New Don Powell interview
On January 11th I went over to Don's place. We were to do an interview and some photos for the Danish paper Birkerød Avis in connection with Slade's concert on January 27th. Apart from me only getting 4 hours sleep the night before and the train being late so we were all starving when I arrived, it all went great. After a superb lunch (thanks to Don's lovely lady Hanne), Don and I retreated and did a 2 hours interview as well as a really hilarious photo session.
Now the stuff has been out in Denmark. Not many people in the world read Danish, though, and even those who do will have a hard time getting hold of the paper, so I've decided to put parts of the interview up here as well as some of the photos. Enjoy!
We have to cater a bit to the Danish audience as this is going into a Danish paper.
So…it is now publicly known that you live in Denmark.
Yes, it has been quoted in a lot of media things and a lot of people sort of know it. And when they know I live here they always ask how did you meet? How did you and Hanne meet, and we always tell them the story.
Right, tell the story once more, then.
Well, what it was is, we were playing in Silkeborg probably about 5 years ago. I met Hanne later after the show and she said that she had a drumstick of me back in 1973 when we played in Aarhus. Her mother took Hanne and some of her school friends of the time and I don't know how it happened, but Hanne got a drumstick that night. And she still has it! It's a different colour tape banding now [Hanne's is red, whereas the present is black]. And I thought she was joking when she explained it to me, that she still had it after all those years! And that was how we met. I DID remember that we played Aarhus twice I think in the seventies, 1973 and 1974, and she said that all her friends got together to go to the show, but they had to buy Hanne's mother a ticket for the concert as she was to drive them, obviously. And then the story is this, that Hanne's Mom was a speech therapist at the time and she forced the girls to put gum in their ears to protect them from the noise! [laughs hard] And the gum sort of stuck, so later they got into trouble with the school nurse, because they still had bits of chewing gum in their ears! [laughs].
How do you like it here in Denmark?
Oh, it's wonderful! It's a beautiful place, and I'm not just saying that. I find it so peaceful, it's so peaceful living here and still there's so much going on. What I like is, that apparently in Denmark, the authorities, whoever it may be, they really care for the young people, of their interests. Like I was asked to go to this music school and talk about Slade's career, and when I got there, they had all this equipment there, amplifiers and drums and guitars. And there were quite a few of the kids there, and they had lots there for them, and they swap ideas and go on play, taking turns and just jam, really. And I think it is wonderful. And I did a question/answer thing from the stage, so they could ask about Slade's career and certain things relevant to having a record and what we did. And I was explaining about certain aspects about recording, which they were interested in, obviously. Then I jammed with the young guys, and then one of them said to me, "You're a fantastic drummer for an old man!" [laughs hard] That was just wonderful!!! [Don can't stop laughing] It was SO good!! [still laughing for a while, then getting back to the conversation] But I think it is great that they are sort of given opportunities. They may get that in England now, but obviously when I was that age we didn't have anything like that, maybe they do in certain places now, but not as I know of. I think it is wonderful opportunities that are given to the younger generation of Denmark. And the young kids at the music school were so friendly. All together it was just so good to see that kind of thing, that they respect everything. I think it's wonderful. And also there are so many concerts around in Denmark anyway, not just the well-known bands but everything, lots of sort of all across the borders in the music business, different things. The opportunities are THERE to go and see or listen or whatever to anything in the music business and I think it is great. The opportunities that the young people are given in Denmark are wonderful.
Slade has always had a big following in Denmark. You must get recognised when you walk the streets?
It's happened since there's been a few features in the local newspapers and things like that. I did a few interviews with reporters here in Silkeborg. I've been living here full time for 1½ years now. Nowadays since the features have been published, when I'm going certain places like the record shops or the cafés people say, we thought we recognised you, but we never imagined that it was you. And somebody once said, didn't you used to be Don Powell? And I said, I still am! [laughs].
Many of the old fans still go to you concerts. So at a Slade concert when you look at the audience these days you see all these 45 and up…
I know, I know! And it's great because a lot of these people said to me, I've just totally relived my youth! And sometimes they have their children with them and the children are SO embarrassed by their parents! [laughs] Well, the thing is that many of the old fans still remember certain things from when we toured here a lot in the seventies, they still remember so many things about it, the records and so on which is wonderful.
Maybe the fans remember more than the band?
Oh, yeah! They can pick you up and tell you things that no way I would ever remember, things about quotes and even articles from that period; you said this and you said that, do you still stand by that? And I don't even remember saying it! [laughs hard] But they remember these things. A funny thing was that at a concert, it must have been a few years ago, and there was this fan from the seventies and he was with his daughter and we met them in the street and he said, do you know who this is? And she says, no. And he says, that's the drummer with Slade. Do you remember them? You know Slade. She goes, oh, didn't they sing about Christmas? [laughs] Of all the hit records we've had people remembers that. But that's the one, I mean, the Christmas record obviously appeals to every age group, so there's no way you can like ignore that particular record. You can forget all the hit records but people always remember Merry Xmas. Especially when we tour at Christmas time, when the contracts are made for the shows, there's always a clause that says they must finish the show with Merry Xmas. We would do that anyway, 'coz once you play that song you can't play anything else. You can't follow it with anything else. So we have to finish with that one. Which is wonderful.
Your first official concert this year will be in Birkerød, but you can't really say that it's your 40th anniversary tour that starts here, can you, because it isn't.
Well, this year is our 40th anniversary and although it isn't the exact date it is the 40th year and this is our first tour of that particular year so in a way this is the start of our 40th anniversary tour. The real 40th anniversary tour in England at the end of the year, that'll be the Christmas tour, November/December, where there'll be at least 40 shows.
Are there any particular plans for that?
At the moment what we are talking about is maybe we could try to get different guests from different groups who'd said that they're big fans of Slade. That would be nice with a few people maybe at certain shows. That has to go into motion, obviously, because they have their own schedules as well, so we'll try to work it so we can get guests on stage with us. That would be good. There are also talks about us doing one-off things coming up, big shows in England that we may be asked to appear on because of the 40th anniversary.
You're also playing Russia this year?
Yeah, Russia and Europe in general. Germany obviously and all over the Scandinavia and the European countries. That's where we'll be going. And we'll be coming back to Denmark later this year to do some more shows. I think we're going to do some of the Danish festivals as well this summer. That'll be nice. I think it IS wonderful that we can still go out and tour, especially now the world is such a small place these days and the borders have broken down a lot so we can go to Russia and places like in the seventies there were NO way we were ever getting there. It is SO good. I just hope the younger bands of today realise what an opportunity they have to really open their eyes to see the different cultures and different things around the world. As I've always said, it has been my education.
You're rather big in Russia and the former Eastern bloc, aren't you?
Yeah, in those countries and Russia as well they know so much more about the band than what you'd ever think, you know. And they say, why didn't you come here in the seventies? [laughs] It's obvious why we couldn't be there in the seventies. In the early seventies when we had all the big hit records we went to East Berlin to do a TV-show and I was kicked out of the TV-studio for chewing gum! That was Western decadence. I didn't know! They were shouting at me in German and pushed me out of the studio and I couldn't think what I had done wrong! And then I saw the guy who was looking after us from Polydor which we were signed to in those days, and I said; please, talk to them, I obviously did something wrong. And he said, take the chewing gum out of your mouth! It's Western decadence! [laughs].
It's a bit amazing that you're still here after 40 years, because not many bands are.
It IS amazing. I always quote what I said, when we first started having hit records, and people asked, how long do you think you'll go on for now?, I said, well, I'll give it five years [laughs] but here we are, we are still carrying on. But I've always said that as soon as I stop enjoying it, I WILL finish. I'm not gonna go on stage just for the money or for whatever, I'd rather stop myself personally as soon as I stop enjoying it. I've met so many bands over the years that don't want to go on stage! [Don sounds baffled] When they are doing a concert; oh, I wish I was at home watching TV and they MEAN it!! It's not just a silly quote! And I said, well, how can you DO it then? You know, you can't just go on stage as a robot and go through the motions of doing something.
All the concerts in Denmark this January/February are to be with Sweet on the same bill?
Yeah, we've done quite a few shows together since Mal has been in Slade and it's quite nice.
Mal could just stay on stage all evening, couldn't he?
Yeah [laughs], I never thought of that!
Are there any plans for new releases this year?
Yeah! There are talks about it. Because, okay, we have the CD, The Very Best Of Slade, that was released in November/December last year. It went into the charts. Initially when it first came out, it went into the charts. I don't know if it's on in the moment, but I've been let to believe that there's a lot more promotion work to go on now. It was fun to see that in the charts, actually, and there are talks about doing some more CDs of the obscurer tracks. The B-sides and some of the tracks that we have never really used and then some more new clips for DVD that haven't really been used but that WERE filmed in the seventies. And then maybe more stuff from live concerts, some live concert footage, and some of the other TV shows that have never really been featured, that have never really been used before. That could be good. With the CDs they are talking about a lot more of the tracks that have never really been featured, especially some of the ones that we DO have film of as well, you know. So some of the B-sides like I said. We've always wanted to do a CD with some of the early B-sides. It WAS planned a few years ago to be called "A-sides Of Backsides", but it never happened. But I think the next CD will feature quite a few of the B-sides. It should get out this year, at least that's what the plan was. I like the title "A-sides Of Backsides" [laughs]. And some of the things that were filmed, that has never really been shown because either there weren't A-sides or there weren't singles, so that's why they have never really been used. We did some live concerts on English TV and some of the material from that could be good.
What about the present Slade? Are you going to have a new CD out?
That's what we are talking about now. We want to do a new album now. We are talking about doing it this year, definitely this year. Len, our manager, is in talk with different companies and apparently there is quite a bit of interest. I think because of the old Slade, the last CD and also the new stuff coming out so I think there is sort of a profile on the name at the moment. So that's a good time for us to do a new CD.
Would that be a studio CD?
Yeah. With all new songs. It'll be all new things. There's no point in covering the old songs…with all that is being released…how are we going to top that? Why compete with ourselves?
You yourself will be writing again as well, then?
Yeah, we'll do it together. What we'd like to do is lock ourselves away somewhere in one of the residential studios where we live and record, so we can record when we get inspirational, when we get ideas, so we are not like stuck to a time thing like say, from 12 lunchtime to 6 o'clock where we can record. At a residential studio when we get ideas, we can go record THEN. When we have an idea: let's go put it down NOW. That would be great. We did that once before with the old band in Tittenhurst Park, the one John Lennon used to own and then Ringo took it over, and we did some recordings there once, so when we got ideas; QUICK! Let's go record it! And that's so good. We could walk from the TV-room or whatever and just go record something. It happens SO many times that if you don't put it down on a small tape, you lose it. You forget it. At least in this situation it's; Quick! While we have it at present. Let's go, let's go! Even if we just record you know half a minute, 30 seconds or something, at least we have it down on tape, so we can finish off on a later date. So that's what we think we might do with the new line-up.
If you're gonna have the time for it!
Yeah, that's also the trouble! We have to take maybe 2 or 3 weeks, otherwise you know, you don't achieve anything. You need to be there and get inspiration.
Yeah, also if you just have normal studio time it's difficult to be creative on demand.
Yeah, like watching the clock, I think you have to finish now, WHAT!! Oh no!! [laughs].
With Mal's voice and John on the violin you're approaching the original sound?
Yeah, we try to do that. What started that, Lise, was because of Mal's voice, he's leaning more towards the Noddy Holder sound. We had to change some of the keys back to the original keys, so that was when John decided to use the violin.
During the sound check in Bilston in December I heard him have a go at Run Runaway on the violin.
Yeah, maybe we will do that as well, try that. But even with the old band, Jim never played violin on stage during Run Runaway.
Is there any hope for a reunion of the original Slade?
Well, they say, never say never, but to be honest I can't see it. From the bottom of my heart, I can't see it happen.
I think that one of the reasons why people keep hoping for a reunion is that you are one of the only bands that actually COULD do a reunion, because you're all still here, you're all still alive.
Yeah, and I also think we all still have the ability to do it. It WOULD be nice, it WOULD be nice and it may only take a couple of mails or phone calls to get it in gear, to put it back together again, but I think we have to wait and see. I'm not ultimately ruling it out. As for other bands, it's amazing how many of them are dead. Be it just natural causes or brought on by themselves, it is really the same. So many are dead. You don't realise it, you kind of forget, you know. It's amazing.
Finally, Don, there's just one thing… I have to ask you about that. That's not going to go into the Danish papers, but, I've always wondered…When you did the Play It Loud-album you wrote a song with Jim Lea called I Remember. I've always wondered about the lyrics, because there are these lines, "My kids said hello and I didn't reply, you see my memory was gone. Like a fire in the grass it just wiped out my past and my memory's gone".
Oh, yeah. I actually never thought of that.
And that was 3 years prior to your accident.
I never realised that! Well, that's strange…that's strange, isn't it!! I wrote the lyrics. That's spooky! I never thought of that. That's strange, that! I don't know why I wrote that. I don't remember what the inspiration was at the time when I wrote the lyrics to that one, but that is VERY weird! It IS strange. I never even THOUGHT of that. [laughs] That IS weird.
Well, as most writers have learned the hard way, you have to be careful what you write, because some of the stuff comes back to haunt you in real life!
Yeah, I must be more careful in the future about what I write! [laughs]