Slade's Dave Hill talks about writing his life story, touring... and THAT Christmas smash
If it's December, Slade must be doing the rounds again, in the post Holder/Lea configuration they've worked in for 25-plus years. MALCOLM WYATT got the lowdown from guitar legend Dave Hill
It didn’t take long after Slade guitar hero Dave Hill called from his Black Country base before he mentioned what bandmate and fellow original Don Powell calls ‘that song’.
Is Dave looking forward, I asked, to his latest festive outings with Don (drums), Mal McNulty (vocals) and John Berry (bass)?
“It’s something that’s always a pleasure and I’m comfy doing. And not just because we have the biggest Christmas song ever.
“I think it’s all to do with the history. It’s 45 years now since 1973, which gives us an immense history in existence as Slade.
“I’m still performing – really, I never stopped – carrying on regardless … like an old Carry On film. Ha!”
That festive smash was of course ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, one of six UK No.1 singles and 16 top-10 hits (added to three No.1 LPs and five top-10s).
Last time we spoke, three years ago, he told me he was working on what became So Here It Is: The Autobiography, published in 2017.
“I’m quite a good talker and people like listening to me, so thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be good to have a book that sounds like me having an evening with you where I tell you a story?’
“I’ve got my own accent, people like that, and thought I’d record it all and had quite a journey. We spent a lot of time finding people to help with their stories of me.
“There are some things that weren’t quite explained, like finding out Mum and Dad had a fake wedding, trying to make it look right for the pair of us (Dave and sister Carol) when they couldn’t get married. But I find it quite romantic actually. And it’s out in paperback now.”
Good plug, Dave, and with an extra chapter.
“And two different covers. Sainsbury’s have an exclusive silver one, and there’s a red version like the hardback elsewhere. Red’s nice for Christmas, and part of my stage clothes were silver.”
So how would you best sum up your 2018?
“A year playing the regular places, but also Israel, a show in Tel Aviv. Turns out there’s a promoter out there who’s an absolute fanatic of us. I couldn’t believe they knew the songs. I didn’t think of Israel having Slade pumping out of the radio, but Tel Aviv was like any other vibrant city, and so enjoyable.
“We definitely had an impact there, as in Russia, where our music was frowned upon. Western rubbish, I suppose. But we have many massive thousands of fans there.”
Is it a family affair when you tour? Your son’s joined you before. How about your beloved, Jan?
“There’s a picture in my book of the family, the greatest achievement we could ever have.
“My wife met me before fame, so she’s been through it all. I’m very tactile, people approach me and I’m very friendly, while she’s a lot more reserved and cautious.
“But there’s the man who walks on stage, losing myself in the experience. Then I go back to the hotel and to bed, treating every show as if it was my first.
“Then, when I get home, it’s, ‘That ‘hedge needs cutting down there’. And when I’m out walking, it’s, ‘Morning Dave! Alright? Where you been?’”
That’s what always kept Slade grounded, perhaps.
“Yeah, I think people see us as friends as well as famous people. Also, it’s not about music being used for opinions or reactions. We come from the stable of good records and meaningful songs.
“And I’ve been escaping the system probably ever since I got out of that job!”
He means his time in the offices at Tarmac in Wolverhampton.
“It’s now a school (the site houses a vocational training centre and the British Sikh School).
“I had to start somewhere, on a fiver a week, an office boy, and three years later still was. A bit like a school report. ‘If he could concentrate … he’s disruptive in the class …’
“I can’t say what’s right for anybody else, but if money was the reason I did it, I’d have failed dismally. There was never a great deal. It certainly never came my way.
“I see it the same way as when I first went professional – about a freedom of travel, and the journey continues and I’ll take it as far as I can in this life, as the purpose is still important to people.
“If they didn’t want it, I wouldn’t be doing it.
“At Tarmac I was told, ‘Stick with the job, it’s a proper job, musicians don’t always make it’. That’s true, but years and years later I was in the Tarmac monthly magazine!”
Dave’s had health battles in recent years, including depression and battling back from a stroke.
“I’ve had a brush with stuff, as my wife did with breast cancer this year, something we dealt with together. Marriage is a friendship and a partnership, supporting each other … until you pop your clogs.”
Looking ahead, there’s talk of an audio book, ‘audience with’ shows, even a movie on his story, but right now ‘there’s work to be done with the tour’.
And where will he be this Christmas?
“There’s only one place to be – ‘Take Me Bak ‘Ome’!
And does anyone dare put that song on over Christmas dinner?
“I keep the radio off. I usually put the Ronettes on!”
Slade’s December UK tour includes visits to Liverpool 02 Academy (Saturday, December 8, 0151 707 3200, https://academymusicgroup.com/o2academyliverpool/events/1156122/slade-merry-xmas-everybody-45th-anniversary-tickets) and Manchester Academy 2 (with support from Mud, 0161 832 1111, https://www.manchesteracademy.net/order/tickets/13336188/ slade-manchester-academy-2- 2018-12-22-19-30-00), with more details via www.vmstickets.co.uk.