I was disappointed to learn last week that Slade have finally split up – after 50 years together according to The Sun, the newspaper of record for those with short memories. Other papers have carried the story but there’s nothing like Britain’s best-selling red top tabloid to get to the heart of the matter, and it would be remiss of me, their official biographer, not to comment.
Firstly, along with the group themselves, their many fans and probably everyone else not employed on The Sun’s news desk, I had been under the clearly mistaken impression that they split up about 30 years ago. The precise date of their disbandment is hard to pin down insofar as it was a gradual separation but Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill and Don Powell last played a (paying) gig together in 1984, and since then – apart from that Fan Club appearance in April, 1991, at Walsall Town Hall, undertaken in somewhat fraught circumstances – the group has been absent from the stage. New recordings by them had also petered out by then, though odd releases under a variety of combinations and aliases continued to appear.
Secondly, that quartet first teamed up as The ‘N Betweens in 1966, so that’s 54 years ago and not 50 as The Sun would have you believe.
Now that that’s been cleared up, I feel duty bound to explain that the reason for Slade’s sudden and needlessly sensational re-appearance in the headlines is that guitarist Dave Hill has apparently dispensed with the services of drummer Don Powell in his group Slade II, a pronouncement greeted with dismay by fans, not least because Hill informed Powell of his decision via e-mail. This is a sad state of affairs when you consider that Hill and Powell first played together back in 1964 in a Midlands group called The Vendors.
It is evidently Hill’s intention to continue to promote himself as Slade II with three other (waged) musicians, while Powell has signalled his intention to form a new group, which will include at least one defector from Slade II, and call it Don Powell’s Slade. No one but a die-hard curmudgeon would wish Don – one of the most amiable men it’s been my pleasure to know – all the best in this venture. I wish I could say the same for Hill.
Having two groups with the same or similar generic-style name led by former members of the mothership is nothing new. Yes managed it, as did The Searchers and a few others from the ‘beat boom’ of the 1960s, not to mention countless black vocal groups whose personnel fluctuates like the sexual inclinations of popular TV presenters. A clever lawyer could argue that Paul and Ringo have been doing the same thing with The Beatles for years now, but the standard of musicianship they apply is on a vastly different level to that of Hill, which leaves much to be desired, at least from what I’ve seen of Slade II on YouTube.
I don’t think this will end happily. Don has evidently told Dave he can’t continue to call his group Slade II, only Dave Hill’s Slade. Hill won’t like that. Either way, absent Noddy Holder’s irreplaceable, sparkling voice and Jim Lea’s compositional and multi-instrumental skills, any 21st Century version of Slade lacks considerably more than 50% of its potency. Sadly, this seems not to be a consideration when the need earn a living is paramount.
Which brings me to further revelations from our friends at The Sun. If they are to be believed – and I have my doubts – Noddy is worth £20 million and earns £250,000 a year from ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, as does Jim whose fortune is not disclosed. I would imagine it is greater than Noddy’s, if for no other reason than, unlike Jim, Noddy is no longer married to his first wife and nothing diminishes a rock star’s wealth like a divorce. “While Noddy and Jim, 70, have been living in luxury, Dave and Don, 73, have been performing at Butlin’s and the festival circuit to make ends meet,” The Sun tells us. “The unglamorous venues are a far cry from the stages the rock icons graced in their heyday.”
They got Noddy and Jim’s ages wrong but far worse, later in the story, was the sentence: “There were no scandals or tragic accidents [in their past] and they rarely touched drugs.” I would invite them to look up their back issue for July 4, 1973, and read Don’s book.
I rest my case.