Interview Jimmy Lea:
"I'll be Jim, like it or not." February 2000 - Birmingham Mail.
As a schoolgirl in the 70s I earned lots of Brownie points among my friends because my Dad was the electrician for Jimmy Lea from Slade. Several years later, while I was training to be a journalist, Dad rang Jim up and asked if I could interview him.
Although there was nothing in it for Jim (the profile piece I'd been told to write was never intended for print), he graciously agreed.
That was 15 years ago and, apart from having been excruciatingly nervous, I can remember almost nothing about the interview.
By the look on Jim's face now I can tell he doesn't even recall it taking place.
"How altruistic of me," he says smilingly, when I remind him of the circumstances of the meeting.
Then, I visited Jim at his picture postcard home near the village of Brewood in Staffordshire. Now, he talks to me in the lounge of the Oakley Country Club just down the road.
He looks much the same as I remember - the figure is just as trim and the hair remains softly shaggy, hovering just above shoulder-length.
What has changed, however, is Jim's demeanour. Always considered the "quiet one" of the pop group (along with drummer Don Powell), he fought shy of the limelight during Slade's heyday - recoiling from interviews and photo-calls. Even going on stage was an ordeal.
Looking back, I now realise that when I first interviewed him, he was as nervous as I was. "Probably more," he says.
He's as chatty today as he was reticent 15 years ago. This is partly because, at 50, he's older and wiser, but there's a more profound reason for the transformation.
Just as some people find religion, Jim has found psychology. And, through studying the subject, he has come to understand himself a good deal more.
The schoolboy who was too shy to tell his violin teacher he didn't understand what he was supposed to be learning and the young man who "hid" behind the other three members of Slade has metamorphosed into a self-assured grandfather-of-one who's comfortable with himself, content with his lot and knows he has nothing left to prove.
The release this week of his first solo record - I'll Be John, You'll Be Yoko - is a case in point. He is not making a comeback, he insists, he is merely doing want he wants to do, which is to make music again.
If the critics like it, if it gets into the charts, all well and good. If it doesn't, well, what the heck.
"It has a very existential feel about it," muses Jim. "It's like saying, 'let's jump off this cliff and see if we land'. I don't have to do this; I'm financially secure. But I wanted to - no other reason than that. I just want to make some credible music."
Much of Jim's conversation is peppered with psychological and philosophical terms. He talks about paradoxes and introspection a lot, and existentialism gets a look-in more than once.
Even the note he sent to Noddy Holder, Slade's lead singer, congratulating him on being awarded an MBE in the New Year's Honours List had a philosophical dimension to it.
"I wrote, 'Dear Nod, there may be an existential problem with becoming a member of an empire that no longer exists. Nevertheless, it'll look really good on the CV'," relates Jim.
The new song, too, isn't about Lennon (his biggest musical influence) and Yoko. "It's about narcissism," he explains. "We are searching for ourselves. Lennon finds Yoko and she's very much like him. She even looks like him."
I tell him I can hear Cum On Feel the Noize in the first line of the chorus. He looks surprised. "I never thought about it," he replies.
There are also strong overtones of Oasis (who recently covered Cum On Feel the Noize).
"Most of the Slade melodies were mine; I write like that," he says. "People say this song sounds like Oasis, but it's just the way I write. And vice versa. I have heard my melodies coming through with some of their stuff."
I also tell him I think the song is great - and that his voice, for so long drowned out by Noddy's, is gravel-rich and authoritative.
So what has brought Jim back to music now, nearly a decade since Slade notched up their last hit with Radio Wall of Sound in 1991?
"Firstly, I have to say that Slade never broke up," he explains. "There was no 'that's it then'; we just sort of stopped working and Nod went off doing his own stuff."
For Jim, it was an "introspective period". I tell him I've read a report he was depressed when Slade's popularity finally waned.
This he emphatically denies. If anything, he says, he coped better with the downs than the ups of showbusiness.
"When we had our first down time at the end of the 70s, I was over the barricades."
The early 90s also saw Jim start a property business, which did "very well" and has obviously earned him a great deal of money.
"It was all in London and we know what's happened to the London property prices."
Then Jim made rather a surprising decision - to go to college.
"I was sitting round reading books, mostly psychology books," he explains. "A couple of years ago, I ended up going to college in London to study psychology. I did the first of five years, which went really well. Then one day the course leader said to me as I was packing my books away: 'So James, do you want to follow the psychodynamic or the existential route'? And I said, 'I'm going to form a rock 'n' roll band'."
So what on earth made him say that?
"It was in my mind," replies Jim. "At college I learned a lot about myself, which is what brings about a lot of these changes. I thought, 'I can do this (psychology degree) later on in life, but if I'm going to do something with music, it needs to be now'."
So Jim put down his books and picked up his guitar.
"I started writing songs again about 18 months ago. I've now got 65."
It was Jim's brother, Frank, a record company executive, who suggested making a record.
"He said he'd play drums for me - even though he hadn't played for 15 years."
So the brothers went off to a studio in Walsall, recorded I'll Be John, You'll Be Yoko and promptly forgot about it.
Then Frank played some of Jim's material to a "guy in distribution", who asked to meet up with the former Slade bass guitarist.
"He wanted to make an album, but Frank said, 'no, let's just put a single out for now', and that's what we did."
Jim opted for a band name - Whild - rather than his own.
"Whild is my middle name and also Frank's. It was my mother's maiden name. Frank thought it was a good idea to use that, so off we went. But it's a project rather than a band. I keep getting asked 'are you going to go on the road?' That's a tough one. Forming a band and working with new people isn't easy, but there's starting to be some pressure to do that."
How will he cope if fame comes his way again?
"I'll worry about it when it happens," he says. "I'm a lot older and wiser now. In the old days I didn't like being photographed or interviewed. I didn't like going on television. Being recognised in the street was also a big problem. But I'm a lot more comfortable with everything now."
Jim was born in a pub, where his parents had lodgings, in Snow Hill, Wolverhampton.
The second eldest of four brothers, his father was in quality control in the engineering industry and his mother worked at Beatties department store in the town.
Jim was introspective even as a child. Did that make him feel alienated from his peers?
"I certainly wasn't alienated, no," he says. "I was always very popular at school; I was the kind of kid who got on with everybody. I wasn't withdrawn, I was just shy. But there was a whole world going on within me."
Even now, Jim is known for suddenly retreating into his own private universe.
"Anybody who knows me well knows I can just sit there and drift off. I'll be writing a song or thinking about something someone said. People say, 'come back Jim'. When I was with Slade, we'd be sitting in a dressing room and there would be a conversation or argument going on about the band's plans for the next day. But I wouldn't hear any of it, and later I'd say, 'so, what are we doing tomorrow then'? Nod would turn round and say, 'yow'm hopeless, yow are'."
As a child, Jim's quietness also masked an aggressive streak, which he channelled into his music.
He first started playing a musical instrument at the age of nine.
"My mother asked me if I wanted to learn the violin and I said yes. The whole of my mother's family were professional musicians - orchestral musicians. My mum liked to sing. My dad also liked singing, but he was at the bawdy end of the scale. He would jump up in a pub and entertain everybody."
Although Jim didn't "have a clue" what his violin teacher was talking about and was too timid to admit it, he still managed to pick it up well enough to score 99 per cent in his first exam.
"I joined the Staffordshire Youth Orchestra and I remember we did Dvorak's New World Symphony, which is still one of my favourite classical pieces."
Gradually, Jim developed an interest in pop music, although he "hated boy singers" and hated the girls screaming at them even more.
What he did like, however, were guitar players. "I noticed The Shadows behind Cliff."
At the age of 12, Jim went out and bought a guitar. "And that was it, I was on a mission from God. All I wanted to do was play in a band."
Jim didn't look like fulfilling that ambition for a while, however. After finishing school he secured places at every art college he applied to.
But then fate stepped in.
"I saw an advert which read, 'bass player required. Vocals an asset'."
The band was the `N' Betweens, fronted by Noddy Holder, a working class lad from Walsall.
"I'd seen them play six months before and thought they were brilliant," Jim recalls. "I went to the audition and played like a demon. There was a lot of aggression in me. But psychological paradoxes are usually at the centre of everything. I was auditioning for a band, but I played bass because I didn't want to be noticed too much." Jim got the job.
After meeting Chas Chandler, who had managed Jimi Hendrix, and changing their name to Slade, the band hit the big time. Their loud, in yer face style, catchy rock tunes (all the big ones penned by Noddy and Jim) and Noddy's powerful voice caught the public's imagination.
Over the next 25 years - during which there were troughs as well as peaks - Slade churned out hit after hit, including six number ones: Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Cos I Luv You, Gudbuy T'Jane and, of course, the classic Christmas anthem Merry Xmas Everybody.
Throughout it all, Jim remained firmly married to Louise - his first girlfriend whom he met at Codsall Secondary School - and a devoted father to two children, now aged 21 and 19.
After two hours, my second interview with one of rock music's great songwriters finally comes to an end. Jim picks up his guitar and we walk out into the car park together.
"I've done the Rolls Royce bit," he says, unlocking the door of his L-reg Ford Mondeo.
Over his shoulder, he adds: "Oh, and give my regards to your father."
COPYRIGHT 2000 Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd
June 25 2000 Birmingham Sunday Mercury article re the Genesis of Slade release.
SLADE star Noddy Holder has gone 'crazee' over a new bootleg album of his early pop years.
'The Genesis of Slade', released last week, features unknown songs from Noddy and fellow Slade founder Dave Hill's first bands.
But the album, which carries a picture of the two stars on the front cover, has hit a bum note with the Midland glam-rock legends.
They have called in lawyers to block the CD which they say is unauthorised - and could mislead fans.
London-based Cherry Red Records released the 25-track album last week. It features songs by The Vendors (Dave Hill's former band), Steve Brett and The Mavericks (Noddy's first group), and The 'N Betweens - the forerunners to Slade.
The material, recorded on tape between 1964 and 1966, is owned by former 'N Betweens lead singer John Howells.
But the album has brought a swift threat of legal action from Colin Newman, the agent of Walsall-born Noddy.
'Noddy wants to make it clear that this album is not authorised or approved for release by Slade,' he said. 'The band would request nothing is mentioned to give it any credence or credibility due to it being unauthorised and an attempt at passing off the recording as Slade.
'Lawyers are being instructed as the record company issuing this CD should have made inquiries with the band before attempting to release it.'
Slade guitarist Dave Hill told the Sunday Mercury: 'We are not making any money out of this album but that is not important to me.
'I just don't want Slade fans to be misled as this album has our picture on the cover yet we have nothing to do with it.
'Personally, I look back on those days with a lot of happy memories. We were so raw that it was all very exciting.'
A spokesman for Cherry Red Records said: 'We would fight any court challenge to ban this album.
'We have signed contracts with John Howells who owns the rights to the tracks. And as far as we are concerned, we never needed permission from Noddy or Dave as they do not own any of the material.
'The album is not a Slade release - but it would of course be a collector's item for their fans.'
John Howells, who lives in Birmingham, was unavailable for comment last night.
So here it is ...the merry Seventies.
AS the record industry unleashes its annual flood of festive albums, wrinkly rocker Noddy Holder usually has one more reason than most to be merry.
For Slade's timeless ditty, Merry Xmas Everybody, is certain to feature on any compilation worth its Christmas pud.
And as that famous "so here it is..." line echoes around every pub, cafe and party, the royalties give a welcome boost to Noddy Holder's pension.
Not that Noddy, 54, needs it.
His autobiography, Who's Crazee Now?*, is a best-seller and he's currently filming the third series of The Grimleys.
Beyond that, every week Noddy, in his huge mirrored top hat, and former Slade sidekick Dave Hill, in his outrageous glitter suits, seem to be on our television screens in nostalgia shows.
Noddy said: "I don't sing Merry Xmas very often now as I'm not in the band any more - but whenever I go to Christmas parties, people try to get me to sing it. When we wrote it, we knew we had a hit on our hands - but I didn't think it would still be going strong nearly 30 years on. I am still really proud of it and it's made a lot of money for all of us - in a way, it's our pension."
He is also proud that the Seventies are at last getting the attention they deserve.
Noddy said: "It's been the longest revival ever. "All through the Eighties everybody slagged off the Seventies as the worst time for music, the worst time for fashion, the worst time for everything.
"But it wasn't. It was a very exciting decade and now, in the new millennium, people have come to realise this and are looking back on it with great affection."
Like the characters in The Grimleys, in which he plays music teacher Neville Holder (his real name), he was brought up in a Midlands estate.
But unlike the pupils featured in The Grimleys, Noddy says his schooldays were the best years of his life. "I loved school," he said.
He was an exceptional student, clever and popular with teachers and fellow- pupils. He also had a wicked sense of humour and used to impersonate the teachers, earning him the nickname of Neville the Devil.
Noddy came later when a certain John Robbins called him the name because he always nodded his head rather than saying yes. The singer added: "It stuck, even when I moved schools."
Noddy loved music - especially American soul - but at first his vocal talents weren't encouraged. In fact, his booming, rough-and-ready voice had the teachers covering their ears.He said: "We practised singing hymns but I was lucky to bang on a tambourine because I used to sing out and drown everybody. I didn't have a chorist's voice and the teachers tried to keep me quiet."
Noddy also considered an acting career, but others around him thought otherwise.
He added: "I always thought I could do better than the one chosen for the lead role - but usually ended up painting scenery."
When he started jamming with a school friend and formed a school band, The Phantoms, the teachers were horrified. After all, he was one of their most intelligent pupils and was destined for further education.
Noddy added: "I tried to do music, but none of the teachers encouraged me. I was considered a black sheep. All the teachers tried to talk me out of a career in music."
At 17, a year after his A Levels, Noddy left school. And The Phantoms evolved into Steve Brett's backing band, The Mavericks.
Noddy quit The Mavericks to join 'N Betweens, with Dave Hill and drummer Don Powell. The two N'Betweens also brought in schoolboy bass player Jimmy Lea and another singer, Johnny Howles.
