Don was born on 10 September 1946 in Bilston, Staffordshire – and christened Donald George Powell. He had a fairly normal childhood. When his young his parents obtained their very first home – a council property in Bilston – an industrial area of the West Midlands. His parents were Walter (Wally) and Dora Powell. Wally was a steelworker, whilst Dora worked at Woden Transformers – making electrical components. Don has a younger brother, Derek, and two sisters, Carol and Marilyn (“Mash”).
In the 1950’s, when he was aged 11, Don joined the local Boys Scouts group. It was here that he learnt how to play drums.
“I wanted to learn the drums as soon as I saw the drum-kit they had in the Scout hut, but I was told I had to learn the bugle first. I used to stand at the back with the awful instrument in my mouth, and that’s about all it was doing. I couldn’t get any sound out of it at all. This carried on for a few weeks before I was found out and sent back to cleaning drums. I did try, standing there at the back of the hut, puffing out my cheeks, but the bugle just didn’t make a sound….perhaps I didn’t blow it right, I don’t know – but in the end they let me play drums after all. I had wanted to learn drums as soon as I saw the drum-kit they had in the Scout hut.”
Don attended the Etheridge Secondary Modern School. Don was more interested in sport than he was schoolwork. Athletics and boxing were his keenest hobbies. He once won the school’s prize for running 100 yards. (He was presented with a copy of Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island). For some years Don was a keen schoolboy athlete, practising every night after school. He competed in the mile and cross-country events in the Midlands Amateur Association championships. For three years he was a member of the Bilston Athletics Club. With boxing, Don was classed as a middleweight. His career in boxing ended as teenager, when he developed a serious ear infection, and was admitted to hospital.
The doctors advised him against any more boxing. “I spent ten days in hospital and thought I was getting better and then they told me that I shouldn’t go back to boxing just in case I permanently damaged my hearing, and I was upset about that because I used to enjoy boxing. I was in the local Police Force’s boxing club, and used to think I was pretty good and felt really cocky until they put me in the ring with the British Schoolboy champion, who knocked the hell out of me. My nose used to bleed easily – I’ve had my nose broken three times. I don’t know why, but I was never that interested in football – it didn’t catch my imagination like boxing or athletics. I think really the reason was that I was never any good at football, and knowing that, I just didn’t bother any more about it.”
With drumming, as Don was ingenious, he made his first pair of drum-sticks from the stem of an artificial Christmas tree.
“It was three or four years after that I joined my first group, borrowing a set of drums from a friend (Dave Bowdley) who lived a couple of hundred yards from me… I used those for the first six months, trying hard to pick up the professional way of handling the drum-sticks”.
Dave (Bowdley’s) Dad had bought him an Olympic drum kit, but he couldn’t get into playing so rather than let the kit go to waste Dave said I could borrow it whenever I wanted to. I would practice away on it and the word got around that I was interested (in becoming a drummer).
“I used to go down the local youth club and watch a band called The Cadenza practicing – and it just baffled me the way the drummer was able to move his feet at the same time as his hands. That was something I found very difficult to begin with.”
Don’s working life started when worked as a metallurgist at an iron foundary. Whilst working he spent eighteen months on day release at Wednesbury Technical College.
“I’d never really bothered working when I was at school. But it was so different going on to technical college. I really started to enjoy studying while I was there. Metallurgy fascinated me, and nothing would take my attention off work…then I spent some six months working on the analysis of brass, iron and steel, wearing a white coat every day, testing metals in the laboratory…it was a very responsible job, really, I think I would have made a career of it if I hadn’t become a musician. There were few popular groups in the the local area at the time, and one of them was called The Vendors. They got to hear of me through someone and next time I saw them, at a Youth Club, they asked me about drumming (for them). I found out later that it wasn’t me that they really wanted, but just a drum kit, and I had to tell them that I didn’t have any drums but Dave Bowdley did. Anyway, to cut a long story short, they eventually asked me to join and so I had to persuade my dad to sign an HP agreement for my first set of drums.” (Note – this piece of history about Don “owning” a nice piece of kit, and being asked to join a band, was written into the Flame movie).
The Vendors initially consisted of Johnny Howells (singer) and Mickey Marston (guitarist). Don was introduced to them by an intermediary called Dennis Horton. A few weeks later a bass guitarist was recruited – Dave ‘Cass’ Jones.
