Thursday, 26 June 2014

Slade

Two local Midlands bands (The N'Betweens and The Mavericks) met up on a ferry to Germany. N'Betweens drummer (Don Powell) and guitarist (Dave Hill) asked The Mavericks vocalist if he'd be interested in joining them.
Noddy Holder said: "No"
A couple of months later, they met up again in Wolverhampton, and this time Noddy said "Yes" (bassist Jim Leas had recently joined the N'Betweens).
Slade (as they would later become known) was born.

Still playing around the Midlands. the band were spotted by Fontana Records, spent week in Phillips Records studio and were subsequently offered a record deal on the stipulation that (a) they change their name, and (b) get a manager.
Despite the bands unhappiness with the record companies choice of name (Ambrose Slade) the arrival of Chas Chandler as Manager signaled the beginning of a fruitful and successful relationship.
Ambrose Slade's first album ('Beginnings') was a mixture of cover versions (including "Born To Be Wild", "Martha My Dear" and "Journey To The Centre Of Your Mind") and band originals (including the first single "Genesis" which didn't trouble the chart compilers).
The bands second single ("Wild Winds Are Blowing" (released as The Slade)) fared no better than the first, and the band returned to the studio with a shortened name and shortened hair (the band adopted skinhead look and a tougher sound, although still rooted in R&B).
Another two singles ("Shape Of Things To Come" and "Know Who You Are") flopped, and the parent album 'Play It Loud' continued the disappointment.
Their next single attempted to capture the rawness and atmosphere of their live shows.  "Get Down And Get With It" was released in May 1971 and started a slow rise, cracking the Top 20 in August 1971.
Their next single was a Noddy Holder/Jim Lea composition, and the first to feature their (sonn to be) trademark mis-spelling/phonetic spelling.
"Coz I Luv You" came out in October 1971, and two weeks later was sitting at Number 1 where it stayed for four weeks.
This was the start of a golden 5 year period, with the next 11 singles all achieving Top 4 placings, including 5 further Number 1 singles (3 entering the chart in pole position, one of which was "that song"): "Look Wot You Dun", "Take Me Bak 'Ome" , "Mama Weer All Crazee Now", "Gudbuy T'Jane", "Cum On Feel the Noize", "Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me",
"My Friend Stan", "Merry Xmas Everybody", "Everyday", "The Bangin' Man", "Far Far Away"
This run ended in 1975 when "How Does It Feel?" rose no higher than number 15.
In addition to the singles, Slade were considered a formidable proposition live, and thier first album of this period ('Slade Alive') hit number 2 in mid-1972.  The next album ('Slayed?') released at the end of the year went one better.  All of the singles to date were brought together on the album 'Sladest' which also hit number 1, and 1973 and 1974s 'Old New Borrowed And Blue' repeated the feat.

Towards the end of 1974, the idea of a film was mooted - several ideas were considered, before settling on the film "Flame".  Although not being trained actors (they were musicians, in case you weren't aware!), each of the band gave strong performances as members of the fictional band, charting their struggle to make it, their rise and their ultimate fall.
Latterly, the film has been spoken of as an object lesson in how to "do" a rock band film, but at the time was dismissed by large sections of the media.
The attendant Soundtrack album ranks, along with 'Old New Borrowed And Blue' as the zenith of their Long Playing output.  The 'Flame' album contains both Noddy Holders favourite song ("Far Far Away"), and the masterpiece that is "How Does It Feel" (yes, the song that broke Slades Top 10 appearance run, but surely ranks as one of the finest songs ever written).

