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.




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