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Location: Odense, Denmark

Published author, Ph.D. I write mostly fiction and books on music, movies, art and literature.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

September 20, 2005: interview conducted at Don's place, Silkeborg, Denmark

I'll need the names of your parents and the occupation of your father.
Yeah. My father's name was Walter and my mother's name was Dora. And Dad was a steelworker. He worked in a steel factory. When I was starting work, I worked about 6 months I think, I also worked in a steel work, in the laboratory of the steelwork, testing metal. You know, [Don puts on a parental voice] that's a good job for you. In "Flame" that's why I'm in the factory.

How many brothers and sisters do you have?
I have an older sister, Carol, then there's me, then I have a younger brother, Derek, and a younger sister Marilyn.

I have to mention your accident.
That's okay! That's okay, yeah.
You lost your sense of smell and taste?
Smell and taste. Yeah, that will never come back. And then there's the amnesia. That is sort of like unpredictable. It's never the same. It comes and goes. I remember one time in England I had parked my car. I had some errands, but when I got back I forgot where the car was. [laughs] And I went, Oh, no! I went around looking for it, but I couldn't find it, so there was only one thing to do. Get a cab, and then I explained the situation, and we drove around to find the car. And the strange thing was, the cab driver told me that I was only his second customer today, but the one before me, had been the same. He couldn't find his car, either! [laughs] And about the accident…the girl who died in the accident was a girl whom I had only known for a few months. She was the girlfriend of Dave Hill's sister. She was not my fiancée. It always says so, but she wasn't.

I also have to mention the Flame-movie and that bit about Lorna Doone.
Yeah, yeah. Chas Chandler financed the Flame-movie and hired Andrew Birkin and Richard Longcraine. The characters in Flame were based on us. We took the screen writer, Andrew Birkin, with us on a tour in America, so he got to know us. He was a weird fellow, used to write in church yards. [laughs]. He was always into like the supernatural. Fantastic things. But he based the characters on us. As I had once worked in a steelwork, and in "Flame" that's why I'm in the factory. We never got any money from it. Chas said, that once the original investment had been covered we would split the profits. But we never saw any of it! [laughs hard].
Wasn't it difficult for you making Flame with your amnesia and all?
No. Because they had stops all the time. Do one line and then stop. Also in the long scene where I talk to the boss from the factory. Just did a few lines, then they stopped to change the camera angles and then a few lines more. There was also a book out, "Slade in Flame" by John Pidgeon.
That is really good.
Yeah. It was made after the film, but if it had been made before, we would have used it. The story line is better and there are more depths to the characters. It was closer to us as we had been in the early years. In the book I'm teamed up with Jim. In the early years Jim and I spent a lot of time together.
When Flame came out in America…we were actually quite big in the Midwestern States of America, concert-wise. But when Flame came out they couldn't understand what we were saying. [Don laughs hard] They talked about subtitling it! [Don can't stop laughing] And I remember…it was before we were anything, we were booked to play at the Eastnor Castle in Heresford. It was at a film-wrap party of a film with Sammy Davis Jr. and Jerry Lewis. And we got there and played and afterwards some of the silverware was missing. I think it was both silverware and expensive artworks that were missing. And of course we got the blame. But we said, "No, we haven't got it." We were innocent. Years later when we were doing the Flame-film we met some of the film crew again, and they admitted that they were the ones who had taken it! But back then it was like, blame it on the band! [Don laughs]

Some story! Well, I have to mention that you have written some of the lyrics for Slade.
Yeah, on some of the old things. I did the lyrics to Look Wot You Dun and lots of the B-sides.

Then we have to have a description of your style of playing.
Basically I am a rock drummer. With lots of influence from Ringo Starr. And John Bonham from Led Zeppelin.

You have any hobbies?
Not really. Just music basically. In the sense I buy records. CDs and things. Although the Eagles are my favourite band my taste in music is very wide. I buy a lot of CDs. And I also have them given to me when I am lucky. One time when we did an American tour and Tower Records in Los Angeles, this enormous like warehouse, they said, you can help yourself to records. [laughs] And we said, are you sure? It was like a big factory full of records. It was pre-CD days, so it was records. I think I probably got 75 or 100 albums. It felt a bit strange just walking in there, but apparently Led Zeppelin, they took a big lorry down there and took EVERY record, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of albums. And after that it stopped. But at Tower Records they'd said, go help yourself and they did. [laughs]

