ARE you hanging up a stocking on your wall? It's the time that every Santa has a ball..."

Just as the cuckoo is the harbinger of spring and the swallow a sure sign that summer is around the corner, we all know Christmas is upon us when we here the strains of Slade – and Noddy Holder's unmistakable yell: "It's Christmas!"

Starting off as hard-bitten rock & rollers, Slade have become the ultimate festive band, with Merry Xmas Everybody among the best-selling seasonal hits ever.

So it's only right that their arrival in Oxford should be timed for just before the big day.

Their show at the O2 Academy next Thursday sees the Black Country glam-rockers in party mode as they run through such hits as Cum On Feel The Noize, Coz I Luv you, Take Me Bak 'Ome, Mama Weer All Crazee Now and Gudbuy T'Jane –and, of course, that Christmas song – which has sold well over a million copies.

And what they lack, judging by their song titles, in spelling skills, they more than make up for in stagecraft.

"This is a busy time for us as people do associate us with Christmas and they expect to hear the song," says Dave.

"It's been good for all of us – not as financially brilliant for me as for the writers [Noddy and original bassist Jim Lea] but we have all benefitted from its success.

"It's not our most important song but is one that everyone remembers us for. It's become an anthem and as much a part of Christmas as mince pies and Christmas trees."

One thing they won't get, however, is Noddy Holder's feisty vocals; the former frontman having left the band in 1992.

The line-up now consists of Dave, original drummer Don Powell, ex-Mud guitarist John Berry and former Hazzard and The Sweet singer Mal McNulty.

"Nod and me are mates but we have gone our own ways," says Dave.

"Mal sings it now. No one else can sing like Nod, but people know he's not in the band – unless they've been in the middle of nowhere and don't know what's going on.

"Nod is older now and wouldn't sing like that any more anyway."

Defining the glam rock era in the early 1970s, they scored 17 consecutive top 20 hits and six number ones – selling more singles in Britain than any other act; outperforming even Roxy Music, T Rex and David Bowie.

They have released 30 albums, three of which topped the charts and were the first act to have three singles enter the charts at number one.

Bands to have cited them as an influence include The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. Even Oasis doffed their caps to Dave, Noddy et al.

"The best form of entertainment is when you can get people on the dance floor and move them," says Dave, who made a name for himself for his outlandish dress sense: huge collars, sequins, tight silver jumpsuits and that extraordinary hair – an overgrown 70s mullet teamed with a bowl cut, so keenly parodied by Bob Mortimer in the bitingly funny Slade in Residence sketches on The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer.

"My purpose is not just to make records but to perform and entertain – and our audiences have continued to grow," he says.

Dave is relaxing before hitting the road for the festive tour, though he insists there has scarcely been a spare second. "I've got a lot going on," he says. "I've written my life story so I am doing an awful lot of telly too – which makes a change from playing.

"I have been playing for years and wanted to tell it like it is. My story is one of a lost Britain. I was born in 1946 and it was a different time."

"We were just getting out of the war and everything was drab.

"We were dressed like our parents and grew up on council estates but there was a great community spirit. You could leave the back door open because no one had anything to rob and people would get their neighbours' washing in if it started to rain. People don't understand that."

Dave's rise to stardom had an unlikely beginning. "I had an early setback at school," he recalls. "The headmistress didn't like me. My mum told her I needed to join the music class but she seemed affronted by someone from a council estate asking to join. She said I couldn't read music so couldn't come in. I was only 10."

Inspired by his idols – Tommy Steele, Elvis and American rock & roll bands – he bought a guitar from his mother's Kays catalogue and learned to play.

"It cost £7.50 and was dreadful, but it was the joy of my life," he recalls. "When I started, something happened."

He became an 'office boy' at Tarmac but knew his future lay with the band. "I didn't enjoy the work," he says, admitting to hiding his stage gear under his desk to be able to dash out to gigs after hours with bandmates Noddy, Don and Jim.

"I was known as 'Zany Dave Hill' because of the clothes," he chuckles. "Nod didn't sound like anyone else, we had a great drummer and a bass player who could play like Jimi Hendrix."

Joining forces with the former Animals bass guitarist and Jimi Hendrix Experience manager Chas Chandler, they racked up their first chart hit in 1971 with the Bobby Marchan song Get Down And Get With It, followed a few months later by their first Number One hit, Coz I Luv You.

Success came quickly, and was followed by a stint in the States in an unsuccessful attempt to break America.

Moving back to the UK it looked like the band were washed up, but an invitation to play the 1980 Reading Festival to fill a slot vacated by Ozzy Osbourne saw them win over a new generation of fans and move in a rockier direction.

Even though they failed to recapture the dizzy heights of their 70s fame, and have suffered rocky periods and numerous line-up changes, they survive – and are once again pulling in the crowds.

"It's not about us as individuals," says Dave. "It's about the whole cake.

"Our longevity is down to the quality of the music and the fact I kept the flag flying 20 years ago when Nod left.

"Some of the songs are nearly 50 now, but people want to feel 15 again and think of a better time. We are all struggling, but if I can bring a bit of happiness to people through my job, that's got to be worth something."

And is he still 'Zany Dave' on stage? "Well, I don't wear platform soles any more but I do wear colourful jackets," he says. "I believe showmanship is important – and that means showing off. And it's amazing that I am still getting up in the morning and doing this."

It's all the more remarkable, given his own battle with depression and his recovery from a stroke suffered on stage in Germany eight years ago.

"I've been through dark periods but survived," he says. "Now I try to live in the moment and don't worry about what tomorrow brings. But hopefully we'll still be here.

"Like we sing: 'Look to the future now... It's only just begun!"

Slade play the O2 Academy Oxford on Thursday, December 21. Tickets from