DAVE HILL (SLADE): “Stepping In For OZZY At The Reading Festival Was A Life Changer For Us”

SLADE (Live at the O2 Academy, Newcastle, U.K., December 5, 2018)
Photo: Mick Burgess

With Christmas just over a week away, what better time to catch up with Dave Hill of Slade. Mick Burgess called him up to talk about getting back out on the road, their legendary Christmas song, replacing Ozzy at the Reading Festival and how they created their unique sound and look which influenced a legion of bands to follow.

You’ll be starting your UK tour soon. You must be looking forward to playing around the country again?

We’ve played a couple of shows in Norway and Hungary and a couple of Butlins ’70s weekenders but they were the first since our last show in Newcastle back in 2019 and I’ve never had this amount of time away from the stage ever so I can’t wait to play in the UK again and make up for lost time. We end the tour in Newcastle again. I’ve had some great nights in Newcastle and loved playing shows at the City Hall.

What are you planning for your setlist for this tour?

We’ll obviously do the hits and deliver on what people know well and we might do a snippet of “We’ll Bring The House Down.” There are other songs, not necessarily big hits, that we could do too but it depends on the length of the show. We could actually do a whole show of non-stop hit records. We had so much success from 1971 to 1975 and then we had success in the 1980s with “Run Runaway”, My Oh My”, “Lock Up Your Daughters” and “All Join Hands” so we had another decade of hits.

Your former manager Chas Chandler who was born in Newcastle and performed with The Animals and managed Jimi Hendrix before becoming your manager. What did Chas bring to Slade that you didn’t have before?

Chas Chandler was pivotal in encouraging us. He particularly encouraged me with my stage clothes, he was very much into that. He loved our stagecraft; he loved Nod’s voice. He encouraged us to write our own songs. He said that we’d spent years listening to other people’s songs and playing them and we should use that experience to write our own. From that point onwards “Coz I Luv You” was born and that put us into the charts at Number One so the writing team of Nod and Jim was framed ready to continue in this way. We had the songs and we also had the show, the clothes and the glamour. So for me, it was a case of you write them and I’ll sell them. Chas was totally into the whole package and encouraged us the whole way. He was the right man for us who understood the business. I always mention Chas when we play in Newcastle.

Slade will always be remembered for the huge stomp along anthems and football terrace chant along chorus’s. Were you looking to harness the football crowd unity or was it something that evolved over time?

That started off in the clubs. We always had a thing about entertaining people and we used to climb on top of chairs to get up high and get people clapping. We wanted what we did to come across as a performance and that boot stamping business really got the crowd going. We had a song called “Get Down and Get With It” which is a Little Richard song and we recorded that with the boot stamping in the studio. We had a wooden platform built so we could stamp on it. It had an impact on the sound of the record. It’s also on Slade Alive and you can really hear how the crowd react to it. It’s become such an important part of our show. “Coz I Luv You” had the handclaps on the record and we carried that theme through a lot of the early records. They were done in the corridor with us clapping. We had a raw pair of hands after recording those.

Visually, no one looked like Slade. Your look symbolised an era of music that is still loved today. How did you morph from your original Skinhead look into Glam Rockers?

Chas Chandler was very much behind that and he encouraged me so much. People used to wait to see what I’d be wearing next. I remember one time coming out of a room thinking that I had this Egyptian style of look with this big metal headdress and they all fell about laughing but Chas said that we’d have another Number One. Jim, our bass player, wasn’t so sure about some of my clothes but he knew I’d get a reaction. It was water off a duck’s back to me. We went on television with that outfit and we did get a Number One with “Cum On Feel The Noize.” Somebody in the press said that I looked like a metal nun. I didn’t want to look like a nun, I was supposed to have this Egyptian look. It was a long frock thing covered in circular mirrors and the headdress. It’s funny how many people remember that costume. I think “Metal Nun” is a great name for a Heavy Metal band.

You famously had a Rolls Royce with a YOB 1 number plate. Do you still have that plate?

My nickname was Super Yob and I did have that registration plate YOB 1 which looked hilarious on my Rolls Royce driving around Solihull. I don’t have it any more. I sold the car and the plate was worth a lot more than the car. You can imagine what it’s worth now. I also had a silver guitar made to look like a ray gun with a Super Yob mirrored plate on the end which reflected into the audience. It was a magnificent guitar designed by the man who designed my clothes and he actually designed the guitar to match my clothes. I don’t have that guitar now but I have a remake of it. Marco Pirroni from Adam and the Ants actually has it now. He saw it in the window of a guitar shop in Broad Street in Birmingham. They didn’t want to sell it at first but everything has a price and he ended up buying it. It’s nice that it’s in the hands of somebody that appreciated us and it suits him. He’s a good guy Marco. If I ever need it, I can borrow it.

The 1970s was quite possibly the golden era of Top of the Pops and you made many appearances on there over the years. Do you remember your first appearance on there?

The most memorable one was when we played “Coz I Luv You” as that was our first Number One but we did get on for “Get Down and Get With it.” It just crept in at Number 32 which enabled us to get onto Top of the Pops. It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg. You need Top of the Pops to have a hit but you need to have a bit of a hit first to get onto Top of the Pops. Later they’d have us on regardless because they knew the songs were going to be huge. We were always on Top of the Pops. Everybody knew us by name at the studio as we were a very friendly group.

You had another six Number Ones after that. Did you get the same buzz hearing that you were Number One after that or was the first time still the most memorable?

They were all great records but when you have one Number One record, you want more. There’s no time to rest, we wanted to get another one in. That’s where Chas came in to encourage us. He really was the perfect manager. He put money behind us to help us and encouraged us in every part of our career.

