Before I was appointed Melody Maker’s US correspondent in 1973, music papers in the UK relied almost entirely on US based American writers to feed stories back to GB or simply believed what they were told by returning rock bands who, it must be said, had a tendency to exaggerate their success. I was able to put a stop to that, at least to a certain degree, and I was also in a position to observe my pals Slade as they tried their level best to emulate their UK success across the Atlantic.
In the end it wasn’t to be, of course, but one of the odd things about Slade’s less than triumphant career in America was that in St Louis, Missouri – a city in the news right now for all the wrong reasons – they were massively popular while in most others they never progressed much beyond second on the bill status. In February of 1974 I went to see them in St Louis where their star was definitely in the ascendant and where, in a year or two, they would headline an arena show.
I remember we stayed in a circular hotel, a tower that overlooked the St Louis Arch, and after the shows heaps of fans, male and female, somehow made it back to party with Slade in the bar. I ended up with a ‘temporary female companion’, name of Debbie, who later that year accompanied me on a trip to New Orleans, my only ever visit to this fabulous city. Here’s my report on Slade’s visit to St Louis.
The wide Missouri River flowed beneath the hotel window and a few paddle steamers, now tourist traps or floating restaurants, were securely tied to the banks. Noddy Holder looked out over the flattish landscape and seemed relieved that the show tonight, in the St. Louis Ambassador Theatre, was the last on their current US tour.
They’re on the up and up in the States, even though they’re not in the big league yet. They’re comfortably filling the smaller halls (though even these are big by British standards), they’re topping the bill and getting encores and they’re beginning to get the audience participation thing going like they do in England. They have to work a little harder for it to happen, though, but the message is coming across.
But – and it is still a big but – they haven’t exactly gone a bomb recordwise. They’ve sold very few albums or singles here despite rave reviews in the majority of US rock journals, a state of affairs that seems to mystify manager Chas Chandler, a man who generally knows all the answers.
The St. Louis Ambassador holds around 3,000 and is ancient by any standards. Duke Williams & The Extremes, a Capricorn band, are warming the audience up with some tight, but rather anonymous, rock and roll. They’re very American, while Slade are very English, and the differences in presentation stand out like a sore thumb.
Slade were announced, greeted warmly and a roar went up as Noddy slashed across the opening chords of ‘Take Me Bak ’Ome’. Two lines later all the power backstage went off. No lights, no amps, no nothing. A 6,000 amp mains generator in St Louis had blown, cutting out, amongst other things, the backstage power at the Ambassador.
Fifteen minutes went by and there was no sign of any electricity. Slade joked ruefully amongst themselves in the unlit dressing room and cursed their luck. It had never happened to them before, anytime, anywhere, said Noddy.
It was actually one hour and ten minutes before the power came on. The St. Louis audience kept remarkably calm, expressing their indignation by chucking pennies at Don Powell’s drum set. When a penny hit a cymbal the resulting clash was an excuse for an ovation from the restless fans.
When Slade re-appeared it really was a triumph over adversity. Though I can’t deny a certain chauvinistic feeling towards this particular band, they followed up the disastrous start with a stomper of a show, ending up with two encores, the second of which was a very dubious rendering of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, which, despite its complete lack of subtlety, had a deliriously happy St Louis crowd emulating the scenes Slade normally generate in Wolverhampton.
The show was pretty much the same as it is in England, though two new numbers were added: the slow ‘Everyday’ from their new album, and their new single ‘Good Time Gals’. I preferred ‘Everyday’, maybe because it was a welcome change in tempo and reached suitably dramatic heights to make the most of Holder’s amazing vocal cords. Curiously, the audience reacted better to ‘Gudbuy To Jane’ than to any others, apart from the two encores. That’s curious because Slade’s singles haven’t showed at all in America.
But perhaps what finally sent everyone home happy was a superb bit of spontaneous showmanship from Noddy Holder. Between numbers towards the end of the show a powerful singing voice struck up from somewhere in the audience, almost rivalling Holder himself. Without hesitation Nod invited the owner of the voice to come up on stage to join him. Up he came for a bit of avant-garde bellowing, much to the delight of the crowd.
It all ended with hundreds of bags of confetti descending on the group and front row ravers who joined in with the band on ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’. It was the last night of the tour and a last night to remember.