SLADE, Earls Court Arena, London, July 1, 1973 - Part 1

As near as dammit it was 41 years ago this weekend that Slade played the Earls Court Arena, by common consent the highlight of their career and certainly the biggest indoor show they ever did in the UK. They were almost the first rock act to play there too, but David Bowie beat them by six weeks though his show was marred by crowd violence and an inadequate PA system. Slade, on the other hand, triumphed. I can still remember it, and on the morning following that Sunday night show I sat down at my desk in MM’s office and wrote the following review, amongst the longest of all the concert reviews I ever wrote.
         Much as I loved The Who, they were already huge when I joined MM so the sense of wonder I tried to convey when I reviewed them wasn’t quite the same as it was with Slade. As the review indicates, I had watched Slade’s rise from next to nothing to this night, which is why it was so fulfilling for me as it no doubt was for them. I have slightly reworked it and divided it up into two parts, part two tomorrow.

IT'S MONDAY morning and my ears are still ringing. The night before, I'd been among the 20,000 fans that packed London's Earls Court to prove beyond doubt that Slade are Britain's most popular pop/rock group. For them and me, it was an emotional occasion. You see, three years ago I knew this was going to happen to Slade sooner or later. Three years ago I gazed into my crystal ball and predicted in these very columns that within a year or so, Slade would become household names. Needless to say, I was scoffed at.
So despite the singing and ringing and the dumbness and the numbness, I am a happy man this Monday morning. So, I should imagine, are the boys themselves – not forgetting manager Chas Chandler – all of them now waking up in their Swiss Cottage hotel that the Sunday papers reported had been under siege at the weekend.
Under siege indeed! I can recall the first time I watched Noddy, Dave, Jim and Don perform. It was at Samantha's Club, off London's Regent Street, when barely 20 people turned out to see them. And they were mostly foreign tourists visiting the club to drink and chat up members of the opposite sex. Not much sieging went on that night outside the Edwards Hotel in Paddington where they stayed in those days and where a decent roast chicken dinner could be had for £1.
Over the last three years I have watched their rise with both a personal and journalistic interest. I saw Slade at a pub in Lewisham when they closed their set with a disgustingly loud version of 'Born To Be Wild' accompanied by police sirens. And since that day I've seen them squeezing and pleezing, getting down and getting with it, taking boots off and going crazee at the best part of 25 gigs in this country and on the Continent.
Looking back, it seems that each particular concert was better than the one I saw before, both in terms of musical advancement and mass appeal. There were gigs in Scotland where I first saw the armies of fans amassing in a serious way. There was one night – I'll never forget it – when Slade were playing a private party, an expensive debutante bash in the City area of London. I think they were being paid £50 and they never actually received the cash because we drank it away in the dressing room with booze we bought at the bar. Talk about legless, staggering home through deserted streets as dawn rose. What a night that was.
Then there was the weekend in Amsterdam where Chas threatened to chuck the promoter into a lake if he didn’t chop down trees that blocked the view of the stage, and the next night at the Paradiso where fumes from exotic cigarettes almost poleaxed them as they went on that rickety old stage. We stayed above a bar called The Thirteen Balkans where the brandy was cheap and the hookers plentiful
There was the concert at the London Palladium earlier this year when I introduced the group from the stage, booed on and booed off because all the crowd wanted was Slade and I can’t blame them, and there was another at Wembley's Empire Pool soon after when a bunch of Americans – witnessing the Slade armies for the first time – went away completely shattered by the scenes they had witnessed.
And so we come to last night – perhaps the final and ultimate climax of the group's career. It would be difficult to imagine Slade, or any group for that matter, emulating the barrage of fanatical acclaim that Slade won for themselves at Earls Court. It was more of a convention than a concert, a gathering of the converted that rivalled political assemblies, royal weddings and sporting crowds in both size and fervour. It was bluddy wonderful.
        Melody Maker has given me the opportunity of watching the cream of world rock talent over the past three years and, with the notable exception of Elvis Presley, I can safely say I've seen the lot. And before I joined this paper I saw the Beatles.But nothing has ever moved me as much as last night's bash at Earls Court. I have heard more subtle music, sure, but atmosphere scored the points last night. Let me tell you what happened.
At around 5.30 p.m. I crossed Warwick Road to be confronted by the biggest gathering of Slade fans ever amassed at any one time. Outside the Earls Court arena were salesmen of all kinds, retailing every imaginable souvenir of the event: rosettes, top hats, spray-on glitter, books, badges, posters and the inevitable "show souvenirs" bearing the dubious promise – "this booklet is designed for your further enjoyment of the show." They were all doing a roaring trade.
Inside the buzz was tangible, but what caught the eye was this set – you couldn't call it a stage – erected for Slade to graciously step from. It was both vast and visible from all points – or so they thought until the climbing started. Then there was this huge PA system – 11,500 watts I was told – flanking the stage, but what topped the lot was the giant screen high in the sky on which a video-TV system beamed close-up pictures of the whole affair.
(Flashback: The first time I saw Slade they were cramped onto a tiny area about eight feet by ten. Jim Lea's bass narrowly avoided Noddy Holder's ear on a number of occasions, and Dave Hill's cavortings were limited to side-steps not unlike the famous Shadows criss-cross.)
Clutching my Slade armband which afforded entry into the holy of holies backstage, I skipped a couple of hurdles guarded by large men and found our heroes ensconced in a mobile dressing room, looking remarkably calm despite the turbulence outside. The scene has changed but they haven't. Jeff Beck was chatting to Jim Lea and Dave Hill was sitting astride a make-up chest, discussing the price and quality of various brands of glitter.
Chas Chandler, who has steered the course with his group for over four years now, is beaming like the cat who’s got the cream. Alongside Slade's dressing room stands a dark red Rolls-Royce Corniche, a recent acquisition by Chas, who is passing the time of day with Andrew Oldham. Where did he come from?
The Alex Harvey Band are supporting Slade tonight, as they have done on this whole tour, and I could forgive them for regretting their presence here. It's no secret that on various shows the Slade audience has given them a rough reception – rather like Christians fighting lions in front of a patriotic Roman audience. Alex is made of stern stuff, however, and happily the Earls Court audience does not give him the traditional thumbs-down sign as he bravely mounts the gigantic rostrum to face the multitudes. There were isolated cries for Slade during his set, but the fans were patient. And while he didn't raise an encore, he passed the time away for three-quarters of an hour keeping the tide at bay.
        By the time his set was over the big push had started. Not only were fans standing up and standing on their chairs, but the extroverts were standing on each other's shoulders on the chairs. The cheering came in waves as roadies appeared on stage checking equipment. Swinn, Slade’s tour manager and senior aide-de-camp, a man who’s been at every gig since they called themselves The In Betweens, peeked around from the side and went to report back to the boys in the caravan. “It’s the big one lads. Come on, get up off your arses, it’s show time.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Saw Slade three times from Reading 1980. I’ve seen ‘most of them’ live and don’t hold a candle to a Slade Gig. You went away exhausted feeling like you’d been shagged by a herd of elephants and enjoyed it. Best live band - Laurence Black