Coz We Luv Them

Black Country Bugle – Thursday, January 13, 2011

By Brian Nicholls 

OK; so it's a bit of a play on words for determining an attention grabbing headline for this Bugle article, but .the title of Slade's 1971 number one single "Coz I Luv You" - written in just twenty minutes by Noddy Holder - was just that too good to resist! 

Seriously though, the title sums up perfectly the dedication and contagious enthusiasm of fans Carole Williams and Chris Selby, who are keeping the flame alight for 1960's local Black Country pop groups The 'N Betweens, and then through their metamorphosis first into Ambrose Slade and finally, international recording and TV stars, Slade

But the 'stars' of this article though are not the aforementioned groups, but Carole Williams and Chris Selby! 

I met Carole at her home in Heath Hayes, near Cannock, along with Chris, from Aldridge, in July, for this story about the important role that a loyal fan base provides for both aspiring and successful local talent. In my quest as a local music historian I get to meet loads of musicians eager to tell a story (or a yarn), but rarely do I get the privilege to interview the most important element of those hedonistic days - the fans! It may sound like a cliché, but, without the relentless support of the fans like these who ventured out in all kinds of inclement weather and travelling on public transport or walking literally miles to see their favourite pop groups, there would have been no pop groups, venues or promoters! 

I asked them both about where it all began.

Carole Williams, The ‘N Betweens fan club secretary, with some original flyers.

Carole: "I originate from Wolverhampton and I worked for Len Rowe and Stan Fielding (both former band leaders turned promoters) at the Astra Entertainment Agency in Waterloo Road, Wolverhampton. Stan offered me a job at Astra when he met me whilst I was attending a gig at The Woolpack Restaurant in Salop Street, Wolverhampton. Stan felt I would suit the Astra offices and so I jumped at the opportunity to work there. 

The 'N Betweens outside The Tiger pub, Princess Street, Wolverhampton, in 1965.

During my very first week in the job, drummer Don Powell and lead guitarist Dave Hill from the 'N Betweens came in to the reception at the Astra office to pick up the group's wage cheque for that week. I'd seen them play at The Ship and Rainbow on the Dudley Road and also The Woolpack so obviously knew of them. 

They asked me to say  "Hello" next time I was at one of their gigs. I did just that and soon after, went on to become great friends and ultimately secretary of their busy fan club from 1965 through to late 1968, just as I'd met my future husband (whom I married in 1971), whereupon my fan club involvement naturally petered off.  

… and beside the fountain in St Peter's Gardens.

My husband was a DJ and I remember Jimmy Lea knock king our door and saying "Carol, we need a copy of Get Down and Get With it - how quick can you get it on tape for me?" - I did the tape for him and, the rest as they say, is history".

I ran the UK-wide fan club from the time of the original line-up comprising Johnny Howells, lead vocal and harmonica, Cass Jones, Mick Marson, Dave Hill and Don Powell - through their first line-up change of Noddy Holder, Jimmy Lea, Dave Hill and Don Powell, who went on to become Ambrose Slade and then Slade. You just knew they were going to make good because they had a certain magic about them". 

Chris Selby, Slade Historian, with just one of his many research volumes.

Chris: "I had no dealings with the 'N Betweens as I was still only 12 years of age when my Slade broke out on to the scene and that was at the time of their skinhead phase around October/November 1969. I actually lived on the Dudley Fields Estate in Bloxwich at the time and fell about laughing when my mates actually pointed out a guy who lived across the way from the Three Men in a Boat pub on the Beechdale Estate and said... "his name's Noddy"... 

"That was the start of my fascination - I was, and still am, hooked!" 

"I saw an Express and Star advert for Slade appearing at Aldridge Community Centre one Sunday evening in January so me and my mates walked all the way from Dudley Fields in Bloxwich to Aldridge to see them. We could only see part of the gig because we had to be back home early for school the next day which meant that we had to walk all the way back." 