“It was quite an eye opener for me joining The Vendors because the only music I had liked until then was old rocking stuff – Elvis, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran. That was because I’d been a young kid in the family and my brother and sisters had completely influenced what music I’d heard. But by this time the Rolling Stones were around, and the Beatles, so I was way out of line”.
In the meantime Don was still working in the foundry.
“I had a really great boss called Arthur who was interested in the group and so he used to give me afternoons off if we had a gig somewhere like Nottingham. (NB Arthur’s character was written into the Flame movie as his boss “Harold”). The foundry did something else for me – a guy who worked there (Chalkie White) wanted to manage us and it was him who put us in touch with a good guitarist when we needed one. So one night we went across town to see him, playing in a pub group and looking a bit out of place. Of course, it turned out to be Dave Hill.”
Dave Hill later joined the band a lead guitarist, before a name change of the band to The ‘N Betweens took place.
James (Jim) Lea, who played with the Staffordshire Youth Orchestra, was then taken on board as bass guitarist – before Neville (Noddy) Holder was recruited as singer. Noddy was a singer guitarist with a rival band called Steve Brett and The Mavericks. Don and Dave Hill approached Noddy to join – when both bands traveled by ferry to Germany to play separate gigs. Noddy at first refused – but later agreed. At this stage The ‘N Betweens consisted of Powell, Hill, Lea and Holder – together with main singer Johnny Howells. Howells later decided to leave – and Noddy stepped up to become the lead vocalist. (The classic band line-up of Powell, Hill, Lea and Holder was then created).
In 1969 The ‘N Betweens changed their name to Ambrose Slade, and then in 1970 the name was shortened to just Slade.
And as we all know, Slade went on to chart topping success.
In 2018 he recorded an album QSP with Suzi Quatro and Andy Scott.
Les Glover (born in Liverpool on 17th September 1961) is an English musician and songwriter who, for the last 7 years has played guitar and sang with Henry Priestman (ex Yachts, It’s Immaterial, The Christians). His career started in Liverpool with his first band Red Line, but after several prestigious European tours and a couple of TV appearances they disbanded.
Part of his early career was spent in U-Turn Recording Studio Ashton Under Lyne, as a tea boy, but would sometimes provide vocals and bass guitar on sessions including Marc Riley and the Creepers, Michael Wadada’s Suns of Arqa and TV Historian/Broadcaster Michael Wood, in return his own band got free studio time.
The next decade was spent in various bands playing live in the UK before continuing into the early 2000s as a solo acoustic artist supporting and playing with major talents, including Graham Gouldman (10cc), James Burton(Elvis), Deaf School, Wreckless Eric, Nick Harper and Ian McNabb.
He has performed on dozens of Radio and TV shows including sessions for the BBC’s Janice Long and Talk Talk’s Paul Ross.
His first album ‘The Love Terrorist’, was released in in 2015 and received several positive reviews and in 2018 a collaboration with Priestman entitled ‘Six of One & Half a Dozen of the Other’ was released. The album featured guest musicians including BBC film critic Mark Kermode, as well as Probyn Gregory (Brian Wilson/Beach Boys) and Graham Bottley from hit TV show Gogglebox. He has written for several music publications as well as contributing to 2 poetry books for children.
He has co-written a number of songs with Priestman including one track with National Blues Award winner Sunjay, for his ‘Devil came calling’ album.
He recorded a version of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ along with several other singers, including Philip Rambow, Mari Wilson, Henry Priestman, Pete Riley and Thomas Lang for the charity Music Minds, which featured Steve Nieve (Elvis Costello) on piano. He also contributed a song for the 3 cd album which was released to raise money and awareness of the importance of good mental health.
Paul Cookson is a poet. He has travelled the world performing, written and edited over 60 books and sold over a million copies.
He is also The Poet In Residence For The National Football Museum and Poet Laureate for Slade (Noddy, Don and Jim have said so – so it must be true). In 2017 he was commissioned by Everton Football Club to write a poem for their season ticket campaign. This was made into a short film….
He is presently the Poet In Residence for Everton In The Community
He has written a book of poems about Slade – Touched By The Band Of Nod, written and performed a poem about Jim Lea before Jim took the stage at The Robin 2, Bilston.
Recently, he has helped organise a series of music events in his adopted home town of Retford – Pies, Peas and Performances – with acts such as Miles Hunt, Ian McNabb, John
Bramwell, Martin Stephenson, Henry Normal, Boo Hewerdine, Brooks Williams, Henry Priestman / Les Glover, Ian Prowse, Plumhall, My Darling Clementine … and Don Powell.