Well, we've been through that with the boy scouts
But then somehow you got from the boy scouts to playing in a band.
I finished playing with the boy scouts and I didn't own any drums but I still wanted to play drums. And I was just a member of this youth club and I was playing table tennis when these two guys came into the youth club, and it was Johnny Howells and Mick Marson. Johnny was a singer and he played guitar and Mick was a guitarist as well. They'd heard that I played drums and I wanted to get into a band, so they came down just to introduce themselves and ask me if I would like, you know, to play drums with them. And I said that I would love to but I don't have any drums of my own. I knew a school friend, Dave Boadley was his name, and he had a set of drums. I just went to ask him one day if I could borrow them and he said, yeah, just take them, I'm not using them. I used those drums about 18 months, I think, 1½ years I used those drums, because he never asked for them back [laughs]. We were playing like weddings, youth club dances, the occasional sort of small pub. We didn't get paid, it was just a hobby to us.
I remember one time they asked us to…this be a local cinema and Saturday mornings was like the kids' programme and before then they used to have either a singer or a duo or someone like play on the stage of the cinema before they started the cartoons and all the films for the young kids, and they asked us to play one Saturday morning. I remember when we met Johnny that day, he'd seen the people at the cinema, and they said they were gonna pay us. I said, PAY us?? [Don sounds surprised, then laughs] We get PAID for doing this??? Oh, yeah, we're getting, I think it was £ 5. The cinema was only just around the corner so we could carry our equipment from Johnny's house to the cinema. [laughs] We got paid £ 5, that was like…I think we had £1 each and put £ 2 into…because we used to rehears at Johnny's house because his father had like a small bed & breakfast-place. There used to be an old repertoire theatre near there and the actors who were doing plays or whatever they would stay there, like a bed & breakfast. And we used to sort of rehears there and we used the extra £ 2 to pay Johnny's father for the teas and the milk and the sugar and the biscuits. So we had £ 1 each and that was amazing that we got paid to doing it.

How old were you then?
Sixteen. And we had stage-names. Johnny Travelle and The Travellers was a stage name. The first band was The Vendors. That was Johnny, Mick and myself and we became the 'N Betweens after that. We were still The Vendors when we were playing a pub room somewhere once when this guy came up. His name was Chalkie White, his name was. He really liked us and he said, maybe you need a lead guitarist. He knew Dave Hill and that's how the introduction came. We were rehearsing in Johnny's father's house in the front room. It wasn't THAT big, but the toilet joined the main lounge. So we put the drums in the toilet and then Mick would be off the corner somewhere and Johnny would be off the other corner so we used to shout to each other [laughs] what we'd gonna play and that was when we first met Dave Hill. This Chalkie White bought Dave Hill down and he was looking for a band as well. We just played together and it was the first time I'd seen anyone actually play like Chuck Berry chords. And he played that. At that particular time we were only playing other peoples songs, the pop tunes of the time, really, the Top 20 of the time, things like that. When Dave joined us we started to play a few more like Chuck Berry-song. He knew that kind of thing. That was his style. From then on we played like pubs, that was all there was at the time, and working men's clubs and youth clubs and things like that.

