At last, says KEITH ALTHAM, here’s
a kick for smug pomposity in rock
SLADE the WORKERS’
POP IS ALIVE and the proof is right before our ears and eyes in the shapes and sounds of Slade. The one ominous factor missing in the past few years from rock music has been some band with the kind of energy, honesty and humour which could compete with the educationalists. Slade are the first band since the Stones, the Beatles and the Who with the right approach to prick the inflated bubble of pomposity inherent in some of those artists who consider themselves above the common lot.
Slade are a working man's band - rock music at factory-floor level, a place where it's usually at its most simple and its most truthful. It is the vantage-point from which most of those bands who are now considered 'progressive' started - and from which they have either developed new sensitivities" or sunk into a morass of the banal and posturing stupidity which emerged with the few honest bands from the underground'''.
Noddy Holder, Don Powell, Dave Hill and Jimmy Lea can have now reached that point where they are tolerated by many of their previous critics because they arc overtly successful despite the labels of "rock and roll yobs” slapped upon them from a great height. “Oh Yes, quite fun but one can’t take them seriously, can one?"
One need not…
One should not, but if you need to talk to someone about music and Slade you could always try Jimmy Lea (bass and violin) who graduated from the London National College of Music with honours and passed Grades II to V at the Royal School of Music with distinction.
At one time Lea fiddled on the fringe of the National Youth Orchestra and could be found seated in the string section playing such celebrated works as Beethoven’s Fifth following five years of music studies under an eccentric old professor in Wolverhampton, who had an interest in spiritualism and who scared his young students so much that he insisted on having his Dad along for an initial period.
Today Lea refers to himself as the great unknown in Slade, due to the fact he stand~ back on the stage while Noddy pushes his face forward and Dave Hill flaps about like an asthmatic seal - mouth agape and strutting about in search of something to ride while Don does his amazing impression of a man hammering his kit into the floor.
More significantly, Jim has been responsible, together with Noddy, for every major hit written by the group and co-wrote Coz I Luv You, Look Wot You Dun, Take Me Bak ‘Ome and Mama Weer All Crazec Now.
He believed uncharacteristically for a musician, that in many respects his musical training held the group back because of his earlier preoccupation with doing the correct thing and insistence on attempting clever arrangements. Working with Noddy, he is now convinced, for the first time provided him with the right counter balance. Although he reads music perfectly he prefers to rely now on what he hears with his ears and what producer Chas Chandler tells him sounds right on record.
"I used to write quite complicated stuff for the group, with harmonics and arrangements, until Nod and I put our heads together.." said Jimmy when I spoke to him at his manager's London offices ... “After listening and playing classical music I've come to the conclusion that really ·simplicity' is what it's all about.
'The essence of really communicable music is in its simplicity - things that get into your head right away. You ask most people what they like about classical music and the immediately relate to the more popular pieces.
"Listen to Tchaikovsky’s B Flat Concerto and you realise how simple the really good music is. The appeal in things like Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade' (he do-dahs a few bars to illustrate the repetition) was its amazing simplicity.”
“The really heavy composers like Brahms and Beethoven knew all about the effectiveness and importance of keeping it simple - the real delvers know about it but the public does not. Beethoven was a pop writer, he wrote for the masses. You have to communicate. My musical training has been useful in that it gives me the ability to retain tunes almost at once - just after one hearing, when maybe the others might forget it. But the most valuable things I pick up by ear.
“It was really the Beatles who turned me off just studying and playing music by numbers, onto working things out for myself. There was a conflict between my love., the guitar and violin lessons but I kept up both to please my parents. I’m really all through with trying to be musically correct, what counts is if it sounds right. There was a time when I used to play a very fast bass just to be clever. It didn’t didn't fit in with anything - it didn't contribute to a group identity. It just blotted the other out.
“When we originally recorded "Coz I Luv You' I was completely dissatisfied with the way it was interpreted - it came out sounding much too sugary for me. We were all a bit scared of putting it out. Now I feel that it was the most complete thing we done because it was the simplest."
Criticism is something every band has to live with from the Press and media the like and Slade have taken their fair share and usually with a grin. The grin these days is a trifle drier, and they remember the people who helped them on the way up and needed encouragement - DJs like Tommy Vance, and sound engineers like Mike Harding at the DDC, who put a good word in for them on “Sounds of the Seventies" when they needed it.
"It’s difficult to take the critics too seriously once you've had a few reviews like the one we’ve had recently at places where Noddy has lost his voice, and out comes a rave review because they now think it is the thing to do in view of our popularity. Previously we've played really well and know it and out comes a slam!"
With a few of the nose in the air "musicians'" still around them, Slade also remember those few respected musicians who have been complimentary.
“I think one of the nicest things to happen to me personally was Frank Zappa coming up to me in the Speakeasy after we had played a gig in the very early days, and saying he liked my bass playing. I’d respected him as a musician for some time, so it was really nice."
When it comes to being opinionated Jim can be as youthfully brash as his cohorts and on certain subjects at least, he might be saying what a great many feel, but feel it not polite to say. Jim jumps in with both feet firmly in his mouth.
On Lennon and McCartney today:
“I love them both, I really do.. but I wish they'd leave their wives out of their music. To me it just sounds as though Yoko and Linda are interfering, and I think both of them are poor musical substitutes for what Paul and John were to each other."
Are Slade a better group musically than T. Rex in his opinion?
"Bolan's a clever bloke, and that’s all I'm going to say. Its not just luck to have had the number of number one hits he has had. 0h he must have something."
Did he think they had the potential to become anything as good as the Cream?
"We played with the Cream twice - I never thought they were anything spectacular. I suppose they were a good group, but they were nothing compared to the Beatles.'"
On their own album "Play It Loud":
“As far as I’m concerned. it was rubbish - I hated that album. It was made at a time when were starting to write our own material.'"
One of the problems that Slade has is reconciling critics to the fact that they are not just a band, but an act and Jim made the point quite emphatically.
“I don't think you could or should separate showmanship and music. I think the two go hand in hand. Musicians right down the ages have bad personalities that they've been known for, and behaviour has often been even more infamous. They were all flash gits, or eccentrics. We've always been into things on stage, which would capture attention. Slade is music, humour and acting. If it was just music, there'd be no point m going on stage. We could just make records."