develop?
Chas got us to write songs. But it wasn’t that successful at first, but by the time we got into the glam era, and once we were having hits with glam records, I’d got this beat, between myself and Don [Powell, drums] which we’d found from jamming together, just messing about at the end of a rehearsal. Don was doing this shuffle – he wasn’t doing any fancy drumming – and I was just going [sings basic crawling bassline], and he was so bloody powerful!
With you in, the classic Slade line-up was born.
I know that when Chas [Chandler, manager] saw the band he thought that we were great, and he was looking at each one of us. He looked at Dave [Hill, guitar] first, and then he looked at Don – he was rock solid, a really loud drummer, and he reminded him of John Lennon. Then he told me that he looked at me, and for the rest of the set he just watched me, and he said; “there’s the brains of the band” He said; “I’ve seen the others, but you were obviously the guy that was putting it all together”.
What do you remember about the band’s early song writing sessions, specifically, the one that led to ‘Cos I Luv You’?
I went over to Nod’s [Noddy Holder], because we used to jam Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt stuff, and he said; “what are you doing here?!” [laughing]. I said; “we’ve just had a hit record [‘Get Down and Get With It’, 1970], we need a follow-up, and I’ve go at idea!” So, he let me in. So I said; “I’ve got this verse, and it goes like Django Reinhardt” [sings verse riff], and I had the verse melody, and I said; “what about some lyrics”, and he went; [sings] “'cause I loveeeee you”, and we’d got the whole thing. It was really quick. I was dead chuffed.
You and Noddy wrote the vast majority of Slase’s catalogue; when did it become apparent that you would be the song writing team to lead the band?
Well, when ‘Cos I Luv You’ got to No.1, I said to Nod; “have you written anything?” and he said; “no”, and I said; “well, we need a follow-up to the follow-up” And he said; “well you write with Don, normally”, and I said; “but I’ve written with you, and we should carry on, because this is obviously something that’s worked well”. But we went with the next song [‘Look Wot You Dun’], which was written by myself and Don, and that got to No.4, for four weeks consecutively, which wasn’t too bad. So then the next time I went over to Nod’s, I said; “okay Nod, what have you got?” And he said; “I haven’t got anything!
So how did you get Noddy to work with you again?
I had this thing, which was 'Take Me Back 'Ome', which was going to be our next - lo and behold - No.1 record. I'd got a load of lyrics myself to it - this thing about being 'alright', and that type of thing - so I said to Nodd; "you fill in the lyrics", I said, "but we're going to need a lot more songs; we've got b sides, we've got albums, and you've got to be coming along with it". And he said; "well, you're better at it than me!" So, we jut kept it as it was. I wrote the song, he'd record it on a tape recorder, and then I'd bugger off! And eventually, that's just how it was; I'd put on his tape what I'd got, and I'd say; "keep this lyric, keep that there", and that's how we did it.
Was that consistent right throughout your career, even as far as something like 'Run Runaway', in the 1980s?
It was the same. I'd got that song, I'd got the tune; [singing] "I love black and white dreaming of black and white / You love black and white run runaway / See chameleon lying there in the sun / All thinks to everyone run runaway", and I said; "right, there's a verse", and then he came back, filling in the gaps, and that's how it was. It was exactly the same. I done a lot more with it; I was writing the lyrics, because I wanted it to be abstract; I didn't want it to be about anything in particular, almost like 'I Am the Walrus' or something; it's up to you what you think it's about.
It was followed with 'My Oh My', which was another huge hit.
That, we were doing a gig at Leeds University in what we called the 'duff' years. We had a shit load of hits, and them for whatever reason, it just disappeared. But we were just about to go onstage, and I shouted over to out tour manager, I said; "have you got a pen and paper?", because I had it in my head, and I had to put it down because if I went on stage I'd forget it during the gig! So I wrote it down, that that was 'My Oh My'. Things just come. That's what I had that Nodd didn't have; they would just come.
In the '90s, you had another hit with 'Radio Wall of Sound', and that was a song that the band, reportedly, weren't that keen on.
No, no, what happened was, we'd had some hits with RCA [Records] - that was 'Run Runaway' and 'My Oh My' - and then we went into a bit of a lull. I was always writing - and still am, to this day - so I've always got stuff. What had happened then, was I was in that solo period, and I wrote 'Radio Wall of Sound', and 'Universe' - which are actually on the new Best of compilation. So, 'Radio Wall of Sound', I'd got it in the can anyway, and the record company said; "look, they're [Slade] in the doldrums again. We'll put out a greatest hits album, and we want two tracks to go on it that can be used as singles." And I just said; "well, I've got them".
What do you remember about the recording session for 'Radio Wall of Sound'?
I came to record it with the band, and Nod couldn't sing the low part; [singing] "I'm in trouble, I'm in deep", but he could do the chorus. It was late at night, and it was just the two of us at the studio in Birmingham, and he was trying to sing and he said; "we've got to take the key up", and I said; "we haven't got time - they want it finished by tomorrow". So, I said; "look, we'll keep my vocal for the verses, and we'll all sing the chorus together. You and Dave can get up there; I can't". So that's how it ended up with me singing the verses on it.
It seems ludicrous that at the time, Polydor declined to follow it up with a new studio album from Slade. Does it sadden you that the band never released another piece of original material?
Yeah, it did yeah. It's corporations, and it's business, so they wanted to sign x, y and x, and I think they thought we were old hat now. But that's record companies for you.
Moving on to the band's live shows, and you appeared at the 1981 Donington Monsters of Rock festival with AC/DC; how did that come about?
Everybody thought that Slade didn't exist anymore, and we did Reading Festival and blew the thing apart - we walked on the stage and everybody was like; "wow!" And this was a heavy metal crowd! We won them over, and that was that, and we had a new career. And then we were off in the '80s, and we were playing rock festivals, so we did Donington the next year. And the same thing happened all over again. I think we got the better of AC/DC at that gig. Nod told me that he was talking to Brian Johnson, and he said; "I don't know what happened on that gig. It was a really odd gig for us. We didn't do as well as we should have done". But it doesn't matter, because it's AC/DC, and they do what they do, and they're bloody brilliant, and I'd bow down to them any day of the week.
AC/DC were fans of yours, weren't they?
AC/DC used to come and watch us in Australia. There's a Slade track called 'Good Time Gals', which is on the 'Old, New, Borrowed and Blue' album, and you'll hear where AC/DC got their thing from [laughing]. But they just kept going with it. I mean, what a band! I saw AC/DC when they were thrust in the sort of punk area, for some reason. We were in Copenhagen, and Sabbath were playing there, and we had a night off, and then we were playing the same gig as they were, the next night in Copenhagen, and the support band were this band AC/DC. I always used to check out all the support bands, no matter who they were. So I got there on time because I wanted to see this band AC/DC. And they took off, and the rest is history. And old Bon Scott was there, bless his cotton socks! He liked the bottle, but they were fantastic. And then Sabbath went on after them, and then Sabbath and AC/DC came to see us the next night. So we all met up in the bar afterwards.
There seems to have been a real camaraderie between Slade and Black Sabbath, and a lot of the Midlands' acts at that time.
Yeah, absolutely, and with Judas Priest too. Glenn Tipton and The Flying Hat Band, they supported us a couple of times, and they were really heavy as well. I was talking to Glenn about it, and he's a really nice chap, and he said; "I'll never forget when we played with you, and you were skinheads! Bloody hell!" Anyway, then I heard about this band Judas Priest that were playing in bars around Wolverhampton, and I thought; "wow, a metal band? Metal's finished", you know? And the next ting I knew, they were happening in America.
When you look back at the track list for ‘Cum On Feel The Hitz’, you must thing to yourself; "yeah, we did alright!"
Well, to tell you the truth, when I looked at the track list, and I looked at all the No.1s, that sets you up, doesn't it?! A No.1, then the next one No.1, then 1, 2, 1, 2... and I looked at it and I thought; "bloody hell, look at that!" Anybody would be proud of that, never mind the whole shebang. And there's things that tickled in the charts, because we were always touring, and so we'd get in the top 40, and if you got in the top 30 you got on Top of the Pops.
What are your memories of appearing on Top of the Pops?
We were certainly the big favourites down there. In 1991, when we went down to do 'Radio Wall of Sound', all the people on the floor, the camera guys and the floor manager and so on, they all all came and said; "blimey, it's great to see you back, to put some life into the place!", because things were getting really dull.
The band's influence is incredibly far reaching, isn't it?
I was watching the ZZ Top documentary recently, and they changed it all after they toured with Slade; all the movements - they just copied us! They didn't do anything like that before, and they became showmen. They copied us, and it was different. And The Ramones used to come and see us, and Kiss came to see us. In fact; [adopts US drawl] "we came to see you, and we thought; that's what we want to do!" - Gene Simmons! "We saw Slade, and every song we ever tried to write, we wanted to write a song like 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now". So it seems like we left a lot of influence behind, and we played with so many people.
That's quite high praise, coming from your peers like that, isn't it?
It is, and when you were talking about putting in licks, when I was talking to Paul McCartney about this, we had a lengthy conversation. We were both in AIR Studios in London, and he was dead keen on talking to me, and I didn't want to talk to him because I was too bloody frightened! And he told me afterwards he was frightened to talk to me! [Laughing] It's weird, isn't it? He said [doing spot-on Paul McCartney impression]; "Jamesy, there's something I want to ask you; at the end of one of your songs, somebody told me there's a Beatle riff in there", he said; "don't worry, I won't sue you"! 1985, this was, and I said; "oh, that'll be at the end of Mama Weer All Crazee Now", I do 'Day Tripper', just one round"!
Moving on, and one of the best decisions the band ever made, surely, was to change the lyrics to 'Buy Me a Rocking Chair', for the song that became 'Merry Christmas Everybody'.
