The Bilston-gig, December 14, 2005
Many years ago when first I became a Slade-fan I wanted to go to Wolverhampton to see where it had all started. And now, more than 30 years later, there I was. With Don as my guide. Thinking about it, it must seem a bit strange, but it just proves what I've known for a while: I always get what I want, although not necessarily when I want it. It was a long wait for this wish to come true, but luckily I still wanted it, when it happened. And it was just SOOO great, Don pointing out several of the (former) pubs and clubs in Wolverhampton and Bilston, where the guys used to play in the sixties, even the place where he first learned to play the drums as a boy scout! It was just amazing.
With Don's friends Mikael, John, and John's wife Jane, we drove to the Wolverhampton railway station where John showed us a "mural" of Slade. We went to The Trumpet for a quick look, had several cups of tea in different pubs and a nice lunch at The Haven Hotel in Bilston. It was so much fun. I can't remember ever laughing so much!
Don also showed me the place where he first met Dave, namely Johnny Howell's former house, now a meat and vegetable-shop.
"We were playing like weddings, youth club dances, the occasional sort of small pub," Don told me, "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 that 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?? 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! We got paid £ 5, that was like…Johnny's father had like a small bed & breakfast-place here. There used to be an old repertoire theatre near here and the actors who were doing plays or whatever they would stay here, like a bed & breakfast. And we used to sort of rehears here 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 a £ 1 each and that was amazing that we got paid to doing it. We were rehearsing 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 [Marson] would be off the corner somewhere and Johnny would be off the other corner so we used to shout to each other what we'd gonna play!! And that was where we first met Dave Hill. 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. 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."
Don's full of stories like that. As a writer I love good storytellers and Don is definitely one!
Anyway, we went to the Robin at 3 p.m. for the Bilston-gig. While Don was getting his drums ready with John I hung out with Jane and Mikael and tried to figure out how to get from point A to point B in this gigantic maze that calls itself The Robin 2. At 4 p.m. John (Berry. There were just so many guys called John!!!) and Mal showed up with the rest of the crew and Dave was there a little later. They sound checked for a couple of hours, really funny with John having a go at Run Runaway on the violin and Don doing bossanova rhythms on the drums.
Dave was off talking to a journalist from The Express and Star, their photographer took some shots and then the guys were on live-TV at the BBC Midlands Today. Here the guy doing the weather forecast first did an interview with Dave, then the weather forecast itself which Dave tried to totally ruin by continuously shouting, "Is it gonna snow? Is it gonna snow?" and making odd sounds on his guitar and finally the guys got to play MXE for about 20 seconds.
While they were backstage getting out of their new (and actually quite becoming) stage clothes, which they'd worn on telly, I went with Jane and Mikael to Woody's Bar where I had my first (but not last) Banks Original. What can I say? A very mild, "round" beer, not bad, but I missed the sharp almost metallic "clear" taste of my preferred (Danish) beer. Anyway, I met a few Slade-fans whom I know from The Slade Archive Forum and it was really great. Hi, John and Mark! Nice meeting you!
Then Jane's husband John came to cart us off to The Green Room for dinner and afterwards we just had to wait for the concert. Backstage I had a long chat with Mal, he's just such a nice guy, and I also met Dave's wife and children as well as Don's old friend and Vendors/'N Betweens-colleague Mick Marson with wife Pat. Man, were they nice, the lot of them!
At 8 p.m. the support, Ballroom Glitz, went on, but I must admit that I only saw a single number of theirs as I hung out backstage most of the time. Slade went on at 10 p.m. and what an awesome concert! The best I've seen them do in their present line-up. The set list went like this:
We'll Bring The House Down
Take Me Bak 'Ome
Lock Up Your Daughters
Far Far Away
Look Wot You Dun
'Coz I Luv You
Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Get Down And Get With It
And for the encores:
Cum On Feel The Noize
Merry Xmas Everybody
Short, but sweet. The House Down-bit was only a short snippet, though, but Take Me Bak 'Ome featured a very strong Don on drums and Dave totally freaking out. Dave was really high spirited during this concert, playing a bit of Smoke On The Water during Red Hot and doing a lot of talking to the audience. When doing the intro to 'Coz I Luv You, he said something about that it had all started here in Bilston and him and Don being together for 43 years (I'm 43 years!). John's violin was more or less drowned out by the rest of the band during CILY, and I must admit, that I really didn't like that ugly, cheap violin of his. Get a decent instrument, John!!!
Anyway, Mal and Dave did their usual routines dancing back to back and side by side to Run Runaway (which featured no violin) and during Mama Weer All Crazee Now Mal introduced the rest of the band. Mal did a fine job that evening. His voice is getting even better every time I hear him. It's a real pleasure.
John introduced Dave again during Get Down And Get With It and Dave did a bit of Tutti Frutti during the song.
The encores were really funny, short Dave trying to reach tall John's mike during Cum On Feel The Noize and the whole band dressing up for MXE. Don in a Santa's hat, Dave in one that looked like a jester's hat, Mal in a red cowboy hat with a white fur braid and John in a Santa's coat. It was hilarious. Many of the fans in the audience were dressed in Santa's outfits as well and some even sported mirrored top hats. I was told that the guys could have sold out the Robin three times that night and I believe it. The audience was really responsive.
After the show I talked to both Dave and his wife and I had a long chat with John Berry about him playing the violin. That was indeed very funny! I also talked to Don about…his wristwatch! It has always nagged me why he's wearing it on the right wrist, but he told me he's ambidextrous. He writes with his right hand, but does everything else with his left. Hmm, that probably explains why he plays like a left-handed and -footed drummer, although I know at least one other internationally famed drummer who plays like that although he is right-handed and not the least bit ambidextrous.
Anyway, I had such a great time! Thanks a lot to you all, but especially to Don's friend John for being so nice and funny, to his wife Jane for the great company, to Mikael for being a familiar Danish face and for the night cap and finally to Don for his wonderfully cheerful mood and for taking such good care of me. You're the best, guys!
P.S. Apart from the Wolverhampton/Bilston experience my trip to the West Midlands also involved a great time in Birmingham, but that's a whole different story!!!