Interview with Jim Lea by Adrian Hextall
James Whild “Jim” Lea (born 14 June 1949) is an English musician, most notable for playing bass guitar, keyboards, piano, violin, guitar, and singing backing vocals in Slade from their inception until 1992, and for co-writing most of their songs.
We caught up with Jim to talk about the release of a new 6 track e.p. called Lost in Space. It’s a great collection of music that brings to mind multiple musical genres from straight forward pop music to the glam rock sound both T.Rex and Slade were known for in their heyday. For fans of Jim’s music with Slade, this is a must have.
We arrange to speak via phone on a cool summer morning only for me to be unable to log on, Jim to call and me miss him before he’s left me a voicemail. Thankfully a few minutes later he calls back only for me to discover that the slightly late kick off has inspired him;
JW: I just wrote a song whilst waiting to speak to you [laughs] I wrote a song about writing a song.
AH: I like that. Well, there you go. Hopefully I’ve managed to inspire you if only for the last ten minutes.
JW: You did inspire me, yeah.
AH: What’s likely to happen to it? Do you just do that or do you manage to then turn to something you’ll put together in the studio?
JW: No, no. Everything is used. It’s always used. It’s not yet become, you know a finished song. But obviously I’ve just got the idea of what it’s going to be at so there you go.
AH: Fantastic. Fantastic. Are you on a bit of a creative spurt at the moment? ‘Cause obviously this is the first collection of new material for quite a while, isn’t it?
JW: Yes, well – I mean you’re saying new material. I mean, it’s quite funny ’cause there was a review recently on the Lost in Space EP and the guy said, I suppose Jim there has just come up with his while sitting in his armchair having a cup of tea. I think he thinks he knows what I’ve been up to for the last 16 years, but in fact I permanently write. So whatever is going- just like now, things just come on and the thing has been mostly difficult to find a local studio because they all tend to be booked up now for some reason. But then years ago it wasn’t like that, so that it’s a bit more difficult to put them down now.
The e.p. is named after the opening track which you can tell is nothing like the other tracks.
AH: Well that was going to be my point actually. You actually throw a curve ball on the very first track, don’t you?
AH: It’s a mellow start to a fairly rock sounding e.p. the rest of the content really ups the ante. What made you decide to pull it all together?
JW: Well, I did a question and answer thing on November the 5th last year which was really something else. It was not anything that anybody expected, it was sold out – the audience were extremely passionate, very emotional. We gave all the money we raised that night to charity. We raised about eight grand in just in about three hours.
I didn’t charge, nobody charged, the club didn’t charge. It was the Robin Hood RNB Club in Bilston, so all the money, everything went to charity but among the things the ideas that came up was to have a picture with me for a fiver. Well, there was a queue all around the club which nobody expected. We thought it’d be like 20 people, you know, who on earth would want to do that?
But the queue went all around the club. People who were coming just to get in, they actually – they couldn’t get in the club because the queue for the selfie was too big.
Now that was a really strange thing to do but when my brother Frank said to me for this Q and A, he said, “You’ve got to play at the end, James.” And I said, “I’m not going to play,” and I said please tell them, “If we’re expecting Jim to play, do not buy a ticket,”
I haven’t got the energy in me anymore. But, at the last minute, I made some backing track and this is where the idea for the EP came from. I just shoved them together and I did Cum On Feel The Noize, We’ll Bring The House Down, and a couple of others. It’s all I could manage and then, then I went off then afterwards my brother said, you know what James? He said, “What about doing an EP? The record company I’ve been talking to while the Q and A was on is interested.”
And I said, “Well, judging by the reaction here. I think I’d better do a bit of Rock and Roll,”
So that’s where it came from the Q and A, here’s what I’m finding. I do one thing then that points the way to something else, like I put the phone down for – ’cause you weren’t there and I go on the piano and I’m writing a pop song. So it’s strange how life one thing just joins onto another these days.
