IN the bar of the Mount Hotel in snow-smothered Wolverhampton this December afternoon there’s a Christmas soundtrack playing on the public-address system. Carols and pop tunes go around and around. Old songs, familiar songs, overfamiliar songs, the odd newish song.

And yet by the time Dave Hill arrives – a little late, but who’s keeping time? – I tell him that Merry Xmas Everybody still hasn’t come on. “It will,” he replies.

In fact, by the end of our couple of hours together we still won’t have heard it. It might be the longest time this December either of us has gone not hearing it, to be honest. But I guess he can probably remember how it goes.

“Dave of Slade.” Is there any phrase more likely to plunge you back into the 1970s than that one? For those of us of an age, it is a pop madeleine plugging us directly into childhood, the three-day week, Top of the Pops on the telly, Tony Blackburn on the radio, Fab 208 on the newsstand.

In person Hill is, at 71, a little jowlier than in his silver-haired, silver platform-booted prime. But he still has that haircut, a kind of inverted U that has been cut by unfeeling, uncaring robots. The straight-across fringe may have migrated a little further up his forehead these days, but even now, and even in his civvies (puff jacket rather than old man’s cardie), he is still recognisably “Dave of Slade”.

And yet … And yet over the next couple of hours he will talk to me about vulnerability, about depression, about guilt. He will also tell me much he loves the poetry of William Wordsworth. I don’t remember any of that getting much coverage in Fab 208. Rather like the memoir he has written, Dave Hill can be a bit of a surprise.

The cover of So Here It Is has a picture of the guitarist wearing a cape, thigh-high boots, a mandala of glitter on his forehead and holding a guitar labelled “Super Yob” (famously, he also once had a car bearing the number plate “YOB 1”). This is the Dave Hill we remember, the Dave Hill that Reeves and Mortimer would later turn into a comedy sketch.

Yet while he does tell the Slade story inside, it’s also the story of the dreariness and social confines of post-war Britain in a way, the story of how childhood marks the man and how patterns of behaviour are passed down from generation to generation. With a chorus of Cum On Feel the Noize thrown in for good measure.

Hill has always lived in Wolverhampton. He tells me his daughter married in this very hotel. Indeed, Slade, before they were Slade, played here too.

That was in the days before they were scoring six number ones, of course. In 1973, their annus mirabilis, I was 10; the perfect age to love their teacher-baiting song titles, their glitter and tat look, Noddy Holder’s Dickensian sideburns and their devotion to the three-minute single.

Managed by ex-Animal (and ex-manager of Jimi Hendrix) Chas Chandler, Slade were a people’s group, Hill reckons. The Oasis of their day, perhaps. But less derivative.

“If you think of Slade, you’ll think of some happiness,” Hill suggests. And much of that was down to his own, shall we say, eccentric stage gear. In the NME in 1973 Keith Altham (who doubled as the band’s PR) describes Hill as coming onstage looking like “an over-decorated, perambulating Christmas tree”. And that was one of his more conservative looks.

“I know I am an extremely strong part of that visual image of Slade,” Hill agrees. “I don’t have to be told that. Nod and I quite accept our positions. Who are you going to remember? It will be me and him.”

That said, he adds, “We did take our music seriously. Chas was pro my guitar playing. And after all, he managed one of the best guitarists in the world.

“I’ve always loved melody, but I know there is something in me that can make people move. It’s a driven sound. We had a passion for it and Nod was a good lyricist. He was a clever bloke. But his lyrics to the Christmas song … It’s clever in its simplicity. We’re probably the only band at that time who could have written a song like that.”

Merry Xmas Everybody remains a cash cow of a song. There are stories that Noddy Holder and Jim Lea, Slade’s songwriters, each earn in the region of £250,000 every year (some reports put that figure much higher) thanks to Merry Xmas Everybody. Hill and drummer Don Powell don’t. Such is the nature of music publishing. I must ask, Dave. Does it rankle?

“My best answer to it is that is the way it is. Really, a lot of people are having a tough time. They don’t want to be hearing about blokes in groups whinging about something they haven’t got. I sense what I’ve got, what is right for me. And it’s not based on a financial achievement. The benefits of the Christmas song is the bigger picture of joy. People come to me and go: ‘It’s your time of year, Dave.’ That is enough for me. If someone said: ‘It’s your time of year, but someone else is making the money,’ it wouldn’t mean anything. You benefit in a different way.”

How long has it taken him to reach such a level of equanimity? A lifetime perhaps.


From left: Don Powell, Noddy Holder, Dave Hill and Jim Lea

David Hill was born in a castle in Devon on April 4, 1946, but grew up on a Wolverhampton council estate. The castle can be easily explained. The local hospital had been bombed in the war and a wing of the building was being used as a maternity hospital. Some of the rest of his childhood can’t be explained so easily.

His father was a mechanic, his mother a secretary and something of an enigma. She came from middle-class stock. Her mother – Hill’s grandmother – was a teacher, her father a doctor of music. The family even had a car. They were, as Hill points out in the language of the time, “well-to-do”.

But when she was 17 Hill’s mother had an affair with a married man and discovered she was pregnant. She attempted an abortion. Her daughter Jean, Hill’s half-sister, was born with epilepsy. He thinks his mum might have carried a weight of guilt about all this.

“Grandmother died,” Hill says. “I really don’t know whether it was the shame … No-one ever talked about it.”

Hill’s father always told him there were things he didn’t need to know. One of them turned out to be the fact that his parents had never married. Researching the book, he discovered they staged a fake wedding.

Hill’s mother was clearly a capable woman, someone who would write letters to the local MP (in this case Enoch Powell) and expect him to respond.

She was fine when she was working. And yet she also suffered from depression. And at its worst it could lead her to being violent or even suicidal.

Hill found a letter his mum wrote to her sister when he was just one year old. “It said: ‘Sometimes if it wasn’t for him I’d just try to end it.’ So, at one it was going on. She may have been plagued with the idea of God punishing her. You’re trying to work it out long after they’ve all gone. She attempted to go for my sister with a knife. This is not my mum. She wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

That was the norm. Mum working, Hill and his sister Carol going to school in a bombed-out, grey post-war Britain. The only colour was to be found at the movies and then, in the 1950s, with the arrival of rock and roll.

Hill got his first guitar from the Kay’s catalogue. He was clearly looking at different pages than I was as a boy, I tell him. The guitar arrived in a cardboard box. “For me it was a life saver,” he says. “What were my options? Not good at school. I was a bit of a loner. My sister said I was up the corner of the playground. I wasn’t one of the kids with the right hairstyle. I had big ears and a lot of complexes.”

Well, yes. For someone who would make his name as a showman he talks a lot about his insecurities. When Slade did break big he bought a big house in Solihull for himself and his wife and then felt guilty about owning it. “I didn’t think I deserved it. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have this.’”

And yet he spent so long trying to get to a position where he could. Hill spent much of the 1960s in bands without breaking through. Indeed, Slade took their own sweet time to make it too. Chandler started managing them in 1969. For a time, they tried to chase the skinhead audience. Chandler even encouraged them to smash up a hotel room just for the publicity.

“Couldn’t do it,” Hill says. “We couldn’t do a lot of things that weren’t us, because we weren’t naturally nasty people. Keith Altham, when he came up with the idea [of making them skinheads], he didn’t like suggesting it. ‘You can’t do it to them, Chas. They’re nice guys.’ And Chas said: ‘Too late. They’ve gone to the hairdressers.’

“And after a time even Chas realised it wasn’t making any difference. The audience of skinheads weren’t into us.”

Being a skinhead wasn’t Hill anyway. He worried about those ears. And there was always a showman in him desperate to get out. “I bought a cape once. And a hat. And I walked through Woolworths to see if anyone would notice me. I got a reaction and I quite liked that.”

When the band did a residency in the Bahamas in 1968, Hill started modelling women’s clothes, bought a wig and began looking for stage wear that would make him stand out. He even bought himself a denim dress.

“I’m on stage at the Tropicana club and a girl comes in at the back and she’s got the same ruddy dress on. And she comes down the front and she’s a big-mouthed Yankee: ‘My God. I don’t believe this guy. He’s got my dress on!’”

He started wearing platform boots because he was the shortest member of the band. When Slade went to number one he ordered double platforms. He was wearing triple platforms the time he fell over on stage in New York when the members of Kiss were in the audience. They thought it was part of the show.

What I want to know about is that Slade hairstyle, though. Did his wife Jan never complain? Did she never suggest a perm? “No, she was involved in that idea. She’s a hairdresser so she used to trim the sides.

“She came into Slade prior to success. Her mum and dad didn’t think I was a good idea. ‘A bit of a no-hoper. What kind of future does he have? He’s probably on drugs.’ We never were on drugs.”

For all the glitter Slade were always more of a real ale kind of band. And it took them longer to go flat than you might recall. They were having hits well into the 1980s before splitting in 1987, reforming and then finally calling it a day in the early 1990s when Holder had had enough.

Holder and Lea could afford to take a step back. Hill, however, needed a new source of income. “There was quite a while thinking: ‘What are we going to do? Got a mortgage to pay, got three kids.’ Reality strikes.

“And then I had this phone call from Suzi Quatro’s ex-husband [Len Tuckey]. He said: ‘What are you doing?’ I said: ‘I’m a bit screwed. Looking to form another group, maybe.’ He said: ‘You don’t want to do that. You’ve done the pubs.’ And he was right.”

Tuckey clued Hill into the huge audience in Europe desperate to see Slade or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

“The problem with England is if you’re not on the telly, you’re not in the charts, you’re not happening. But it’s not like that elsewhere,” Hill points out.

He got on the phone to Don Powell, who was working in a hotel pub serving drinks. Some 25 years later they are both still on the road with Slade II. Nostalgia is a business opportunity. “My past has given me a future,” he says, smiling.

Can you imagine not performing, Dave? “No, I couldn’t imagine the alternative. I’m not ruddy Superman. But I look after myself. I used to jog a lot. I walk a lot now.”

Still, life catches up with you. In recent years Hill has had a stroke. He’s suffered depression. And yet he has hauled himself out on the road again. I wonder if the fact his mother went downhill when she could no longer work plays on his mind. Yes, he admits. Last year he broke his arm in Brighton. A serious break, the surgeon told him. “And my wife is looking at me and I know exactly what she’s thinking. ‘You’re thinking about your mum right now and the damage done.’ And I was.”

Is he happy? He gives every impression of being so. “I’ve settled a lot of things by doing this book. I’ve even had a good sit down with Nod for four hours to go over some of the crap that I didn’t have a clear picture of and both of us, I think, enjoyed talking about it. We’d been through so much together, Nod, Jim, Don and I. And the split was tough on me. I thought we were in it for a lifetime.

“Some people can get caught up in the strangest ideas about other people and they carry some bitterness to their grave and it doesn’t benefit them. Whereas I’ve let go of all that some time ago. I’ve thought there have been benefits of Nod leaving the group to put me in the position to go on doing it. Look what I’ve gained from it. I’ve gained an income, but I’ve also gained a lot more connections with people and places than I would have if I’d left it alone.”

He does seem very chilled, right enough. “When I had the stroke, I got rid of a lot of things. Your vulnerability suddenly comes upon you quite strongly and yet in some ways it made me make decisions. I feel better for it … Not that I would recommend a stroke. I’m not so worried about what’s going to happen to us all as I used to be.”

These days Dave of Slade can quote you tracts of Wordsworth’s poetry if you ask him. These days Dave of Slade loves it when the grandchildren come around. These days Dave of Slade is not the man he was. But isn’t that something to be proud of?

So Here It Is by Dave Hill is published by Unbound, priced £20