A few months ago, I wrote about gigs at Loughborough Students Union, and one of the acts I mentioned was Slade. I did see them more than once, and felt there was more to add.
When I saw them, it was the early 1980s, some years after their heyday as, allegedly, part of the 1970s Glam Rock scene. Musically, they seemed more of a straight rock band to me, and live that’s exactly what they were.
With song titles more suited to graffiti-covered walls – Look Wot You Dun, anybody? – they grabbed my attention from a fairly young age. Despite the more pedestrian music I was used to at home, the combination of humorous titles and raw energy was strangely appealing. Not that I was a massive fan at the time. In 1971, when Coz I Luv You was released, I was only eight. But they did form part of the soundtrack to my childhood.
I can’t remember where I saw them play first. It might’ve been LSU, but I seem to think it was at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall. Both venues were ideal for a band of this calibre. Big enough to take their presence, but small enough for you to connect with them.
At the time I worked with Kirk, a lad who was also into gigs and that common interest meant we often talked about bands we’d seen and venues we’d visited. Kirk’s leanings were nearer to the heavier end of rock, and he had a sound working knowledge of the bands to see – and where! I suspect it was him that convinced me to see Motorhead, Saxon and Iron Maiden though, of the three, only Saxon really entertained me. But it was Kirk who also suggested going to see Slade.
I’ve already hinted at the band’s popularity having already peaked. They hadn’t had any real hits for a while, so they weren’t on my radar. Still, Kirk had seen them and raved about them. Then they had their first big hit in nearly ten years with My Oh My (I’m guessing even they struggled to get the spelling wrong), so they were suddenly popular again.
The Slade gigs form part of the blurry gig timeline for me, so I can’t remember who I went to see them with. I suspect because of the timing and musical tastes, my then girlfriend, Sarah, would’ve come to at least one of them, though it was probably as part of a wider group, including Zim.
When you think about Slade, you also immediately think: Noddy Holder. And rightly so. That distinctive, rasping, Brummie voice is distinctive, and when he called out to the crowd – as he did each time – “There’s gonna be some a-rockin’ and a-rollin’ in (insert town) tonight!” there was no mistaking who it was.
For those who haven’t seen them live, the chances are the next band member you think of is Dave Hill, largely because he was the show-off. He could come across as just a cheeky chappy, but most of the time he tended to push things to the point where you just wanted to slap him.
Those with a little extra knowledge will know Don Powell, the drummer. Following a car crash, he was left with amnesia which meant he struggled to remember how to play their hits. I don’t think it was as obvious at the Leicester gig, but in the relatively small room at Loughborough you didn’t have to look hard to see him referring to cues as they worked through the set. A remarkable man.
Probably the least known is Jimmy Lea. If you’ve seen them live, you’ll know he jumps to the top in terms of people to watch. Without doubt the most versatile musician in the band, he played bass guitar, keyboard and violin – not an obvious choice of instrument for a rock band, but he played it to great effect. Frankly, they were worth going to see just for Lea’s performance.
Back in the ’80s I didn’t see them anywhere near Christmas, but they still played their greatest hit, and it went down well regardless of the season.
Many years later, I did see Slade during a Christmas tour, when they stopped off at our local theatre, supported by Mud and the award-winning tribute band T-Rextasy. My then partner and a couple of friends went along, and we did have a good night. But with Noddy and Jimmy Lea absent, and Don Powell hidden at the back, that left Dave Hill clearly visible and it’s fair to say his antics made me want to slap him even harder.
With Les Gray having died, and not recognising any of the rest of Mud, they might as well have been a tribute act so, on the night, T-Rextasy gave the best performance. It was a great trip down memory lane, though, and it didn’t stop us dancing in the aisles.
I’m glad I saw Slade. It would’ve been very easy to pass them by in the ’80s but, if I hadn’t gone, I’d have missed a treat. And every now and then, when the mood takes me, wherever I am, I imagine there’s going to be ‘some a-rockin’ and a-rollin’ in (wherever I am at the time) tonight!’.
As for today? Well, there really is only one song to leave you with. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whoever you’re with, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and I hope the New Year brings you peace, love and happiness…