Don Powell interviews

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Location: Odense, Denmark

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

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Question & answer session for the fan forum members of

This interview was very different from what we’d done before, because this time it was the fans asking the questions with me as the middleman. I got the questions from fan forum members of and I then passed them on to Don. He came over to my place in Odense, Denmark on May 7th, 2007, and we went through the questions together with me taping his answers on my Dictaphone. The day also had us running in and out of the house in order to do new pics of Don between rain showers. Of the ones you can see below, 2 were shot by Odense River and one at a playground behind my house.
In the version of the interview that you can read here, I have not included all the personal comments and greetings from the fans to Don as that’s something private between Don and the fans. Also I have left out the names of the fans in order to “protect the innocent”, only their locations are kept in order to show the geographic spread.

Don and me by Odense River

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May 7, 2007: interview conducted at my place, Odense, Denmark

The first question comes from Bloxwich Baths and it says: what music did your parents play to you when you were small?
Saturday and Sunday my mother and my sister did the housework so that was when the records went on and it was always the albums from “Oklahoma”, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and “South Pacific”. It was always those albums from the shows. It was not until I met Johnny Howells that I heard anything like what we ended up playing.

Bournemouth asks: Did you ever consider learning to play any instrument other than drums and are you mainly self taught or did you have lessons?
Jim was teaching me to play guitar in the middle or late sixties. I bought an acoustic guitar off Nod for £ 40. That was typical Nod. I think I was paying what he paid! [laughs]. And Jim taught me to play a 12 bar in e and c, a minor, f and g. I wish I had kept at it. Because I can’t sing or anything, I would have problems to tune the guitar for starters, [laughs] but I wish I had kept at it now. Then I’d had that now that I can’t sing. But I tell you what, Lise, I CAN tell if something is out of tune. One time in the studio we listened to playback and I heard something and I said: “Is something out of tune? I’m sure I can hears something out of tune.” Jim sat by me and we played it and then I couldn’t hear it. Then we took some things out and then we heard it. And he said, “None of us heard it!” With things like that I have a certain ear. Like harmonies. When we first started I used to sit at the front when the others were doing harmonies and I was saying this needs to be done or that needs to be done or something like that. I don’t know the terms musically, but I have a certain ear, I suppose.
I am self-taught as a drummer but I went to lessons. It was a guy in Wolverhampton, I was still in the boy scouts actually, and I went to him, but I only went twice, because he couldn’t teach me anything that I didn’t already know. What it was really was to learn to read drum music. What do I have to know drum music for? [Don sounds baffled].
I read drum music…
Yeah, I know, Lise! And he was trying to teach me that, but what do I need to learn drum music for? They don’t have drum music in all the different scores.
It’s more for classical orchestras.
That’s it. It’s probably more like the discipline it’s needed for.

Sussex says, “your drumming style was so much different on Play It Loud, than any other album, tighter etc., so different that you must have had a change of influence.
I probably played a lot more in those days and one time we were doing something, rehearsing, and it was such a tiny room so if I had played we couldn’t hear anything, so I just went on the snare drum. And Jim said, “Remember that”, because he got an ear for that type of thing, and I used that particular style on all of our early records. Only snare drum and bass drum on the records and occasionally a cymbal crash, but basically it was only snare drum and bass drum. That’s what the thing came from for “’Coz I Luv You”, by the way. Then I realised afterwards, that was not until later, that Ringo used the same thing on “Get Back”!
Leeds asks: what happened to the lovely silver Ludwig kit(s)?
That went in the rock’n’roll sale from Sotherby’s. I was let to believe that the guy from the Hard Rock Café chain bought them. I have never heard anything about them since. I have never been to the Hard Rock Café in London, so I don’t know if they’ve got any of it shown. There’s a Hard Rock Café in Copenhagen, maybe I should have a look there! [laughs] Maybe I should start looking! Walk in, try to be all nonchalant! [laughs] Oh, I’m only looking! [laughs] Someone did mention once that some of the things are in the Hard Rock Café in Tokyo, but if it is true, I don’t know.

Lancashire says, “I was wondering if you know of a store that you would recommend as selling pro standard cymbals at decent prices?”
Cymbals are very expensive, so he should try junk shops and things like that. Cymbals are often up to £ 400. I would go around junk shops and try to look for some there.
I didn’t realise that cymbals were so expensive.
Oh, it’s horrible! You can buy the whole kit and then if you have to add cymbals, that’s where the expenses grow.

