On Friday December 17, the 75-year-old brings the current line-up of Slade to the Warehouse in Leeds, as part of a nine-date festive tour.
Hill recalls recording Merry Xmas Everybody, the last of Slade’s six number one singles, in the middle of a heatwave in New York City in July 1973. As the mercury soared, he and then fellow bandmates Noddy Holder, Jim Lea and Don Powell convened at the Record Plant after John Lennon cancelled a session for his Mind Games album. A harmonium he left behind features on the record.
“It was really hot and it certainly wasn’t Christmassy,” Hills remembers. “We didn’t know the song very well at the time so we decided to start to record it and spend a week on it.
“Because (the studio) was in an office block, people were coming to work. It was quite funny because we were in the corridors singing ‘Christmas’ and they were coming in the building saying ‘My God, what’s going on? There’s some English people singing about Christmas. It’s 80 degrees outside, are they crazy?’ It was really those sort of comments.”
The band did not actually hear the finished results for several months while their manager Chas Chandler took the tapes back to England to be remixed. Hill recalls: “Eventually towards the end of the year we heard the song and of course then it made a lot more sense. It was sent out to radio and Top of the Pops and everybody was fairly up about it because it was a completely different sort of record. This was done by a rock band but nobody was particularly writing Christmas songs any more.
“We certainly wanted to do a song that wasn’t Jingle Bells. It was all about getting together, to praise people,” he adds, citing the lyric ‘Does your granny always tell you that the old songs are the best/Then she’s up and rock ’n’ rolling with the best’. “We’re in such a time where happiness has been in short supply, and with our music particularly in Slade, happiness can be brought to the stage in the feature of us performing.”
Despite the song’s ubiquity around this time of year, Hill has never tired of hearing it. “It was a joy to make as a record, so I never get tired of doing it,” he says. “I’ve been playing it since 1973 and like all the Slade songs, I still enjoy playing them. I always like to think that every night that we do them it’s fresh and you get a fresh crowd, and that’s what we’re hoping to get in Leeds, we want to lift people’s spirits. That record lifted a nation in 1973 because there were a lot of power cuts and it was rather a difficult time, so it’s like now in a different sort of a way.”
Slade’s roots actually go back to 1966, and they went through a couple of changes of name and musical direction before finding their feet at the turn of the 70s when Jimi Hendrix’s manager Chas Chandler came on board and the band signed to Polydor Records.
“The arrival of Chas Chandler was a great help to us,” Hill says. “He saw us in a club and he thought we were a breath of fresh air in the business and he walked over to us and said ‘I want to manage you’. It was an amazing moment because he was quite some person, was Chas Chandler. I think his vision for us was everything. He loved the image, he loved the music, he understood rock ’n’ roll and how to make records – I think that was paramountly important in what we actually produced in those days.”
Playing live in the 60s and early 70s was a school of hard knocks, but Hill believes it stood the band in good stead. “It did give me a good grounding,” he says. “You need a grounding anyway to actually record records because it’s where you’re actually heading for, you need guidance of what you’re going to do and how it’s being produced. The grounding came from working together and learning our craft.”
In Slade’s imperial phase during the glam rock era, it felt like the band from Wolverhampton could do no wrong as they enjoyed a string of chart hits including Gudbuy t’Jane, Coz I Luv You and Mama Weer All Crazee Now.
If Noddy Holder was their instantly recognisable frontman, in mirrored top hat and mutton chops, Hill was their showman guitarist in silver suits and platform boots.
“Standing out was something I did rather well at the time, on Top of the Pops especially,” Hill says with a wry chuckle.
“Nod was our singer and I always made sure I was bobbing around with some sort of flashy costume. People used to tune into Top of the Pops just to see what I was going to wear.
“The music is paramount, selling it is another matter. When I used to put on these clothes in the toilet area, the rest of the band would say, ‘Reveal: let’s see what you’re going to wear now’.
“I had one outfit which I thought was Egyptian but they thought it was hilarious and fell about laughing, it looked like one of those silly metal men from the potato advert (for Smash). But our manager said, ‘We’ve got another number one’. So many people remember it, they called it the ‘metal nun’. The pleasure that these sort of things give to people also helped sell the band as an image.”
The band would go on to influence countless others, including Kiss and Oasis. Hill says: “Slade’s music was great then and it’s great now. I think the point about it is it has a longevity, it doesn’t date, and I enjoy it just as much now as when we first did it.”
Last year a compilation called Come On Feel The Hits even dented the top ten in the UK. “I think it went to number eight in the national album charts – we haven’t been that high since 1975,” Hill says. “It can only show that the public have grown with us and we also get new people coming along to the shows as well, especially younger people who may have only heard the Christmas song because their mum and dad used to play it, but then they get to know about us because of all the other songs that we recorded.”
Slade play at the Warehouse, Leeds on December 17 and Holmfirth Picturedrome on December 21. www.davehillslade.com