Darren’s music blog gets a ton of email traffic about artists flagging up new releases. There are not hours in the day to follow every single one up. This one was about to slip through the net but singer-songwriter Joe Matera was a little more persistent and kindly sent me a follow-up email a week later. What’s more he was flagging up that none other than legendary drummer Don Powell of Slade is performing on his new single. That immediately sent it to the top of the my ‘things-worth-checking-out-pile’ – but first a little more about Joe…
Also a prolific and respected music journalist, Joe has played in a number of rock outfits in his native Australia. He was founding lead guitarist for classic rock band Double Vision and before that played in a popular local band On The Prowl. As a guitarist Joe has also collaborated with a number of artists and his original guitar instrumental compositions have appeared on various film soundtracks. In 2012 he performed with Steve Harley for a series of live acoustic performances for radio and TV on Harley’s first ever promo tour of Australia.
Joe has continued to tour and record as a solo artist, releasing several albums and EPs of original material as well as providing support for artists as diverse as Peter Kriss (ex-Kiss), Canned Heat and the Bay City Rollers. In early 2018, he joined Swedish based rock band Rough Rockers as permanent member on guitar.
His latest solo single ‘Inside Looking Out’ is released towards the end of this month. It’s a song that starts off deceptively mellow until the aforementioned Mr Powell’s unmistakeable drumming kicks in and we are served up an infectiously jaunty slice of contemporary pop-rock with a blistering guitar solo to boot.
Because of lockdown restrictions the track was recorded remotely across three countries, Don Powell (drums) in Denmark, Janne Borgh (bass) in Sweden and Joe (vocals, guitars and keyboards) in Australia.
Don Powell:“I was really honoured when Joe asked me to play drums on his track. I had SO much fun in the studio recording my drums for him…I can also speak for my engineer Torben Lehmann, we both really got off listening to Joe’s track as I was recording my drums. Can’t wait to do more together.”
‘Inside Looking Out’ is released via Mercury Fire Music on October 29th on all digital platforms
After decades of touring the circuit blasting out the old hits with erstwhile colleague, Dave Hill, in his reconstituted version of Slade, the last few years have been something of a creative renaissance for drummer, Don Powell. There was the enormously well-received album with Suzie Quatro and Sweet’s Andy Scott, there’s been work with his new Don Powell Band and he is also about to release his second album as part of Don Powell’s Occasional Flames. Just My Cup Of Tea sees him, once again, with guitarist/vocalist, Les Glover, and lyricist/poet and ukulele supremo and Slade superfan, Paul Cookson.
Paul Cookson is a brilliantly witty lyricist and poet, indeed publishing an anthology of Slade related poetry ‘Touched By The Band Of Nod’ back in 2007. I have a signed copy! Of course, there are numerous nods to Slade on the album and ‘Coz We Luv You’ is an affectionate tribute to our four heroes from Wolverhampton with a trademark Slade stomp.
The cultural references across the album’s fourteen songs go far beyond Slade and 70s glam, however. ‘I Won’t Be Playing Wonderwall’ is a witty Oasis pastiche, for example, but much of the album gives off something of an early 80s post-punk vibe – choppy, slightly aggressive yet highly tuneful playing, teamed up with sharp, observational semi- spoken-word lyrics. Not the album lacks more sensitive moments, too, like the poignant ‘We Are The Hearts’ or the affectionate ‘Bernie and Elton’ tribute to the bespectacled pianist and his long-time lyricist.
There quality of the musicianship on the album is great, too, both from the trio themselves and their musical guests. Cellist, Liz Hanks, who has played with the likes of Liam Gallagher, Richard Hawley, Paul Heaton and Thea Gilmore is one of the album’s guests for, example, while the group’s own guitarist, Les Glover, has a very impressive musical CV, running from Elvis sideman, James Burton to 10cc’s Graham Gouldman.
Glorious words, great playing and Don Powell out of Slade, too – what’s not to love about the Occasional Flames!
I catch up with founding member of Slade and drumming legend, Don Powell. Don’s band have just released a brand new single, a cover of the instrumental classic ‘Let There Be Drums’ featuring eighteen of the UK’s leading drummers with all profits going to We Make Events, raising money for crew, engineers and technicians hit by the pandemic and the cancellation of live gigs. Via Zoom in Don’s home in Denmark we talk about the new single, about the old Slade days, about working with Suzi Quatro and Andy Scott, about recovering from a stroke and much, much more besides.
DJ: I want to talk first about the new single ‘Let There Be Drums’ the cover of the old Sandy Nelson instrumental which was released just last week. It’s already made quite a splash I believe. Can you just say a bit about how that all came about?
DP: I tell you what, Darren, it’s funny how these things stick with you. It was before I was actually playing drums it was like in my youth club days when it was first released in ’61. So, I’d be 14/15 then and it was like the youth club. You know playing table tennis and we used to have the old Dansette record player and some of the older members of the club brought this record down and it just freaked me out. I’d never heard a drumming record before – just a solo drumming record. And I thought, blimey, this is incredible. It sort of stuck with me.
DJ: Were you already drumming by then?
DP: No, no, no.
DJ: So that’s what got you into the drums then?