Here’s a question from Melbourne, Australia: Do you have any particular recollections of the tours “down under” that you would share?
At the first tour in 1973 when the plane landed in Sidney we saw all these TV-cameras and we thought, “Who’s on the plane?” [laughs] “Who are they waiting for?” and obviously they were waiting for us! Because at that time “Slade Alive!” was triple gold. “Slade Alive!” was number one and had been so for a while and “Slayed!” was no. 2. And we had 3 singles on the charts as well. That was a great tour with Status Quo, Lindisfarne and Caravan. That was great. All the open air sports stadiums. But back then in the seventies every second song on the radio was one of ours and Lindisfarne always said, “Oh, shit! Not you lot again!” We got played all the time, Lise. The second time we went we did many indoor venues and when we went 10 years ago, that was when we were there for 8½ weeks, we played everywhere and anywhere, mainly based on the West Coast. We went to Adelaide for just one concert, but we were based in Perth for about the first 3 weeks and we went out from Perth. And then we moved to the Northern Territories. And we were just travelling out to all sorts of places, some were not even on the map. It was a wonderful experience.

Here’s another question from Australia, this time from Bendigo, Victoria: how different did you find Australia and the fans each time you were there and what regrets have you got over the last 40 odd years of your career. Would you have done anything differently?
The first two times we were there everybody knew all the records, because the records were on the charts, so the audience were no different than others, although the land was, obviously. I don’t think there was a change over time, except obviously when we went there the last time, people who had seen us in the seventies now brought their children with them. And they were still talking about “Slade Alive!” That was THE album.
The only regret I have was the approach to America. The first tour was great for us in America. What we should have done was we should have carried on in the same track, just supporting. We were supporting on the first tour and on the second tour we went top of the bill and we should never have done that. The first tour we were third on the bill. There was Humble Pie, mainly J. Geils and some other bands and on the second tour The Eagles were supporting us! We shouldn’t have done that. We should have carried on supporting on the second and the third tour as well instead of going top of the bill. That’s the only regret I can think of. In all other territories we were having massive success, anyway.

Manchester wants to know if after many tours with the band there was a particular happening that stays foremost in your mind. Sorta Spinal Tap perhaps?
There is quite a few, I think! [laughs]. Well, one sticks out. At our second America tour we had just signed to Warner Brothers. We were with Polydor on the first tour, but Chas wasn’t happy with that so we signed with Warner Brothers after the second tour when we went over. We went to San Francisco to a guy who Chas knew from the Animals days and this guy was still an old hippie, you know. And he lived in this small chapel in San Francisco. And we stayed for two nights, so we were there for the weekend, and he had a party in his home, so to speak, one night in this chapel. And it had a pulpit and all. And I just went to have a look around and there was this rope fixed to the roof and it came to like the balcony. And I had this girl with me and I said, “Are you up for a laugh? Get on my shoulders!” We could look down at the party, there was a few hundred people there and we would just swing down between the people. But what Chas told me later was that because we had just signed to Warner Brothers there were 2 or 3 of their executives there. They were standing talking to Chas and they were asking him what the characters were like, what we were like in the band. And when it came to me he said, “Don never really says anything, he’s pretty quiet,” just as I swung by! [laughs] Oh god! With this girl! And the executives said, “Who’s that?” “That’s Don.” “But he’s the quiet one!” [laughs] The quiet one of the band swinging by like Tarzan with a girl on his shoulders!

A lady in Belgium wants to know if there are any differences in the audiences in the different countries?
No. It is more or less the same all around the world. Even in Russia. It takes a little time to get them going in Russia, but it’s not because of the show, but they have restrictions. They have the police there and they are not allowed to stand up. But after a few songs, the police give up. It takes a few songs before the audience starts to stand up and go mad. They really want to, but it takes a bit, because the police is there. That’s a bit of a deterrent.

Now we go to San Francisco in California where the question is: Will Slade ever play in the United States again?
It would be great to go, if we could get the right tour offered to us. Where we could obviously support a big name of the same kind of act in a way. Like on the first tour with Humble Pie, because it was a rock audience. And that is great with us. But I think it needs to be something like that, supporting.
And then it says: give Lise a big hug from me for all her outstanding work!
[Don laughs – I usually get my fair share of hugs, when we see each other.]

Then we’re off to Finland with pretty much the same type of question: are you gonna do any gigs in Finland this year and if not, why?
I can’t remember the last time we played in Finland, but we’ll always go if the offers are there. We’ll always play there, but I don’t remember the last time, who we worked for, which one of the agents. At the moment nothing is scheduled, but anything can come up. If an agent contacts us. Finland has always been good for us, even with the new line-ups over the last few years, I’m sure.