When Johnny was kicked out for being lazy, Slade - although still the 'N Betweens - were born. The began to play outside their Birmingham club roots and followed in the footsteps of the Beatles to Germany.
Noddy recalls that the German club owner refused to pay them, so they quit - but not before Noddy got revenge by taking a razor and slashing the speakers.
The band knew that when the damage was discovered, they'd be severely beaten up. But when they got to the pier to catch the ferry home - with the owner's heavies after them - the boat had left. Noddy recalled: "We ran out on to the pier and started screaming and waving our arms at the ferry. As luck would have it, the captain saw us and came back to shore to let us on. He probably saved our lives."
The band also became hugely popular in Scotland, spending at least one weekend a month touring the country.
Noddy said: "A lot of our fans thought we were Scottish, because we played there so much. We loved it because the scene seemed a lot trendier than it was in England - and more rowdy."
His favourite anecdote about their early Scots gigs was playing Cumnock Town Hall.
He said: "Part of the crowd were on one side of the hall, the other on the other side with a big space in the middle.
"Just before we were due to finish, the two groups charged at each other. It was a real bloodbath. We hid in the dressing room and were gobsmacked when the promoter told us it had been a brilliant gig.
"The promoter said they'd loved us - if they hadn't, they'd have come on stage and trashed our equipment."
The group, who cut a single, You Better Run, for EMI in 1966 signed to Fontana in the last months of the Sixties. With this came the name change to Ambrose Slade, which was later trimmed to the slicker Slade.
They also got a manager, Chas Chandler, the former Animals bassist who had discovered Jimi Hendrix. His first decision was for the guys to have their hair shaved to become skinheads.
Although they hated it, the group went under the razor, recorded a Little Richard tune, Get Down And Get With It, and had their first hit - the single going to No. 15.But it wasn't until Noddy began to write himself that the group really took off.
Coz I Luv You, written in 20 minutes was their first No.1 in October, 1971, knocking Rod Stewart's Maggie May off the top slot. Slade went on to have 12 top five hits, six of them going to No.1
They started their first major tour in 1972 at Green's Playhouse in Glasgow, which later became the Apollo. Noddy said: "It was the first time we realised we were famous. The noise from the audience was deafening. Screamer girls had turned up and there were thousands of kids waiting to see us. We couldn't walk down the street or go out on our own."
As the glittering Glam Rock look took off, Slade's clothes - and platform heels - became more and more outlandish.
When Marc Bolan put glitter tears on his face, Dave Hill went one better and covered himself in the silver stuff.
Although Noddy claims he never wore glitter, he did inspire Scotland's biggest band, The Bay City Rollers.
He said: "I started wearing cut-off trousers. The Rollers admitted they pinched their looks from me - the cut-off and the tartan."
But equally he admits his most famous item of clothing, the mirrored top hat, was inspired by another Scot - Lulu.
He said: "She was on television wearing a spangly dress and there were silver flashes coming off it. I thought it looked brilliant and wanted to get the same effect for the stage show. I found a hat and put a string of mirrors around it. It became an icon of the Glam Rock era."
It was the hey day of Slade. They were on Top Of The Pops almost every week. They went to America and, although they didn't conquer the States, they did inspire way-out acts such as Kiss.
Noddy penned some of Britain's best singles, including Mama Weer All Crazee Now and Cum On Feel The Noize.
But probably the most famous is Merry Xmas Everybody, which has been in the Top 40 on six separate occasions. So it's a little surprising that Noddy isn't sick to death of the song.
He said: "No, I don't hate it, I'm really proud of it. The only time it gets on me nerves a bit is if I go out Christmas shopping and I go in a store and it's always on, and everyone's pointing. After 25 years of that, it gets a bit wearing."Merry Xmas Everybody was, in fact, the band's last No.1. They had hits after 1973 but never reached the top. At the end of the Seventies, the group split up.
Noddy wrote two new songs, My Oh My, and Run Run Away as Slade. My Oh My, a Christmas single went to No.2.
The group were back in business. But after a tour Noddy decided he had had enough and, in 1983, the band split again.
Noddy hasn't played with the former Slade men for 15 years, although Dave and Don are now touring with Slade 2.
Noddy, a father of three, now hosts a show on Capital Radio, as well as being starring in The Grimleys. He was made an MBE in the millennium honours list.
So now that he's not singing anymore, who would Noddy like to see reworking his his hits for the Nineties?
After some deliberation, his reply in turn gets a Redbrick giggle: "I'd like the Fun Lovin' Criminals to do one. That would be ace. I'd like to see what they did with Mama Weer All Crazee - funk it up a bit! I'd like a soul singers such as Mary J. Blige to do a soul version of one of our tracks. Something totally off-the- wall."
A Mary Christmas, perhaps?
* Noddy Holder: Who's Crazee Now?, published by Ebury Press, £5.99.
Noddy Holder talks about "Slade in Flame" movie (interview 2002)
Noddy Holder interviewed by Jools Holland on Later (BBC2, 2005)
Classic Rock interview with Noddy Holder from 2005 'The spectacular story of Slade: glamour, tragedy and beyond'
by Geoff Barton
Noddy Holder looks back at Slade's noizy, hit-infested career. from bovver braces to mirror hats.
Noddy Holder remembers the exact time when he finally realised how massively – make that unbelievably – popular Slade had become in Britain.It was the morning of July 5, 1973, and the story made front-page headlines on just about every UK national daily newspaper: Slade drummer Don Powell had been seriously injured after crashing his Bentley the night before. A passenger in the vehicle – Powell’s girlfriend and soon-to-be-wife, Angela – had been killed. Powell had to be dragged from the mangled wreckage and taken to intensive care.
“We were at the pinnacle of our career,” Holder recalls today. “We’d had a string of hit records, and we were just at the end of a big British tour. That year we’d had both Cum On Feel The Noize and Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me come in straight in at No.1. Our tour had ended at Earl's Court, and there were 18,000 people in to see us. We had a stormer of a show, and we were really riding on the crest of a wave. Then a week later Don had his crash. He was given 24 hours to live. It all came crumbling down in one day.”
To hardened rock fans at the time, Slade came as a raucous relief to the feeble shang-a-lang sound of the seemingly omnipresent Bay City Rollers. Noddy and co. might have been a mainstream chart act like the Rollers, but Slade weren’t fey in the slightest – they were ferocious to the max. They were a resolutely working-class lads’ band, and their stage shows combined the experiences of cheering at a football match from the terraces with a ruck in the pub car park at closing time.
“Even now when we meet people and they tell us of the effect we were having at the time, we can’t believe it,” marvels Holder. “We were in our own little bubble in our real heyday. We couldn’t go out to the cinema or go shopping anything like that. It was just us, our roadies – our entourage, if you like – and Chas [Chandler, Slade’s late manager/producer]. We didn’t really get see everyday life, we were either on the road or in the studio.”
But when Don Powell’s terrible car crash made front-page news, the sheer scale of Slade’s popularity suddenly hit home.
“Don survived, but his memory was wrecked. His taste and smell had gone – he still can’t taste or smell anything now, in fact. We didn’t know how the band would carry on.” .
But carry on Slade did, as Powell was nursed back to some semblance of health. “Slade was always all about us four people – four people who really gelled. Take away one of those people and that’s the end of it. Don slowly but surely got better. Within six or seven weeks his strength began to return. I remember Chas saying to Don: ‘Do you think you’re well enough to play live?’. Don was suffering from severe memory loss, but we took him on the road anyway.
“We found out that once we started a song, Don could remember how it went. So while I was doing the introductions to the audience, Jim would be whispering in Don’s ear: ‘It starts like this: tippety-tap, tippety-tap-tap'.
“Then it would all come flooding back. So that’s how we did gigs for the next two years. We coaxed Don back into a way of playing. It was either that or get another drummer – and if that’d happened I’d’ve quit the band.”
After an atypical hit called My Friend Stan, at the end of 1973 Slade released Merry Xmas Everybody. Whatever momentum the group had lost through Powell’s car crash and subsequent mental problems had been regained – in spades.
Holder: “We’d already done 500,000 of Merry Xmas Everybody before it was released. Then we got 300,000 reorders on the first day it came out. So we sold 800,000 copies in two days. We were probably the biggest thing in the UK at that time.”
In 2005 it’s easy to forget just how enormous Slade were in the 1970s. Classic Rock is sitting talking to Noddy Holder in the restaurant of the five-star Landmark Hotel, an imposing edifice on London’s Marylebone Road. Piped muzak wafts in the background but otherwise the atmosphere is hushed. We’re drinking mineral water and eating Caesar salad with tiger prawns. Crazee it isn’t.
Nevertheless, we’re here to celebrate the forthcoming release of The Very Best Of Slade on both CD and DVD. The CD contains all the hits and more, right up to the ‘classic’ band’s final single release, 1991’s Universe. The DVD features a wealth of video tasties, including promos and television appearances (not only from Top Of The Pops; there are also obscure clips from the Russell Harty Show and Supersonic). But the highlight is a six-song set from Granada TV in 1971 that catches Slade early in their career, showcasing the energy and sheer yobbish exuberance of their live performance.
Noddy is an amazing raconteur. For a man who’ll be 60 next year he’s still as bright as the panels on his famous top hat – those glittering mirrors that used create their own mini-lightshow back in the day. We talked for the best part of two hours but still only really skimmed the surface of Slade’s illustrious career. Here are the choicest moments from our chat with the singer whose surname really shouldn’t be Holder, it should be Hollerer:
You quit Slade in 1991. How did that come about?
That was when we had our last decent hit single, Radio Wall Of Sound. Most people don’t realise we had a 20-year span of hits, starting in 1971 with Get Down & Get With It. People always remember the singles from 70s, but we also had a whole string of hits in the 80s after we made our comebacks at the Reading Festival  and Donington . But by 1991 I felt given my all to the band. I thought: “I’ve got to do something for myself now”. Dave and Don are obviously still working together as Slade II, but 1991 was the last special time for the four of us together.
You’ve never been tempted to re-form the ‘classic’ line-up?
I think the others would have done. I’m the one that’s probably put the spanner in the works. We get offers every year, very good offers, especially at Christmas time, obviously.
Would anything ultimately tempt you?
I have no inclinations. Slade did everything it set out to do. I didn’t want to carry on touring, doing Cum On Feel The Noize night after night. Now I’m doing something different every day – a bit of acting, I’ve got my own radio shows, television work, voiceover work. I did 30 episodes of The Grimleys on TV. It’s good, I feel like I’m stretching myself again.
Years ago, you once roadied for Robert Plant’s pre-Led Zeppelin band, Band Of Joy. How did that happen?
The keyboard player in Band Of Joy used to live opposite my mum and dad’s house. And I knew Robert when we were kids growing up. When Robert got kicked out of home he went to stay with a mate of mine from school, Roger Beamer, who was in a band called Listen. Then when Robert formed Band Of Joy he went to live with the keyboard player across the road from me. My dad was a window cleaner – he had a big window cleaning van. So I used to borrow the van to roadie for Band Of Joy.
With your tousled hairstyle and Brummie accent, did you ever get mistaken for Plant?
Robert Plant stole my look [laughs]. We might’ve had the same dad, in fact. You never know, our dad might have got around a bit.
What’s the story behind Ambrose Slade, when the band had a skinhead image?
Chas [Chandler] wanted to set us apart. He said: ‘There’s no skinhead bands around, why don’t you try that sort of image?’ Because back then being a skinhead wasn’t political, it was purely fashion. So we had our hair cut short. And that infuriated Dave, who was dead set against it. We had skinhead haircuts and we got the braces, the Doc Martens, the Sta-Prest [smart Levi’s pants] and the Ben Sherman shirts. The look and everything.
But the skinhead style didn’t last long.
We got a lot of flak for being a skinhead band. Television and radio were very high- handed in those days. It wasn’t an image we could sustain and get mass acceptance with. So, gradually, we changed. But even when we had our first hit with Get Down & Get With It we were still a skinhead band. After all, it was the perfect stomping record for skinheads. But eventually we grew our hair down the back, a bit like the skinhead girls – the feather-cut thing. We replaced the Doc Martens with platform boots. We became more colourful. And then it went more and more berserk, obviously. Dave went into all his mad phases – Superyob, the spacesuits and all that. It was a great laugh.
When glam rock metamorphosed into glitter rock, it was basically a rip- off of the Slade sound.
Slade, Marc Bolan and Dave Bowie were the glam rock originals, I suppose. But as soon as Slade’s records started to take off – with that thudding beat, that wall of sound – all the producers and record companies saw how successful it was, and they began to do it with their own bands. Slade did pave the way for the archetypal glitter rock sound.
Can a band ever captivate the nation again like Slade did in the 70s?
Oh yeah, I think it’s been done since us. There’s some great music around now, but the thing that’s lacking is that bands don’t seem to have what I would call a showbiz image. It’s all very ‘street’. You don’t see anybody on Top Of the Pops smiling any more. Everybody wants to be cool. Too cool, I think. You’ve got to let rip and have fun. That’s why The Darkness are such a success – it’s tongue-in-cheek. And in a way they’re harping back to the colourful outrageousness of the past. That’s a big part of their success.
Like The Darkness have done with their new album, Slade once worked with Roy Thomas Baker as their record producer.
Roy did a couple of tracks on our last studio album, You Boyz Make Big Noize . The idea was to bring him in to update our sound somewhat. He did a perfectly fine job. Jim liked working with him, but I didn’t. Roy took three or four days to get the drum sound alone. It was like a jigsaw, the way Roy wanted to put our songs together. It wasn’t the way I saw Slade. Slade were spontaneous. None of our classic singles was made that way. That was one of the reasons why I didn’t want to carry on in the band.
Slade are best known for their bashalong anthems, but there was more to the Holder-Lea songwriting partnership than that.
People remember us for Merry Xmas Everybody, Cum On Feel The Noize, Mama Weer All Crazee Now... they’re all of an ilk. But what people often don’t remember are Everyday, Far, Far Away, How Does It Feel, My Friend Stan and all the other stuff we stuck in-between. It was a very mixed bag. We didn’t just churn out rock records all the time, we did all sorts of things. But the rock ones were the rowdy ones, and that’s what people remember the most.