Dave Hill joined in what? 1963?
Yeah, 1963.
And…then what?
We just carried on playing…and, that's right; we were after a bass player then. We had a guy named Bill Diffy, he was with us for a short time. We also had jobs at the time, and he didn't think that the group was making any money. He was going to get married also so he wanted to settle down. He left. Then we got recommended this guy named Dave Jones. We used to call him "Cass". I don't know why [laughs]. You never know with these things. It just happened. And he was a really good bass player. We were just playing like youth clubs and working men's clubs and ballrooms at the time and strangely enough Noddy Holder's band… The youth club we used to play on Thursday evenings and they always talked about this other band called The Rocking Phantoms and that was Noddy Holder's band. They used to play there as well and we used to go and see them. They used to come watch us play. We started playing all the pubs and clubs together, and then they started backing a cabaret singer, Steve Brett. In those days we were to spend a month in Germany. We were booked to do this club in Dortmund for a month and for that we were getting 140 kroner [£ 14] a week each. That was in 1965. So 140 kroner a week each and somewhere to stay. And that was in Dortmund and Noddy Holder's band, Steve Brett & The Mavericks, they were going to Frankfurt for a month. And we went in those old vans we used to travel in and we drove down to Dover and Noddy Holder and Steve Brett & The Mavericks were on the same ferry. And we just talked. We used to seeing Nod all the time and all the rest of the members as well. So they went to Frankfurt.
Those particular gigs or bookings would either make or break a band, you know. That was in 1965 and we all stayed in one room in Dortmund and basically we started to fall apart after that. Dave Jones, like "Cass", he'd met a girl and her father got a successful fruit and vegetable business so he could see that was where he was gonna go. And he is still there actually. [laughs] He is still there doing that. Well, he was leaving. And it was like…Dave and myself were getting a bit disillusioned anyway. And I remember saying to Dave, do you remember that guy, you know, Noddy Holder? I wonder what he's doing now? He wasn't the lead singer at the time in his band. Steve Brett was the main singer and Nod used to do maybe one or two songs before the start of their show, sort of like warm-up things. In the meantime when Cass Jones left we were starting to audition for a bass player, Dave and myself, in view of forming a band with Nod, you know. And that's how it happened that we found Jim Lea. Then we told him what we were going to do and he was a bit disappointed at first because he really liked Johnny Howells, the blues, we were playing blues-things then. And he really liked the old band, so he was a bit disappointed at first. We were still the 'N Betweens, the 'N Betweens were still together and then we approached Nod. His band was breaking up as well. He was disillusioned, so we said do you fancy to try it, we'd like just a four-piece band. And he said yes. It was almost like in secret. Johnny and Mick didn't know. Dave and myself got our equipment together in the van. Dave Hill was the only driver at that time, he used to drive the van. So we picked Jimmy Lea up and went down for Noddy Holder. There was a pub about 100 m from Nod's house where we always used to play as a band. We knew the guy there and he said we could rehears there that afternoon. So it was like a secret rehearsal we had to do. [laughs] Just to see if it would work. The first song…we had to try to think of a song that Nod's band played and that our band played so we didn't have to go around trying to learn new songs…and the first song we ever played together was "Mr. Pityful" by Otis Redding because both bands used to play that song. And it worked! [Don sounds surprised, then laughs] Straight away it worked! Then we were all like young kids, like laughing and giggling because it was working, and then we just leapt into other things, you know, sort of like soul-things and some Tamla-Motown things and it worked!
Then Nod joined the band but the bookings we already had at the time, our agent said, well, you can only do this bookings with Johnny Howells, they like Johnny Howells as a singer, so you need to do those bookings with him. In those days in England in the holiday resorts we used to play there at a ballroom or a club for the week, every night for a week. And we had to play this club in Torquay called the 400 Club. And we used to stay in a tiny caravan because it was cheap for the week. It used to cost 150 kroner [£15] for the week this caravan, perfect. And we were playing in this club and one night Johnny didn't want to play. He asked us if we could do it on our own because he had met this girl and he wanted to take her out that night on a date. And we said, yeah, we'll try it. That was the FIRST time that we could play together just the four of us. And it went FAN-TASTIC! We were in such high spirits. [laughs] Such high. As we drove back to the caravan we said, but we'd better be careful when we get back with Johnny because of the high spirits. He is not going to be very happy. It got even worse when we got to the caravan because the girl he was seeing that night didn't turn up. [laughs] So he'd spent that night in the caravan on his own. And we were all in jubilation because it went so good. [laughs] It was only a few months after that, that Johnny decided to leave. We were going into more Tamla-Motown things then and he wasn't particularly happy with the material, the way we wanted to go with the material, so he left. He was getting heavy into the soul-scene then, so he left and joined a soul band. But that meant that we could sort of carry on the four of us. That was what we wanted, just a four-piece group. And we rehearsed just like CRAZY, you know, for months and months. Because in those days Nod and Dave used to play guitars - Nod was a lead guitarist in his band - and they used to play lead guitar together, play like twin lead guitar, things like that. And then we started learning a lot of Tamla-Motown stuff and arranging them just for us, really. The three guys, like Noddy Holder, Dave Hill and Jim Lea, they all sang, you know. Noddy Holder was the lead singer, but they all sang, and we said, we just got to have a few weeks to work it out on our own.
Then this other offer came up for us to go to Germany again, just the four of us. That would be GREAT, then we can get our ACT together, so to speak, you know. So we got booked to go to Kiel in Germany. A big old cinema called Star Palast. The manager there, I always remember his name, he was a guy named Manfred Woitalla, his name was. I remember him. He was a real GANG-ster! In those days we got 170 kroner [£ 17] a week each and accommodation found. This club we were playing, or ballroom, it wasn't a club really, was a big old cinema that had been converted and our accommodation was, like…the old cinemas in those days had the big stairways round the side of the cinema and there was a landing. We had a camp bed on four landings, that was our accommodation for the month! And then we could get cleaned up in the club's sort of toilets and things like that. But he HATED us! Manfred Woitalla he HATED us! What are you doing, he said, you're playing too loud, he didn't like the material we were playing. Because in those days if you did that kind of booking you had to play the Top 20 material, but we weren't playing that. We were playing old Tamla-Motown stuff and certain soul-thing of the time. He HATED us. He used to stand down the front, shouting at us [laughs] and throwing his keys on the floor and things like that. We didn't have any money at the time and nowhere to crash as we had to wait and every night he made us finish after the first 45 minutes because he didn't like us. But the top of the bill at that particular club was a group called Paul Raven and The Boston Showband - Gary Glitter! [laughs]. And he used to take us out for a coffee and they had proper living quarters. And he used to buy us coffee and cake and things like that because we had no money. The manager of this club he wouldn't pay us, he wouldn't give us any money, so we said, well, what do we do? We're not gonna stay. And he was a real GANGSTER apparently. It wasn't our equipment we were using, it was borrowed equipment. We used the equipment from the club other than guitars, so we just left one night. Manfred Woitalla's children used to play in the club during the day with toy bows and arrows so Noddy Holder got an arrow off one of the children and pushed it through the speaker cabinets of all the speakers before we left. We got in our van and were going back to England. We were really worried, you know, in case they'd sent someone after us. We had it all TIMED just right to get to the ferry at Ostende, I think it was, and when we got there the ferry was just leaving. [laughs] And we were going, No-no-no-no! And then they brought the ferry back! The ferry came back! It was only a few meters out and they brought it back. And we all went, thank GOD! [laughs] And we were like terrified in case anybody came after us. And that was it. Then we just started to rehears back in England again, playing bars and pubs and clubs and things like that. That was what we did all around the country until 1968.