DP: Maybe, I was playing drums in the boy scouts. But it just freaked me. It floored me when I heard it because I’d never heard a drumming record before. Anyway, it’s always been in the back of my mind. Then Craig Fenney, who was the bass-player with Slade when we went back on the road in 91/92, me and him were talking about it. It came up in conversation. I think it was Craig who brought it up in conversation. I said, “Actually, Craig…” What I did I recorded drums – do you remember that solo artist Jona Lewie? He had a couple of hits – ‘You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties’ and ‘Don’t Stop the Cavalry’. Well, he’s got a 48-track recording studio at his house. And he invited me down and I started playing around and I recorded one or two drum tracks. And when Craig brought it up, I said, “Actually Craig, I have got some recordings of the drum track.” Because the way technology’s gone sky-high, I got the old 24-inch master-tapes and had them transferred digitally. And then it was Craig’s idea who said, “Why don’t we try and get lots of guest drummers. Let’s throw some names in between us and do like a cover version.” I said, “That’s a great idea.”
And we started throwing names about and I mentioned Brian Bennett from the Shadows. Because about three or four times a year about 35-40 of us have a lunch in London – like musicians, actors and people like that. And Brian’s always there so we made contact like that. And he said straight away, “No problem.” And the idea was, Darren, was for them to record about fifteen seconds – and also film it so we could put it all together like a montage-type thing. And there was Bev Bevan who was originally from the Move, and then ELO and he did a stint with Black Sabbath. Everybody was so gracious and then we decided to donate all this to charity – for all the road crews and technicians who’ve really suffered with the pandemic catastrophe. And it just came together really quickly, Darren. They all put their oar in and got themselves filmed while they recorded it and sent it to us. And we just put it all together and we’ll just see what happens with it, mate.
DJ: Well it’s a great track and it’s a great cause so let’s hope it’s going to be a real success.
DP: I don’t think people really realise the work that these guys do. I mean without these guys the show wouldn’t go on.
DJ: Hopefully, when things do go back to normal we’ll start to appreciate them more – as ordinary punters.
DP: Can you see light at the end of the tunnel yet? There are a few concerts in the offing but we’re just going to have to wait and see, Darren.
DJ: It’s been quite an exciting time for you because you formed the Don Powell Band last year. You had the project with Suzie Quatro and Andy Scott a few years ago. There seems to have been a burst of new projects that you’re involved in these days.
DP: Yeah. I’ve been pretty lucky really, Darren. The Suzi Quatro and Andy Scott one was quite nice because what it was there was Slade, Sweet and Suzi Quatro band did a few shows together and Suzi, Andy and myself are sitting in the hotel restaurant one day and Andy Scott said, “Now this will make a good band.” And everybody’s sort of yeah, I wonder, I wonder… And we kept on mentioning it and it came about and we said let’s get together and do some recordings. And so what we did we went down to Peter Gabriel’s place. He’s got a massive studio complex over in the west country. And so we went down there and what we did you live there – sort of live, eat and record there. And that’s when we did the album really. We had a great time doing it. And then it got released by Sony in Australia and it charted. So we went over and tour there. Because what we did, Suzi Quatro goes over there every year anyway and she has done for the last thirty years. And we were the opening act. Andy, Suzi and myself were the opening act. It was a great tour. And it helped with the album really.
DJ: So all these new things that you’ve been doing – was it starting to get a little bit frustratingbefore? Because I know you went out with Dave Hill for a good twenty-odd years. Was it starting to get a bit frustrating just going out there and doing the hits? Were you starting to feel that you wanted to do some new things?
DP: In a way yes. Apart from doing the Slade material with Dave Hill – but that’s what people wanted to see. It’s like with any band that’s had an amount of success, it’s hard to get out of that hole that you dig yourself into. I mean, we had it with the original line-up with Noddy and Jim – what do we play or what do we leave out? It’s a hard thing to try and decide. Everyone’s got different ideas or different choices you know but we all have to try and find out or work out what the audience want really. But we came to an end in a way. Noddy Holder didn’t want to tour anymore so it was just a matter of looking for things and Dave Hill and myself were still keen on touring which we did. And actually it was great because we went to a lot of territories like Russia and the old Eastern Bloc which we couldn’t do in the 70s.
DJ: The world opened up more I suppose?
DP: Oh yes. We had some great shows in Russia. It was incredible. And it’s not until you go there that you realise how big that place is.
DJ: You were massive there but at the time you could never really get there.
DP: No, we couldn’t get there. There was no record deal. We hadn’t got a clue what was going on release-wise you know, for obvious reasons. And it’s amazing when you realise – we flew from Moscow to Dal’niy Vostok on the east coast and it’s like thirteen hours. That’s like flying from Los Angeles. It’s incredible – but we’ve had some great times there, Darren.
DJ: Yes, I only saw the original band three times in the early 80s but then I saw you and Dave many, many times after that. But there seemed to be a time, only a year or two ago when it all seemed to be going wrong for you. You had the email sacking you from Dave Hill. That was after your serious tendon injury that put you out of action for a while. And then to cap it all after that, you had a stroke. It all seemed to be going wrong for you?
