As Slade celebrates its 40 years together, Mark Andrews talks to drummer Don Powell about the early days.
When Don Powell and Dave Hill play at the Robin 2 in Bilston next month, they will be performing just a few yards from where they met.
"There used to be this drill hall, which was used by the Territorial Army," says drummer Don, who could probably claim to be the founder member of Slade, having joined its predecessor The Vendors in the early 1960s.
"I was in one band, Dave was in another. Our band used to play weddings and things like that, and we found we wanted another guitarist so we asked Dave to join."
Don persuaded Dave to join The Vendors, and the band became the 'N Betweens, later recruiting Noddy Holder and Jim Lea.
As the band's drummer, Don's contribution was always overshadowed by the more flamboyant Noddy Holder and Dave Hill, but Don says he always preferred it that way.
"It was wonderful for me, it meant I could go out shopping as normal, and not be looked at. Somebody came up to me and said 'didn't you used to be Don Powell?' and I said 'I still am, actually'."
And Don recalls that while the clothing and outrageous imagery were always a central part of Slade's success, it didn't always go according to plan. When the up-and-coming band tried to raise its profile by adopting a skinhead look, it led to many venues banning the boys from performing.
"The one advantage was that we never had any problem getting paid then. They would often pay us before the show,' says Don.
"But many venues didn't want us around. They wouldn't have us on Top of the Pops - the director's son had been beaten up by some skinheads, and he didn't want to know."
In December 1969 the band had two bookings at the Wolves Social Club cancelled, and although the club denied it was because of the lads' appearance, the boys themselves were not convinced. The football club had previously made headlines when it asked skinheads to remove their boots before entering the stadium.
The idea for the skinhead look was born in a backstreet London pub, where Slade's manager Chas Chandler and publicity officer Keith Altham were debating how to raise the band's profile.
"We had to find some way of drawing attention to the group so people would be curious enough to discover how good they were," says Altham in a history of the band which accompanies the new Slade Box set.
"Chas and I had a council of war in a pub behind his London office, and after a few pints I came up with what felt like a brainwave.
"'We have to ally them to something that is in the news now to generate publicity', I said to Chas.
"'Something that is fashionable but dangerous and causing controversy. The answer could be the skinheads.' "Chas's eyes lit up. 'Brilliant,' he said. 'Yoos leave that to me.'"
The next day, when he had sobered up, Altham had serious doubts about the skinhead look, and rang Chandler to voice his concerns. "We can't do this to them," he said. "They're nice guys, not nasty skinheads. We might alienate the Press with this."
"Too late," replied Chandler. "We've got the boots and braces, and they're in the barber's now getting the hair shaved for a photographer."
The hair was not particularly short by today's standards, but in the days of long hair, anything shorter than a Beatles mop-top was controversial.
Don Powell has been living in Denmark for the last three years, after marrying Danish fan Hannah Lumdby. "It's quite a nice story," he says. "We did a concert in Denmark in 1973, and she was a fan there then.
"I met her again at another concert six years ago, and she had a drumstick I gave her in 1973.
"She said 'I have been waiting all these years to see you again'."
After travelling to and from to Denmark for a couple of years, Don decided it was time to marry Hannah, and he went to live in Denmark.
"The world is such a small place these days that it doesn't really matter. When I need to go back I've got a choice of six flights every day, as well as overnight trains."
To this day he suffers from the effects of a horrific car crash in 1973, in which his girlfriend Angela Morris was killed, and which left Don with occasional amnesia.
He was on the critical list after his Bentley smashed into a wall in Compton Road, and only survived because two passing off-duty nurses kept him alive until an ambulance arrived.
His memory loss was so severe that he was unable to remember day-to-day events.
The problem also meant that when on tour, he would suffer memory lapses and forget the songs.
Noddy says that if Don had not recovered, it would almost certainly have broken up the band.
"Without Don behind us there was no Slade for me - he was an anchor."
* Slade, with Dave Hill and Don Powell, perform at the Robin 2, Bilston, on November 28.
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