“Merry Christmas Everybody” is still played every year and has charted on 18 different Christmas’s in the UK which must be a record in itself. Why do you think that song more than any other Christmas song has captured the hearts of the British public?

I think it was one of our Grandma’s who said that nobody writes Christmas songs any more so that got us thinking. It’s not a jingle bells song, it’s more a song about what people do at Christmas, getting together with families, hanging your stocking on the wall and hoping there’s enough food to go around. It was 1973 which was a difficult year as there were power cuts and strikes. We made that record in New York in the summer and people nearby thought we were a bunch of crazy Englishmen making a record about Christmas when it was 100 degrees outside. We got into that studio because John Lennon had cancelled. That was very nice of him, so we decided to take the time to record the song. The harmonium that we used actually belonged to John. That was an added touch to the record that Jim Lea played. It was a little odd making that record at that time of year but when it was mixed closer to Christmas and when we heard it then, it made a lot more sense. It just took off and took on a life of its own. Everyone was raving about it and it all came together very quickly. We had a great year that year. It was so original and different. It was a Rock record with guitar power chords so it was like a Rock ‘n’ Roll Glam Christmas song. We didn’t know the song very well when we went into the studio and we developed it in the week we spent in the studio doing it. People associate Christmas with that record and I never thought I’d still be talking about it almost 50 years later.

Does it frustrate you that, that is the one most people talk about when you had so many other great songs?

No, it doesn’t. When people ask if it detracts from our other songs, I’ll say no, if anything it draws attention to them. Once you start listening to our set you realise how many songs you actually know of ours.

Did Noddy plan to holler “It’s Christmas” at the end or did it just happen spontaneously?

Nod decided to do that because he wanted to let people know that it was ending so he decided on that last chorus to shout “It’s Christmaaaaas” in that bawling voice of his, across it. It’s like, we’ve said it all to you now and it’s Christmas.

Do you feel that your appearance as a last-minute replacement for Ozzy at the Reading Festival gave Slade something of a second wind?

Towards the end of the ’70s the hits stopped coming for us and then we were asked to step in for Ozzy at the Reading Festival at the last minute and that was a life changer for us. We went down to the festival in a Ford car and other bands were turning up in limousines and we ended up turning into the punters car park then a security guard came over and said “Wow, Slade!! What are you doing here?” so he showed us where we had to go. It ended up being a phenomenal show.

What were you thinking before you went out on stage. Were you confident that you would win the crowd over or nervous that they might have seen you as yesterday’s Pop band?

I think I was but I shouldn’t have been. Our manager Chas Chandler said to us that we’ve got the songs and all the experience so there was nothing to worry about. I hadn’t really thought that most of the audience would have been at school when we had most of our hits. It was perfect timing for us. We got a cheer when they announced us so that was encouraging. We always play three songs to begin with without a break and after the third song when we stopped the roar of the crowd was incredible. We just got on with it and it just went from better to even better. It was phenomenal. They just couldn’t get us off. People still talk about that show today. Everything went right for us and it took us into the ’80s and we started to have hit records again.

You also played “Merry Christmas Everybody” at that show in the middle of August on a hot, sunny day. That must have been a strange one?

It was a strange one because the audience were shouting for it. Noddy said that we wouldn’t do it because it wasn’t Christmas and said if they wanted to hear it, they’d have to sing it and we stopped and let them sing. It was brilliant hearing 40,000 people singing that song. We finished with “Get Down and Get With It” and “Cum On Feel The Noize.” It was a terrific day. I couldn’t sleep that night and just kept thinking, “Did that really happen?”

Anyone that doubts your Rock credentials should listen to your live album Slade Alive. What do you recall about recording that show?

That was really special. We were in London and we’d had a big hit but we hadn’t got an album ready to release and the record company were pushing for an album so Chas Chandler suggested recording our stage show. We were in the middle of London in a studio theatre but no one knew we were playing there. We went outside and asked people if they wanted to come and see Slade but we weren’t that well known at the time. People started to come in because it was free of charge. It turned out that two or three hundred people who we solicited off the street came in to see us but that show was absolutely pivotal to our career. We did three shows in three days and we chose which were the best parts and got it up to speed by adding bits to it and making it sound like there were more people in there. The album became huge for us and was in the charts for quite some time. When I listen to that album now, it still excites me because I can remember exactly how I felt when we recorded it. It was one of those albums, like ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, where one in three kids in school had it. One of our fans did a cartoon for us and we liked it so much we used it on the inside cover.

KISS have cited that album as one of their major influences too.

Absolutely, I know KISS were big fans of ours as were many American bands. I believe Alice Cooper was a fan of ours, Cheap Trick, Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister too. I think Aerosmith were too. There were a lot of groups in America who were influenced by us. Gene Simmons once said that when KISS were rehearsing before going out on tour, they’d put that album on to get them in the mood.

Christmas is just a week away. How will you be celebrating Christmas this year?

We’ll go home and rest after the tour finishes and I’ll spend time at home with my family and I’ll really enjoy that.

What about 2022. What are you planning for next year?

While we’ve been off the road I’ve occupied myself with writing some new songs for a solo album that I’m planning. That was a great help to me. It kept me sane and focussed. I’ll probably bring use some people from the Midlands who are close to the studio but I’ll play most of it by myself. I’ll also bring in one or two people I know to help out. It’s also the first time that I’ve written a whole bunch of songs for myself. It’s autobiographical and is about parents and what the times were like growing up in the late ’50s and early ’60s. We’ll also be doing those gigs that we weren’t able to do for the last couple of years due to Covid so we’ll have a lot of shows to play to make up for lost time. I just want to bring happiness to people and get back on the road doing what I do.

Interview and Live Photos By Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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