Now, this was a fun and very well-written article. Should be of interest to all, but of course the Slade fans will salivate over this. People today just don`t seem to realise how huge this band were in the 70s and part of the 80s. Very influential for other artists both in Europe, but also in the US. This article takes you back to when it happened and you can almost smell the concert hall (and the soiled underwear).
Cum on, feel the boyz!!!
By Steve Peacock
Good grief, it`s hot in here. Here is the Colston Hall, Bristol. Here is a Slade concert. Here they have just completed the opening volley of their set. Here we go again.
“It`s really nice,” shouts Noddy Holder into the microphone as the last echoes of `Monkeys Can`t Swing` dies away. “It`s really gryte to be back in Bristol again.”
“And now we`re going to do one, going to do one called `THE BANG-GING MAN`…”
And off they jolly well go, pounding along on the crest of a very hard, deliberate riff, Noddy screaming the vocal and chunking out chords, Dave Hill adding accents and frills and prancing, Don Powell bashing away in a kind of reflex action, and Jim Lea doing the funky strut with his bass on the opposite flank. `Bangin` Man` stamps the Heavy Metal seal of approval on Slade.
Lights are strung all around the stage, with spots around the hall as well. Lighting plans are quite detailed, but the effects simple, giving you a kind of bright, slightly glitzy quality of a well designed TV variety show lighting set. Costumes are tailored to suit group images. Dave is in a black tailcoat, waistcoat and rolled up trousers, all studded with metal reflectors; Don is workmanlike in dungarees: Jim is in white satin; and Nod – a suit in red and yellow, with huge polka dots and a mile-wide tie that stretches to mid calf.
Third number up is `Gudbuy T`Jane`: “We`re doing all the ones you know,” bawls Noddy afterwards, “all the ones you know, so everyone gets sweaty and your knickers start sticking to you.”
“Now, we`re going to do one from the film now…”
“Did anybody go out to see the film?”
“Good, good. Now… me and James here…”
“We`re really good friends really…”
Over a cup of breakfast in the Bristol Holiday Inn at noon next day, Jimmy Lea says it`s strange, but everywhere they go these days people seem to think he and Nod fight and hate each other just like Stoker and Paul do in the film of `Flame`. He says they never expected Slade fans to believe that `Flame` was the story of Slade, but they did. That`s why they make a stage announcement every night.
It`s hardly surprising that Nod, Jim, Dave and Don are closely identified with their film parts Stoker, Paul, Barry and Charlie: the director and scriptwriter spent weeks hanging around with them on the American tour and drew the screen characters, speech patterns and much group atmosphere from what they observed. A lot of the situations came from stories the group told.
So if Flame isn`t Slade, it was based on… a caricature. And if the plot never happened it was based on… a collage. But Nod loves Jim really, and he says so every night in front of a hall full of witnesses. And Jim isn`t leaving because of musical differences – not now they`re back on the road.
It was really strange when they`d finished filming, Jim says, they got so into the parts that they were beginning to live them, beginning to behave like the characters they played. It`d been their first break from the usual grind of recording and touring for several years, and that in itself was a slightly unnerving experience. “Afterwards,” said Jim. “I just didn`t want to go back to fucking Slade.” It passed of course. Paul let go his hold on Jim and Slade survived.
Noddy confirmed there had been seepage: “For the seven weeks of the film you`d be playing those people all day and you`d get back to the hotel and still be acting the same way. Jim was the most uptight about the actual film and he took it the most seriously, whereas I didn`t take it that seriously at all, I just went and did it.”
But it touched raw nerves? “Oh yea, of course it did. That was the whole point of making the film, was to show that we`re `uman, that groups are `uman. It may not be how we act off stage, but it`s how a lot of groups act… I mean we have rows, but not to the extent that would make the group split up. All the groups who came to the premiere said “that could have been us”. They recognised theirselves in those situations”.
It`s getting hotter in the Colston Hall as Slade move into `Far Far Away`: it`s one of the quieter numbers in the set, but even so a mother with two small children beats her retreat. One of the kids is in Cub`s uniform.
“We`re going to do our new record now,” bellows Nod.
“We took it to the BBC and they banned it…”
“Because they said it had… dirty words in it…”
“So I went back last week and put new words on it…”
“But tonight – ”
He needn`t have finished the sentence, but he did anyway. Tonight they would hear the uncensored version. The `ban` happened when they gave the first play of their new single – `Thanks For The Memory` – to Emperor Rosko, whose producer asked the bosses for clearance on the line “love smell on your sheets”.
