The Chris Slade Timeline - Winter 2020
You may be surprised to learn that according to www.digitalmusicnews.com, 91% of all artists are undiscovered. There can be no argument around the fact that there are huge numbers of talented, passionate and original musicians out there, the vast majority of which absolutely deserve to be successful. Sadly for many their potential will remain unfulfilled. Maybe the best artists are still undiscovered and maybe the best albums have been written but are yet to be heard. It’s therefore something very special indeed if you have been lucky enough to have enjoyed a level of success with 1 band. It’s something entirely other-worldly to have been stratospherically successful as a musician for over 50 years. With this in mind it’s with absolute pride and pleasure that with present you this feature on Chris Slade. Perhaps best known as the drummer from AC/DC, Chris’s success began back in the early 60s when he played drums for his Tom Jones. The early years presented hard times but 1965’s Along Came Jones record which spawned the hit It’s Not Unusual sent Chris’s career on an upward trajectory where he has remained buoyant to this day. After 7 years with Tom Jones, Chris would go on to work with the world’s very best: Olivia Newton John, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Uriah Heep, Paul Rodgers and Jimmy Page in the Firm, David Gilmour, Gary Moore, Asia and of course that little band from Australia. Since 2013 – save for a 2 year period on the Rock Or Bust tour - Chris has also been gigging with his own band The Chris Slade Timeline, a group of world-class musicians who play music that celebrates Chris’s music across his entire career. The Timeline shows present high energy and incendiary performances where there really is something for everyone. Of course, a number of AC/DC songs are in the set but there are also many classics that perhaps you just didn’t know Chris had been a part of. As well as being a powerful experience it’s therefore also an enlightening one. 2019 has been a busy time for Chris with Timeline gigging right up until Christmas. With 2020 already looking busy with live dates kicking off in January, Chris has given himself little time to rest. We catch up with Chris at home in beautiful Wales. It’s a cold and crisp day but he is upbeat and animated. The festive period has allowed Chris to catch his breath and enjoy a few bottles of champers, and we are altogether presented with a man who holds an air of contentment, pride and also excitement for the new year. In the full knowledge that we are in the presence of an icon, we wear a huge smile as our conversation begins…
2020 is already looking like a very exciting time for the band and I would very much like to talk about the Chris Slade Timeline and the forthcoming tour but before I come on to those specific questions I would like to go right back to the beginning. Growing up in Wales, what was the music scene like for you when you were starting out?
Well, it was probably the beginning of everything. You know, The Beatles, and the whole music scene changed really with Radio Luxembourg. I don’t think there was any other way to listen to pop music which it was in those days of course, and that’s what The Beatles, The Stones and everybody you can think of was listening to… of my age that is (laughs!). So it was a very exciting time actually!
The success you’ve had with so many incredible artists, which I will come onto shortly, has been absolutely incredible but at that time, as a 16 year old, do you remember your hopes, dreams and expectations? Also, could you ever have imagined that you’d have the success you’ve had?
No, not at all. I could never have ever thought I’d still be playing drums right now. My older brother taught me to play marching snare drum. My brother Danny was in 2 marching bands actually so that’s where I started and I always wanted to be drummer. I was in a thing called the Boys Brigade - a bit like the Scouts – and we had some mentors who asked us what we wanted to do. Some said a fireman, some said a policeman and when they asked me I said "I want to be a drummer". They actually laughed. The 3 guys laughed in my face. They couldn’t believe someone would say something as stupid as that. They must have laughed for 5 minutes… at me! I was probably 11 or 12 and they said "This is not something you can do, okay? There are no jobs. You’ve got to be a train driver or something. You’ve got to look at something that’s realistic. You can’t be a drummer, it’s impossible." So here I am at my age and I’m still a drummer! (Laughs!)
I can imagine the memories being quite fresh around that experience and you seem to remember that time quite vividly – 3 people laughing at you at this crazy idea you had that you might actually make a living as a drummer. Can you still see that moment in time?
Oh yes! We were just standing in the street outside the chapel that was the headquarters of the Boys Brigade, which actually was 100 yards from Tom Jones’s house. Of course I didn’t know him then. Tom and his wife went to the same school as my brother but they are 8 years older than me, so I didn’t know Tom in those days. In fact I met his son Mark before I met Tom. Years before. Mark was about 4 years old – I don’t know the chronological order of all that – but he was an incredibly young boy. He used to walk from the end of the street where Tom Jones lives. Mark is now, and has been for many decades, Tom’s manager. So I had no idea then that all this was going to happen in the future and it’s been a very exciting ride!
Now you’ve mentioned Tom Jones there and you were 16 when you played drums for Tom as part of his backing band. What do you remember about joining the band and the success that followed?