Your 1975 movie, Slade In Flame, was unexpectedly dark.
We didn’t go in and make a knockabout comedy movie, which everybody thought we would. We came out with a solid, credible rock film about what went on behind the scenes in the rock business. There were some laughs in it, but a lot of people came out of the cinema shocked. If you ask Dave, he’ll probably say the biggest mistake of our career was ...Flame. He thinks we should’ve have done a comedy spoof. But I fought tooth and nail at the time not to do that. I said: “We’ve got to go for shock tactics”. Throughout our career it’s always been shock tactics, to be honest.
Slade toured America extensively, but – despite influencing the likes of Kiss and Kurt Cobain – you never quite cracked it over there. What are your best memories of playing in the States?
We toured with loads of bands: Humble Pie, ZZ Top, J Geils Band, Black Sabbath, Santana, you name it. The best shows were with ZZ Top – but this was before beards, when they were just a down-home Texas boogie band. Tres Hombres, Fandango, Rio Grande Mud, they were such great albums. It was a fantastic time to be on the road with ZZ Top. When we first went out to the US, Aerosmith were our opening act a lot of the time. But when Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic album broke big we ended up as their Special Guests.
Back home in the UK, Slade used to support Yes at London’s Marquee Club. That sounds like a bizarre pairing.
It was the very first incarnation of Yes, with Peter Banks on guitar. They had a residency at the Marquee and we used to open for them every month or so.
You must have had many encounters with fellow midlander Ozzy Osbourne over the years.
We used to knock around with him a lot. I remember one occasion in the 80s, when Sharon had started managing him. Ozzy was always completely out of his tree. He was in the office, slumped in a chair, saying: “I can’t fucking do this any more, fucking hell, fucking hell.” Sharon goes: “Oh, come on, boo-boo.” Ozzy says: “Don’t you fucking call me boo-boo in front of these people. I’m the prince of darkness!”
Ozzy used to go AA meetings with Don, our drummer, at lunchtimes. At half past two they’d say: “Oh, hang on, the fucking pubs are shutting in a minute [70s licensing hours].” We went into the pub one lunchtime, and there’s an Arab guy sitting next to us reading the newspaper. The newspaper is in Arabic. Ozzy leans over to him and says: “Here, mate, what’s my horoscope?”
Ozzy’s the funniest bloke in rock. Everyone thinks his brain’s gone, but no way.
Do you still have any of your old Slade stage clothes?
I’ve given them all away over the years. I’ve got no stage clobber left. It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve done anything on the road. I’ve given it away to charity auctions and things like that. Gradually, bit by bit, everything goes.
Where’s the mirrored hat?
Oh, I’ve still got the hat. It’s in a safe deposit box. I’ll never part with the hat. No way.
Looking at the Slade footage on the new DVD, does it seem like yesterday, or a lifetime ago?
Another life. Definitely, yeah.
This feature was first published in Classic Rock issue 87.
Looking at Last Nite - An interview with Noddy Holder.
(Rock 'n' Reel magazine, September/October 2007) By JOHN HAXBY
It’s strange to find myself sitting in the bar of the Manchester Malmaison waiting to meet the man whose voice I first heard 34 years ago on Top of the Pops. Outside the steadily falling northern rain keeps me company as I reflect on the 25-year career of Slade stretching from 1966 to 1991. Slade’s first chart run of seventeen consecutive hit singles (that included six number ones) began in May 1971 when Get Down and Get With It broke them into the Top 20 and ended in January 1976 with the appropriately titled Let’s Call It Quits. During this period they also had six hit albums (three of which went to number one), made the highly-acclaimed film (‘Flame’), continually toured Europe and the world and wrote one of the best loved Christmas pop records of all time. And then the fairytale ended… the hits dried up, America refused to be conquered and Punk exploded across the British music scene leaving Slade as yesterdays working-class heroes – it was all summed up by the title of their 1977 album Whatever Happened to Slade?
By 1980 the group were on the very verge of splitting when a chance offer came to play at the Reading Festival. Slade’s legendary performance gave birth to an amazing comeback that lasted until 1991 and a final chart single Radio Wall of Sound (No.21) – which became their 34th Top 100 single. And then Noddy Holder left the band along with his writing partner Jim Lea – since which time the original Slade have never reunited on stage or performed together. Dave Hill and Don Powell went on to form Slade 2 and still tour to this day playing the Lea and Holder penned hits to an ever-ageing audience.
Noddy arrives on time sporting a mustard jacket and long paisley scarf. We greet each other and settle into a corner with a pot of Earl Grey tea. At 61 he looks dapper, cheery, relaxed and healthy – a man who seems content and settled in his years – a far cry from the rock icon of yesteryear who strode the stage in tartan trousers, black mirrored top hat and red platform boots.
For the past twelve months he has been giving interviews to promote the reissue and remastering (by Tim Turan) of Slade’s entire back-catalogue (including B-sides and 12” versions) on CD by the Union Square label Salvo – who have done a wonderful job repackaging the albums with many rare photographs and extensive liner notes. Noddy begins by telling me that the release programme was timed to coincide with Slade’s 40th Anniversary (1966-2006), and that he has overseen each stage although the track selection was left largely up to Union Square – “If we’d done it we’d have all been squabbling over which ones to choose or whatever! So we left it to the people who know and they obviously researched what the fans wanted… We knew what we wanted on, I certainly wanted on stuff that had never been on CD before – B-sides… various other stuff off ‘Return To Base’. Fans had been squealing for years about having them… Everything pretty much that we’ve ever had out on vinyl has now been released on CD. Union Square have done a fantastic job.”
I take this opportunity to raise a question concerning the master tapes. Having detected that many of the tracks – particularly single A and B sides – were lifted from vinyl (this has been confirmed to me by Salvo), I had wrongly assumed that the original masters must have been lost. “We’ve still got the masters but we actually found that on some of our records, especially in the old days, the way we use to mix them – we use to test them through little transistor sized radios to see how they’d sound on radio… that’s the sort of sound we wanted… Oh yes, it was a deliberate policy to master off vinyl – we compared what we got off some of our master tapes with what we got off our vinyl where they’d been compressed. We wanted the sort of sound that we had in our old days.”
When the compilation album ‘Sladest’ was released in 1973 it pulled together all of Slade’s hit singles to date – it sold extremely well (No.1) because up until that point many of the 45s had not appeared on albums: Get Down & Get With It, Coz I Luv You, Look Wot You Dun, Take Me Bak ‘Ome, Cum On Feel The Noize and Squeeze Me Pleeze Me. Nod elaborates further: “We never had singles from albums… and if they were on albums the singles had already been out. That was a deliberate thing… We had the best of both worlds… we sold tons of singles, we sold tons of albums… Now, we didn’t want to short-change the fans on records or on touring – if you look at some of our old ticket prices we were really cheap to go and see! We purposely kept the costs down, we subsidised it out of our own money (and our own royalties) – we kept the cost down of the tickets to see us live and you got twelve or so brand new tracks on albums.”
Nod’s lyrics during this period were often misunderstood and are actually quite cutting and astutely observant of success and fame. “I’m not saying we didn’t change at all but we certainly kept our feet on the ground probably more than a lot of people because we were still based in the Midlands, we still had a lot of our old mates – but we saw a lot of our contempories totally changing. Fame changing them, money changing them – I’ve seen it happen all through my career. I didn’t wanna be them… People use to think the lyrics were flippant, but they’re not flippant – a lot of trouble was taken over the lyrics. It’s very hard to put across in three minutes a good solid message in a song, and things that probably sound flippant on the surface are not flippant at all if you actually listen properly. I never do interviews where I discuss the lyrics of songs, I think it’s up to the listener to judge and get out of them what ever they want.”
Throughout 1973 the Slade juggernaut seemed unstoppable – Cum On Feel The Noize and Skweeze Me Pleeze Me went straight to No.1 and My Friend Stan made No.2. On July 1st they headlined the Earls Court Exhibition Centre for a concert that was seen as a celebration of their success. The show was filmed for prosperity but Noddy tells me “We never filmed and recorded it for public consumption, we did it for our own keepsake.” and, although the film is in good condition, the soundtrack is very poor and not up to the standard required for a commercial release. They closed a memorable year holding down the No.1 slot for four weeks with their perennial Christmas hit Merry Xmas Everybody – little realising that it would be their last chart-topping single.
The ‘glam-rock’ tag pinned to Slade and their flambouyant stage attire may have initially helped their success, but in the intervening years it has gone a long way to detract from, and trivialise, their musical legacy. When Union Square proposed the re-launching of the back-catalogue it was clearly with the intention of establishing the credibility of the music – “I knew at some point the tide would turn in our favour. It started to happen a bit in the 90s when Vic & Bob did the mickey-take of us ‘Slade In Residence’, Oasis covered ‘Cum On Feel the Noize’; things like that were happening. We were getting songs in movies, some of our songs were used in adverts – the tide had started to turn and people started to look into the back-catalogue. Union Square said to us “You’ve not got the credibility you deserve from the music point of view.” Most people associated us with this wacky band they saw on Top of the Pops every week – ‘Merry Xmas’ topping all that off – but it is also ‘Merry Christmas’ that has kept us in the frame for thirty-odd years.”– reflects Nod. “Me and Jimmy are not the first two you think of as us up there with the big songwriters… but we’ve written more than forty-odd hits and over twenty-odd albums – it’s a big body of work.”
The release of ‘Old New Borrowed & Blue’ (1974) marked a distinct shift in the writing style of Lea and Holder – a deliberate move away from the foot-stomping rockers of the previous three years. The disc opens with the superb-cover Just A Little Bit which Mr Holder tells me he first heard in 1964 when The (Liverpool) Undertakers released it (The Undertakers name was later used for one of the bands in ‘Flame’) and finishes with the Stonesy Good Time Gals. Sandwiched in between are ten tracks that cover a pot-pourri of styles – the ballads Everyday and Miles Out to Sea; the honky-tonky Find Yourself a Rainbow; the pure-pop of When the Lights Are Out as well as the fearsome rockers We’re Really Gonna Raise the Roof, Do We Still Do It and Don’t Blame Me.
Nod insists it was important for the band not to get bored – “The fatal thing for a band is to tread water. We probably could have had more number ones than we did – we got robbed on a couple of occasions!” He recognised that the groups desire for new artistic and creative challenges would, to some degree, be at the expense of the 3-and-a-half-minute hit. “We knew we could not survive in terms of longevity just churning out Slade anthems – and as writers we didn’t want to just write Slade anthems, I didn’t as a singer. I knew I could sing all sorts of songs – ballads, country songs – I didn’t just wanna be a ‘shouter’ as I was called.”
Salvo label manager Chas Chandler (no relation to Slade’s long-time manager!) believes that the movie ‘Slade In Flame’ is the jewel in the legacy. It has now been released on DVD as a widescreen presentation – the new print is cleaner and brighter and the sound (although in mono) has been much improved. Shot and released in 1974 the film is now garnering praise and has been acclaimed as one of the best of its genre. In a way it was the film Slade shouldn’t have made but fortunately did! This gritty motion picture takes the varnish off the music industry and exposes its darker underbelly as it follows the fortunes of a fictional pop-group called Flame. Nod continues: “We could have done a slap-stick comedy, and pissed through that, and people would have loved it… We wanted to make a serious movie – none of us had ever acted but we knew the sort of movies we liked. What was the use of doing a movie we just fooled around in but we didn’t like?”
Flame’s style harks back to the British ‘kitchen-sink’ dramas of the late fifties and early sixties epitomised by (amongst others) A Kind of Loving, Saturday Night Sunday Morning and Room at the Top. It starred a young Tom Conti, the late Alan Lake and Johnny Shannon – quality British actors that gave the film real backbone and much needed support to Nod, Dave, Don and Jim. “It would have been no good us doing an arty-farty film because we are not arty-farty type people – it sat perfectly with our working-class background.” Unfortunately the hard-hitting storyline left critics and fans less enthusiastic and somewhat baffled as it was unexpected and didn’t sit well with the band’s goodtime ‘glam’ image. In many viewers eyes the identity of ‘Slade’ and ‘Flame’ became blurred and this seems to have had a knock-on effect as Slade’s popularity began to wane through 1975 and 76. I ask Nod if the response to the film had affected the group – “Dave and Jim certainly were deflated. Dave more so but Jim was as well (at the time) because it was a kick-in-the-teeth really because we knew it was good… Dave thought it was a mistake but he always said it; you gotta give Dave his due – he said it when we got the script, he said it when we were filming it and he said it when he saw it – so he didn’t change his mind! He thought it was too near the mark, too near the knuckle of exposing what goes on behind the rock industry – and he’s entitled to his opinion. The teen audience didn’t get it – we half expected that to happen but it was no good us catering for that audience. Making a movie was a totally different ball game to anything we’d done before – we could not make a credible movie and expect it to entertain that young market of ours.”
The accompanying soundtrack ‘Slade In Flame’ is arguably Slade’s finest 40 minutes. The record is tight and cohesive and filled with well-honed ballads and rockers from the exquisite How Does It Feel? (clocking in at just under six minutes), wistful Far Far Away, reflective So Far So Good to the hard-pumping rock of Standing On The Corner, Them Kinda Monkeys Can’t Swing and OK Yesterday Was Yesterday. The album’s a corker – buy it!!
Nod’s personal favourite the superb Far Far Away became the first hit single from the film but it galled him when it was held off the top slot by crooner Charles Aznavour’s She – (at the time the theme song for the ITV series ‘Seven Faces of Woman’). The follow-up How Does It Feel? stalled at number 15 – the first Slade 7” not to make the Top 10 since 1971 – which was extremely disappointing as it is without doubt one of Jim and Nod’s most ambitious and finest compositions. It was also a portent of things to come.
