When I was in school there was only one band that you were proud to say that you had seen play live. It was Slade. This was before they became a joke. It was before you dared not admit you liked Slade. Before their records were remaindered in Woolies. It was before Noddy left to go to be an actor in The Grimleys. It was even before Slade became a household name, part of our national heritage and glam-rock heroes. It was before they gave us their Christmas number one. It was when they were known for just one thing – for being the best hard rock act around.
In those days, at school, things were divided into two musical camps: One lot liked hippy stuff. They liked Yes, Pink Floyd and Tyrannosaurus Rex (not T. Rex.) This lot went around in hippy clothes such as loon pants, cheese-cloth shirts and old trench coats. They said “Peace” a lot. The other camp – the ones that adults called “Skinheads” (point of order – we just called them “Skins”) had short hair, wore boots, and liked Slade. This was before punk. It was before 2-tone. It was long before ‘Madness.’ The only thing that the skins could call their own kind of music was Dave and Ansell Collins. And Slade.
Slade came out of the Black Country in 1971 with “Get Down and Get With It”. And with it came boot stomping rock ‘n’ roll heaven. That song was originally recorded by Little Richard for the “Okeh Sessions” . And it gave everyone a chance to get their boots on and stamp their feet.
The Slade boys – drummer Don Powell, guitarist Dave Hill, singer Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea were raised on fine music – such as John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf. They had played support slots for bands such as The Yardbirds (fore runners of Led Zeppelin.) In 1971 it was their chance to take centre stage.
Slade made the wearing of Crombie coats, cherry red Doc Martens, and Sta-Prest Levi’s with braces, seem cool and trendy. And even if that conjured up images of skinheads who were more like Dick Emery’s idiot creation ‘Bovver boy’ (and his even more idiotic his father – played by Roy Kinnear) – Slade become a cult act, and skinhead rock was real.
But, when Chas Chandler (former manager of Jimi Hendrix), came into possession of the brand, and began to drive the musicians towards success, things began to get out of hand. After the successful – and much-loved single “Coz I Luv You” (written by Lea and Holder) we then got a flurry of misspelled pop songs like “Take Me Bak ‘Ome” and “Look Wot You Dun”. And Slade gradually became a ‘Glam Band’ I always thought that they seemed reluctant to go down the glam-rock path. Well, except for Dave, that is. His glitter wig and super-yob guitar can never be forgotten. The story goes that, after an altercation in the dressing room on Top of the Pops – when Jim once again criticised Dave for wearing a tin foil jumpsuit – Dave allegedly responded to the criticism by saying “You write ‘em Jim, and I’ll sell em !”
Looking back at the early 1970’s (and in light of the Jimmy Savile allegations) I sometimes get a feeling of nausea – rather than nostalgia about the times. This was the era that brought us Gary Glitter and “Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah)” with the “Do you wanna touch me there, where?” lyric. It was addressed to little girls. And little boys. And I also remember Sweet’s ‘Little Willy’ (You can’t push Willy round, Willy won’t go.) And just knew that Mary Whitehouse would write in about it.
So when Slade played live at the Anvil Basingstoke this week, it was probably reasonable to exclude “Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me” from the set list. And thinking about this reminds me that my favourite song by Slade was “Gudbuy T ‘Jane” and it was kept from the No 1 slot by the innuendo laden Chuck Berry hit “My Ding-a-Ling.” (Which Mary did complain about.)
Today, the Slade line-up is: Vocals and guitar Mal McNulty (previously with Paddy Goes To Holyhead and Sweet) John Berry on bass / backing vocals and violin (he has worked with Mud), and the original band members Don Powell on drums and super-yob Dave Hill on lead guitar.
At the Anvil, the band worked their way through a series of ‘Crazee’ rock numbers – and they had the audience up and dancing almost immediately. Just like the old days. Everyone was standing. Everyone was stomping . Best songs in the show were, for my money, the excellent “Everyday” (I forgot how good that number was) and the Celtic sounding song “Run Runaway”.
I missed “Far Far Away” and I really liked “Nobody’s Fool” back in 1976. But that was forgotten too. But we still got “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”. Thank goodness.
Dave Hill still haunts the stage with that silly smile of his. Trying to boot things. Still being the class clown. And Don still looks as menacing as he ever has been. Mal actually sounds like Noddy. And that must be a hard act to follow. And John played a passable violin solo on “Coz I Luv You” – but it was not as good as Jim Lea. Their performance was exhilarating. Strong, heavy and full of fun. Just like a Slade show should be.
Some of these old bands become shadows of themselves. They sometimes become affectionate cover bands. Of their own music. But Slade have not crumbled. They are still full of energy. It’s encouraging. They really know how to perform. And they are loud. That’s why they brought the house down at the Reading Festival in 1980
And before the curtain call at The Anvil, Dave came out on stage to thank the audience. “It was not a bad year that?” He chirped. “It’s been good hasn’t it?” Everyone agreed and clapped some more. Party hats were rushed on by roadies. And the group got back on stage. And they played “Merry Xmas Everybody”.
Before the concert, I was thinking about that song. And I was hoping that they would not play it. But they did. And do you know what? It brought a tear to my eye.
– © Neil_Mach November 2012 –