With the idea for the e.p. there, we looked through some material that I had because we get – I said to my brother, “When would you want that? If we’re going to do this. When would I need to finish it all?” He said;
After the shock wore off…. I mean I can’t sing now, whether my voice will ever come back, I don’t know. But as soon as I start to sing, it just goes all over the shop. But I’d got these tracks, I’ve got loads of tracks so I just picked these out, just randomly, I didn’t even think about it. There was no time to think and so Lost in Space just seemed to be the commercial one and then the rest was more rock. You know you get up on stage and thrash it out.
The 6 tracks on the e.p are:
- Lost In Space
- What In The World
- Pure Power
- Going Back To Birmingham
- Through The Fire
There was one of the tracks which is Going Back to Birmingham which I played, which I wrote for the Robin Hood – I only did one gig on my own, as a solo gig in my life. And that was in the Robin 2 in Bilston.
AH: Oh yeah.
JW: In 2002. There’s a DVD out of some of that, some fan footage which we’re putting out. Yeah, and they do this song Going back to Birmingham. So there’s no record of it, I just wrote it and showed the guys I was playing with. There’s only two guys, have you seen that DVD? [ You can find it here: ]
AH: Ah no, it was more a case of I noted, you’d got it on your discography and I did wonder where that had originated from. So that was the 2002 show that you did.
JW: Yeah, and so we had some fan footage and there was you know, I thought people should see this. I know its fan footage but – and we did it just – that’s what the Q and A was about, launching that. We raised a lot of money for charity that was the idea. No more than that, but then somebody reviewed the DVD and this guy has reviewed the Therapy [Jim’s solo album from 2007] album so that once again pointed the way for doing the EP. During the Q and A, I played along to what I’d recorded, I actually played the guitar for real and sang along. But believe it or not, the fans, the people that were there were all crying. I thought, “Is it that bad?” and you know, and–
AH: It’s that opportunity for them to see something that they probably thought was never possible.
JW: Yeah, never going to happen and I’ve done a few interviews, a few of the people who’ve interviewed me have said, “Yeah, we were all crying,” I said, “We were all crying? Were you there?” they said, “Yeah.” I said, “Always crying?” A few of the blokes you know, “What? Everybody was crying?” When you walked on everybody was crying. And I don’t why it was sort of a risen from the dead type thing, but I’m trying to get over this, the treatment from the damn thing which has just fogged me out completely–
In 2014, Lea was diagnosed with – and treated for – prostate cancer, which he revealed publicly the following year.
AH: I’m not surprised.
JW: I have to get my testosterone back, which is not easy to do. So I’m going to the gym but you know, it’s not happening I mean. I had an interview and I dropped to sleep before I got in the car to go to it. And my wife came, said, “What? You’re supposed to in the car going to the interview?” So that’s how it affected me really. You know I’ve spent a lot of time sleeping.
AH: Yeah. And just on that, I mean is it all going in the right direction?
JW: Yeah, yeah. I was very sanguine about the whole thing. I didn’t freak out and people use this word remission. I really don’t know what that is, I’ve never heard that word mentioned. I just thought, well I’ve got it , I’ll just do the treatment and then just carry on. I didn’t – I wasn’t flustered at all.
AH: That’s a very positive approach isn’t it? I mean if it doesn’t, if you don’t let it get to you. I mean your body’s natural defense mechanisms if in your mind you’re sort of trying to fight it. It’s got to be a good thing.
JW: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and people use that you know they all battling cancer and all this. I didn’t battle cancer but I did continue going to gym on a regular basis while I was all the way into the treatment. But strangely enough when I came off the treatment after three years where they remove your testosterone, I got a lot worse and I really was dragging myself around. I’m hoping that that’s going to disappear and that – whether how I ever get back to normal and put weight on. I’ve got a bit of a tubby belly now and I’ve a bum. I had legs before the treatment that females would have been jealous of, they often used to say, you’re out in the summer. “Oh your legs are any woman’s dream. My wife would love that……” [laughs]
The statue of David you know, that sort of thing, they’re not like that anymore within two weeks of taking that treatment. Oh my God, I looked at and I said to my wife, “They beat off my legs.”
AH: All that hard work you’d put in and it’s disappeared so quickly.
JW: So this treatment, it’s just you know.. I got some fat around on my umbilical, just sort of dropped down my legs. Christ, I have legs that joined together at the top.
