Don Powell of Slade fame explains why you shouldn’t work with children or animals
Words: Spike Webb Image: Lyse Lyng Falkenberg
Don Powell is the man wielding the sticks on the most widely played Christmas pop record ever, having been the drummer with Slade since they formed in the 1960s as the Inbetweens, before changing their name to Ambrose Slade. Initially a skinhead group, they encouraged their fans to stomp their Dr Martens to the music. They soon shortened their name, grew their hair and changed their image to avoid becoming associated with football hooligans, instead becoming notorious icons of 70s glam rock. They are still touring today, though this particular incident occurred back in 1973:
“It’s Christmas time in 1973 and I’m sitting with my fellow band members in the hospitality suite at the BBC. We’re waiting to take our positions on the stage area for a rehearsal, miming to our latest single release ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’. Our band Slade have enjoyed several big hits over the past few years but we reckon this one could be our biggest yet as it’s had a great response already. The Christmas theme has certainly helped and here we are, about to be featured on a seasonal edition of Blue Peter. It’s not quite as prestigious as Top Of The Pops but we have to do as many appearances as we can to promote the record, and miming on television is just another part of the job. It can be great fun, especially for Noddy and the others as they can jump around, and Slade are all about having fun.
“Miming’s not so much fun for the drummer as it’s difficult pretending to hit drums and cymbals without looking like a Thunderbird puppet. It’s always the drummer who ends up looking silly. I’m musing over this and other things when we get a call over the intercom:
“‘Slade to stage area for rehearsal, please.’
“We’re on. I get behind my kit as the others strap on their guitars; no need to plug leads in or anything as we’re miming. Soon we are announced by John Noakes and the track starts blasting out of the studio speakers and we begin the show. I’m making my usual drumming movements, waving my sticks around, stopping just short of each drum and cymbal to avoid making a noise.
“Then I think, ‘Why shouldn’t I make a noise just for once? I’m fed up looking like an overgrown child’s puppet. It’s only a rehearsal and it is Christmas!’
“So I go for it. I start actually playing the drum kit. It’s surprisingly loud. The producers are looking over a bit perplexed but what the hell, I’m having fun and the rest of the band don’t seem to mind. Even Shep, the Blue Peter mascot dog seems excited as he leaps up from his spot beside the show’s presenters. Then all of a sudden he races towards the band. A studio hand tries to grab him but Shep’s too quick and he makes it to our stage area. Then it happens.
“I feel a seering pain as Shep clamps his jaws round my left arm. I hit him on the head with my right stick, which he then clasps in his mouth. A vicious tug of war ensues between me and the dog, as he refuses to let go. Noddy and the boys are pissing themselves laughing and although I’m seeing the funny side, I’m actually quite scared as Shep clearly doesn’t like me or my drumming. I’m reminded of the show’s famous John Noakes expression “Down, Shep!”, however the words on my lips are a little stronger than that and certainly not suitable for a family show like this.
“Eventually the dog’s handlers rescue me and take him off the stage as the rehearsal is abandoned. There’s no time for another one so the next miming performance will be the real thing. Just before we’re due to go on, the show’s producer comes up to me: ‘Just checking, you’re not going to do that again are you?’
“I reassure him that being attacked by a mad dog is not my idea of fun and I’d rather stick to looking like a puppet.”
Whether Shep the dog had been frightened by the sound of the drums and felt the need to protect everybody from some native attack, or simply didn’t like Don’s drumming, we’ll never know. But one thing’s for sure, if a musician is going to be savaged by a dog for playing their instrument, it’ll be a drummer.
About Spike Webb…
Drummer and author Spike Webb spent three years tracking down over 40 drummers including legends like Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) and Topper Headon (The Clash). He met them in cafes and bars to collect a mass of stories and create the ultimate drummers’ anthology. Since the publication of Mad, Bad and Dangerous, Spike has continued on his adventures and interviewed some of the drummers live on film, meeting even more legends like Kenney Jones, Mel Gaynor and Derrick McKenzie. With so many world class drummers coming on board, Mad, Bad and Dangerous is fast becoming the official voice of the boys at the back. Well, someone had to do it and about time, too…
Mad, Bad and Dangerous is available on order from Drummer Magazine, in bookstores and online at Amazon both as a paperback and Kindle e-book.
MBD is in association with Gridlock media and Jerome Marcus Consultancy.