Ace of Slades country & blues trio is coming of age this May with a gig at Lord Nelson’s pub, the venue where it all started for them in 1999, back when they were in their early twenties and their band was known as Eazi-K, a catchy pun on the initials of the band members, siblings Ernest, Zoe and Keeran Slade.
“This homecoming will be emotional,” they anticipate. “A balance on how far we’ve come in almost two decades of live performances, and how grateful we are that the band is still together on this long road, which we are now treading with our children following our footsteps in music, as we followed our father’s. Sometimes, at children-friendly venues, three generations reunite on stage and we sing and play together with our children who sing and play piano, guitar and ukulele.”
Departing from their iconic party and wedding past under the Eazi-K trademark (which is not defunct, but pretty much alive to cater for such functions), the Slade siblings call themselves Ace of Slades, a pun on their surname, with a nod to the spades in the standard deck of cards so dear to country & western tradition: “Cowboys are often portrayed dallying in the saloon and playing cards, with lively music in the background, fit for line dancing,” Ernest says. “Actually, our mother has been running line dancing classes for many years and on several occasions we have played live for her group’s social events.”
Ace of Slades has established itself in Gibraltar and Spain as a grown-up band with its defined character and repertoire that isn’t imposed on the audience, but carefully selected and tailored in order to promote their love for everything Nashville.
“We’ve always been into country music,” Zoe adds, “even before it became popular in Gibraltar with Gerard Teuma’s radio show ‘My Country’. I listen to country music virtually all the time, not just what makes the mainstream charts, but all that hits the country charts in the US.”
“We have also been to Nashville to hear it live,” her brothers echoes her, to highlight how committed they are about it.
But the Slade trio isn’t just about country music: they also perform blues and classic rock, not disdaining contemporary pop to which they often give a rockier edge, since Zoe is as comfortable vocalising Dolly Parton as Bon Jovi or Aerosmith, and even Bruno Mars, whom they love to cover for his retro style.
Shy of two decades in front of the mic, the siblings have built quite a repertoire and they let it evolve to suit the taste of their audience or the mood of the evening; so if they are constricted by customised requests when playing at private functions with their Eazi-K hat – only metaphorically, because the real cowboy hat is donned when they are Ace of Slades! – they are allowed a flight of fancy when playing concerts, slipping in the odd original song, and getting their audiences up on their feet.
“We’re always up for charity dos, so we were delighted when David Diaz contacted us and invited us to play at the first ever Rock’s Rock Against Dementia bash, where we performed a set of six songs, two country, two blues and two rock.” Zoe says. “Each of us has got a role in the band: Keeran is on bass guitar and acoustic guitar, Ernest on electric guitar, and I sing and play the piano (although as a country’n’blues band, we seldom perform with keyboards), but I sometimes join in with my own guitar.”
Ernest adds: “Nobody in the family is a drummer, so, wanting to keep it a family affair, we rely on backing tracks on which we also record ourselves playing other instruments. Sometimes we leave gaps in the recording, for live improvisation. Rehearsals are quite relaxed because we practise separately and then we meet to mesh together. The upside of missing a drummer is not having to carry around a drum kit, which is a plus both for our backs and venues with limited stage space.”
Music is always in the air for the Slade family: “We usually have Christmas at my house,” Zoe says. “Everyone turns up with presents and instruments so after lunch we can have a family jam session.”
This strong sense of family has kept them sticking together through the years, and made them feel cosy as a family nucleus when they spent numerous New Year’s Eves giving the beat to party goers at glamorous venues. “We were working, yes, but we were working together as a family, and that made it New Year for us too, despite being away from our partners and children.”
Being on the road for so many years hasn’t always been a bed of roses – although Zoe does a mean cover of those two Bon Jovi anthems! – but the perks outweigh the downside of spending so many weekends and festivities away, with a collection of funny and emotional anecdotes under their belt, like weddings from heaven and from hell, satisfied returning customers who hired them again for their anniversary party and that one time that Zoe, a skilled patisserie baker and decorator, had to balance towering wedding cake and guitar, as she was being the bride’s personal confectioner and musician!
The trio is working on a number of tracks they expect to pepper their performance with, to gauge the audience’s reaction. “In country music, songs have complex lyrics that narrate the story instead of just alluding at it like in pop,” Keeran explains, “so we are working at storylines inspired to our experience but with a ‘read between the lines’ meaning that our listeners could relate to.”
Ernest gives out a sneaky peek at his recent creative efforts: “I am writing a song about travelling, a vacation to a dream destination – geographically and metaphorically.”
Keeran adds: “The song is titled ‘Raybans On’: when the stress of everyday life gets too much for you to bear, just slide your sunglasses on and enjoy a lazy day on a Caribbean beach or on the deck of a cruise ship.”
“And I am writing about my daughter being away at university in a song I’d like to title ‘Flying the Nest’,” Zoe says. “It isn’t that obvious what I am talking about at first, and one must listen closely to relate to one’s own experience.”
Having covered just about everything from Sinatra to Aserejé, the trio doesn’t limit their repertoire to crowd pleasers: they will go the extra mile to accommodate your request for virtually any song you’d like to hear performed live, whether in English or Spanish, always with their own twist and style as icing on the cake.
words | Elena Scialtiel