Slade: 'We don't do no rock operas. We're doin' a cock opera'
SLADE / STADIUM, LIVERPOOL, 18/11/1972
I’ve never seen anything like it, though you may have. The kids come jostling in and pack the halls every time. Two or three thousand people stomping and clapping and shouting “WE WANT SLADE! WE WANT SLADE!”
When they come on, it’s like a combination of Beatlemania in full bloom and the early MC5 or, if you will, a Nuremburg rally – same thing. An incredible roar wells up from the crowd, Noddy shouts at them and they shout back, and the band crashes into the opening chords of Ten Years After’s Hear Me Calling.
But TYA was never like this. From the instant Slade hit the stage, there is a surge of electricity from the crowd that doesn’t let up until the final encore. Every arm in the place is up and shaking, saluting with a confused sea of fists, peace signs, upraised thumbs (one of Slade’s trademarks), and yearning, waving hands. Dave, pretty enough that I assumed he was Noddy, the star, when I first met them, decked out in silver suit, spangles and Arthurian haircut, points at girls who scream and swoon. Don thrashes at the drums and gets bras and panties thrown at him. Noddy picks up a bra between numbers, examines it and smiles: “Hmm, 32-C. Not bad.”
He works the crowd masterfully, 3,000 people wired to his fingertips. “How many girls here tonight with red knickers on?” he queries.
Waaahh, goes the crowd, and a few dozen slender arms shoot up.
“Well then,” he smiles, “how many girls with black knickers here tonight?”
Whooo, they gasp. More arms.
“Well,” shouts Noddy Holder, “how many girls here with NO knickers on?!” RRRRAAAAHHHHHH!
The sheer bawdiness works beautifully; Noddy tells them to cop a feel, to do the dance of romance, and just like the old days there’s a communion going on in this room that all the dope in the world can’t buy.
Next he tells them to raise both arms in the air and sing You’ll Never Walk Alone. It’s chilling: 6,000 arms waving slowly in the dark haze like strange ferns undulating, singing an old hymn with their eyes shut. Sure it’s cosmic and a religious experience, but Slade never call it that, which is one of the reasons why the rest of their show is, too.
Another is that Slade and its audience have more energy, more raunch and vitality, than the sagging corpus of rock has seen in many a moon. I walked into my first Slade concert totally unprepared, and got shook straight up. It was so powerful, and so beautiful, that you almost couldn’t take it; you almost had to leave the room.
The band is big, loud, loose and strong. They know what matters most, and in the fact that their original hits are interspersed with cover versions of songs like Janis’ Move Over and raveups of the most timeworn riffs of Chuck Berry and Little Richard – well, you don’t stop to think about “originality” or artistic statements, if you were ever foolish enough to do so in the first place.
Just like the man said long ago: you can’t resist and don’t want to. You’re too busy returning Noddy’s wolf howl, snapping your own head and shaking your own fist, roaring with the rest. The whole thing brought first chills and then literal tears to my showbiz-jaded frame, and still did even after three straight nights. One of those rare moments that’s testament to the power of rock’n’roll.
“STOMP YOUR FEET” yells Noddy. He doesn’t have to tell them to stand up because nobody can stay still or down in the first place. If anybody sweats back into their seat, Jimmy Lea eagle-eyes them and, never missing a note on his bass, leaps atop an amp and points, grins, pops his eyes, rears back and kicks them back up.
Every breathing body in the place is stomping like mad, and Noddy hits them with the second standard ploy, and the response is equally electric: “EVERYBODY CLAP YOUR HANDS! STAMP YOUR FEET! CLAP YOUR HANDS! STAMP YOUR FEET! YEAH!”
Nobody in the audience misses a beat: are you kidding? Every cell in the room is fused and heaving. You reel in joy as the whole building shakes. Clay floors, planks in the walls, the giant pipe organ behind the stage all tremble and slap. They rock the rafters, and meanwhile people are spilling out of the balcony. Eight-year-old children writhing like dervishes, teen birds crying and fainting and tugging their curls in total hard day’s night hysteria, boys jumping up and tromping on the chairs like they were trampolines.