Chas rang up, and we were in America supporting ZZ Top down south, and I was ill, and he just said; "I'll ring in a few days time, but if you could come up for something that would be great, to have something out for Christmas, like". And there we were in the sort of Rio Grande places! So anyway, Nodd had got this 'Rocking Chair' song, but it had this bit "...body's having fun", which had a Bb chord in it. Nodd had added that, but we had it in 'Cos I Luv You', we had it in 'Look Wot You Dun', and we had it in a song called 'In Like a Shot', when I first came up with the Bb chord. You don't expect that drop, you know?
It's a fantastic piece of composition.
I'd done the chorus, but then I wanted to put that in, that drop, so I went and told Nod, and he said; "we're not doing a bloody Christmas song! We're a rock and roll band!" So then Chas rang me up and said; "If you can come up with something it would be great, because I have the studio booked in New York, and John Lennon's finished his album on time, so there's two weeks they've kept for you", and he said; "I really want you to go in the same studio as John Lennon!" It was the Record Plant in New York.
The band must have been excited to get to the studio to record the track.
The band did not want to do it, even Don. Don would always go along, he would always support me, and he blanked out. Dave didn't even want to learn the chords. So, it was all done on the day. And poor old Don had had his accident [Powell was badly injured in a serious car crash in Wolverhampton, on 4 July 1973, in which his 20-year-old fiancée Angela Morris was killed], when we were recording that. So, I was playing the piano, Nod was singing, and Don just had to play the bass drum, and a few rolls. And I couldn't get any magic out of it. So then I got the acoustic guitar, and then I chucked a harmonium in there.
Why did you want to add the harmonium?
I thought John Lennon had recorded 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)' in there, and the harmonium was there, so I said; "let's put this on as well!", and Chas hated it! I said; "it would be really good at the beginning; it would be like a chapel!" [hums intro].
So that was the final piece in creating a timeless classic.
Yeah, and at least everybody sort of said they'd get onboard with it, but it was a real battle. But it was real battle. It was a big battle, and the only big battle I ever had when the band went against me; that was the only time.
The song has become a part of popular culture now; it'll be around long after the band have gone, won't it?
it will. It'll never go away. I always wanted to write something like 'Happy Birthday'; something that would remain in the consciousness of the Western world forever, and I didn't know that I'd actually done it! But it was a fucking mess, the track was, an absolute mess. We'd got John Lennon's engineer there, and he was loving it, but it sounded like a mess, so we went off to play in Canada or somewhere, and we came back and there was an acetate of the album 'Old New Borrowed and Blue', and Chas opened the album with it, and I said; "Chas, we don't want a Christmas song opening the album. If somebody's playing this album and a Christmas song comes on every time they play it, in the middle of the sun?" I said; "stick it on at the end, or something". So in the end, I said; "just take it off and have it as a stand alone single, like the Beatles used to do".
It has to be asked, did the band ever, at any point come close to reuniting? There had to have been offers made, especially with the boost in popularity in the '90s due to Oasis.
Erm... no. It didn't. We were offered Donington with Bon Jovi [presumably, Monsters of Rock 1987], and we were offered 3rd on the bill, and Nod said he didn't wat to do it. He said; "I don't want to sing. I don't want to tour anymore". And I said; "Nod, that leaves us just in the studio. We're a live band. If we don't tour, it'll finish us". I said; "imagine this; you're about to play snooker, and you put the red balls where they're supposed to be, and they're tight, and they're together, and they're a phalanx, until you get the white ball, and you hit it, and it just goes all over the place - that's what'll happen to us".
That's a very serious conversation, and the end of the band.
He said; "well, I don't see why that'll happen to us". Anyway, it did. That's what did happen, and I don't know, it just fell apart. I do regret, I became ill, and we were supposed to go back to America , and the manager of our label CBS was ringing me up all the time, saying; "how's your health, Jim? We will definitely break you in America." And, I don't know, just the wind had gone out of us. So I'm sure that offers would have gone to the office, but I didn't hear about them.
Finally, and having once asked Noddy Holder this, I have to ask you; what flavour Cup-a-Soup have you had today?
[laughing] Always vegetable! When I first saw that, I didn't understand it at all! I didn't know what they [Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer] were doing, or what they were supposed to be getting up to. But sometime afterwards, when it came out on DVD, somebody showed it to me, and it was hilarious! I felt very honoured to have comedy sketches written about us! [Laughing] And H with his bees! And Slade go camping, and the Slade at Christmas thing! Dear, dear!
Noddy said that he thought the impressions were spot on.
Yeah, well his was like that, Vic doing that. But Paul Whitehouse did me, but it was nothing like me at all, whereas Nod's was that face, that Les Dawson face! But Don's was great, and Dave's was like him, so I sort of missed out, I suppose because I wasn't always putting myself forward. So yeah, I enjoyed it, I thought it was good. I didn't mind it at all.
Slade's ‘Cum On Feel The Hitz’ - The Best Of Slade' is out now.
OCTOBER 3rd 2020
Slade, self-isolation, world tours and Walsall: An interview with Noddy Holder
By Andy Richardson WalsallMusic
He was one of the faces of the 70s. Today the Slade frontman speaks candidly both of his fond memories of that time as well as his regrets. Noddy Holder lived on the Beechdale Estate in Walsall before finding fame. He’s got a new album out, or, rather, his band have. Though Noddy Holder quit Slade in 1992, he remains their biggest draw, the frontman synonymous with a band who were as big as The Beatles by 1973.
Curious, then, that the one thing we don’t talk about until the very end is Cum On Feel The Hitz, Slade’s new greatest hits album, which was released eight days hence. But perhaps that’s no surprise. Noddy’s far too entertaining to work as an ad man. He is at his best when you just let him fly. Our hour is the most entertaining, hilarious and insightful 60 minutes of lockdown. Truth be told, I think we’d still be talking now had we not politely drawn the conversation to a close after 60-odd minutes of rambunctiousness.
Noddy is a God. That much we know. The man with the stupid hats, curly hair and voice louder than Brian Blessed changed the course of pop music. A foot-stomping, good-time-loving ringmaster able to whip a crowd into a frenzy like Mary Berry whips eggs and cake mix, Noddy had it all. Still does. During the early 1970s, his band had enjoyed six number one singles and shipped millions of records. And that was at a time when people still bought them.
Today, he’s at home in Cheshire. He’s been self-isolating since March and though we’re seven minutes late for our call, he’s more welcoming than a wood fire in winter.
“It’s good to hearing an accent like that,” he says.
And then he doesn’t stop for more than an hour. He used to spend most of the year in Portugal, but he’s not been out there since March. At 74, he can’t afford to take chances with his health, so he dutifully mows the lawn, plays his guitar, spends time with his wife, Suzan, and keeps himself to himself.
“I haven’t been out much. I’ve been going out for walks but I’ve got to protect myself at my age.” There’s been gardening and reading, box sets and his guitar. “I play every day. Even when I left the band I played guitar regular.”
Ah, it’s great, isn’t it. Noddy says he played regular, rather than regularly. Old habits die hard and his Black Country brogue is as pronounced as ever it was.
His guitar has been alive with the sounds of the 1940s and 1950s. He’s been playing jazz, country and be-bop, just as he did when he started.
“That’s where I started. That’s how I learned. I’m going backwards. It’s been good in that respect. I’ve rediscovered my roots. A couple of years, I did a tour of the Deep South, in America, a road trip, which I hadn’t done for a long time.”
He went between Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans, discovering music along the way, rooting out authentic tunes the way a dog sniffs out truffles.
His old man was into music, of course. Jack Holder was a singer around the clubs. He used to take Noddy with him and drag him up on stage. The first time was in 1953. Noddy was seven. He sang the Number One record from the Hit Parade, I Believe, by Frankie Laine at Walsall Working Men’s Club. The crowd went mad. Noddy never looked back.
“Back then, they had something called Free and Easy. Today you’d call it karaoke. You had a piano player on the stage then and my dad dragged me up. I sung it pretty good and it was downhill all the way after that. I got the first taste of applause, I wanted more and more.”
Jack loved Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Al Johnson, among others. He’d get old 78s from Taylor’s Record Store, on Bridge Street, in Walsall.
“When I first discovered rock’n’roll, it was ’55/’56, with Elvis, but my big breakthrough was Little Richard. When I first heard his records I flipped. I liked a lot of the black artists, like Big Joe Turner.”
Noddy would go and watch films at the Savoy Cinema, in Walsall, or the ABC. He was too young for some of them, but his neighbour, who worked on the fire door, would let him in. He saw the film The Girl Can’t Help It, with Little Richard and Eddie Cochran, and when he walked home, he knew he wanted to be a rock’n’roll star.
“Little Richard had his shiny silver suit and big pompadour haircut. The thing that struck me was that he stood up to play the piano. It had never happened before. It was like an epiphany for me. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a rock’n’roll star. I wanted to learn guitar and form a band, which I did.”
He did the rounds with his dad. The crowds in the working men’s clubs would shout for Noddy to get on stage. Sometimes he’d do duets with his cousin, Pauline. By ’59, he’d formed a band, The Rocking Phantoms. They’d play youth clubs and working men’s clubs all around the Midlands.
Noddy lived on the Beechdale Estate and across the road was a pub called The Three Men in a Boat. He’d watch gigs there, when he wasn’t playing himself.
“I love the applause. Once I’d got a taste of being a rock’n’roller, it’s all I wanted to do.”
He did his O-Levels and his teachers pushed him towards university or college. They wanted him to be a teacher, an accountant or a bank clerk, a profession that was safe, steady and secure. “I told them I wanted to be a musician but that was taboo. You were the black sheep or an outcast then if you had ideas like that.”
