Put together in the early 90s following the demise of the original band, Dave Hill and Don Powell’s version of Slade has now been around even longer than the twenty-five years that the classic Noddy Holder-fronted line-up managed. The band are at Brighton’s Concorde 2 for a rescheduled date following a cancellation last Christmas when drummer, Don Powell, was hospitalised after his legs gave way and both tendons snapped.
Since their last gig at this venue in 2016 there’s been a few changes. Don Powell is absent tonight. He’s making a good recovery, Dave Hill tells us, but is still under doctor’s orders not to resume work behind the drum-kit just yet. Stand-in drummer, Alex, does an admirable job filling in. The more lasting change, however, is that former lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Mal McNulty, has gone – to be replaced by keyboard player/vocalist, Russell Keefe. This has had a significant impact on the band’s sound and set-list.
On the plus-side it means that several of the hit singles that were built around Jim Lea’s piano-playing can be performed in a way that’s a far closer approximation to the original recordings. The likes of ‘Look Wot You Dun’, My Friend Stan’, ‘Everyday’ and ‘My Oh My’ do sound far, far better on stage with keyboards. On the minus side Keefe is really not a very appealing singer at all. Noddy Holder had a famously gravelly vocal delivery but there was a warmth to Holder’s voice and there was a fantastic range. Keefe’s voice is gravelly alright but has none of the latter and very little of the former.
The good news, however, is that Keefe only performs lead vocals for around half the set. Bass-player, John Berry, whose vocals began taking on a more prominent role in Slade’s stage-set during the latter period of McNulty’s years, takes lead vocals on many of the slower numbers. Keefe, meanwhile, is left to murder the out and out rockers, singing on the likes of ‘Gudbuy ‘T Jane’, ‘Bangin’ Man’ and ‘Get Down and Get With It’. My advice to Dave Hill is this: get John Berry doing vocals on everything. He’s got a great voice, he’s been a loyal member of the band for a good number of years now and while he never pretends to sound like Noddy Holder he’s got an authentic delivery and a passion to his vocals that suits Slade’s style.
Dave Hill is, of course, Dave Hill. Eccentrically-dressed as ever: a diminutive figure bouncing all over the stage, delivering the familiar solos and holding the whole thing together. The crowd respond accordingly. Both he and they genuinely look to be having a really great time. I am delighted he’s still out on the road and still giving his all to Slade. Hopefully, both Dave Hill and a returning Don Powell have a few more years of Slade left in them yet. I do just hope that they get to rethink the situation with the vocals somewhat.
Jim Lea For One Night Only – At The Robin
Interview with Jim Lea
Slade at Donnington 1981
Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the greatest Christmas record ever made
Slade at White Rock Theatre, Hastings 2015
Giants of Rock, Minehead 26-29 January 2018