The agency we were with in Wolverhampton was called the Astra Agency. All the bands used to get there Friday morning for their money. It was always like this: we would play a pub but the pub would send the money to the agency, so the bands would have to go to the agency every Friday morning to get the money, sort of thing. If it was THERE, you know! We used to queue up and then one time one day they called us to the office and said, we've had this letter from this guy in the Bahamas who used to come and watch you at the St. Charles Youth Club where we used to rehears and play. He used to be a member there and he used to come and watch you there, but now he is on the Bahamas. Now the Bahamas might have been the moon as far as we were concerned, you know. The Bahamas?? It was something you saw in a film or something like that in those days. They said, he's got contacts there and you can play in a club over there for 8 weeks. And they will fly you out there - we sat with open mouths - they'll fly you there and they'll pay you $ 100 a week each and your accommodation and food is included. [Don whispers:] What!! This is like, you know, this is it! We struck it, we made it, you know. [laughs] I mean, none of us had ever been on a plane before, nothing like that, and we flew out on a Sunday. I remember it was May the 18th 1968. My sister's birthday is May the 23rd so I was a bit disappointed because I would miss her birthday.
May the 18th we flew out there and it was a Sunday. And we played a pub called The Ship and Rainbow on Sunday night in Wolverhampton and then…because we only had our old van there and we can't leave that at Heathrow for about 8 weeks so we got a friend to drive us down. We were all excited. We were all dressed up, like shirt, tie, jacket, trousers on and then we just had the small box amplifiers and the drums. And he drove us down to Heathrow, we left far too early so we drove over night and everything was checked in and we had our tickets. And we didn't have to pay any access because of the small equipment we had then was within the allowance sort of thing, anyway, so it was okay. And of course it was just like, to us it was like something you only saw on TV. And we flew, you know, it was an 8 or 9 hours long flight, I think, to the Bahamas, stopping off on Bermuda. And it was like, [whispers:] what!! Bermuda! [laughs] I remember getting off the plane in Bermuda, I remember the door, walking out, and I jumped back in, I thought the engines were still on of the jet with the heat. I didn't realise it. Of course we had all those coats and ties on, so… [Don laughs and pretends to strip off his clothes]. We took the jackets off and we thought, we haven't even got there, yet! And this is like Paradise in the airport in Bermuda!
And then we flew another 3 or 4 hours, or maybe not that long, but something like that on to the Bahamas, it was just like…. I remember flying, we flew to Nassau, the capitol and then flying there was just like…we were just looking out the window and seeing all these THINGS down below us. And we landed in Nassau, and the guy who had arranged it, Ken, he was there to meet us. And then we got on one of these planes, all inter-island planes every hour. It's like a bus route, really. We got on this plane and on to the island, the Grand Bahama Island, where WE were staying. And we had never seen anything like it. You know, sort of like the heat and just like…it was just like Paradise. And go to a hotel - we had never been to a hotel before, we couldn't understand it. We had 2 twin rooms, adjoining rooms, and we just got a bed each. We never had that before, we never had a bed each before. [laughs]. And the window, there was like a big, French double window looking out over this big lagoon like, it was part of the ocean, that kind of thing. It was like, it was just these four blokes, like scumbags from Wolverhampton, here we are sitting on the Bahamas! [laughs] On this luxurious island in a hotel!
Then Ken said, you don't have to start for the next couple of days and he took us out to dinner that night, and it was like…I couldn't understand it, it was even warm at night! [laughs] In England it was always cold at night. And I remember seeing the electrical storms and the lightning. [Don's voice gets baffled] and I had never seen that. I kept on waiting for the thunder to bang. And I said, [Don's voice sounds uncomprehending] how come there is no thunder? He said, these are just electrical storms. We didn't know anything about that. And he took us all round and showed us the different places. It was incredible. Then he said, tomorrow we'll take the equipment down and I'll show you the club.
We got in his car and we sort of drove out of there and as it happened we went into the jungle. [laughs] And we got to this club and it was like sort of cockroaches all over the walls and everything like that, but we still had a great time. We thought it was fantastic. There were only black people in the club and we set up and everything and met everyone at the club. Then we started. There were only a few black people in and a few American school kids, but they had to leave at 10 o'clock because of the curfew. It was strange at first, I mean, sort of…it was okay playing to the kids, but when the kids left at 10 o'clock we just played to the black Bahamans. They liked us because we were playing soul music and they had never heard like white kids play soul music before. I don't know what it was like, but it was their kind of music. And they could make fun of us and things like that, but it was just a top experience.
First night we went back to the hotel and then we had room service and we never even knew what room service was. [Don starts a conversation of his own:] Room service? What's that? Just call up to the caterer and get some food send. You mean they bring it TO you? You don't have to go and get it? No, no, they'll bring it TO you. [laughs] And then Ken just signed the bill for it. I said, aren't you gonna PAY for it? I already have. But, you…[Don's sighs uncomprehendingly]. Just sign on the bill, you don't give them any money. We couldn't get that together!
We played for the first week and then Ken said, well, not so many people are going to the club so they haven't made that much money so can only give you a few dollars each. It doesn't matter. We've got the hotel and we can eat there, we're being looked after, so we didn't mind. A couple of weeks went on and it got to be the same like that. They weren't making any money. We still didn't care, we had a FANTASTIC time, by the swimming pool, on the beach every day and just having a great time playing at night. It went on like that week after week. They'd give us a few dollars some weeks when they could make a bit of money. But the club was in the black part of the island, so the white kids had to leave at 10 o'clock so it was just he black Bahamans there, ten or twelve in this club every night.
And after 6 weeks…we had 2 weeks left before we went back to England…the hotel manager sent for us. We were all asleep in the bed when the phone rang. Who's that? Hotel manager. I need to see you in my office straight away. His name was Dan Darrow. I put the phone down and Nod said, who was that? The hotel manager. He wants to see us straight away. Aarh…we're still asleep. We'll pop down later. Yeah, back to sleep. Half an hour later the phone rang again, I NEED TO SEE YOU STRAIGHT AWAY! Well, [Don sighs resignedly] we'd better go and see what he wants. So we just put our swimming shorts on and T-shirts and go down there and sit in his office. And he was all like very smart with a suit and everything and we said, what's wrong? And he said, you've been here for 6 weeks now, living like kings, when am I going to get some money? And we just said, well, it's all been paid for by the club we play. Ken said that they are paying the bill. He listened to that and made a phone call and this guy came in with all his paper work and looking through it he says, that wasn't the deal. As far as I knew you were here for 2 weeks, which they were paying for and then it is all down to you. I go, what!! You know, explain that again [laughs] And he explained and said, I know you can play guitars. We explained the situation. We were going to get $ 100 a week each and they would pay for the hotel and food. I'm sorry, he said, that's not what I got down here. And he said, you've been here for 6 weeks now, living like kings, room service and things like that, everything had been signed to the rooms. And we said, well…we got a bit worried…well, what's the bill? What do we owe? Because we had nothing. All we had was the return tickets back home. What do we owe? And he checked up and it was $ 35,000 [laughs hard] It was 1968! [laughs] And we just went into hysterics. We just couldn't believe it. [Don can't stop laughing] We just went into hysterics. He said, it's not funny! You can't stay here anymore, either. [Don's voice gets timid] Where are we gonna go? He said, I'm moving you out to one of our staff apartments and you'll live there. And we said [timid voice] What's…what's happening with us? What's going on? He said, I'll tell you now. I've been over at the club. It has just been bought by some Americans, two American guys from Miami. Yeah? We didn't knew nothing about it. And he said, they are willing to pay you $ 100 a week between you which I will take 75 of to help pay this bill off. You'll have 25. You'll move into the staff apartment and you will not leave until this bill has been paid off. I thought, we are never going to get home.