His parents, Jack and Leah, supported him. They were scared for him that he wouldn’t earn a regular wage, but they didn’t put obstacles in his path. Jack was the window cleaner at Noddy’s school, in Bloxwich, and the teachers would give him grief for not sending his son into an office job.
“They’d go mad at him. It wasn’t until I had hits in 1971/2 that they relented. I was sending postcards from Sydney and Tokyo and New York that he was able to tell them to f- off because he’d made the right decision for me to follow music.”
His mum, bless her, didn’t really understand it. She didn’t think singing was a proper job.
“She’d always say ‘when you gonna get a proper job, Neville?” The penny dropped in 1996 when Noddy was collared by Michael Aspel on This Is Your Life. “She adored Michael Aspel. She thought he was the bee's knees. That’s when it clicked with her. When I got my MBE in 2000, I think she realised I’d done something with my life rather than just p-ing about in a rock’n’roll band. She had no airs and graces and didn’t put up with anything starry. She got names mixed up, too. If she saw Suzi Quatro, she’d say ‘I’ve seen your mate, Suzi Cointreau’. She was mad on Marti Pellow when they come out, too. She'd say ‘He’s lovely, that Martin Pillow.’”
Jack was a character. During the 1950s, he’d barter with his window cleaning clients.
“My dad would clean the butcher’s windows and come back with a bag of chops or scrag ends. He’d clean the barber’s window and get our hair cut for nothing. I’d see him coming home with bags of strange things from the window cleaning. He was a character round Walsall. He was a great singer, but he had no ambition to go professional.”
Noddy was a grafter. You had to be, if you wanted to succeed. Nothing changes. That’s still true now. He’s still in touch with some of his old pals, including a drummer from his first band who went onto become a world-renowned chemistry professor.
“I still see him and he told me he’d found a load of Rocking Phantoms stuff when he cleaned out his loft. I was a control freak and I used to give the rest of the band a list of rules. They weren’t allowed to see the audience before a show, they had to set their equipment up in a certain way, there was no lounging about.”
Noddy was always on the money. When the band had no cash, he’d clean windows to buy guitar strings.
“I’d do people’s gardens. I always needed more dough for the petrol for the van or a new valve for the amp. We never made money doing gigs round the pubs. We’d spend it on hire purchase, you’d pay it off each week.”
After some work with a TV presenter called Steve Brett, Noddy met Don Powell and Dave Hill, who had their own band. They asked him to join them, but Noddy said no. Don thought Noddy sounded like John Lennon and was keen to sign him up. But Noddy had his own band and was earning a fortune, £25-a-week, doing gigs in Germany. A few years later, Noddy had left his band and he met Don and Dave in Wolverhampton, outside Beatties.
“They asked if I fancied joining them. We went and had a cup of tea in Beatties. At that time, they’d auditioned for a new bass player and got Jim.”
Noddy scheduled a rehearsal at The Three Men In A Boat, across from his mum and dad’s house, and everything clicked. It was the birth of Slade. They got a manager, Chas Chandler, who’d overseen the career of Jimi Hendrix, the world’s greatest guitar player.
“He’d produced and managed the best guitar player in the world. He wanted to find a nitty gritty rock’n’roll band. He put us in this gig in New Bond Street, at Rasputin’s club. He came down the stairs halfway through our first set and the audience were literally dancing on the stage. Chas couldn’t believe it.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Four Black Country kids had the world at their feet, within a year or two.
“We started getting success but we’d grafted five years for it. We’d been doing five nights a week, sleeping in the bloody van on Shap Fell when there was snow, fog and ice. We’d park up on the top of Shap, huddled together for warmth, f-ing starving. It didn’t happen overnight. We’d trod the board for years and years. The fame came out the blue but we enjoyed it. Travelling first class around the world, having a right old time. You’ve got to do that, you’ve got to let rip after all them years of struggle.”
At the peak of their fame, Don nearly died. He crashed his car four days after a colossal gig at Earl’s Court. For a while, it looked like the end of the band.
“We were at the height of our success, people were travelling on the tubes dressed in top hats and mirrors, it was like aliens had landed round London. Then, four days later, Don had his car crash. They only gave him 24 hours to live. His dad called me at 4am in the morning. I was sleeping at my mum’s that night. He told me Don had had an accident. He was tearful. He told me he’d only got 24 hours to live. It was a bolt from the blue. I went up the next day with his brother. He was in this bloody big tent in the hospital with pipes out of every orifice. They’d shaved his head and he’d got a huge gash on his head when he’d been thrown through the windscreen. His girlfriend, Angela, died when she’d gone through this windscreen. His car was like a tank, a huge Bentley, but it was concertinaed. His memory was totally shot.”
They got through it and had a Second Coming in the 1980s, after a storming gig at Reading Festival. But the dynamic had changed. Noddy had once hung out with Don, but never much with Dave and Jim, other than when they were recording or playing.
“We didn’t socialise. We were very different characters. The 1980s should have been the time of having a second bite of the cherry and we should have been enjoying it. But for some reason it wasn’t enjoyable. We weren’t getting on on the road, we weren’t getting on in the studio. People wanted different things in the band, people wanted more control. I’ve always said what splits bands up is five things – egos, we had four of those; it’s money, that’s a big thing; drink and drugs; women; and the inevitable, creative differences. And in Slade’s case it was probably all five of those things at some stage. That’s not just normal for Slade, that’s what every single band on the planet goes through, some bands survive it.”
Slade didn’t. They’d lost the gang mentality. Noddy quit. Jim followed him out of the revolving door. Don and Dave limped and made good money. But even Dave fired Don last year. A sad end for a sensational band. A one-legged dog that ought to be put out of its misery.
“My dad was dying and I was going for a divorce. I expected to have a couple of years off and then go back on the road and people’s attitudes might have changed. But it never worked that way. It just seemed to get worse.”
Noddy had other offers. He began his second career.
“It was a total shame. I regret it now, even. It’s the one thing in my life that I regret. There’s nothing else in my life I regret, even my career after, I’ve loved it all. For 25 years I worked with the same guys, 24/7 – that’s hard. But it’s a regret that we can’t get together round a dinner table with our missuses and laugh about the old days. We’d be p-ing ourselves laughing. There’s stuff that only we know. The fans think they know everything about us but they only know the tip of the iceberg. They don’t know the 2/3s under the sea, good and bad. You know, we’d have a good laugh, talking about it.”
He doesn’t come back to Wolves too often. But when he does he pop’s round to see Dave for a cup of tea. They’ve had their arguments over the years but are good buddies now. “H – you know we call Dave ‘H’ – he’s eccentric. He’s a lot calmed down now, he’s come down to earth, he’ll have me on the floor laughing.
“I was round there one day and his missus, Jan, she was there. We were chitter chattering away and we were talking about promotion. He was saying to Jan and my missus, Suzan, that the thing I was good at was promotion. He said: ‘That’s basically what Nod’s job was in the band.’ And Jan says: ‘Yeah, and he was a pretty good singer.’ And it was like Dave had forgot. We just fell about laughing. He lives in Dave Hill World and he always has.”
Nod went onto pastures new, making a success in radio and TV. He toured theatres with Mark Radcliffe, who each night posed this question: ‘Suzi Quatro – did ya?’
He never had the appetite to form a new band. “If I wanted to do music and promotion, I’d be best doing it with Slade. I didn’t want to get on that merry go round again and start again from fresh. I didn’t want to do a solo thing, I always said I’d do other things, which is what I’ve done. The thought of me going out touring, it has no appeal at all.”
We’ve been talking for an hour when the conversation starts to end. Suddenly, Noddy remembers what we’re supposed to be talking about. Ah yes, the greatest hits.
“It’s been remastered. They sound bloody great and there’s a double vinyl out as well. The record company wanted to do it. They wanted to make it a definitive collection, which it pretty much is. In this time of lockdown, I think people need a bit of Slade. We always put a smile on people’s faces. This is the perfect time to cheer people up. Hopefully it’ll reach a new generation too.”
Yeah, that’s Noddy Holder. These days, not so good at promo. But, man, what a singer.
INTERVIEW: Jim Lea – Slade (The ‘Cum On Feel The Hitz’ Interview)
October 16, 2020 Mark Rockpit
Slade was one of the very biggest bands of the 70’s and to people of a certain age and younger fans all over the globe their hit singles are standards that have more than stood the test of time. Whether you grew up on Top of the Pops or came to the band via the bands they in turn influenced it’s hard to underestimate the significance of the band from the West Midlands.
Their grip on the charts in the UK was incomparable in a decade brimming with great sounds – notching up 17 consecutive top 20 hits. Their Christmas single ‘Merry X-Mas Everybody’ is still one of the very biggest selling UK singles of all time and decades later Slade’s single sales are staggering. Now all of those hits are collected together on ‘Cum On Feel The Hitz’ and of course they’re back in the Top 10 again.
When I was asked if I wanted to talk to Slade I instantly knew who I wanted to talk to – Jim Lea the man behind it all, and the man who gave me so many great childhood memories. They say never meet your heroes because they can never live up to your expectations. Over an hour later we were still chatting, so let’s put that tired old cliche to bed… So here’s some yarns about the days of yore, some old for sure but with new details I must admit I’d never heard before. There’s the first song Jim ever wrote, meetings with Bowie and Cat Stevens and so many more stories. Honestly I could have chatted all day…
Mark: Hello, is that Jim?
Jim: It is Jim.
Mark: Thank you so much for talking to The Rockpit. How are you today?
Jim: Well for someone in the music industry it’s tough, but I’m here! (laughs)
Mark: It’s an early one for you?
Jim: It is! You’re going to have to give me a bit of latitude here and there because I’m not quite awake! (laughs) But I’ll be OK!
Mark: Some strange things have happened in the lead up to us talking, a friend in Tasmania who is a massive Slade fan got in touch for the first time in years and another old school friend got in touch too. Many years ago when I started Grammar School there was a kid in the Upper Sixth who whenever he saw me he kept calling me ‘Jim’ and I had absolutely no idea why, and it took me a few weeks to pluck up the courage to ask him why and he told me that I looked exactly like a young Jim Lea out of Slade!
Jim: That was in England?
Mark: It was. And that was what prompted me to go out and buy my first Slade album, I’d of course heard the singles, seen you on Top of the Pops and you were already very much a part of my childhood, But that was the day I became a real fan.
Jim: I’ll have to thank him! (laughs)
Mark: Let’s start at the beginning. Take us all the way back if you can to that very first audition for the N’Betweens the band that became Slade?
At this point the phone went silent for a few minutes, Jim had disconnected the call. As an interviewer of course at this point it’s when you start to wonder if you may have asked a question so soon in the interview that has completely lost the interest of the interviewee! Thankfully Jim is soon back on the line.
Jim: Ahh! There you are!
Mark: Technology is conspiring against us!
Jim: Tell me about it! I hate it, I really do!
Mark: It gets worse the older we get!
Jim: It does! I’m 71 this year, the rest of the band are 74 the same age as Donald Trump!
Mark: That’s an interesting thought! (laughs) If only Mr. Trump had joined a band.
Mark: Lets take it all the way back and that first audition. I must admit one of the things that always fascinated me about early Slade was your sound, it always struck me that you had a guitar player’s approach to the bass?
Jim: That’s exactly right, yeah. The problem that I had at that time was (a) I wasn’t fully grown, and (b) I looked like a child. So being small and playing a bass I couldn’t get in to see any bands play in any pubs. You know kids couldn’t go into places where they sold alcohol so that was very difficult for me. So I was self-taught and I just developed that style because I didn’t have any reference point. So when I did the audition I don’t think they knew what they were looking at! (laughs) It was all very fast and I just thought “Well I’m not going to just plonk along like all the other bands.” So that’s what I did, I played my way and that’s why I think I got the job really, I just wasn’t like anyone else. Being self-taught I just got on with it, you know.
Mark: And you obviously impressed all concerned and I guess the rest is history. Let’s fast forward a bit now. What were your first impressions of meeting someone like Chas Chandler?
Jim: Chas? Well it was about 1970, we’d been together about 5 years and the Record Company which was Fontana at the time wanted us to have a London management. So they asked John Gunnell, who was the brother of Rik Gunnell, they owned clubs in London. So they said Rik is going to come and see you with a range of songs for you to play in a club called the Bag O’ Nails. That was a place where The Beatles used to go and the Stones, all the bands used to hang out there. So anyway we were playing there knowing that John Gunnell was coming to see us. So the DJ came over and said “Guys, guys can you take a break?” And he said to me “Jim there’s somebody who wants to talk to you at the back of the club, so can you guys give it 20 minutes?” So I went over, and this is the 1970’s when light in clubs was pretty scant, there wasn’t much of it, and there was this chap talking to me, we were all sat down on low stools, and Chas is a very tall guy, but I didn’t know who he was. And he was asking me all these questions and I said “Are you John Gunnell?” and he said, “No, no I’m not John Gunnell – this is John Gunnell” and I turned to him and just said “Hello” I mean I was terrified! Then he introduced me around “That’s John’s wife, and this is my wife Lotta, and my name is Chas Chandler.” He told me that he’d been managing and producing Jimi Hendrix, but that had seemed to have come to nothing now so he was looking for a new band. Then he said ‘Can I ask you some questions?” and I was there for a long time. And when he told me he was Chas Chandler I didn’t know what to think because I could hardly see him in the murky lights. Then he started asking me all kinds of questions: “How many gigs did we do?”, “How long had we been together?”
Mark: You got a good grilling!
Jim: I was so nervous. The last time I ever spoke to Chas he wasn’t managing us anymore and I was in a recording studio and he was in an office upstairs and he came down and said “Jim do you fancy having something to eat?” So I sad “Yeah OK” so we went and got something to eat and I asked him “Why did you sign us? What was it” And he said “When I came down the stairs”, it was a spiral staircase, metal, and he said “When I came down the stairs I heard this track playing and I turned to John Gunnell and said, “Gosh this is a great cover version of this track.” And he came down and it was us playing. So he said “So I was sold on you before I even saw you.” He thought we were the greatest he really did. So I said so what did it for you? We were just playing, we didn’t know you were there. We knew that John was coming but not Chas. Well he said “Well first of all Dave stuck out, I thought there’s someone with a personality, he’s obviously trying to get his face into the camera as it were.” (laughs). Even when there was no camera there Dave was like that! Then he concentrated on Don, then he concentrated on Nod, and then he said “But I never took any notice of you at first, then when I looked, I spent all the rest of the time watching you.”
Jim: He said “I’d never seen anything like it, you were nothing like anything I’d ever seen before” And then he said “Hang on, this is the guy who’s making everything work” and I said “All right, there you go”. Then he told me he was always worried that “you guys were gonna make it and when you did…” In those days you’d go to clubs and whatever, and you’d meet other bands and they’d ask you to go and play on a session and use that to woo you away. He told me he was always terrified of that. So he said that’s why you didn’t do interviews, but I was very shy then anyway, but he said “I didn’t want you to do interviews and get ‘full of yourself.’ But to be honest I wasn’t a ‘Full of myself” type person. And he said “So when you had your first number one I put Nod’s name first and yours second” and I went mad when he told me that! But he said the record was being pressed and it was too late, and he apologised to me for that.
Mark: I always remember reading about why ‘When the Lights Were Out’ wasn’t released as a single (except in the US) I think Chas had a hand in that too? He was worried that with you singing if it was a hit that you might be tempted away?
Jim: You’re exactly right. He wanted ‘Everyday’ to be the record after ‘Merry Christmas.’ So we had a big argument on a plane, I think we were going to Los Angeles. We were travelling ‘first class’ on the Jumbo Jets of those days there was a restaurant but it wasn’t somewhere you could stand up, it was just a little bump for you to put your head in, there was nothing luxurious about it. So everybody was huddled together, Chas was there, and I’d been arguing with him. I wanted ‘When the Lights Were Out’, I thought it would have been a good single. So I sat on the next table and there was this sort of raggedy looking bloke, he was a good-looking bloke, and he started to talk to me. So he said “What’s your name? Are you guys a band?” I said “Yeah”, and he said “What’s the band” so I said “Slade.” So he said “I’ve heard of Slade” then he said “I’m a musician” and I said “Oh yeah? Are you in a band?” and he said “No” then he said what his proper name was, but added “But most people know me as Cat Stevens.”
Jim: So I was talking to Cat Stevens. (laughs) Chas and I had been having this argument and Cat had been listening! (laughs) And so he said “I’ll have to check your music out, I’ve heard a lot about you and I know you’re quite successful” So he asked me what I played and I told him I was the bass-player but that I played piano and violin and did the arranging. And he said “Oh right you’re the bass-player, everybody says you’re the brains” (laughs) But I didn’t like that, I didn’t like being picked out. So Chas was wrong about that, you know I was trying to suppress myself never mind about him. And so at this meal we had he said “I always felt you’d leave the band and you’d go and play with Eric Clapton or someone.” So I told him “No I’d never do that” and he asked me why? And I said “Because I’m loyal. That’s why.” And he said “I never thought of that.” And then he apologised to me for sort of keeping me out of things like interviews, he apologised profusely. He said “I shouldn’t have done that.” And it was his wife Lotta who told him. It wasn’t really known that I was the musician of the band, it was all kept under wraps.
Jim: I bet you wish you’d never asked that now! (laughs)
Mark: I think it’s so interesting how it all worked behind the scenes and how people assume things and let it drive their decisions. I must admit I tried to play bass largely because of you but I was never really a natural musician at all, but it always struck me that and the writing especially always came very naturally to you?
Jim: Yeah, it just clicked. It just did. I was writing with Don at first, but Don couldn’t sing, he wasn’t tone-deaf but he’d just (Jim does an impression of Don singing then laughs) – and I’d just say “I can’t follow that Don!” (laughs) So I’d just sing something and he’d have the lyrics, he was so fast at doing the lyrics and that always came first. He’d come to my house and we’d write. Then when we had our first ‘hit’ – ‘Get Down and Get With It’ which got to about number 16 in England, we needed another song. So Chas rang me up and said “How’s the next song coming on Jim?” and I said “Oh I’ve not really been writing, we’ve been doing too many gigs.” He gave me the phone as well. The management could only give one member of the band a phone and he chose me. So he was always ringing me and asking how the writing was going, how the gigs were going. And I’d say “The gigs always go great” It was always the same – we always went down really well. So that day he called after that first hit he said “I’ve been thinking Jim, we need a follow up to ‘Get Down and Get With It.’ I was thinking ‘Let the Good Times Roll’,” (which was on the album ‘Slayed’) “would be a good one?” and I said “No, no, we don’t want to do that” I said “I’ve got the follow up.” And he said “You’ve got the follow up? Well what’s it like?” I said “Well it’s sort of like… It’s got a violin in it!” and he said “A violin!?” (laughs) He said “You can’t have a violin in a rock band!” (laughs)
Jim: But I said “No, really, Nod and I used to jam Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt” Do you know them?
Mark: I do, of course.
Jim: So I’d got this melody and I thought about when we used to tune up and Nod and I would play about when I was tuning the violin in the dressing room before we went on the play. So I just went over to Nod’s as we didn’t all have phones in those days. So I got in my little car and I drove over to his house, and he opened the door and said “What are you doing here?” and I said “I’ve come to write a song.”