Having first visited the States at the end of 1972 Slade returned to tour in ’73 and ’74 with little success. In 1975 they began the real American offensive by relocating the band to New York – a base from which to work and tour the continent over the following two years. By neglecting the home market they risked losing popularity in the UK and this appeared to be happening when In For a Penny and Let’s Call It Quits both only managed No.11. The 1976 Nobody’s Fools album (which features Nod’s favourite Slade sleeve) was clearly aimed at the American market and it was the first Slade album since ‘Play It Loud’ (1970) not to get into the UK Top 10 (it made No.14). The third single off the album, the title track Nobody’s Fool was the last single to be released on Polydor before Slade moved to Chas Chandler’s newly formed Barn label. The single didn’t chart.
“We gave up two years from the rest of the world to try and crack America because it was the only market, up until that point, that hadn’t happened for us. We were getting stale we thought in Europe anyway… we’d done the movie… it was the only market left we hadn’t cracked. We proved ourselves around America live on many tours, many times… New York we could headline. LA, San Francisco we couldn’t headline – they didn’t get us… In the Midwest we were storming it… The acts that you mentioned earlier like Black Sabbath, Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, those ilk of acts were album acts in America and considered so – but they worked America over and over. Fleetwood Mac were there six years before they had a hit… now, we couldn’t afford to spend that amount of time there away from the rest of the world… It was crippling financially…” Without a big hit single stateside from Nobody’s Fools the album didn’t sell even though it was critically well-received. Noddy is more sanguine and likes to emphasise the achievements that Slade had in the States and lists many cities where they could sell-out 20,000 seater venues – Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas, Cleveland. “We had a mass following over there but not enough to become massive. Quo toured America and couldn’t even catch a cold!” It is worth noting that many of Slade’s peers also failed across the Pond – Bolan, The Sweet, Roxy Music and Thin Lizzy to mention just a few.
When Slade returned home in May 1977 to promote their new album Whatever Happened to Slade the musical landscape in the UK had changed considerably under the onslaught of Punk. Even though the band were tighter than ever and the album was a stunning return to form (often hailed as their best), audiences and sales were moving in ever decreasing circles. Through ’78 and ’79 the group were kept afloat on publishing royalties and sales from the back-catalogue along with touring in Europe where they were still successful. But by the end of 1979 Dave Hill had effectively left the band and Jim had started his own off-shoot with The Dummies. The decline would have been complete had it not been for an offer to play the 1980 Reading Festival as a replacement to Ozzy Osbourne. Dave didn’t want to play it and Noddy failed to talk him around – but Chas’ persuasive powers were too much and on the 31st August Slade took to the stage for what was expected to be the last time. Their storming performance that day has passed into rock-lore as they trounced the other acts and catapulted themselves back into the arms of the British public and back into the charts for a comeback that would last until the end of the decade.
When asked “If Reading had not happened, was there a game plan?” his answer is remarkably candid – “We would have finished. I would have carried on as a solo artist, made a solo album and got a little band and gone back on the road. I would have probably started accepting some of the work I was getting offered in TV and stuff like that, and I was also getting offered work from the West End stage. That’s what I would have had to have done.” I then seize the moment to ask Nod if he writes anymore – he frankly replies: “Occasionally when I get commissioned but not as a matter of course, no.”
Although Noddy finally left Slade in 1991 the seeds to that decision were sown back to 1984. “The point at which I knew I had to approach things in a different manner – I didn’t want to leave the band – we couldn’t just be doing album-tour-album-tour round and round and round and round was when we went out to America on the strength of ‘Run Runaway’. We’d done six warm up shows on our own, top-of-the-bill, small venues – 5,000 seaters – we’d sold them all out, we’d played great. Then we had to join the Ozzy Osbourne tour and, um, Jim got hepatitis after the first show in San Francisco. We came of stage, Jim collapsed – so we obviously had to come home. We stayed on for another couple of weeks because he was too ill to travel and we stayed in a Sunset Marquee in LA while I went out on the road doing promotions for radio… On the way back the record company had set-up a showcase in Cleveland which was absolutely disastrous… and basically when we got on the plane to come home after that I thought I’m not going back and doing this anymore. It’s not what I want to do anymore… I got home and my marriage was pretty much on the rocks because of the pressure – my Missus didn’t think I’d be going back out to America and spending months there again which would have happened, so she wanted to call it a day. All these things were spiralling all at the same time. My dad was very ill at the time as well – plus the fact that I didn’t want to go back to being the opening act again in America after all that time – I didn’t want to go back ten years and do the same thing all over again… It didn’t feel right. Nor did I want to go out on the same treadmill doing ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ for the next ten or twenty years.”
Once Slade had stopped touring the band continued to record albums up until 1987 – Rogues Gallery, Crackers and You Boyz Make Big Noize – “I think we made some great albums in the Eighties but it wasn’t what I was in a rock’n’roll band for. When we worked with Chas Chandler it was very much four blokes in a studio playing as a rock’n’roll band and bringing out records – very fast. When the CD revolution came everything took forever – it took three days to get a drum sound, everything was done separately, in layers – we didn’t really play together in the studio… I used to call it “recording by numbers”… I have no interest in sitting around in a studio for three days listening to Don getting a snare drum sound! The essence of Slade to me was ‘feel’. I had been in the band at that point for twenty-two years, same four blokes… we were beginning to get stale…”
Towards the end of the interview Noddy added: “It would have been no good the four of us staying together anymore, we weren’t getting on like we used to when we were a young gang – I’m glad I left and I’m glad I did it at the time I did it… if I had to be truthful I should probably have done it five years before, maybe even ten years before, because the offers I let go by I sometimes regret – I did have some very good offers for television stuff and that, which I let go by-the-by. I never really saw myself going past forty in rock’n’roll bands anyway… after twenty-five years I didn’t want to carry on working with the same four guys anymore. They got miffed when I said I was finishing but I’m sure, if they’re truthful to themselves, they too wouldn’t have wanted to play for the rest of their lives as the same four guys together… So Jim’s happy doing what he’s doing now and I’m sure Dave and Don are happy with what they’re doing.”
Unhappy with the drift of the band Noddy felt that it was time to investigate the offers of work being made to him from out with the Slade bubble. He finally cut the cord in 1991 after the single Universe failed to chart (though Nod liked it) – this was probably due to poor promotion and to the fact that it had already appeared on the 1991 Wall of Hits compilation some months earlier. “With the failure of ‘Universe’ I decided it was time to knock-it on the head.”
Sixteen years later Noddy appears to be a very relaxed and contented man. “If I had still been with Slade there’s no-way I would have done the stuff I’ve done since… which I think has been good for me and it’s been good for Slade. It was a great period of my life but twenty-five years is a long time… I would never have had the chance to do things like The Grimleys, I was in the live episode of Coronation Street (40th Anniversay) and I’ve done about ten advert campaigns in the last ten years… I get offered a lot of acting stuff – a lot of it is playing rock stars who top themselves and I don’t wanna go down that route! I do enjoy acting but I wouldn’t want to be a full-time actor – no way. I love doing radio ’cause I’ve always been a radio buff since I was a kid – radio is my first love really. And I keep in touch with the music scene through working in radio as well. I’ve probably got to the stage in my life where stuff gets offered to me all the time and I pick and choose which ones I wanna do and which ones I don’t wanna do… I get offered all these reality shows but there’s no way I’m gonna do any of them.” Nod tells me he’s been offered Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity, in fact he gets offered them every year! “Basically I’m still what I was when I was a seven year old kid – I’m an entertainer. I don’t want my work load to be heavy anymore, I’ve got a young lad now that I want to see growing-up which I missed with my first two kids. My life is very, very balanced now.”
As Noddy leaves I find myself shaking the hand of a man who rode the rock’n’roll rollercoaster for far longer than many but knew when to get off and choose a new direction – and I admire him for that. I do miss Slade though… and often hear the refrain of Cum On Feel The Noize echoing down through the decades reminding me of a time when rock was a wonderful cocktail of passion, energy… and, most importantly, fun.
2008 JIM LEA interview with Czech TV regarding Merry Xmas Everybody.
From the Wolverhampton Express and Star, November 2009. "Dressing up was part of the Slade entertainment"
For 70s rocker Dave Hill, weekends are for family time but back in the day it was playing at festivals and
Hollywood films. Here he reveals his favourite pastimes.
It’s Friday afternoon. What’s on your mind?
I’m often away performing at weekends, mostly in Scandinavian countries, so on a Friday I’m usually doing
a spot of last-minute packing before being driven to Heathrow Airport to catch a flight. Don Powell and I still
perform and there are two Slade albums coming out before Christmas.
Who normally has the pleasure of your company at the weekend?
My wife and our three children when they’re around. I became a granddad three months ago so we’re all
particularly taken with the new arrival.
How do you prepare for a big night out?
A shower and a shave.
What’s your favourite party outfit?
I’ve still got my silver-spray platform boots from the 70s but I couldn’t wear them now. I fell over in them
once and spent an entire tour in 1973 having to play sitting down with my foot in plaster. Not very rock ‘n’
roll. The dressing up was part of the entertainment. Before we were famous, I used to walk through Woolworths
in Wolverhampton in an outfit I’d put together and if it got a reaction, it made it onto stage. But these days I go for
You’ve just arrived at the bar. What’s your first drink?
Sparkling water first, wine later.
What’s your favourite nightspot and why?
When you perform in clubs for a living, you don’t really want to hang out in them. I sometimes catch a show at
the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton. I saw ZZ Top there recently and took my son.
What tune always gets you on the dance floor?
All Right Now by Free. Paul Rodger’s guitar work is brilliant.
It’s a sunny Saturday. What are you up to?
If I’m not working, my perfect weekend is staying in a hotel in the Cotswolds with my lovely wife. We have a
favourite place where we just hang out and relax.
What’s your most memorable weekend ever and why?
Blimey, I’ve had a lot of them. Professionally, it was probably the Reading Festival in 1980. We were in
decline as a band but Ozzy Osbourne had pulled out and we were persuaded to take his place. We went
on stage as the sun was setting on a beautiful afternoon and the crowd loved us. I remember them singing
along to Merry Christmas verybody – in August! It was the days before mobile phones and I couldn’t wait to
get back home to tell my wife. That weekend changed everything.
What’s the recipe for a perfect night in?
Watching an old film on the telly. Growing up on the Warstones estate in Penn, we used to close the curtains
on a Sunday afternoon and crowd round our little black and white telly to watch Hollywood’s finest. I still love
films from that era.
Favourite DVD? And what would you eat while watching it?
Brief Encounter – I’ve seen it loads of times and I still cry at the end when Celia Johnson goes back to her
husband and he says ‘Thank you for coming back to me’.” It’s so decent, so British.
Sunday lunch – home-cooked or down the pub?
Home-cooked. I’m partial to roast lamb and mint sauce followed by apple pie and custard, although it’s not
great for the waistline at my age.
Where and how do you like to relax?
Reading poetry. I’m a big fan of Wordsworth, I love the Lucy poems.
Noddy Holder interview (01.12.09) - TWStuff
Interview from Ultimate Guitar dot com - December 2009.
Guitarist Dave Hill: 'Some Say That Christmas Isn't Christmas Without Slade'
Around Christmas, wherever you walk in the United Kingdom, whether it be through shops, pubs, clubs, it's
extremely likely you'll hear the rocking tones of Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody". Even if you're at home, the
radio and the television will at some point air the track - it's extremely difficult to miss in fact. But beneath all that
lies something underrated and relatively unnoticed, and that's a group that has cut a slew of strong compositions,
amounting to a weighty back catalogue. In fact, groups to have cited Slade as an influence include no lesser
names than Kiss, Oasis, Cheap Trick, Quiet Riot, and James Blunt amongst many, many others.
On November 23rd, 2009, Universal Music issued the compilation "Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade Party Hits".
Grouping in 1966 as a new version of the N' Betweens, vocalist Noddy Holder, guitarist Dave Hill, bassist Jim Lea
and drummer Don Powell would revise their group name to Ambrose Slade, eventually shortening it to merely
Slade. Throughout their career, Slade have accumulated twenty-three top twenty UK singles, a number that
includes six number ones. In the early seventies, Slade were arguably the biggest group in the UK charts,
notching up no less than eleven top five singles between 1971 and 1974 alone. "Merry Xmas Everybody -
Slade Party Hits" includes many of the act's signature tunes, such as "Merry Xmas Everybody", "Coz I Luv You",
"Mama Weer All Crazee Now", "C'mon Feel The Noize", and "Skweeze Me Pleeze Me".
Of those six UK number one singles, one resurfaces during the festive period each and every year since
its original December 1973 issue: "Merry Xmas Everybody". Cut during 1973's late summer at New York's
Record Plant, the track's chorus was recorded in an outside corridor, providing an appropriate echo. Noddy
Holder had written a tune in 1967 entitled "Buy Me A Rocking Chair", something which he eventually discarded.
Recalling the tune, Jim Lea used the melody of the 1967 Holder number for the chorus of "Merry Xmas Everybody".
While in the shower, Lea composed a melody that would be used for the verses of the song. Notching up
roughly quarter of a million advance orders, Polydor Records were forced to use their French pressing plant
to accomodate demand for the single. Topping the United Kingdom's singles charts, "Merry Xmas Everybody"
remained there for five weeks, losing its number one spot midway into January 1974. Since its original issue,
the song has re-entered the UK singles charts on several occasions over the years (during the festive period of course).
On December 2nd at 12:00 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned reception at Truro, Cornwall's Royal Hotel,
and asked to be put through to the room of Slade lead guitarist Dave Hill. Hill discussed "Merry Xmas Everybody",
as well as Slade's early career.
Dave Hill: Hello?
UG: Hello. Is this Dave?
This is Robert, yes.
Hello Robert. How are you? Alright?
How are you Dave?
I'm alright mate, yeah. Rockin' (laughs).
(Laughs) You sound like you're in a cheerful mood today Dave.
Very cheerful. I did a really nice show last night in Truro, Truro in Cornwall. We played to what I would call a really
full house, which is quite amazing really, considering the economy. There was just so many people there, and on
a Tuesday as well. It was remarkable - there was such a great mood. Mind you, there's a lot of nice things going on
at the moment for us in Slade, so it's a really good time for us, especially being December as well.
Well everyone needs something to cheer them up, don't they?
I think everybody needs something this year anyway, especially with the economy. If I can do some good, then it'll be
great. Entertaining people is just a great thing really, 'cos when you're entertaining, you get it back. It's a good feeling.
Would it be ok if I began the interview Dave?
Could you tell me about Slade's beginnings in 1966 as The N' Betweens?
Yes. Don Powell and myself were in a group called The N' Betweens, which was pre-1966. It was 1964. We
were in a five-man group called The N' Betweens, and that group broke up in 1966. Don used to know Noddy
from another group, and he said we were looking for a singer, 'cos Don and I wanted to carry on and reform
The N' Betweens - three people had left. We knew about Nod, and he'd left a group. I met him at Beatties, which
is a department store in Wolverhampton. I bought him a cup of coffee, and offered him the job (laughs). That's the
truth. Jim Lea was at school, or just leaving school. We auditioned for a bassist, and he turned up amongst several
others. Once we spotted Jim though, and when he started to play, I'd never seen someone play bass like that ever.
He was like Jimi Hendrix on a bass guitar; he bent the notes, and just had tremendous power. It was just really
unusual, so we gave him the job. We then went around to visit him with Nod, and he was playing violin in his house. "So ya play violin do ya?". "Oh yeah, yeah". We're thinking "Oh yeah", 'cos we used to like Stéphane Grappelli, and
Django Reinhardt - we used to do a bit of jazz for a laugh, a bit of fun. We started to use the violin in the act, which
basically led to a hit record. We used to do "Lady, Be Good", and sort of jazzy stuff.
We rehearsed in a pub opposite Nod's house as The N' Betweens, and then in 1966 we announced that we
would be the new N' Betweens in a way. From '67, '68, we just went abroad to The Bahamas, which sounds
fantastic, but it was a situation where there was someone living in the Midlands in Willenhall, who went to live
there, and wanted an English group to go over and play in a pub. We got this offer, 'cos none of us had been
on a plane ever. I mean, nobody went abroad in them days - it was too expensive. We got this offer in 1967, '68
I think it was, and went to The Bahamas, and we spent nearly three months there. We were supposed to be there
for a month (laughs). We ended up playing in a pub called Tropicana, but what did for us Robert is that it helped
us learn "Born to Be Wild" oddly enough. We were playing every night, and playing long, like The Beatles used to
do in Hamburg; you'd go onstage, play, come off, go on again, play, come off, and go on again. You'd carry on
doing that into the night. We did that, and it made us really tight as a group. We learnt a lot of unusual material,
and we were just picking up a lot of ideas.
When we came back from The Bahamas, we were a much better group. We'd lived together in just a room with
a bathroom and a kitchen, and we had to live together in this one room, which made us close as individuals.
Two months living together, when you've only lived with your mum and dad, was quite wary (laughs). But having
said, it spawned a lot of fantastic tunes. When we came back, "Born to Be Wild" would be one of our show stoppers,
because we did our own version of "Born to Be Wild" - by Steppenwolf that is. From other things, we developed a lot
of Tamla and Motown, r&b and all that sort of material.
We came back, and we started playing. So really, from those early beginnings, we were to spend years and years
playing up and down England - pubs, clubs, mega ballrooms, works, dances, and all that kind of thing - until we got
spotted by a talent scout. This would be '69, '70, and he said "ya wanna get and record in London. You're pretty good".
We were playing in a youth centre. What was happening was, unlike the scene today, we were together a long time
before anything happened. It was a few years before we met Chas Chandler, and I always think that maybe timing's
everything in the sense that if you're ready, and you meet the right people, then there's a strong chance something's
gonna' work. We never did pop songs though - we always did unusual songs. We used to go to a place called The
Diskery in Birmingham, and we used to get these imported records. There was a guy there that knew a lot about
music, and we used to go into the booths in them days. You could play "45s in the booth, and if you liked them
you bought them. That's what records were like long before downloads (laughs) - you had a piece of plastic.
We used to learn some really fantastic songs. I mean, I don't know if you're aware, but we did recordings for the BBC;
we used to do all these unusual tracks, like Moby Grape ("Omaha"), and The Moody Blues ("Nights In White Satin"),
and all sorts of material. That was to lead to what we would do.
Chas Chandler came to this club. We were recording in Philips' Fontana studios, and Fontana's Jack Baverstock
said "I think you should get some London management". Chas Chandler was looking for somebody at that
particular time, because he'd finished with Hendrix, and was looking to manage somebody. He came down
to this club in New Bond Street, and as he came down the stairs, he thought there were some records playing.
He said "Oh, blinkin' hell. That's an unusual version of.." (imitates Newcastle accent) some song that we were
doing that he knew, and then when he came in the room, he couldn't believe it. He said "Blinkin' hell. It's a band",
sat down, and watched us, spotting the personalities and Nod's vocal power, the way we play, the way we were
doing it. It's really weird, because he was a really tall man, and a Geordie. He thought we were a breath of fresh
air, because there was a lot of indulgent music around at that time; boring, long guitar solos and all sorts of stuff
was going on, and there was nobody breaking through with a lot of good songs. Although we did have guitar solos,
they were always on the commercial side. He just said "I wanna manage ya". Something happens in life, and it
gobsmacks you, doesn't it? We thought "Flippin' hell. This is Chas Chandler, Jimi Hendrix's manager, and he's
been successful because he's been in The Animals". He took us on, and he probably spent a good two years
watching us, getting us to write tunes. That was important. "Write your own stuff" he said. "You've learnt a lot.
Now write it". He got us all to write, which we all did. We became skinheads - I don't know if you know about that, but...
Yeah, I know about that. I was going to ask what your thoughts were on Slade's skinhead phase.
I personally didn't like it. We all had long hair at the time, and we all looked pretty good (laughs). Basically, we all
lost our girlfriends actually (laughs). We all shaved our hair off, and lost our girlfriends 'cos we looked horrible.
But for me, I'm not that sort. I always liked fringes and boot-leg cuts. I was never into having my head shaved,
but we did. Having said that though, in hindsight, it sort of worked in the end, because it made us noticed. But
it took two years from when we grew our hair to become successful, because oddly enough, our hairstyles
seemed to form from the skinhead look, like the unusual fringe I had - always a short fringe - unusual sideboards.
Sometimes you do something in life, but it isn't that that will make it - it's something else that worked from it.
Chas would always encourage us, and record us. We had some weird releases with Polydor which didn't work,
but we had this song called "Get Down and Get With It", which we used to do live, a Little Richard tune. Chas said "That song goes down so well everywhere. Why don't we record it?", so we went into the studio, and recorded it.
I remember when we had our first airplay; we were driving around the West End, and it came on a review show
on Radio 1. We all stopped just with baited breath. Listening to yourself on the radio was very exciting in them days,
and then it charted due to popularity I think from the live shows. We then got the opportunity to use Jim's violin,
which I said about right at the beginning...
"Coz I Luv You", yeah.
"Coz I Luv You", and that was our first number one. I'm sure you know the rest, because it's really history
now. "Coz I Luv You", with the boot stamping that we did and the shouting, it was really a very, very different
record. It wasn't like "Get Down and Get With It", a rock record. It was... People tell me that they heard it in bars
and pubs, and that it stuck out a mile from anything else that was around, and that it was a good sounding record.
I remember playing it to my sister, because each of us took an acetate home and played them to our mums,
dads and friends. We got the same feeling from every one of 'em. They said "It makes me feel funny. It makes
the hair stand on the back of my neck" - you know the saying, don't ya? I said "Bloody hell, this is having a right
effect on people". When we got on Top of the Pops, with the look we had - the boots and all that business -
we were different from anything else that was around. Of course, it was like The Beatles and The Stones;
once they got on TV, they had the songs, but they had the look, and the look was so important.
Telly was so important, Top of the Pops, because there was nothing else around at the time. There was no MTV,
and there was no commercial radio. Radio 1 play would mean that the majority of the population would hear it,
unless they happened to be listening to Radio 2, which was a different market in those days - it used to be more
soft music. Radio 2 is a rock station now, which is rather good, but in those days, it was only Radio 1 that would
play rock stuff, or chart stuff, and that kind of thing.
With us, we were fortunate, where everybody and his mate were watching Top of the Pops. It was the only show
that would expose new material to people, and families used to gather around the television. When we first went
on Top of the Pops, it was black and white - there was no colour (laughs). I used to wear silver clothes, which
looked really good in black and white (laughs). Then colour TV came along, and of course, our clothes got
brighter (laughs). It's a bit like flat screen tellies, and all the rest of it; once they get the idea, they then develop,
like mobile phones. I had a mobile phone years and years ago, and hardly anybody had one. Everyone's got one
now. But in them days, black and white TV was the only thing that was on. This was still the sixties, and then when
colour came along, of course it opened itself up to a new market, especially if you were wearing bright clothes such
as myself. It was just brilliant for portraying glam, glitz and front.
You were known for wearing some really distinctive outfits. How did some of those outfits come about?
First of all, they came about by me experimenting with my own ideas. For example, I used to dabble around with
women's long coats, because you couldn't buy anything in them days that would... Men's clothes were shirt and
trousers, very much like you worked at the bank. I loved musicals, and I loved the stuff from my youth. Don't get
this wrong, but I went to a shop, and I saw this yellow blouse. From a distance though the blouse looked like a shirt,
but it had a big bow on it. I stuck it on, and I thought "Ooh". I had some black trousers, went onstage, and saw the
reaction on people's faces. Everyone was just smiling at me, like it was a bit funny. When I came off, one of our
friends came backstage, and he said "That's a great shirt you got on tonight". I said "It ain't a shirt - it's a woman's
blouse", and I thought "Ding". A bell rung in my head. "Mm.. I'm gonna look into this". Then I started looking for
some unusual clothes, and got this long, long coat which was black. I got a tin of one of those spray paints you
use on cars, and it was silver (laughs). I sprayed this coat, and made it silver. When I went on Top of the Pops,
people thought "Wow. What the bloody hell's that?". It was like a silver wizard, a bit unusual.
I then went to Kensington Market in London, which was the place where Freddie Mercury worked, and was
selling clothes. There were all sorts of creative people in Kensington Market. I went in, and I saw these
platforms. I'd been messing around with women's boots, because I couldn't get anything that was high.
I bought women's boots, and I used to break the heels. In Kensington Market, there was a bloke making
platforms in wood with a proper heel. I thought "This is interesting", so I said "Can you make me one of
them with more platforms?" (laughs). I've always been over the top; if it's one platform, it's got to be two
with me, or three. I mean, it ended up about half a foot I think (laughs). I started it off, and then I said "Make it in silver". I saw this bloke in Kensington Market, and said "Can you make me that long, black
leather coat in silver?". He did, and that was my next outfit. I don't know if you ever saw Reeves and Mortimer,
but they did a send-up of us lot called "Slade In Residence": Vic Reeves did Nod, and Bob Mortimer did me,
and then some of the other blokes in it did the rest of the members of the band. They portrayed exactly what
we wore; they used silver for me and big platform boots, and they used plaid, checks, big sideburns and a
massive hat for Nod, and they did a send-up. To me, that was a compliment because it was exactly how Reeves
and Mortimer would've grown up with us in terms of how they portrayed us, and how they copied us. That's the
biggest form of flattery in a way, a bit like a cartoon of Mick Jagger - you know who it is because of his lips and
everything, in the sense that he's an unusual looking person, and it was the same with us.
I had a big smile, short fringe, glitter and mod sideboards, and Nod with this powerful voice. You then have
Jim and Don, a powerful bassist, and a powerful drummer. Really, nobody could work out how we came together
in a sense, but like with everything else, it worked. It took I'd say about eight years though from 1966 to when we
made it. It was a lot of slog, and a lot of playing, and a lot of experience, before we cracked the charts. I think we
couldn't have made it earlier though, because we weren't ready, but I think when we made it, we then developed.
We started to do some huge festivals - we did one in Lincoln I think with The Who, and The Beach Boys, and a
load of big names. We went down a storm on it, and Stanley Baker, the actor from 'Zulu' (1964), was the presenter.
We basically stormed it. We were a band that was having some hit records, but we weren't in the calibre of The Who
and all that, but suddenly, we moved from the charts into being a credible live act. We got into Melody Maker, NME,
Record Mirror, and Sounds - front pages - and that really boosted our career.
We then went on to make the more raucous material such as "Cum On Feel the Noize", and "Mama Weer All Crazee
Now", and "Gudbuy T' Jane", and "Skweeze Me Pleeze Me", where Nod's voice really blossomed into being one of the
most powerful singers in the world really. A very unique voice, very powerful - nobody sung like him really. The good
singers from the Midlands were Robert Plant, who was a friend of ours - he has a great voice - and then there was Nod.
They both had styles, and they were both the top singers from the Midlands for that kind of rock material. I think it's the
endless touring that developed Nod's voice - he used to blow microphones at the BBC. He was an extremely powerful
singer, and if you ever did a gig with him, you'd know what I mean. He'd just blow your head off when he started singing,
but like anything else, it's a unique voice isn't it? Chas Chandler was our guiding force, and he helped us through all
the big parts. Polydor was a great record company. John Fruin, a big managing director of Polydor, a great MD, and
a great motivator for the company, and I think such a help to us.
Of course, we were breaking ground with unusual guitars. I presume you might want to ask me about my "Superyob".
I was playing Gibsons at the time on all the hit records. I went to London, and my dad was with me. He bought me this
double cutaway Gibson, and there was nothing like it, because it wasn't really a Gibson. The guitar was a Gibson neck
on a special body made by a man called Sam Lee, who was a Chinaman who worked just off Shaftesbury Avenue
when my dad bought this guitar for me. Chas Chandler said "Phwoar". We got my "Superyob" onto record, and it really
worked, and for years and years, I used it on all of Slade's hits. I mean, I call it my "Dad's Guitar". My dad's dead now,
and I just named it fondly after him because he bought it for me. I keep it as a treasure now, as opposed to using it live.
But with my "Superyob", I thought "Wow. This guitar thing's interesting", and then I thought "I'm wearing all these unusual
clothes and space gear, and all this kind of thing. It'd be great to have a guitar that went with it".