DP: Yeah. It was a weird thing. There was no reasoning for it. With the stroke it was strange. I was here at home. We all were here at home, and I was just watching TV and I went to sort of grab my cup of tea and I couldn’t get the cup. I couldn’t grab the cup or hold the cup. I had to hold my hand and then I came downstairs to speak to my wife, and it was a problem coming down the stairs and luckily our daughter is a doctor. And she said, “You’ve had a stroke. You need to go to the hospital. Because my speech is a bit blurred sort of thing.
DJ: I thought that was just the Wolverhampton accent!
DP: Oh no! Or it could be my drinking days! That would have been normal then. If it was my drinking days I would understand – but that’s all gone! But we just sent for an ambulance, and they hooked me up to some machines and checked me out and they said, “You’ve had a stroke. We’ve got to take you to hospital.” And that’s what it was. It was just a small stroke, and I was at the hospital. Luckily, it was our daughter who said, being a doctor, who said, “If you were my husband I would send you to the hospital.” Anyway, it was all sorted out and everything was ok. Apparently, it wasn’t that serious but I’m glad I got the advice. So yep, everything’s ok.
DJ: Because there was like a twelve-month period where just everything was going wrong for you. There was your tendon, then there was the Dave Hill thing, then there was your stroke. Was there a time when you just thought about packing it all in and knocking it on the head?
DP: No. No.
DJ: You always stayed positive?
DP: I was very positive. Actually, that came from my wife as well, Darren. My wife, Hanne, she was great you know. She made me practice going upstairs and I had a practice kit and she made me get on that and she said, “I love to hear you play.” And that was ok, actually. It was strange. There was no problem playing drums or anything. And it was just a matter of this little minor stroke happened if you like – and that was it. I’m on tablets for the rest of my life but apparently that’s just like the norm these days. But it’s ok. It was a bit scary at the time.
DJ: And a high point last year, it must have been really nice for you after all these years seeing Slade back in the album charts?
DP: Yeah incredible. You see, I looked at the CD and I thought, “Blimey. It ain’t bad is it? A nice bit of history there.” But also, when it went back in the charts I thought everybody had got this stuff, you know! How much further can you go, you know. It is incredible but I tell you what people always talk about the – we call it ‘that song’ – the Christmas song. No matter where we go around the world, no matter what time of year – they wanna hear that song.
DJ: But do you think this has helped broaden people’s memories and recollections of the band now? I mean, that compilation must have helped.
DP: Oh I think so. I think the general comments I’ve been getting, Darren, is people saying, “Oh, I didn’t realise you had so many hits. Oh, I forgot you had that one. Oh yeah and that one.” I mean I do myself as well. I’m looking thinking, wow I forgot about that. So it’s nice compliments and it’s nice bit of history on the CD really.
DJ: The hit that really got everything going for me in terms of Slade – because I was like 6 or 7 when ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ and those hits came out and I was more into the Wombles than Slade at that age – but by the time I was 14 ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’ came out. That was your big comeback single. That was the one that really turned me into a lifelong Slade fan.
DP: That was a great record. Obviously, with Nod’s lyrics that’s how it came about. It’s all about a concert. And what we did, when we recorded that I just went to the toilet and I made a loud cough and I thought, “Ooh, that’s a nice echo in here.” And I thought, “I wonder, how would it be if we put the drums in here.” Because it was all tiled and everything and it was like a thunderous sound in the toilet – absolutely incredible. But we never thought – I was halfway through this incredible take and the automatic flush went off. I thought, “Oh shit!” you know. And we had to turn the water off – it’s those things you don’t think about. It was a great comeback record that, though. It was a nice record to come back with actually.
DJ: It must be a brilliant record for a drummer, too, because the drums are so centre-stage.
DP: Oh yes. It’s great to play on stage, Darren. Because the thing is I can just keep on playing while the other guys just talk to the audience and just mess around and all that. It’s a great stage song, especially for me anyway.
DJ: As a drummer which is your favourite Slade song to play?
DP: Oh, there’s a couple really. I mean ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ I always love playing and ‘My Oh My’. If you listen to that at the start it’s basically just bass drum and snare drum. And I come in with the drum fills afterwards. It was a great song to play and also ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ is one of my favourites as well.
DJ: Definitely. That would be one of my favourites as well.
DP: It’s incredible. There’s another one when you think, Darren. We released that in the States at the same time in ’73 and it never saw the light of day – nothing. And then Quiet Riot recorded it and it goes to number 1.
DJ: And then gave your career a boost because you started having hits for the first time ever in America as well.
DP: Oh, that’s what happened there. It gave us a boost. All these record companies over there were after us and we signed with CBS. And MTV had just started as well, Darren, which helped a lot. That video was on MTV all the time.
DJ: The ‘Run Run Away’ video?
DP: Yep. ‘Run Run Away’ was released first because they used that castle as the back-drop. Of course, like typical Americans they all thought that’s where we lived.
DJ: Slade’s castle!
DP: They thought it was our house.
DJ: That’s even more bizarre than Vic Reeves really.
DP: Yes. We just played along with that one, so it was quite good.
DJ: Well, yeah, every rock band in Britain has their own castle.And if we can go back to the very, very early days of Slade now. In the early days you actually wrote quite a bit for Slade at the start but when the hits started coming you stopped. I think that was a shame, personally, because while I could see your lyrics were not hit single material, I would have thought for album tracks they would have been perfect.
