Interview: Slade

We just got on the stage and got on with it and when you delivered on stage, you've got exactly what the record was, but more powerful.

Slade have just released a new live boxset called All The World Is A Stage that collects a selection of memorable live Slade shows over the years including their legendary appearance at the Reading Festival in 1980. Gavin Brown had the pleasure of talking to Slade guitarist Dave Hill, who takes us through the new live boxset and some special Slade performances as well as telling us all about the band and their legacy.

E&D: Your new live box set All The World Is  A Stage is out now. Can you tell us a bit about how the idea of this box set came  up and the live gigs it collects on it?                  

Dave: I think we’ve always been known for a great live show, and there’s been a lot of recordings over the years with live gigs, and things like that, and I think really what it was, was to put them together because one of our most successful albums many, many years ago, was Slade Alive. That one did so well for us and we were just having hit records at that time, but we weren’t known for the live performances so much until we started to get on to festivals. There was one in particular called Lincoln festival, and that was very early on in our career. It was put on by a guy who was an actor called Stanley Baker and he was in a film called Zulu. He put on this big festival with a load of big bands, and we’d had a hit record or two, but we weren’t known as a live group. We went on this festival, and then we’re in all the trade paper the following week. Melody Maker, Sounds, and that took us in a completely new direction, that festival. It seems to me there are poignant times in our career, where something has happened to bring us back. There’s a picture of us playing Donington with AC/DC, that was another benchmark for us. Live at Reading too, which was a situation in 1980, where we’d almost disappeared, but we carried on playing, so when we did Reading, we weren’t supposed to be on that bill, Ozzy Osbourne was supposed to be on but he didn’t want to do it, he wasn’t ready. We had an opportunity to go and play it and that’s where the recording on the Slade Live At Reading came about. I think really, it was a stimulating idea that some of the gigs where we had recordings of them was for fans to have a collection of really good recordings, on which if you look at it, is quite a body of work. We’ve always been a live band, we’ve had the hits, we’ve had the big albums, but survival is always rotated round the performance of the group to keep the whole thing going. I think what we’ve really got here is a wonderful collection of some things we didn’t realise until now that we had that can actually bring something special to the fans.

E&D: How did it feel looking back on those live gigs, especially seminal ones such as Reading?

Dave: It’s great! When we turned up at the Reading Festival, we had to say we’re actually playing because we weren’t advertised. We travelled all the way down there and there was all sorts of bands there, and we just turned up in a regular car and went in the wrong car park. It was really funny because it’s so typical Slade! We had a really wonderful manager called Chas Chandler, and he really wanted us to do this festival but we weren’t sure about doing it at first, but it really turned our career right round from almost disappearing to suddenly doing this really special gig. Within two or three months, we had a hit record, and we carried on. then went to even more hit records. I think the point is that the live albums are very important in the sense of the structure of what the power of the group is about. If you were ever at any of that shows, in those early days there were a lot of fantastic and exciting nights. We were big all over the world.

E&D: That obviously reenergised the band?

Dave: It did, because it led to things. We went from strength to strength, to the point that a group called Quiet Riot had a big hit with ‘Cum On Feel The Noise’ in America, and  we had phone calls from CBS Records in America and they wanted to sign us and that led to us actually having a hit record in America a song called ‘Run Runaway’ and that became a big thing. We went over there and funnily enough, we toured with Kiss.


E&D: Going back to that Reading Festival show, did it did it feel strange playing ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ at a festival at the end of August in the sunshine?

Dave: Yeah but that wasn’t the plan, to play it! We went on nervous but we always play three songs one after the other so we don’t wait for the reaction so by the third it was like, wow, so we carried on and it got bigger and bigger all the way through. We had no soundcheck. There was none of that but the sound was great and the thing is the music speaks for itself. What I hadn’t realised is most of the the audience were at school when we were first having hit records, so they were probably 18 now and of course for them it was like a trip through their memory. 40,000 people we’re shouting for ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, so we’re not going to do it! You love seeing it and it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, it’s one heck of a hit record and they loved it!

E&D: Yeah, it’s not Christmas til you hear it too! Did Slade always feel the most alive as a band onstage?

Dave: We always felt that even when we made the hit record, you have to make good recordings but when you actually played them live, you have to have something special. We just got on the stage and got on with it and when you delivered on stage, you’ve got exactly what the record was, but more powerful.

E&D: What songs do you still love playing the most?

Dave: It’s a real tough question, that is, because when I do a live show now, I can do 75 minutes and every ones a hit record! There’s not many bands that can do that, so you start off with just working your way through the hits. Personally, I think ‘Cum On Feel The Noise’ speaks volumes about what we’re about and the kind of blokes we are. We were always direct and our manager always thought we were one of the best rock and roll bands ever. We always believed that but we were quite capable of playing a lot of other stuff. I mean, sometimes if you listen to some of our albums, they have some great tracks, like ‘How Does It Feel’, that was a minor hit it was in the film Slade In Flame, Noel Gallagher said it is one of his favourite songs. It’s a great song, which never dates but it wasn’t one of the big hits, it was much later in our career but really when you’re playing live, ‘Mama We’re All Crazee Now’ and ‘Gudbuy T’ Jane’ always deliver. ‘Far, Far Away’ is a great song, which is really loved across Germany and Russia and places like that but when people come to the shows, sometimes they’re like oh I forgot that one or that one. When I play, I know what people come to hear, you know, it’s not like you’re going to turn up and do a brand new album, you’re going to go on and deliver what their memories are, and that’s the important thing, peoples memories. It was a magical time, Gavin, colour television came in the early 70s so anything I was wearing, or any of the band were wearing, suddenly become high definition, this is real, not the black and white world of the 60s and it was dramatic, and it was great for me because I could always work out what looked good from the telly! You’ve got to have great songs, but the image of of our band, who could forget it. Our strength is always entertainment. We’ve always entertained  people. I mean, in the old days, we used to jumps on boxes and go out and stand on the tables rocking out.  We were always serious as a group, our bass player was a great violinist. And we used violin on ‘Because I Love You’. We’re very varied in our styles. The 70s, was more in your face rock, you know and then later on in the 70s, there were more reflective songs like ‘Every Day’ and ‘She’s Far Away’ so there was a development in the group and we had the amount of songs that we had to offer people. I think that’s why these festivals were so successful because we were delivering even the odd one or two that were not hits. It was all about the visual experience of us, and I think I’d say once we got that respect from the album side of markets and not just the singles band,

E&D: Do you think that everything came together on stage, you have the songs, and combined with the image that was the complete package when you were playing live?

Dave: Yeah, I think it was because we always wanted to look different. With Top of the Pops, when we went on there we made sure they’d remember, but you’ve got to have the songs. You’ve got to have radio one playing new tunes, and when radio ones playing new tunes, people hear it but when they see us on TV, it is the next stage. We had straight to number ones, ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, ‘Cum On Feel The Noise’, we had such a huge following of the time. As soon as the record was known about the orders were in, it was a runaway train. We didn’t think we’d still be talking about it 50 odd years later!

E&D: You mentioned mentioned earlier about Noel Gallagher and Oasis covered Slade and so did Quiet Riot, and then you had bands like The Ramones, Sex Pistols, and Nirvana all talking about the influence of Slade, how does that you feel?

E&D: I think it’s nice to be recognised by younger bands. and we all need influences. I mean, we had the Beatles, the Stones and all that, and we obviously wanted to be them. I think with the younger bands, I’m surprised how many American bands like Kiss told us how much they enjoyed Slade, they were very complimentary Gene Simmons in particular, about us. We worked with a lot of bands over there like ZZ Top, they liked us on the show because we got the audience moving. It all seems to come around to people saying, you’re a real band, you play real music and it’s always the way we played, and we haven’t looked at it any different.

E&D: Do you still get that same buzz when you play live today?

Dave: Yes, I do yeah, because I’m obviously passionate about it but, I mean, I’m 76 now and I’m still working. Obviously, we got setbacks with COVID, so we couldn’t work for two years and that was tough because I’ve never stopped working since 1963. To have two years off was really weird so I started to write a solo album, I’ve got to stay occupied and that really helped me mentally. I do love playing live, the buzz of it. We’ve played really big shows abroad. I can remember doing three nights in Berlin to 20,000 people, a magical thing when you see in them swaying with the scarves and using the lighters, it looks absolutely magical. Some of the clubs in Germany are really great to play and some of the festivals that we do, like the Swedish Rock Festival and things like that, even if you get some really heavy rock bands, we can fit in easily because they’re usually fans of us anyway.

E&D: Thanks Dave, it’s been a pleasure talking to you and hopefully we’ll get to see you live when you’ve got gigs coming up.

Dave: Yes, Come on feel the noise, so to speak!

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