Sounds, 15th November 1980
Back From The Dead
Steve Keaton meets Noddy Holder and Jim Lea of Slade
Thankfully people just don't know when to give up. More six foot under than down and out, Slade have clawed their way back from death's dark chart-file to currently stomp about town (platform boots a-glinting) with alarming vigour. The band that time forgot.
Oh Nod, forgive me for I have sinned, carelessly packing you off to has-been limbo. Flail me and be done.
Their legacy of course is considerable. Arguably the finest singles band of the early seventies, certainly one of the most influential, they gave birth to a rowdy brood of classic tracks. Each and every one complemented by memorable telly spots.
How I remember teetering about like an idiot to 'Mamma Weer All Crazee Now', 'Cum On Feel The Noize' and 'Gudbye T' Jane' to name but three. Oh, for the days when a mirrored top hat was the height of street level elegance...
Eventually conquered peaks began to crumble under the weight of ambitions. movie, 'Slade In Flame' was released - maybe the Scala will dig it out and refresh our memories? - and the decision to invade America taken. Like a row of teeth at a Rejects' gig, they flew out of our lives. The end of an era. Supersonic died and Top Of The Pops was never the same again. Pause to wipe away the tears.
Meanwhile back in the States, Slade were working their loons off. Two years of hard graft reaped precious few rewards. They came home in seventy seven just as the punk rebellion gobbed to it's heights. The boys disembarked at Heathrow as an anachronism, no heroe's welcome, just more hard graft.
Then bingo! A triumph at the Reading Festival and the consequent release of the Live At Reading EP featuring the smashing 'When I'm Dancing I Ain't Fighting' - sledgehammer pop in the grand old tradition. A sparkling gig at the Lyceum was all I needed to be convinced that Slade were very much alive and well and on top form. So much for the potted history.
Wrapped in a decidedly dodgy old blue duffel coat, his golfball peepers swivelling above equally blue bags, Noddy Holder ain't quite the hero I'd imagined. I was kinda hoping he'd greet me in all his silly stage togs, so to be confronted with this duffel coat...a bit of a downer as you can imagine.
Still, the man himself was bright and cheery as was the wiry Jim Lea. Unfortunately drummer Don Powelland ace guitarist Dave Hill couldn't make the trip, intrigues up Wolverhampton way and all that, so I was denied the chance to ask really important stuff like 'Why does Dave persist with that truly hideous hair style?' and other burning issues. Thus limited I asked Nod (Neville really, amazing eh?) if they were getting a trifle desperate before the Reading break?
"No, it wasn't a matter of desperation," he declares, finally shedding said duffel coat, much to my relief.
"When we came back from the States the whole music scene had changed. It was a case of starting on the bottom rung of the ladder and working our way up again, which is what we set about to do really. Just slumming it around, doing gigs everywhere and anywhere. Not only in Britain but in Europe as well, making people aware that we hadn't split up and weren't sunning ourselves in the Bahamas. We've been working solid since the hit records stopped, always on the road.
"When we returned we were in a heavy vein, the album released then 'Whatever Happened To Slade' was a heavy album, and it didn't mean anything then. It was totally Americanised. Totally out of context to what was going on at the time. If it was released now it would be in vogue because it's a heavy metal orientated LP."
Were you completely unaware of the development over here then?
"No, not really. We knew that there had been changes over here - we'd read the papers. But you'd never hear any of the music on American radio. We were thinking, 'Who are these bands? What sort of music is it?' We got back and turned on the radio and it was like a revelation to us. Good God, what's happening?! It was a totally different feeling. We might as well have been in Japan."
The band took a year off then, to assess their own situation, finally lured back to the boards for a gig in Germany. That was quickly followed by one at Reading University.
"When we did that - Fantastic! We thought, 'Crike' if we can go down like that, let's do more gigs. And that's what we've been doing ever since."
Things weren't that simple though. It was hardly hip to be a Slade booster then. It seemed people just didn't want to know.
