Music interview: Dave Hill of Slade: ‘Noddy Holder said that I looked like a metal nun’

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SLADE fans are enjoying treats galore at the moment.

Firstly, the band’s seminal live album Slade Alive! from 1972 has recently been re-released; secondly, the band’s flamboyant lead guitarist Dave Hill has published his autobiography; and, the band is touring.

Still fronted by Hill and drummer Don Powell, the new version of Slade has been touring since 1993 to packed out audiences everywhere from the UK to Australia.

Former Sweet vocalist Mal McNulty provides the raucous vocals as well as playing rhythm guitar, and bassist John Berry was in Mud for a while, so they both have seventies glam rock experience.

With hits like Cum On Feel The Noize, Skweeze Me Pleeze me, Coz I Luv You, and the annual party song Merry Xmas Everybody, Slade had an unprecedented run of success with no less than 23 Top 20 single, which included six Number Ones.

Hill was a fashion icon in the heyday, with his outlandish stage outfits, and the rumour that he once said “You write ’em and I’ll sell ’em.” Became part of pop folklore, but did he really say it?

John Lennon was booked in the studios in New York where Merry Xmas Everybody was recorded but had cancelled. But his stuff was in the studio, so the harmonium at the start of the song is his.

Dave Hill

“It was true, it’s my line,” he avers. “I do feel that the impact of the band was visual as well as the music and I wanted to make sure that people would remember us.”

The band at the time was almost ever-present on Top Of The Pops.

“When Cum On Feel The Noize was Number One for four weeks, I had to come up with something different every week,” Hill remembers. “I had a couple of people making stuff for me, and I was very fond of a long black coat with circular mirrors and a silver headdress. I lit up! Noddy Holder said that I looked like a metal nun.

“When we went to Top Of The Pops, I never told the rest of the band what I was going to wear and I used to go into the toilets to change.”

Hill has been in bands since his early teens and he got together with Powell in 1966 and have been together in the band ever since.

Another thing that people might not realise about Hill is that, although he plays guitar right-handed, he is actually left-handed.

“Back in those days, there were no left-handed guitars. My first guitar was a bad right-handed guitar from Kay’s catalogue. I started to strum Tell Laura I Love Her and that’s how I got started. It was my music teacher who told me to try and play right-handed and I got used to it.”

Hill still enjoys the thrill of live performance – even having a stroke on stage in 2006 failed to diminish his desire to perform.

“We’re a great band,” he says. “We can start the show with a hit and just carry on playing hits all night. I never get tired of playing them. People look at you and smile, and happiness is so important to us now.

“I’m 71 now and enjoying life,” he enthuses. “And now it’s that time of year – the good-time feel. I feel that what I do gives joy to others and that’s fantastic. We go to places now who heard our records but could never see us – like Russia.”

‘That time of year’ means the Christmas hit. Merry Xmas Everybody is now synonymous with the festive season, but the band had competition.

“A relative of Jim [Lea, the band’s song co-writer, bassist and violinist] said that ‘nobody writes Christmas songs any more’, and that gave him and Nod the idea. The song was two melodies put together.

“John Lennon was booked in the studios in New York where the song was recorded but had cancelled. But his stuff was in the studio, so the harmonium at the start of the song is his.

“And we had no idea until Ayshea Brough (of ‘Lift Off With Ayshea’ fame) told us that Roy Wood was also bringing a Christmas song out. Luckily we won that little battle,” he grins.

Hill is happy about the re-release of the live album Slade Alive!

“That record is what we’re all about – it captures the roots of the band before all the hits came. I listened to it recently and loved it.”

Also, there is the matter of Hill’s autobiography.

“It’s called So Here It Is. It’s about growing up on post-war Britain, on a council estate where nobody had any money but nobody noticed. Then rock ’n’ roll came along and I started playing music – much to the annoyance of the neighbours.

“Then comes the bands, the success then the split of the original band, survival and reconvening. It looks at what really matters – family comes above everything.”

And the tour? “Oh, I’m really looking forward to getting out and about. We’re a great band these days and it’s full-on hits from start to finish. I can’t wait.”

Slade will be appearing at Sheffield Foundry on Friday December 8 and Warehouse 23 in Wakefield on Saturday December 9. www.facebook.com/OfficialSladeBand/