We were called The Senators then. It was Tommy Scott and the Senators. He hadn’t become Tom Jones yet. I was working in a shoe shop in Cardiff, and I was 15 or 16, and I heard that they had sacked the drummer the night before where they were working in Caerphilly I think it was. The guitarist Mike (Mickey Gee) from The Senators came in to buy some shoes and so I went up to Mike and said "You want a drummer and I’m a drummer". He was like 23, he was like my grandfather (Laughs!) and I was quaking in my boots! And I added "Oh, and I live by Tom!". I still didn’t know Tom but Mike said "Oh, okay!". I can’t remember how it all happened but we got together. In fact they came to my house maybe a week later and I had my drums always set up in the front room because it was a room we didn’t use, and it was a brand new Premier kit that I’d bought – blue pearl and absolutely brand new from the shop – and they walked in and there was this shiny kit that was like ‘wow’! They asked if I could play the start to Walk Don’t Run. So I played it and they went "Okay, let’s go and rehearse!". I said "What now?", and they said "yeah!". I asked where we were going and they said " Abercynon". I had never been and it was about as far away as Cardiff was. So everybody picked up a drum and we walked to the bus stop, which was about half a mile, put the drums on the bus – which I did many times after that – and changed buses and ended up in Abercynon and then we rehearsed. And that was the start of it all.
What I think is wonderful is that chance opportunity you had and the fact that as a really young lad you took that incredibly brave step to say "I’m a drummer", and of course what that led to was the most wonderful and successful career. I know that in the early years you began to earn good money playing shows in working men’s clubs but when you moved to London you lived in absolute poverty, often only eating every other day. I think it’s important that we are reminded of the dedication you had to succeed.
That’s absolutely true. Just going back to that shoe shop, I see that now – and have done for decades – as synchronicity and it’s happened a few times in my life, if anybody knows anything about Carl Jung (analytical psychologist Carl Jung introduced the concept of synchronicity and ‘meaningful coincidences’: they occur with no casual relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related – Ed). Yes, we struggled. We were making really good money in South Wales. I was making 3 times what my father was earning working in a factory. So we were quids in. We had a bit saved up and we went to London because Gordon Mills, the manager, said you’ve got to go to London – which was true. There were no motorways in those days. None at all. Britain had no motorways and of course no mobile phones – that was 50 years later or something - (Laughs!) and it would take all day to drive from Wales to London. In fact we used to drive overnight because it was easier, and we’d wake up and, I didn’t know it then, but we were in Shepherd’s Bush. We always did that every time we travelled. Then we had to stay there and live there. We lived in Ladbroke Grove to start with and we used to play cards all night and then sleep in the day. This went on for quite some time, and a couple of the first people I ever met in London were Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. They were literally the first two people I met, and they used to rehearse across the street from our flat in a church. Maybe a year later they went for an audition and said "Oh, there’s this guitarist from America called Jimi Hendrix and were going to work with him". I said "What!?" (Laughs!)
That’s absolutely fantastic because everybody knows what happened next and what a wonderful thing to be part of: separate to your own career there were these parallel moments where you became a part of history in the making!
Yes! Lots of opportunities but it was just as hard as it is today to get work. People ask me if I have any advice and I say no, you’ve just got to keep going and to literally have the tenacity and the belief in yourself to keep going.
You’ve worked with and been a part of the very best. We’ve talked about Tom Jones but of course you’ve worked with people like Olivia Newton-John, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, with David Gilmour, Asia, with Jimmy Page and Paul Rogers in The Firm, and of course AC/DC. There have also been many others! At what point did you feel ‘I’ve Made It!’?
I’ve probably never felt it quite like that, actually. All I wanted to do was earn my living playing drums. That was literally it. I didn’t want to be a millionaire, I just wanted to be a successful musician. People, especially when I was in AC/DC and when I toured with AC/DC, would say "Oh, you’re a rock star!" and I would say "No, I’m not. I’m a rock musician." There’s a big difference though people don’t see it so much. I’ve always thought of myself as a musician, even though I’m a drummer! (Laughs!) I often make a joke of that of course! I’ve always kept that attitude which I think is very important.
You may class yourself as rock musician but you do of course have many, many fans, lots of which will of course know you as the drummer from AC/DC, both during The Razor’s Edge period and also when you rejoined the band for the Rock Or Bust tour. When the decision was announced that you were re-joining the band, the amount of excitement and love that resulted from fans across the world was absolutely astounding! It was a wonderful thing to see. How did it make you feel to be welcomed back so strongly and what are your memories of that particular tour?