AH: It affects people in so many different ways. Some will look so debilitated by the whole thing and shadow of their former selves and whatever, but it sounds like you’ve approached it with totally the right sort of mental attitude.
JW: Yeah, well. I didn’t really take it as, I sort of – when I went to the doctors I thought there’s something wrong here. It’s liable to be prostate cancer and then they did the test. The score was through the roof. It’s the scale when you’re okay. If you’re over four, you’re in trouble. Mine was in the sort of, round the 60 or something like that. It was high risk but then, when they did the biopsy and they told me. I just said, “Fancy that.”
Because I did 20 years of psychotherapy I can turn myself inside out and I became a completely different person. It became a lot more easy with who and what I am and taking my place in the scheme of things.
AH: I would imagine there’s a lot of musicians in the world that could do with that approach that you have taken there in terms of dealing with yourself as an artist and a musician and just being comfortable with whatever place you are at in your musical career. Because it’s got highs, lows, dips, troughs, everything, hasn’t it? It’s never a straight life as a musician.
JW: No, no. I don’t think life in itself is ever straight forward and that would be really boring if you just carried on the same, wouldn’t it?
AH: Oh goodness yes. Yeah, you end up in the rat race like me then, doing the same thing day in and day out. Same train, same suit, same office, same seat.
JW: What do we need to do that for? And planes, I had enough of that when I was young. So I became anti-travel, so and because I’m at peace with myself and there is a danger of that becoming boring, but anyway the thing is by doing this music thing which came about because my brother. He went to this little record company called Wienerworld and they listened to a couple of tracks. They said, “Oh, this is good,”
Now when Therapy came out some 10 years ago. It sold for about 8 and a half years and then finally dwindled. I asked the guy at the label, I said, “So, who else has had this sort of phenomenon? Where we sell for years.” He said, “We’ve never seen it before, he said, “Well, you know I think we’re still finding out about that album.” And then we put the Robin Hood mix off the sound desk with it and reissued it.
And the guy I mentioned earlier, just wrote this review and it was the most fantastic review I’ve ever seen of anything in my life. And he ended up by saying, “This gig must have been the greatest thing that happened to Wolverhampton ever since Billy Wright was captain of the England squad. Love it,” So you can imagine what the rest said?
AH: Oh goodness yes. And I mean for you to say that as well in terms of the best review you’ve ever read. The output that you’d got with Slade and the like over the years. The number of singles that did so well. You must have seen a thousand positive reviews if not more, so for this one to really resonate. It must have been something.
JW: With the Slade ones, because obviously we were top of the pile and there were some people out there that would have knock at us. But stuff like this was 100% and daubed with wonderfulness. I never expected that, so I said to my brother, “Why don’t we print up some more copies and try, just get a broader audience for it?” And he said, “Well, we can do that if you want.” I said, “Yeah.” I said, “I’d love to,” and then came the idea of the EP out of the question and answer at the Robin Hood.
At the Q n A, there people were coming up saying, “Hello, my name Maria, I come from Moscow. Hello, my name is so and so. I’m from Switzerland, and all this.”
AH: And these guys had all flown over specially for that?
JW: Yeah, yeah and I was literally almost crushed to death. Unbelievable, unbelievable. And my granddaughter, she saw it all going and she said, “Gosh,” she said, “I would have loved to have had that done to me.” I said, “No, it’s quite scary!” They’re all pushing and you can’t breathe, they’re trying to get a bit of you. You know they all want something writing, you know pictures and so on.
AH: Quite overwhelming I would imagine.
JW: Yes, yes. I never liked that back in the day and but yeah, but for Slade there was always the crowds and of course the journalists that were around at the time would have been probably say the Melody Maker or something like that, which of course doesn’t exist now.
But can you imagine it? When the band stopped, I never stopped writing. It just gets – it’s a bug that gets you and if you don’t do it, there’s something missing in your life. When it came to getting the tracks for the Lost in Space EP, it took me ages to go through it all. But I just had a quick listen to each single and then we said it was going to be Rock and Roll. I added some bits to it and it was re-mastered.