I got this couple in the Midlands, who were designing my clothes to... because once I stopped doing my own creations
. I mean, after I'd done an outfit called the "Metal Nun" - you may know about that or you may not. I went on Top of the
with what I thought was an Egyptian outfit, and somebody nicknamed me the "Metal Nun" (laughs). After that,
I got these two designers who really worked out what I was gonna wear. They designed this amazing looking guitar
to match my costumes, and it was gonna be a stage prop, but it ended up being a really good guitar. It was made
by John Birch, and there was a guy who worked at John Birch called John Diggins, and he was pretty well known as
a guitar maker. He's a very good guy, actually. He was involved in all that, and of course I went on telly with it, and it
was like "Wow". Funnily enough, you know when you don't know who's watching ya? Marco Pirroni from Adam and
the Ants.. I don't know if you know him at all, but he was watching Top of the Pops..
"Stand and Deliver"...
Yeah. He was watching me. I didn't know him, but I saw him make himself a success. A great band was Adam and
the Ants, who had a great look, and then I met Marc. Oddly enough, what happened was I sold the guitar to a shop in
Birmingham up in Broad Street, and it was in the window. The shop used to use my guitar as their calling card, and
Adam and the Ants were playing in town. Marc Pirroni was just looking at some guitars, 'cos he collected 'em. It was
in the window, and he went "Blinkin' hell". I think the story goes that he said "What do you want for that guitar? I want it"
(laughs). He bought it, and it's actually in the Great British Music Experience at the 02 Arena now, that guitar. It's got
some clothing of mine, and it's in a special room dedicated to all the British music over the last fifty years, with bits
of clothing from Bowie, and Sweet and all those folks. I don't know if you've ever been there. We're playing in the 02
anyway this year. We're going to do the Indigo Rooms, a theatre in there, and I'm looking forward to having a look at it
When you're doing something, you don't realize the effect it has on people. People say to me "You still enjoy playing?",
and I reply "Yeah". I'm sixty-three, and I think when I was twenty-odd or whatever, I probably thought we would've lasted
about five years. I never thought I would've been having this conversation with you today, if you know what I mean. We're
still drawing in massive crowds, and working all over Europe. There's such a demand for it at the moment, and we got
this Christmas album that just came out - you probably know about that anyway - with Polydor / Universal, and they got
some good people on it. Hopefully, that will chart. I mean, I could just see by last night. It just felt good. Alice Cooper
was on the telly the other morning, and he was just talking about guitarists. He was dead right; he just said "If you
want to learn about good songs and riffs, the only ones that were ever really written were written back in the sixties
People who are buying guitars now are actually trying to learn "Smoke On the Water" (Deep Purple), and ZZ Top,
and Deep Purple, and Sabbath, and Slade, and all those kinds of bands - because they can play it on the guitar.
It's not keyboard intended, though I love keyboards. It's very earthy, isn't it? Very hands on is guitar, and it's very
personal. A guitar feels good when you got it on your body. McCartney always used to say that when he wrote
songs, he always felt more comfortable with the acoustic on him with Lennon, because it was earthy. If you go
into a house, and it's got real wood doors, they're the kind of doors that are there forever. They're of a really good
quality - they're not plastic doors. They got a very earthy quality about them, which is what I really like about what
we do, and the guitars, and writing.
I think the guitar and then the piano are the best instruments in the world to write melodies on. If you think of Jerome
Kern, and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and all those people, and all those wonderful songs that Fred Astaire and al
l those people sang, Judy Garland and all that - they were all written around pianos. It's like Shirley Bassey's new
album ('The Performance', November 2009) - I can't sing its praises enough. Actually, I think the album is lovely,
and is actually a wonderful achievement. She's a great artist. Seventy-two I think, and...
Abso-.. I mean, Manic Street Preachers wrote a song for the album. It's brilliant. "The Girl From Tiger Bay".
Absolutely mega - I wish I'd written it. I like the Manic Street Preachers. Pet Shop Boys and all them wrote
songs for her, and age doesn't really get in the way, does it? It seems like if an artist has true abilities, they
seem to last.
It's like a fine wine.
Yeah. My guitar playing seems to have developed. I can still kick it, and I can still hit the notes. I'm not a twee
player - I'm big on melodies. I grew up with Hank Marvin, and I probably try to ape Hank Marvin in a way. I love
Hank's abilities to play a melody.
He's brilliant, isn't he? From The Shadows.
Oh, an absolute genius that guy. He introduced me to being a lead guitarist, and I'm sure it was the same for
Gary Moore, Eric Clapton and all them. They would have learnt Hank Marvin's solos, because The Shadows'
instrumentals were awesome. I mean, "Wonderful Land" and all them songs. It just sent shivers up me when
I first learnt to play, when I used to be a kid with a guitar and a little amp in my dad's front room. Listening to the
radiogram, and you had to bloody keep picking the stylus up because as you were going through, you hadn't got
the digital repeat function. You had to pick it up, and used to end up scratching the record. "Phwoot". "Oh, bloody 'ell.
That's the solo coming up. I've just scratched it" (laughs). But I tell you, it was awesome listening. You see, in those
days music was learnt by ears - it wasn't learnt academically. There's nothing wrong with learning to read, but it had
much to do with feeling I think, with emotions. You had maybe a natural ability towards wanting to be in a band,
wanting to play guitar. It had to come from inside, and it did with me.
My granddad was a classical pianist. I never met him, but his name was David, and I understand he was really good.
I wish I had met him, but I think through my mom, music came into me and it came into me via the guitar, which was
the preferred instrument of the day. I play bits of classical guitar as well, and I like the really odd jazzy bits, and I play
bits of piano, so I can be multi-functional. Things were more individual in the sixties and seventies, and we hadn't got
everybody cloning the same thing. There's nothing wrong with learning ideas, but I think the way we had to learn was
from the greats really. We listened to their records, and we interpreted them in our own way.
To be honest, in Britain I think there's a lot of really good talent, but it's got to be found and nurtured, and there's
got to be a shift in the music scene. I feel our music is everlasting, and helpful to young bands, who tell me frequently,
from Oasis to James Blunt, and all sorts of people I've met. I mean, James Blunt did "Coz I Luv You" onstage when
I watched him, and he was at the peak of his career. He was doing one of our songs at the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton,
and I was in the audience. I thought "Oh, bloody hell". You wouldn't imagine him doing that, would ya? I just didn't realize
that he would've listened to us, but he did, and I think because we're very British. As I say, the scene at the moment has
loads of good stuff out there, but it's not being heard at the moment. To keep music alive, we need to look for those
people out there who will make a difference. I don't know if you agree with that, but...
Yeah. The problem is that there's a lot of focus on these imports from America, if I'm being honest.
Yeah. Obviously, television's a bit strange these days, but I feel that if I get opportunities to find bands, I will. I mean,
I like a lot of music that's come out. I like Coldplay, because in my inward self, I can understand why they're popular
- I can just tell by listening to some of their songs. It just attracts me. There's something in it, and it's very good. I like
the guys in Coldplay; they seem like a really nice bunch of chaps, and they work together as a unit. It's really good.
I watched them making an album - I think they were doing something with (Brian) Eno (who produced June 2008's
'Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends'). Anyway, I listened to them, and watched them talking.
Take That have got elements of being a good bunch of blokes. I didn't see their concert at the 02, but I bought the DVD,
and I was very impressed. I mean, they're very talented, and Gary Barlow's a great writer. He wrote a song for Shirley
Bassey, actually. So.. he is certainly in my book anyway - he's probably up there with McCartney and all them in his
writing abilities. There is really good material there. Oasis I thought was a good concept. Noel Gallagher and.. really
good. Noel has particularly mentioned us. Funnily enough, he picks on a song which we're thinking of doing live
actually - a song called "How Does It Feel?", which was from a film called 'Slade In Flame' (1975). It was nice of
him to pick on it, 'cos it's got some of Nod's best lyrics. When you listen to it now, it sounds like it's now all the time,
like with what's going on in the world. It's funny how some songs never sound dated, and just sound like you
could've written them now.
Over the years between us we've probably written... certainly Nod and Jim being the prolific writers. We all wrote
at first, but Nod and Jim came up with some great material which I'm very pleased that was in my life. I'm very fond
of them, and our chemistry together is a unique experience, almost like being in a marriage (laughs). A band is like
a marriage, and you've got to go through the hard times together. We went through a lot of difficult times, but came back
again with more success through perseverance really, and sticking together. The great thing is if you're a great live
act, you've always got a chance.
I agree Dave, yeah. What are your thoughts on "Merry Xmas Everybody", and the whole phenomenon behind
We recorded that in New York. I don't know if you know the story, but Jim's grandmother said "Nobody writes
Christmas songs anymore", because it was all "Jingle Bells" and Bing Crosby. Nod wrote a song about riding
a rocking chair (entitled "Buy Me A Rocking Chair"), and he wrote it in our early days before our success. Jim
thought about what his grandmother said, and he was in the shower. He came up with a verse, and remembered
that Nod had this melody - they put the two pieces together. Nod said "Well, let's make this a Christmas song",
and he went off and had a few bevvies down at his dad's house, something like that. When he was merry, he was
thinking of what everybody was doing. Now this was 1973, and Britain was in the midst of a lot of strikes in 1973.
It was a very difficult time for the public; there were a lot of power cuts, and all sorts of things going on.
We recorded the song in New York in the summer, and we looked like a bunch of nutcases singing "Merry
Christmas" in the corridors of Record Plant Studios, where John Lennon used to record. It was an office block,
and the Americans used to come in in the morning. We were there singing "Merry Christmas", and they thought
we were a bunch of loony British. "Oh my God. What's this noise?" (imitates New York accent). They couldn't
believe it. They'd gone to work with their suits on, and we were recording "Merry Xmas Everybody". We couldn't
have conceived at that time, in the summer, that this would be such a huge phenomenon. Looking at it now in
a somewhat more wise way after the event, I think when it came out in December 1973, "Merry Xmas Everybody"
had a certain sound about it. It wasn't a jingle bells record. The song didn't have sleigh bells and all that kind of
thing on it, but just talked about working people getting together, and granny twisting, and rocking 'n' rolling, and
just what people were doing at Christmas. It captured that.
When it came out, Chas Chandler rung me up and said "Are you sitting down man?". I said "What do you mean?".
He said "You've just shipped a quarter of a million records". In just one day, though - one day - quarter of a million
records went out. It was in such demand that Polydor I believe ran out of records, and they had to import from
France. They had to import records to keep up the demand. It was just breathtaking what was going on. Although
we had had a lot of number ones, this was awesome this thing. This was a being taking on its own meaning,
and it was brilliant. The thing about Christmas is you're everybody's best mate when that comes out (laughs).
I walk around the shops, and even in Truro where I was knocking around today, everybody was on about it. It's
great to be talked about than not.
To be honest with you, we've had a lot of great songs that we've recorded to me. Not all of them have been hits,
but we've always written good material. We've had a lot of hit number ones, and good songs like "Far, Far Away"
which was very popular abroad - they weren't number one, but they were very popular. The Christmas one is on
its own. It's a joy. If you saw the faces of the people last night that we played to, I think that speaks volumes. You
play the Christmas song at the end, and no act can top it - it's just awesome. I said last night that we got this
Christmas album out. It's great, because the audience will all go out and buy it because it's Christmas. Some
say that Christmas isn't Christmas without Slade.
Yeah, definitely. Thanks for the interview Dave - it's much appreciated.
Thank you very much Robert.
SLADE star Dave Hill spoke about a new campaign for Noddy Holder to rejoin the group and said: ‘‘If he wants
to come and sing with us, we’d be very happy.’’
The lead guitarist was responding to a growing Facebook group which is trying to persuade the charismatic
frontman to get back together with his the chart-topping Black Country band. Devoted fan Mark Taylor has attracted more than 1,000 members to his internet campaign – entitled We Want
Noddy To Rejoin Slade – in just one month.
Dave, 63, initially played down the campaign by stating he believed he and the fun-loving group, minus Noddy
and fellow songwriter Jim Lea, would continue with their current singer, Malcolm McNulty. But the flamboyant guitarist, who lives in Lower Penn, Wolverhampton, said: “Nod’s not been with us for a long
time, but if ever he wants to come along and sing a song with us, we’d be very happy.‘I know there has been some sort of campaign but I don’t know much more about it – I don’t use Facebook.
‘‘But Nod’s got his own career now and as far as we are concerned, Don Powell [the band’s drummer] and I
have carried on with the band as normal. Nod and I are just friends.” Mark’s Facebook page reads: “Slade are
one of the greatest live bands to ever come out of the UK. Singer Noddy Holder has retired from the live circuit
for a few years now, as has Jim Lea, who we need equally as much.
‘‘Please join this group if you want to see Slade perform with Noddy at the vocals once again. Spread the word
and make it happen.”
Noddy, 63, left the group in 1992, having co-written number one singles such as Merry Xmas Everybody, Cum
On Feel The Noize and Mama Weer All Crazee Now. He went on to enjoy a successful TV career, Dave said the original group could reconvene to open the new Slade Rooms at Wolverhampton Civic Hall.
Fireworks Magazine Online 39 - The Dave Hill Interview Added by James Gaden | 19 February 2010
CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE - THE DAVE HILL INTERVIEW
Slade are a totally unique band and though their golden years are long behind them they are still famous for
having created some of the catchiest rock songs of the ‘70s, including ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’, ‘Mama Weer
All Crazee Now’, and of course the universally played festive hit ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’. Yet true Slade fans
know there are better composed and written songs in their back catalogue than a handful of hits. Though they
are remembered as a singles band they released some outstanding albums, including, 1972s ‘Slayed?’
and 1974s ‘Slade In Flame.’ The original line-up with Noddy Holder and Jim Lea called it a day in the early ‘90s but Dave Hill and Don Powell have kept the name alive (under the moniker Slade II) with singer Steve
Whalley and since 2005, Mal McNulty. So, Slade in 2010 is singer Mal McNulty, guitarist Dave Hill, drummer
Don Powell and bassist John Berry. Over the past few years Union Square/Salvo Records have done an
excellent job at re-releasing Slade’s back catalogue with bonus tracks and detailed sleeve notes.