Jim: Nod said, “But you write with Don” and I said “No, this song has to be written with you because I need that Stephane Grappelli-Django Reinhardt thing.” I had my wife’s old beaten up guitar because we had no money, and I’d got my violin. And I went in there and I played it to him and then he added some bits –he came up with the ‘Because I Love You’ idea and it was all done really quickly. And I thought hang on that was easy! (laughs) So when it got to number one, it went up the charts incrementally starting at the bottom, then into the Top 20, then in the Top 10, then number one in England. After that I felt, well if that’s our first attempt I better keep doing that. I’ll write the melody, and I always had some ideas about how the lyrics should be. I loved the song “Hot Love’ you know (Jim sings the tune) you know that sexy thing that Bolan had! And so I said to Nod “This is what I want” and he did it. So that was that, and after that I would go to Nod with a tune and some lyrics and in the end I’d just play the song to him, he’d put it on a tape recorder and then I would just leave him to it to fill in the bits that were missing. And that’s how it went from then.
Mark: It’s brilliant, it must have been an incredible feeling especially to have that first number one? How did it feel?
Jim: Erm, well even with ‘Get Down and Get With It’ as I was walking down the road where I lived at the time I noticed people smiling at me as they were walking past me the other way. And I said to the others in the car “Have you noticed that people are smiling at you all the time?” I didn’t know if they were walking down the street and just smiling, or they were smiling at me? So I asked if anybody else had noticed that. And nobody said anything and then Don said “I know what you mean, yeah” and then the other two agreed. So I said to them “Look, if we start to have other hits what we ought to do is make sure that none of us get egos and we don’t start getting bigger than our boots.” So I said “Can we make a deal on that in this car now that all four of us will keep our feet on the ground?” And I asked them each one after the other. “Don?” he said “Yeah I think you’re right”; and then I asked Nod and he said “OK” and then Dave (laughs)…
Jim: (laughing) Dave just said “Well I’ll just act how I want to act!” So I said “OK, well, look let’s put a little bit on the end, can we agree that if any of us is doing the ‘big number’ with a big ego and throwing his weight around the other three just say, ‘Hey, stop it, you’re not gonna get away with that’” so we agreed on that. And that’s how that was. But it was very strange the first number one. I mean everything changed. We knocked ‘Maggie May’ off number one (laughs) I love that record! I felt so sorry it knocked it off because it’s great! But I think ‘Maggie May’ had been number one for four or five weeks and we ended up being number one for four weeks. But it was an amazing feeling and I was very happy, but I didn’t want to smile, I didn’t want to be smiling about it. You know, we had to get the next song, so I concentrated on writing the next song and the next song, and the next song and the next one. So you quickly forgot about all that and it became a pressure once you’d have a number one. You can’t go any higher. So Chas would always be on the phone, you know, asking how the writing was going. But you didn’t have to just come up with the next single it was also B-Sides, albums, and if you talk to anyone who has had a load of number ones they always say the same thing. The pressure is terrible.
Mark: It must have been.
Jim: It really is hard.
Mark: Do you think the kind of person you were though helped you in a way, keeping you grounded? I can imagine the temptations and the excess of being such a high profile band much have been huge, but you always seemed so incredibly down to earth? Like the anchor?
Jim: Yeah, I was very grounded. Yeah I was. Because I was doing the writing and now Nod was in on that now filling the lyrics in that was at least a bit of help. But I think we all were. You know that chat we had in the car? That sort of stuck so there was only Dave (laughs) who would be going off on one!
Jim: You can imagine can’t you?!
Mark: I can (laughs).
Jim: (laughing) He wanted an entourage you know! (laughs) But everybody knew that as a unit we were like brothers, we were stuck together, you couldn’t get a playing card in-between the members of the band. It was a band. And then when we weren’t with the others we all just did our own thing, obviously we had girlfriends and all that. So I think we were all grounded, even Dave I think. As soon as he started I’d say “What the bloody hell are you doing?” I’d turned into my Dad! (laughs) And he realised when he was being out of line and we’d just carry on, you know. But to people I just think we were ‘the lads’ not like the Beatles who were all stars, you know. We were more of a band I think. And that’s how it went along.
Mark: So was Noddy a good sounding board for you? Did you have that confidence in what you had written to know it would be a hit, or was it good to have Noddy there to say “Oh yes Jim that’s a good one?”
Jim: No that never happened. I’d just write the songs and take them to Nod, we didn’t talk about them being singles or anything. And it was Chas who used to say “Oh yes I think that could be a single” He picked a few that I didn’t think had a chance but they went to number one, so it counted! (laughs) So it worked!
Mark: So where did the characteristic ‘misspellings’ come from? My English teacher always used to get into a hot sweat when he saw one!
Jim: (laughing) Yeah! That started with ‘Coz I Luv You.’ We started off with the word ‘Because’ and although it was good it sounded a bit ‘namby-pamby’ so we said to Chas if we could have some ‘boot stamping’ like we did on ‘Get Down and Get With It’ and some clapping, and make an atmosphere. So we had hand-clapping in the beginning that came in with the guitar, but then while we were doing it I said to Chas. “You know ‘Because I Love you’ it just sounds so ‘namby-pamby’ so I just said what if we called it ‘’Cause I Love You’ and he said “Now that’s an idea.” There was another band that had some sort of funny spelling at the time, I can’t remember who it was now. But then I said what if we spell it the way we speak so not ’Cause I Love You’ but ‘Coz’ ‘I’ ‘Luv’ ‘You’ (Jim spells it out) in that Brummy accent. And that’s how that happened so when we had the next record ‘Look What You Done’ Chas said shall we miss-spell it again? And we just carried on doing it.
Mark: It’s great, I love that about the band but what I love more is the fact that no one wrote a song for audience participation as good as you did. It’s that whole ‘call and response’ thing that I guess goes all the way back to Gospel music. How important was that to you? To have something for the fans to really sing along to?
Jim: Yeah, I know what you mean, it was important and everybody does it now. George Ezra has an album full of it now. (Jim sings a snatch and laughs) I just wanted to do that from the beginning where everything was sung along with the audience. But I never had the guts to just really go for it. When we did ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ I was cleaning my car and the Beatles came on, it was ‘She Loves You’ I think, obviously not in 1963, this was in the 70’s on an old chart show or something. I love those shows where they pick a year and play songs from it, I find them really illuminating. I love when they do a chart rundown! But I’ll get back to that.
Jim: It’s funny when you were talking about number ones before, because as you know I had the phone and the others used to go to a phone box, you know the old red phone boxes, and they’d ring me. And my mum who didn’t want me to join the band at all, I’d be in bed because we’d been playing the night before and I’d hear her on the phone saying “Ooh yes, ooh yes” and I knew it was the office ringing, and then there’d be an “Ooooohh’ (Jim laughs at his impression). Then I’d hear her put the phone down and she’d shout up the stairs “Jim you’re number one!” (laughs)
Mark: (laughs) Classic! Then the guys would crowd into the phone box and ring you?
Jim: Yeah then they’d all ring me, and I’d say “Yeah, we’re number one” They thought I was having them on that first time, and then we were number one again and again and again. But when I first said it they all thought I was just messing about. But I wasn’t really a joker at all so I didn’t know why they thought that. But they’d say “Are you sure!?” But ‘Take Me Bak ‘Ome’ for example was only number one for a week, we’d just done this Festival (the Great Western Festival near Lincoln) and it just made it take off. And there were records like that, but then I think when we got round to ‘Mama Weer All Crazee’ back to what you were saying before, I knew that was going to be a big hit. I took that one over to Nod’s and we did the same thing again I had the (sings) “Don’t Stop Now, Come on” and I wanted “My, My” and Nod came up with “But Weer All Crazee Now” and that was that. It all seemed like ‘stir and drink’ you know.
Mark: And you’re back in the Top Ten now, I saw the video that you posted a couple of days ago. How’s that feel?
Jim: Well I’d feel a lot better about it (laughing) if I could have done the message to the fans first take! (laughs) I do believe it’s me that came up with the title ‘Cum On Feel The Hitz’ with a ‘Z’. I was looking at it and thinking “What’s it called again?!” But it was really funny you know, I just kept getting it wrong! It was like those programs like ‘Candid Camera’, or ‘It’ll Be Alright on the Night’ that sort of thing. In the end you just can’t stop laughing that’s the trouble! (laughs) I told them to leave the laughing on because that’s how it is. That’s what you get for not rehearsing! But being in the ‘Top Ten’, it got so that I wasn’t that elated about it back in the day, it got sort of normal, but you can’t keep getting to number one. I’ve spoken to people who have been in that position, you know big acts, and they’ve said you know its terrible pressure. But it didn’t seem like that with us, it was like being on a roller coaster. But then after ‘Merry Christmas’ and then there was the argument on the plane, back to the beginning of our conversation, with Cat Stevens listening to it all. With all the shouting and the screaming and Chas wanting ‘Everyday’. My wife wrote the verse to ‘Everyday’…
Mark: Oh wow.
Jim: Yeah, the lyrics and the melody. We were messing around at home and there were some friends of ours around the table, and they said “How do you write all these songs?” And I said “Well, anybody can do it really.” So I said “Let’s go round the table and just sing the first thing that comes into your head” and actually it wasn’t bad. They weren’t musicians or anything. So I said to Lou my wife, “Your turn” and she said “I’m not going to sing in here, let’s go in the other room and I’ll sing it to you” and she sang (Jim sings) “Everyday when I’m away I’m thinking of you, Everyone can carry on except for we two” – it just came out. And I said “Oh, that’s good. I’ll use that!” So after ‘Merry Christmas’ we were all scrambling for songs then. The record company and Chas always wanted product, product, you know, it was like ‘sausage machine, sausage machine!’, ‘keep going, keep going!’ So anyway, I was in the studio, Olympic Studios, and there was this bloke watching me, and he’d got some funny clothes on I’ll tell you. I could just feel him watching, you know and then he said “’Ere are you Jim Lea from Slade?” and I said “Yeah.” He said “I like your band man” and I didn’t look at him just nodded. And he said “My name’s David Bowie, do you fancy going for a cup of coffee downstairs?” and I said “No I’ve gotta write this song” and I was writing the “And you know that our love, and you know that I, and you know that our love won’t die” you know that bit?
