SLADE - ON THEIR WAY BACK OME
Colin Irwin - Melody Maker 30/4/1977
SLADE / FALKONER TEATRET, COPENHAGEN, DENMARK 20/4/1977
Copenhagen isn't, perhaps, not at its best. They banned live sex shows here two and a half years ago, the Tivoli Gardens are still closed for the winter, the newspapers have been on strike here for over a month. And it keeps raining.
Over at the Plaza Hotel, there at least appears to be some sort of action. A handful of young girls have been hanging around, peering through the windows for much of the day, watching a steady flow of journalists, Scandinavian and British, go inside.
And inside, an impressive journalistic assault on the Plaza booze is interrupted by a raucous Wolverhampton voice, with a "Hya, howyadoing", in greeting to the assembly, Ladies and gentlemen, Neville Holder.
Events of the last couple of years may have made it necessary to recap that Mr. Holder (or Noddy, if you're feeling matey) was once the unchallenged king of the castle. The brash and arrogant singer who sounded like he vigorously scraped his tonsils every day with a toilet brush, and held the precarious status of prime hero of teeny hearts through a commendable series of Slade hits.
Admittedly limited, Slade's misspelt titles, from "Cos I Luv You", and "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" to "Cum On Feel The Noize" and especially "Gudbuy T' Jane" made great rock ‘n roll singles.
Slade themselves exploited the loveable yob image for all it was worth, but they knew their time would come and they attempted to anticipate this fading of devotion and adapt accordingly. Their movie, Slade In Flame, though not entirely successful, was unluckily overshadowed by the inferior Stardust.
And the first signs of slip from the throne became evident as their music mellowed; the ballads "Every Day' and "Far Far Away" were both top three singles, but "How Does It Feel" only made 15, and their most adventurous effort, the excellent "Thanks for The Memory", got to seven.
"Thanks for the Memory" came out in May, 1975 and the obvious conclusion of what transpired since is that the band made a conscious decision to sacrifice what appeared to be a leaking boat, in an all or nothing bid to crack the big one, the States.
They haven't played in Britain for two years in their single minded concentration on America, and with the comparative failure of "Nobody's Fools" and the recent "Gipsy Roadhog" single, it's logical to assume that their once awesome following in Britain is now just a remnant. At the same time, they haven't made too much of an impression on America either. So it all looks a bit grim.
And so we are gathered in this hotel in Copenhagen for The Big Comeback. Slade, here as part of the build up for their crucial British tour, saunter into the room as cocky as you like.
If we expected any remorse or acknowledgement of tactical error, then we should have known better; only a band with of the most infinite gall would come right out and try to turn to advantage their own slip from prominence with an album titled "Whatever Happened To Slade?"
Later, with the excitement of journalists converging on Slade, the two never having had what you'd call a happy relationship, dies down, Dave Hill sits quietly in a corner talking with a fair degree of candour about the struggle they face. He accepts that they've blown it in Britain as far as a lot of people are concerned, but says they are all prepared for the fight back.
As is evident later at the Falkon Theatre, they are basing their comeback on good old fashioned, rough edged rock ‘n roll. Noddy's still the maniacal ranting vocalist, and Dave Hill, the arrogant, flash lead guitarist leaping on speaker stands, but musically they've stripped all the decorations, and gone back to the barest roots.
It's said their gig at the London Rainbow is already a virtual sell out, but make no mistake, Slade are going to have trouble restoring their previous status if this gig's anything to go by.The new album is disappointing. Albums never were their strong point compared to the excitement they produce live - but tonight the sound is terrible, the music relentless - lacking the vitality they've had in the past.Their outstanding history decrees that we give them a decent chance, but there's no way of getting around it -the question that arises is whether it may have been better to have gracefully quit, while out of the limelight.
Certainly Noddy Holder revealed sufficient character and flair in Flame to suggest he could develop into a personality figure beyond Slade.
Dave: "Sure, we got times when we down in America, but we never lost our sense of humour, we've always been able to laugh about a situation and we're not going to be too upset because we're not getting number one hits anymore. The Who, the Stones, bands like that, they've all had a dip at some stage in their career, but people don't remember that. Rock is now fighting its way back, but it's up against MOR music and disco music and all that "It's the same situation there was years ago when Engelbert and Tom Jones came through with the ballads and all that slow stuff. I remember my Mum saying to me, 'Why can't your Noddy sing a song like Tom Jones?'"
Hill refuses to accept that they've been failures in the States. If nothing else he feels its been therapeutic, a stiff new challenge after a run of success in this country, and while they're not disappointed not to have had a ht record, he's adamant that they shouldn't have done things in a different way. The situation has suffered as a result, that's undeniable, but number one hits don't last forever if you're Slade, the Beatles or Abba - and they had to move onto something else."We could have gone on churning out hit records forever. I remember when one of the singles came out and only made two and one of the jocks said, 'Oh well that's it they're finished' just because it didn't get to the top. That's an impossible standard. But we haven't been together for 11 years for no reason - we had to do something new - a challenge. "It was a real back to the roots thing in America, going on stage in jeans and tee shirts, turning up at the gig in an ordinary car and not a limousine and playing support to bands like Aerosmith, ZZ Top and Kiss.
"Support bands always get their arses kicked but we had to swallow our pride and stick with it. We've always worked against the odds - when we were skinheads nobody would book us; we've never done anything the easy way."
He even claims they got more kicks out of roughing it, for want of a better word, in the States. Maybe he has a fair point - most of the supremo bands have yearnings to get back to basics from time to time, not just musically, and in the last two years Slade have been doing exactly what they'd been doing years before in England.
They were originators of football crowd symbolism, with an extraordinary close rapport and identification with their audience who, apart from the screaming weenies, tended to be the aggressive (though not offensive) yob, (a legacy, Hill thinks, of the skinhead image era).
Noddy, in particular, has suggested the good time boozy mate, and the band has been consistently free of posing. So perhaps Hill's spoken affection for life at ground level is more than a euphemistic viewpoint of the struggle they've had.
"People called us superstars but we always thought that was rubbish. We couldn't understand people mobbing us. We never thought of ourselves of anything more than working blokes.
"When we were sitting in a Rolls Royce and there were kids outside, it didn't feel right at all, we'd had felt much happier in a cheap car. We've never been super cool."
They made "Nobody's Fools" he says as an experiment. It was an attempt to broaden their scope to appeal in America, and was particularly aimed at getting American airplay. It didn't, and although he won't say as much, the suggestion is that he doesn't think too much of the album now. So they've gone back to being an out and out good old rock and roll band with no pretensions otherwise.
"Okay, we're arrogant performers and so on, but we've never flipped our lids. You've just got to follow your nose and we think most of the people in the audience just want a good night, a good experience.
"What's a good night out? Having a good time and pulling a bird. It's not sitting with your head between your legs and thinking, ‘This is really cool', when it's really very boring. I've checked that all out and it is boring. If you can't say it in a three minute song you can't say it at all. It doesn't take half an hour to say it in a song.
"We've never been orchestrated or anything like that, but we did try a few things out on "Nobody's Fools" and what we are doing now is raving. Not a boogie band but true rock.
"In the old days, people used to dress up like us, we don't expect that now and we don't necessarily expect to get hits again, but we're a good band on stage and when a kid spends his money coming to see us he'll get value for money. Basically, we're a street band."
Much store seems to be made on the public's assumed desire to forgo the trimmings and get back to the basics, an attitude that's popularity in vogue right now. The most cynical might even suggest that they are attempting to ride back to the top of the new wave bandwagon; the old skinhead photos of the band appear on the cover of "Whatever Happened to Slade? might, at first glance, to be the Clash or the Damned. Don Powell looks especially evil. By the same token the band's own ironic attitude towards punk is understandable.
"It always goes in circles like this. Like the Shadows getting to number one - Christ, I bought that album. Everybody wanted to play guitar like Hank Marvin. At one time the Shadows were uncool but now it's all this nostalgia thing and it's cool to like them.
"I remember when echo chambers came in with the Shadows and all that, then the Beatles came in and blew it all out with very forward vocals, and that was the real thing. People didn't want a pretty vocal sound."
As a fan of long standing (and suffered all manner of ridicule for admitting as much) I prayed Slade would turn on a good show during the evening. But even taking into account their stated aim to get back to street music, it was a dreadful concert.
The band sweated profusely and maintained a furious pace, but there was an element of desperation about it, not helped that much by the appalling sound which obliterated much of even Noddy's terrifying vocals. The new album was there in force, naturally but only "Lightning Never Strikes Twice" had any real impact. The kids dutifully called them back for three encores, but it didn't obscure the sad reality of the concert. Maybe it was just one of those nights, but I fear for them in England.
by Colin Irwin in Denmark