OLD BIG EARS IS BACK
SLADE / WINTER GARDENS, BOURNEMOUTH 2/5/1977
Slade were no strangers to Bournemouth having played there half a dozen times long before their major success in the early 70's, and the Winter Gardens had hosted Slade a couple of times before when the band were in in their heyday.
Then, it had been a riotous affair smack bang in the middle of Slademania when really they could do no wrong. Now, having been on a self imposed exile in America for a couple of years they were back at the Gardens on only the second date of their first home tour for two years.
While the group had been away on their failed attempt to conquer the American market, they had carelessly managed to lose a fair precentage of their fan base, fans who had deserted them in favour of more accessable bands and acts, but those that had stayed loyal to them were out in force, sadly not enough to completely fill the entire venue, no matter, Slade were back in town. The Winter Gardens boasted the largest stage in the land, and most of it seemed to be taken up with Slade's mammoth spread of equipment, for the moment draped in black cloth.
Before the main event, those who had made the effort to come and see Slade largely ignored the anonymous, but energetic local punk band who had the unenviable task of warming up the crowd.
Promoter Mel Bush, an old hand, and stalwart of Slade tours, probably knew that no warm up would be needed, and once the support act had removed themselves from the fray, and their miniscule amount of equipment had been tidied away, the excitement amongst those assembled to pay homage to Slade began to rise exponentially as the full scale of Slade's backline was revealed before the house lights were dimmed.
With the stage completely blacked out the opening bars of 'Hear Me Calling' boomed around the venerable old theatre, a warming few bars of the intro and then with all the subtlety of a battalion of stormtroopers Slade were revealed amidst an explosion of lights and dry ice, the band were instantly in full flow. With malevolent and real intent Slade were back, owning the stage like they had never been away.
Dave Hill, the perennial perambulating Christmas tree of yore, was now bedecked in studded leather, shaven head gleaming as he tore around the stage, pouting and grinning from big ear to big ear as he wrenched the notes with consumate ease from his trusty old Gibson. Holder, standing centre stage as always, had discarded the familiar tartan outfits and mirrored coachmans hat for a blue smock coat and hat decorated with an enormous feather expertly placed in the brim, only Powell and Lea seemed unchanged as the band powered their way through their usual opener.
Once 'Hear Me Calling' had ended, without missing a beat they were into 'Get On Up' from the previous years 'Nobody's Fool's' LP. As much as the crowd tried to do just that, the heavy handed security employed by the house pushed them back down into their seats, a scenario that was to be repeated constantly throughout the evening.
The album, 'Whatever Happened To Slade', which the tour was promoting, was then given its first 'plug' as both Holder and Lea sang in unison as the tongue twisting, breath defying 'Be', the opening track from the LP, was blasted out, with Dave Hill contributing to the overall mix with some pretty nifty guitar work. The band were playing at their imperious best and it wasn't until the first three numbers had been completed that Nod took a moment to make his customary announcement that it was 'Good to be back in (fill in town/city)' tonight, though tonight it was the UK with an added 'Ave' you missed us..?'
You bet we had! More frantic cheering and adulation was thrust right back at the stage as 'Take Me Bak Ome' was given a run out before their current single 'Gypsy Roadhog' was aired. It had been a frantic opening 20 minutes or so, and it was no surprise when Holder slowed down the proceedings briefly with the only slow number of the night, a rather risque rendition of 'Everyday' showing that he had lost none of his ribald humour while Stateside.
The evening wore on, with Slade pulling out all the stops and party tricks in their effort to entertain and leave no one in attendance with the slightest doubt that they were being royally entertained.
Slade, as always, were slick, professional and gave the crowd just what they wanted as both old and new material was met with joyous enthusiasm. The only downside, if there had to be one, was that the theatre was not full, but it seemed that the empty seats motivated the band further, pushed their performance to a level of excellence that a couple of years slogging around the States had seemingly perfected.
Jimmy Lea gave us a dazzling display 'on the fiddle' for his showpiece moment, and Dave Hill broke a string during the impressive 'Lightning Never Strikes Twice' from the new album.
Further tracks from the LP followed, with 'The Soul, The Roll And The Motion' perhaps standing out above all. 'Get Down And Get With It Followed and then it was all over...but we knew it wasn't!
Encore after encore followed with 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now', 'Cum On Feel The Noize,' and 'Born To Be Wild' finally completing the show, and what a show it was!
Their two year absence may have cost the band some of the more fickle younger fans, but like sharks teeth, as some fall out, others take the place of those falling by the wayside, and for us old hands it was fabulous to see them back where they belonged, lording it over a British audience from a British stage.
Welcome back lads!
DAVID ELKINS / SLADE IN ENGLAND SOUTH WEST CORRESPONDENT
Photograph courtesy of Dave Kemp
Ticket courtesy of Slade In England