It was great. There were a lot of detractors also by the way "he’s not the real drummer. Phil Rudd is the real drummer" which was water off my back actually. I just did my job! It was fantastic that they asked me back and in fact when the manager called me first of all, I asked "is this coming from the band?" and he said "Yes, of course it’s coming from the band! I wouldn’t call you without the band having said." And it was very late in the day. Everybody for about 6 months kept asking "have they called you yet?" and I’d say "No they haven’t, and they ain’t going to call, okay!". So when I got the call, and I was on the road in Switzerland at the time with Timeline, I was virtually incredulous they had called me. I thought Angus might have a nephew or something, which is what Stevie (Young - guitarist) is of course, that plays good drums, you know. I was absolutely made up and the tour was fantastic, playing to 80,000 people every night in stadiums, and I wasn’t fazed by that because when I was quite young with Tom Jones, I played Madison Square Gardens for a week, for instance. So I’ve been doing it all my career, all my life, so I wasn’t fazed by playing football stadiums and stuff, it was like another day in the office really! "Oh, here we are in Pittsburgh, here we are in Florida – again!" (Laughs!) I love being on the road. That’s why I’m still playing drums now with Timeline. I just love the whole process of travelling and meeting people and seeing different things all over the world. We played Russia the first time I was with the band. We played Moscow to over 1 million people. I worked in Russia on my own actually and people still remember that concert. It was a fantastic experience to see that many people. I think they went over the horizon actually! That’s how it seemed, it was an airfield in Moscow. It was amazing to play to that many people this time around on the Rock or Bust tour. Absolutely a buzz, every night - which happens all the time, actually, even today. It doesn’t matter that I’m not paying to 80,000 people with Timeline… though we have played to 50,000 people at Hellfest in France! We only had 30 minutes so we stuck the best in. We usually play for at least 2 hours, that’s what we like to do because it’s like "How the hell do I cut this down to an hour and 3 quarters or an hour and a half?!". It’s very difficult.
The Chris Slade Timeline is a wonderful band that celebrates all the incredible bands and projects you have been a part of for over 50 years and it’s something you have been enjoying for a few years now. How the did decision to create the Chris Slade Timeline come about.
Well I had formed an AC/DC band – not a tribute band but we played AC/DC songs – in California for a while actually with some friends who are really good musicians but I also wanted to play other stuff such as stuff I did with Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers, Uriah Heap – I was in Uriah Heap for a couple of years, David Gilmour…. I was with the Earth Band for 7 years, 7 years with Tom Jones, and it’s 7 years with AC/DC as well.
Timeline plays songs from across your career. In playing those songs does it give you the opportunity to really look in the rear-view mirror and for you to recognise the success you’ve achieved? I can imagine that across a very busy 50+ year career you may not have had the opportunity to catch your breath and really reflect on the impact you’ve made.
Sort of. I don’t look back very much to be honest. Of course I’m proud of it. Very, very proud that I’m still playing drums, and actually I’d like to point out to that Timeline couldn’t exist without its musicians because they are such great players and some of them have been playing together since they were in school at age 10 or 11 and they are 30 odd now. The singers are a bit older, not as old as me! We have two singers: one who does the AC/DC and one who does the other stuff, the Uriah Heap’s and the Earth Band. So it’s a very varied night but we’ve never have a bad gig, not one. We’ve been together over 6 years so it’s thanks to the band. I’ve known some since they were 10 years old, they were friends. They are also a band in their own right some of them. It’s things like that that I reflect on. Those guys can play anything and they are as good as any musician I’ve ever worked with in my life, and I’m absolutely sincere when I say that. People should come along and they will see that I’m right. We’ve had standing ovations, sometimes in the middle of songs, for solos and things, you know? But going back to your question, I don’t look back, I I don’t like to rest on laurels. I’m just very, very pleased that people still want to come and listen to the music I’ve been involved with.
I’m really pleased that you’ve referenced the talent you have within Timeline because it is absolutely incredible. You have Bun Davis (vocals), Steve Glasscock (vocals, guitar), James Cornford (guitar), Michael Clark (keys, guitar, backing vocals) and Andy Crosby (bass) and they are all highly gifted musicians and performers. To say you’ve never had a bad gig says a lot about the camaraderie that exists within the band.
Yes, we take the piss out of each other all the time! (Laughs!)
I mentioned a moment ago just a snapshot of the artists who you’ve worked with and the bands you’ve been a part of and it’s simply incredible! You’ve mentioned yourself how, depending on what show you may be doing, you may be restricted to a certain time slot, whether it’s 30 minutes at Hellfest or 2 hours for a headline show.With this huge back catalogue of music how do you actually decide a set list for a Chris Slade Timeline show?
