Honest words at high volume – Don beats out a rock star’s rhythm

Rock star biographies are rose-tinted, biased, and flavoured with scores to be settled, egos to be destroyed or nurtured, and the role of the writer bigged up. That is until Look Wot I Dun: Don Powell – My Life in Slade came along.
Less than two years after their first No. 1 drummer Don was involved in a horrific car crash. His girlfriend died and he lost his memory. Not only did this play havoc with his legendary drumming, but the resultant book relies on facts, not the traditional biographical route of half remembered, glossed over and often twisted memoirs. What’s left is brutally honest: the solid, hard evidence of his diaries, which were kept to alleviate the memory loss, plus the words and comments of those who knew Don from his beginnings as a musician in the mid 60s.
Don’s book captures the essence of pop and rock music from an era when The Beatles had taken the world by storm and were re-writing the pop music rule book, through ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll’ and, eventually for Don, life through the bottom of a rapidly refilling glass. What’s left is … well that’s in the final chapters.
Perhaps what hits home most vividly is how four guys, each with a different and strong personality, spent 26 years living, breathing, working and almost sleeping with each other in corridors in run down BandBs to five star luxury. There’s the tight-fisted venue managers who hated them and their music, travel in clapped out vans, jet-setting in First Class jet-setting tours, fame and easily spent fortune. Living in a world of rock stars it’s impossible not to name drop, but Don shares as much adulation for these stars as we did at the time.
Look Wot I Dun: Don Powell – My Life in Slade is written by Lise Lyng Falkenberg, an accomplished Danish writer and journalist whose first language is not English. In places this tends to result in somewhat pedestrian descriptions and prosaic imagery, but the effect is one of incisive honesty, not flummery. Ms Falkenberg is not afraid to tackle difficult subjects head on, such as the mystery over who was driving at the time of the fatal crash, the succession of girlfriends and failed relationships, and Don’s near fatal drinking habits.
Those who remember Slade will absorb Look Wot I Dun: Don Powell – My Life in Slade with relish. I met them a year off their first No 1 and stayed close until my professional life changed course. Others have stayed close friends from school bands in the 60s right through to the current line-up of Dave Hill and Don Powell, without Noddy Holder and Jim Lea. It’s not been an easy path and there are myriads of fascinating diversions and side tracks.
Drummers, apocryphally, get a lot of stick from other musicians. Don Powell is a big guy in many different ways, physically and mentally. Look Wot I Dun: Don Powell – My Life in Slade puts the lid firmly on the lie of percussionists’ intellectual capability.

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