Dave Hill, lead guitarist and founder member of English band Slade, chats with Kevin Cooper about working with Chas Chandler, selling over a million copies of Merry Xmas Everybody, paying ninety-four pence in the pound in Super Tax, and their forthcoming UK dates.

Dave Hill is an English musician, who is the lead guitarist and founder member of the English band Slade.

Born in Devon, he moved with his parents to Wolverhampton when he was a year old. He bought his first guitar from a mail order catalogue and received some guitar lessons from a science teacher at his school. Hill originally played with drummer Don Powell in a band called The Vendors, whose name was then changed to The N’ Betweens. The pair then met bass player Jimmy Lea and singer Noddy Holder, where after Slade was born.

Slade went on to have seventeen consecutive top twenty hits and six number ones in the UK Singles Chart. They were also the first act to have three singles enter the charts at number one. The original line up split up in 1992, leaving Hill and Powell to continue touring and recording under the name Slade.

Whilst getting ready to tour the UK, Dave Hill took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good morning Dave, how are you?

(Laughter) well, you know when you have done half a dozen interviews, and suddenly your head goes, well I am now at that stage (laughter). I’m sorry that I am a bit late, but we had some problems with the last one; he couldn’t get through, then when he did, he went on far too long (laughter). Anyway, here we are, and I’m all yours. Other than that, I’m fine, but more to the point, how are you today?

All good here thanks Dave and before we move on, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Thank you, it’s a pleasure.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at this moment in time is really good actually. Slade have just been over to Greenland and Denmark, and to be honest with you, we have been really busy. We are now readying ourselves for the English stuff, which is going to be fun, so all in all everything is good.

You have briefly mentioned the forthcoming Rockin’ Home For Christmas Tour. Are you looking forward to being back out on the road here in the UK?

Yes, I am, I always do at this time of the year, not only because of that Christmas song but because it is a time when Slade are a go-to band. People are starting to think about Christmas, they are thinking of presents and all the rest of it, and of course Slade then become a hot pick thankfully, for people to come and see and enjoy. Personally, I think that with all of the things that are currently going off within British politics, it is probably a bit of light relief to come out and see us (laughter).

Do you still get a buzz out of touring?

Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it touring; I would call them selected dates that we are playing. So, the consistently of the English shows is a selection of dates which I suppose is a little bit like a short tour, and what can I say, I am looking forward to it. I always enjoy playing in my own country of course. So, in answer to your question, yes, I still find what I do enjoyable otherwise I would call it a day.

You have been touring the world for well over fifty years now. You must have seen some changes during that time?

Yes, I have, and let me tell you that the first thing that you notice is that you get older (laughter). The surprising thing is that the fans are not less, in fact there are probably more. Obviously, one likes to enjoy not doing too much, that is very true. But I think that in the sense of enjoyment, I still have the same passion for it as I had many years ago. I feel that while I am still enjoying it, and people are enjoying me, we will continue.

It is rapidly coming up to that time of year so we really must talk about that song, hadn’t we?

Yes, if you must, of course.

Well I must tell you that I have already heard it being played in my local Waitrose (laughter).

(Laughter) but what you must remember is that they always say that Slade are not just for Christmas. We have a life outside of the Christmas record, had several number ones, and of course it is about all those; Cum On Feel The Noize, Coz I Luv You, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Far Far Away, these are all very special songs. I really think that with Slade I am very fortunate to be able to play a long show where every single song that I play has been a hit. There are not many bands that are around these days who could realistically boast about that, or indeed be remembered come to that. I am very pleased to have those songs, and I am also very pleased to be involved with something that is not a job, it’s a life.

I must ask you, on the subject of Merry Xmas Everybody, do you ever tire of playing it?

No, not at all, how can you. It’s a bit like watching Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing Little Drummer Boy; certain things bring back certain memories at this time of year. Fortunately, some songs are still as good as when you first recorded them, and they mean something to so many people. They are very well connected, and Merry Xmas Everybody has not dated in its lyrics, which is great. The only thing is, as I have said, I don’t just think of that song, I think of the whole package.

I recently spoke to Don (Powell) and he was telling me that it is now written into your contracts that you must perform that song no matter where you are in the world and no matter what time of year it is. Is that correct?

Yes, Don’s totally correct in telling you that. Sometimes I will think to myself ‘why do you want to hear this in summer’ but then you think ‘well I know why they want to hear it; it’s a hit record. It may be that the subject is Christmas, but what you must remember is that the song itself is melodic, it contains very poignant lyrics, it’s a party song, and I personally think that it is a feel good song. When the song was released, things here in the UK were bad, what with the strikes, the three-day working week, power cuts, and everything else that was going on. But I feel, and I have always felt that we somehow managed to lift the spirit of the nation with that song.

And I think that now, this current lot, have once again ruined everyone’s Christmas by announcing a general election in the period leading up to Christmas. Having said all of that, I’m in music and I am glad that I am (laughter).

Have you heard Robbie Williams and Jamie Cullum’s version of Merry Xmas Everybody?

Should I (laughter).

They are trying to do it with a swing melody.