The relative failure of Flame coincided with a downturn in Slade's recording fortunes.  1975s "Wham Bam Thank You Mam" restored them to the Top 10, but by the middle of the year the band had virtually permanently re-located to America in search of a new audience and the elusive US Breakthrough (which sadly for the band, never happened).  Slade toured heavily and despite some favourable reception in some parts of the country, this success was not transferred across the continent (yet!).
In the midst of touring, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea started writing and recording the next album.
The first two singles ("In For A Penny" and "Lets Call It Quits" hit number 11, and the parent album ('Nobodys Fools') hit the Top 20.  The following single "Nobodys Fools" failed to chart, the first time a Slade single had stiffed since since "Know Who You Are" in 1970.
'Nobodys Fools' is not a bad album, I think it suffers more that the band were stuck in America so the opportunity for promotion in the UK was limited (if not non-existent).
One can't help notice the strangely prophetic title of their last Top 20 single: "Lets Call It Quits".  With the band resident in the UK, it seems that the public and the record company to some extent did.  It would be another 5 years before Slade would grace the Top 20 again.

Returning from the US empty handed, Slade found themselves with a smaller audience, no record contract and a musical landscape that they were no longer part of.
The bands contract with Polydor was not renewed, and they were signed to Chas Chandlers independent Barn Records.  Their first single was "Gypsy Roadhog" which despite the normal helping hand of a ban by the BBC crawled into the lower reaches of the Top 50.  The album had another prophetic title with "Whatever Happened To Slade?".  The record buying publics answer seemed to be "Don't know" as no-one bought the album.
A non-album single "Burning In The Heat Of Love" came out soon after.  Another BBC ban offered no help other than to bury the single and it tanked (in chart terms).
7 further singles in 1978 and 1979, and the 1979 album 'Return To Base' all appeared on the label, and all sold in very small numbers (if at all).  Despite these failures, the band retained their reputation as a live act, albeit in smaller venues.

In February 1980, despite Slades relatively low public profile, Noddy Holder was offered the job of replacing the recently deceased Bon Scott in AC/DC. Noddy never took up the position and the group re-convened to release an EP containing 3 tracks from their previous album, and 3 newly recorded tracks ("Six Of The Best"). As was becoming a pattern of expectation, the songs received limited airplay, limited distribution and as a result limited sales.

.. and that it seems was the end.
Apart from one last minute intervention of fortune:

In August 1980, both Ozzy Osbourne and Gary Moore pulled out of their scheduled slots on the bill at the Reading Festival.  With less than a week to go (some stories state 3 days), the organisers needed ti find a replacement.  Slade were considered and Chas Chandler put the idea to the band.  Dave Hill had had enough at this stage and didn't want to be on stage anymore.  The other 3 were more conducive, and with the help of Chandler managed to cajole Mr Hill into doing the show (it was sold to him as a final farewell show).
So, late afternoon the band walked on stage to a rapidly thinning crowd.  3 songs in, the crowd numbers were increasing, and the atmosphere hotting up into a party-like frenzy.
Just a week earlier, the band were about to pack it all in, now, two encores later, they were leading 70,000 rock fans in a chorus of "Merry Xmas Everybody" - in a field, in Berkshire, in the middle of August.
With a reception like that, and the ensuing press attention and airplay as a result of Radio 1 Rock Show 'Reading Special', this was far from a low key farewell.  Signing soon afterwards to Cheapskate Records (part owned by Jim Lea), by September the "Live At Reading" EP was released.  Whilst not exactly setting the charts alight, it delivered the highest chart position since 1976.

After a second EP ("Xmas Ear Bender") in November, the band returned to the studio to record a new batch of songs.  Recorded in early January, the first fruits of these sessions was "We'll Bring The House Down" - Slade in full heavy rock mode - and the single flew into the Top 10.
The parent album was released in March and combined 6 tracks from the previous release ('Return To Base') and 4 new tracks.
The album ended their 5 year chart hiatus, and plans were drawn up for a European Tour.  Due to their higher profile they were now able to leave the 'toilet circuit' and start returning to larger venues.
In August 1981 (having already turned down the offer to return to that years Reading Festival), Slade appeared on the bill at the Monsters Of Rock Festival alongside Blue Oyster Cult, Whitesnake and headliners AC/DC.
Two further singles were culled from the album to negligible success, apart from keeping the band in the publics attention, but did result in the offer of a new recording contract with RCA Records (unfortunately, the US was put on hold again as the new contract excluded Canada and America).