Mark: Of course.
Jim: And I said “I’ve gotta do this. I can’t go.” And he said “Well everyone knows you’re a bit weird about talking to people.” (laughs) And I just said “Look I’ve gotta go.” and I picked up the guitar, put it under my arm and I walked off. We had the same promoter at the time, his name was Mel Bush, and Mel had told David Bowie about our band and me. And so I walked off and he shouted, just like a kid in the playground “Hey, Mel told me what you were like!” (laughs)
Mark: Ah Mr Bowie! To me Slade was the sound of the 70’s. We had The Beatles and The Stones in the 60’s but who would you pair Slade with in the 70’s?
Jim: Well the thing was… (at this point we’re interrupted by Jim’s other phone, he returns a minute later) Sorry about that someone chasing me for money! (laughs) See this is what always happened. Cliff and The Shadows, you wouldn’t have known about them would you?
Mark: Oh yes, from my mum especially. Hank lives over here in Perth too.
Jim: Have you ever spoken to him?
Mark: Just the once, very briefly.
Jim: He’s a nice bloke isn’t he?
Mark: He is.
Jim: Well if you see him again tell him you’ve been talking to Jim Lea from Slade and tell him “I’m sure you know this but you made thousands of people in the UK pick up guitars.” And every time I do one of these ‘favourite songs’ radio shows, you know the ones the songs that made you who you are. Well I always have ‘Apache’ because that’s the song that made me pick up a guitar. People always talk about gifts and talent and all that and so on and so forth, but it isn’t a case that you have a talent or a gift, at least in my case – it’s more ‘the gift has me.’ When I heard ‘Apache’ for the first time in my life I can’t tell you the impact. A finger came down from above and said ‘You!’ and I could not stop it, I just went berserk and dove into guitars and music! I remember going with some kids who wanted to wag an afternoon off school, and I said “Why do you need me, I don’t want to wag school and get into any trouble?” And they said it was because I played the guitar. So we went into Birmingham and we were in this guitar shop where a lot of stuff used to ‘walk out’ on a Saturday.
Jim: There was this guy there who used to ‘police’ it, and there was nobody there because it was a Wednesday afternoon. And when he saw us he said “Hey, you boys! Put that guitar down! Put that guitar down!” And he came over just like some heavyweight school teacher! And he said “Can you play the guitar? If you can’t play the guitar you have to put it back right now!” So they pointed at me and said “Well he can play it” And I just managed to get out “Well I don’t really play” before one of them said “Here Y’Are Jim, you play.” And handed me the guitar. So I played and I was ever so nervous but I, you know, did whatever I could. It was a Blues thing and I played fast and hard, you know. And this guy just looked at me and said “How old are you?” and I said “I’m, err, fourteen.” He said “Fourteen?” he said “Son we’ve had them all in here, in this shop, everybody, The Moody Blues, Spencer Davis Group, everyone comes into this shop. But I’ve never seen anybody like you…You’ll be back!” (laughs)
Mark: (laughs) He knew he had a new customer!
Jim: I know! And when I got the job with the band I had this big Bill Wyman bass that was a bit too big for me really, but it had a thin neck so it was nice and comfy. But I went out and got a Gibson EB3, you know the model?
Mark: Yeah, a lovely bass.
Jim: Jack Bruce had one as well. So anyway there was a queue, but I got the bass in a polythene bag and he was filling in the things for what he’d just sold and he looked up and he just said “I’ve been waiting for you”
Mark: (laughs) That’s brilliant!
Jim: It was like the movies! (laughing) And he came to see Slade years later at Birmingham Town Hall and there was a sort of ‘meet and greet’ after the show where we were signing things for the fans and he came up and said “Do you remember me?” and I said “No I don’t” and he just said “Jones and Crossland” (the name of the now defunct store) I just laughed and said “Were you the guy that said put that guitar down?” He said “I’m glad you didn’t listen. That day when you came in you knocked my rocks off. I’d never seen anything like you, I thought this lad is gonna go places.” I always remember that, that’s a nice comforting story isn’t it? Going from nowhere to a God-like status (laughs) He said “You sounded like three people were playing at the same time!” (laughs)
Mark: One of the questions I always wanted to ask you is – can you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Jim: Oh that’s easy to answer that – “How Does it Feel” was the first song I ever wrote.
Mark: You’re kidding me, the very first song?
Jim: Yeah, but I didn’t know I was writing, I was just messing about on the piano. The piano we had at home all the black notes were broken off and other notes were all smashed off. My Dad said “There’s a bloke at work who said do you know anyone who wants a piano?” It was in an outside veranda, it was leaking in on the piano which was all beat in and horrible and out of tune, but it didn’t matter we got it. And I just started messing around on the piano but then I began to think I wonder how Paul McCartney writes songs? And then, and I told Paul McCartney this, and he was really chuffed. So I started coming up with this (Jim sings the notes to the refrain) – and I didn’t know I was writing I just told him “I just pretended that I was you!” And he said “That’s great Jim, I’m really chuffed!” (laughs)
Jim: He told me he’d spoken to John on the phone about Slade in America, “John’s aware of Slade” he said, and he told me John had said we sounded like The Beatles in the early years. He liked it. So think of all of these people who have tried to put us down and here’s Lennon and McCartney who like Slade! (laughs) But that was the first thing. But back again to Chas and these phone calls, he said “Jim, David Putnam, or Lord Putnam as he is now, he was producing the film (Slade in Flame)” and he said “Do you think you could write some music especially for the film, you know a sort of theme tune or something?” And I said “Oh, I don’t know, we have to make the Flame album and we’re doing this, that and the other, so I don’t know.” And then he rang me the next day and he said “Jim I’ve been thinking about this, maybe we’ll get somebody else to write something if you feel you haven’t got the time to do it?” So I said “Chas, it’s alright, I’ve got it.” he said “You’ve got it? How the heck did you do that?” I said “It’s something I wrote when I was a kid when I was just messing about on the piano.” And of course it’s regarded as probably the best track we ever recorded.
Mark: Is that your favourite though?
Jim: Erm, yeah. You know this guy Chris Evans?
Mark: The DJ?
Jim: Well he’s left the BBC now, and the day before he left he said, he always had these people around him who were laughing all the time, he said “We’ve decided to do a competition and it’s about ‘long single records’ – we’re not going to count ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ because that’s an obvious one, so that’s out of the picture. So we want people ringing in.” Then he played another song and said that they’d had a few calls about ‘long singles’ and he said “I think it’s gonna have to be ‘How Does It Feel’ by Slade. I loved that. I remember when I was teaching the others how to play it there was always another bit coming and Dave would say “I thought we’d finished! There’s more?” (laughs) “There’s more?” (Does a great Dave impression). So that’s how it finally came about, it was just in my head for years and years.
Mark: I heard or read somewhere once, talking of long songs that there was a 12 minute version of ‘Nobody’s Fool’ – was that ever recorded?
Jim: I really liked ‘Nobody’s Fool.’ We recorded that in America in the same Studio that we recorded ‘Merry Christmas’ and I was really hung up on it at the time, but I felt very uncomfortable in America, I didn’t like being there. To tell you the truth I’m just basically a home bird. I’m loyal. But with ‘Nobody’s Fool’ I had this idea of doing longer songs, I think it was something left over from the Prog Rock days – you know where you’d have an album with three tracks on one side and five on the other, or whatever. Or Deep Purple in Rock, where there was visually not much on it – three tracks on the A-Side and four on the other, but the music was great! You’d pick up the album and think seven songs is that it? But I liked longer songs so that’s where that came from.
Mark: I’ve been taking up so much of your time Jim, do we have any longer?
Jim: But we’ve only got up to ‘Nobody’s Fool!
Mark: (laughs) Oh mate, I could go on all day!
Jim: I’m the same, once I start telling the tale I keep telling the tale! (laughs) I did an interview yesterday for the BBC – they came and they filmed here, and they were here from about 12 O’clock to about 6 O’clock and my wife came in and said to the guy who was asking the questions “Have you got onto question two yet?”
Jim: (laughing) I can rattle there’s no doubt about it!
Mark: I’ll try and get a few quick ones in then if we can manage it! (laughs) So many questions to ask! Let’s have a few memories! There have been so many milestones throughout the story of Slade it’s hard to pick them, but as ‘live’ shows go let’s talk about two of the Festivals – Reading and Donington. I wish I’d been there! What are your memories of those two Festivals?
Jim: Well we never had any hits from 1977 to 1980. We did Reading in 1980 at short notice, we replaced Ozzy who wasn’t in Sabbath anymore and had joined up with Randy Rhoads and at the last minute it came out he was ill. I was actually in the office when Chas took the call from the agent. I heard Chas say (in a good Chandler voice) “Aye, Slade will go on any time of the day, no problem. Just get us on the bill, the later in the day the better.” So we got there and they wouldn’t let us in! (laughs)
Jim: Because we weren’t advertised we were just last minute replacements! Ozzy didn’t want to let down the show and I think it was Sharon who said ring Slade to the agent. But of course when we arrived there we weren’t on any of the posters, so nobody knew about it and we were just filling in the hole, you know. But they wouldn’t let us in, so me of all people, I just gave this guy on the gate a right rollicking. I said (adopting a stern voice) “Look, we are Slade, do you know that we are Slade? Look at us! We are Slade!” and we’d got our guitars and our gear and I pointed at them and said “We have come to play and if we don’t play there’s going to be a great big hole in this Festival, and it’ll be your fault!”
