Look Wot I Dun – and it was in a church!

I first knew I wanted to play drums when I was 12, one of rock music’s most enduring, loved, admired and gregarious stars told an enraptured audience in a towering church in deepest Nottinghamshire. Slade’s Don Powell was holding court in a wonderful Question & Answer session.
It was 58 years ago that Don picked up his drumsticks: an action that would lead him round the world again and again; to the top of the charts and back to the despair of loneliness, bankruptcy and alcoholism; as well as on the road entertaining and meeting thousands of fans.
This one-off ‘performance’ was not a heavily scripted, roadie-controlled, time-conscious gig; this was an extension to the chats that music fans can have with their heroes – if, in Don’s case, they are prepared to get up a stupid o’clock at a hotel when he’s touring, and join him for breakfast.
The venue was magnificent. St Saviour’s Church, East Retford, is no ancient pile of stones. It is a ‘celebratory church’; a venue that welcomes love and happiness in all its varied shapes and sizes. Just look at Don: a flowing-haired rockstar with the Cross of Jesus behind, and a list of the day’s hymns to his left (let’s all join in Hymn No 699!). The church and music have been inextricably linked almost since time began; there’s no reason to exclude rock music from the pantheon.
Why north Nottinghamshire, home to Robin Hood and Maid Marian? Because Paul Cookson, poet, embedded Slade aficionado, and our answer to Michael Parkinson (without Grace Jones or Rud Hull and Emu, thankfully) with his relaxed, knowledgeable and embracing style of MCing, lives in the vicinity. It was a superbly chosen venue, and it was great to see the Acting Vicar and various church staff tapping and clapping. I don’t want to put pressure on, but I do hope that Don and Paul put their heads together for a repeat performance somewhere.
No spoilers, just in case this chat between chums happens again, but one story has been told so frequently I think I can get away with it.
During Don’s declining days in alcohol abuse his ‘partner in crime’ was Ossy Osbourne. Their homes in London were close by and between them was a wine bar. At 10.30 every morning they’d meet and attack the optics with gusto. This went on for months. You could set your watch by the duo’s antics. One day Don was on his own. He checked his watch; no Ossy; he had a drink; no Ossy. He feared illness or worse. The bartender tapped him on the shoulder and stuck a thumb towards the door: there was Ossy looking like an accident, dressed in a beautiful designer dress.
“My wife hid all my clothes to stop me coming out. It didn’t work,” Black Sabbath’s star vocalist pronounced before the day’s drinking began again.
Don’s Q&A was lyrically orchestrated by Paul. From his early non-musical days in the heavy metal manufacturing town of Bilston, meeting up with Dave Hill, then Noddy Holder and Jim Lea, disaster and legal threats in Bermuda, the years of stardom, and the continuing joys of playing drums and travelling the world, this show covered ground effortlessly. There’ve been low spots in Don’s life, namely alcoholism (he’s not touch a drop for 30 years), the car crash where his girlfriend lost her life, and the break-up of the original band; there’ve been high spots, including the first Number One, the film Slade in Flame, festivals such as Bardney and Reading. Everything was covered, brutally and honestly.
We listened attentively; we heard Don play a borrowed kit; we applauded two local musicians who accompanied him on guitar, mandolin and violin on several Slade tracks; and the event raised hundreds for The Autism Society – Don’s chosen charity.
I only disagree with one thing the maestro said. ‘When did you realise you wanted to play drums?’ It wasn’t 58 years ago, Don: it’s every day when you wake up and you feel that itch to perform for us.
Anybody who can’t wait for the next one – and I hope there will be – will find most of the answers to their questions about Don in his exceptional autobiography Look Wot I Dun – My Life in Slade. It’s a revelation of a book.
This great event was organised by Pies, Peas and Performances –the pies and peas were lovely as well.
Thank you Don Powell. Long may you tap those stretched skins.

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