"My brothers grew up with music from The Shadows, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Moody Blues, David Whitfield and Les Paul and Mary Ford, but it was their music and not mine. The sight of Slade acting silly and dancing around the stage enjoying themselves made me real that, this was my music!" 

Carole: "My influences from the age of 12 were Adam Faith & The Roulettes (who I later met a few times) and The Beatles who I saw at The Gaumont in Wolverhampton - and I say saw because the screaming was so loud none of us could actually hear them! I do have a much wider and modern taste as well though, as I particularly like Neil Diamond, Robbie Williams and Take That amongst many others."

"The 'N Betweens though were always my number one. They did lots of blues numbers and later, when Nod joined, they concentrated largely on Tamla Motown stuff at a time when all the other local groups were doing 'poppy' chart covers. I can still see them in my mind doing all those Four Tops and Temptations and Young Rascals songs. It was this that introduced me to Tamla Motown music. It was these boys that started my awareness and love of this type of music which continues to this day"

On the zebra crossing in Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton in 1965 (four years before The Beatles' famous Abbey Road cover with the Fab Four on a zebra crossing), The 'N Betweens, left to right, Dave Hill, Mick Marson, Johnny Howells, Don Powell, Cass Jones.

And here are "The New Fab Four" actually crossing Abbey Road a few years later!

Chris: "My musical taste is so eclectic because there is a 10 year gap between me and the oldest of my brothers, so I was forced to and generally got to like everything from Kay Starr (Rock and Roll Waltz), Elvis Presley, Mario Lanza, Mothers of Invention, Janis Joplin and The Doors. In fact, I have a Mario Lanza CD on the player in the car as we speak"

I asked Carole and Chris (when I could get a word in!! such was their enthusiasm) "So what is it that still keeps the evident 'spark' alight after all these years?"

Carole: "Memories' Oh, memories of the immense fun we had in the 196O's and the seemingly endless great parties. I get quite emotional when I hear Gracie Fields because it reminds me of my grandparents' get-together's along with the 'swing' and wartime music that was a favourite of my mother who, incidentally, sang in an ATS band during her army days, Then there was the 'N Betweens who were genuinely my mates and because their 'music still stands up to this day".

"Their music still makes me feel like an 18 year old"

Carole: “Although the latest incarnation of Slade (Slade II) are different, apart from founder members Dave and Don, their music still makes me feel like an 18 year old. I saw them recently at a gig and we all got together afterwards for a nostalgic chat. Whenever I hear a Four Tops song such as I Can’t Help Myself the picture in my mind is of the original 'N Betweens line-up with Noddy standing there, knees turned slightly in, counting the rest of the group in and singing that song.

"I also remember Jimmy Lea singing Cherry, Cherry as his first song upon joining the 'N Betweens"

The 'N Betweens' new line-up in 1966, with Noddy Holder and Jimmy Lea.

Chris:Slade start where other groups finish! I have seen all the other 'name' hands. but Slade are better. I did actually know of Nod in the early years because he was local to the Walsall area at the time and I kept on seeing him out and about but I didn't know of the rest of the group at all, although I have since met Don and Dave occasionally, but essentially. I am a fan of the music rather than a need to be a friend if you can understand that stance.

“I can still see them in my mind at The Civic Hall in Wolverhampton and I always remember how loud they were. My ears were still ‘ringing’ for 3 days after the show and. you could also 'feel' the music in your chest as you stood at the front of the stage. This was largely due to Jimmy Lea who actually played chords' on his bass - something I’ve not seen anyone else do since. They once replaced Black Sabbath as support group to Def Leppperd but on all accounts. Slade just blew them away and they made loads of new fans as a result. Some of the notable highlight venues of the era were Aldridge Community Centre. Walsall Baths. Wolverhampton Civic Hall and The Odeon in Birmingham”

The shared enthusiasm of Carole and Chris arose out of the publication in 2001 of a book called 'N Between Times - An Oral History Of The Wolverhampton Group Scene Of The 1960's, by the late Keith Farley, a Wolverhampton author and historian.

Keith was also a local music fan. particularly of the blues and soul groups of the 1960’s but his book comprehensively covered every aspect of the West Midlands local music scene and was not about the 'N Betweens 'per se' even though they do get a good mention in it.

Carole's cousin Vicky enjoyed the book so much she wrote a letter to the Express & Star reflecting on the period it covered and also pointing out that her cousin (the here mentioned) Carole Williams was actually the former 'N Betweens fan club secretary.

“Chris had been trying to track me down for ages and I was just around the comer so to speak" mused Carole.

In turn, Chris, upon seeing the letter, contacted Carole via the paper, resulting in the information exchange that continues to this day.

'All of the local groups served their apprenticeships, unlike the manufactured people that we see on TV these days'

Of the two, it is Chris who is the ardent researcher and in his quest for Slade history has discovered links to the many formative groups that the boys played with pre 'N Betweens. These were. Steve Brett and The Mavericks. The Vendors, The Memphis Cutouts, and The Phantoms.

Chris: “There have been many books and articles written about Slade and the groups they evolved from but they did not tell the full and accurate story so I thought ‘this is rubbish' and, as a result became dedicated to rectify this and get the record straight. It is an obsession that I can’t switch off from.”

Carole: “I am still in touch with Danish author Lisa Falkenberg whom I met a few years ago at The Robin when drummer Don Powell introduced me to her. She is currently writing an autobiography about Don and at the time I did a "personal memories of young Don” piece for her book. In fact, as well as the UK, we had fans in France and Sweden and with some of whom I still correspond”

“I. like Chris. actually liked other local Astra groups such as The Californians, Lady Jane and The Rovaltee, The Montanas, Varsity Rag, Soul Seekers, Brad Ford and The Sundowners and Finders Keepers, but, in my opinion, none of them really matched the 'N Betweens who were the only local group for me.”

Overawed by the actual amount of research material that Chris had brought with him to the interview, I asked where all his work and dedication is taking him?

Chris: “Possibly, the madhouse! No seriously. I love doing the research and physically haunt the archives departments of Wolverhampton, Walsall and elsewhere in the West Midlands, tracking down snippets of information on Slade and their fore bears that the boys were members of. I have around 700 gig adverts and news items. There 'really needs to be a family tree of all the West Midlands groups as there are so many of them inter-linked"

Carole: "We didn't actually take loads of photos in those days - I now, on reflection, wish we had done so. Unlike today though, with digital cameras and camera phones being so prolific and cheap to use, all we had was a Kodak Instamatic and I remember it being very expensive to get films processed.”

Chris reflected on the demise of the local Black Country live music scene at the start of the 1970's, with the onset of progressive music which was for too loud for the average pub assembly rooms which made up the majority of the gigs.

Chris: “There was very, little going on locally from 1970 onwards - virtually nothing in fact! The small venues that were previously hives of musical activity had dried up resulting in only the larger concert venues' to choose from”.

Carole once again reflected on her days at Astra. typing up the endless stream of gig contracts for the many groups to sign when they called in to her office every Friday for the next week's work (of typically seven to eight gigs).
A dream-like, almost psychedelic image of the group, taken from a flyer for the 'N Betweens fan club, in 1966.

Carole: “All of the local groups served their apprenticeships - unlike the manufactured people that we see on TV these days. The one thing that is still the same though, when Slade did become famous they all knocked four or five years off their actual ages and I rather liked that because I followed suit and became' one year younger than Dave Hill!''

Sincere thanks to Carole and Chris for providing such an interesting story.

Chris would like to talk or meet with Bugle readers who may have, or know of any memorabilia connected to "Slade" (pre-chart career), i.e. "The Phantoms''', "The Memphis Cutouts", "The Vendors", "Steve Brett and The Mavericks", "'N Betweens", "Nick and The Axemen", "Ambrose Slade".

Please contact the author via the Bugle editor.

(Keith Farley's book is now available on-line by going to:

Read about the book on Brumbeat.

This article appeared as a two page spread and a copy can be obtained at the Black Country Bugle website here