There was nothing we could do. We moved into this apartment, it was probably about…it was not as big as this living room and we had like four camp beds and it had a separate bath and toilet and a small kitchen in the corner and that was it. And like every Friday night when the hotel guys used to come down they'd take $ 75 of our $ 100, leaving $ 25 and that was it. But the American kids used to help us out with food and pay for things and drive us everywhere and things like that. We had been booked for 8 weeks and when we had been there for nearly 8 weeks we thought, the thing is our tickets were charted things. These tickets were only valid until the end of August. The last flight was like in the last week in August, something like that. We got to go back. [Don whispers] What are we going to do? And we got no money, either. At least we had our return tickets, but we had to save money to pay for over access baggage and our equipment, so we just played there.
It was like every day like 8 hours a night, and every weekend the owner would bring American acts over from Miami, which we used to back and things like that. Fire dancers, female impersonators, soul singers and things like that. [laughs] So we had to rehears with them and play with them like Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The fire dancer only wanted drums so I used to play just jungle music for him on the drums. And the soul singers, when they came over they used to have a bass player and a guitarist, but they never had a drummer. So I was engaged with them. I used to go down every Friday afternoon to rehears with them. I never got any money for it apart from the deal. And it was strange in those days, everyone went, do you know my hit record? And they all had the same hit record. It was a song called Hitch It To The Horse. I'll just sit there and wait for them like totally despondent and they'd come and get introduced to me, do you know my hit record? I said, Hitch It To The Horse? How do you know that? [laughs] And I was to play with them, but the thing was with the fire dancer… He had this big pole of fire and it was only a tiny stage and he used to dance around sort of limbo dancing with this thing and I learned to duck [Don ducks for the imaginary pole of fire]. You can't work with these kinds of things. [laughs]. And I used to be on stage from 8 o'clock until 4 o'clock in the morning without a break and then I'll be asleep on my drums [Don leans forward, pretending to be asleep over the drums] and I'd hear the guys: Come out, come on, that's it now! [Don sighs] Okay!
We had a GREAT time. We were 4 young kids on the Bahamas. You can imagine. We didn't care that there wasn't any money because all the drinks were being paid for by people in the club who sent us drinks, things like that. The kids used to get us food, things like that. That was okay.
Near the end when we realised we had 2 weeks left before our tickets finished - we'd just about saved enough money to get our equipment back, but [Don whispers] how were we to get it out of the club? They'll kill us. They'll murder us. They'll shoot us. You know, what I mean. What are we gonna do? [Don's voice returns to normal] And it was just a PURE stroke of luck that the managing guy who had taken over said, this weekend after you have finished playing on Sunday I want ALL your equipment OUT of the club. We are closing the club for a week and we are gonna redecorate. I said, I don't believe it! We got our equipment out and we took that straight down to the airport, paid, on the plane, back to England. That went a week before we did. We had a week left because the club was closed.
The following weekend was our last flight that we could get back. That was all checked in, all done and we had a week. We just had a party for a week with the kids. What a party. And we flew out on a Sunday and on the Friday and Saturday we said to them, now listen, we've got to skip the island on Sunday so we are gonna say all our goodbyes this weekend. We can't see you on Sunday. We have to go to the airport. They all came to the airport Sunday morning to see us off and we said, No! No-no! [laughs] No one knew we are leaving! We had to time it. Our flight from Freeport to Nassau where the flight for England was, we had to time it. The plane we got to Nassau it gave us just the minimum time to check us on the plane to England and then go on. So we timed it just right, and we saw all those kids and said, No! Go away! Go away! And we said goodbye and got on the plane and we got to Nassau to find that the plane for England had been delayed for about 6 hours. And we said, They're gonna know. They're gonna come after us. What are we gonna do? We were scared. We were really scared. So what we did was that for 6 hours we went to 4 different parts of the airport and hid like on settees and lay down [Don ducks down sideways in his armchair] so no one could see us. And that was the LONGEST 6 hours I have ever spent! We couldn't find each other, we just hid and we had strange looks from people going by us and that kind of thing. And I remember looking out and seeing our plane, it was night time then, coming in from England and we RAN! We had already checked in. We RAN and got on that plane. And that was it. We got off the island. But it was strange flying over it. We had been there for almost 3½ months and looking down and think…god, we'll never see this place again. This is a place…it is like, to us, like Paradise…like the other side of the world, and we will never see it again. It had been the most amazing experience that 4 kids have ever had.
We got back and we had letters for about 2 months from the hotel after the money. We obviously…when we checked in the hotel we put our addresses in the registration, we didn't think, we were truthful, we put our own addresses, and we had LETTERS for MONTHS. We still had $ 22,000 or 23,000 that we owed them and that was it.
On the plane on the way back we were all still positive when we thought, well this is it now. We've had our hardship. We're gonna make it now. We're gonna work our DAMNEDEST to make it. The agency at the time - there were no phones, well, there were phones, but we couldn't afford phones, to telephone to England from the Bahamas, and we used to write to our agency saying we're stuck here we can't get back, you know, we're helpless. We NEVER got a reply. And when we got back we went to see them and they had the NERVE, the cheek, to ask us for their commission from the months in the Bahamas and we said, WHAT!! You left us there, you never even offered to help, you know, and we said, we're leaving you. We're not staying with you anymore, we're leaving. And they said, you can't, you're under contract. And we said, we're not. Because we weren't. Because when they originally formed they didn't particularly like us anyway but they signed all the other bands. They never even signed us. They used to get us, it was pure a mistake on their part, but we never said anything. Keep that one quiet. They still used to get us work which we paid them the commission for obviously, but they never had a contract with us. And then when we said, we're leaving and they said, you can't, we have a contract, we said, no you don't. Yes, we do. So will you find it? They said, no, we can't just find it like that. We said, we'll come back next week. And we walked in, where's the contract? And they hadn't got one. Everything went PERFECT, and we walked away from them. And then we worked with this other agency in Wolverhampton as well which a policeman and his wife used to run. It was in his wife's name, because he, Andy, Andy Anderson, was a policeman so he couldn't have his name to things like that so it was all in his wife's name and we used to work for them. We basically did the same gigs in Wolverhampton, you know the pubs and clubs and things. It was just a different agency. Then they got this recording audition for us at Fontana records. Oh no, I missed the Kim Fowley bit out, haven't I?
That was back in '66, that was when we first… You want me to go back to that?
Yeah, you can do that.

