Merry Xmas Everybody! Slade are on tour and coming to Hampshire | interview
Reading Festival, August bank holiday weekend, 1980.
It’s not the usual time of year for Christmas songs
But Ozzy Osbourne and his band have pulled out at the last minute and Slade have been drafted in, unbilled, to replace them.
The glam rockers were in the doldrums at the time – it was three years since they’d last been in the top 40.
Slade’s co-founding guitarist Dave Hill (he of the outrageous stage outfits) recalls the event: ‘This was a time when we weren't having hit records. We'd stayed together and carried on performing, but then we got this offer.
‘We weren't actually announced – but Ozzy Osbourne's band had pulled out, so they offered it to us.
‘We went down there in this old Ford car, and all the other bands were turning up in limousines. We even went in the wrong car park – the punters' car park. A security guy comes over and goes: “Blimey, it's Slade, what are you doing here?” And I said: “We're playing!”
’And we smashed it. We were in all the papers the next week – Melody maker, Sounds, NME – all writing about us and asking: “Where have they been? Slade are back!”
‘It was incredible – 40,000 people singing Merry Xmas Everybody in August is pretty phenomenal, and it was one of those perfect sunny bank holiday weekends.
‘The audience was made up of people now mostly at college, but of course they'd been at school when we were having hit records, so we were their music.
‘It came together so well for us, when we drove home that night, I couldn't quite believe what had happened.
‘Then we were back in the frame and a few months later we had another hit record, and another...’
The Christmas perennial was already seven years old by then, but nearly 50 years on it’s hard to imagine a festive season passing without hearing it.
Although Hill is the only remaining original member – original vocalist Noddy Holder left in 1992, and drummer Don Powell left under a cloud last year – they still come armed with an arsenal of six number one singles and a further 18 which charted in the top 40.
From unimpeachable ’70s classics like Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Cum On Feel the Noize and Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me, to 1980s hits like My Oh My and Run Runaway, there’s much more to them than that song (and a cavalier approach to spelling).
‘We've got a lot of great songs,’ says Dave, Black Country accent still in place, unencumbered with false modesty about his band’s achievements.
‘We have an extensive repertoire of hits – we can start on playing a number one and we can carry on playing number ones, and twos and threes.
‘We've got so many songs, some bands with only a couple of hits might leave them until the end – I start off with them. That's the sort of band we are. We have so many quality songs!
‘I'm sure some people will come along to just hear that one song, but they'll get a chance to actually see what the band's all about.
‘We're not just for Christmas – we're for all the year! But I am ruddy proud of that record.
‘So many people want to hear it because they associate Christmas with us – it's got that feelgood factor, which can be no bad thing in life, people remembering you, regardless of what song it might be for.
‘It's one of those songs which goes through generations of people – people who weren't born when it was first a hit got to know it later. Some people have checked us out because of that song and they hadn't realised how many great albums we'd made.’
Dave’s outrageous outfits were a large part of Slade’s image in their pomp, so to hear that he’s been hanging around the house in ‘baggy clothes’ over the past 18 months, is a let down.
Wasn't he ever tempted to dress up in one of his stage outfits to stave off the lockdown boredom? He laughs: ‘I hadn't quite thought of that one – dancing around the front room. The grandkids might have liked it… Hey, if there’s an audience I'll play!
‘I've never been out of work – not doing what I love for such a long period of time in my life. In all 50 years of my working life, I've never been at home like that.
‘Obviously things are a lot clearer now we can get back to some normality, get back on the road and start playing to people again.
‘When you start playing those songs you made famous, you're back in your comfort zone and standing where you want to be. And of course the audience has missed us as much as we've missed them.
‘We've done one or two dates, and we did some fun Butlin’s shows – ‘70s weekends – so that was great stuff. It was a good start, but this is the first proper tour we've done in a couple of years.’
It’s been 11 years had a stroke – while on stage. Having made a full recovery from that Dave, now 75, sees no reason to retire.
‘This is my passion and it's always been my life. It's not about being in a job – it's never been a job to me.
‘I didn't form a band because I wanted to make any money, not that I'm against making money,’ he chuckles, ‘but I wanted to be in a group and leave the day job I was in and play to people.
‘I've never wanted to let go of that, and that's the reason I'm still doing it now after 50 years.
‘I’ll keep going as long as I'm enjoying it – and why not? The Rolling Stones are older than me!
‘It's what you do, isn't it? This is what I do in life. I'm not really an expert gardener or anything.
‘I've always had that one direction in my life, and I've always been fairly driven as a person, ever since I left school. I had a vision of what I wanted to be, and I went out and got it.’
Slade are at Engine Rooms, Southampton on Saturday, December 4. Go to engineroomssouthampton.com.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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