DP: I’ve started writing again now but the thing is Noddy Holder and Jim Lea started writing and they were doing it like that [clicks fingers] and they were coming out with the hits, and it was so easy for them, Darren, so I just let them carry on with it.
DJ: Oh right, you just thought let them get on with it.
DJ: They didn’t actually tell you to stop writing or discourage you?
DP: Oh no, nothing like that. They were coming up with this great material, so I just thought, you know, “Let them carry on with it. They’ve got the formula now so great just let them do it.” But I’ve started writing again over the last few years for the solo stuff I’ve been doing so we’ve just got our fingers crossed with the Don Powell Band really when we start doing some more recordings. But then again, Darren, it’s amazing how technology’s changed. Because of this pandemic crap, you know, I haven’t been able to travel. The rest of the guys have been recording stuff in England and sending the files to me and I just go to the studio I use over here, put the drums on and send it back. It’s not the same as all being in the studio at the same time because there’s that rapport you have that sort of feeds itself when you’re all playing together. But at least we can do something while this is going on around us, you know?
DJ: It’s something really positive to focus on.
DP: Yes, there’s a guy in Australia who I met when I toured there with Andy and Suzi a few years ago and he was doing some solo stuff and he asked me to play drums on it and I said yes. And he’s doing the same. He’s sending the files over from Australia. I’m waiting for them. And I’ll put drums on and send it back.
DJ: So can we expect an album from the Don Powell Band then?
DP: Oh yes. For sure. For sure…
DJ: And when..?
DP: Hopefully – they’re all writing stuff, which is all of us – as soon as possible really, Darren. At the moment with this pandemic, as I said, at least they can send me material, I can put drums on and send it back, you know. But it’ll be nice when we can all get in the studio together at the same time. A great bunch of guys and they’re great fun to be with. We only had two rehearsals together before all this lockdown came.
DJ: So you know each other better on Zoom than you do in real life!
DP: Exactly! It’s strange it is.
DJ: Although, obviously, you and Craig (Craig Fenney – bass player) go back many years.
DP: Oh yes. We go back even before we were back on the road – Dave and myself when Craig was in the band – I’ve known Craig even before then. So it’s not like we were total strangers so that’s good.
DJ: And still just on Slade, I’m not going to dwell on the Dave Hill thing, but do you still hear from the other two members of the band – Noddy and Jim?
DP: Yeah, occasionally we speak and like I said we’ve got one coming up in September. There’s like 35-40 of us have a lunch together in London. There’s like musicians, drummers. And it’s great. There’s like Bruce Welch from the Shadows and Brian Bennett. I mean there’s Clem Cattini. I don’t know whether you know of him, Darren?
DJ: Oh yes, big session player – yes.
DP: Oh you know – and he’s such an unassuming guy because you know he started with ‘Telstar’ from the Tornadoes, that’s how it started with him. And he went into studio work and do you know he’s played drums on over 200 hit records? 55 number ones he’s played drums on.
DJ: That’s more than you!
DP: Yeah. It’s phenomenal.
DJ: I mean you’ve not done too bad playing on number ones.
DP: The thing is when you’re talking to Clem, Darren, you talk about records and, “Yeah, I played drums on that. Yeah, I did that one as well. Yeah, and that one.” He was telling us he never knew where he was going in those days. He’d have a contact. Go to so-and-so studio. He said on one day he did ‘Lilly The Pink’ in the morning by Scaffold and in the afternoon he packed his drums away and went to Decca studios and then he did ‘It’s Not Unusual’ by Tom Jones. So he did two number ones in one day. And he got something like sixty quid. [laughs] But that’s what it was then.
DJ: It’s more the legacy than the money.
DP: Yeah, course it is. He’s got some great stories though. And it’s why I like talking to Bruce Welch as well because I asked, and I didn’t know whether Cliff Richard and The Shadows actually toured America – but they did. Back in the very early ‘60s they were on one of those package things with people like Dion and the Belmonts, all those kind of people. But then again, travelling on a greyhound bus. No private jets then. It was just travelling on a bus. But yes, it’s great talking to those people. And those people I look up to those people.
DJ: And Noddy and Jim, do you still hear from them?
DP: Well, as I say, Nod’s always at the lunches.
DJ: So you keep up with Nod.
DP: And Jim – Jim’s not on email. Jim never bothers with email or mobile phones or anything like that.
DP: Oh good. I mainly contact Jim through his brother now. His brother’s on email so I make contact like that through his brother. So I’ll see Nod – if the lunch goes ahead in September, Darren, I shall see Nod there. We always have a good laugh you know. The thing is no-one knows what we’re talking about. We’re just on our own talking and killing ourselves laughing. And no-one knows what we’re talking about. Well when you think, when we’ve been together so long – like I’ve always said I probably knew the rest of the band Nod, Dave and Jim better than I knew my own brother.
DJ: Because you saw a lot more of them.
DP: Oh, just in the back of the van and sharing bags of chips and things like that. I mean we went through so much together really and that can never go away.
DJ: Yes, and that’s a really nice note to end the Slade memories on. And just looking to the future now what next for the Don Powell Band?
DP: Well like I said, it’s all frozen with this pandemic that’s going on but hopefully, as you know, because we’re recording at least we can do some recording. Like I said they send the files to me and I put drums on and send it back. So, hopefully, when all this clears we can get together. We only had two rehearsals together before all this started. So, hopefully, we can just get things sorted when all this pandemic stuff’s done.
