By Richard Nevin
I was 16 years old. Emerging from the wholesalers, in the wake of the electrician I was apprentice to, I stood by the passenger door of the van and waited for the driver to open it - central locking at the time was for the privileged. My eye was drawn to the other side of the road at the bottom of Constitution Hill, where striding purposefully up the pavement in the direction of Hockley was a bone fide rock star. All in white, complete with stack heeled cowboy boots and topped off with an extravagant hat out of which pointed a long feather, this peacock-like character, brimming with exuberant confidence, was the one and only Dave Hill from Slade.
It was 1987 and the band’s star had very much waned, but Hill still carried himself as if he was on stage at the Empire Pool in front of adoring fans, rather than being watched by a gobsmacked, spotty teenager on a Monday morning in Birmingham. It’s this sort of thing that makes people rock stars and boy, were Slade rock stars.
I love Slade. I was born in 1971, when they were just making an impact, so I was too young to be a fan first time around and I’d be lying if I said I could remember them on Top Of The Pops. I was aware of their music but it wasn’t until their unexpected renaissance at the start of the 80’s that I was drawn to one of the greatest noises ever to emerge from the Midlands.
The first records I ever purchased were three seven inch singles from Woolworths on the Coventry Road in The People’s Republic of Sheldon, one of which was a behemoth of a thing Slade came up with entitled “We’ll Bring The House Down”. It features a clarion call beloved of rock fans, particularly The Quo Army, and massive drums that made Led Zep’s John Bonham sound like he was hitting empty biscuit tins.
This change in musical approach came from an unexpectedly positive response when the band were a last minute addition to the line-up at the Reading Festival following a cancellation by another Midlands legend, Ozzy Osbourne, and a subsequent spot on the bill at the second Monsters Of Rock Festival at Castle Donington the following year, both of which suddenly brought the band a new audience and a huge boost to their career. Back in the limelight, the band went onto to have a number of hits, including a Celtic flavoured jig and a couple of arm waving, singalong festive numbers, before eventually fizzling out at the start of the 90’s.
The image of Slade, most prominent during the Glam Rock era, has been one of a party band; boozy, blokey, colourful and rather trivial; platform shoes, bad spelling and Noddy’s mirrored top hat. Look beyond the headlines for the REAL Slade - a band which knew the value of a hook, were commercial, eyecatching and newsworthy, but also had amongst its number not only great musicians but two brilliant songwriters in Noddy Holder and Jim Lea.
For every ale house anthem there are more considered numbers such as Everyday and Far, Far Away, showing depth and nuance. The finest example of this has to be How Does It Feel from the feature film Slade In Flame, or how about it’s sibling from 1976, In For A Penny? The aforementioned film is a cult classic, its gritty realism impressing the critics but alienating their core audience and contributing to their drop in popularity as the 70’s progressed. Ending up on the club and University circuit before that fateful Reading slot, Slade were all but forgotten; criminal for such a talented and often misunderstood band.
Cast as dopey Brummies for so long, there was something of a revision in the 90’s as Noel Gallagher became a prominent cheerleader and Vic and Bob produced their pastiche that showed affection amongst the light ridicule, and given his post-Slade career it’s not a stretch to consider Noddy Holder a national treasure.
Of course it’s a misconception that Slade are Brummies, a view born of the tiresome conflation of Black Country and Birmingham accents but then Bez is from Bolton and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t believe he’s Manchester born and bred. Among those citing Slade as an influence are acts such as Nirvana and The Ramones, indeed Gallagher is quoted as saying that without Slade, there would be no Oasis. So from the streets of Wolverhampton, Walsall and Bilston, from skinheads to Glam Rockers, from heavy rockers to show stoppers, the story and music of Slade are an important part of Midlands’s musical heritage and deserve their place amongst the very finest English rock bands.
Slade are for life, not just for Christmas.