We’re back to Leeds where it says, what songs did you play live or maybe rehears with the intention of playing live off Nobody’s Fools?
The songs from Nobody’s Fools were a bit too light for stage, for how our stage show was at the time. It would have been like sort of chalk and cheese to include any of the Nobody’s Fools material. It was a shame, though.
The same person also says that he remembers you all sound checking with Nuts Bolts And Screw and Sign of Times but you never actually played them during any gigs?
As for sound checking with Nuts Bolts and Screws and so, I don’t remember doing that.

From the East Midlands and from Hardley near Norwich comes the same question, namely don’t you get bored with playing the same playlist night after night and is there a possibility for a gig with songs from Slade’s catalogue away from the chart music and same weekly routine?
That’s what we are going to do this year, Lise. We start to rehears as soon as possible, the first thing on the agenda is to put in new songs in the show. Our plan is to add fresh things.

Another member who is also from Leeds asks how many more years you and Dave can go on touring?
I never even think of it. People have asked me that same question since 1973! [laughs]

Now we go to New York City and the question is: where did you come up with the idea for the heavy breathing in the chorus for Look Wot You Dun?
I think that was Chas’s idea. Don’t ask me why! It just came. I just did that, the heavy breathing, and I also used a matchbox well. Making the sound on like the “sandpaper”. So it’s me doing it with my voice and a matchbox [laughs].
Nowadays they laugh instead, Dave, John and Mal. I’ve been wondering why they have changed that.
I think they did that for people to be able to hear it. When they did the h-h-h, people weren’t able to hear it!
But that gives the song a different twist.
Yes, I know what you mean! [laughs]

Back to Bournemouth and the question: you wrote some credible songs in the beginning of Slade, have you written anything since?
I wrote some for Slade II, which we recorded. Then Dave and myself started to improvise a few things, obviously it has not been recently, but that’s all in the pipeline. Hopefully it can be put together.

From Lancashire comes this: there was some material written in the early days of Slade II, partly by yourself which exists on a rehearsal cassette. Was this material ever submitted for consideration for recording by the group?
Ahh, I forgot all about that! I probably have it, actually! [laughs] I have to look for that, I forgot all about that!

A member in Leicester asks: have you ever thought of asking Jim or Jim or Nod if they have any songs that Slade could use for a new album?
Dave did once ask Jim if he had any songs, that we could use, but I can’t remember what the outcome was. I think at that time Jim wasn’t particularly doing anything.

Back to Lancashire where it says that an acetate exists of a studio version of “Hear Me Calling” Is there any reason that this wasn’t released?
As far as I know we only ever did “Hear Me Calling” for the “Slade Alive!” album obviously and I think we did it a few times for BBC live recordings. I remember we tried to record it once or maybe a few times, but it never came together. It was like a live thing and we couldn’t get it together. I think the acetate was actually from a BBC recording. I can’t remember that we did it otherwise, or if we did, it must have been very early on.
The same person also asks if there is any prospect of a release of “Respect” from the last sessions at Rich Bitch and finally is there ever going to be a version of “Love Is” that fans can hear?
As for “Respect” I don’t know anything about that and regarding “Love Is”, it IS down on tape but where it is, I don’t know.

A guy from Essex says that he’s aware that “Hear Me Calling” was recorded in the studio for intended single release and he asks who decided to pull it and why? Also he would like to know if there ever was an unreleased studio recording of “In Like A Shot From My Gun” or “Comin’ Home” other than the BBC recordings?
I don’t remember us recording “Hear Me Calling” for single release, but I think that “In Like A Shot” was recorded. I’m sure, the master reel must be somewhere. I’m positive that we did that. But “Comin’ Home” we only recorded for the BBC sessions. We never made a studio recording of it.

