Don Powell interviews

My Photo
Location: Odense, Denmark

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

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Flame interview

When doing interviews with Don we have often talked about Slade’s film Flame from 1975. In April Union Square Music re-released it as ”Slade in Flame Special Collector’s Edition” and I was to do a bit of promotion for that. But when I looked through my notes from former interviews I felt that something was missing. As Don was to visit me anyway on May 7th 2007, we used the occasion to tie up the loose ends and the day after we finished the interview over the phone, because there was still ”something” missing. Below you can see our efforts from May 7th and May 8th. The pics were shot in my home in Danish town Odense on May 7th.

Don and me, May 7, 2007

Posted by Picasa

May 7 and 8, 2007: interview conducted at my place, Odense, Denmark and over the phone.

What do you think of the film Flame?
It’s amazing to think that after all this time how it suddenly comes back again. Because if I remember right, Lise, it only had a short span in the cinemas. It wasn’t around for very long. And not everywhere showed it, either, only certain towns showed it. The actual general release wasn’t everywhere like you’d see with a major film, that gets a nation-wide distribution. But that didn’t happen with “Flame”. And then in the late seventies it was shown in a few special cinemas, like a tiny cinema in Wardour Street in London, there was a month when they showed things like “Performance”, and “Flame” was shown there. And I think in Cardiff as well. But I think the film is good. Because of the story, I think it still stands up.
And the cast is very well chosen.
It is. The casting director was fantastic, really. All the actors were perfect.
Johnny Shannon as the agent, that was pretty much the same part he played in “Performance” wasn’t it?
That’s the part that he always played! [laughs] He was on television quite a bit and he always played exactly the same type. He did a lot of sitcoms in England and it was always the same kind of character. He looks the part and he carries it really well.
People always talk about him, Alan Lake and Tom Conti, but people seldom mention Kenneth Colley who played Tony Devlin. He was good.
Yes, he really fitted the part.
He went on to do Star Wars, didn’t he?
Yes, he was in a few episodes of that and he did some other work, I suppose.
And what about the women? I know that Nina Thomas who played Jim’s wife was has only done two films, one with Judi Dench and one with Michael Kitchen and then she was in an episode of Dr. Who as well, but what about Sara Clee, who played Dave’s girlfriend?
I don’t know what happened to her. She was in a few things of the time, although I don’t remember the names of any of the films, I think she was in “That Will Be The Day”. She also always played the same part as well! We had that joke that whoever worked on Flame never got any work afterwards. [laughs]. One shot himself and the rest didn’t work! [laughs]. But…at least Tom Conti came out well.
And the screenwriter Andrew Birkin had quite a good career with “ The Name Of The Rose”, “Joan of Arc”, “Perfume” and all the Peter Pan-work.
Oh gosh, yeah! At the time I thought he had it with his career. I would like to see him again. He was a type…he was always in the background, wasn’t he, he never stepped forward. He never sort of pushed himself.
No. But he cameos in almost all the films he has been screenwriting. In “Joan of Arc” he plays the part of Talbot and in “The Name Of The Rose” he is Cuthbert of Winchester.
I have to have a look!
And he has had a few parts in other films as well.
A kind of Hitchcock type of thing?
No, it is a bit more than that.
I would like to see him now. What he looks like now. It was strange seeing Richard again. He hadn’t changed at all. Andrew probably looks just the same as well. He was almost a wee gentleman when he came with us to America. He never pushed himself. When we asked him about his sister, Jane Birkin, and that record she made “Je t’aime”, he never rose to the bait. He was probably bored about that question. He was probably fed up, because all that people did was talk about that record. I really would like to see him again.
Well, I’ve passed on your e-mail address to him, so now it is up to him!
Yeah. I wish I had kept the script, by the way, for Flame. But I haven’t.

Who played the part of Noddy’s grandmother? You never see the face.
Oh, that was one of the technical crew! And then the voice was overdubbed later on.
Did you do overdubbing?
Yes! When there was background noises or if the diction didn’t come off right, we would sorta overdub in the studio. And it is strange, actually, you have the screen in front of you and you stand with some headsets and when it is your turn to say something, the line goes across and when it comes to the end, then you say it and then it fits in sync with the lips.
I was wondering about that because in the film, when people turn their backs to the camera you can’t hear what they are saying. Why wasn’t that overdubbed?
I know! That is strange! There’s quite a few things like that, actually.
But at least the picture is so much clearer on the new version. You can actually see what is happening!
It was terrible when the original video came! It was so dark, almost all of the film. Even in the outdoors scenes, they were sort of dark as to what they should to have been. Now it looks like it did in the cinema, which is so much better. They should have done that before, because it was a big criticism that it was so dark.

