DAVE HILL

As gui­tarist and vis­ual foil to Noddy Holder he helped make Slade a rock phe­nom­e­non. And while Dave Hill might not share his ex-band­mates’ an­nual wind­fall for Merry Xmas Ev­ery­body there are more pro­found re­wards, he tells Teddy Jamieson

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS -

The Slade gui­tarist on heal­ing rifts and plat­form shoes

IN the bar of the Mount Ho­tel in snow-smoth­ered Wolver­hamp­ton this De­cem­ber af­ter­noon there’s a Christmas sound­track play­ing on the pub­lic-ad­dress sys­tem. Car­ols and pop tunes go around and around. Old songs, fa­mil­iar songs, over­fa­mil­iar songs, the odd newish song. And yet by the time Dave Hill ar­rives – a lit­tle late, but who’s keep­ing time? – I tell him that Merry Xmas Ev­ery­body still hasn’t come on. “It will,” he replies.

In fact, by the end of our cou­ple of hours to­gether we still won’t have heard it. It might be the long­est time this De­cem­ber ei­ther of us has gone not hear­ing it, to be hon­est. But I guess he can prob­a­bly re­mem­ber how it goes.

“Dave of Slade.” Is there any phrase more likely to plunge you back into the 1970s than that one? For those of us of an age, it is a pop madeleine plug­ging us di­rectly into child­hood, the three-day week, Top of the Pops on the telly, Tony Black­burn on the ra­dio, Fab 208 on the news­stand.

In per­son Hill is, at 71, a lit­tle jowlier than in his sil­ver-haired, sil­ver plat­form-booted prime. But he still has that hair­cut, a kind of in­verted U that has been cut by un­feel­ing, un­car­ing ro­bots. The straight-across fringe may have mi­grated a lit­tle fur­ther up his fore­head these days, but even now, and even in his civvies (puff jacket rather than old man’s cardie), he is still recog­nis­ably “Dave of Slade”.

And yet … And yet over the next cou­ple of hours he will talk to me about vul­ner­a­bil­ity, about de­pres­sion, about guilt. He will also tell me much he loves the poetry of Wil­liam Wordsworth. I don’t re­mem­ber any of that get­ting much cov­er­age in Fab 208. Rather like the mem­oir he has writ­ten, Dave Hill can be a bit of a sur­prise.

The cover of So Here It Is has a pic­ture of the gui­tarist wear­ing a cape, thigh-high boots, a man­dala of glit­ter on his fore­head and hold­ing a gui­tar la­belled “Su­per Yob” (fa­mously, he also once had a car bear­ing the num­ber plate “YOB 1”). This is the Dave Hill we re­mem­ber, the Dave Hill that Reeves and Mor­timer would later turn into a com­edy sketch.

Yet while he does tell the Slade story in­side, it’s also the story of the drea­ri­ness and so­cial con­fines of post-war Bri­tain in a way, the story of how child­hood marks the man and how pat­terns of be­hav­iour are passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. With a cho­rus of Cum On Feel the Noize thrown in for good mea­sure.

Hill has al­ways lived in Wolver­hamp­ton.

He tells me his daugh­ter mar­ried in this very ho­tel. In­deed, Slade, be­fore they were Slade, played here too.

That was in the days be­fore they were scor­ing six num­ber ones, of course. In 1973, their an­nus mirabilis, I was 10; the per­fect age to love their teacher-bait­ing song ti­tles, their glit­ter and tat look, Noddy Holder’s Dick­en­sian side­burns and their devotion to the three-minute sin­gle.

Man­aged by ex-An­i­mal (and ex-man­ager of Jimi Hen­drix) Chas Chan­dler, Slade were a peo­ple’s group, Hill reck­ons. The Oa­sis of their day, per­haps. But less de­riv­a­tive.

“If you think of Slade, you’ll think of some hap­pi­ness,” Hill sug­gests. And much of that was down to his own, shall we say, ec­cen­tric stage gear. In the NME in 1973 Keith Altham (who dou­bled as the band’s PR) de­scribes Hill as com­ing on­stage look­ing like “an over-dec­o­rated, per­am­bu­lat­ing Christmas tree”. And that was one of his more con­ser­va­tive looks.

“I know I am an ex­tremely strong part of that vis­ual im­age of Slade,” Hill agrees. “I don’t have to be told that. Nod and I quite ac­cept our po­si­tions. Who are you go­ing to re­mem­ber? It will be me and him.”

That said, he adds, “We did take our mu­sic se­ri­ously. Chas was pro my gui­tar play­ing. And af­ter all, he man­aged one of the best gui­tarists in the world.

“I’ve al­ways loved melody, but I know there is some­thing in me that can make peo­ple move. It’s a driven sound. We had a pas­sion for it and Nod was a good lyri­cist. He was a clever bloke. But his lyrics to the Christmas song … It’s clever in its sim­plic­ity. We’re prob­a­bly the only band at that time who could have writ­ten a song like that.”

MERRY Xmas Ev­ery­body re­mains a cash cow of a song. There are sto­ries that Noddy Holder and Jim Lea, Slade’s song­writ­ers, each earn in the re­gion of £250,000 ev­ery year (some re­ports put that fig­ure much higher) thanks to Merry Xmas Ev­ery­body. Hill and drum­mer Don Pow­ell don’t. Such is the na­ture of mu­sic pub­lish­ing. I must ask, Dave. Does it ran­kle?

“My best an­swer to it is that is the way it is. Re­ally, a lot of peo­ple are hav­ing a tough time. They don’t want to be hear­ing about blokes in groups whing­ing about some­thing they haven’t got. I sense what I’ve got, what is right for me. And it’s not based on a fi­nan­cial achieve­ment. The ben­e­fits of the Christmas song is the big­ger pic­ture of joy. Peo­ple come to me and go: ‘It’s your time of year, Dave.’ That is enough for me. If some­one said: ‘It’s your time of year, but some­one else is mak­ing the money,’ it wouldn’t mean any­thing. You ben­e­fit in a dif­fer­ent way.”

How long has it taken him to reach such a level of equa­nim­ity? A life­time per­haps.

David Hill was born in a cas­tle in Devon on April 4, 1946, but grew up on a Wolver­hamp­ton coun­cil es­tate. The cas­tle can be eas­ily ex­plained. The lo­cal hospi­tal had been bombed in the war and a wing of

Dave Hill’s im­age dur­ing Slade’s hey­day was suf­fi­ciently out­landish to in­spire Vic Reeves and Bob Mor­timer to lam­poon him on tele­vi­sion

From top: Don Pow­ell, Jim Lea, Noddy Holder and Hill in typ­i­cally sub­tle garb; Hill with a sil­ver disc for the 1973 al­bum Sladest; plat­form shoes a-gogo as the band ap­pear on BBC Tele­vi­sion

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