"The radio at the time just wouldn't play us. Now Nod and I can write some good tunes, but whatever went they wouldn't touch us. It was all to do with fashion. You can't be bitter about it, we understand it. We realised that the name Slade was uncool; we knew we had to overcome our own name and people's preconceived ideas as to what the band was about.
"It's taken us two years to overcome that hurdle...But we had to do that the first time round as well. People then used to associate the name Slade with the skinhead image. But we did it then and we'll do it now."
It was in fact a lucky fluke that won the group the Reading spot. If it wasn't for a certain ex-Sab, Noddy and the rest might still be slogging around the country unnoticed, as the singer explains.
"Well, Ozzy Osbourne's band pulled out three days before the show and so they asked us to do it. We weren't on any of the billings or anything, we just stepped into Ozzy's place. We hadn't been on the road for two months. We just got a quick rehearsal together and went on. It hasn't changed to us since then but it certainly opened people's eyes. They're aware of us again."
"It was rather funny really," continues Jim. "We rolled up to Reading in our Ford Granada, we got sent to the public car park. We got all our guitars and cases and that out of the car and off we went struggling through the crowd. When we got to the artists enclosure we found that we didn't have our backstage passes, so there we were asking if we could come in. And stretching off behind us was a whole line of Rolls Royces.
"Now Whitesnake rolling up in a Rolls Royce you expect, being top of the bill. But everyone had one, the whole bill! And there's us with twenty hit records under our belt struggling through the dust.
"That's the way it's always been with us. The story of our lives, everything around us always falls apart. We've never been able to be cool. God, we've tried, I'm afraid we'll always be uncool. We felt like the outsiders going to Reading, but when we got backstage everyone started asking us for our autographs. We felt good then, that's when we knew we were in with a bloody good chance. We never die on stage either. Been around too long. We knew exactly what we were going to do, never had any problems with audiences."
The entire show was recorded by the BBC for broadcasting on the Friday Rock Show. Forty-five minutes of Slade's set was aired. "We just had to release something from it, we had so many requests."
'When I'm Dancing' and 'Born To Be Wild' were the selected songs, an arrangement was struck with the Beeb and the EP appeared on Jim Lea's own Cheapskate Records label. It's currenly jostling around the top forty as well as making a fleeting though high appearance in our own HM chart. It deserves your attention.
Meanwhile Polydor are releasing a 'Slade Smashes' compilation invaluable for wretches like me who no longer possess the originals. I asked Nod if he was at all depressed at this preoccupation with past glories?
"Depressed? No. This compilation will be great for the fans, a chance to get all the hits on one record. But we don't relate to them in the same way anymore, the way we play them now is bugger all like the records anyway."
Jim : "I didn't even like some of those old ones. We all hated 'Gudbye T' Jane' when we made it, it was knocked up in half an hour at the end of one of our studio sessions. The same for our second single, 'Coz I Luv You'. It was namby-pamby to us, a throwaway for an album. It shot to number on in two weeks and we thought, 'What a pile of shit!' It was so wet.
"But they were good times. The success never changed us, because this band just doesn't have an ego - except for Dave. I remember there was this great rivalry between us and Bolan. We used to sit in the TOTP dressing room getting powdered up, with the Osmonds waiting behind us, and everyone was taking the piss out of one another. We would come out of the Beeb and there would be all these fans after autographs and stuff. Chicks would come up to Marc and say, 'Are you Marc Bolan? Ain't you fat.'
The duo chuckle happily at the memory.
"And now we're having to live down our success. Y'know it's much harder to make it the second time around. We've never, ever considered splitting up because we know that at the end of the day we can walk on stage and blow any fucker off - and that's what it all comes down to in the end.
"And that goes right back to the beginning. Like when we were skins we were outlawed. It was really bad then. No gigs, no radioplay, nothing. But we survived because we went to places like universities and that and tore the joints apart; not a skinhead in sight in the audience, it was all long haired hippies in those days.
"We just need people to see us at face value, see? Exactly the same as they did at Lincoln or Reading. They didn't fork out their ticket money to see us at those gigs, but once they did see us they accepted us for what we were and enjoyed it...and that's all we've ever been here for."