Robbie has been doing a lot of things with a swing, hasn’t he (laughter). In my opinion Jamie Cullum is a total joker. If he loves the song, then why not.

Would you and Don ever record a newer version of the song?

You know what, that would be like saying to Sir Paul McCartney ‘would you ever think about recording a newer version of Yesterday’ or asking Nat King Cole to record a new version of The Christmas Song. Certain things are moulded into the psyche of people, and so if anybody does it outside of the box, then I regard that as being both a tribute and a compliment too, rather than a negative. Having said all of that, nobody and I mean nobody will ever do it better than we did. They will have a laugh with it, but they will never have a hit with it. I’ve not heard Robbie and Jamie’s version, but I will take that as a compliment.

People in the past have covered songs by The Beatles and have made jokes out of them, so why not Merry Xmas Everybody, but at the end of the day we are the original artists. Whenever you hear Bing Crosby singing White Christmas, there have been many people who have since recorded a version of that song but there will never be a better version than Bing’s simply because he did it first, and we did.

You mention people having fun with your music, how did you feel when Vic Reeves And Bob Mortimer did their spoof, Slade On Holiday?

(Laughter) it was great, absolutely great. It was a nice compliment like it is when people cover one of your songs, but they really were hilarious; it was really funny. We had been told that they were going to do it, and to this day, I think that it is hilarious (laughter).

You have known Don for fifty-six years now which is longer than most marriages last. Do the two of you ever argue?

Yes (laughter). Not in a nasty way but yes, we argue sometimes but it is always in a constructive way. Sometimes we disagree with each other, but I think that is a part of a healthy marriage. The fortunate thing for me is that I have a good wife who I met before we were famous, so she most probably has a lot to do with it plus I have really great kids too. So, I am happy with that.

What was it like working with Chas Chandler?

Chas was a very direct man, and a very knowledgeable man. He was a very good bass player, he was an excellent manager, and he was a visionary. He gave us lots of ideas, he got us to write songs, he really liked my guitar playing, and I have to tell you that not only did he love my costumes, Chas also understood me. The good thing, from our point of view is that we all understood him too. Chas was the sort of man that if he had got something in his head then he would go ahead and do it. He was not always right, but then again, none of us ever are. But, having said that, in most cases he was right with us. For Slade, Chas was the right man at the right time. I was always very fond of him, he is sadly no longer with us, and he was very much a part of our path.

How did you feel when Chas suggested that you all go and get your heads shaved?

Pretty crap (laughter). Being fair to Chas, it was a good idea but all that I will say is that I was glad when he allowed us to grow our hair back (laughter).

To your total disbelief, he also told you that Coz I Luv You would be the bands first number one record.

Well we had certainly grown our hair back by then (laughter). And yes, Chas was right once again as Coz I Luv You was indeed our first number one record. I remember that at that time there was colour television and it really was a wonderful experience. For me, it was a great opportunity to be myself, to be able to do the costumes together with everything else that I did (laughter).

Do you have a favourite Slade song?

I have always loved How Does It Feel. It was never a big hit but was a great song. I also like My Oh My which was during our 80s period. That wasn’t a massive hit either here in the UK, but it was in other countries around the world. How Does It Feel is a very good song and much liked, but I have to say that Cum On Feel The Noize, in my opinion, really does say it all about Slade. It’s a terrific record, and Quiet Riot had a hit with it over in America, but it wasn’t anywhere near as good as ours. That song epitomises everything that we were doing; being noisy, singing along, and having a good time.

You mention the fact that Quiet Riot had a hit in the USA with Cum On Feel The Noize. How did it feel for Slade when you didn’t quite crack America?

That felt disappointing if I am totally honest with you. It was hard work going from one extreme where we were playing to massive crowds, to then going over to the States where we were unknown. I just find that it is a waste of time and energy nowadays trying to fathom out exactly why it didn’t work for us over there. Most of the people involved don’t even have a clue as to why it didn’t work. Sir Elton John once said to me “I can’t understand why you haven’t made it over there”. I just can’t work out the logistics of that, I just know that a lot of Beatles fans who came after us, like Kiss, were very influenced by Slade and what we were doing.

We were faced with some difficulties such as a post-Vietnam generation. There were a hell of a lot of Progressive Rock bands around at that time, maybe we were simply a little bit before our time, I’m not sure. But what I can say is that we tried, and we still have a cult following over there. I am shortly going to be releasing my life story over there, so there is still an interest in Slade, that’s for sure. So, at the end of the day, it was a good experience, but it didn’t totally payoff.

Whose idea was it to misspell the titles of the songs?

That is a dialect in the Midlands that we used where you are writing the word as it sounds rather than how you should spell it. So, if someone is saying ‘ome they are actually talking about their home. You don’t spell it with a H. It is a West Midlands dialect. It’s what the kids would use at school whenever they were writing messages to one another. It is almost like a very early texting.

Just how the hell did you all manage to live and enjoy the highlife when at that time you were paying ninety-four pence in the pound Super Tax?