The recent addition is a new collection called ‘Live At The BBC’.
Neil Daniels spoke to Dave Hill about the band’s lengthy career and their enduring appeal.
The BBC sessions on ‘Live At The BBC’ were recorded during 1969-1972. To put the CD in context,
what happened to the band during that period?
Well, we’d been together since 1966. Don and I were in a band called the N’Betweens which later became
Slade. But it was the new N’Betweens which is when Noddy Holder and Jim Lea joined. Now, between 1966
through years and years of work to maybe 1968-69, Chas Chandler would have come in to the picture. I think
that would be our introduction to the BBC. He would have got us some slots there... So Chas would have seen
us and got us to write songs (’68-69). That’s what changed us. We took our knowledge and as Chas said: “
You leant all these tunes. Why don’t you write? It’s all in your head.” So we all wrote at one point.
We used to write with each other and then Nod and Jim came together and it sort of worked from a melodic hit
point of view. Our first hit was ‘Get Down And Get With It’ which wasn’t written by us – it was a Little Richard tune
that we picked up on. We put our flavour on it and that started the hits in the early seventies and then it led to ‘Cuz I Love You’, our first Number 1. What would have happened at the BBC then was we were getting bits of
airplay – because we used to do those shows called “needle time” which means you didn’t have to have a hit
record but you were kind of [popular]. You had a slot. The only problem with our stuff was that some of the shows
we weren’t suitable for like Jimmy Young and his house wives on a Sunday afternoon. We were not his cup of tea.
He wouldn’t play one of our songs; that’s a good thing of course. The fact that we were different from anything else
that was around. We’d got this style. Noel Edmonds and Tony Blackburn were the DJs at that time and I think we
had a bit of flak but it was good in a kind of perspective that we were this noisy bunch from up North.
When we did get hits, which wasn’t over night – Chas Chandler was with us for a least a couple of years before that – he got us involved with the right people, the press, because he saw us live and liked us so much. We were like
a breath of fresh air to the business. I think at that time there was a lot of progressive music about. A lot of people
weren’t writing rock hits anymore. In a way, it was all that that helped us move in to this situation. We didn’t know
what form it was gonna be – it just took place.
So it took years to learn your craft and acquire some kind of powerful stage presence?
Oh yeah, it was not over night with us. Don and I had been together since 1964. I used to work… I was an office
boy – it was crap as well! I was playing guitar in a band at night. I used to hide me stage clothes from the office
people! I didn’t want ‘em to know I was in a group because it was considered being, you know, “them lot in bands…”
In 1964 I met Don and I was in the N’Betweens and we were off doing shows at night, and I grew me hair and
more or less got the sack! “Get your hair cut or leave!” (Laughs.) But it was a great time: Beatles, Stones, Who
and all that was going on... It was a fantastic time in music, actually.
There was a lot happening in Birmingham back then, wasn’t there?
Yeah, there was. Roy Wood, there was Wizard, ELO, Jeff Lynne was in the Idle Race, we knew him well. We
used to do the same pubs. Robert Plant was in Band of Joy and then he went on to Zeppelin in the end. The
two big things from the Midlands was Noddy Holder and Robert Plant. They both had rock voices. They were
doing unusual material.
It was a hard slog before the hits came along, so did you have periods of doubt and frustration?
There were no periods. I think there was times were [we] got frustrated. In those days it was trying to get the
right connections and playing at [the right] places. In the sixties there were all these soul clubs and when the
Beatles’ success changed there was a lot of soul and tamla motown and we were doing all that. Then we were
trying to get better gigs or get seen in London. But you had to make connections and Midlands' agents hadn’t
got any claims in London or up in some of the Northern scene but bit by bit we did get there. We got there by
being, I think in a way, different. We weren’t playing hit records apart from tamla motown, Four Tops… We did
some extraordinary stuff. There was some great music around, great melodies from America. Chuck Berry
and all that. We learnt all that. I think the thing with us is that we weren’t manufactured. We were a genuine
group that worked hard.
I was in groups before I met Don. I was in a [band] in the old council estate, up the youth centre and playin’
the guitar and drinking pop. I started off when I was fourteen and I had an ability, or I felt I had an attraction,
towards melody. I became a lead guitarist because I loved Hank Marvin. That was my love at that time.
How did you get into wearing those flamboyant clothes and hats? Was it just about being different from
other bands at the time?
The thing is with me, I always used to love old musicals. I was brought up on classic thirties and forties
musicals. I was born in the forties so I heard a lot of that stuff. We used to always watch musicals when
we were kids. I always noticed that people either had got some look or some certain clothing people
remembered ‘em for: Charlie Chaplin with his cane and hat. I think a lot of us at that time – Eric Clapton
and all them – would have all been watching similar things. But we’re all coming from different areas.
I am an entertainer as well as a guitarist. I was never that confident at school. I mean, there were kids
who had the right hairstyles and there were kids who had the right girlfriends but I never went to those
parties and I wasn’t popular. Someone might look like Cliff Richard or Elvis or someone like that. But
for me, I didn’t find my feet until I grew me hair. I grew my hair and got out of my day job because my parents
let me turn professional because they knew I could play. My granddad was a musician. My dad believed in
me and my mum believed in me. I thought I’d give it a go.
The Beatles had the suits and fringes and I was looking for something. It was really that post-hippie thing
and everybody was getting a little bit lovey-dovey and flowery. I was doing all that because I was dressing
up in kaftans and things when the Beatles went towards that with the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ era. It all started when
I bought a woman’s blouse, actually. It was bright yellow. I’d wear this for a laugh. Of course the band [said]: “You can’t possibly wear that!”. I was getting this reaction. I went onstage and all these people were smiling at me.
This bloke said: “Eh Dave, that’s a great shirt you wore tonight. Where’d you buy that?” I said: “It’s not a shirt.
It’s a woman’s blouse!” I couldn’t get any bright clothes. I took it a stage further and I went to London
and there was a guy there experimenting with shoes. Well, the Beatles had the Cuban heels and I wanted
something bright. I used to spray them – the black boots. This bloke was making a platform and I looked at
it and went: “What’s that about?” He said: “It’s like platform coloured shoes.” I said: “How about you put two
platforms on it?” And he did! The following week I shown him the others and he said: “What’s going on here?”
I’d glued another one on and I had three [platforms!] Suddenly it’d become a fashion. It wasn’t general because
you couldn’t buy them – I’d got this guy doing it.
Then I was experimenting with some long coats. Years and years ago Mott The Hoople used to wear these
long coats. I thought it was great. But there wasn’t any colour. There was a lot of black and white TV so I saw
this long coat in Kensington, it was black, and I said to the guy: “Can you make that in silver?” And he did! I wore
that with the platforms when eventually we got on Top Of The Pops. Of course, on the black and white telly’s silver
looks good. That was the start of my journey.
From that point onwards I just grabbed hold of it. Marc Bolan was popular with the glitter. Not the glitter as much
as I wore. He used to wear a tear on his cheek and I thought “That looks great, that.” I liked Marc…with his corkscrew
hair. I had me own hairstyle as you know.
But Slade were serious musicians too, right?
The music is paramountally important to Slade because we’re a serious band with musical tastes, abilities. Nod and I were always up the front there, Nod with his hat on, sideboards and his trousers and I was always the
one doin' some unusual [moves]. People used to tune in to see what I’d got on next. It’s only like booking Rod
Stewart or Jagger or Elton John. Elton John’s worn some really bizarre costumes. I’ve been to see him play and
in fact he’s been to see us as well. He was in too all that. Freddie Mercury’s another one. Freddie was a fantastic
singer and a great writer but he was also an extrovert.
You possibly might agree with me, we don’t really have the likes of us around anymore. It’s manufactured pop…
there are some talented people out there but it’s the ones that make a difference. You look at the sixties and
seventies, you always knew that was Rod Stewart or that was Elton John. Everybody’s got their kind of bag.
That’s what we had. We had a fantastic manager, Chas Chandler. He knew a good tune. He’d already managed
Hendrix and he certainly knew what guitar was all about. He believed in us.
How did people take to Slade, initially?
A lot of people didn’t like us. Chas used to be going round trying to get people to write about us and some
people just didn’t like us. People in their late forties/early fifties have followed us and their kids are following us.
I feel at the moment the music has reached a point were there needs a shift in consciousness in the music
scene in order for us to survive. You’ve got to find the talent to move forward. People are just not getting seen.
We only got found by purely hard work. We didn’t have MTV and we didn’t have a fast ticket to fame. You bought
your ticket in to it but you bought it for a lifetime. We didn’t buy it for five minutes of fame. In actual fact, if we hadn’t
have been ready we wouldn’t have lasted. You get your first hit but you need another. You know what it’s like these
days: two years down the line, you forgot what happened. I feel very fortunate that I grew up at a time when England
was getting on its feet after the war and music was written with acoustic guitars and pianos. We didn’t have great
technology but we had the soul of it. If you think about the greatest songs there’s ever been they’ve always been
through struggle for survival. With Slade, I think we offered the public a change and some fun back in the music
business. We offered a kind of personality.
Reeves And Mortimer did this series once were they used to copy us in a rock comedy routine. It was quite
flattering in a funny sort of way. You can only copy people if you can remember them! Our country in the sixties,
it was a fantastic time to grow up. We sort of ruled the planet one point. The Beatles are still the biggest band
in the world…four Liverpudlians. You’ve got Black Sabbath, Zeppelin… A lot of talent came out of the midlands
. I’m still enjoying it!
When you look back what are your thoughts on Slade “skinhead look”?
Well, I suppose on reflection I didn’t particularly enjoy it. We all got our hair cut and all the rest of it. It had its good side.
In a way we sort of grew our hair back after that. I think it got us noticed but it didn’t get us a hit. I think two years later we
grew our hair. We grew it from the skinhead look and it became our hairstyle after that. I suppose in a way it helped as
well. Sometimes you’re trying to be different and I think there’s nothing wrong in it but funnily enough the boots we worn
then turned into platforms. We weren’t a band to wear jeans. Having said that Nod wore braces and a working man’s cap
and that came from it [skinhead look] in a way. We all sort of developed something out of it.
On the whole the Americans didn’t take too well to Slade, did they?
When we first went there it wasn’t easy for us because we were very popular having Number 1’s in England. Polydor,
the record company over there, were prompting us as fairly new. We went over and we didn’t have the Ed Sullivan show
like the Beatles did. We had to go over and play. It’s not easy when you’re coming from such huge success. Oddly enough,
some of the audience were future bands. KISS with Gene Simmons – I know he’s a fan of ours, he’s a nice guy – tells a
story about seeing us in New York. We played in New York and we had platforms on and they [KISS] were watching us,
kind of getting the ideas in a way. They liked our sound. They’ve got a song called ‘Crazy Crazy Nights’; it’s very similar to ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now.’ Gene Simmons said: “We listened to you and watched you…” And they did!
I think in a way we were a bit soon to go there because I think there were still underground bands going on and it was still
Woodstock and all that. We came across probably quite bizarre at first. We were very English and we had the look and sound.
We seemed to have pockets of success in America; in St. Louis or a little bit in New York. The thing with America is they have
a lot of different stations. Yet to get airplay it wasn’t like Radio 1 were you play a record and everybody heard it, you had to go
from area to area. I think in some ways we approached it a bit too soon and we should have left it a while. We didn’t know.
We had a good go at it. We left a mark there.
In 1984 we had a hit with ‘Run Runaway’ and ‘My Oh My.’ We went over with Sharon Osbourne and we did a few dates with
Ozzy and a few dates on our own. We met up with the guys who were writing about us years and years before. It was quite nice.
We haven’t been back. I’d love to have another look at it again. There’s a lot of interest over there.
What have your recent shows been like?
Playing in Slade now, we’ve been to Russia and across Europe and I’ve met fans who had difficulty getting our music because
they’re not supposed to listen to it… We played a gig [in Russia] and its fifty degrees below and we’re doing this show and we’re
looking at all the Russians and they were all loving it and they knew the words as well. You get hugs off them. It’s fascinating.
You don’t realise how many people that you affect. They loved the image because it made ‘em laugh. That’s the thing with us.. It’s like the Christmas song: 1973 and there’s a lot of strikes in England and we had this Christmas song out which went big
time because it lifted the spirit of the nation. People have become very fond of it. Our band’s had a lot of Number 1’s but it seems
to me that people think of us in an uplifting way.
We played the Indigo Rooms at the O2 Arena just the end of last year. It was magnificent because I’ve haven’t done a London gig in
years. It’s a great room. I do shows abroad and sometimes I’m just playing to 500 people and sometimes to 15,000 people. It varies.
Somebody said something to me, which I thought was important: “What do you learn on guitars these days, if you buy a guitar and
want to learn something?” You’re likely to look to sixties and seventies music. It’s very true, isn’t it?
The breadth of Slade’s influence is very widespread, isn’t it?
It’s funny because Freddie [Mercury] used to work at Kensington market selling T-shirts. I used to go in there. I didn’t know him
then, actually. He told a story about how he saw me knocking about for clothes. Once again with Queen you know them by the
sound. Special. It’s like Shirley Bassey. Special. Comes from this country. Just made an album. Manic Street Preachers wrote
that song ‘The Girl From Tiger Bay.’ It’s a great album. You’re just pleased someone has made a mark. She’s like seventy-odd
and can still do it. It’s like Chuck Berry is still out there playing. It’s in your blood. When I’ve done some shows I go home and I’m
a family man, that’s important to me. It’s nice. I wouldn’t have known when I was twenty-odd… I wouldn’t be having this conversation
with you! I never thought we’d last. It’s like the Beatles said: “Give it five years and we’ll be over.”
The bands like Oasis, Bono/U2, I know that they’ve all listened to us – I can hear it. Even the eighties bands, Duran Duran, in
particular. I met the bass player long before they made it. I met him in a pub in Solihull. He said: “Oh, I’m in a band. Just trying to
make it.” I went to see James Blunt at the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton. The drummer invited me. He said: “We’ve got a surprise
for you.” He sang ‘Coz I love You’ onstage! How weird is that? You couldn’t possibly think that James Blunt would listen to Slade.