The BBC decided this wasn`t quite the sort of thing Rosko`s listeners should hear, but apparently they are happy about the substitution line.
Which is: “Honey on your meat.”
We`re back in the Colston Hall, and the temperature`s rising. The lights go down, a spotlight hits the Victor Sylvester Ball above the stage, casting iridescent dandruff all over the hall, and Jim starts into the piano intro to `How Does it Feel`.
The heat is getting to the group on stage. Don, in particular is feeling it.
“We`re going to do one now, going to do one now…” Nod is getting ready to stir them again… “featuring David this time, featuring David…”
The dispassionate observer begins to notice that something which should have happened, hasn`t happened. Nod steps forward again and begins to frame the letter `f` – ahah, the cue must be `featuring David`. He gives up and turns round to Don, who looks slightly dazed at the drumstool.
Don jerks into action with a fast 4/4 figure featuring hi-hat, and the band rolls into `Little Bit Of Your Love`. The finale sees Dave up on a pedestal to one side of the stage (Jim has one too) with a spotlight on him and a searchlight behind him playing solo, feedbacky guitar a la Hendrix `Star Spangled Banner` except that… oh, never mind.
As that reverberates, Nod steps into a red spot, strumming guitar, and goes into `Everyday`, the out-and-out melody spot. When he gets to the “And you know…” line he urges the audience to join in, and they take over. It`s SingalongaNod, and it sounds a bit like a crowd scene from `Oliver`, but it`s also a very moving section of the show.
“Right! We`re going to feature David again n-….”
A frantic 4/4 featuring hi-hat drowns out the inevitable RAAAAH!!!!
Nod turns round: “Quiet you… Oi! It`s called, it`s called `OK, Yesterday Was Yesterday` yay.”
RAAAH!!!! Bring on the powerchords.
“And now, and now… Jesus Christ it`s hot in here…” but Nod`s not wilting. “I tell you what, I want all the girls, all the girls, to take their knickers off…”
“… and I want all the fellas, all the fellas, to take their trousers off…”
“And then we can, then we can all lose our… lose our INHIBITIONS!!!”
“This one, this one is a brand new one. It`s the B-side of our new single, the backside of our new single, and it`s called… `IT`S RAINING DOWN IN MY CHAMPA-A-A-A-AGNE`”.
The tune (which some of the group and entourage favour as the A-side of the single) is a perfect stage number, allowing them to introduce a touch of stiff bluebeat and a chorus or two of `The Banana Boat Song` before we come back to Nod.
“This next one, this next one features Don.” He turns to the drummer who holds aloft a giant inflatable packet of Wrigley`s chewing gum. “He brought along some of his favourite food…”
“… because he doesn`t eat anything else.”
Nod begins to hum the theme tune from the adverts, singing: “stick it up your bum, bum, bum, stick it up your bum, bum, bum”, which inevitably is taken up by the audience. The band kick straight into a long, raving `Let The Good Times Roll`, featuring a drums / bass duet, and a drums / solo passage with Nod yelling “keep me rolling” over the top. And then it`s finale time.
“We`re going to do one now… is everybody upstairs crazee?”
“And is everybody downstairs crazee?”
You`ll never guess which song they`re finishing up with.
“Right. Mama, we`re all crazee now… ”
Naturally enough, the number ends with a storm of applause. For a couple of minutes after the band has left the stage, the audience set up a chant of We Want Slade… and they get `em. The cheers go up as they return, and even the appearance of Nod`s stovepipe hat (with mirrors) gets a special cheer. Nod teases the crowd, calling for supporters of Bristol Rovers (RAH!!) and then Bristol City (RAAAAAYY!!!!), before he leads the congregation in a rendition of `You`ll Never Walk Alone`, as they sway in unison, hands in the air.
“Louder,” yells Nod. Louder sang the crowd. The band did `Get Down And Get With It` as the encore and the theatre stamped along. But by the end they were exhausted, limp rags. Cheers for a second encore weren`t too convincing and the houselights soon went up. But Slade have never inspired their audience to second and third encores – the energy level is so high everyone is drained.
An average gig? Pretty much, says Jim, and assistant manager John Steel puts it this way: “I`ve never seen them do a bad gig. They`re pros.” Which must make it hard for them to do better than a good, professional show. The previous weekend`s gig in Birmingham had been what Nod called one of their best gigs ever, and that was a relief to them, because when they laid off to do the film they realised that towards the end of the gigs before then they`d been getting stale.