To be totally honest with you, we didn’t manage at all. Times were extremely bad, and I felt that the whole situation was totally unfair. A hell of a lot of artists and bands left the country, but we didn’t, we stayed. We were obviously at our best at that time, and it really did feel as though the then Government were targeting us. We hadn’t got a job for life in those days; we were talking about being in the business for a maximum of three years, so when a huge bulk of money keeps disappearing you simply cannot equate it. It really wasn’t fun.

Back in 1992 when Noddy (Holder) said that he was leaving Slade, which ultimately led to Jim (Lea) leaving too, was there ever a time when you and Don thought that’s it, this really is the end?

I was concerned; of course I was, not knowing what the hell I was going to do with myself. Don and I going out on the road under another name was never going to be an option. I had played the pubs and the one sure thing to come out of it was that I was going to miss the life for sure. Fortunately, a chap got hold of me, it was Len Tuckey who as you will know was in The Nashville Teens, and later was lead guitarist for Suzi Quatro, who he later married, and he asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was thinking of forming a band to which he replied, “you shouldn’t be forming a band, you should be going out as Slade”.

He said “Everybody knows you, and if the other two don’t want to do it, then that shouldn’t mean that you don’t”. After that, I asked Don if he would like to be involved in this idea, he did and off we went. And, to be totally honest with you, Don and I have had some magical years. So, the good news is that I got through it (laughter).

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

That’s easy, being alive and being in a job that I love (laughter). That’s what I would say. Of course, I have family and things like that but there have been many shows that I would consider to be highlights. We are still to this day playing to thousands and thousands of people every time that we go out onto the stge. Every night is different, but in most cases it is good. And, as I say, while I still enjoy it, then I will continue to do it.

How did it feel when the staff on Top Of The Pops referred to you as The House Band?

(Laughter) yes, they did and what can I say, they liked us. In some cases, they would have us on the show even before the record had been released (laughter). It was nice to be so popular on Top Of The Pops when it was the biggest bloody show in the country (laughter).

In November 2017 you published your autobiography, So Here It Is: The Autobiography. Was that something that you felt you had to do or something that you wanted to do?

It was a case of a bit of both to be totally honest with you. At that time, I really felt as though I wanted to do it, plus I really did think that it should be done. I met a fan at that time that was in publishing and he offered to help me get the autobiography done. He told me that the way forward was for me to get the book written, for me to go and visit people who I knew, and for me to tell the stories that the people didn’t know about.

I think that it has done some good for me as well; I enjoyed doing it, I learnt some things from it, plus it has given me some other opportunities. I must tell you that I didn’t do it for the money; I felt that it was a story worth telling about a unique period, and I feel that no one will ever live through that stuff again. So, I am happy that I did it and I am looking forward to doing an audio version sometime next year.

What do you do when you are not touring the world performing gigs; how do you keep yourself occupied?

Whenever I am not working, you will find me digging the garden or doing other things that everybody else does (laughter). I see people walking their dogs and they call me Dave because they know me. They also know that I am famous but that doesn’t matter. If you think of the people in Slade, then you automatically smile don’t you (laughter). So, I like to think that is what I generate in people.

They say that you should never believe your own publicity but when someone like Noel Gallagher is quoted as saying “no Slade, no Oasis”. Just how does that make you feel?

I know Noel, and I asked him if he would write something for the book and he came up with that for me. I really do feel that what he has said is so poignant. He told me that there wasn’t anything that he didn’t like about Slade, he just loved all of it. And, to me, that is a nice compliment.

What was the first record that you bought?

That would have been Tell Laura I Love Her by Ricky Valance.

Who did you first see performing live?

I went to see a collection of 60s bands on what we used to call a Package Tour at the Gaumont in Wolverhampton. They all came on a played around fifteen minutes back in those days. That was what you would have called an easy job (laughter). I can remember that heading the bill was Gerry And The Pacemakers.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

It didn’t make me cry but it moved me. It was when I heard the late Eva Cassidy singing Autumn Leaves. The reason was that it is very similar to something that I have recently written. She was singing along with The Philharmonic Orchestra playing behind her. She was a fantastic singer who died far too young. She never sang anything the same as the records, she sang everything her way. But I have to say that the orchestration really moved me yesterday when I heard it. Sometimes in life it is the moment that you experience, and yesterday I experienced that. What I liked about it is that it gave me an idea. That’s what I liked.

Noddy has kept his mirrored hat from back in the day. Have you kept anything?

No, and what’s the point, I wouldn’t be able to get into any of it (laughter). You will never see me in those platform shoes ever again (laughter). They are best kept in the loft.

What would be Dave Hill’s ideal Christmas?

I think that this might be an ideal Christmas for everybody. It is to be with those that you love and enjoy being together.

On that note Dave let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You take care and good luck with the forthcoming tour.

Thank you for giving me that time Kevin. I must ask you, have you and I spoken before. I am sure that we have because there is just something about your voice.

Yes, we have. It was a few years ago now backstage at Butlins when we were trying to put the world to rights (laughter).

Well, here’s to the next time. Have a safe Christmas, keep up the great work and keep on rockin’.