Robert Brinton talks to Noddy Holder about Don Powell's recovery, Frank Lea playing the Isle Of Man, the release of Sladest and how Just A Little Bit became part of the groups set. (I assume it must have been played at Earls Court then?)
NODDY HOLDER, as Slade get back together and get with it, talks to Robert Brinton about the new album and touring.
The ice blue Mercedes Sports pulls into the forecourt of Wolverhampton station. It draws up alongside a line of parked taxis, whose drivers idle away their time awaiting work just leaning against their vehicles and soaking up the afternoon sunshine.
Heads turn and eyes stare at the car and its driver. Like Slade, your expensive flash motors, have a language all their own up here in the Midlands - especially with the birds.
The eyes soon fix on the familiar figure of Noddy Holder behind the wheel of his status symbol. He's dressed in light denim, big oval sun glasses obscuring blue eyes and he wears a friendly welcoming grin which breathes relaxation and his world moving along easy - easy. He's home.
"Suppose we better go n' find somewhere a bit quiet,"he says as we head from the station out towards the town centre.
"We'll find a pub. All right?"All right.
"Phew." he cringes up his face and rubs his belly, "have to be tomato juice for me. What a night, last night. Feel like me insides are rotting away."
We pass some fair-pieces strolling the streets, which brings back the Holder train of thought away from his stomach.
"Some very, very nice birds in Wolverhampton y'know,"
he muses with glances to the left, the right, the left. Ah, what can keep the boys at home after they've seen Paris, New York. Amsterdam, Melbourne etcetera. etcetera...
Amongst Midland musicians there's an awesome respect for Slade that they actually made it without quitting the area and moving down to London. Now, following in the footsteps of the other local rock luminaries Robert Plant and Roy Wood they, too, have plumped to settle in and buy their homes.
“London's all right," Noddy says, "Its all right if you know the place, the places to go. But for us there’s only places like the Speakeasy which I don't particularly go for."Yet even in his hometown, where Noddy and the other members of the group have countless friends, the fact of being a star is ever present. Movement is restricted. Walking the streets only means trouble at the tender mercy of over-enthusiastic fans.
"It's better here than anywhere else, but I don't dare go out if its during the school holidays. It would only cause trouble, y’know. You'd think things would have got bctter but it's worse now than it's ever been."
A pub on the outskirts of town looms up and Noddy turns into the car park. He knows the place. He reckoned it would be quiet, conducive to interview atmosphere. And indeed it is; only a few people in the lounge bar. And indeed Noddy does forego the booze this time in favour of that tomato juice.
We sit in the corner away from everyone and, of course, there can be only one topic of conversation to begin with… Don,
It is now seven weeks since drummer Don Powell's road accident which resulted in his white Bentley smashing against a wall in the early hours of the morning and fatally injuring his girl friend who was travelling with him,It was four in the morning when Noddy heard the tragic news via a phone call from Jimmy Lea,
"He told me that the police had phoned him that Don had been in some crash, but didn't actually know what had happened or anything,'" Noddy explained, "and the first thing we heard was that he wouldn't last the day. "I mean, obviously, then we thought… 'well, he hasn't got much chance if they've said that.'
"Then in the afternoon he was still critical, but had improved slightly. But a couple of days later he seemed much better and the improvement in the last month has been incredible because I was with him the day after it happened and really his recovery is amazin'!
"Even the last week he was in hospital he was itching to get back on the drums. Obviously he wanted to know whether he'd be able to play again.
"We had this rehearsal at the school, you know, where we always go. I mean it was a worrying time for all of us, wondering if everything would be all right and Don would be able to play properly. But he just sat down and played."
Noddy's face cracked into a broad smile as he recalled that precise moment when the group realised that everything was going to ,be O.K.
"Oh, it was absolutely great for all of us, it really was. He just sat down, played, and everything was fine. The feeling is too hard to put into words. It was tremendous."
Since that rehearsal Don has been back with the group recording their next album at Olympic studios in London and will soon hit into full swing when the band undertake their third American tour in about five weeks time.
"There’s quite a while to go yet before the tour. We’ve got another couple of weeks recording and a few weeks off, which will be a kind of semi-convalescence. But really, if Don feels up to it, that’s the main thing. He still gets a bit tired but that’s something that will pass. The best thing for him now will be to get back doing what we’re all doing.
"We all get bored when we’re just doing nothing:' continued Noddy, "and to get back to work is the best thing that could happen to Don at the moment. He still gets the odd lapse of memory and we have to sort of remind him. He can't remember a thing about the accident itself which is probably the best thing."
The group's American tour had to he put back as a result of the accident but Slade made good their other commitments by bringing in Jimmy's brother Frank on drums. He appeared with the group at the Isle of Man Lido.
Noddy went on to explain how the decision to include Frank was made. The group realised that hordes of fans had bought tickets for the show, trains and boats had been laid on to bring fans to the island and they simply did not want to disappoint anyone.
"A lot of kids would have been let down' he said, "and also we were all very uptight the day after the accident. But we talked it over and Chas said, ‘well, the best thing to do is get your mind off it and doing the show would probably help!'
"We were over at Jim's talking about it - the three of us and Chas - and Frank was in the kitchen filling a dish washer. He's like, knocked around with us for a long time and Don had been teaching him the drums. He knew exactly how Don played and knew all the numbers.
"We never thought of asking him or anything. And we were just trying to think who we could get in who could fit in at such short notice. And Frank said: 'Well, I'd like to have a go with you: So we said we'd give him a try - we rehearsed with him and he was fine because he knew exactly all about the stage set and all the numbers.
"It was probably much better than getting in someone who was a lot more experienced because he wouldn't have filled in half as quickly."
If it hadn't been for the accident, Slade would have again been recording their next album in a rushed schedule sandwiched between tours. As it is, they've been allowed a certain "breathing space" - giving Noddy and Jim time to write material.
"We still write most of the stuff up here in Wolverhampton but we're having to start writing more on the road because of all the tours.
"With this new one y'know, we're just writing songs 'n' putting them down same as we've always done. And the best ones will make up the album. All of the material will be current because we're not the kind of band who have songs hangin' about from six months ago or something.
"We've got a lot of different ideas in it but there's no drastic changes or anything. The ones we’ve put down so far are all pretty much Slade-type material.
"Last week we recorded what will possibly be a new single, but we're not sure yet until we’ve done all the recording. Something better might turn up. But we're thinking about this one and just waiting to hear the final mixes to see how it turns out.
"If we do release it, the song won't be on the album. We don't consciously think when we write 'this is going to be the next single or nothin',' We just make as good a record as we can make and the best of the bunch we choose if it is commercial,"
The new album, indicated Noddy, would be released prior to Christmas and the only non-group composition being included is the song featured on the last British tour called Just A Little Bit.
"It was strange how we came to include that one and start playing it," he said, "because we didn't go out and think 'what old number can we dig up.' It just happened one day when we were going through a sound check in the States. I’d always liked the song from way back and we just went into it. Anyway it turned out so good that we began playing it in the act and it went down fantastic."
Apart from the new studio album, the group also have a “Greatest Hits” album set for release later this month. All Slade’s eight hit singles from Get Down & Get With It through to Skweez Me Pleez Me (sic) are on the record plus another six tracks dating as far back as the first cut the group put down in the studio with Chas Chandler called Wild Winds Are Blowing.
The remaining tracks are Look At Last Night (sic) from the “Slayed” album, Pook Hill (sic) and One Way Hotel from the “Play It Loud” album and another single from pre-hit days, Shape Of Things To Come.
"Basically." said Noddy. "It’s a cross section of all the things we've been through since we first went into the studio with Chas. It’s a record history of us really. It’ll be going out in a double cover with a booklet inside explaining about each song and when it was done and all that.
"There's also an explanation about what the group is all about and some new colour pictures of the group."
Staying with the subject of records, I asked Noddy how he and the other members of the group viewed this year's spate of Slade-sound-alike singles.
"To be quite honest," he went on, "it doesn't bother us in the least. I mean the kids all know what we sound like and if they want to compare other peoples records to us - then fine. See. we know that we haven't nicked anyone e1se's sound and the kids know it too.
"A lot of the groups that some of the critics and people compare to us I just can't see it. As far as I’m concerned they don't sound a bit like us.”
And how about the group's comparative lack of record success in America so far. I asked Noddy whether he thought their singles were going to take following the last tour earlier this year.
"Well we hoped they would after the last one. Before we went last time Gudbuy T'Jane had been in the fifty and really the problem over there is the AM and FM radio. Our singles are too heavy for AM and with FM they mainly play album tracks 'cause it's stereo radio.
"But it's not like we're worried or nothing. We’re not panicking about not having any record success over there. The one thing is I don't think enough people have seen us live yet to know what we’re all about. I mean, I think you have to see us live to understand what the records are about in the first place because basically we’re an audience participation band.
The people who have seen us are going out and buying the records. As far as I can see the Americans haven’t got a band like us. It’s a load of rubbish people saying we’ve been dying a death over there because we haven't."