So here it is

Dave Woodhall talks to Dave Hill of Slade about books, clothes and a song that just won’t go away.

There’s nothing that could possibly be said about Dave Hill and Slade that hasn’t been said before. Legends, icons and certainly much, much more than a song you’ll start hearing again any day now. Dave’s the last original member of the band and they’ll be touring next month. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without them.

“I went back on the road in 1991 and I got a manager who was married to Suzi Quatro, Len Tuckey and he was a guiding light. He was a bit like Chas Chandler, someone who comes into your life, he said I could get back on the road. I had to get several musicians who aren’t originals but that’s commonplace now.

“The beauty of the Christmas song is its longevity. You start thinking people would love it but it’s taken a life of its own. We made the song but the public made the success. In 1973, we all know that wasn’t a good year, not quite as bad as today but the country was certainly going through something. I would have thought they’d also bring the Christmas song out the following year and maybe the year after that but most people, you have a number one and they’re not talking about it a year later. And now we’re talking about it fifty years later because the kids of the people who bought it are playing it to their kids. It jumps the generations.

“We’d worked hard through the sixties in a young band until we found someone who would guide us and lead us to fame and that was Chas Chandler. We were fortunate to get him and nobody could have planned that because we were in the right place at the right time. We went to London to record a couple of songs and the studio boss asked us to make an album. We thought that was great, we’d got this old J2 Austin van and we started the next day, we kept going down and doing a bit until this bloke from the studio said we needed someone to help us. He introduced us to an agent who introduced us to Chas, who saw us at a club in Bond Street called Rasputin’s There was nobody there but he wanted to manage us so he bought us off the agent we were using in the Midlands who was happy to see us go off to bigger things.

“We never know how things lead to one another, some are good and some are rubbish. We went through a lot before we made it but we were young and it didn’t really matter. The M6 had only just been built and the further you went in Scotland, well. We went up there once and we played the town hall in Wick, which is about far as you could go. It took us all day to get there to play in a freezing cold hall with fifty people there. We couldn’t afford to stop the night so we had to leave right after, we got stuck on the Shapp right up on the Scottish border and we ended up burying ourselves in our clothes to keep warm. Fifty years on we’ve got better transport.”

And you’re playing bigger venues than you have for some time.

“We’ve been pretty good with the audiences, it wasn’t so good just after Covid but it’s moved on after that and we’re going back to some venues we’ve done before plus one or two others. Margate, Dreamland in Margate, everybody played there and the last time I was there we were skinheads. I was going out with this girl and she was shocked. Short hair doesn’t suit me because I’ve got large ears, I looked like Spock. I never saw her again.”

How’s Russell, your new singer, bedded in?

“Russell’s great. He’s a good singer, he’s a great keyboard player and a great character. And John our bass player has been with me for over twenty years. His voice has really developed. In fact, I’m going to use him on a solo album I’m working on.”

You’ve got some new material? Tell me more.

“I’ve got about fifty songs. I’ve got someone who helped me write my life story, he’s listened to my demos over the last three years and now we’re making strides to really do it now. We’ll get five or six really good track and we’ll get a few people in who may be interested. I’m not making a second Slade album but the main point of the album is my storytelling. I’ve got to do it, my strong point is my guitar playing and I want to do it because it’s not like I’m a pin-up anymore, it’s about an experience of writing about what I’ve been through.

“The book So Here It Is did really well and I’m hoping to do some Audience With… shows. I want to spread my wings a bit because being on the road isn’t forever so I can do something different. Noddy’s done a few, we’re great friends and really close, the pair of us together is a joy. My wife’s always pushed me to to do this and now she can’t get me out of my studio. After Covid it was difficult to get out and get back on stage. I’m really fine now but I did go through a little bit of a bad time then I got into writing. It was either that or watching Tipping Point and Bargain Hunt repeats.”

There was also talk of a book about your stage clothes.

“That’s going to be sorted in the next month or two. It’s with a publisher because it hasn’t come out and I have been asked what happened to that great book. I’ve had a fashion historian doing the words and she tracked down the people who made the clothes. It was crowdfunded so I’ve got to find out whether they’re going to do it and I think I’ll come together with the bloke who did that in January. I have some eye surgery due and I have to ease off in January and February to get that done.

