EVERY Christmas, the airwaves come alive with the sound of such festive favourites as Merry Xmas Everybody, Lonely This Christmas and I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.
Here, we catch up with members of the bands responsible for these classic tunes…
Flamboyant guitarist Dave Hill made his name during the ’70s with glam rock band Slade, who enjoyed six chart-toppers, including Cum On Feel the Noize and Merry Xmas Everybody.
Dave, now 72, continues to tour, averaging around 50 gigs a year. But whatever time of year it is, the band’s Yuletide classic is always requested.
“We always play the old favourites, finishing every concert – even in summer – with Merry Xmas Everybody. I’m proud of that song and never tire of playing it.
“We recorded it over 45 years ago in New York while on a world tour. It was Summer ’73 with temperatures over 100 degrees and we were singing about Christmas – no wonder people in the studio gave us strange looks.
“Initially, we weren’t sure about the song but it sold a million on the first day. It shot to No 1 and sold so many copies that records had to be imported from Germany to satisfy demand.”
Dave believes the song’s success was due largely to its originality and uplifting qualities. “The atmosphere in Britain back in 1973 was difficult. There were strikes and the country was on a downer. Our song seemed to lift the nation.
“It was also a hit around Europe and charted here several times. It was our biggest selling single.”
Remembered for his trademark appearance, including high-heel boots and distinctive hairstyle, Dave bought his first guitar from a mail order catalogue for £7.50 and soon afterwards formed a band with schoolmates, with whom he continued to perform even after completing his education.
It wasn’t until 1966 that Slade formed, with Noddy Holder, Don Powell and Jim Lea completing the line-up.
The band went on to enjoy more than 20 Top 20 singles and six hit albums.
The 1970s was a successful period for Slade.
“We made lots of money but most went on tax. Some artists moved abroad to avoid paying so much but we were very British and stayed in the UK. Besides, we would have missed HP sauce and bacon sandwiches if we’d moved away,” laughs Dave, who once owned a gold and cream Rolls Royce Silver Cloud with a personalised number plate, Yob 1.
But the guitarist admits he’s never been stupid with money.
“I worked hard for what I earned. That attitude stems back to my upbringing in a Wolverhampton council house. Even today, I regard myself as a working geezer and still need to earn money to pay bills.”
Dave and Don Powell continue to tour with two other musicians and to pack in the crowds.
“We’re often playing to 10,000 plus with fans wearing daft wigs and strange clothes – it’s like a hilarious party. We’re particularly popular in Scandinavia, Russia and Northern Europe.”
Pop group Mud – comprising Les Gray, Dave Mount, Rob Davis and Ray Stiles – enjoyed a string of hits, including chart-topping Tiger Feet, Oh Boy! and 1974’s festive classic, Lonely This Christmas.
“Everyone remembers Lonely This Christmas,” says Ray, 71. “Les Gray was a great singer and brilliant impersonator, especially when it came to Elvis.
“Producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn saw us perform at some gigs and a fun part of the act was Les doing his Elvis impersonation. They loved it so decided to write Lonely This Christmas using that feature. When we recorded it, we had to stop after almost every line because we laughed so much.”
The record was selling 90,000 a day at the height of its success and the band was asked to sing it at concerts, whatever time of year.
After Mud split in the late 1980s, lead singer Les Gray performed solo until his death in 2004, aged 57, while drummer Dave Mount, who died in 2006, aged 59, became a financial adviser and postman.
The two surviving band members remain busy in the music industry. Ray Stiles is a member of The Hollies and Rob Davis a successful songwriter whose long list of credits includes Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, co-written with Cathy Dennis.
Mud had been performing professionally for six years before their first hit, Crazy, which reached No 12 in the charts.
Before long, they were enjoying success around Europe. “We were always working,” recalls Ray.
“Sometimes, we’d make a TV appearance in Holland during the day and fly back for a UK gig in the evening – it was hectic.
“Back then, we’d record a single in a day and an album in a week. But we didn’t complain and earned a reasonable living.”
Dynamite, originally written for The Sweet who rejected it, was the band’s first Top 10 hit with Tiger Feet their first No 1.
“It was fun being part of the glam rock period. The reaction at concerts was incredible with fans going wild,” says Ray. “The Mud era was brilliant. We took our chances and though people knocked us at times, we just got on with enjoying ourselves.”
IN 1973, Wizzard’s festive anthem I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, was prevented from reaching top spot by Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody. Yet it’s still one of the best-remembered Christmas tracks.
Written by singer Roy Wood – who made his name during the ’60s and ’70s as co-founder of The Move and ELO – it was among Wizzard’s six Top 10 hits.
“Most people remember I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” says Roy, 70. “I thought it was about time we had a good old rock ’n’ roll Christmas record, even though it was nowhere near December.
“In fact, we recorded it in August ’73 on a boiling hot day. I phoned the band members and asked them to bring bobble hats, scarves and overcoats.
“I put a Christmas tree in the corner and we had a great time recording it. We then took a Birmingham school choir to London to record backing vocals. Afterwards, we took them to a Hard Rock Café for lunch.
“I don’t know how much I’ve earned from the record but it’s been my most successful. It’s played every year and re-entered the charts in 1981 and ’84.
“We’re always asked to play it at concerts – even in summer. But I never get fed up with it because it’s done well for me. But when I wrote the song, I couldn’t have imagined it would still be around today.”
A new version – a charity single by The Big Reunion – was released a few years ago and Roy was over the moon. “From a songwriter’s point of view, it’s great hearing other people’s interpretation of your music.”
Roy admits he was shocked when he heard, back in 1973, that Slade were releasing Merry Xmas Everybody.
“Unfortunately, our record hit the shops two weeks after Slade’s, which meant they had a head start. Theirs was a great song and pipped us to the post for 1973 Christmas No 1. But I didn’t cry in my beer because I was pleased just having a hit.”
Roy Wood started off playing drums before switching to guitar after seeing The Shadows in concert at the age of 12.
“From that moment, I became really interested in music and, at 14, joined a local band, The Falcons,” he said.
After school, he studied at Birmingham’s Moseley School of Art and had a few jobs, including signwriting, but always wanted to be a professional musician.
His dream came true when he became a founding member of The Move. While still performing with the group, he formed ELO with, among others, Jeff Lynne because he wanted to create pop songs with classical overtones. “I co-wrote and co-produced the first album before forming Wizzard.
“People still remember my trademark hairstyle, which was my own with clip-on pieces, and the warpaint all over my face. That image came from the latter days of The Move and I kept it for Wizzard.”
The band’s first five singles were Top 10 hits, including See My Baby Jive and Angel Fingers.
After Wizzard, he concentrated on solo work and producing, but returned to performing with Roy Wood Rock and Roll Band.