Interview: Slade in Edinburgh

Dave Hill, left, and Don Powel. Picture: Greg Macvean
Dave Hill, left, and Don Powel. Picture: Greg Macvean
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IT’S Chrisssssssstmas... Well, not quite, but at the Assembly Hall, on The Mound, tomorrow, it’s a fair bet that you’ll hear that war cry at some point – Slade are back in town.

Every group has a signature tune, a song they can’t escape. 1973 gave Slade just such a hit, Merry Xmas Everybody, written by Noddy Holder and Jim Lea.

Slade in 1969 with skinheads. Picture: contributed

Slade in 1969 with skinheads. Picture: contributed

Released every decade since, it has featured in all the band’s concerts over the last 40 years – whatever the season. But then, first time around, it did stay at number one well into February 1974.

“Even in the summertime,” laughs Slade’s legendary drummer Don Powell. “Sometimes, it is even written in the contract, that we have to finish with that song. Even in the summertime. Actually, all we have to do now is start it off and the crowd sings it themselves.”

Merry Xmas Everybody was the song that changed the lives of Slade – then Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill and Powell.

“I still remember the day we recorded it,” says the 67-year-old, “That particular year, we were on a roll. We had just completed a tour of America and had a week off in New York, before going to Australia and Japan.

“While there, Noddy and Jim got a studio and said we were going to record this new song. Now, this is in June or July, in the middle of a heat wave, it was 100 degrees, and there we were recording That Song – we call it ‘That Song’.

“We were getting some strange looks off the American technicians, and when we finished it, we weren’t sure about it. We didn’t know if we wanted to release it. Actually, it was our manager and record producer at the time, Chas, who said, ‘I don’t care what you say, this is coming out.’

“It had to be shipped back to Britain and from there it just went mental.”

‘That Song’ has now sold in excess of 1.21 million copies in the UK alone. It will no doubt get another airing tomorrow, when Powell and Dave Hill, all that remain of the band’s original line-up, top the bill of Rewind To The 70s, a fundraiser for The National Autistic Society (NAS) Scotland, at the Assembly Hall, on The Mound.

It’ll be just like old times, says the drummer.

“The very first time we played Edinburgh, it was a club called The Place. It’s probably not even there now. It was a tiny rock club, but a great gig. We played that a few times, and then, when we started to get the success we played at the Usher Hall and the Odeon.”

The Place is now part of Espionage, on Victoria Street, but Powell knows a warm welcome is guaranteed tomorrow when he returns along with other 70s legends, Alvin Stardust and The Rubettes.

It promises to be a very glam affair, but when Slade formed back in the 60s, they had a very different look – they were skinheads.

“Basically with those skinheads we couldn’t get any work,” Powell laughs. “People were frightened to book us. In those days we were just playing pubs and clubs, small rooms, and they were afraid we’d attract the wrong type of audience and their places would be wrecked.

“We didn’t keep that image for very long. To be honest, because we didn’t play skinhead music, we played rock even then, it was a bit of a con really, but it did get us noticed.”

The biggest change for Slade however, came when Noddy Holder decided to leave the band.

“At the start it was very difficult, especially as Nod has the best voice in rock, even John Lennon complimented him on his singing,” admits Powell, “but we have learned to live with it and done alright really.

“We all speak regularly and two or three times a year a big gang of us get together. We book a room upstairs in this restaurant in London and have a meal... if only those walls could talk,” he laughs.

It’s obvious Powell is still having a ball doing what he does best.

“I love the fact that I am still able to do it. If you had said to me 20 years ago that I’d still be touring and drumming I’d have said, ‘On your bike’.”

But credit where credit is due, the secret of Slade’s ongoing popularity is the anthemic nature of their hits, he insists.

“It’s all credit to Noddy Holder and Jim Lea for their song writing really, that these hits stand up after all these years,” says Powell. It’s incredible, you don’t think about them as anthems at the time, it’s only later that you realise what a wonderful back catalogue you have got.”

Rewind To The 70s, Assembly Hall, The Mound, tomorrow, 7.30pm, £30, 0131-473 2000