Exclusive juicy Rock stories by Slade iconic guitarist Dave Hill
- Published on Friday, 29 November 2019 12:43
- Last Updated on 29 November 2019
- Monica Costa
- 0 Comments
I know it’s the start of the festive season when I receive a phone call by Dave Hill, iconic guitarist with legendary glam rockers Slade, who get back on the road for a series of Christmas gigs. He always remembers me because we seem to connect over our shared passion for rock music.
Last time we spoke, a year ago, he told me he was working on what became So Here It Is: The Autobiography, the heart-felt story of his incredibly colourful life, from his childhood, humble beginnings as a musician and his raise to rock star status. Then there’s that festive smash, of course, ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, one of six UK No.1 singles and 16 top-10 hits (added to three No.1 LPs and five top-10s).
This is not the usual interview where I ask questions but more a catch up with Dave telling me lots of anecdotes of his Slade days on the road. And being Slade a very ‘tactile band’ (in Dave’s own words), there are a lot of stories to uncover.
Q: How would you best sum up your 2019 since we last met at the Christmas gig in London last year? Are you looking forward to the festive outings with Don (drums), Mal McNulty (vocals) and John Berry (bass)?
Dave Hill: Performing live with Slade is something that’s always a pleasure and I’m comfortable doing. And not just because we have the biggest Christmas song ever. It’s 45 years now since 1973 when we formed Slade and I’ve never really stopped performing since.
We have toured a lot in 2019. Live is usually the best way to listen to music. You make the records and then you play them live. People always say, “Oh, the records are great, but your songs are even greater live.” But it’s greater live because of the impact of those songs on the audience, which is what was always good about Slade. We always promoted the hit records by performing. Even when I re-formed the band, it was the same principle. Although, when I re-formed the band I’d already had the hits, so it was a bit like I was giving, possibly, all the things I’d worked for ever since I was young. When people listen to live music, they know that there’s a uniqueness for the night because no two shows are the same. The songs are the same, but the performance changes every time. Most nights are really good, and then you get an exceptional night, which I had in Copenhagen just over a week ago. A really big, sold out, sweaty, large venue. And we played a longer show there because we were the main finishing band, and it was just the satisfaction.
Then I went to Germany over the weekend and played a show for a Cancer Trust, and that was quite rewarding because everybody who was working for the show was donating time. And I felt that it was a bit special. So I gave them some books of my autobiography. They were so nice. The promoter couldn’t speak English, but he had an interpreter from South Africa who was absolutely mega. We stayed at a pretty German hotel. One of those hotels that look like a chocolate box, all woody. Although tired, I came back feeling really good. It will be the same in London at the ULC before Christmas.
Monica: I still remember last year’s ULC gig, it was incredible. The atmosphere was unique. I go to many gigs, but that was truly special. The people around me were absolutely thrilled, beyond belief. You wouldn’t think that a band that was started in the early ’70s is still going strong almost 50 years later and still having it. It’s just incredible.
Dave Hill: Well, it’s also pretty good because we had one or two rather big hits in the ’80s as well. Especially in Germany. I recently played in Gibraltar too. I passed through Spain on the way. I’ve never been to Gibraltar. We played a massive show and Take That were on it. Take That were on outside and we were inside. All the audiences have their favourite bands to go and see. The indoor ones were all about the Seventies and David Essex was on as well. And outside, it was Take That.
I also went to Greenland. I’ve never been there before. And half the audience were Eskimos. They’re Danish, but they look like Eskimos. I was thinking, “Are they going to know our songs?” And sure enough, from the word dot, as soon as I walked and started playing. There’s always one song in the act which you’ll always know how it’s going to go: it’s that first number one from 1971. If they know that, they’ll know all the ones that follow. And they certainly knew that. Then of course, as it was freezing cold, I did the Christmas song.
Monica: That is always a hit. It has memories. People have memories of that. It’s been played on an advert too.
Dave Hill: Well, that really is what it’s all about, Monica. People come up to you, and they could be in their seventies too, sometimes we get older people coming and having a look, some come to hear the one song. And then we get a younger audience too, who are actually checking us out. They say things to me like, “Oh we’ll come to see you because you play real music”. The old rock ‘n’ rollers from the ’50s like Chuck Berry brought American music to the British kids. The Beatles and the Stones and Slade would be listening to Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the piano player, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Elvis, obviously, the mega star. Then the Beatles made it and we all wanted to be like the Beatles. But the Beatles were listening to all that old music, so we’d all learned from rock ‘n’ roll. It’s really funny that during the gig over the weekend, I met Jerry Lee Lewis’ sister.
I had to go up and say something. I said, “I really hope you don’t mind,” because she’s younger than her brother. I said: “We all did one or two of Jerry Lee’s numbers. I hope you don’t mind asking about your brother,” and she said: “I never ever get fed up of people talking about my brother.” It was just like that. And I sat with her, then this guy, he seemed to know a lot of our stuff, he just knew a lot about us, and I just sat with him. And he got a kind of feeling, a way about him, that was kind of sussing me. He said to me: ” Dave, some of us do what we should do, and you’re doing what you should do. That’s your purpose.” I have no doubt about that.
And when people say, “Oh, it’s a nice job you’ve got Dave.” I say, “You know what, it’s not a job. It’s actually a life.” I play on the stage, as you saw me, Monica, last year. When you met me, I was just Dave. If people meet me down the road when they’re walking their dogs in the morning, I’m Dave. They treat me as just a local lad who did well for himself and there’s no big deal. There’s no annoyance.
Obviously, when I leave Wolverhampton and go on trains and things, people come up, you know the obligatory selfies. They see you. And especially at this time of year, Monica, you suddenly are on people’s minds and they’re going, “Oh my God, it’s you. You are that record.”
I remember there was a bunch of party girls on their way to Scotland, to Glasgow, and they were all pretty drunk. They were dressed in fur coats. They were on the party bottles, and they saw me and they got me around their neck. They got me.
People know that Slade is a group that is very much a people’s band.
We’re very tactile. I’m a very tactile person, I’m very huggy.
Monica: That comes across through the music as well.
Dave Hill: People have said to me: “Oh, we really enjoyed ourselves.” And I think that if your enjoying yourself, they’ll want to join in. Especially when they start dancing and all sorts of daft things at some of the gigs.
Sometimes you get an audience where they’re all sitting down. I suddenly think: “Oh, how’s this going to go?” We did one in Malmö in Sweden. There were loads of people and they were all sitting down. It was nearly deathly quiet. And when we were about to go on, I said, “I wonder how this is going to go…” We’re really, really popular in Sweden. As soon as the lights went down and then the intro started and the excitement built… I could see them sitting down and waiting for us to say, “Get up.” And then once they’re up they don’t sit down again. I mean they were a great audience. Even sitting down they were really good and very appreciative. But when the audiences are up, they become involved.
I like to think that when people go away from our gigs, they felt a much better than they did when they first came. With all the stuff that’s been going on in the last two years, and now a general election which nobody wants…
Monica: You’ll make it up for all the bad stuff. We’re coming to your gig on the 20th of December. People need some kind of relief. That’s it, we need some entertainment, real good stuff.
Dave Hill: It’s just a time to say, “You know what, it’s not all bad.” And it’s not just politics. It’s all sorts of things. Violence, abuse. The stuff that gets in the papers regular. The news is not a fun thing to see. I mean, years ago it was a lot more varied, a lot more local sometimes. Generally speaking, it’s a climate problem or it’s another attack or a shooting. In the old days, in our country, we used to have nice policemen with nice policemen’s helmets. They had a truncheon, but they never had a gun. It’s a bit different now isn’t it? The world’s changed vastly since I was a child. Technology’s great, but a lot of things are not better.
And when you look at the TV. I was watching the Memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives in World War I, because my father was alive then and he was a young boy. I was just thinking about them and I believe that the root of a lot of this was money. They kept the war going on and all these young kids were only teenagers, but just getting blitzed. I’m not into wars, I’m not into politics. I have to care about things. On a positive note, I’m going to do something for myself next year. Well, two things. I’m going to do a personal album with my musical experiences.
I’m going to show the fans that I can play other instruments, aside from guitar playing, which I can.
I’ve been writing for quite some time. I just thought to myself, Monica, that I’ve been playing Slade songs for nearly 50 years now, and I’ll still play Slade songs, but a lot of people don’t know the other things. And I’ve got a very sensitive side. I’m going to work with somebody who’s sensitive towards me to try and draw on what I’m always doing at home.
I’ll sit out in the back garden playing the classical guitar, and people like it. But I’ve never recorded any of this. And I’ve written things, usually about my parents or something like that. Or just experiences. And I’m going to do a new audio version of my book, so I’m going to read it for the fans. Which I think they’ll love because it’s the sound of my voice. Depending on what the publishers want to do, I might add some music around it, which will evoke what I’m talking about at the time. Snippets maybe.
Monica: Fantastic. I like the idea of that.
Dave Hill: A lot of people, obviously famous people, even if they have only been famous for two years, write their life story and without having had that much of a life. They might talk about their childhood, but they haven’t really been through what I’ve been through. And I’ve been through both sides of the coin. Through all the era of trying to make it, and then all the making it, and then afterwards, the splitting up and going through a kind of a swamp and not knowing which way to get out of it. And then, eventually, you find your way and you actually go back to what you did in the first place. I’ve been everywhere. I even played in a bullfighting ring in Spain, which was fantastic. I mean, the dressing room was where the bullfighter blokes, the matadors got ready.
I played in Portugal and other countries. I’m going to the Channel Islands next year to do two shows. That’ll be interesting. I’ve never been there. I’ve been to Iceland loads of times. I went to Greenland, to fly to Iceland, then fly from Iceland to Greenland. It was that far. But I tell you what, it was worth every bit of it. Because we went up fjords, up by icebergs and mountains and waterfalls and absolutely beautiful places. It was so peaceful and laid back.
And the great thing with music, Monica, is that even if I go to countries that don’t speak the language, they seem to understand the music. So there’s always a connection. I think it’s something in it that gets through to people.
The joy of doing the Christmas gigs is a treat. I always think ‘I did really like that gig, and I’d really like to do that gig again.’
Monica: I wanted to tell you something that you might like to know as well. We spoke around last year then we met at the London gig. You inspired me so much that I went off and joined a rock band as a singer, Devil Soul. During our Summer gigs including at the Half Moon in Putney, where you also played a few times, we performed, Coz I Luv You. It was one of the top 10 things I wanted to do before I die. When we played Coz I Luv You, people were very pleased.
Dave Hill: Monica, this is fantastic. You are a little star! I’ll tell you someone else who’s done it, James Blunt. I went to see him in Wolverhampton. And his drummer knew me, and he said, “Come up,” he said, “James wants to meet you.” And he was just really big then. He said, “I’ve got a surprise, but I won’t tell you what it is.” I sat down and most of James Blunt’s stuff is usually emotional.
The drummer comes on and starts stamping his foot on the stands, like a boom, boom, boom, boom. And he’s doing this on the piano, he’s going… on the piano, it’s not on guitar. And I’m going, “What are they doing?” And I was sitting in the audience and they go, “I wouldn’t laugh at you.” And the people around me are going, “He’s playing your song.”
I thought that he’s quite young to really play that song. He must have been almost a baby when we released that song. I met him afterwards and he’s so nice. He asked me whether I liked his version and said: “I can’t do it justice like the original record”. The original song a magic about it. It’s very simple, but the violin, and all that.
Monica: We used the guitar to play the violin part.
Dave Hill: Yes, you can play the phrases that the violin played on a guitar. If you keep the stomping side of it, and you’ve got the guitar going… which was on the record by the way. I only played lead guitar licks on the record. Nod, played the rhythm, then Jim played the violin on top of that. Then I went in and started to play some licks and things around it because we tried to keep it simple. Whereas the violin was a feature. If you listen, you can hear the violin going… And then you’ll hear me going… Answering it. And it’s something we used to do on stage where he’d play a lick and I’d play the same lick. The rest of the record is us, up a corridor, stamping our feet and clapping. That’s the way you get the clap sounds from that echoey corridor. It isn’t like clap machines. This was real clapping. But that’s the magic you see, because it’s real.
Monica: It’s one of those songs that seems so easy, simple to play and to sing, apparently. But it’s very difficult to get that same atmosphere that you create when Slade play it. I found this was really challenging for me, because sometimes when we started rehearsing it, it was so boring. I’d say, “This is not the sound that I know. That Slade play. This is really boring.” It took us a long time to create a sound we were happy with. It was impossible to create the same, but we tried to create a similar sort of groovy, beat song. I realised that that’s where you guys create magic because that’s the difficult part. It’s a simple song. Even Nirvana songs are, ironically, very easy to play, but nobody can play them as they did.
Dave Hill: Well, a bit like the Beatles really. But the rawness and their voices are messed up. You go back to the beginning of their career and you hear things that they were doing then, and they weren’t doing those things later on in their career. When they came off the road, they started to experiment a lot. They moved away from the rawness and the greatness to more arty stuff. Still great songs. But the early stuff and She Loves You, that’s the music that really made the magic. Those were magical records. They’re all very short songs at two and a half minutes, three minutes. Pop songs were like that from that era. Keep it short, keep it concise. Make the chorus. There may be a middle eight. There may not be. Just a verse and chorus. A lot of cases, verse and chorus. Maybe a bit of middle eight. Later on the Beatles experimented, obviously, because they wanted to move on. Because you can’t always write stories about young girls when you’re actually getting older. They did four really great albums early on, Rubber Soul in particular. If you’ve got that kind of simplicity. But simplicity is not as simple as it sounds.
A lot of musicians try to be a bit indulgent sometimes. What they do is spoiling the simplicity by trying to make it sound a bit clever. That takes away the immediacy of something. One of Roxette’s album is called ‘Don’t Bore Us. Get to the Chorus.’ Quite right! Haha! I look forward to seeing you on 20th December, Monica!
Slade’s December UK tour includes visits to
Thurs 5th December HASTINGS – White Rock Theatre
Sat 7th December NORWICH – Waterfront
Sun 8th December SALISBURY – City Hall
Sat 14th December HULL – The Welly
Sun 15th December BRISTOL – O2 Academy
Tues 17th December GLASGOW – SWG3
Fri 20th December LONDON – ULU
Sat 21st December EXETER – The Lemon Grove
Sun 22nd December BIRMINGHAM – O2 Institute 2
Mon 23rd December NEWCASTLE – O2 Academy
Tickets available from EVENTIM / Box Office No: 0844 249 1000
SLADE HITS & CHART POSITIONS
Get Down & Get With It (16)
Coz I Luv You (1)
Look Wot You Dun (4)
Take Me Bak ‘Ome (1)
Mama Weer All Crazee Now (1)
Gudbuy T’Jane (2)
Cum On Feel The Noize (1)
Skweeze Me Pleeze Me (1)
My Friend Stan (2)
Merry Christmas Everybody (1)
Bangin’ Man (3)
Far Far Away (2)
How Does It Feel (15)
Thanks For The Memory (Wham Bam Thank You Mam) (7)
In For A Penny (11)
Let’s Call It Quits (11)
We’ll Bring The House Down (10)
My Oh My (2)
Run Run Away (7)
London Mums can win 1 of 2 pairs of tickets to the Slade gig at London ULU on 20th December 2019 ENTER NOW!
Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums