Devon Radio Presenter Judi Spiers interviews the legendary pop group Slade
PUBLISHED: 21:29 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 09:52 20 February 2013
Westcountry Slade<br/><br/><br/><br/>Judi discovers how spelling problems and a penchant for walking through Woolworth in odd clothes lay behind the success of one of the great bands of the '70s <br/><br/><br/><br/>It may surprise you to know...
Judi discovers how spelling problems and a penchant for walking through Woolworth in odd clothes lay behind the success of one of the great bands of the '70s
It may surprise you to know that the band that was touted as the Black Country's finest, Slade, the noisiest band to have come out of the '70s, had a 'gert big dollop' of Westcountry in it. It certainly surprised their management when I pointed it out on their recent 'Merry Christmas Everybody Tour', which brought them to Torquay.
Yes, after 30-odd years, Dave Hill, he of the poker-straight pudding basin, stack heels and silver cape with huge golden glitter balls in his ears, had to 'fess up' to his management and to me that he was, in fact, born in Devon, in the South Hams, when his parents moved down here from Stoke.
"I was born in Flete Castle, in a small village just outside Kingsbridge," he proudly announced, so proudly that I didn't like to tell him that Flete, historic as it was and at the time a maternity hospital, was known as Flete House and not Castle.
"I went in search of it, actually, with our drummer Don Powell 'cos I got a card that said Lord Mildmay had owned it and I thought I might inherit it or something. But it's really funny because the guy running it used to make amplifiers for us in the '70s. How weird is that?"
After he was born, his parents got jobs in Wolverhampton and relocated there, and that's where he grew up and eventually formed the band, but he has some very fond memories particularly of Torquay.
"We used to play a place called the 400 Ballroom. We were a five-piece band then and we used to have a rather large singer before Nod joined us. We used to play this club and stay in, I think it was The Beverley Caravan Site, and we'd be in a caravan all together for a week."
Knowing what boys get up to in caravans I thought it best not to ask too many questions, at least not for this publication. However I did want to know how the band got its name, and it turned out to be one of the oddest tales I've ever heard.
"Well, this woman in the record company had a purse called Ambrose and a bag called Slade. 'Sounds a perfect name to me,' said the boss of the record company, but we had a problem because he used to call us Ango Shed or Ambrose somebody and people thought it was Nod's name, so we got rid of it. Our manager, who was to take us to success, (Chas Chandler ex of the Animals and manager of Jimi Hendrix) said: 'Don't like the Ambrose bit. Just call yourselves by Slade,' and that was that."
The clothes came about through the band's desire to be different, as Dave explained.
"I bought this woman's top, you see, from this shop. I know it sounds ridiculous; it was a blouse with a bow and it was yellow. From a distance it looked like a shirt. I put it on in the dressing room and Nod and Jim were laughing at me saying 'you can't possibly go on stage wearing that'. I went on stage anyway and got such a good reaction. I learned that it's all 'make 'em laugh'; it's all sort of old Vaudeville days of entertaining people. Although the music was just as important, the visual appearance of Nod and myself capitalised on the whole thing and made people remember us. I used to go through Woolworth's wearing some strange clothes, and if everyone was looking at me I thought, that's got to be a winner, I'll try that one next."
As for the hair, well, Dave used to cut it himself and then spray it into shape. "But unfortunately Ray Davis (of The Kinks) thought I was wearing a wig, so on Top of the Pops he tried to pull it off. Unfortunately he found out it was real and my manager came in and grabbed hold of him!"
Dave puts the longevity of the band down to the fact that they all learned to work with each other well in the early days. "We were marooned over in the Bahamas. We were sent there as a young band, supposed to be there for a month and were stuck there for three months paying off debts. So we learned how to put up with each other, and when we actually made it, although we weren't going down the pub together and all that, we were always loyal to each other; we had a purpose. We were one of the few bands that didn't have any bust-ups."
The advent of punk rock and New Wave meant that Slade's success faded by the late '70s, and in August 1980 Ozzy Osbourne cancelled their set at Reading Festival at very short notice. Slade, who had all but disbanded, were recommended to replace them, and Dave had to be convinced to play and they 'tore the place apart' - and continue to do so despite Noddy having left the band some time ago.
"It's still worthwhile," Dave told me. "I went to Russia earlier this year, across to Vladivostok and some other unpronounceable places in Siberia, and I met people at the gig who said 'you were a lifeline to us in the days of Communism. We saw you as such a relief, and especially the way you looked. You gave us some hope'."
Good job he didn't listen to the boss at Tarmac then where he worked in an office for three years. "I couldn't spell properly and the guy's going 'there's a future for you here my lad. That rock 'n' roll won't last'."
Well it did, and so did they, and thanks to Dave's spelling and Slade there's a whole generation of us, and 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now'