If you were growing up in the 70’s it was hard not to notice the glam and glitter of Dave Hill and Slade. Slade had 17 consecutive top 20 hits and 6 number 1’s, 3 of which entered straight into the top spot. Lifetime record sales are thought to exceed 50 million, making them one of the UK’s most successful bands ever. Even more remarkable is that Hill – now 71 – has been gigging for over 50 years with drummer Don Powell, and that the rebooted Slade with them at it’s core has been going as long as the “classic” Holder / Hill / Lea / Powell line up.
Hill is the 3rd of the originals to tell their story, some 18 years after Holder first told his. Hill has published his via book crowdfunding site Unbound which must have given Dave a lot more control over what’s in the book – which turns out to be mixed blessing.
The positives are that Hill gets to tell the story his way, and in his own voice (he was helped by Dave Bowler, a Midlands based writer). There’s no sensationalism and an agreeable matter of fact approach which most of the time makes it an engaging and enjoyable read. He loves playing and performing and is remarkably unpretentious about his “art”, coming across as a down to earth bloke who has put what life has thrown at him into perspective.
The downside is the lack of editorial discipline. Writing the book obviously put Hill in a frame of mind to take stock of his life, and whilst factors like your mother’s mental illness would play an important part in anyone’s life story, he keeps returning to the issue and stories like his mother’s attendance at the premier of “In Flame” are repeated. Although intended as a summary of Hill’s thoughts on his life, the final chapter rehashes a lot of was said in the early parts of the book and would have benefited from a bit more red pen. Being invited to play a gig in the Falklands is related in more length than making “In Flame” or indeed any aspect of the post classic band line up era. The lack of insight to things like the breakup of the original band, or the comings and goings from the “new” Slade line-ups, left me feeling that the book lacked depth. Not much dirt is dished, so if anything happened on the road it’s stayed there.
On stage Slade were a highly effective quartet. Off stage things were less balanced, heavily reliant on the songwriting of Holder and Lea and Holder’s distinctive voice. Hill, always interested in how he looked and what he wore, describes his contribution as the “entertainer”. Whatever Jim and Nod served up he took out and sold it, a full on showman in the metal nun outfit. There’s a slight sense that Hill thinks his overall contribution hasn’t always been properly valued. Having explained how he got married in secret to avoid upsetting the band’s fans it’s hard not to be sympathetic.
The differences in earnings that songwriting generates have done for many bands once that initial rush of success is supplanted by flash cars and house, wives and children. The imbalance within Slade isn’t directly discussed – there’s one passing reference to Hill and Powell getting a bollocking from management for “not pulling their weight” when the hits dry up. The pressure on Holder and Lea must have been considerable, as well as the financial returns so much greater. Hill argues that alongside not really wanting to write, he didn’t see the point given just how successful at it Holder and Lea were (or had been). A subsequent brief mention of getting a fairer deal once Chas Chandler steps down as manager suggests it may well have been a source of discontent but – perhaps a little disappointingly for the casual reader – Hill is letting bygones be bygones. Holder’s foreword provides clues acknowledging that Hill “is incredibly loyal, and protects the privacy of the Slade background and behavior fiercely” although they’ve “not always seen eye to eye” since Noddy left the band in 1991.
Hill relates how Slade were knocked hard by illness and plain bad timing with both Powell and Lea laid low when the band were on the cusp of breakthroughs. He also describes how he overcame an onstage stroke – and I think he sells himself short here in terms of the challenge he overcame to return to playing live again. Add to that getting knocked down in the street and a sustained period of depression, it’s’ a testimony to his drive and determination that he’s still gigging, playing the hits and entertaining. Long may it continue.
Length of Read:Short
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
One thing you’ve learned
Dave was once used in a recording session instead of Jimmy Page,