Talking of books, have you read the recent Daryl Easlea one, Whatever Happened to Slade?

“I’ve heard about it. Sometimes you get these people and you didn’t give them the go-ahead but you can’t stop them writing about you, so you can a bit concerned But Noddy said to me a few weeks ago, ‘I’ve read it, it’s okay. There’s nothing bad in it’. Obviously there’s always things that aren’t quite correct but he told me there was nothing to be concerned about. He said there’s a lot about my clothes but that was always going to be a big part of it. At the end of the day the guy’s written it and hopefully fans will like it so it’s a no-brainer.”

There’s also been quite a bit of Slade material re-released or out for the first time. The Hitz album came out in 2020 and got into the top ten, then All The World Was a Stage, a box set of live albums which proved what an incredible live band Slade were.

“There’s always been a snooty side to the business. Chas believed we were one of the greatest bands who ever existed. He believed that what we did wrote a new chapter in music because he was such a great motivator and great manager, he kept us on track with what we were going to do and he knew we were capable of making more complicated music but it kept us focused to not outgrow your fans by trying to be too clever. We weren’t ready to do Sergeant Pepper but we could have gone into something like that much later in our career. We came across well on TV, we always knew what to do, especially me and Nod, the point of selling the stuff and we come from good families, it wasn’t laid on the table. We had to work for it.

“Individually we’re different but collectively we became gold. Even in the eighties we had success again, which shows we weren’t just about the seventies stuff. It wasn’t until illness arrived with our bass player that we stopped touring and eventually Nod got interested in radio and things. I wish him well, he’s done extremely well for himself and so he should. He’s still got his powerful voice. I listen to him and it’s just there.”

There’s an album on the box set, Live at the Hucknall Miners Welfare Club from 1980. It’s a matter of record that you were playing that sort of working men’s club back then, but the album shows that you were still giving it the full-on live show that you were doing two or three years later when you were back to being a big name at festivals.

“Hucknall came around at the time we were struggling, before the magic happened at Reading but I think we were playing at our best ever at that time. Hucknall, I remember that place by the name, it sounds the typical working men’s club.”

You had U2 playing with you at that time as well.

“At the Lyceum in London. We had all sorts of bands, Generation X and the Jam, Sham 69. And every one of them was a fan of ours. Billy Idol, all of them, even though they said they had no influences, when those bands were around the older ones had become dinosaurs but the punks really liked us because we had that punk element. Then Noel Gallagher, who came a generation or two after that, he said him and his brother watched us on Top of the Pops and he said ‘No Slade, no Oasis.’ That was his opening line in my book and he finished with ‘What’s not to like about them?’ Noel’s a great writer, there’s an element in their work – they covered Cum On Feel The Noize as well – that reminds me of us.”

Which in turn reminds me of something I’ve wondered about before now. If you’d started ten years later and your formative years were the late seventies rather than the sixties, would you have been a rock band, or would you have been new wave? Would you have been more like AC/DC, or the Jam?

“I don’t think we would have necessarily been like either of them. The Jam were a three-piece and they reminded me a bit of the Who. With us there was never any imitation – AC/DC were massive fans of us. I saw them with Bon Scott, supporting Black Sabbath and I saw this guy walking round on someone’s shoulders. There’s always a connection with their style, I think we crossed over.”

You were a rock band with a new wave attitude.

“Yes. They called me Superyob and all sorts of things like that but we always had an intelligence about the music. Some bands play in a certain style but we were very musical. My style of playing is very strong in its rhythm but the melodies have always had that melodic thing which I picked up from Hank Marvin. There was all sorts of comparisons when we made it, one was with the Who and I thought we were nothing like them. Chas said we were unique, we played rock’n’roll music with different chords. Cum On Feel The Noize is an example – there was a major scale in there but also minor chords, which gives it a feeling of majors and minors where rock’n’roll is strictly major but we played differently.