“We realised that at certain points we were working to format, which we`d never intended to do. Then just before Christmas we went on a six-week tour of Europe, and we hadn`t played live for five months or more, which is the longest lay-off we`ve ever had – even when Don had his car crash we weren`t off that long. Our first gig was in Iceland, and it wasn`t perfect by any means, but we got a complete new vitality. Something completely new was there. It was the best European tour we`ve ever done.”
Driving back from the gig to the Holiday Inn, personal roadie Graham Swinnerton glides the Rolls right past the front door.
“Swin, you`ve gone past it.”
“I have,” says Swin, “an arrangement with the security people.”
“But there wasn`t anyone around at the front door.”
We get round the back, and a bunch of fans converges. Perhaps they too had an arrangement with the security people.
Next day, the tour hits Southampton, and the group leaves at midday to get there in time to record a spot for Southern Television in the afternoon. It`s for a kids` programme compered by Mike `Ugly Duckling` Reid (who is not there). Nod, at the suggestion of producer Colin Nutley, interviews the band. “Today in the studio we have as our special guests the Slades pop combo, weddings and parties catered for, funerals a speciality… “… now Mr. Hill, I see you have a smart suit there, the only trouble is I see you ain`t got no taste…”
This British tour was arranged more or less at the last minute. They hadn`t intended to do any dates before going to America, but then they realised that it would be ages before they could do another one. They have to stay out of Britain for a while to avoid paying heavy taxes, and anyway they feel it`s time to crack America. Nod feels they haven`t concentrated enough there, which is why they haven`t had the record sales success they feel sure could be theirs if they made a determined effort.
Their lack of attack on America has been deliberate strategy for the past year because they`re trying to let the promotion Polydor gave them fade from people`s memories. “They tried to build us up like we were the biggest thing since the Beatles…” Nod says. “That`s what killed Bolan over there.” They`re now with Warners, and the strategy is to build on the live reputation they`ve already established and plug away in the States until the momentum rolls a record into the chart and keeps it there. They`re confident.
Opening the show to a Slade audience must be a nerve-wracking job, but Bunny had been pleasantly surprised on the first few dates. They`d gone down quite well, and fears that they`d get boos and catcalls had been groundless. At Southampton Gaumont their luck changed.
It had been going OK – Kenny Parry, guitar, Dave Dover, bass and Terry McCuster, drums had been playing hard and tight, and Linda Millington was out front, singing strong and rabble rousing with feeling. She`d done a good (and courageous) version of `Piece Of My Heart`, and the band struck up the intro to `With A Little Help From My Friends`, a la Grease Band. It went on just that bit too long, and the natives got restless. When Linda sung the line: “Would you stand up and walk out on me?” there was a clearly audible:
It`s a fairly good natured crowd, and the barracking is as much in the manner of a jest as it is anything else. It is nonetheless upsetting for Bunny. Their time, no doubt, will come.
Slade`s set at Southampton is pretty much the same as it was in Bristol, except for the addition of `Standing On The Corner`, the switching around of `Get Down` and `Crazee`, and bringing forward the football singalong to the spot after `Everyday`. As John Steel muttered during `You`ll Never Walk Alone`: “fucking good job Noddy didn`t decide to go into politics.”
Promoter Mel Bush came up to me while I was watching the set from the back of the theatre. “Have you ever looked out from the back of the stage while Noddy`s talking to the audience? It`s something I only ever see with this group, and that`s that every pair of eyes is turned towards Nod. Not 90 per cent, but every one. The communication Nod has with those kids is… unique. The kids identify with him – he`s not the most good looking guy in the world, he`s not the ugliest, it`s like there`s one of them up there and he`s talking their language. He`s not talking down to them, he`s talking to them.”
“Somehow when we come to Southampton,” says Nod (he`s already said that it`s gryte to be back in the town), someone always brings a bottle of Scotch to the dressing room, and we seem to drink it. So if you see a wet patch on my trousers you`ll know what it is, because I haven`t got time to go off…”
“But if the roadies bring me a bucket I might give you a quick flash later…”
Towards the end of the set, a pair of knickers lands at Jim Lea`s feet. He picks them up and holds them to show the kids they`ve got SLADE written across them.
“Smell `em,” said Nod.