DJ: And you are planning a tour then?
DP: Well we would like to, but we will see how it all sort of channels out really. So it’ll be nice. It will be the usual thing. They be asking for ‘that song’. Merry Christmas!
DJ: Presumably, you are going to do a mix of new material and Slade classics?
DP: Oh, I suppose we’ll have to do. Because one of the guitarists is Bob Wilson from Steve Gibbons Band. So we’ve started rehearsing some of Steve Gibbons’ stuff as well. So there’s a lot of material to choose from, Darren.
DJ: And if I can ask one final favour as well. I work for a learning disability charity called Stay UpLate and what we do is help people with a learning disability get out to gigs.
DP: Oh nice! I do that kind of thing over here, Darren.
DJ: Yeah, I knew you did. And one of our participants Daniel is a massive Slade fan, so if you can give a message of support to our charity Stay Up Late that would be brilliant.
DP: Hi there people. This is Don Powell from the Don Powell Band and I’m sending a message to the Stay Up Late people just keep on trucking and keep on going guys. It’s going to be fantastic.
This week I celebrated my 55th birthday which means it’s exactly forty years since a rather significant album first arrived in my record collection. For my fifteenth birthday I had asked for a couple of albums: Status Quo’s latest release ‘Never Too Late’ from my mum and stepdad and Slade’s We’ll Bring The House Down from my dad and stepmum. I was actually away on a school geography trip to Wales for the day of my actual birthday and didn’t arrive back home until the following day but by the time I got home both gifts were waiting for me.
I vaguely remember Slade from my early childhood the previous decade but they had certainly not been on my radar for a long time. Not until I saw Noddy, Holder, Dave Hill, Jim Lea and Don Powell appearing on Top Of The Pops a couple of months earlier. After years of flops the ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’ single had taken Slade back into the Top Ten.
The song immediately grabbed my attention and I was now a firm fan. Asking for this album for my birthday was the obvious choice. Quo’s Never Too Late was very much the poor relation as far as birthday gifts went that day. The Slade album, though, I positively devoured, lapping up the likes of ‘Wheels Ain’t Coming Down’ and ‘When I’m Dancing I Ain’t Fighting’ and the rest.
Before long I was making numerous trips to our local second-hand record store in Preston to seek out Slade’s 70s back catalogue. This was 1981. Everyone else was into heavy metal, punk and new wave or the about-to-be-massive new romantic scene. But I was developing this obsession with 1970s glam rock. And it wasn’t just Slade. During the course of year I’d bought up much of Sweet’s back catalogue, too, not to mention albums by T. Rex and Mott The Hoople.
But the best was yet to happen. In August of that year, I tagged along with my dad and stepmum to see AC/DC headline at Donington. AC/DC were superb, of course, but even more of a revelation were Slade. This was my first attendance at a live rock gig ever but is undoubtedly the finest live concert I’ve ever attended. The Slade component in particular remains the most entertaining sixty minutes of my life.
And so, 1981 was the year that kicked off my Slade obsession and my love for all things glam. Glam was never really my era but musically it will always be my first love.
I’ve been following Bristol-based acapella group The Longest Johns since they sent me their first album to review back in 2016. Following the tiktok sea shanty viral sensation that is ‘Wellerman’, however, they now find themselves in the Top 40 – with a lovely rather dumbstruck announcement on their Facebook page giving their reaction as follows: “BY POSEIDONS BEARD! It’s only gone top 40! We did it everybody, thank-you to all our families, the mod’s and the fantastic discord community, Thank-you to Anna for singing it with us and thank-you to EVERYONE who bought Wellerman and got a (Can’t believe i’m typing this) SEA SHANTY IN THE CHARTS. Ohhhh!!”
2020 was looking like a terrible year for glam veterans, Slade. Guitarist Dave Hill sacked drummer Don Powell from the continuing (ie: post- Jim and Noddy) version of the band. Bass-player Jim Lea had his prized guitar stolen and Noddy Holder exchanged a few sharp words about his former song-writing partner Jim in press interviews. All that was put to one side, however, as all four original members expressed their joy at their greatest hits compilation Cum On Feel The Hitz going straight in at No. 8 in the UK album charts back in October. This was the band’s highest ranking in the UK album charts since Slade In Flame was released back in 1974!
Only a few short years ago the wheels well and truly seemed to be finally coming off the AC/DC machine. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had tragically passed away, drummer Phil Rudd was sentenced to home detention after an unedifying case involving drugs and threatening behaviour, vocalist Brian Johnson ended up being replaced by Axl Rose following major hearing problems and bass-player Cliff Williams saw the writing on the wall and decided he, too, had had enough. However, with Stevie Young replacing his late uncle, Malcolm, the classic post-Bon Scott AC/DC line-up (or as near as humanly possible to it anyway) was resurrected and a brand new album Power Up ended up reaching No. 1 in twenty-one countries.