“We learned a lot of interesting stuff before we made it, Jim had very good ears and was very musical, which helped arrange how we were playing and we’d put our styles in there. I don’t remember trying to be anybody. We came after Marc Bolan, we were watching him being photographed and Chas told us we’d be a lot bigger than him. We couldn’t see that at the time but we became, Marc was big but we took on a life of our own. There were other bands inspired by the clothes we wore but there was nothing like Slade. We had a lot of fun times, people would watch us to see what we we wearing as well as what we were playing. We weren’t prog rock, where it got a bit technical but we were quite capable of doing complicated stuff in our act. When we eventually found our style we stuck with it until we got round to about 1974, Far Far Away and Everyday, the Flame era. The press noticed there was a bit of a change. We had some good success later on, we made the film and had the soundtrack. Noel Gallagher’s favourite song is How Does It Feel from Flame. It was Ken Bruce’s last song on Radio 2.”

One of the things that proved how massive Slade were and how much affection there still is for you is when the story broke recently about Noddy’s illness. In itself it wasn’t much of a story – a singer from a band in the seventies was ill five years ago and he’s recovered now, but it was front page news.

“I was talking to him about it. I did an article for the Metro newspaper and I knew what he’d been through. It was hard; he still has to have regular check-ups but he’s still clear. We know one of us will be at the other’s funeral one day but we enjoy each other’s company. Our relationship is more than friendship; what we did together was amazing and I’ll always know that he’s there. He’s still doing bits and bobs but he’s choosing to enjoy himself, which we all have to while we’re here. Let’s enjoy ourselves because we’re not here forever.”

Did you hear the N’Betweens version of Train Kept A’Rolling that was released a few months back, featuring Don and Jim?

“I think I heard something but I don’t know much about it. I think it was the original guys before me and Nod joined. I haven’t heard it but with social media you know most things anyway. Things come by me, I don’t really know what’s going on because I’m doing what I’m doing. Enjoy what they’re doing, I wish them well.

“With me and Nod there’s always something that one of us remembers and the other one’s forgot. It’s always good fun when we’re out because we become the popular table at the restaurant. People very politely come over and don’t want to disturb you but it’s the day of the selfie now. Get me and Nod together in front of a camera and there would be great value in that.”

How about the two of you doing a double act?

“Somebody said we should go into pantomime and play the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella. We’d be great. And imagine them with a Black Country accent if somebody could arrange it? Nod had a proper band behind him when he did his shows, they played and he gets up and does a bit. My daughter went and said it was fantastic. He’s still got his voice, he can still sing. We share something so special, no matter how successful you become individually, the thing that we did collectively is special. We were great together and thanks a lot to each member of Slade for that because it’s what they bring to your life. Certainly something to my life, we all contributed to each other. As Chas would say, we made rock history. He wanted to get us waxworks in Madame Tussaud’s. Can you imagine that?”

You’re too modest; you brought a lot to more than four lives.

“Yes. When I went back on the road we went to Russia and Ukraine, all those places you can’t go now and some of the stories I heard about when the people there were getting the music on the black market. Boy, didn’t they know all the words and in most cases most Russians I met didn’t speak English. The was one man in Minsk who gave me all these oil paintings, there were tears in his eyes as he was giving them to me. It gave me such a buzz to realise how much we connected with people around the world. Japan, Norway, Sweden, Australia. In fact, in Australia Slade Alive sold more than Sergeant Pepper. We were massive there, Chas said we were to our generation like the Beatles were to theirs.”

If you could go back and change one thing and think that you might have cracked America, or got a bit more lasting success. Is there anything where you think ‘We should have done that differently’?

“There’s a lot of things to say in hindsight but it’s what you didn’t do all the way through the success that makes you what you are. Trying to go back to alter some outcome is not the way it is. You go through life because you don’t know what tomorrow brings. You can’t write out the script, you can’t say that if I make this move on the chessboard that’ll win the game. We were doing what we were doing and any interruption might have ruined the actual destiny of the group.

“When Chas talked me into playing Reading, if I hadn’t listened to him I might have altered the course of us being successful again. We were handed something and there was an opportunity, a gaping hole that needed filling. Chas said to me there’d be no other band that weekend who could compete with our experience and he was absolutely right. I looked across the stage and he was grinning like a Cheshire cat. I could see him thinking ‘I told you so’.

Merry Christmas.”

The first person to wish me a Merry Christmas this year was Dave Hill. Life can’t get any better.

Slade are touring in December and play the O2 Academy 2 in Birmingham on Saturday 23rd December. Tickets.