Yes, because they got us this club in London called Tiles. That was in '66. And because we were still a youth club band then, all the youth club members they'd rented a coach to come down see us play. And we didn't know. We played this club in Oxford Street, I think it was. It's not there anymore, but it was like an old club in Oxford Street. And we didn't know there was this guy in the audience called Kim Fowley who was like part of the Hollywood Argyles, The Alley Youth, those things, even Napoleon XIV. He did "They're coming to take me away", you know. That was him. And he's like [Don opens his arms wide] that much taller than me and like so skinny and he came in, You guys are gonna be famous. And we go, who's this freak? He introduces himself as Kim Fowley. Stick with me. You're gonna be stars. [Don sighs disillusioned] Okay, Kim. I'll make a record with you. It could be a massive record. Okay, Kim. We'd heard all this before. Okay, Kim. And he actually, he was with this agency that contacted Andy Anderson and we went down to make this record. We were still at Astra at the time. We went down to make this record with him in this tiny studio, it was a real dump. We didn't really write our own things then and he said, well, what are some of your favourite things that you play on stage and we really liked a song called You Better Run by The Young Rascals. So we recorded that with him. He was MAD. Because he said, We'll do it as a fade-out. So when you finish the song, just keep on playing and then you'll give me time to pull it back. He never did that! If you listen to the record it just falls apart in the end. He never faded it down. You never thought that was the ending. And it would just fall apart. And he said, now we'll write a B-side together. We'd never written before. He said, what's one of the songs that you like playing on stage? There was a song called "I Take What I Want" by The Artwoods. He said, okay then, we'll just put new lyrics to it. And we did that and we called it "Evil Witchman". And we just did that and we went, can we call it that? Yes, as long as it is the B-side it is normal. And we just did it! And it was released on December the 2nd 1966, that was, and that was the end of it.
Then we were with Andy Anderson and Nita and they got us this recording audition at Philips studios in London and we went down and the head of the company was a guy named Jack Baverstock. He said, let me hear some of the things that you play, you know. We said, well, like what? He said, would you want your old things? We said, no. He said, let me hear some of the things you play on stage. We played him some of the things and he really liked it. We'll make an album. What? Making an album? And there was only us in the studio with an engineer called Roger Wake, and we did just this album. And it was all the stuff that we did on stage. If you listen to that album there's Born To Be Wild, and like Martha My Dear by the Beatles, you know the tracks, that was all of our stage show of the time. And there was the one song that Jim and Nod wrote called Pity The Mother with Jim on the violin. That was the first attempt to write. And all the rest of the songs we just used to mess around with in the studio.
Then Jack Baverstock he said - he really liked us - he said, you need London management. We said, but we don't know anyone. He said, oh, I'll put the feelers out, I'll see if I can find out who's around. And we were recording one day and Chas Chandler came in. I saw him through the control window and I was like mouthing to the others: [Don forms the words CHAS CHANDLER! with his mouth] That's the guy who FOUND Jimi Hendrix and he was with The Animals! He was like, you know, a real hero and he liked us. He sat for us in his office one time and we said, well, we're signed to this agency up in Wolverhampton, Nita and Andy Anderson, their agency. He took details and he invited them down. That was it. Then they came back and we had this meeting with Nita and Andy and they said, well, we met Chas Chandler and John Gunnel, his partner of the time, and then we have decided that it is best if you go with them. We said, WHAT? They said, No, but they got more to offer, you know, that kind of thing. We didn't know that Chas and John had paid them £ 500 for our contract! [Don laughs hard] We didn't know, because they said to us, did you ever get a share of that money we paid? What money? £ 500! By today's standards that means nothing, but in those days that was a lot of money. And then what Chas did, he said, because he was like a record producer, he says, well, I've done my credits to Fontana, the record company you are with, so I'll make you a deal with them. I want to move you to Polydor. I know the people of Polydor. So the record, "Beginnings", came out on Fontana, but that was the only thing. I think he bought the contract from them, bought us out of the Fontana contract, and then he took us to Polydor.
We did a few things with Chas but nothing was happening, you know, really nothing was happening. Then him and John sent for us once and we went down. They said, we want you to become skinheads. Because that was just starting in England. We said, no way! It took me SO long to grow my hair, NO WAY! We were all dressed all trendy and things like that. But he said, well, why don't you go and have a cup of coffee and a think about it because I think that is what you need. And we did think, and we thought, well, we were a bit scared, we thought, if we say no he probably don't want to manage us anymore. And now we had finally FOUND someone who is a proper manager. So we agreed. We agreed to do it. [Don whispers] Oh, god! We had all our hair cut off and that kind of thing, and wore these things. From hair down to here one day [Don point to his waist] to like nothing. And it was like…people couldn't believe what we had done around Wolverhampton. We were dressed in like the jeans and the boots and all that kind of thing and we got NO work whatsoever. Everyone was scared to book us. They thought they were going to have problems at their bars or clubs. The skinhead-thing had just taken off in England. I remember one time there was a chap that appeared at the Top of The Pops, but that was finished because the producer's son had been beaten up by skinheads. So that was gone, you know. We tried and we got LOADS of publicity from it and that was what Chas wanted to do. And after that we started to…there is some old footage of us, we haven't got hair any of us, playing on some TV-shows without any hair and Jim on violin, it seemed so…ABSTRACT! [laughs].
Then we started to grow our hair a little bit then, it was still short, and then we had Get Down And Get With It, no…it was… Wild Winds Are Blowing, Know Who You Are…and Get Down And Get With. It was just a stage-song of ours. We used to finish with it and then Chas said, that is going to be your next single. It goes down SO well on stage, that's gonna be your next single. [Don's voice sounds surprised] That's a GREAT idea! We never even thought of that. We recorded it. In those days you only got on Top of The Pops if your record was in the Top 30. They had the occasional guest spot on, a new release or something like that, but you had to be quite successful to get that thing. We couldn't get Top of The Pops unless it was a Top 30 and it went to the charts in the 40es, I think, and it crept up to 32. We thought [Don whisper] NEXT week! We're gonna get it on the Top of The Pops. Next week it was 32 again [laughs]. I thought, no, it is never gonna do it now. And Chas said, well, you'll get in the Top 30 next week. The following week it was 28. So we were on Top of The Pops and we went up to No. 16, I think, eventually. And that was the start.
Chas always kept on about writing our own things and then Nod and Jim came up with 'Coz I Luv You. With 'Coz I Luv You, I think it only took them a few minutes to write it. Nod was always a big Stephane Grappelli-fan and because of Jim playing violin as well. Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. They used to play around in the dressing room. And that was it. Then the roads were closed for going back. It's just incredible.
Yeah, I guess the rest is history.
It is! I remember when we made the Slade Alive! album. It was actually made in a studio in Picadilly, but it was built as a theatre. We gave three concerts there and the audience was from the fanclub. I think there was 300 per night, but all the material that went to the album was recorded on the second night. All of it.
You had quite a following…
We had this football following. It was strange because none of us were into football. I remember once I was invited to a match and I sat there reading a drum magazine among all those football fans. Then I realised I'd better put the magazine down before they got angry with me!