Minor success continued through late 1981 and 82, with the singles being well received and reviewed but only reaching the lower end of the charts.  A similar fate befell the first RCA album "Til Deaf Us Do Part".
Despite no major success, RCA were nothing if not tolerant, and by mid-1983 Slade had the outline of a new album.
The first single, released before the album, was the piano-led folk-ish "My Oh My" which rose to Number 2 around Christmas 1983.the band went away to work on new material.
'The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome' was released in December to capitalise on the success of "My Oh My" but sales were dis-appointing.   A second singe from the album ("Run Runaway" was released in January, but the album only just scraped into the Top 50).

In another moment of either sheer luck, or the stars all aligning at the right moment, Slade finally managed to get noticed in America.
In late 1983, American Metal Band Quiet Riot released a cover version of "Cum On Feel The Noize" and broke into the American Top 10.  RCA did not have rights in the US, so CBS (Quiet Riot's label) signed Slade, and "Run Runaway" was released in America and climbed into the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100.  It may have taken 10 years, a change of record label and a couple of slices of luck, but the American breakthrough was sealed.  The single was undoubtedly helped by heavy rotation of the video on MTV, and the next release ("My Oh My") was an MTV favourite too.
A re-packaged version of "The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome" was released and achieved respectable sales.  To push their US credentials, further a tour withe Ozzy Osbourne was planned.  However, after a warm-up gig, Jim Lea was taken ill (later diagnosed as Hepatitis C).  As a result of Lea's illness, increasing tensions within the band (possibly over spelling and grammar), and problems in Noddy Holder's personal life, the band returned to the UK never returning to the US again (or indeed tour any further).

It seems that in the eyes of the public, Slade will be forever associated with Christmas.  Their next single ("All Join Hands") did little to change this view (and nor did the B-Side "Heres To ... The New Year").  This view was again re-enforced with release of 'Crackers - The Christmas Party Album' in late 1985.
Earlier in 1985, "Rogues Gallery" was an album intended to an "old fashioned" type album where every track could potentially be released as a single in it's own right.  All good intentions, but the lack of air-play, promotion and live performance resulted in low sales for the album and it's 5 singles.

Slade's last studio album came in 1987.  Complete with trademark mis-spelling 'You Boyz Make Big Noize' scraped into the Top 100 (just).  The band were released from their contract at RCA and returned to their own Cheapskate imprint.  Their next single, also called "You Boyz Make Big Noize" (which, confusingly, was not on the album that bore the title) fared not much better in chart terms.

Their last single was in 1991 - "Radio Wall Of Sound" - featured vocals from Jim Lea.  The "official" story (and who am I to doubt it?) is that the song is in the wrong key for Noddy Holder's voice, but if you ever see the Top Of The Pops performance, Noddy does look somewhat detached from the rest of the band.

Noddy Holder announced his departure from the band in early 1992, to be swiftly followed by Jim Lea.  Dave Hill and Don Powell continued as Slade II, but the 25 year up and down story was now at an end (unless Arctic Monkeys or Queens Of The Stone Age pull out of this years Reading Festival and a last minute replacement is needed ...


So - how to represent Slade in one (or possibly) two video clips?


From 'Beginnings', the production on this track is not the finest, but it does contain this track bears the foundationsShape Of Things To Come

From 'Flame', Noddy states the "Far Far Away" is his favourite.  I re-iterate what I said above - Noddy is wrong, and this track is an absolute masterpiece - "How Does It Feel?":

Despite selling something like 455 billion singles between 1972 and 1974, the albums also contain a plethora of fine, fine songs.  From 'Old New Borrowed And Blue' - "Miles Out To Sea"

And to think they nearly split up?  This performance of "Wheels Ain't Coming Down" from the now legendary 1980 Reading Festival shows what a potent live band they were:
video


Slades 1970s output is widely known, but the 80s/90s output is often unfairly maligned, or indeed forgotten altogether.  Whilst not necessarily as bombastic or "rabble rousing" (note to self: think of a better term!), the bands performance remains assured and held in check.  It often feels like they could, at any given moment breakout into full heavy rock onslaught.  To save a fortune on album investment, the easiest way to own this stuff, is The Slade Box Set.




