Were you ever told your voice would make you famous?
It was completely the opposite. When you said you wanted to be a professional musician back then, you were thought of as the lowest of the low, a bum. Even when I joined the N’Betweens, the band that became Slade, their parents told them they’d never get anywhere with me as their singer.
When were you first aware that you had become famous?
The first time we appeared on Top Of The Pops. In those days you were performing to eighteen, twenty million viewers. The whole family used to sit around the telly watching it as a ritual. The next day everybody recognises you in the street and your life’s changed. The first royalty cheque I got was for three-thousand-five-hundred pounds in 1971. I went out and blew the lot on a sports car. I’d seen it in a showroom in Wolverhampton – a metallic blue, soft-top Mercedes. Driving out of there, I felt like a real Jack the Lad. I got into bands not just to play music, but to pull birds and have a flash car.
Do you know when you’ve written a hit?
Yes. You sort of feel something inside, like a sixth sense. It’s all down to the hook. If it’s catchy you know you’ve got a chance.
It’s Christmas. Are you thinking: “Oh, God, here we go again”?
No, I’m proud of Merry Xmas Everybody. It’ll be forty-one years old this Christmas, but it still sounds fresh to me and it’s taken on a life of its own.
What was the highest point with Slade?
It was all good. I loved the touring and the gigs, because that’s what we’d started off doing. All the hit records were the icing on the cake for me. We were having the time of our lives. Coming out of Wolverhampton and seeing the world, and doing it first class. It was a young bloke’s dream.
The Slade In Flame movie paints a pretty stark picture of rock stardom.
And it was accurate. Every scene in it has happened to some band or other. Jim [Lea, bassist] and I in particular didn’t want to do a slapstick-style film, as that’s what people would automatically have expected from us. We’d had a script come through from a guy called Andrew Birkin, and liked it because it was gritty, but we didn’t think it rang true. So we took Andrew and the director, Richard Loncraine, out to America on a three-week tour with us to see what life was like on the road. They only lasted a fortnight. Both of them had nervous breakdowns with all the partying that was going on.
Does anyone still call you Neville?
My mum and aunties used to call me Neville all the time, never Noddy. And my very closest pals, three or four people I’ve known since school, to this day call me Neville John, my real name.
There’s a generation now who know you as Banger from Bob The Builder.
Ha! I did a speaking tour around the country last year with Mark Radcliffe. We had a big screen up to show footage from the different parts of my career. When we put a clip from Bob The Builder up the crowd went berserk. Banger got as big a cheer as any of the Slade bits.