As the only member of Slade you moved away from Wolverhampton, didn't you?
I moved to London and I lived there for like 10 years. I never thought I would move away from there.
And you came to travel the world…
Yeah, Europe, America, Asia, Australia…In Australia everything was so vast. I remember playing arenas in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing around for hundreds of miles, nothing, and then out there, there would be an arena! [Don sounds surprised]. People travelled from all over the place to get there and see us and there was just not anything around, no towns or anything.
I remember a place in Australia, it was a like a café where truck drivers used to stop. It was situated in the middle of nowhere with hundreds of kilometres to the nearest neighbour. It was run by two sisters, two elderly women, and I remember thinking what if anything happens? What would they do with no one around within reach? When we stopped there we were the first people they had seen for three weeks! And they were so happy to see us.[laughs]. They'd do anything for us. We just had to ask and we'd get it.

I don't think we have the time to go into your hits, but…MXE was the biggest…
Yeah, I remember we did a performance of Merry Xmas on a TV-show in the 1980's. We got there early and they had a bar in the studio. And we had to wait and wait to get on, so we had a drink and one more. We were there for maybe 2 hours or more and when we were finally on, we were just so drunk! Have you seen that video?
Oh, yes! It's hilarious!
We went totally mad, especially me on the drums. It was great! That was in my drinking days. Those were the days! [Don laughs hard].

Well, you had a lot of hits and was very successful, you did Flame and went to the States and then what?
We couldn't get airplay in the States. We were big in St. Louis, Philadelphia and to a lesser degree New York. Generally the East Cost and the Midwestern States liked us, but we couldn't get any airplay. When the Warner Brothers contract expired we went back to UK to record Whatever Happened, but, you know, punk had emerged and we were regarded…you know, old. We went back to playing like small venues. We kept on touring but we were not that big anymore. At one point we had almost stopped playing together. I think we hadn't seen each other for about six weeks or so. Then we were suddenly asked to play the Reading Festival in 1980. Ozzy Osbourne was to play there, but he pulled out so we were asked to play instead of him. And we arrived with our instruments, we weren't even billed, and we went on stage and did it. Shortly after Reading we parted with Chas and started producing our own records.
But I WILL say that Chas had so much faith in us although a lot of people, you know, were sort of saying… I remember that one publicist, Keith Altham, he was our publicist once, he did actually say to Chas, they are never going to become successful. I feel I'm taking your money off you. Forget the publicity. It's not working. I think you should take the account to somewhere else. He actually said, it is the WORST mistake I ever made. [Don laughs hard].

Then you finally made it in America?
Yeah, we did "My Oh My" and "Run Runaway", but in America they released "Run Runaway" first. They had it in a reverse order. The promotion film for "Run Runaway" we actually did at Eastnor Castle in Heresford, the place where we'd been blamed to nick the silverware many years before! And in America they thought that the castle was where we lived. [laughs] They thought it was our house!
Sharon Osborne managed us in America by then and she got us on a tour with Ozzy Osborne. But Jim became ill. We stayed on a little longer to do some interviews and promo work, but he was really, really ill with hepatitis and we had to stop. In 1987 we did You Boyz and that was it. Well, in 1991 we did Wall of Sound, but after that Nod didn't want to go on anymore. He had offers to do other things, and he would rather do that. And Jim wouldn't go on without him. And that was basically it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed reading this lise and it comes across how much don enjoys telling you it all!! THANX to you both!!!! (dee)

12:40 AM  
Blogger Lise Lyng Falkenberg said...

We both enjoy doing these interviews, that's also why we've decided to expand out work together a bit, i.e. with a biography.

4:37 PM  
Blogger johncull said...

I was doing a Google search for Manfred Woitalla and the Star Palast, Keil when I came across your blog.
I used to work as an English DJ in the Star Palast around that time.
I remember Manfred very well and his henchmen who worked in the bar. It was always so dreadful when it came to payday - you almost had to beg!
I also remember sleeping in bunkbeds in the Star Palast for a month at a time. Amazing.
John C

9:46 AM  
Blogger Lise Lyng Falkenberg said...

Thanks for your comment, John. Don has very vivid memories of Manfred as well!

8:39 AM  

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