Saturday, 7 June 2014

NWOBHM

Possibly (or perhaps apocryphally/mythologically?), the first use of the term "Heavy Metal" in print was from the pen of William Burroughs, and was used to describe the guitar sound created by The Byrds.  "Heavy Metal" appears more clearly in the lyrics for Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" from 1968.
Does it matter if either of these entomologies are true?
As a musical genre, it took the basis of blues, rock and psychadelia, turned up the volume and layered the sound with heavy, thick guitar riffs, power chords, screaming vocals and a thumping backbeat (you knew when it was loud enough because it shook the filling from your teeth).

Its earliest exponents are cited as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath.  Whilst all coming from a similar starting point, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple augmented their sound with pastoral, folk and orchestral elements, whilst Black Sabbath added a darker, more introspective tone to proceedings.
One could almost include Status Quo in the pantheon of 70s Rock/Heavy metal catalysts.  Other bands took the template, stripped back the blues noodling and went for the straight ahead, all out rock mode - Budgie and Judas Priest being perhaps the prime exponents of this sound in the middle(ish) 1970s.  Also active at this time, delivering a nice line in hippy-infused Space were Hawkwind.  Add in the influence of Motorhead (formed in 1975 following Lemmy's sacking from Hawkwind) and the template of late70s/early 80s Heavy Metal is set.  And not just in terms of sound and attitude, but sartorially too (denim, leather, biker boots, studded armbands, bullet belts - it can all be traced to this point).

The advent of punk had shaken up the record business, and it was no shown to be perfectly possible to be successful with small, independent record releases

In the period 1977 -1979, possibly as a result of the Punk attitude and proof of 'doing it yourself' and relesing your own records on independent labels, a whole bunch of bands were breaking out of the industrial areas of the North-East, the Midlands and London, and many other metropolitan areas of Britain.
During late 1978 and early 1979, these bands were going into recording studios and making their first recordings.  The results, when released, were often on small independent labels such as Gem, Bronze, Carrere, Logo and Neat (responsible for recording and issuing records by nearly evey band from the North East, including Tygers Of Pan Tang, Venom, White Spirit, Raven and Fist).  In two notable cases a completely independent, self-financed label - Iron Maiden: The Soundhouse Tapes (Rock Hard) and Def Leppard: The Def Leppard EP (Bludgeon Riffola).
It may be coincidental, but not long after these releases cane the first metions in the UK Music Press.  The first recorded mention in the national Music Press was by Geoff Barton in a May 1979 issue of Sounds.

If these releases are to be considered as the start of NWOBHM (not strictly true, but it is a good a marker as anything), then the two albums released by EMI in 1980 (and the associated EP) brought a host more bands to the attention of the public.


Metal For Muthas (released 1980)
Iron Maiden - Sanctuary
Sledgehammer - Sledgehammer
E. F. Band - Fighting for Rock and Roll
Toad the Wet Sprocket - Blues in A
Praying Mantis - Captured City
Ethel the Frog - Fight Back
Angel Witch - Baphomet
Iron Maiden - Wrathchild
Samson - Tomorrow or Yesterday
Nutz - Bootliggers


Metal For Muthas Volume II (released 1980)
Trespass - One of These Days
Eazy Money - Telephone Man
Xero - Cutting Loose
White Spirit - High Upon High
Dark Star - Lady of Mars
Horsepower - You Give Me Candy
Red Alert - Open Heart
Chevy - Chevy
The Raid - Hard Lines
Trespass - Storm Child

Muthas Pride (released 1980)
Wildfire - Wild Dogs
Quartz - Back in the Band
White Spirit - Red Skies
Baby Jane - Baby








Listening again, 34 years after original release, the contents of these 3 items still sounds good (Toad The Wet Sprocket stands out like a sore thumb amongst the other bands, but is not unenjoyable).  Yes, it may sound dated in places and some of the production quality may leave a bit to be desired in comparison to modern recording, but there is a rawness and energy running through each track.  If anything, and this maybe down to over-familiarity, or just basic musical snobbishness on my part, Volume II is a better listen than Volume I.  The fact that it opens with this track probably has something to do with swaying my decision.

Trespass - One Of These Days


For me, the 2 main ommissions from these albums are Def Leppard (signed to Phonogram Records) and Diamond Head, the often (certainly at the time) forgotten third axis of NWOBHM influence.
Diamond Head released their first single (Shoot Out The Lights) and album (Lightning To The Nations) in 1980 on their own Happy Face Records, but it wasn't until 1982 that they landed a major record label contract (with MCA).
Sadly for Diamond Head, 1982 was probably the point where NWOBHM ceased to exist as a concept, or "thing" was pretty much all over by 1982.

It was at this point that the genre started to show signs of splintering.  There was a certain mainstream commercial acceptance of the music and bands (Iron Maiden had a Top 10 single with Run To The Hills, Motorhead performed Ace Of Spades on The Young Ones (whose characters included Vyvyan, often wearing a Whitesnake T-Shirt and a studded denim jacket adorned with the phrase "Very Metal") and Def Leppard were about to go to America and sell something like 900 million copies of Pyromania.

So Britain had set the original template, and further toughened it up with NWOBHM, it was now the turn of the American bands to be the focus in the mid-80s.  Bands like Hanoi Rocks, Motley Crue and Guns n Roses took the tough sound and added elements of 1970s Glam Rock and slweaze in equal doses to create the commercially successful Glam Metal/Hair Metal scene.  At the same time, Thrash Metal came into view.  Toughening the sound further, and increasing the speed, the (supposed) "Big Four" were Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax.
The primary influences on Thrash were hardcore punk, Black Sabbath and a host of NWOBHM bands (Venom being one notable name).
Certainly, one of Metallica biggest influences was Diamond Head - the NWOBHM band that never quite made it, and only got to release an album when the whole thing was falling apart.
Am I Evil and The Pronce were recorded for the Metal Up You Ass demo, and Helpless made an appearance on the $5.98 Garage Days Revisited EP.  These tracks, along with Blitzkrieg (by Blitzkrieg) would continue to make regular appearances in Metallicas live set.
Diamond Head: The band that never really made it, now seen as a seminal influence on one of the worlds biggest bands.

Diamond Head - Am I Evil:

Despite giving the world 4 of the biggest bands at the time (Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Judas Priest and Motorhead), and along with old stagers like Ozzt Osbourne, Ian Gillan, Richie Blackmore and David Coverdale (in the guise of Whitesnake, soon to go massive in the commercial hair metal fraternity) all doing big business, the British Metal scene was somewhat lacking.  The focus and energy of the original bands and NWOBHM had faded, and a plethora of bands catering for different audiences.

In 1990, 10 years after NWOBHMs birth, rock journo Geoff Barton (he who penned the original Sounds article, and Metallica tub-thumper Lars Ulrich compiled an album celerbrating NWOBHM, featuring the big, the small and the long forgotten.  Yes there is some crossover with the Metal For Muthas compilations (obviously), but what you get here is 31 tracks of the best NWOBHM available to your ears.

Diamond Head - Its Electric
Sweet Savage - Eye of the Storm
 Saxon - Motorcycle Man
White Spirit - Cheetah
Raven - Don't Need Your Money
Paralex - White Lightning
Def Leppard - Getcha Rocks Off
Weapon - Set the Stage Alight
Samson - Vice Versa
Hollow Ground - Fight with the Devil
Girlschool - Demolition Boys
Witchfynde - Leaving Nadir
Iron Maiden - Sanctuary
Jaguar - Back Street Woman
Tygers of Pan Tang - Killers
Gaskin - I'm No Fool
Sledgehammer - Sledgehammer
Venom - Angel Dust
Angel Witch - Extermination Day
Trespass - One of These Days
Holocaust - Death or Glory
Vardis - If I Were King
Blitzkrieg - Blitzkrieg
Diamond Head - Helpless
Dragster - Ambitions
A II Z - Treason
Witchfinder General - Witchfinder General
Black Axe - Red Lights
Fist - SS Giro
Praying Mantis - Captured City


For even more NWOBHM, the 2005 compilation Lightning To The Nations: 25th Anniversary of NWOBHM is worth seeking out.  Covering not just the 79-82 period, but also including bands from later who kept "the flame alive" (or just happened to be British and were playing the same type of music) - either way, you get a further 56 tracks (again there are duplications) none of which make you want to reach for the Skip button.


Samson - Vice Versa
White Spirit - High Upon High
Raven - Don't Need Your Money
Sledgehammer - Sledgehammer
Bitches Sin - Always Ready
Blitzkrieg - Blitzkrieg
Girlschool - Take It All Away
Chevy - Chevy
Persian Risk - Ridin' High
Satan - Trial By Fire
Dark Star - Lady Of Mars
Avenger - On The Rocks
Heavy Pettin - Love X Love
Xero - Cutting Loose
Hellanbach - Let's Get This Show On The Road
Bronz - Night Runner
Saracen - We Have Arrived
Bastille - Hard Man
Silverwing - Rock N Roll Are 4 Letter Words
Diamond Head - Lightning To The Nations
Saxon - Motorcycle Man
Angel Witch - Angel Of Death
Vardis - If I Were King
Fist - Name, Rank And Serial Number
Marseille - Rock You Tonight
Quartz - Street Fighting Lady
Atomkraft - Future Warriors
Aragorn - Black Ice
Shy - Give Me A Chance
Venom - In League With Satan
Jess Cox - Piece Of The Action
Tysondog - The Inquisitor
Cloven Hoof - Laying Down The Law
Dedringer - Hot Lady
Axis - Messiah
Lone Wolf - Nobody's Move
Mammath - Rock Me
Tygers Of Pan Tang - Don't Touch Me There
Praying Mantis - Captured City
Streetfighter - She's No Angel
Sweet Savage - Killing Time
Trespass - One Of These Days
Holocaust - Heavy Metal Mania
Girl - Hollywood Tease
Ethel The Frog - Fight Back
Savage - Let It Loose
Jaguar - Axe Crazy
Black Rose - Knocked Out
Sabre - Miracle Man
Turbo - Running
Crucifixion - Take It Or Leave It
Warfare - Burn Down The Kings Road
Horsepower - You Give Me Candy
Tarot - Feel The Power
She - Never Surrender
Steel - Rock Out

The track listing of the original release intended to include Iron Maiden - Sanctuary and Def Leppard - Rocks Off.
Whether any of these pressings were ever released has not been confirmed (ie I can't find any reference on the interweb), but subsequent releases contained a sticker over the reverse of the box revising the track listing of Disc One accordingly (it was obviously cheaper to produce a pile of stickers and affix them to already printed stock, than to discard and order a new re-printed batch).


The first album I bought was Iron Maiden - Number Of The Beast (£3.99, Listen Records, Butts Centre, Reading, March 1982 (don't remember the exact time of purchase though).  This purchase led to me buying anything and everything Heavy Metal related (current, past, future, all genres (although Napalm Death was maybe a bit too extreme), some good, some bad, some totally unlistenable.  I must add that this was not to the exclusion of all other music which was bring consumed equally as voraciously (as far as paper round wages would allow)By the late 80s/early 90s I was personally tiring of the 'samey-ness' of many of the records I was buying, particularly the thrash/speed variety, and the glammed up, pretty boy Hair Metal just din't do it for me.  But NWOBHM (and its forefathers) is one era of music that I can happily return to again and again.

To me, NWOBHM is the very DEFINITION of Heavy Metal - it took the template, added its own elements and attitudes and in the main conquered all that lay before it.