Friday, 13 August 2021

Interview: Don Powell talks Slade, Wizzard, Let There Be Drums & More!

#1,609: The battle for the UK Christmas #1 spot in 1973 between Wizzard and Slade has been the subject of several articles down the years so when the news broke of Slade drummer Don Powell heading up a charity single in June with his band and a variety of fellow percussionists including our very own Bev Bevan, it was no surprise that "Let There Be Drums" in aid of #WeMakeEvents was quickly featured and recommended by ELO Beatles Forever (ELOBF) in this article. Following on from our coverage, Yours Truly KJS made contact with Bilston born Don in Denmark and this exclusive interview by KJS/ELOBF is presented as the result of our recent exchanges. Enjoy!

KJS: For many fans of both Slade and Wizzard, the much publicised (even media hyped) battle for the Christmas number one in 1973 between "Merry Xmas Everybody" and "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" remains a fond memory even now with Slade making #1 and Wizzard #4. What memories stick out about your contribution to the recording of MXE and its ensuing perennial commercial success?
Don: We recorded "Merry Xmas Everybody" in the summer of 1973 at The Record Plant in New York. There was a heatwave at the time when we recorded it would you believe! At first, we didn't want to release it but our producer Chas Chandler put his foot down and the rest is history! That year (1973) there were a lot of Christmas releases but Slade had already had two No. 1's and a No. 2 in the charts so we were on the crest of a wave. My fondest memory of "Merry Xmas Everybody" was recording the drums last. If you listen to the record hard, you can hear a snare drum beat when the record finishes because I forgot to stop. Now, the cats out of the bag!

KJS: Did Slade ever attempt to play Roy’s Christmas song?
Don: Ha! Good question. No! Maybe you should ask Roy if he ever attempted to play our Christmas song?

KJS: It appears that Slade and Wizzard often crossed paths down the years. For instance, Roy was a guest at the premiere of "Flame" and Noddy provided guest vocals on Roy's "Green Glass Windows" single in 1981. Slade were even label mates with Roy Wood on Cheapskate Records for a time but was there ever any rivalry between the bands? Were you good friends?
Don: We never really crossed paths except on "Top Of The Pops". I do remember at one Christmas TOTP that they threw custard pies at us while we were playing "Merry Xmas Everybody".  There was never any rivalry between us. Two local bands (from Birmingham & Wolverhampton) having a great time together when we did happen to be in each others company. A friend of mine played drums in one of Roy's later line-ups. I often went to their studio for Vodka and take away curries!

KJS: What are your recollections of the filming of "Slade in Flame" in Sheffield?
Don: The steel factories (I used to work in one way back when). Also, the flat we used was actually a local families place. The film company sent them away to a hotel for the duration, all expenses paid while we turned their home upside down!

KJS: Did you ever encounter ELO on the gig circuit back in the day?
Don: We did a few concerts with them in the States around the mid 70's. Was great to be in their company!

KJS: A good friend of mine was in attendance at Reading in 1980 when Slade stood in literally at the last minute for Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz and you literally stole the show. Many fans rate that performance as Slade's finest and it sparked a major resurgence thereafter. Do you rate Reading as your best live show or is there another gig that ranks as your fave?
Don: That certainly was a memorable day. I would put that gig somewhere near the top. To me the Great Western Festival at Lincoln in 1971 was another memorable one. Also on the bill at that festival was The Beach Boys, The Who and Ten Years After.

KJS: What would be Don Powell’s favourite Slade memory?
Don: Our very first rehearsal together. It clicked from the off ...

KJS: Who would be your drumming hero? 
Don: My all time drumming hero is John Bonham. Sadly, no longer with us.
KJS: Fast forwarding to Yours Truly 2021, The Don Powell Band & Friends have been in the headlines recently with their excellent multi-percussionist cover of Sandy Nelson’s "Let There Be Drums" in aid of #WeMakeEvents. Can you tell me about how the project came about and how the record was constructed?
Don: OK, when Craig Fenney and myself played together in Slade 2, we often talked about getting different drummers together to re-record the classic so when Craig and myself made contact again, it was back on the agenda. Craig did a lot of the groundwork contacting drummers to take part. It's amazing how we all recorded and filmed our parts in different studios and countries for the end product.

KJS: It was great to see Bev Bevan (who put out his own version of "Let There Be Drums" back in 1976) and also Quill's Andy Edwards amongst the contributors to the record. As fellow world renowned rock drummers and Midlanders, I'm presuming that it was an obvious choice to invite Bev on board?
Don: OK, I didn’t know Bev had recorded "Let There Be Drums previously! Yup, us Brummie and Wolverhampton yobbos must stick together! Like I've already said, Slade and ELO did some shows together in the States.

KJS: Can you tell those not yet familiar with The Don Powell Band a brief history of the band and its debut track "Back On The Road"?
Don: Well, I feel really privileged to be working with Craig Fenney, Bob Wilson, Jon Briscoe and Curly Davies. They all instilled so much enthusiasm back in me. "Back On The Road" is just about us. Exactly what the title insinuates.

KJS: Can we expect a Don Powell Band album in the future?
Don: As soon as we can all get together again, a new album (do they still call them that?) is certainly on the cards!

KJS: With gigs now hopefully back on the agenda, will fans be seeing The Don Powell Band live any time soon?
Don: That would be a dream come true but, as we all know, the whole world at the moment is at a standstill.

KJS: How can folks find out what The Don Powell Band are up to these days?
Don: There's lots on Facebook and other media outlets. You'll find us out there somewhere guys! Our website can be found at donpowellband.company.site, we're on Twitter at twitter.com/band_powell and Facebook at facebook.com/DonPowellBand

KJS: Finally, a question I always ask interviewees: Which ELO & Roy Wood (even Beatles) songs rock your proverbial boat?
Don: OK ... good one. ELO: "Telephone Line". Roy Wood: "See My Baby Jive". Anything by The Beatles. I went to a Ringo Starr concert and he actually invited me on stage to play drums on their last two songs, "With A Little Help From My Friends" & "Give Peace A Chance" and I've got the photographs to prove it!
Yours Truly KJS & ELO Beatles Forever (ELOBF) extend our thanx to Don Powell and Craig Fenney for their much appreciated participation in this exclusive interview. Find out more about The Don Powell Band here: 


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