It is very, very difficult. Two hours is absolutely fine. Just recently we played 2 and a half hours. It just depends on whether there is a curfew or not at the gig. It is very difficult and recently we put some new songs in as well. The last gigs we did we put two new songs in. They’re new to Timeline, not so much new to the listeners. There was a new AC/DC one and there was a new a new Asia song which is incredibly impressive, even if I say so myself. That goes down like you wouldn’t believe. I wouldn’t have expected it because it’s not a well-known Asia song. It’s called Free which I played when I was in the band of course and people just standby it because it’s very complex for one, which you wouldn’t expect from me even because of my AC/DC way of playing which is boom bap boom bap basically. Free is anything but that. There’s times signatures in it and it’s a very complex song. So my point is it’s choosing the right songs. I didn’t do Free for years even though the guys had been at me for years to do it. For years they’d been saying "Slade, you’ve got to do Free!" But I’d say "But nobody knows it. They don’t know the song". The album that it’s on was not a huge seller. It sold pretty good but it wasn’t huge seller so even things like that, I’ve got to listen a little bit more to what the guys say because it is a fantastic piece of music. And we’ve got even newer ones coming up. We are doing some originals as well. We are recording some originals right now in fact. We start recording on Friday which I’m really looking forward to because I love producing bits and putting surprises in. I don’t play AC/DC the way I play in AC/DC. I know how to play for AC/DC when I’m in the band but I change things up a bit – not all the songs, some I play almost identical to the way I play in AC/DC, and of course you’ve got to do all the favourites of AC/DC. That’s what people come to hear. The Timeline musicians can play Free which is highly complex and still do Back in Black with equal flair. We have a keyboard player because I thought you’ve got to have keyboards but now I need a rhythm player. You can’t do AC/DC without a second guitarist – this was 5 to 6 years ago. I said "We’ve got to find a rhythm player." Mike Clark the keyboard player said "Oh, didn’t you know? I play rhythm guitar and I started learning AC/DC stuff when I started learning guitar!". Again, one of those synchronous moments! I was like ‘Wow, where did that come from?’, I didn’t even know he played guitar! "James, is that right?", "Yeah, he does!". (Laughs!)
So you’ve mentioned recording song original material. Is this for any potential future release?
Oh yes, absolutely! There’s no point recording it if it doesn’t come out. I’ve always written songs. I’ve always had ideas. In Earth Band, it was great for me because I’d go ‘oh I’ve got this idea’. I wrote a few songs and certainly lyrics. I also wrote songs on my own for Earth Band. Nobody ever asked me to write again! Jimmy Page and Paul Rogers, I’d say "Hey, maybe do you want to do this song?" Hmmm, maybe no, you don’t. (Laughs!) We do a song called Questions sometimes and I wrote that song and a song called Drowning On Dry Land, so I feel they are originals though people don’t see it as that. I did write them myself and they were very successful actually. The guys in the band have written some stuff, we as a band have written stuff and I’m going to do a couple of things of mine that have been hanging around for decades and we’re going to approach them in a different manner. They are absolutely unheard originals and at the end of the day we have probably at the moment 6, and 1 of my songs is about 8 or 9 minutes long, and the other one is a more like an AC/DC sort of track.
Let’s talk about your forthcoming live commitments. 2020 is already a very busy time for the band with dates taking place across the UK and Europe in January and February, as well as more dates in the Spring and Summer, and there will of course be more dates throughout the year. You’ve perhaps largely answered this next question but what can fans expect from a Chris Slade Timeline show? How would you summarise it?
It’s just a damn good night of rock music! That’s the way I would summarise it, and people are surprised. In fact we do a Uriah Heep song, July Morning, and a lot of the audience have never heard that song before. They don’t know it, and then when we play it they go "Who did that?". I always explain on stage where each song comes from. AC/DC doesn’t need an explanation but some of the other songs do so I always try to explain them.
As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what a truly incredible career Chris Slade has enjoyed for well over 50 years. Not only that though, it’s important to understand how he made this happen. Of course there has been the case of fortunate timings, of being in the right place at the right time, and the Carl Jung ‘synchronicity factor’, but Chris‘s success goes far beyond this. It started with an 11-year-old boy who had a vision to be a rock drummer – not a desire for fame and fortune – just to be someone who could make a living playing drums. And he held on to this vision. Regardless of how people may have laughed or how out of his depth he may have felt, he pounced on opportunities and endured times of near starvation so that he would realise his dream. Chris’s journey is one which provides huge inspiration. It’s also a journey filled with a really exciting future with the prospect of new original music being released by the Chris Slade Timeline. It is with the highest of recommendations that we invite you to see The Chris Slade Timeline on their forthcoming tour. As Chris himself said, it’s going to be a damn fine night of rock music!
To find out more about forthcoming The Chris Slade Timeline shows check out www.chrisslade.com or search The Chris Slade Timeline on Facebook. In the meantime check out this iconic footage of Chris with AC/DC Live at Donington in 1991 to see for yourself the talent and showmanship of one of the world’s very best drummers.