But, when you’re a teenager, looking back at it all, you’re just getting into like you want something that nobody else knows about. So, it started off The Shadows and that’s what got me playing and then, Beatles came along then, I didn’t like girls screaming at bands– get rid of that you know like, as bands came along they’re screaming. The band that I joined which was to become Slade– they’re called The In-Betweens, there were five in the band, Nod wasn’t in the band. The bass player, he was a really good bass player, left. I mean, they had a great sound and they had a great presence on stage and then the singer, he was really good, he left and we got Nod, they knew Nod and so, he came in.
And then, once the singer left we just left to his voice really and then we all just sort of, with Nod singing, Dave and myself were vocalists in the background, you know?
AH: Around that time you were getting a lot of interest from some big names? You as a musician rather than just Slade the band.
JW: That’s it, yeah– Eric Clapton. So, yeah and he said, “We have worked together before,” you know? I said, “We’ve never played with you guys.” He said, “No, no,” he said, “Many years ago at the beginning of Cream.” He said, “We all came out to look at you,” he said, “We all came to watch you,” and I said, “Oh, yeah.” He said, “Even Jack came out.” Jack, you know, he’s got a big ego, he said, “He came out to have a look as well.” He said, “We thought the band looked great.” He said, “We thought you were great,” and he said, “The way you played the bass,” he said, “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.” He said you know, “Even Jack was going to want you.”
AH: To get that sort of commentary from Jack Bruce and also Eric Clapton I believe? That’s high praise, isn’t it?
JW: Yeah, I mean I don’t know whether Eric would remember. He wanted me to go around his house with a guitar. I was asked many times to go and do things with other people, big– really big names as big as you can get really and the people like The Zombies and even Rod Argent and Russ Ballard, a great songwriter Russ Ballard, and they talk in really reverential terms about when they saw Slade and about the way I played. This is pre-hits.
And then, who else? Oh, yeah– Noel Redding, do you know about Jimi Hendrix connection?
AH: A little but this is fascinating so please.. go on.
JW: Noel had come down with drummer Mitch Mitchell and had seen us play and Noel was saying, “It was fantastic, absolutely fantastic.” And “Bloody hell you know, I can’t compete with this,” And I said to him, “What are you talking about?” I said, “You’re the bloody Jimi Hendrix Experience. What are you talking about?” And “You’re worldwide famous you know, and respected and revered,” and Noel said, “No, no,” he said, “We’ll be humiliated.” I said, “Humiliated?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “We weren’t that good.” He said, “The other band was fantastic, he said it was you.” I [Noel] said to Mitch, I said, “Fucking listen, if Jimi sees this bloke I’m out of a fucking job.” So, what I’m saying is over the years this is what’s happened then you bump in to your heroes and they tell you great things about yourself, you know?
That you didn’t think there’s a lot more respect that I have there than I thought we had and I thought that I had. I’m treated really people in a revered way which I never knew anything about until I started sort of getting after a bit old, you know?
AH: Yeah. Presumably, the buzz around this– has it caught you by surprise as well that you’ve had so many people obviously wanted to review it, wanted to talk to you about it. Did you anticipate you just sort of excitement?
JW: No, I didn’t think anybody would be interested?
AH: It’s your music I’m listening to on all of those tracks and that’s what sticks in the mind.
JW: Yeah, I would always do the what they call the, “The song.” I always say the music came first but then, I would always have lyrics as well. And then looking back on it I mean, Nod (Noddy Holder) really put this sort of, laddishness into it, a bit cheeky with the lyrics.
That’s what it’s all about. Now of course people say to me you know, “Jim, where are you? What you’re doing? What you’re thinking?” I can be in a roomful of people and we’re all talking about the same thing. I’ll be no good in X-Factor or something like that to be sitting there and I’d just would be off in my own world. I just live in another world altogether.
AH: So, that point where the individual’s finished their little piece and you’re supposed to provide a commentary from the judges chair and you’re like, “Oh, are you done? Sorry, I missed that.” Yeah.
JW: I’d be ‘lost in space’, yeah!
AH: Very good. Very good.
LOST IN SPACE can be purchased here: