Remaster interview with Don!
Tuesday the 29th of August I went over to Don’s to do a promo interview about the re-issuing of Slade’s back catalogue. Here you can read the edited version. A full length version will be up on my Don Powell-blog soon.
What do you think about the remastered CDs?
It’s amazing. Especially the live albums. “Slade Alive!” did so well, when it was first released. All over the world, not just in England. And it’s amazing, people still comment on that album NOW. Such a classic, I think, that one. I don’t think “Slade Alive vol. 2” did so well. I don’t know how well “Slade On Stage” did, but the Reading-one did really well. From the Reading Festival. We bought the tapes off the BBC in England because that whole concert was recorded by the BBC and we bought them off them on our part obviously to release, and that charged in England. But Okey Cokey was not on Reading, it’s not even live, as it is from Xmas Earbender EP.
I’d like to talk about what do you remember about doing these recordings?
I remember most of them. When we did “Beginnings” it was just the four of us in the studio with the engineer. That particular album was our stage-show at the time. You see, the songs that were written, “Roach Daddy” and “Mad Dog Cole”, they were just made in the studio of the time. The guy, Jack Baverstock, he said, you need to write your own songs, and we said, we don’t write our own songs. And that was when Nod and Jim wrote “Pity The Mother”. That was their first attempt on writing. But all this was basically our stage show, it was made not long after we got back from the Bahamas. “Everybody’s Next One”, I think that was Ted Nugent, “Knocking Nails Into My House” that was Jeff Lynn, “Ain’t Got No Heart” Frank Zappa, “Flying High” The Moody Blues. It’s amazing when you think of it. It’s just so wide, such a diversity, oh my God! [laughs] Strange!
You didn’t have much time to record albums, did you, because you were always on the road?
No. If I remember correctly “Play It Loud” was done probably in less than a week. We released “Beginnings” and that’s when we met Chas during that recording, and we went over to Chas. And then he was on about making an album with our own writing. And we were just racing around writing when we could, Jim and myself used to write a lot then, and Nod and Dave, and then we used to come together for certain things, but that album…we really hadn’t found our direction, then.
We were just sort of battling with writing at the time. So there’s a lot of influences from a lot of different artists on that album. We were obviously finding our way. We hadn’t found the formula then.
It’s actually my favourite album, though. I like the feel of it, kind of like cynical, melancholy and poetic at the same time.
Yeah, a lot of people like it. I remember when we did that. It was the 16 track studio at the Olympic and it was just about to open. They had a normal 8 track studio 1, and studio 2 where we recorded that album was the new 16 track studio. The new baby. So we basically christened that studio. And of course we had 16 tracks, and we were going mad, weren’t we? [laughs] We did everything, cow bells and sort of door slamming and things like that, anything just to use the tracks up! [laughs] So we were the first ones in that studio to do an album. That particular “Play It Loud” was done pretty quickly. Because we were still finding our way in the studio. We didn’t really understand studio techniques then. We would just go in and do it, basically. With all four of us playing at the same time. And then the overdubs, piano or whatever it was, were done afterwards.
On the Slayed?-album, “How D’you Ride” that was a big contender to be a single at one time, when we recorded it. Chas really loved that song, he wanted it to be a single, that one.
“Gudbuy T’Jane” is on that album as well. That was recorded in half an hour! [laughs]. We had a little time left in the studio and Chas said, do you have anything else? You know, just to use up the studio time. And we had this, it wasn’t even really finished, and we got it together and recorded it, and that was “Gudbuy T’Jane”!
And on the album…on “I Won’t Let It Appen Agen”, if you listen to the start of that one you can hear somebody shout, Yeah! That’s me shouting, yeah!, because it felt so good when we started, that I just couldn’t help saying, yeahhh! And it was kept. And that’s the kind of thing that I like. The human thing, if you like.
You should have been credited for vocals!
There was one time in the studio…because we used to put a lot of hand-clapping and stamping on the records and shouting. And I was doing some shouting once, and even that was so BAD, that I was told to be quiet! [laughs] Just clap and stamp your feet! Don’t shout! Or sing, because it wasn’t singing. Don’t do anything! Keep your mouth shut! [laughs].
But you are credited for vocals somewhere…Wheels Ain’t Coming Down on Return To Base.
Out of tune vocals! But I enjoyed making that album.
I like when I look back on the tracks of the remastered CDs…I remember the track “Just A Little Bit” on “Old New Borrowed And Blue”. If you listen to that, just around the quiet bit, Nod does a little giggle. Because I pull a face at him! He tried to be so cool, that I just pulled a face at him, and he did that little giggle [laughs] We could all see each other, we always liked the closeness, and I just pulled a face at him, and he just laughed and it was just kept. And Tommy Burton is on that album, on “Find Yourself A Rainbow”. We were just jamming in the studio, me, Jim and Tommy, to put the track down, Tommy on piano, Jim on bass and me on drums. While the sound engineer was getting the sound together we were just like playing around, and Tommy was an amazing pianist. We were just jamming at it was great! I think Jim has a copy of it, actually. It was SO good!
Which album did you enjoy to do the most?
This one! “Old New Borrowed And Blue”! It felt like a live thing, when we did it. And I like “Nobody's Fools”. We did that in New York at the Record Plant. And that was when we had the girl singers. It’s an easier album, if you like, I think, but I enjoyed doing it. I liked the songs as well. They weren’t particularly Slade-songs, but it was a nice change.
The next one was "Whatever happend To Slade" and when we released that album, that was funny. I don’t know if I ever told you that, Lise, but we had flyers and posters around on walls and boards and then [Don laughs so hard that we have to take a break before continuing] and then on one of them next to the title “Whatever Happened To Slade” someone had painted: “Pass”. [Don laughs again] Wonderful! Pass!
The later albums have a harder sound I think.
It was after we had decided to try to record properly. Just do the drums or just do the guitars and whatever and the vocal on top of that. [sighs] They don’t sort of swing so much. It sounded too clinical. It wasn’t the band in there playing. Especially “The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome”, it took a long time to make. We used John Punter, he was a proper engineer as well, so he took a lot of time getting sound. Good sound, but the way we used to work was so much quicker. We used to [sighs], we could have done this half an hour ago, instead of messing around with machines. But he was okay. We didn’t have to hang around all the time. He’d say to me, you don’t have to be in before 3 o’clock or 4 o’clock in the afternoon, to do the drums. Nod always did the vocals in the evenings and then they did guitars or whatever earlier in the day, and I didn’t have to be there until they needed the drums. That was good. So much better than sitting around all day, waiting. When you’re there, you want to do something! I’ll put the kettle on! I’ll do some sandwiches! Anything, instead of just sitting there! And then when you’re finally on, you have lost all enthusiasm. So that way John Punter was good. He was okay, but he wasn’t the band.
What was your usual routine when you recorded?
When we were with Chas, what we did was, we used to go out to Chas’s house and play the songs to him and rehears in his house near Gatwich Airport, basically run them through, so he knew the songs as well. And when we were in the studio Nod nearly always sung live. So we basically put it down as a band. Nod sang live as a guide vocal to get a nice live feel, if you like. More often than not we actually kept that vocal. He maybe did another couple of takes afterwards, just him doing vocals, but then Chas said, forget it! We’ve already got the vocals. That was the guide track, basically. He did that so many times, Nod did. Where the guide track was the finished one. So we recorded ALL together, ALL together. We all got together and just did it. And it was MAYHEM in the control room, trying to control things, but that’s what it was. It was not until much later on that we maybe recorded like piano, drums and Nod singing and then put on guitars afterwards. When we worked for Chas, it was so nice. He had us in the studio every day from 12 to 6. And after that, go home, he said. Go to the cinema, relax, get the studio out of your mind. And get in the next day with new energy. It was so good. I liked his discipline.
How much time did you have for rehearsals before you went into the studio?
Basically we rehearsed in the studio! When we had the songs written. We were still living at our parents at the beginning, so I’d go to Jim’s parents’ house or he’d come to my parents’ house. Or we’d meet all of us, and then we just sort of did it like that. We sort of rehearsed like the basic thing, but basically we left all that to the studio, not realising how much studio time we were wasting! We could have done four albums! Normally what would happen was Dave, Jim and myself on the instruments and Nod would always sing on the basic track. He’d always wear his guitar to get the feeling that we were on stage, but he never really had it plugged in. Then he would overdub his guitar later. Sometimes he played it live, but he really wanted to concentrate on the vocals. So it was more because of a feel thing that he would have his guitar.
And then we started doing overdubs after that on later albums. Just bass and drums, some vocal, or piano and drums. Then do it like that. And overdub the guitars afterwards. There’s like a little village hall or church hall where we always used to rehears back in Wolverhampton and sometimes we would have an afternoon there, just to go over things or get the basic idea and then leave it to the work in the studio. And get more ideas there. And then we started to form that format like I said with maybe just bass, drums and vocal or piano, drums and vocal. And a lot of the time the drums would be put on again. Depending on what kind of sound we wanted. If we couldn’t really get it in the studio, we started to put the drums in the toilet or in the stairway, things like that, to get the big echo sound. But that was when it started to take a lot longer, sometimes too long. Something that we could have done in probably 1/3 of the time. It was the time of learning, of experimenting, really. We were the kind of band, that…it was much better when the four of us just went in and played. Playing like we were playing on stage, really. We weren’t very good at being clever [laughs]. We were never good at being clever!
Do you know who picked the bonus tracks for the remasters?
I’m really not sure unless it had something to do with Nod and Jim. It probably was Nod and Jim.
About the bonus tracks: I think, many people had hoped to get something they hadn’t heard before. So that had me wondering, how much is there, that we haven’t heard?
I was just about to say it, how much IS there left anymore? That people haven’t heard. That’s the thing.
Something I’ve often seen mentioned is a song called “Love Is”. But I don’t know what it is.
“Love Is”? I don’t know that one. Never heard of it.
And then “Red Hot” with Noddy.
Yes! That was done like a demo tape with Nod singing.
I think people had hoped to get something like that as bonus-tracks. But I think the mix of single-hits and b-sides work well, though.
Yes, that’s nice, isn’t it.
If most of the “official” Slade-tracks have already been released, could you see any bootleg collections coming out?
I’m sure many people have something on tape from the concerts. I think there’s quite a bit out there. Probably more so from America. Because when we went on stage, then we could see the arms come up with the microphones. So I’m assuming there’s quite a bit of stuff out there. If they still have it! But the problem is also, that no one will admit if they have it. It could be interesting if people would come forward. There must be some good things out there.
To get back to the remasters…they sound great and the booklets are good.
There are some great things in them. Great photographs. I don’t know where they get them from? Some of them I have never seen before. [Don sounds surprised, then laughs]. For instance that black and white one of me on the live anthology. That must be from the late sixties because it is shot at The Boathouse and it was like a pub or a club that we used to play. But I don’t know the guy who wrote the notes for the booklets, though. I think they should have used someone like Chris Charlesworth, someone like that, who understands the band and KNOWS the band. In order to avoid inaccuracies.
Like your songs being credited to Nod!
When you wrote for Slade, how was that done? When Nod and Jim wrote together, it seems that the melody came before the lyrics?
Yes, they did that a lot of times. When Jim and myself would write together….because I can’t play any other instrument but drums, and I can’t sing, either [laughs], so when I got an idea for songs, lyrics-wise and everything, I would sort of sing it to Jim, my idea, and get him to sing it back to me.
So you did the melodies, too?
Yeah. It was not just the lyrics. There was a melody there or the basic idea for it, anyway. And then Jim used to take it from there. But it was a long process, in a way. It was much better when Nod and Jim started writing, because it just happened so quickly, then. It was like the perfect formula, then. Because in those days when Jim and myself wrote, then sometimes we couldn’t quite finish it and then we’d take it to Nod to sort of help out.
So that’s why a lot of your songs are credited to Holder/Lea/Powell?
Exactly. And then Jim and Nod started writing like with “‘Coz I Luv You”, basically. And that was it! Signed and sealed, then. That format was kept then.
Didn’t you miss writing?
I still sort of kept on writing a little bit, but they did it so much better and quicker.
But you’ve written a bit for Slade II?
Yeah, there’s a few things there. I’ve started to do it again. We’re going to start with the new band, with the line-up at the moment, we’re going to start recording in the new year and I’ve started getting things together for that as well. We’re all gonna sort of pitch in and see what we come up with. That could be interesting, I think.
Yeah, that would be nice. Also because there was such a difference between what you and Jim wrote and what Nod and Jim wrote, and I actually like that difference, because there’s a little more depth to your lyrics.
Yes, I know. I think Nod was more sort of down to earth, sort of what the guy next door did, what the kids could shout on the streets sort of thing.
And that was great for the band!
It worked! It worked fantastic. When you see some of the things. It makes me laugh, some of the things. Even Chas used to laugh so much over the things Nod used to write. And sometimes Chas said, no, no, no, you can’t say that! When it got a bit too close to the mark. [laughs] That’s gonna get banned! Forget it! You get banned from radio, so forget it, you have to rewrite it. That was quite funny some times, because Nod was always trying to be so adamant. He wanted to keep them in. But no, we can’t do that, it’ll get banned, you won’t get radio play [laughs].
The B-sides are finally out next year.
Yes, there’s been a lot of comment on B-sides before. When Chas was producing us he took the thing from the Beatles. Their B-sides were just as good as the A-sides. And he made us do the same kind of thing. Not just a throw-away song. But something that meant something as well. It’s going to be interesting when the B-sides CDs are out because there’s been a lot of comments. Why we don’t play them on stage and things like that. And I’ve written a lot of the B-sides. “Candidate” I did the lyrics to, “Wonderin’ Y” I did the lyrics to, “Man Who Speaks Evil” I did the lyrics to and so on, so it’ll be interesting to see which ones they are going to use. And I still get asked a lot about the B-sides. And I enjoy so many of them. Especially “She Did It To Me”, Nod’s and Jim’s song. I really enjoy that. It’s a NICE song, such a NICE song.
And Flame will be out again on DVD. I read that when it is being re-released in February next year, it is with comments from the band and the director?
I know we’ve done interviews in the past, certain TV-things, at the time it was released, but I don’t know if they’ve sort of lifted those off to use for the DVD.
Because I was wondering if it was something new?
No. Unless I have forgotten about it! [laughs] There’s only something from when we were making the film. But it says band members, so it must be more than just the interview with Noddy that was there the last time it was out on DVD. We have to wait and see. But it’ll be interesting to see if the interview with Richard Loncraine is a new one. He lives in Hollywood now, apparently, and is working on his first film over there with Harrison Ford. That’s the first I’ve heard of him since Flame! We always used to make a joke: Everyone from Flame never worked again! One shot himself and nobody else ever worked! [laughs]. And I know that the original tapes of Flame, the film, that’s gone missing! And when I learned that, I was like, “How do you lose that??” [laughs]
When you did the film, were there many out-takes?
Oh, yes! It would be so great to see them! I remember in the film when we are racing from Nod’s band…it was shot at a proper club and there was this house right next door, and this guy popped out and yelled, “WILL YOU F*CKING SHUT UP! I’m trying to get my kids to sleep!” He didn’t know what was going on. [laughs] Things like that would be great to see. Also at the start of the film with me in the factory when I walk out of the driveway because I’m leaving work…. All the workers were proper workers from the factory and they kept looking at the camera! And Richard said, “Don’t! Don’t!” And what he did, he was fantastic, he stood on a wall on the opposite side and he started singing something stupid on top of his voice so that all the workers looked at him to see what that was. [laughs]. Things like that would be great to get out. And some things were cut out to get a PG rating. Things were toned down. I think in the one take where Jack Daniels gets his feet molested, I think that was actually shown. And at the time it was said that we couldn’t do that.
People have been wondering why there is no active promotion from the band regarding the re-issuing of the back catalogue?
Oh, you know why that is? We haven’t been approached! Whether Nod will do it, most of it, I don’t know, he tends to do a lot. But I haven’t really heard about the sort of programme for promotion. I don’t know what kind of promotion they’ve got planned for it. It would be good with interviews and so, but we haven’t been approached. So I think Nod will do most of it, but I really don’t know, Lise. I’ve only seen the flyers from Union Square Music that you brought me! I like the bit that says that we were the missing links between the Beatles and Oasis. I like that. But I don’t know how to take that! [laughs]