It is just after 9 pm. Emperor Rosko enters stage right and the lights dim. Above the yelling, I can make out that he is introducing each member of Slade in turn. “Let’s have a cheer for Don,” he shrieks. The shrieks respond. “Let’s hear it for Jim.” Aaaaaaghhhhh. “And for Dave.” Aaaaaaghhhhh. “Have I missed anyone out?”
And here they are, ladies and gentlemen, for your personal delight, we present Slade, the working class heroes of the seventies, the loudest rock group in the world (tonight, anyway), the boys next door to be emulated by all, the brash creation of a million kids the world over and, most of all, the rock group who consistently produce the best singles since the golden years of the sixties.
For the fashion-conscious fans – and there are plenty – here’s a record on how the quartet dress for this most auspicious occasion.
Don Powell, drumsticks in one hand and usual tregnum of Scotch in the other, has chosen an all-white ensemble with narrow black pin stripes. It has a matching waistcoat and trousers, flared from the knee and tight around the groin, and his boots also match.
Jim Lea, red Gibson bass at the ready, always the least fashion conscious member of the troupe, is tonight wearing a rather smart red Lurex suit which shimmers beneath the arc lights. A black t-shirt under the jacket and red boots complete the outfit.
Dave Hill, whose bold statements in the fashion department place him in a league of his own, has bedecked himself with glitter around the face and hair. Light, tight trousers are worn over silver boots with large platform soles and the effect is set off with a long dark coat, open at the top and exquisitely embroidered in shining blues, blacks and gold.
Noddy Holder, adopting his usual pose stage centre at the head of the group, wears his much-copied black top hat with silver circles, by now as much a part of Slade as his foghorn Little Richard rock’n’roll voice. A red shirt, matching check waistcoat and trousers (worn slightly too short) give Neville the appearance of an 18th Century sporting gentleman of intemperate demeanour which is emphasised by the red tailed hunting jacket, abandoned after two numbers because of the heat.
The music starts and the noise is really quite shattering from both group and fans. Slade have always been loud but tonight everything is up several notches. It’s deafening in fact but there has been no skimping on the sound system. First up, loud and clear, is ‘Take Me Bak ‘Ome’, delivered with a force and intensity that causes the battalion of bouncers at the front to tear up paper hankies and place the tissue firmly inside their ears.
The show develops in much the same manner as all Slade shows, except that on this occasion everything has been multiplied tenfold – and despite the melee going on all around, the pandemonium in the audience, they are playing remarkably tightly, a feat that probably goes unnoticed by those to whom a glimpse of Slade these days is enough to arouse complete hysteria. Let us not forget that these four have been playing together since 1966, seven years of priceless experience that sees them command this enormous stage like any other, true professionals no matter what, which is sometimes forgotten amidst the glam and glitter of bands with a fraction of their proficiency.
(Flashback: Backstage at Top Of the Pops, 1971, first ever appearance for ‘Get Down…’. Jim Lea: “When we saw the competition, I knew we’d make it,” he tells me. “I looked around and laughed. We could slaughter that lot.” He wasn’t joking either. Jim always talked it like he walked it.)
The songs come thick and fast as thousands of arms reach into the air, scarves and hats held aloft in the statutory worshipping position. Down at the front, in the photographers’ pit, I edge myself next to Chas Chandler, whose eyes are popping as though he doesn’t really believe this is all happening around him. He probably dreamed all this four years ago, but tonight it’s a reality.
“I’m just loost for woords mon,” he shouts in his thick Geordie accent. This is the guy who managed Jimi Hendrix and as the bass player in The Animals was a part of the first British Invasion that turned America on to British rock. Shaking his head in disbelief, he turns to yell into my ear: “All I can say is thanks for the encouragement.”
(Flashback: At that show off Regent Street, in the club called Samatha’s, Chas bought me an endless supply of whiskey and cokes and, just as he is now, kept yelling in my ear in that same broad Geordie accent as Slade deafened that tiny crowd: “They’re a breath of fresh eayer, mon. What do you think Chris?” It would have been futile not to encourage them.)
Chas adds, after a slight delay: “All you’ve got to do in a place like this is to build a big stage and light it properly. It’s as simple as that. All you’ve got to do is make sure everyone has a good view of the group.”
(Flashback: The concert in the park in Amsterdam. The stage was in a bandstand in a small lake, approachable only by a narrow bridge. Trees and tall weeds surrounded the bandstand and obscured everyone’s view. An argument developed between Chas and the promoter about the trees. Brandishing an axe with which to cut down the trees, Chas won the argument after threatening to throw the promoter in the lake unless they were chopped down.)
Enough reminiscing, and back to the concert where Noddy, as usual, is using all his guile to whip up the audience into the most tremendous fever. They yell back at him when told, raise their arms when told, bop up and down when told, obey his every command. The power really is frightening.
Then up comes Noddy’s speciality, the naughty bit, and Earls Court provides a gem. In his best Black Country drawl, an indecent leer on his face, Nod doesn’t disappoint: “We going to play a game with you all now, and have one minute’s silence. If anybody makes a noise they’ll pay a forfeit. If it’s a bloke who makes a noise, he’s got to come up here on the stage and take his trousers down.” The girls go ballistic. Nod pauses for effect, the showman’s touch. “But if it’s a young lady who makes a noise…” another perfectly timed pause… “then…” another pause, “then... she’s got to come up here,” the final pause, “and…” Nod’s yelling at the top of his voice now, “… take her knickers off.”
The crowd erupts. The din resembles Concorde.
There was the usual and now obligatory football chant as supporters of Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and West Ham bellow their allegiance before breaking into an unaccompanied ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ that rivals choir practice at the Anfield Kop, Noddy leading them like the Pier Piper.
They play for just over an hour – pretty short by some standards – and punctuate their hit singles with songs from the Slayed album. They have one and all singing to the choruses of ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ and the new single ‘Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me’. And when they come back to encore with ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’, I could have sworn those delirious fans were on the brink of a visit to the nearest asylum. Had it not been nailed down, the Earls Court roof would have exploded into the stratosphere. After the din subsides everyone goes home happy, crazee or whatever. Me? My ears were ringing for 48 hours at least. It was one of the best nights of my life. Full poke indeed.