Glitter Band founder member, John Rossall, released a wonderfully menacing twenty-first century reboot of classic 70s glam rock with his The Last Glam In Town album. Released back in October last year, it picked up favourable reviews everywhere. All tribal beats, honking brass, fuzzed-up guitar, sing-along choruses and enough handclaps and chants of ‘Hey’ to last you a lifetime, The Last Glam In Town is a modern masterpiece of the genre. “It’s like I’ve written them myself almost!” he told me when I interviewed him late last year. “It’s a surprise. The reviews everywhere – it’s been beyond my wildest dreams really.”
While there has been no big Charlatans comeback (their most recent album was back in 2017), Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties have been one of the bright spots throughout the pandemic. The idea was a simple one: an album and a time would be chosen and fans would converge on social media to exchange their memories, reactions and appreciation of said album. Soon there was a queue of artists eager to get involved and, for me, one of the highlights was when they featured the album by Heavy Load, a band which was composed of people with and without learning disabilities, of which my current boss was the former bass-player. You can find out more about Heavy Load, the award-winning film of the same name that was made about them and the charity that they inspired here.
I wish everyone a happy New Year. My special thanks go to all those who have visited (and hopefully enjoyed) Darren’s music blog during 2020. Weirdly, although I originally started this blog nearly seven years ago mainly to cover live gig reviews, I’ve had far more visits to my site this year than any previous year. This is in spite of all the gigs (and the gig reviews!) stopping in March.
Anyway, as we look back over the year here are my ten most popular blog posts from 2020. Although I’ve covered the usual eclectic range of metal, folk, Americana, brit pop, rock n roll and glam rock this year, it seems that people were particularly seeking out my glam content this year. Glam ended up pulling in eight of the ten top slots. Here they are in order of popularity…
1. Veteran drummer Don Powell out of Slade
When Don Powell announced he had been sacked from Dave Hill’s continuing version of Slade it came as a shock to many, eventually being covered extensively in the music press and the tabloids. I posted the sad news up on my blog within minutes of it being announced on Don Powell’s Facebook page – I was first to report it and for the first 24 hours pretty much the only one to report it. My post went viral and was shared all around the world.
2. Glitter, glam and Blackpool rock: interview with glam rock legend John Rossall
Following the release of his highly acclaimed new album ‘The Last Glam In Town’ I talk to former Glitter Band legend, John Rossall. Our chat covers glam rock, show bands, growing up in Blackpool and, of course, John’s new album and the prospect of touring again post-Covid.
3. Sweet launch video to promote new single ‘Still Got The Rock’ and forthcoming album ‘Isolation Boulevard’
Sweet’s ‘Still Got The Rock’ single was released in digital format in December followed by the digital release of new album Isolation Boulevard. The single is reworking of a song that first appeared as a newly-recorded bonus track on the 2015 Sweet compilation album Action: The Ultimate Story, by the band’s previous line-up. The new version features the current line-up of Andy Scott, Bruce Bisland, Lee Small and Paul Manzi.
4. Before glam: the debut 60s singles of Bowie, Bolan, Slade, Mud and Sweet
When glam rock burst into the UK pop charts in the early 1970s the genre may have appeared all shiny and new and suitably outrageous but many of its lead players had been trying to make their all-important breakthrough in the previous decade. Five of the acts we look at here all released their debut singles in the mid to late 60s.
5. Slade legend Jim Lea releases video footage in bid to locate recently stolen guitar
Founder members of Slade were not having much luck at the start of the year. Jim Lea’s cherished Fender Stratocaster was stolen in central London on 31st January. He released a video in the hope that it will prompt members of the public in helping reunite him with his guitar.
6. Live review: Supergrass at Alexandra Palace 6/3/20
The only live review to make the top ten this year, this Ally Pally gig from the Supergrass reunion tour was actually my penultimate live gig before lockdown. (I managed Glen Matlock at the 100 Club the night after). Without a doubt, for me, the greatest band of the Britpop era, I was at the Brixton Academy on the Supergrass farewell tour in 2010 and ten years later I was excited to be their for the their first of two nights at Alexandra Palace on the long-awaited reunion tour.
Steve Priest, bass-player with the Sweet and an icon of 70s glam rock sadly passed away in June following an illness that had hospitalised him. In an emotional post on his band’s Facebook page, former band-mate Andy Scott paid tribute to the best bassist he ever worked with. A phenomenal bass-player whose harmony vocals were an essential part of the band’s classic sound Steve Priest we salute you – a true glam rock icon.
8. Slade at No. 8 in the UK albums chart – their highest position since 1974!
I was well chuffed to see Slade’s new greatest hits compilation Cum On Feel The Hitz go straight in at No. 8 in the UK’s album charts back in October. This was the band’s highest ranking in the UK album charts since Slade In Flame was released back in 1974. Even during the days of the band’s early 80s comeback, a decade after glam, Slade albums were still struggling to make it to the Top 40, even when they had a second run of hit singles.
The run of bad luck for Slade icons in the early part of the year continued. Don Powell, suffered a stroke on Saturday 29th February at his home in Denmark. Fortunately, his step-daughter Emilie, a doctor, was with him when it happened and was able to act swiftly to call an ambulance and get him to hospital. His wife Hanne released a statement and Jim Lea and Andy Scott both sent their best wishes.
10. ‘Confess’ by Rob Halford – a gay heavy metal fan reviews the Metal God’s autobiography
As someone who became a Judas Priest fan not long after my dad brought home a newly-released copy of ‘British Steel’ back when I was a young teenager, and as someone who has known they were gay from around that same time I was particularly keen to read Halford’s memoir. There is a fair bit of revelatory gossip and down to earth black country humour but there are many segments that are deeply, deeply moving, too. One of the best rock biogs in ages.
While I’ve no intention of buying it myself (given I’ve got more Slade albums, Slade singles, Slade reissues and Slade compilations than you can shake a stick at) I was well chuffed to see Slade’s new greatest hits compilation Cum On Feel The Hitz go straight in at No. 8 in the UK’s album chart last Friday.
This is the band’s highest ranking in the UK album charts since Slade In Flame was released back in 1974. Even during the days of the band’s early 80s comeback, a decade after glam, Slade albums were still struggling to make it to the Top 40, even when they had a second run of hit singles.
What has been nice, and clearly what has helped with sales, is all four original members working to publicise the release and celebrate the band’s shared legacy – even if they do not all see eye to eye these days.
While some bands of a certain vintage split into two rival camps, with Slade it’s all been a bit more complicated. Noddy doesn’t get on with Jim these days but rubs along just fine with Dave and Don. Jim doesn’t have time for Nod or Dave but is on good terms with Don, sending the latter heartfelt good wishes when he suffered a stroke earlier this year. Dave doesn’t get on with Jim and had a pretty acrimonious falling out with Don earlier this year, too, when he sacked him as drummer from his continuing version of Slade. But Dave does get on well with Nod, the two keeping in touch with one another by phone through lockdown. Don, meanwhile, gets on just fine with Jim and Nod in spite of that big falling out with Dave. Got all that?
Still, it’s nice that the four of them put on a united front to promote Cum On Feel The Hitz which collects most of Slade’s singles from 1970 to 1991. The double CD comprises 43 tracks, while the double vinyl features 24.
Noddy: “It’s been remastered. They sound bloody great and there’s a double vinyl out as well. The record company wanted to do it. They wanted to make it a definitive collection, which it pretty much is. In this time of lockdown, I think people need a bit of Slade. We always put a smile on people’s faces. This is the perfect time to cheer people up. Hopefully it’ll reach a new generation too.”
Dave: “The thinking behind it is that BMG signed us for this big deal and really when you’re looking at something like this you’re almost giving us a reappraisal of how many hits we really had.”
Jim:“I’m absolutely thrilled with the chart placing of ‘Cum On Feel The Hitz’ tonight. Many thanks to all the fans for buying the CDs, vinyl and downloading the album. Great to see it in the Top Ten. Rock on!”
Don: “This is fantastic news! I never thought that I’d see us back in the Top Ten again. I was told earlier that BMG thought the album would enter the charts around #7 or #8 – and if it’s been confirmed that the official position in the UK chart is number 8 then that’s great!”
Cheers guys – great to see you back in the charts!
Drummer and veteran Slade legend, Don Powell, suffered a stroke on Saturday 29th February at his home in Denmark. Fortunately, his step-daughter Emilie, a doctor, was with him when it happened and was able to act swiftly to call an ambulance and get him to hospital. The subsequent day, 1st March, his wife Hanne released the following statement via Don’s website:
“On Sunday afternoon I picked Don up from the hospital. He will be monitored from home until Wednesday afternoon as it is less stressful for him to be at home, and that is important at the moment. The MRI and CT scan results shows two blood clots in the left frontal lobe, and he is now on medication. There is a narrowing on his artery on his neck so we will know in a few days if he will need an operation. The scan results are sent to the cardiology surgeons to decide. Don is tired but in good spirits and he is happy that he can use/feel his right arm and leg again. So we are all very relieved and thankful.”
Accompanying the update was a photo of a convalescing Don looking in very good spirits.
The stroke follows a snapped tendon in 2019 which put Don out of action as a drummer for the rest of the year as well as more recent news of Don’s sacking from Dave Hill’s continuing version of Slade last month.
Don’s former colleague Jim Lea, who played with him from the original band’s formation in 1996 through to 1991 released the following statement via his own website:
“Hi Don – It was terrible to hear of your stroke. A real body blow!! Although the band finished many moons ago, we were like brothers during that 25 years together. You were and still are the quickest wit in the band. You kept us laughing through the ups and downs of those years. I’m sure that everyone who’s met you thinks the same. Keep smiling Don and get through this. Get well soon. Jim.”
The Sweet’s Andy Scott, who collaborated with Don ,along with Suzi Quatro, on the QSP project in recent years also released his own statement via his band’s Facebook page.
“I am in touch with Don on a daily basis and of course wish him the speediest recovery. After the trauma of injury in 2018 and his fight back to fitness in 2019 the last thing one needs in 2020 is another setback. Knowing Don he will be cracking jokes again very soon. Chin up my old mate. I am in DK this week so will pop in with some good cheer if you are receiving visitors. Love & best wishes from all in the Sweet camp x. Andy.”
When glam rock burst into the UK pop charts in the early 1970s the genre may have appeared all shiny and new and suitably outrageous but many of its lead players had been trying to make their all-important breakthrough in the previous decade. Five of the acts we look at here all released their debut singles in the mid to late 60s.
