Slade: alive and well...

Melody Maker, July 14th, 1973

Slade: alive and well…
by Chris Charlesworth

ISLE OF MAN, SUNDAY. As the strains of “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” died down, Slade manager Chas Chandler gazed into the air and whistled to himself.

“If anybody had told me on Wednesday that this concert would come off, I’d have laughed at them.” He confessed, “It’s a miracle we’re here tonight.”

It was the climax to the most tempestuous week in Slade’s career. After their gigantic show at Earls Court last weekend, tragedy struck during the week when drummer Don Powell was involved in a car crash. He was lucky to be alive and even now has not regained consciousness fully.

When news of the accident reached the Isle Of Man, thousands of fans who had bought tickets gathered around the Palace Lido at Douglas with faces as long as broomsticks. It looked certain that the concert would be cancelled.

And while the fans gathered to hear the news, the three remaining members of Slade were having a conference with Chandler at Jim Lea’s Wolverhampton flat.

Also at the flat was Jim’s 18-year old brother Frank, a plumber’s mate by trade, who was fixing the piping to a dish-washing machine. Frank overheard the discussion, dropped his spanner and volunteered to act as deputy drummer for the Isle of Man show.

On Friday he rehearsed with the group, on Saturday his picture appeared in the papers and on Sunday he was the hero of 4,000 fans who turned up to witness this historic gig. And curiously enough, I doubt whether anyone noticed the difference.

Frank Lea had been taking drumming lessons from Don Powell and travelled with the group on numerous occasions. What better man for the job? And what a reception the fans gave Frank when Noddy Holder introduced him, the cheers were almost as loud as the din that followed Holder’s announcement that Don Powell was recovering and would be back behind his kit within three months.

Nothing, it seems, can keep Slade down.

“This weekend we’re really going to enjoy ourselves.” Dave Hill told me when I arrived on Saturday.

“Now that we know Don is going to be all right, it’s like a pressure valve being released.

“For two days we thought Don had had it, but when we heard that he was being taken off the critical list and put on the severe list we knew everything was going to be all right. And we know that Don would have wanted us to go on with the concert.

“We’d be letting down lots of fans who’ve bought tickets and lots of fans who have taken their holidays on the Island to coincide with the concert.”

The only fans who didn’t make it were 2,000 from Ireland who cancelled their reservations on the ferry across when news of the car crash broke.

“We’re just seeing what happens about the future,” said Chandler. “We’re crossing every hurdle when we come to it. As it is we’ve had to postpone our next American tour, which will probably take place in October now. But really it’s a miracle that it’s happening at all.”

“On Wednesday I went up to Wolverhampton and the doctors at the hospital didn’t give Don a chance. I was walking around in a daze, but when I heard he was going to pull through I was the happiest man in the world.”

But Slade are one of those unflappable groups who can take everything in their stride. After only brief rehearsals they knew everything would run smoothly at the Isle of Man.

The show itself ran like all Slade shows – the only number they cut out was Janis Joplin’s “Move Over Baby” which features plenty of tricky drum work. The rest of the Slade ingredients were all there: football chants, suggestive remarks, the responding crowd and the deafening noise of Holder’s amazingly powerful voice.

When it was all over, the group celebrated in grand style – but as you read this spare a thought for Frank. On Tuesday morning he was due to return to plumbing again – at 7:30 a.m.

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