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SLADE’S DON POWELL: THE QSP TOUR INTERVIEW

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Don Powell, Suzi Quatro, Andy Scott

Suzi Quatro returns to Australia in February 2017 on her Leather Forever Encore Tour. This time she’s bringing her old mates, Don Powell from Slade and Andy Scott from The Sweet, whom she has just recorded an album with. The new band is called QSP, the album will be out soon and they’ll be the support act for Suzi’s Australian tour. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with Slade drummer Don Powell for a chat about the golden age of Slade and the new QSP project.

Who didn’t own a copy of the Slade Alive album in the early 70s? It was the breakthrough live album for British glam rockers Slade, who went on to rack up numerous catchy pop rock hits such as Cum On Feel The Noize, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Gudbuy T’ Jane and Merry Xmas Everybody. Inspired by Bowie and Bolan, glam-rock ruled the period with bands decked out in platform shoes, sequined and satin clothes, with a heavy dose of makeup to match. Out of the UK and onto our TV screens via Countdown came chart toppers like Wizzard, Roxy Music, Mott The Hoople,The Glitter Band, and The Sweet, who had massive hits with Fox On The Run and Ballroom Blitz. Also at the time, a young female leather-clad rocker from Detroit named Suzi Quatro had relocated to England and via mutual connections, had landed a 1972 UK tour support with Slade.
“When Suzi first came to the UK, she was with Mickey Most (record producer),” explains Don Powell, Slade’s hard hitting drummer. “She approached our manager at the time Chas Chandler because he was with The Animals, who Mickey used to produce back in the day. He called Chas and says there’s this new girl singer from America, could she guest on one of Slade’s UK tours? So she did and that’s when I first met her.”

Fast forward four decades, kicking back with a few drinks after a recent show are old friends Don Powell, Suzi Quatro and The Sweet’s lead guitarist Andy Scott. Out of the blue Suzi’s husband Rainer suggests that the three of them should record together. The idea appealed to the trio, was shelved for a time but before long they found themselves at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios laying down tracks. Consequently a debut album for QSP (Quatro, Scott, Powell) is now in the can awaiting a release date. Not only that, QSP will make their international stage debut when they join Suzi Quatro’s Leather Forever Encore Tour of Australia in February 2017. As to whether any Slade or The Sweet songs will be played, Powell is unsure but they will be playing tracks from the album, which includes covers of classic songs Walk On Gilded Splinters and Just Like A Woman, as well as many new originals from Andy and Suzi.

Powell still performs Slade material in Slade II, a group he reconvened in 1993 with guitarist Dave Hill, the only other original member. That band has shows booked in the UK up until Christmas this year. The original Slade has not performed together since 1991 when they played a 25th anniversary party, organised by their fan club. However, Powell suggests that he is still in touch with singer Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea. “Yeah we keep in touch,” he tells me. “We see each other a few times a year, a big gang of us get together and we have a lunch in a private room of a pub or restaurant somewhere. If only those walls could talk!”

Much of Slade’s history has been documented in both Noddy Holder’s 1999 autobiography, Who’s Crazee Now? and Don Powell’s 2013 biography Look Wot I Dun – My Life in Slade. After an horrific car accident in 1973 Powell resorted to keeping a diary of daily events as he suffered severe memory loss, among numerous other physical injuries. The diaries were crucial to his biographer Lise Lyng Falkenberg, in being able to piece together Don’s life in the band. The moments Don recalls as being his finest, were some of the major festivals that Slade had performed at in their early days.
“Mainly the success we had, which was incredible and some of the really big concerts we did which helped us in the early days,” Don says of his happiest recollections. “There was one called the Great Western festival, I think in 1971 and that helped to break us to a wider audience. Then when we hadn’t done anything for a while, we did the Reading Festival and Castle Donington with AC/DC and both of those festivals were absolutely great for us.”

sladealiveDon also has fond memories of the recording of the famous Slade Alive album, a record which apart from a few small overdubs, was captured exactly as it was played. “I think there were a few bits of guitar which got lost a bit in the actual recording but that was all really,” he says of the overdubbing. “Maybe there were some backing voices added too. It was recorded over three nights at a place called Command Studios in London. It was a small theatre and only held about 200 people. It was the second night they used I think. We had a great time doing it. I’m actually looking right now at a triple gold album from 1973 from Australia on my wall.”

Playing Slade material on stage in the modern era highlights for Don the immense improvement in sound production, compared to the days of the Slade Alive recordings, particularly in relation to his drum sound.
“It’s so different now,” he says. “The sound systems were very basic and nobody really bothered about the drum sound back then, at least with miking them anyway. I’ll tell you a classic example, if you look at the film of The Beatles’ Shea Stadium performance, I think Ringo has just one overhead mic, maybe one on the bass drum but that’s about it. With Slade back in the day, before the days of monitoring, it was difficult to hear myself sometimes and that’s why I started playing as hard as I did.”

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Like many career musicians, Don Powell regrets letting go of a lot of his original drum gear. As testament to the kind of guy Don is, much of it was given away to young kids or to schools. Despite changing brands over the years, he has basically kept the same configuration of drums, a couple of toms, snare, bass drum and a few cymbals.
“Yeah, a pretty basic kit,” he says. “Now I just use a bass drum, one rack tom, a deep tom, snare, a ride cymbal, a crash cymbal and the hi hats. I find that is all I need. I had a full endorsement with Ludwig drums back in the day. In the 70s they were a fantastic company to be with. Listen to this for a story… 1984 I think it was Ludwig’s 75th anniversary and they invited 75 drummers from around the world to Chicago for the weekend. Can you imagine that? Seventy five drummers in the same hotel for the weekend! Those were my drinking days so it was a bit of a loss. I have a few notes in my diary but I can’t really read the writing. When I finished with Ludwig, I then went over to Pearl for a short time and then Natal asked me to go and try them out and I was really impressed, especially with the hardware, so I play those now.”

With so many great Slade hits to choose from, when playing with Dave Hill, I wondered which song is requested the most from audiences these days … Cum On Feel The Noize? Mama Weer All Crazee Now? Get Down Get With It? “Oh, Merry Christmas,” he laughs. “No matter what time of the year! The old favourites are still there but it’s always Merry Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of it but you have to play it no matter what time of year. When we recorded Merry Christmas, it was in the summer of ’73 in New York. We were on tour and there was a heatwave outside and we were in the studio recording that song.”

And what is Don looking forward to the most about his 2017 QSP tour with Suzi Quatro?
“Well, we have always had a good time there but there are a lot of places I have never been to, so I’m looking forward to seeing new places and old friends. Playing the Sydney Opera House will be nice too.”

SUZI QUATRO 2017 LEATHER FOREVER ENCORE tour dates supported by QSP
TWEED HEADS – TWIN TOWNS – Friday February 3 & Saturday February 4
TOOWOOMBA – EMPIRE THEATRE – Monday February 6
BRISBANE – CONCERT HALL – Tuesday February 7
ADELAIDE – ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE – Thursday February 9
PERTH – CROWN THEATRE – Saturday February 11
SYDNEY – SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE – Tuesday February 14
GEELONG – GEELONG ARENA – Thursday February 16
MELBOURNE – ARTS CENTRE MELBOURNE, HAMER HALL – Saturday February 18
SALE – BOTANIC GARDENS – Sunday February 19
HOBART – WREST POINT ENTERTAINMENT THEATRE – Tuesday February 21
CANBERRA – CANBERRA THEATRE – Thursday February 23
WOLLONGONG – ANITA’S THEATRE THIRROUL – Friday February 24
HUNTER VALLEY – HOPE ESTATE WINERY – Saturday February 25
MACKAY – ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE – Tuesday February 28
TOWNSVILLE – ENTERTAINMENT & CONVENTION CENTRE – Wednesday March 1
CAIRNS – CONVENTION CENTRE, GREAT HALL – Thursday March 2
DARWIN – CONVENTION CENTRE – Saturday March 4

http://suziquatro.com.au/

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