There in the balcony was a kid who said it all: maybe 17, with short hair and horn rims, he looked just like Buddy Holly. He was halfway off the rail in free flight, sweating and shuddering in ecstasy, wriggling his entire body and flinging his arms out in wild erratic arcs, eyes shut, gaping, blessed by total beautiful mindless transport. I’d hate to say it couldn’t happen in America any more, but a less self-conscious (and less hip, thank god) bunch of concertgoers I have never seen. Everybody got their rocks off all the way for once and for ever, and it actually happened in 1973, and nobody had to work at it or even think about it.
It’s a new generation, and the words of one of Slade’s earlier hits sum it all up:
I don’t want to
Drink my whisky like you do
I don’t need to
Spend my money but still do
Don’t stop now c’mon
Another drop now c’mon
I wanna lot now so c’mon
That’s right! That’s right!
I said MAMA WE’RE ALL CRAZEE NOW!
When it was all over and I had gone back up to the dressing room, somebody steered me to the curtain that shut the backstage area off from the sound booth and auditorium.
We’d had strict instructions earlier not to part this curtain to watch the preceding acts, because the slightest glint of light would have had three quarters of the audience craning sideways, screaming for Slade. I’d sneaked a peak anyway, and it was true. But now the hall was empty; all the kids had ceased their chants for more as soon as the house lights went up and filed out so peaceably and obediently that I’d begun to wonder about Liverpool’s reputation as a tough town. (“Don’t take your tape recorder down there with you,” Slade roadie Swin Spinnerton had warned as I’d prepared to join the audience. “You’ll get it smashed for sure.”)
But all my doubts were allayed now. I peered down through the curtain and there, in front of the empty stage, was a curious mound almost six feet high. It was composed of the remains of all the chairs in the first two rows. The audience had stomped and broken them into tiny pieces, then piled them up in a monument to Slade. It happens all the time.
All the young dudes
Noddy Holder is not pretty. Neither is anybody else in the band with the exception of Dave; but Noddy, idol and pinup to a whole generation in an era when the effete and the androgynous reign, looks like nothing so much as a character out of Dickens. Or Silas Marner, maybe. So image seemed like a good place to start.
This interview took place in the dressing room at Liverpool with people wandering in and out, both before the set, when Slade do not drink out of professional morality, and after, when they do.
So Noddy, how does it feel to be the sex symbol of a generation?
NODDY: Definitely a Mick Jagger.
Do they ever get up on stage and jerk you off?
NODDY: Of course they do. Our roadies keep pulling them away, though, it’s awful.
Can you get a hard-on with 3,000 eyes on you?
JIMMY: You don’t need 3,000 eyes, just one pair of eyes.
NODDY: I’ve come on stage. We all have.
How many times?
DAVE: He comes in two seconds flat, he does!
NODDY: I do not!
Doesn’t that create problems in your love life?
NODDY: The first time you ever get mobbed, and the young birds’re all groping for your dick ’n’ everything, you fight it off. But it gets to where you go “Keep doin it! Keep doin’ it!”
DAVE: We got all ages, see, from 40 to four. All the bad girls come to see Slade. They’d rather follow us than a clean-lookin’ group.
You really control your audience well.
DAVE: Sometimes we have to stop everything and say, “Take it easy,” or they’ll smash the place apart. The group should always be able to control the audience. It’s an art, really. Like this writer from a daily told us, it’s a good job we didn’t tell the audience to go out and kill, because who knows what would happen then?
When are you gonna do your first rock opera?
JIMMY: We don’t do no rock operas. We’re doin’ a cock opera.
With Meher Baba and Peter Townshend?
JIMMY: And some groupies.
Is it gonna be like Mad Dogs & Englishmen?
JIMMY: Definitely. Everybody eatin’.
When are you gonna get yourselves a guru? To tell you what to do.
JIMMY: Nah. I’m me own guru. Noddy and Don don’t need no bloody gurus. Here’s my guru. [Grabs a passing girl. She puts her arms round him.]
Do you wanna be bigger than the Beatles?
DAVE: You’ve always gotta have something to strive for.
Something to strive for. Oh, I thought you said something to destroy for...Why do all the letters come to you?
NODDY: Because I’m the star! And I’m the best lookin’!
JIMMY: He’s a rock’n’roll hero. ’Aven’t you seen ’is checked trousers and ’is striped socks?
Are you gonna end up a rock’n’roll suicide?
NODDY: Uh, I hope not.
DON: Rock’n’roll alcoholic, though.
NODDY: I’ll be all right!
“We are after the kids. We don’t want the underground leftovers.” (Noddy Holder)
They got ’em. Slade’s fans are mostly young and their principle methods of getting loose are concerts, football and fighting. In a very real way, both the music and the ass-kicking derive from football. Dave Hill explains it: “Skinhead was just a fashion, it led on from the Mods. Short hair, braces, checked shirts and big boots. They’re just kids. And the kids are football diggers from the age of nine. It’s just a lot of excitement to get out of themselves. Either they fight, or they go to the football matches and shout their bloody ’eads off at the end of the week. I mean, a kid’s in school and he’s been told what to do all week, so their night time is their laugh time. They’re gonna go out and ball and make themselves known, their personal bit to the public, you know: ‘Aaahh!’ it’s a bloody energy thing, and there’s always a certain amount of rough-type kids in it. I used to be in a gang myself, I used to go lookin’ for kicks.”
So did everybody else in the band. Noddy Holder, Dave Hill, Jimmy Lea and Don Powell all grew up a few blocks from each other in Wolverhampton. “It’s not a tough place to grow up,” says Dave. “Like Chicago or Detroit. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve all had a very normal upbringing, no trouble at all.”
Consider, though, that most of the band still live with their parents; that they still drink on off nights in the pubs where they first met; that it was only a logical step from hanging out in the bars around home to running with the local pack, to forming a band to play those clubs and others just like them to kids just like themselves, all over England. “We’re still playing the local clubs,” says Don. “That’s how we met Chas. We were together for about three years, then we met Chas and started playing the smaller ballrooms and dance halls, just working and trying to work on ideas to write.”
Chas is Chas Chandler, ex-Animal and producer for Jimi Hendrix. He still manages Slade, but in 1969 they were just getting ready to make the national move. They’d got a recording contract with the Fontana label, which did them the service of sending them in to do some test tapes, then marketing the tapes in an atrocious album called Ballzy. Clearly, the boys needed a London manager, and Chas was the man. “He encouraged us to write songs,” says Dave, “which we hadn’t been doing before. There’s been good material coming out of the group since.”
The first product of the association was the Chandler-produced Play It Loud, an album which might be compared in slash and grit with the MC5’s studio efforts. The cover pic presented as surly a lot of skins as you’d find on any street corner; even if it was a handy hype it was an honest one, and the music backed it up. Meanwhile, the band was busting ass in bars and by the end of 1971 it all began to pay off. The crowds were too big and too rowdy for the bars to hold them; so they spilled over into the concert halls. These were the kids who put seven Slade singles in a row – Coz I Luv You, Look Wot You Dun, Take Me Back ’Ome, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Gudbuy t’Jane, Cum On Feel the Noize and Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me – right at the top. The kids who, even as those records were racing up the charts, came out in force for Slade’s first big British tour, and made the second a sell-out. Who were probably as responsible as the band themselves for making that second tour the first big pop explosion in 70s England.
Slade own England. They’re rich and famous and they get laid plenty. You can see from this text and hear from their records that they’re great. But who needs another high-energy band? You do, because there still aren’t enough of ’em around and Slade is the best in years.
Part of their magic is that they have no pretensions. They’ve gone through the early Beatle fan mob phase – they’re still living it – but it’s obvious they’ll never get trapped by an inflated concept of themselves like the Beatles did. They’re not out to change the world – just to add a little more excitement to it, get the kids as loose as they are and take us all outside ourselves into the eternal promise of rock ’n’roll. But that’s an awful lot of what you and I and the world need. Don’t miss ’em: They’re all Ringo!
Lester Bangs / Let It Rock Magazine October 1973
SIE note: The above article was believed to have been written following Slade's concert at Liverpools legendary Boxing Stadium in November 1972. For whatever reason, it was not published until the October edition of Let It Rock Magazine, probably to tie in with the band's tour of the US that year. Bear in mind that all of Slades schedule was thrown into disarray following the car crash that involved drummer Don Powell mid 73'. It is also unclear from the piece if Bangs spent more than one day following the band, we are seeking clarification from those involved who may be able to shed some light on this. Interestingly, this would have been the gig that guitarist Dave Hill broke his ankle which the piece makes no mention of, however in the accompanying cartoon strip Powells accident is mentioned. It seems likely that Bangs wrote the piece and then updated it before it was published in the States a whole year later. Whatever, the piece as written is well worth the effort to read especially as it comes from one of a legendary band of rock music journos, Lester Bangs.
Chris Selby/Slade In England