Slade's finest hour
CHRIS ' I told you three years ago that they'd be big' CHARLESWORTH
reports on Slade's amazing gig at London's Earls Court
SLADE / EARLS COURT, LONDON 1/7/1973
IT'S MONDAY morning and my ears are still ringing. The night before, I'd been among the 20,000 fans who packed London's Earls Court to prove beyond doubt that Slade are Britain's most popular pop/rock group.
For them and me, it was an emotional occasion. You see, three years ago I knew this was going to happen to Slade sooner or later. Three years ago I gazed into my crystal ball and predicted in these very columns that within a year or so, Slade would become household names. Needless to say, I was scoffed at.
So despite the singing and ringing and the dumbness and the numbness, I am a happy man this Monday morning. So, I should imagine, are the boys themselves – not forgetting manager Chas Chandler – fully resident in their Swiss Cottage hotel that the Sunday papers reported had been under siege at the weekend.
Under siege indeed! I can remember the first time I watched Noddy, Dave, Jim and Don perform. It was at Samantha's Club, off London's Regent Street, when barely 20 turned out to see them. And they were mostly foreign tourists visiting the club to drink and attach themselves to members of the opposite sex. Not much sieging (sic) went on that night outside the Paddington hotel where they stayed.
Over the last three years I have watched their rise with both a personal and journalistic interest. I have watched Slade at a pub in Lewisham when they closed their set with a disgustingly loud version of “Born To Be Wild” accompanied by police sirens. And since that day I've seen them squeezing and pleezing, getting down and getting with it, taking their boots off and going crazee at the best part of 25 gigs in this country and on the continent.
Looking back, it seems that each particular concert was better than the one I saw before, both in terms of musical advancement and mass appeal. There were gigs in Scotland where I first saw the armies of fans amassing in a serious way. There was one night – I'll never forget it – when they were playing a private party for an expensive debutante in the City area of London. I think they were paid £50 and they never actually received the cash because we drank it away in the dressing room. What a night that was.
There was a concert at the London Palladium earlier this year when I introduced the group from the stage and there was another at Wembley's Empire Pool soon after when a bunch of Americans – witnessing the Slade armies for the first time – went away completely shattered by the scenes they had witnessed.
And so we come to last night – perhaps the final and ultimate climax of the groups career. It would be difficult to imagine Slade, or any other group for that matter, emulating the barrage of fanatical acclaim that Slade won for themselves at Earls Court. It was more of a convention than a concert, a gathering of the converted that rivalled political assemblies, royal weddings and sporting crowds in both size and fervour. It was bluddy wonderful.
Melody Maker has given me the opportunity of watching the cream of world rock talent over the past three years and, with the notable exception of Elvis Presley, I can safely say I've seen the lot.
And before I joined this paper, I saw the Beatles on three occasions.
But nothing has ever moved me as much as last nights bash at Earls Court. I have heard more subtle music, sure, but atmosphere scored the points last night. Let me tell you what happened.
At around 5:30 pm I crossed Warwick Road to be confronted by the biggest gathering of Slade fans ever amassed at any one time. Outside the Earls Court arena were salesmen of all kinds, retailing every imaginable souvenir of the event, rosettes, top hats, spray on glitter, books, badges, posters and the inevitable ‘show souvenir' bearing the dubious promise – “this booklet is designed for your further enjoyment of the show.” They were all doing a roaring trade.
Inside the buzz was tangible, but what caught the eye was this set – you couldn't call it a stage – erected for Slade to graciously step from. It was both vast and visable from all points – or so they thought before the climbing started. Then there was this huge PA system – 11,500 watts I was told – flanking the stage, but what topped the lot was the giant screen high in the sky on which a video TV system beamed close up pictures of the whole affair.
(Flashback: The first time I saw Slade they were cramped onto a tiny area about eight feet by ten. Jim Lea's bass narrowly avoided Noddy Holder's ear on a number of occasions, and Dave Hill's cavortings (sic) were limited to side steps not unlike the famous Shadow's criss-cross.)
Clutching my Slade armband which afforded me entry into the holy of holies backstage, I skipped a couple of hurdles guarded by large men and found our heroes ensconced in a mobile dressing room, looking remarkably calm despite the turbulence outside. The scene has changed but they haven't. Jeff Beck is sitting astride a make-up chest discussing the price and quality of various brands of glitter.
Chas Chandler, who has steered the course of his group for over four years now, is beaming. Alongside Slade's dressing room stands a dark red Rolls Royce Corniche, a recent acquisition for Chas, who is passing the time of day with Andrew Oldham, where did he come from?
The Alex Harvey Band are supporting Slade tonight, as they have on the whole tour, and I could forgive them for regretting their presence here. It's no secret that on various shows, the Slade audience has given them a rough reception – rather like the Christians fighting lions in front of a patriotic Roman audience.
Happily, the Earls Court audience did not give the traditional thumbs down sign to Alex, who bravely mounted the gigantic rostrum to face the multitudes. There were isolated cries for Slade during his set, but the fans were patient. And while he didn't raise an encore, he passed the time away for three quarters of an hour keeping the tide at bay.
By the time he set was over the big push had started. Not only were fans standing up and standing on their chairs, but the extroverts were standing on each other's shoulders on the chairs. The cheering came in waves as the roadies appeared on stage checking equipment.
It was just after 9 p.m. when Emperor Rosko entered stage right and the lights dimmed. Above the yelling, I could make out that he was introducing each member of Slade in turn “Let's have a cheer for Don,” he shrieked and the shrieks responded, “Let's hear it for Jim,” Aaaaaaghhhhh “And for Dave.” Aaaaaaghhhhh “Have I missed anyone out?”
And here they are ladies and gentlemen, for your personal delight, we present Slade, the working class heroes of the seventies, the loudest rock group in the world (tonight anyway) to boys nextdoor to be emulated by all, the brash creation of a million kids the world over, and most of all, the rock group who consistently make the best singles since the golden years of the sixties.
For the fashion conscious fans – and there are plenty – here's a record of how the quartet dressed for this auspicious occasion.
Don Powell, drumsticks in one hand and usual tregnum of Scotch in the other, has chosen an all white ensemble with narrow black pin stripes. It has matching waistcoat and trousers, flared from the knee and tight around the groin, and his boots also match.
Jim Lea, Gibson bass at the ready, is wearing a rather smart red lurex suit which shimmers beneath the arc lights. A black tee shirt is worn under the jacket and red boots complete the effect.
Dave Hill, arguably the most fashion conscious of the four, has bedecked himself with glitter around the face and hair. Light, tight trousers are worn over silver boots with large platform soles and the effect is set off with a long coat, open at the top and exquisitely embroidered in shining blues, blacks and golds.
Noddy Holder, adopting his usual pose at the head of the band, carries his much-copied black top hat with silver circles. A red shirt, matching check waistcoat and trousers (worn slightly too short) give Noddy a sporting outlook which is emphasised by the red tail hunting coat, abandoned after two numbers because of the heat.
The music starts and the noise is really quite shattering from both group and fans. First number is “Take Me Bak ‘Ome”, delivered with a force and intensity that caused the battalion of bouncers at the front to tear up paper hankies and place the tissue firmly inside their ears.
The show develops in much the same manner as all Slade shows, except that on this occasion everything has been multiplied tenfold – and despite the melee going on all around they are playing remarkably tight, a feat that probably went unnoticed by those to whom a glimpse of the band is enough to arouse complete hysteria.
The songs came thick and fast as thousands of arms reached into the air, scarves and hats held aloft in a statutory worshipping position. Down at the front I edged myself next to Chas Chandler, whose eyes were popping as though he didn't really believe this was all happening around him. He probably dreamed all this four years ago, but tonight it was reality.
“I'm just lost for words,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “All I can say is thanks for all the encouragement.”
Chas added, after a slight delay: “All you've got to do in a place like this is to build a big stage and light it properly. It's as simple as that. All you got to do is make sure everyone has a good view of the group.”
(Flashback: In 1971 I saw Slade play a free concert in a park in Amsterdam. The stage was in a bandstand in a small lake, approachable only by a narrow bridge. Trees and tall weeds surrounded the bandstand and obscured everyone's view. An argument developed between Chas and the promoter about the trees. Chas won the argument after threatening to throw the promoter in the lake unless something was done about them.)
Enough reminiscing, and back to the concert where Noddy, as usual, is using all his guile to whip up the audience in the most tremendous fever. They yell back at him when told, raise their arms when told, bop up and down when told every time. There's the naughty bits too and Earls Court provided a gem which went like this.
Noddy: “We going to play a game with you all now, and have one minute's silence. If anybody makes a noise, they'll pay a forfeit. If it's a bloke who makes a noise, he's got to come up here on the stage and take his trousers down. If it's a young lady who makes a noise she's got to come up here and take her knickers off.”
The ensuing din resembled Concord..
There was a usual and now compulsory football chant as supporters of Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and West Ham bellowed their allegiance before breaking into an unaccompanied “You'll Never Walk Alone,” that rivalled choir practice at the Anfield Kop.
They played for just over an hour – pretty short by some standards – and punctuated their single hits with songs from the “Slayed” album. They had one and all singing to the choruses on “Cum On Feel The Noize”. I could have sworn those delirious fans were on the brink of a visit to the nearest asylum.
After all the din had subsided I am happy to report that everyone went home happy, craze or whatever. Me? My ears are still ringing but it matters not, COZ SLAYED I LUV YER. THANX A LOTT AND MAE YER FYUTCHER BE AS BRITE AS YER PASSED.
CHRIS CHARLESWORTH MELODY MAKER 7/7/1973