Jim: (laughing) And I added “So get out of the way.” and he did. And the others were all going “Jim you can’t talk to him like that.” (laughs) But as we were walking in, and there had been three years that were completely devoid of Slade, you know, we weren’t on TV or anything. So other bands as we were walking down past all the caravans back stage where everybody was getting changed to go on – they were all looking at us as if we were ghosts and smiling. And I thought “Hang on there’s a good vibe here” And Tommy Vance the DJ he came in and he said “Guys there’s a real buzz about you guys today, go and show them what you can do! I’ve never seen you live.” but he was a big fan Tommy Vance was. So we went on and well we stormed it, we absolutely stormed it!” And Donington was like that but it rained when we were on at Donington. And I don’t know if it was deliberate by AC/DC or not but we only got half of the PA on. There were 90,000 people there to see AC/DC they were the biggest Rock band in the world then.
Mark: And AC/DC were big Slade fans as well.
Jim: Yeah, absolutely. Jim sings “You shook me all night long” then “We get wild, wild, wild” (laughs)
Mark: Many bands of course made a career out of the Slade sound, I think we can both agree on that!
Jim: (laughs) Yeah. Just back to Reading, I remember at the end we started doing encores and we’d over-run our time so they’d normally kick you off. But they didn’t kick us off, well they couldn’t, there would have been a riot! So we went off and we came back on again for the last time and then Nod had a masterstroke. He just said to the audience “Any requests?” And they all shouted things, and I don’t know whether anyone shouted it or not, probably not, but he said “Merry Christmas? We ain’t playing that!” And so he said “You lot sing it.” And so there we were with the crowd singing ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ to us. (laughs) Follow that!
Mark: Over the years you’ve produced some wonderful music, one of the very best live albums of all time, and the best Rock and Roll movie of all time, that was years ahead of its time. Is there anything else that you’ve still got to do? Anything on that list?
Jim: Yeah, I’ve spend a few years trying to do a one-man string orchestra. It’s never been done before and to try to get the sound, because one person is playing the same thing over and over again, it has intermodulatory distortion and also phasing. You know like on (Jim sings the opening of ‘Strawberry Fields’) – you get that sound. But with violins, dear, dear, dear, I tried everything! I mean I’ve got ‘something’ and I’ve played it to a few people, and they say that they’ve never heard anything like it in their lives, you know. And then when I tell them I was playing all the instruments, the violas, the violins, the cellos, the double-basses they just don’t believe it. But my brother keeps telling me “James” I’m James to the family, “James, you’ve got to do Rock and Roll!” (Laughs)
Mark: (laughs) He knows what he likes! You’ve earned the right to do what you like though I reckon. I really, really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today Jim, you’ve been so generous with your time. If I can leave you with one final question that I ask everyone the first time I speak to them, and it’s a really easy one to end with.-
Mark: What is the meaning of life?
Jim: What is the meaning of life? If I was still at Psychology College I’d have come up with something straight away! (laughs) You know I did Psychology in my mid-life in my 40’s?
Mark: I did, yes. Something I’ve always been interested in.
Jim: What is the meaning of life? Have you seen the ‘Umbrella Academy’?
Mark: Yes I just finished the second season the other week.
Jim: You know the one who’s the guru, when his followers say to him “Oh great one tell us some words we can think about” – well “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the valleys and the lakes that you’re used to.” (laughs) and they go “Great words!” (laughs)
Mark: (laughing) I like that on so many levels.
Jim: But I have thought about that because over time I’ve changed myself into a completely different person, and when I did I wasn’t shy anymore, and it’s just been great to have freed myself of myself. So you know, up until mid-life I was captured by myself and I was shy, and I knew I had to kick the bucket with this. So I went to Psychology College and did a degree there and when I came out, and it wasn’t just Psychology College, it was years afterwards as well. I spent a lot of time on my own, I deliberately spent time on my own. So I think to ‘find myself’, I think that’s been my meaning of life. And I’m so glad I did it.
Mark: That’s a wonderfully honest answer. And I’m not even going to close by asking you that question that I’m sure everyone has asked you in interviews over the years.
Jim: What you mean are we going to get back together again? (laughs)
Mark: (laughs) Yes I’m not going to ask you that.
Jim: (laughs) Well I don’t think Nod can sing like that anymore, he gets headaches and I think he thinks he’d burst some brain cells, or arteries, or veins in his brain. And what can you say to him? If he wants to stop he should stop. That’s what he said to me, but you know Nod, he’s liable to say anything. If you asked him that question he’d say “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” (laughs)
Mark: (laughs) It’s been a pleasure to speak to you Jim, it’s made my day.
Jim: A pleasure to speak to you too, you know your stuff. It’s great.
Mark: I hope one day you’ll give me enough notice to get back next time you play The Robin.
Jim: (laughs) The Robin’s in trouble at the moment
Mark: Like a lot of places at the moment sadly Jim.
Jim: Yeah everywhere, theatres, so many venues have closed down in the UK.
Mark: Let’s hope it all comes back soon. It’s been great to chat, and thanks again for being so generous with your time.
Jim: It’s been great talking to you. I hope to speak to you again.
Mark: Stay safe.
Cum on Feel the Hitz is available everywhere right now! Thanks so much to Jim Lea for taking the time to talk to fans Downunder!
My life through a lens: Former Slade singer Noddy Holder, 74, shares the stories behind his favourite snaps by Peter Robertson For Weekend Magazine. Published: 25 December 2020
Celebrities share the stories behind their favourite photographs. This week it’s a man forever linked with the festive season, former Slade singer Noddy Holder, 74 .
1957: This is me aged 12 in our living room. I’d been plaguing my parents for a guitar since getting into rock’n’roll. My dad was a window cleaner and used to sing in Walsall’s working men’s clubs and he’d drag me up on stage from the age of seven. I used to nod a lot when asked a question in school – and a boy called me Noddy. I’ve been called that ever since, but my family use my real name, Neville
1961: I’m on the left here, the lead vocalist and guitarist in my first band The Rockin’ Phantoms with school friends. Three became professional musicians and Mick Aulton, the drummer, became a chemist. As a working-class kid from the Black Country I didn’t think I’d earn a living with music. Yet from the Midlands then came ELO, Slade and Black Sabbath.
1973: We came up with our own looks in Slade. Dave Hill [second from left, and Noddy is third from left] always wanted to top everybody when we appeared on Top Of The Pops – we gave his outfits nicknames and this one was The Metal Nun. A life-size Lego statue of me in the outfit I have on here, plus a mirrored top hat, is now in Selfridges at Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre to raise funds for the city’s children’s hospital. I loved the heyday of Slade, though there was pressure to have an album and several singles out every year, and we generally played a new city every day on tour. But one thing you have to say is we cheered people up and put a smile on their faces
1975: This is from Slade In Flame, a film starring the band. The first idea was to do a spoof of The Quatermass Experiment, called The Quite A Mess Experiment. But we wanted to do a serious behind-the-scenes film showing what the rock’n’roll business was all about. Every scene is true to some band, just not necessarily Slade. This picture shows our first manager in the film, played by actor and boxer Johnny Shannon, pulling my hair and not knowing his own strength so it really hurt! The soundtrack was the best-received of our albums, with some of our best songs on it
1980: ‘Chas’ Chandler discovered and signed Slade in 1969. He’d been in The Animals, who I was a big fan of, and he discovered, produced and managed Jimi Hendrix, bringing him to Britain. When he went back to the US, Chas wanted a rock’n’roll band to manage and was key to making Slade a success. This photo of us was just before we split from Chas – we had run our course with him. We stayed quite friendly after.
2000: When I was awarded an MBE for services to music I took my wife Suzan and our son Django [pictured], who was then five, to the Palace. Suzan is a TV producer and Django now works in a sound studio. I also have two daughters, in their 40s, from my first marriage, and I have two grandkids who I really enjoy. I’ve done most of what I wanted to do and am semi-retired now, although I would love to play a villain in an Agatha Christie.
2001: The only other thing I ever considered doing for a living was teaching – I think I’d have been good at it. I played music teacher Neville Holder in the ITV comedy The Grimleys [far right, in series three], set in the West Midlands in the 1970s, with Amanda Holden and Brian Conley – we became great pals. It was written by Jed Mercurio, creator of Line Of Duty and Bodyguard. He spotted my potential in Slade In Flame, though I’d been ‘resting’ as an actor for 20 years! Since then I’ve had a cameo in the 40th anniversary live episode of Coronation Street, and appeared in Max & Paddy and Mrs Brown’s Boys. I’m always open to offers.
2011: Ever since Slade’s biggest hit Merry Christmas Everybody in 1973, people have associated me with Christmas – this is me at a carol concert at Manchester Cathedral – and some probably think I hibernate the rest of the year. When we recorded it we were very popular, but no way did I think it’d still be going strong 47 years later. I get dead chuffed when kids come up to me saying, ‘You’re the man who sings that Christmas song.’ It’s also produced a nice pension plan for Slade. I quit the band in 1992 and we don’t have much contact now, but I see Dave now and then
As told to Peter Robertson.
Cum On Feel The Hitz: The Best Of Slade is out now on BMG.
SLADE IN ROCK AND FOLK MAGAZINE 2020
TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH BY LUIS D LOPES
Slade, it was about singles and above all, the A sides
Half a century after the release of their first LP, the West Midlands group remains a glam reference more raw and less classy/chic than David Bowie or T-Rex. An outrage it we consider the number of irresistible songs recorded by these English in platform boots.
In the December 1998 special issue on Glam of this magazine (R&F HS 14), Cyril Deluermoz wrote this about Slade: “This quartet produced some essential songs of that era. Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Cum On Feel the Noize and Cuz I Luv You show the capacity of this band to write little gems of hard rock with unstoppable choruses.”
In a few chosen words, our colleague summed up the case about Slade. By memory, we remember that during the same decade (90’s) Cyril kept privileged contacts with the Gallagher brothers and it was the oldest of them that one day was quite concise about Slade : “No Slade….no Oasis…..as simple as that”.
By the end of 2020, with drums and streamers, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first LP (as Slade), where Noddy Holder, at the microphone, never shouted less than anything he could. That simple fact would had been enough to justify this article. Actually, it was the recent and almost simultaneous reading of the autobiographies that three members of the band released, that motivated this article. The history of rock, told by those that lived it, is a good tale. For now, we strongly advise everyone that like the subject, to find and get the books in question (easily available on download format or even paper / hardcopy). They are not totally free of factual errors, but as soon as you start reading them, you just can’t stop.
The story of Slade (all their singles, and their LP’s, are easily available, and are not that expensive, on good record shops and record fairs) is crisp. We are not able to write everything about them in this article, but if we are able to tell the reader more about four common Englishmen (that were proud about it) from the West Midlands, that dominated the charts of their island, selling more than 50 million records, then our goal will be achieved.
Like other bands of their generation, Slade was born from the ashes of several bands: Don Powell (drums) and Dave Hill (lead guitar) were originally members of The Vendors, but it was only when they became The N´Betweens that they start being noticed. By mid-sixties, Noddy Holder, singer and guitar with Steve Brett and the Mavericks, was invited by Hill and Powell to join them. He accepted and also did Lea. Lea was going to be the holy rookie that could play bass, violin and piano. Later, his classical music background would pay back with the group repertoire that he would co-write with Noddy Holder.
At the time, Kim Fowley put his nose (and let his ears hang…) everywhere and it was him that produced the only 45 RPM from the N’Betweens, a cover of the Young Rascals’s You Better Run.
“Slade in Flame”
Right in the heart of the seventies, Slade had already achieved their peak, but the time to make a film arrived, a story about a group called Flame. Andrew Birkin (brother of Jane) wrote the script, telling the dark and wicked side of the business involving a rock band. The film was produced by Richard Loncraine.
Not as easy as you may think, the film (there was a DVD release about ten years later), was well received by the music press. In fact, even with some live performance included, the reviewers concluded that the film was not aiming to their teenager audience (that were most of their fans). Without surprise, Noddy Holder recognizes that, and, in his book, he talks about the positive reactions that “Slade in Flame” get today, in every films festival that the film is shown. It deserves a mention the presence of the great actor Tom Conti (future Mr. Lawrence on “Furyu”, Nagisa Oshima’s masterpiece) in “Slade in Flame”. It was his first major role on a film.
At the time, the band was playing in the Midlands (more exactly, in the vicinity of Wolverhampton) but Kim Fowley found them when they were playing the Tiles Club, located on Oxford Street, London. The release of “You better run” was largely unnoticed and it was necessary to wait for the end of the sixties, already under their new name “Ambrose Slade”, to see the return of the four musicians to a recording studio, under the guidance of Jack Baverstock, from Fontana Records, this time to record a 33 RPM.
This new record was basically composed of covers (Frank Zappa, Beatles, Steppenwolf, Moody Blues….) that the group was playing in their live set. “Beginning’s” was going to be better accepted by the music press then by the public.
In the US, anticipating the good taste that the formation would soon show (Ian: this is literally the French translation, but I think they are being ironic here), the album, with two red balls on the cover, will be released as “Ballzy”.
But a great event was about to come. Shortly before the release of Beginning’s, Baverstock proposed to Chas Chandler to join the band at the studio and have a listen to the LP. The former Animals bass player, reconverted as manager of Jimi Hendrix, liked their work, and by the beginning of 1969, saw the band performing live at the Rasputin Club, New Bond Street, in London.
Meeting Chas Chandler was going to be decisive to the band’s future. A big and direct guy, he committed himself and accepted to be their manager. It was him that obliged them to shorten their name (to Slade), to start writing their own material and to change their look.
Disappointed with Hendrix, Chandler was absolutely fed up with hippies. The band didn’t quite accept his suggestion for them to became skinheads, but they didn’t have any other option than to accept.
Their new look was clearly present on the cover of “Play it Loud”, their new LP under Polydor. Despite the promotion, the record didn’t see any real action in terms of sales.
But, to Chas Chandler, the important thing was that the band wrote ten of the twelve songs of the LP, but the writing skills (the right partnership?) were still about to come. “Know Who you Are”, a single extracted from the LP, had a very similar rhythm to “Hear me calling”, a song wrote by Alvin Lee, included on “Stonedhenge”, the third LP from Ten Years After. As by chance, “Hear me Calling” was included in “Slade Alive”, recorded live in the autumn of 1971, on a large studio near Piccadilly Circus in front of a group of fans picked up by a local radio.
Their Own Tsunami
When “Slade Alive” arrived at the shops, the band was already popular. During the year, and under Chas Chandler support, Holder and Lea became a pair of formidable song writers.
After the release of another cover, the rocker “Get Down and Get With It”, they came up with “Coz I Luv You”, by their own words, written under the spirit of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. More commercial than any other previous release by Slade, this song was going to be their first number one, and the first of an incredible run of hits.
To help you understand, these are the numbers: during the 70’s, Slade had 17 singles on the UK Top 20, with six of them at number one (three number ones on the day of their release). And what about their albums? Well, even if in the middle of about fifteen records some of them sold very well, they are not so capital. Slade was about singles and above all, the A sides. Songs produced by Chas Chandler with a very particular abrasive and intoxicating sound. And of course, later the four members of the band decided to ride the glam wave, namely on the clothing perspective. They let their hair grow, and pushed further and forward, to the limit, the new look initiated by Marc Bolan. Noddy Holder would wear golf caps, Scottish outfits, a hat covered with mirrors, a giant tie.
Dave Hill, who did not write the songs, would take revenge playing the clown, wearing clothing so eccentric that made The Sweet looked like employees of a funeral agency. All sprinkled with glitter, on top of huge platform shoes. But beside this, the four members of the band, were pretty simple and regular persons, who took the glory and participated, with joy, in the rock playground that destiny had reserved to them.
Close to their fans, they sung as they talked, developing a kind of slang that we can read and listen in their songs like “Look Wot You Dun”, “Mama Were All Crazee Now”, “Skeeze Me, Pleeze Me”…..
And then, for 15 years, Slade never stopped recording and playing, each side of the Atlantic, always in close contact with their audience. The band, and this is relevant, never despised anyone despite the animosity that their supposed superficiality had sometimes triggered.
Noddy, Dave, Jim and Don, are the glittering example of the seventies (some say that they were the house band on the Top of the Pops, but even Lester Bangs, probably America's greatest rock critic, wrote good reviews about them) and ride their own tsunami until things calmed down.
With tenacity, they even faced the most deceptive adversity, when in July 1973, Don Powell almost got killed (as his girlfriend did) on a car crash, heavily severing his memory abilities. Slade decide to carry on with him, and during the same summer, after his recovery, he was back and doing his job exactly as he was doing in 1970.
Officially, Slade split in 1992, but Dave Hill and Don Powell carry on playing, until today, under the name Slade, much more discreet and on their own way.
Since their big time, the band have inspired tons of others, the good and the best. With a very comfortable financial stand, Noddy Holder, who did not play live again, did radio shows in Manchester, and Jim Lea published a solo LP in 2007. Chas Chandler, who had more or less retired from the business during the 80’s, died in July 1996. During his funeral, attended by the four members of the band and by Jimi Hendrix father (who had never met him before), when his coffin left the church it was played “Spirit in the Sky”, a song of Norman Greenbaum. That too, it was enough to make you think.
Three Slade Sides
To choose three songs, released as singles, from a band that released hits till the beginning of the 90’ – even with less known songs like “We’ll Bring the House Down”, My Oh My” or “Radio Wall of Sound” – will , for sure, displease the preferences of others.
Get Down And Get With It
Little Richard was one of the favourites singers of Noddy Holder. You can easily understand that as soon as the song starts, when Holder shouts “Well, alright everybody”. This single symbolizes the beginning of the Slade cataclysm. Being a cover of “Get Down With It” recorded by Bobby Marchan, it is more similar to the version recorded by Little Richard in 1967. Whatever, the song did chart, entering the UK Top 20, and the line “Stomp your feet with your boots on” was systematically followed by the audience, causing fear to the promoters of the concerts, regarding the concert hall's possible structural collapse.
Cum on Feel the Noize
As the Beatles, their idols, Slade released singles that were not included in their LP’s. This was not the only common thing with the Beatles, considering that Noddy Holder, when wrote the lyrics for this song, was inspired by the fact that their audiences not only sung all their songs from the very first word till the last one, but also continuously screamed during their set. Skilfully composed by Jim Lea, the chorus begins with a rhythm that had already been successfully proven with T-Rex, with a 3D sound produced by Chas Chandler, a football stadium atmosphere. “Cum On Feel The Noize” was covered several times by other bands, namely by Quiet Riot, whose version of the song sold one million copies just in the US, and also by Oasis.
Merry Xmas Everybody
Last Xmas has just passed, but by the end of 2020 we have a rendez-vous already booked with this song, a platinum vinyl record since the first day of release. “Merry Xmas Everybody” is the perfect song for the winter festivities, but we can also listen to this song during the summertime, because of the perfection that Noddy Holder put on his singing, almost feeling like he was struck by some magic touch. The song was recorded in New York (Record Plant, where John Lennon was finishing his “Mind Games” LP).
Almost half century later, the song is constantly played on the British radio stations during the Xmas festivities, being re-released several times. According to Noddy Holder, the song which makes him a lot of money.