Then we go to Norway where the question is: what was your favourite studio to work in and why?
Oh, a difficult one….I liked the Record Plant in New York where we did Nobody’s Fools, and I always liked the Angle at Islington in London when we worked with Roy Thomas Baker, when he produced a few things. It was great for the band, it was a really live sound. The Record Plant that was more a studio album than anything and that was a new experience for us, to record like that.
The same person seems to think that both Nobody’s Fools and We’ll Bring The House Down were recorded in the United States, so he is wondering why there’s such a big difference in those recordings?
Only Nobody’s Fools was recorded in the United States. The Nobody’s Fools was very produced with the girl singers as well. It was very different.
Finally he asks, what was Chas’s actual role in the studio as a producer?
As for Chas he was in the studio basically for discipline, really. With Chas it was like we used to record from twelve non-stop until six o’clock and that was it. Six hours and that was it. And it made sense. We wanted to carry on, but he said, “No, leave it. Stop now and you’ll be fresh tomorrow. You’ll have the evening free now to do whatever, go to the pictures or whatever,” you know. And he really proved it, because when we finished with Chas we did some recordings throughout the night and we got back the next day to listen to them and we said, “Oh, it’s a pile of shit!” [Don sounds surprised]. Because we had been half asleep and we had let things go. There is no discipline there. So Chas proved himself wise on that, it was so true. Only work from twelve to six.

From Holland the question is: what happened to the master-tapes from all of the B-sides. Are they still around or are they gone forever?
They are still around, they are still there. Why they weren’t used for the B-side album I don’t know, because they are still around, they are still there.

A member from Shropshire asks: do you think the current line-up will ever record anything new?
We’re going to have a talk this year about going in the studio

From Northern Ireland is this: what are your thoughts on the mid 80’s Slade sound?
The sound was a bit clinical some of it when we worked with John Punter, because he was very much a recording man.
He also says that both the Rogues Gallery and the You Boyz albums employed a heavy use of drum machines, what was your thoughts on this?
What we used to do was, we used the drum machine just for the click track and I put the live drums on afterwards. Because it takes away the live-thing when you use a computer, basically. And we didn’t bother with that. It was just a phase we went through, that came from John Punter, really. But on You Boyz we didn’t use drum machines.
He goes on asking, with the band stopping touring in the Mid-eighties could you foresee the demise of Slade or did you just think it was another cycle that you would come out of?
Being in it, it was the demise in a way, when we stopped touring, because our forte was touring. The recordings came in between, sort of. So yes, I could sort of see the demise back then.
Finally he asks what was the biggest managerial/business mistake that the band ever made?
I don’t know about managerial or business mistakes, but our biggest mistake was how we tried to crack America, going in as top of the bill instead of sort of like creep into the back door, so to speak, like we did in England, basically.

Then we have a lady from Essex asking how old were you when you started writing Bibble Brick and what inspired you to write it?
I was 22 when I wrote it, it was in 1968-1969. I always had the idea, even when I was a teenager. Because when I was a young child I used to sit with my father, watching cartoons and I couldn’t understand why he was laughing at different things than the ones that I was laughing at. I was laughing at the obvious things, but Dad was laughing at different things and I couldn’t understand that until I started to get older. Then I could see the humour things that he was laughing at and that was really what inspired me to write it. To try to do something that appealed to both audiences, both ages.
She would also like to know if you have made any changes in it now that you are a lot older and bringing it out, or if it is still how you first wrote it?
The basic story of Bibble is the same now as back then. We’ve done a bit of editing, but the basic story is still the same.

We stay in Essex but we’re back to the bloke from earlier on. He asks: are there any plans to release your “Let There Be Drums” solo work?
That’s all in the pipeline. I’ve got the tapes and I just need to really get the musicians together and really sort of sit down with it. It probably needs a bit work, it probably needs to be emptied out a bit and sort of start again.

A member in Birmingham says, due to the superb Slade footage lying gathering dust in TV archives all over the world, would you like to see them again, and which one out of all of the missing footage would you like to see most and why?
Oh god, I would like to see all of that! [laughs] Anything really, I want to see anything!

From Chester comes the plea: could you relay the things that fans ask and hope for to the people who have the relevant stuff i. e. master tapes, video footage etc. and tell them that there’s an audience out here eager to purchase it?
Ha-ha! Well, it’s a matter of the market. I’m sure there’s some great stuff out that doesn’t have been exploited, really. It’s strange. Some say that the quality of what is out there is not good enough, but with today’s technology you could enhance it in certain ways.

Finally we end up in Leeds with the question: did you really have a stall at Portobello Road?
My ex-wife, she had a stall there and I used to help out there. It was in one of the arcades.
He says that he and his wife tried to find the stall a couple of times but the best they got was somebody right at the top end saying that he thought you were around!
There was quite a few arcades, so you had to take a long time if you didn’t know where to go. It would take a long time to find.

My favourite photo from the fan forum session

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The interview in use

Don’s answers were all uploaded to the fan forum on May 8. It was a lot of fun doing it, so Don will probably be up for something like that again in the future. While doing the interview we also taped a greeting from Don to the fans. You can see it here.

Don by Odense River, Denmark

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