Bowie – 1964
David Bowie’s debut single ‘Liza Jane’ which was released under the name Davie Jones & the King Bees and was recorded at Decca Studios in West Hampstead in May 1964 but released on the Vocalion Pop label. Although producer Leslie Conn is credited as the composer the song is an arrangement of an old standard ‘Li’l Liza Jane’ which dates back to at least the 1910s. Bowie released two more singles the following year under the names The Manish Boys and Davy Jones & the Lower Third but his first release using the name David Bowie was his 1966 single ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’ which was released as David Bowie & the Lower Third. Bowie’s next single, ‘Do Anything You Say’ released that same year was the first credited solely to David Bowie. Bowie release four more singles and a debut album prior to his first success chart success in 1969 with the single ‘Space Oddity’ which reached number five.
Bolan – 1965
Marc Bolan’s debut ‘The Wizard’ was released by Decca in 1965. “I sounded like Dylan,” Bolan later admitted in an interview. Mark Paytress in ‘Bolan – The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar’ takes up the story: “On the morning of September 14th 1965 Mike Leander, Jim Economides, Mark Pruskin and Marc Bolan congregated in Decca’s Broadhurst Gardens studios in West Hampstead. A small backing orchestra, comprising string section and pop instruments, and The Ladybirds vocal group were briefed and awaited further instructions from Leander. It was ten in the morning and everyone knew the session would be over by lunchtime.” When it failed to make its mark on the charts a couple more solo singles followed after which their was a stint in John’s Children. Bolan then enjoyed modest success in the underground acoustic duo Tyrannosaurus Rex before shortening the name, expanding the personnel, turning up the amps and hitting glam rock superstardom.
Slade – 1966
Recording as the N’ Betweens prior to changing their name firstly to Ambrose Slade and then Slade, Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill and Don Powell made their debut single in 1966. ‘You Better Run’ released by Columbia was a cover of a song by US band The Young Rascalls. Ian Edmondson & Chris Selby in ‘The Slade Discography’ take up the story: “Visiting American record producer Kim Fowley saw something in them that he liked and decided to to approach them with a view to recording some music. Fowley was what was referred to in those days as a ‘freak’. This was a combination of his height and his way out American dress style and attitude. He was fond of calling his records ‘Instant Productions’. This seemed to be mainly because he didn’t waste a lot of time and money on recording.” ‘You Better Run’ sold exceptionally well in Wolverhampton but failed to sell many copies elsewhere. Several more singles and two albums would follow until the band hit the UK Top 20 with ‘Get Down and Get With It’ in 1971.
Mud – 1967
Mud released their debut single ‘Flower Power’ on CBS in 1967, a song written by the band’s guitarist Rob Davis. Several more flop singles would follow until Mud hit the charts with ‘Crazy’ six years later, after they were signed to Mickie Most’s Rak label and enjoyed the fruits of the Chinn-Chapman songwriting team. Even at this early stage, however, three-quarters of the classic Mud line-up are already in place: Les Gray, Rob Davis, Ray Stiles. Drummer, Dave Mount, would join a year later. The band worked the social clubs of Surrey whilst continuing with their day jobs, Les Gray recalling in an interview: “We would do anything because we wanted to work.” Before finding their glam-meets-rock n roll-revivalist niche they hit us with this wonderful bit of psychedelic kitsch silliness.
The Sweet – 1968
The Sweet’s debut single ‘Slow Motion’, a song written by Wolverhampton pianist Dave Watkins, was released in July 1968 on Fontana. Set to be released under their original name The Sweetshop the band’s name was hurriedly shortened when they discovered another band had been using the same name. At the time of their debut three quarters of the band’s classic line-up, Brian Connolly, Steve Priest and Mick Tucker are already in place. Guitarist Andy Scott would join two years later in 1970. Produced by Phil Wainman, who would go on to produce the band’s hit singles during the glam era, ‘Slow Motion’ is a long way away from Blockbuster! and Ballroom Blitz but at the same time not a million miles away from the string of bubblegum hits (Funny Funny, Co-Co, Poppa Joe et al) that the band had before hitting their stride with a rocked-up glam sound.
Jim Lea, one of the four members of Slade throughout the original band’s entire twenty-five year career, has released a video in the hope that it will prompt members of the public in helping reunite him with his guitar. The multi-instrumentalist’s cherished Fender Stratocaster was stolen in central London on 31st January.
After an initial appeal for information two weeks ago proved fruitless, Lea’s website has issued the following statement, along with a video of him playing the guitar in question.
“Tuesday 18th February 2020 – Two weeks ago we advised that Jim’s prized Fender Stratocaster was stolen from Central London. We put out the word for fans to share the details of the theft on social media in a bid to try and get it recovered.
Unfortunately the guitar has still not been returned or found. We do not have the serial number to pass on to fans – and to date we have only shared photos of the guitar on social media in a hope that fans might see it and recognise it.
However today Jim has released this, previously unseen studio footage, for fans to see. It shows close ups of the famous guitar and we hope this will help fans recognise it.
Once more we ask that fans look out for the Stratocaster in music shops, or on internet websites such as Gumtree and eBay. A reward is offered. Please email website on firstname.lastname@example.org with any info if you find it’s whereabouts.
We have made the video downloadable. Please share on social media.”
As well as being downloadable direct from Jim’s website the video can also be viewed via YouTube here: