Guitarist January 1989 (page 56)

Interview by Tony Hicks.

Dave reminded me that Slade and The Hollies did a gig or two together. .. I remember Nottingham, a ballroom where The Hollies were well known at the time, and it must have been very early days for Slade. But I do remember they went down ever so well- I also remember them being about three times as loud as we were!


Yeah, and Allan Clarke came in and he was wearing a tassley ... did he used to wear a tassley coat?

Yeah, like a cowboy thing ...

Gosh, I do remember it, 'cos our drummer was laughing at him ...

That's nice!

Well Don's a bit like that, always throwing lines at you, and he said something like: "You'll never get anywhere looking like that!" And he'd got knee-length boots, like cowboy boots ... We were just happening, and you know how crucial fashion is then, when you're supposed to be carrying the fashion, so anybody that's like from a slightly older league ...

Right... we'll get off that subject... So when did Slade come about? Was it through Chas Chandler - formerly bass player with The Animals and discoverer of jimi Hendrix?

Well, he was important in shaping us, finding things in us. You see, some scout had been roving around up North, looking for groups to record for a strange French label, so we ended up being put in Philips studios, in London, to find out what we could do. There was this bloke named Jack Baverstock working at Philips at the time, and he said: "Whatever you do, you've got to get somebody down here to look after you". So he got Robert Stigwood who booked us to play the Rasputin Club, down New Bond Street. So we were playing this gig, and Chas, as he came down the stairs with his missus, said we sounded 'like a breath of fresh air'.
Now, we were doing what we'd always been doing - playing pubs and clubs, and just putting out our own personalities, not playing our own material, but not pop stuff - we never played the charts, it was always early soul stuff, you know.

Were you writing then?

No, I think we mucked around with a couple of ideas and stuck a few words on, but nobody got serious ... Anyway. Chas spotted something there and he told us: "Whatever you do, don't alter the way you look".

So what did you look like at that time - was there a distinct image?

Probably a slightly honed-down version of what we ended up looking like ...

... Not the skin-head thing?

No, that was probably more late '60s. We'd been through the hippie period - long hair. beads and earrings, and tight velvet trousers. We'd go to London and buy some gear to try and look like the London groups. Anybody from London looked great! Anybody from the Midlands didn't look right so you went to London and came back looking a bit more professional.

So, Chas thought you looked like a breath of fresh air.

Sounded like it and, I think, looked like it. There was nothing new happening to him and I suppose something was coming off us - Nod with the way he talked to the audience, me with the way I looked - grinning, and all the things I was good at - so he wanted to record us. But Chas' importance was to get us to write our own stuff. His point was: "All the things that have gone into your heads, through learning other people's material and doing it your own way, try and put that into your own songs."

Do you remember the first one you wrote that he was really impressed with?

Well, our first hit was Get Down And Get With It, which originally Little Richard recorded - it was one we did on stage, and which went down really well. So, strangely, the song which cracked it for us wasn't our song! The first original one to do it was Coz I Luv You, which was our first number one. Now presumably that really impressed him! But I remember when we completed it, we didn't want it out - we thought it was a bit wimpy in comparison to Get Down And Get With It - which was more Noddy's power.

I remember, it was a real stomper! Did the record turn out more or less as you'd intended it?

Yeah. We were trying to create the live thing of course, but we couldn't without the audience, so we were thumping on boards to make a noise onto the record - no technology, just grappling with what you've got around the studio. It's not like now, where we can just program it - we programmed it with our own inspiration, our own effort.

Was Chas very important on the production side - did he change things?

Well, it was like: "Let's not use the big stage gear, let's use a little amp." We used to go down to Olympic Studios in Barnes - and you'll know what I mean, being a lead player you've got a certain sound going for you, and although you could probably take in a small amp, I was starting to get the big gear going - double cabs and 200 watts - you took that in the studio and it never worked. So Chas was getting me to do that - and also to stop me from playing long lead breaks. His point was: "If you don't sound as good as Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, don't play long solos!"

That's what I meant about his contribution, because exactly those words were said to me. Whenever I went into the studio I'd worked out a solo which I thought was really clever, and sure enough, Ron Richards, our producer would say: "That's fine, but if you cut three quarters of it out we might have something that's usable."

So I'm looking down the Guinness Book of Records here, and between October 71 and October 74 you had twelve top three records. That's a phenomenal success - if you we;e footballers you'd be playing for England. And they were all really good things, Coz I Luv You, number one, Look Wot You Dun was four, Mama Weer All Crazee Now - one - Gudbuy TJane, number two, then Cum On, Feel The Noize and Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me, both number one, My Frend Stan, two and Merry Xmas Everybody, of course, number one!

That was our last number one, I think ...

That's right, and then you had two at three, you poor old sods -Everyday and Bangin' Man - then Far Far Away was number two.

Number two ... that's when we were slipping .. !

Did the companies start throwing equipment at you when you became big?

No, we just found stuff. From Vox we went to Sound City or something - Nod and I both tried one ... But we'd seen Mott The Hoople, at the Civic Hall Wolverhampton, and we figured our sound was thin in comparison to theirs - even if one guitarist stopped playing they still sounded the same - still sounded thick. So we thought: "Oh dear", and the group had the meeting the next day round my house: "We've gotta change our sound - we've just seen Mott The Hoople".

The meeting'!! (laughs).

Yeah, 'the meeting'. So we all bought our piece of gear to thicken up our sound ... Eventually we ended up with Hi-Watt - I'm not quite sure how that came about, but I think it was because Townshend used it.

Obviously you were getting bigger, more boisterous crowds ... would you have been miked up in those days?

No, in fact we weren't miked up until we went to America, and when they miked us up we tried to take the mikes off. We said: "We just play, and it comes out that way", and the Americans were going: "Oh man, hey, you know - this lovely mike".

I saw a gig of yours, at Hammersmith Odeon. There was a very boisterous crowd, it was a great set, I enjoyed it a lot.

You just went there yourself?


I didn't know you were there ... you didn't make yourself known, did you?

Well no ...

Just nosey?

Yeah, just popped in. I remember you had a thing built out from the stage, that you used to wander along ...

Oh yeah, that was just a thing we used to climb up on, to do solos.

But, as well as playing well, you did have great songs, songs that you could sing. Now, generally if that's the case with a song, you hear it once and love it, and you hear it three times and can't stand it. But they were quality songs, and they keep coming back. Have they released the Christmas one again this year?

It will be - we don't tend to control it, it just comes out anyway ... We've actually recorded a version of Chris Montez' Let's Dance. We just did a rock version of it for a laugh, and thought we'd stick it out. But of course Merry Xmas is always in competition with whatever we bring out, so we're just doing that because we've got nothing better to do we're not performing or anything.

Not at all?

Not at all. I haven't been on stage for two or three years now.

How does that feel?

At times it feels terrible because I have to cope with what's happening. I've got a family, three kids, and things are important in my life, in respect of the home.

So, as a live performing band, is it finished?

No, it's not finished full-stop. Nod and I are venturing into a project together, but we said we'd like to shelve the band for a year - no silly going on 'Wogan' or something daft. We thought, if we're going to further our careers we need to look for something special.

We've been together 21, 22 years, as the same four, and I think back to the days in the van, and the purpose and the reason you did it all... But that goes, because you don't want to be in the back of the van any more, you're in a car, you're chauffeured, you've experienced success, you've been in nice hotels and you don't really want to go back to that to survive. We finished touring when we were number two with My Oh My, in 1983, but then we started to have a go at America, and we had our first hit there. We went over to the States and immediately started to go through what we'd done seven or eight years before, and we suddenly saw red lights. It was a bit like: "Hang on a minute, we've already done this", and it felt like we were going to go through the same stupidity again touring with the wrong people, who were trying to get on tours to be seen - a favour for Fred, so we can get on his show. Plus we weren't twenty years of age any more!

It's very hard to turn the clock back.

Yeah, all I'm getting at is that the casualty of rock and roll is age, and it happens to us all at some point. We can mature and weather well - some of us do and some don't - and when you're in the minds of kids who grew up with you, unless they've seen you frequently, they don't see that gap. Then when you suddenly appear on lV, ten years later, it's: "Cor blimey! He looks ancient!" It happens to everybody - Jagger, and people like that, looning around as if it was years ago.

But the audience has possibly gone past that -you know what it's like: "I was never into the Bay City Rollers; I'm into Pink Floyd" - until the nostalgia thing whips round and then they go, confidentially: "Do you know, I always thought they were great".

But I think we've got longevity - you lot, us lot - various groups from certain periods seem to have longevity because their stuff lasts. It was well written and it's still good, whereas now it's quick and disposable - 'How fast can we get a record out? Who's new and who's sixteen?' You notice how young people are now, and it's hard to actually grab hold of anybody who's going to stay.

They certainly don't seem to ...

But we do want to tour and I do want to play. When I walk on there it just hits me immediately, and I feel it. We've had so many incredible shows, and we never finished it on any low ¸we finished on a real buzz. We always had a standard and a reason, so we're trying to look for a way of moving forward. I've started to write tunes and Nod wants to try production, and we thought maybe we'd rejuvenate ourselves by doing these things. And if we're to come together to make another LP - if somebody said: "Look, lads, we really want you to come back together and tour" - we'd want a reason, a product. Then we'd feel fresh and want to do it - not like: "We've got one more record on the contract to go, we'd better go and to it 'cos there's an advance ... "

I've always said we all take second place to a great song. If people go out and buy a record, they're generally buying what they think is a great song, and it really excites them to hear it. So, with the right song you could be right back there, if you wanted, and then the stage gigs would fall into place. But it's hard rock and roll that you played, and the older you get the less likely you are to want to do that. In our case, our stage gigs evolved, and it isn't actually that much different to what we've always done. But it's amazing how the audience has matured, and sort of come along with us, and the success of He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother hasn't made as big a difference as people might tend to think.

Well people do tend to think things, and any success is good, and a number one is even better. In fact, if you look down the sales figures for this year, yours is the only single that's gone silver, if I remember rightly.

Well they do say the middle – of – the - road market is the biggest one ... I mean that song must have fallen into so many categories - people who heard it for the first time, people whose original copy was scratched, and of course it came out on CD, so there's another market. The funny thing was, Miller Light approached us recently and said: "We want to do another commercial, would you mind changing the lyrics slightly?" We said: "What are you thinking of?" and they said - wait for it: "How about - She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother?" So you can imagine that... they're going to have this great hunky guy carrying his mother out of the pub, or something. So, apart from the fact that we didn't have the right to allow them to do it anyway, I think the song's a little more important than that...

Do you remember your first guitar?

It was a Kay's catalogue job about £7-50

Electric or hole - in - the - middle?

Spanish, hole-in-the-middle, a terrible guitar. I spotted it in the catalogue, and there was a kid down the road playing Tell Laura I Love Her at the time ...

But I'd always had the desire for music - my grandfather was a keyboard player, but a church player - I never met him but he was a Doctor of Music, he had some diploma - and I've always had a kind of affection towards piano playing, although I've never actually played the piano. At school I attempted to get involved in a stupid recorder, but all I got was: "He's a fool, he won't learn to read", so the headmistress made sure I didn't play it. Mum tried to get me into a violin class and it was the same thing: "He's a clown, he won't learn". I was fiddling around a bit you see ...

But in those days you're not serious about anything. I could have just taken it up and dropped it - I'm quite favourite for going mad on something and eventually leaving it alone. I think Dad spotted that when I wanted a guitar - he said: "Well, you can have a cheap guitar and see how it goes", and he insisted that I had some lessons. I had a biology teacher, named Brian Close, who was giving lessons to this other kid, so I went to see him with the guitar, on my bicycle. I was left-handed, so I was trying to play it with the strings upside down and he made me change it round. He was trying to teach me a bit of music, but he would at least allow me to learn what I wanted to learn - he didn't make it like a studious programme of learning the guitar ... He was a jazz guitarist and it always sounded great when he was playing chords - it sounded real smooth, you know?

So then I started to think of forming a little group on the estate. We didn't have an electric guitar then, so after about a year it was: "Dad, I ought to get an electric guitar", and there was a shop in Wolverhampton and I bought a Burns – a Vista Sonic… or something Sonic. It had a knob on it that would click and it would make three strings play bass and three strings play treble ... it was either Bi-Sonic or Vista-Sonic - a funny name.

It must have sounded dreadful ...

Well I thought it was a whizz! If you played in octaves you could have one of your top strings and middle strings going and do a bit of a Wes Montgomery. So in a way it was quite technical, but it probably did sound horrible ... It was a poor man's Hank Marvin guitar really, I couldn't afford a Fender ...

You played Gibsons, what do you think of them?

I've got one; it's a special. Dad bought it for me in London before we made it. Chas thought the Burns was a lousy sound - too bassy - so Dad came down with me to Shaftsbury Avenue ... It was in the window and it was a funny looking thing - it's a Gibson neck fitted on a funny body.

I've seen it and I've often wondered what it is ...

It's a 345 stereo neck on some odd body - it's a one-off, built by a bloke called Sam Lee.

So it was a Gibson neck on a bastard body?

That's right. But that was to be the guitar on all the hits, 'cos it had a nice ringing sound. That was a lot of our sound, you see, ringing, odd chords and notes, a kind of big sound. That's what I used until I got into this Hi-Watt lark.

Then I got away from that Gibson and got into the thick sound, which was caused by a bloke called John Birch, who made guitars for Tony lommi of Black Sabbath. I mean it was a big, thick sound.

Did you buy yourself an echo unit!

Yeah, a Watkins Copycat. That was big news - telling Dad that other guitarists' lead breaks only sounded great because they were played through echo ... a big bluff.

Yes, one of my aunties took me to Manchester and bought me a Watkins Copycat - same thing, magic ...

Obviously you had the same buzz as me in those days. There was such a magic in being young then and just expressing yourself through the guitar.

You felt so good with it, because it wasn't so easily available. You can have anything you want now, and the price is fair. I remember when I was first buying guitars, you felt so proud walking out of the shop with it - you felt honoured that you had something like that. These days, if kids want a Fender, they'll buy a Fender!
I get the impression, from what you say, that you were one of the few bands that didn’t get ripped off?

I think Chas was always up front there. But I don't think it's good to sit down and work it all out, because when there's money coming in you're not too bothered about anything in particular - you've bought yourself a car and a house, so I never scrutinised anything much at the time. I enjoyed the period of success - because I'd worked for it - and those days will never come back to me, it'll never be the same. I've received success the second time round, in fact the third time round, really, because we've had two comebacks! But Chas has always come across as somebody decent to me.

He was a musician in a famous group, he handled a famous guitarist and he knew the pitfalls and problems in groups.

And I don't think it's any secret that The Animals were pretty much ripped off themselves, so it's all credit to him that he didn't think: "Right, now it's my turn!"

Tell us about when you went to the States.

We supported people like King Crimson, which was completely out of order. They were all like a bunch of 'public school wallahs' - sort of: "I say ... " and: "Everybody be quiet while we play our instrumentals". while the people are shouting:
"We want Slade!" It just wasn't fitting. We worked with The Strawbs - stupid, off-the-wall bills like that. In America we were being hailed as the 'new Beatles' - going to be as big as them - and that wasn't good at all. The reporters were slagging us off, expecting us to walk water ...

That's a shame, because the Moody Blues went over supporting various people, and it did work for them. They did it for years, until they turned up at some place and asked who was on that night and were told it was Van Morrison. They asked what time they would be on, supporting, and they were told: "You're not supporting, this is your audience - he's supporting you!" Did you know Justin Hayward?

Oh yes, well! We supported them before we made it - we supported everybody, including Spencer Davis. Stevie Winwood was another one of my heroes - great voice.

There was this place in Walsall, it was a casino. Almost everybody used to play it, and this guy was always favourite for getting groups just as they were making it - he got Herman's Hermits for £25 when they'd just cracked it.

How would you feel about starting all over again - I don't mean in Slade, but in the business in general?

I wouldn't! I like the technology - I pillock around with a little four-track at home, and it's useful for putting ideas down. I'm aware of sequencers, but I find them nauseating actually. I relate to physically playing the guitar.

There's a physical thing about what we did in Slade because it was that energy - plus the back-up of what we were as individuals.

What was it like on the road - roadies to tune your guitars and suchlike?

Yeah, we had a drum roadie and a roadie to tune our guitars, but I think at the end of the day Nod and I would go in and start re-tuning them - I mean, I didn't have somebody playing for me!

Did you realise, then, that the taxman was going to appear a few years later, for his cut?

With Labour in control we paid an awful lot of tax. It was in the hit period, you see; it was very heavy going with Labour in.

But you were aware of it, you didn't get lumbered.

Well, we did get lumbered, we had to pay - we weren't hiding it! We had Special Branch on to us, you know, checking us out ... and we paid up!

Well at least you were in a position to do so. An awful lot of bands who are enormous for a year or two, get the cheques in, go out and buy a Ferrari and totally ignore the fact that he'll eventually come knocking on the door.

I think we're all a little bit subject to going out and buying things, but I bought a house and so did the rest of the band. I bought a house down a posh road in Solihull.

... Not a farm or anything. You weren't drawn to the land?

I thought about it, but as I wasn't writing the hits, the money was less for me ... But nobody ever did have a mansion in our group. We all just had decent houses ... nothing ever super big.

But, as I see it, twenty odd years on, when it comes up to Christmas, Slade start coming into people's minds, and that's a hole that we dug ourselves. Our hits were during the year, not at Christmas, but people relate us, like mince pies, to Christmas. Nevertheless it's nice to be remembered, at any time, but I'm not one to go polishing my discs and looking at past glories.


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