Dave Hill is the last founding member of Slade in the band and, at 75, taking the band out for a post-lockdown December tour. An iconic band, it seems anyone of any age knows them, whether it is only for the ubiquitous “Merry Christmas Everybody” (Itt’ssss Chrriiiisss–massssssss!!!) or as a perennial feature of TV and radio from the early seventies to the second half of that decade. Their recording career actually lasted well past that and, despite Noddy Holder calling it a day around the turn of the century (as well as Jim Lea), the band has continued playing live to the present day. So, live from an appearance in my memory from 1973, when we got a colour TV on rental and Slade’s outrageous colours and costumes added to the sonic assault at 5 o’clock on a Friday afternoon (“It’s Friday, it’s five to five, yes it’s Crackerjack!”), Dave Hill picks up the phone and calls me.
I couldn’t help myself: “How Does It Feel, Dave?” I asked. “It feels good”, he said, “I started when I was 18. It’s a job that I love – it’s my life. I’m an entertainer.”
Hill’s outrageous Glam Rock outfits are the stuff of legend but he doesn’t wear platforms any more. “At my age it’s not a good idea!” (laughs). “I broke my ankle in Liverpool Stadium in 1973 – the fans rushed the stage and we ran off. I spent the rest of the tour in a plaster cast – the band bought me a gold chair to sit in onstage!”
“A fashion historian is writing a book about my outfits and talking to the people who made them.” Chas Chandler (Slade’s manager) suggested dressing as skinheads (their second image as a band). “We got noticed but skinheads listened to ska so we grew our hair. That’s how I ended up with that fringe – from growing my hair from scratch. Once I started the clothes he encouraged it. I had one in black with metal discs. He called it The Metal Nun! The band used to wait outside the door and see what I was going to come out in.”
“I loved the clothes and that was part of selling the band. I used to say “you write the songs and I’ll sell them”. You have to remember we were huge….., huge, across Europe and were on TV, so that image was a big thing”.
What advice would he give young Dave Hill in 1973? “I’m happy, I’d live it all again but I’d like to have written some songs.” It’s never too late and during COVID lockdown he finally worked up a number of songs for a solo album. They won’t be in this set because people come for Slade. He doesn’t even like to mess with the Slade songs – maybe he’ll elongate ‘Gudbuy T’Jane’ for fun but people have come to sing along and he doesn’t want to mess with the experience for them.
His favourite Slade songs include ‘My Oh My’, ‘How Does It Feel’ (“it speaks of now – the lyrics point to things that will change”), ‘Everyday’. So he likes ballads best? “Yes, but rock and roll was the big strength of Slade, like ‘Cos I Luv You’.”
As for other bands; what with working so hard, a lot of the time the bands he saw and liked were bands supporting Slade, like Thin Lizzy or Suzi Quatro, who were both great. ZZ Top supported a long time ago and made an impression because they did the blues but played it different. It was so long ago that they didn’t have beards and Dave thought they dressed like cowboys. Billy Gibbons is still a favourite guitar player of his. Today he likes Jack Savoretti, Adele and, like we all do, “the music I grew up with, especially Motown”. Oasis get a special mention, since Noel Gallagher has famously said: “no Slade, no Oasis” and he contributed an afterword to Dave’s autobiography. He’s not yet seen a Slade cover band, though now is the time of year they tend to get their bookings. He does tell me is a female cover band once and that sounds a great idea – a quick Google tells me that Slady (!) stars Davina Hill and Gobby Holder!
Christmas is coming and I ask about ‘that song’. Perhaps because of the royalties that must still be coming in, Dave has no problem hearing it when he’s out and about. There’s a bit of an ‘oh, no’ feeling if it plays in a café and someone looks at him quizically, thinking ‘that’s you, isn’t it?’ One time he was browsing a clothes rack when ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ came on and he could see someone the other side of the rack twig on as they caught a glimpse of him the other side – “it’s you!”
I’m curious about how the band works now – their live recordings present a band with amazing showmanship and rabble-rousing appeal, largely from Noddy. Dave has it sussed – he does the showman / ringleader stuff that Noddy did; “I lead the band” – he does the chat, the getting people up for it, all that. “Obviously when I’m playing the guitar, I’m not singing. These are great songs and a long set, we play what people have come to hear. I’m very happy, it’s part of my life. I love being in front of an audience.”
It’s nice to talk with someone still enjoying what he does and with the drive to keep on doing it. All together now: “C’mon Feel The Noize”!