Yet he did a version of ‘Coz I Love You’ which was fantastic in Wolverhampton because we’re a Wolverhampton group. What I’m
saying is, you don’t realise how many people actually check you out!
That BBC album you’ve got there has had quite a few good reviews. People are going: “Oh, wow, there’s more than ‘Cum On Feel
The Noize’ to this group.”
Does it frustrate you that your singles overshadow the albums?
Well, some people might just know one song and turn up to hear that. It’s hard to compete with something as big as that.
Germany’s not so bad because they know the other songs like ‘Far Far Away’. They know ‘Gudbye T' Jane’. We stick a few
rock songs in there that I wrote. It’s part of the act and I get a joy out of that. I know what you mean. Sometimes success can
overshadow some of the other gems. Thankfully to Union Square / Salvo when they brought this album out, I think it’s done us
some real good. People didn’t know we did some Moody Blues. I just gave a copy to Mike Reid, the DJ from Radio 1. We had a
lot of musical ideas amongst us. Each of us in our band are totally different. We always had a strong purpose… music! We
always gelled and come together for the main purpose. We never let each other down. We were always there. I see it in Take
That. Watching them talking about their introduction – nice bunch of blokes. It’s hard to see how you can put people together
and be successful – it doesn’t happen that way. With us, it was just a process of meeting up along the way.
Finally, you must have been pleased with the recent Union Square/Salvo reissues?
They’re good guys. Chas Chandler – funny he’s got the name of my old manager – is a really good guy and he’s a genuine music fan.
IT COULD be said that Slade owe it all to Dave Hill’s parents. Had his mechanic father and office worker mother not encouraged him, the 64-year-old grandfather could still be working at Tarmac in Wolverhampton, closing in on retirement. But the couple, from the Potteries, realised the wisdom in not crushing the dreams of this fledgling guitarist, who had bought his first instrument for around £7.50 from the Kays Catalogue.
Just a few years later, Dave would be climbing to the top of the Mander Centre for a heavily symbolic photo shoot, next to an arrow sign pointing skywards, as he and fellow Black Country working-class heroes Noddy Holder, Jim Lea and Don Powell celebrated their first number one in late 1971.
The characteristically mis-spelt Coz I Luv You would kick-start an amazing run of six number ones and a further seven top ten records in a wildly exciting four years, then following a dip in fortunes which saw them play what Dave calls “the chicken-in-a-basket circuit”, a dramatic return to the top in the eighties after a fortuitous late call to deputise for Ozzy Osbourne at the 1980 Reading Festival. Their music was wild, raucous, concise and fun – with a glitter-festooned, platform-booted Dave the consummate, extrovert showman – but also boasted considerable craftsmanship which explains its enduring appeal.
Dave was born at Grade One-listed country pile Flete House near Kingsbridge in Devon, which was pressed into service as a maternity hospital during and after World War Two, his father Jack having taken a job as a mechanic down south. But he and his parents moved back up to the Midlands a year later, and Dave grew up on the Warstones council estate near Penn, Wolverhampton – barely half a mile from where the married father-of-three, currently recovering from a stroke, lives today.
“I learned to play guitar when I was 13 or 14,” the affable, effervescent star remembered during an interview in the newly-named Slade Rooms in the city centre just weeks ago. “I had found an instrument which I had fallen in love with. It was from the Kays Catalogue and came in a cardboard box. I played it upside down because I was left-handed. The Beatles hadn’t made it [with a left-handed Paul McCartney in their ranks] and so there were no left-handed guitars.
“Brian Close, a biology teacher who also taught guitar, got me to play right-handed.”
Dave said playing the wrong way round meant he developed an unusual and distinctive downward note-bending technique which he calls the “back wobble”, which would be heard later on several Slade hits. Music, he said, was in his blood, his grandfather David Bibby, whom Dave never met, having been a “very good classical pianist”.
Having formed a drummerless first group the Young Ones, named after Dave’s early heroes Cliff Richard and The Shadows, with classmates from Highfields Secondary Modern School, he was away, although the low-key achievement of performing at the local youth club barely hinted at what was to come. Later in his teens Dave, by now obsessed with Chuck Berry, had a fresh beginning when he was head-hunted by the manager of Bilston band the Vendors, which included similarly aged Don Powell, an immaculate musical time-keeper who had learned to play the drums as a boy scout.
The Vendors evolved into the N’Betweens after Dave met Noddy Holder, disenchanted singer with Steve Brett and the Mavericks, in the now long-defunct Milano Coffee Bar off Darlington Street in Wolverhampton. Don had already run into Noddy while performing at St Giles’s Youth Centre in Willenhall and was aware of his wallpaper-shredding vocal talents.
The group, with soon-to-depart vocalist Johnny Howells still in the ranks, also recruited precocious Codsall Comprehensive student Jim Lea on bass after an astounding try-out at the Lafayette club (now the Gala Casino) in Whitmore Street, in Wolverhampton town centre.
The new N’Betweens’ line-up had earned an estimable reputation by late 1968, having gigged regularly in town at the Lafayette, at the Woolpack restaurant, the Ship And Rainbow, and on Monday nights at the Civic Hall, as well as at Brum venues like the Tyburn House, building a solid fanbase as they churned out a perplexingly wide-ranging repertoire of covers, from Marvin Gaye to the Moody Blues, Frank Zappa to Ted Nugent. They had blistering power and real stage presence.
Dave said: “I’ve been in this for most of my life, although I had a job. But I left that job – my parents let me do it. People thought that a group wasn’t a proper job, but this was a decision I made with my parents. Dad said ‘we’ll give it a go’.
“I think I ended up in the Tarmac Monthly when I made it!”
Noddy Holder talking sausages on BBC Northampton Live - Sept 2011.
Noddy Holder on Loose Women, 03.11.11
NODDY HOLDER interviewed for Mail Online 4.8.2011 by Rob Mcgibbon
We ask a celebrity a set of devilishly probing questions – and only accept THE definitive answer. This week it’s Slade frontman Noddy Holder
The prized possession you value above all others…
My parents’ wooden Art Deco clock. It never lost a minute until it suddenly stopped in 1988 at the exact time my dad Jack died – 3.30pm.
The unqualified regret you wish you could amend... That I can’t get the four members of Slade to be mates again. I got us together three years ago but it was a disaster and all the old grievances came out, like money and things that were said years ago. We’re in our 60s now and it’s sad we can’t laugh about our amazing 25 years together.
The way you would spend your fantasy 24 hours, with no travel restrictions…
Breakfast at Zabar’s deli in New York, then shopping in Milan with my missus, Susan. We’d fly to Paris for lunch and visit the museums. Then to London for afternoon tea at Claridge’s before cocktails on my boat in Portugal, then New York again for a Broadway musical. After that, my old mates and I would eat a curry in Walsall in the West Midlands, where we grew up. Then we’d go on a bar crawl in New Orleans.
The temptation you wish you could resist…
I have never been one for resisting temptation – and it’s got me into a lot of trouble.
The book that holds an everlasting resonance…
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868), which I read at school when I was 12. It was the first detective novel.
The priority activity if you were the Invisible Man for a day…
I’d sneak into Jennifer Lopez’s dressing room and watch her getting ready for a gig. She’s talented and has a great booty!
The way fame and fortune has changed you, for better and worse…
My mates reckon I haven’t changed but, as an extrovert, Susan says I don’t consider that some people are shy.
The person who has influenced you most…
My dad. He was a window cleaner and an amateur club singer. When I was seven, in 1953, he dragged me on stage at our local working men’s club to sing I Believe by Frankie Laine. I loved my first taste of applause.
The figure from history for whom you’d most like to buy a pie and a pint…
Al Jolson. He was the ultimate performer and the king of Broadway.
The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child…
The only thing that gets you anywhere in life is hard graft.
The unlikely interest that engages your curiosity…
Reading about history. I was thinking of being a history teacher before I got into singing.
The treasured item you lost and wishyou could have again…
My Gibson SG stage guitar, which was stolen at a gig in the 70s. Years later, I got a letter from a singer who was big in the 80s, admitting he stole it. He was in rehab and part of his recovery was to seek forgiveness for past sins. I didn’t reply as the guitar was so special I couldn’t forgive him. It wouldn’t be fair to name him.
The film you can watch time and time again…
Cabaret with Liza Minnelli. I saw it in London in 1972 and loved it so much I went again the next night
The unending quest that drives you on…
I have a thirst for knowledge and new experiences.
The poem that touches your soul…
I’ve always been tickled by Spike Milligan’s: ‘The boy stood on the burning deck/ Whence all but he had fled/The twit!’
The misapprehension about yourself you wish you could erase…
That I’m always dressed in platform shoes and a top hat with mirrors, shouting, ‘Merry Christmas!’ If I’m not dressed like that, people are genuinely disappointed.
The event that altered the course of your life and character…
I toured sleazy clubs in Germany in a band called The Mavericks when I was 17 and learned all about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. I went out a boy and came back a man.
The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it…
I’d steal documents that expose corruption in our Government and the banks.
The song that means most to you…
The Girl Can’t Help It by Little Richard. I was ten when I saw him perform it and knew then I wanted to be a rock singer.
The happiest moment you will cherish forever…
Aside from seeing my three children born, it was getting the band’s first No.1 with Coz I Luv You in 1971. It gave us the hunger for more.
The saddest time that shook your world…
My dad dying hit me hard. He was 77 and had been ill for a while, but it took me a long time to get over it.
The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you…
I wish the band had been bigger in America. They weren’t ready for us, but it doesn’t actually haunt me – it’s just rock ’n’ roll.
The philosophy that underpins your life…
My dad used to say, ‘You can only eat one meal and wear one pair of shoes at a time. If you’ve got that, be grateful for it. Everything else is icing on the cake.’ He was right.
The order of service at your funeral…
I’d have Al Jolson’s Let Me Sing And I’m Happy and all my mates making speeches saying how wonderful I was. I’d leave a humongous tab behind the bar with loads of Guinness.
The way you want to be remembered…
As someone who put a smile on everybody’s face and a tune in their hearts.
Noddy features in Sky Arts At Birmingham Home Of Metal on Sky Arts 1 HD on 31 August.
Dec 2011 - Slade frontman Noddy Holder chats to Absolute Radio's Geoff Lloyd on the Hometime Show about his latest project, past antics with Ozzy Osbourne and much more!
Christmas hits: Are Slade, Boney M and the Pogues made for life?
Every December records sell, kerching kerching, but do the artists live happily ever after? Simon Hattenstone www.guardian.co.uk,
Friday 23 December 2011
In the late 60s and early 70s, novelty songs dominated the charts at Christmas (Rolf Harris's Two Little Boys, Benny Hill's Ernie). Then the true Christmas songs took over. Pop stars were often self-conscious about Christmas singles. They were considered cheesy, but the short-term rewards could be huge. What most artists didn't realise was that the gain would also be long-term – classics would become annual earners.
In 1973, Slade were the biggest band in the land. No record had gone straight in at No 1 since the Beatles' Get Back in 1969, then Slade did it three times in the one year, culminating in Merry Christmas Everybody.
"Is that the legendary Jim Lea?" I say when he picks up the phone.
"I don't feel much like a legend, I must admit," he says quietly. Lea has had a tough few years with family sickness. He was Slade's baby-faced bass guitarist, violinist and songwriter – Merry Christmas Everybody is his tune, and chorus. The rest of the words came from band leader Noddy Holder. Lea says he owes the song to his mother-in-law. "She said to me, 'Why don't you write a Christmas song, Jim?' I got a bit annoyed. I was young and full of testosterone, and, 'Don't tell me what to do, we're top of the tree.' Then one day I cooked it up in the shower. I took it to Nodd, said it's a Christmas song, got the, 'So here it is, merry Christmas' bit, and he went off and did probably the best lyrics he ever wrote, about the old grannies having a twist and a stout, and sitting with their stockings round their ankles, legs apart."
The band recorded it in summer in New York. "John Lennon was doing his Mind Games album, and the volume knob had got 'John' on it, so we had that taken off and a new knob with 'Slade' put on. It was very humid and to do our vocals we needed an echoey place, so we used the lobby of the record plant."
Lea added lots of instrumentation (Lennon had left the harmonium in the studio) and he says it initially sounded a mess. At which point he left it to producer Chas Chandler. "When I heard the mix, I was chuffed. There's not a kid singing or a sleigh bell or anything jingling or jangling, it's just a rock band playing a song. And it's brilliant. I really love it."
Merry Christmas was Slade's last No 1. Three years later they were obliterated by punk. Then in 1980 Ozzy Osbourne pulled out of Reading Festival and Slade were invited as last-minute jokey replacements. "We blew the whole thing to pieces. If you think we could barely get a gig at the time. It was our second encore and Nodd said, 'Is there anything you want to hear?' and the crowd just started singing Merry Christmas. We'd never played it live, and there was this ridiculous situation of 100,000 people singing a Christmas song in August. We just stood watching them. It was bizarre."
Why is it still so popular? Lea laughs. "It looks as if it's never going to go away. It could be here in 200 years' time. I think it's because of the way the melody lilts around and it's got a happy-sad feel. It sounds nostalgic." It's weird, he says, how he hears the song at strange times. "My brother is extremely ill and I was talking to a woman trying to work out what we were going to do about it, and there's this radio on, and Merry Christmas comes on. I'm talking about things of such gravity, and I couldn't keep my mind on what the woman was saying. I was thinking, 'This is probably the most important thing I've done in my life and Merry Christmas is stopping me from dealing with it.'"
Lea has not had to work since Slade. Is Merry Christmas their biggest earner? He says he's not done the sums, but it must be. "The Performing Right Society put out a statement saying Slade's Merry Christmas is the most heard song in the world because royalties come in from more countries than for any other song. The estimate is that it's been heard by 42% of the planet, more than 3 billion people, whether they wanted to hear it or not."
Shouldn't he be a billionaire? He laughs, and talks about the astronomical tax rate in the 70s. "I'm comfortable, that's the best way to put it."