He is also Writer in Residence For Sing Together – a network involving over 250 school choirs in Lancashire – and has written the words for a number of their songs.
As well as writing lyrics for The Occasional Flames, Paul is also writing lyrics for a songwriting project I’ll Be Bernie – You Be Elton – where he is collaborating with a selection of songwriters. Hopefully this will turn into an album project at some stage.
He co-wrote Indestructible with Miles Hunt of The Wonder Stuff – which became an extra track on the Japanese version of Thirty Goes Around The Sun and b-side of the single For The Broken Hearted – available on Itunes,
THE FLAMES – the story so far
Paul started Pies, Peas and Performances with a few friends in Retford – their aim : who do you fancy seeing without having to drive? And – who does Paul know?
So – this monthly acoustic event began – a winning combination of music and food in a church hall on a Saturday night. You bring your own drinks and enjoy live music, have pies and peas … simple. Through this, Paul and Les met for the first time – although they had been friends on FB via Henry Priestman before that.
They quickly found they had so much common ground – starting with a love of all things Slade, glam, Be Bop Deluxe, The Alarm and beyond. It was a natural step to start swapping ideas and writing together.
Paul had also written his book of Slade based poems – Touched By The Band Of Nod – with quotes from Noddy Holder, Don Powell, Mike Peters, Mark Radcliffe, Miles Hunt and Henry Priestman.
He had also been in touch via email with Don and eventually invited him over for an event.
This was a Tuesday night in Retford – in the church because the church hall had been booked for community bingo (!) – and was a roaring success. Paul interviewed Don for nearly two hours as Don recalled Slade stories and rock and roll adventures. He was the absolute gentleman and had time for everyone. Les sang a couple of Slade songs plus one he and Paul had written and Don drummed along spontaneously. After the event he said how much he’d enjoyed it, how he hadn’t told all the stories he wanted to tell and could we do another one?
So, a plan was born.
Paul and Les had several songs that captured seventies nostalgia, referenced Slade and decided it would be great to record them and release them as a single to coincide with the
event. Paul asked Don casually if he’d be interested in drumming on them. Don said yes straight-away. The songs were Coz We Luv You and Rose Tinted Glasses.
However, Don (being based in Denmark) found he couldn’t get studio time etc. within the time needed to do this and was most apologetic, feeling that he’d let Les and Paul down.
So, an alternative plan was hatched : Les and Paul would release a 5 track cd for the event – with songs and poems. Coz We Luv You, Rose Tinted Glasses, 2 of Les’s songs and 2 of Paul’s poems
They then wrote another song – It Isn’t Really Christmas Until Noddy Starts To Sing. This is a song about a traditional Christmas but also about how Merry Xmas Everybody has become part of the national fabric of the season. A song about that song – featuring the drummer on that song. The idea was to release it independently as a Christmas single in 2018.
Don came over to Swanyward Recording Studio in Retford and on a Friday in September recorded the drums for It Isn’t Really Christmas Until Noddy Starts To Sing. Then he recorded drums for Coz We Luv You. Then Les and Don re-recorded Rose Tinted Glasses with electric guitar, drum and cowbell.
Then… from scratch … Les, Don and Paul recorded The Care Home Weekly Wednesday Glam Rock Singalong … complete with backing vocals and a Hey! Hey! Hey! Les had only demo’ed this the day before. There was still time to busk a poem with a shuffle beat and twangy guitar – Miz Spelt Yooth
“I can’t believe it – it’s like half an album!” said Don
Pies, Peas and Don Powell took place and a Christmas video was recorded for the single with fans and friends. The original idea was to maybe have a couple of tracks as extra songs for the Christmas digital download … but Don had other plans. After a meeting with his representatives it was decided that the single would be held back a year and Don Powell’s Occasional Flames were born.
Flames – a reference to a certain film.
Occasional – it’s not Slade so will happen occasionally.
The plan was to write as much new material as possible and then see about an album.
Don had snippets of lyrics in a folder that he then passed on to Paul – who in turn, sat at his dining room table with all these bits of paper to create new lyrics – that were then sent to Les …And thus Don Powell’s Occasional Flames were born – Don, Les and Paul. Paul then contacted an illustrator / designer friend – Martin Chatterton – and the designs and logos were created.
Watch this space …
Don, Les and Paul