My only option is that in the film the illusion of time is not very good. In the book the story expands over like four years, but in the film it seems to all happen within a few months. You can only tell that years are passing because the hair-styles and clothes are changing.
Yes, I know! Especially with Sara Clee with the headband and everything.
I guess it is difficult to create that illusion of time.
It must be difficult, but it is so important!

How come the film only runs like 86 minutes?
Yes, it ought to last 10 more minutes, doesn’t it? Probably the rest was cut away. We had to cut something out obviously for the audience. We couldn’t have anything disdained in it, that would restrict the age group. I remember there was so many things that had to be cut out for that reason. Like in the party scene at the hotel where Nod’s drunk and that girl picks him up, there was something more there, that was cut. There were quite a few things where we were told, “You can’t do that.” With the censorship and everything we had to be so careful.
And also the scene with Alan Lake, with his toes.
That could not be shown because of the censorship. It would have been totally different if that had been shown.
It would be interesting to see what has been cut out.
Yeah. I’d love to get the outtakes. But I don’t know where they are! If they are there. At least back then if you had done a take or two they just wiped them because of the cost of tapes. And that was amazing when you think of the Beatles material. The foresight to do that and to keep it, obviously. To just record when they were playing along in the studio. That would never have happened when we started recording. It is so ridiculous. It’s the same with the early BBC recordings, the sessions we used to do for radio. They were some great ones! The guy who was the engineer, he actually became a presenter at Top of The Pops, and he really liked us and he was really great working with in the studio. Because he wasn’t afraid of trying things as opposed to the rest of the BBC, or the image of BBC with the producers wearing collars and ties, but the tapes from that were wiped anyway.

How was the budget for the film?
I think it was half a million pounds. It’s difficult to see where the money goes, but of course it’s a matter of the crew and all of the equipment and expenses like that. It probably was a pretty low budget.
And it was done in six weeks or something like that?
Yeah. And then we spent so much time afterwards with the promotion. We didn’t think it’ll take that long, but the promotion it would take forever.
The press was good to you, wasn’t it?
They were fantastic! All the TV-reviews, all the sort of film programmes on TV, they had fantastic reviews for us.
That must have meant a lot.
It did. If they had dumped it in some papers we would have been really down about it.

When you made Flame, some of the band members were more pleased with it than others. What was your opinion?
Oh, I loved it! I loved every minute of it! When we decided to take that story line, when we decided to take that plot, that sort of thing, I thought, “Great!” At the time it probably wasn’t the right thing to do, because at the time it wasn’t what Slade were, but in hindsight I’m so glad we did that.
It really was the right move.
Definitely! I remember we talked to Robin Nash who produced Top of The Pops, he said, “I really admire what you have done. You’ve done the right thing, but do you really think that the kids want to see that? That side of the business?” I know what he meant, because when it was released it got very mixed reviews from the general public. We weren’t really down, we were more contemplating, have we done the right thing? We were proud of the finished product, but was that the right direction? People hadn’t expected that kind of film from us.
I was 13 when it came out and I liked it because it was not just the usual, like “A Hard Days Night” and it was nice to see something with a little depth. But I think most people had expected something else.
Definitely. Because people couldn’t separate the band Slade from Flame. They didn’t understand that we played characters. So every time we did TV-interviews or whatever we had to say, “we’re not Slade in the movie!”
It was probably difficult to separate Slade from Flame, because the characters you played in the movie were more or less based on you and some of the elements, you working in a steel factory and Jim carrying his bass in a plastic bag, that came from real life.
Yes. That was some of the things that Andrew got off us when he went with us to America. I remember Chas saying, it was so easy doing “A Hard Days Night”. It was so easy, that was no problem, but!
If you’d done that it would have sunk without a trace.
Exactly. It would have been like the Dave Clark Five-film, they made “Catch Us If You Can” and it sunk as soon as it had been released.
It would have made fans happy for a short while and then…
Yes. There would have been no way that it would have been released again. As I said before, I’m proud of it. I’m glad we did it. And at that time it was possibly the first one to show the backside of the industry. David Essex did some, but they were a bit more glossy, I think. Because he was that kind of character, you know. With Flame, it has kind of set a standard. Also for “The Commitments”. That was a great film, that was, and it’s sort of a parallel to Flame, isn’t it?
Yes, it would be interesting to talk to the writer of the book or the screenwriter about their influences. I would like to do that. They must have been influenced by Flame.
I have the film at home. I’ll have a look at the credits to see who did that.

How did you take to that in the band, that you suddenly had to act?
We didn’t think of it like that. It was just a bit of fun for us. [laughs] None of us took it THAT serious. It was great and another string to the bow, so to speak, doing that sort of thing. Everybody wants to be in a movie. And when it came out it was fantastic. But of course it was a different routine to work like that. But after a couple of weeks you get into the flow of things. Like up at 5, get ready and be on set around seven-ish and work and then eventually Andrew or Richard would say, break for lunch. Break for lunch? I though it was the end of the day! [laughs] We did around 6 hours, that was a full day for us or it would have been in the studio, and then you had all afternoon to go! Plus you must remember that most of the time we spent hanging around, just sitting around while they set lights, set the cameras just for 2 seconds on the screen basically.

The scenes of the movie are all based on events that happened to Slade or other bands, like the coffin scene was from Screaming Lord Sutch and the shooting at the radio station was also true.
Yes, that did actually happen, but not to us. Back then people used to pay money to have their records played. Emperor Rosko, he used to be on one of those pirate radios. Probably Tony Vance as well, because a lot of them came from the pirate radio. That was so exciting back then! [laughs] An illegal station!
We had a bit of the same in Denmark, but I don’t think it lasted very long, then everybody tuned in to Radio Luxemburg!
Exactly! That was what they did in England with Radio 1, to try to get about the waves so to speak.
But which events in Flame actually happened to Slade?
There was the drums at my parents’ where I paid the money in instalments, and what else happened to Slade? There was the agency, when we used to go to the agency to try to get our money and like that. All the bands around Wolverhampton used the same agency, and we were all there Friday to try to get our money. And then with the Screaming Lord Sutch, there was a band around Wolverhampton that used to back him, you know. And Barry has his 21st birthday again.
Yes, you were also lied younger in real life.
Yes, we were. And then the steelwork and Jim with the bass in the plastic bag as we talked about. And then Johnny, our original singer Johnny Howells, you met him in Wolverhampton last year, in those days he looked a bit like Alan Lake. He was not happy with it, he said about Alan Lake, “That’s supposed to be me, isn’t it?” [laughs].
But Alan Lake more or less played himself, didn’t he?
Exactly. When he came to do, like things in the studio, he was dressed in the same way as in the film. And we thought, “What!” [laughs] He looked like in the film and we thought, “God!” And then there was this girl in the concert scene. The one who throws herself at me on stage. In real life she proposed to me! In a letter! She was one of them girls who used to hang around no matter where we went. Later on she sent me another letter saying, “You’ve had your chance. Now I’m marrying someone else.” [laughs] That was wonderful, that was! You’ve had your chance!

I was wondering about Nod’s character, because that didn’t have very much to do with him, I mean with the sales and living with his grandmother and the pigeons and all.
About those pigeons, they had never really anything to do with anything. It’s a bit a northern thing, that is. A shed in the garden with the pigeons.
Maybe it’s an acknowledgement to John Pidgeon who wrote the book!
Yes, that could be it! [laughs].
I found out who he is, by the way. He was a BBC1 producer. You know we once talked about how well he seemed to know you, although you’d never met. Well, maybe you did meet, after all!
Maybe we have done interviews with him. We’ve possibly worked with him, then, done programmes or something without realising. There was a lot of that in England at the time, we were always going in to do interviews for different programmes, that kind of thing.
He based his book mostly around you and Jim and why would he do that, if he didn’t know you, because it would be more obvious to base it around Noddy, who was the front man, anyway.
That’s interesting, that. Because I said in advance that I’d have trouble learning lines because of my amnesia, and Jim…
He was probably too shy to front a film.
Yes, and Noddy was really great in that film.
He was. I noticed that when Nod is in the coffin singing, there’s a third hand in there with him as well.
Yes. The one that’s doing the [Don waves his hand]. I don’t know where that came from! It’s like…he gets locked in the coffin with a glass of beer, doesn’t he? Where does that go?
He probably gives it to the third hand!
That’s it! [laughs]

We’ve talked about the book before.
Yes, we have and as I said then, we should have filmed the book instead of the screenplay. That was so much better.
Yes. It got more into things. And to the backgrounds of the characters as well. What about Dave’s character? You never get to know him that well in the film.
That was a criticism of the time. In the film I was living with my parents, Jim had his wife and Nod was living with his grandmother but Dave? I just sort of fell from the moon! You never hear anything about his background. That was criticised.
It’s the same in the book. I think it has to do with him being “Barry”. You know you were called Charlie like in
Charlie Watts, yes, and Jim was Paul like Paul McCartney.
And Nod was Stoker like Bram Stoker who wrote “Dracula” and then Dave is Barry. I think it derives from J. M. Barrie, the writer of Peter Pan. Andrew is the official biographer of J.M. Barrie who wrote Peter Pan, and well, neither Barrie nor Pan were able to commit to women, just like Dave’s character!
That’s true. Dave’s character is like that. And he was just there. He comes from nowhere! But of course they couldn’t use his real situation in the film.
No, Dave was already married at the time, wasn’t he?
Yes, he got married in Mexico in 1973, but that was kept away from the fans.

Was Flame ever shown on British TV?
Yes, it was shown on TV, but that’s some time ago.
It never was in Denmark.
What would they do here? Overdub or put on subtitles?
Subtitles! We always do subtitles in Denmark!
That’s interesting. I don’t know why they haven’t shown it, then. Maybe it’s a commercial thing?
One of the things I’m working at is…they have like this music programme on Danish TV called “Musikprogrammet” and they often have theme-nights about a single band, and it would be good if we could get Slade on there. Show “Flame” or some of the documentaries like “It’s Slade” or “Perseverance”. I’ve actually had fans from all over the country writing in, asking for a Slade-night!
Does that still work? [laughs] They used to do that in England, they used to write, all the fan club members.
But the problem nowadays is, that the fans are 40 and up and the people who are doing the programme are in their twenties, so they don’t know who Slade is! But they have started making programmes about people like The Doors and David Bowie, so maybe we’ll get there one day!
That would be interesting.
They also use to have musicians in to talk about how they’d been influenced by the band in question.
That’s the same in England. So many people have been influenced by us, that we didn’t even thought of. I think Richie Blackmore was one of them. I think he has a quote on the back of “Slade Alive!” A lot of people have been influenced, but you don’t realise until they come out. And Gene Simmons, he always acknowledges our influence on Kiss. A lot of people have been influenced, but some won’t admit it! [laughs]

You never though about making a second movie? A lot of people have done, you know, films following a band on tour or something.
We never talked about it, that’s strange, that is! That SHOULD have been done. Like the BBC Radio documentary. But that was only like half an hour, like a short thing, we never really went into it, it was just the surface things. We SHOULD have done a real full time film with us on the road. That would have been great, I think. And that would have been what people would have liked to see as well. What is going on in the background. The lead up to the concerts and so on. I like to watch those kinds of films myself. I always buy those and watch those.

What do you think about the package, the Slade In Flame Special Collectors Edition?
I’m impressed with this. I’m glad that the CD is with it. That’s good. And the interviews. You know, we did them last year. Tom Conti, Dave, Jim and myself did ours on the same day. I did mine just after Tom Conti and he said to me, “Who would have imagined that after 30 years?” Thirty years! It’s hard to believe that it is really thirty years! It was great seeing him again, though. Richard Loncraine wasn’t able to make his on the same day, so they did that later and Nod’s, that was the old one from 2002. I think they should have done a new one with him, though.
Yes, the fans would have liked that. I think that featurette as they call it, is what fans have been looking forward to the most, because it was something new.
And many were curious about how you look today and what you were going to say, so it would have been nice with a new interview with Nod. I mean, most people know what you and Dave look like now, but that’s not so much the case with Nod. Or Jim.
No…Jim’s new album is really good, by the way.
It is.
Do you know how it is selling?
No. But I think it’s doing okay. At least it’s been received very well everywhere.
That’s good.
And it was nice seeing him participate in the featurette. But apart from the featurette there’s not much extra material with the Flame DVD.
No, there ought to have been some more. There should be quite a bit of footage somewhere, outtakes and things that went wrong. There should be quite a bit of that, but I don’t know what happened to that.
Fans were led to expect the alternate lyrics version of “This Girl” to be on the CD as well.
I don’t know what happened to that.
Maybe they couldn’t lift it from the film?
They didn’t have to, because we actually recorded that. There’s a studio version of it, but I don’t know what happened to it.
And then there’s the booklet with the photos from Andrew.
I’m glad that they’re still around. That Andrew kept them. Nice to see the photographs of Chas as well. There he is reading. Even in the studio when he went to the toilet he would bring a book with him. That’s him gone! [laughs] And look at those Flame-suits! I actually got a rash of them! [laughs] It was almost like a paper-type stuff. You could hardly bend in them, that’s why we pose like that!
Well, you’re not that bad off with only a vest!
No, thank god!
How come it is Jim who has commented on the photos?
I don’t know.
He’s very direct at times and you seldom see that with Slade.
I know. We were always known as the clean boys. That was the only thing that got through, actually, you know.
I was wondering why Union Square released the movie as “Slade In Flame”?
I know. It’s only called “Flame”.
It’s a bit confusing that they use the name of the CD for the DVD.
It is.
It also got me to think how much the CD is going to sell as the CD is now also included in this collection as well.
It was probably a wise move to release the CD prior to the DVD package! It would have made it more sellable if there had been bonus tracks, though. Now the two CDs are identical!

My favourite photo from May 7, 2007

Posted by Picasa

Flame-interview in use

The interview was used for promotion of Flame here in Denmark and furthermore it was the core of a review of Flame that I was asked to do for

Don with Flame

Posted by Picasa