The affection in which Slade are held by a small but dedicated group of fans has taken tangible form in a new book by two of that number, Ian Edmundson and Chris Selby, whose The Noize: The Slade Discography, a privately produced and funded initiative, is now available on Amazon via print on demand, priced at a little over £20. By combining their Slade knowledge, record collections and cuttings files, the two authors have created an unauthorised but discrete history of the band that is signposted chronologically by their singles and albums, all the way from the first ‘N Betweens single in 1965 through the glory and doldrums years to the most recent solo recording, which just happens to be Jim Lea’s 2018 six-track EP Lost In Space.
Well, it’s a good job somebody out there cares. I belong to a school of thought that believes Slade have to a certain extent been unjustly written out of rock history through efforts by music industry bigwigs to disregard their achievements. Part of this is due to snobbery. Provincial to a tee, Slade never played the industry game, never behaved deferentially towards persons of influence, never minded their p’s and q’s in polite company. The situation is not helped by an unimaginative re-issue programme that is unlikely to tempt fans to part with their money and what seems to be an ongoing and rather unseemly disagreement between former members with regard to who contributed the lion’s share of creative effort into their many hits. This latter issue has been bubbling under for a while now, surfacing only occasionally when one of the antagonists feels inclined to speak out, but it never makes headlines because it’s not really news.
Furthermore, you don’t need a degree in music business lore to deduce that while the group’s songwriters, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea, have emerged from the Slade saga as men of substance, the two junior partners, Dave Hill and Don Powell, have not been so lucky – the fate of non-writing band members everywhere – otherwise they wouldn’t be obliged to tread the boards as Slade II. This endeavour, tolerated but hardly encouraged by Holder and Lea, has now been put on hold following the snapped tendons in both legs that Powell suffered while changing trains on his way to a gig in Wakefield in the north of England late last year, a cruel turn of fortune for one of the nicest men I know.
All of which must distress fans like Ian Edmundson and Chris Selby whose book is a true labour of love that reflects a lifelong devotion to the cause, though they demur at addressing any of the issues that I refer to above. As thorough as it is enjoyable in a nostalgic sense, the 206-page large format book tells Slade’s story from an authoritative perspective that relies on published accounts interspersed with quotes from the band to reinforce this. The record releases are illustrated with hundreds of sleeves, labels and images used to promote them, almost all of which are in colour. More than anything else, turning the pages makes it abundantly clear that Slade were far more prolific than is suggested by their glorious chart run in the first half of the seventies.
Particularly interesting for me is the period between that July 1965 ‘N Betweens single and when Chas Chandler ‘discovered’ them around the middle of 1969. Aside from some early efforts by pre-Slade groups, a number of singles were released, as was the rather unfocussed LP Beginnings by Ambrose Slade, every track of which is analysed here. When Ambrose was dropped they were billed as The Slade on Chandler’s first production, ‘Wild Winds Are Blowing’, which coincided with their ill-advised skinhead phase. In 1996, Slade fan John Haxby collected 25 even earlier recordings – not unlike the early tracks on The Beatles’ Anthology 1 – by The Vendors (featuring Hill and Powell), Steve Brett & The Mavericks (featuring Holder) and two editions of The ‘N Betweens (the first featuring Slade with John Howells on vocals, the second just the crucial four) on a fascinating CD entitled The Genesis of Slade, and all of these little-known tracks are discussed in The Noize.
Even with Chandler at the helm it took a while before Slade’s breakthrough arrived. It finally happened in 1971 with ‘Get Down And Get With It’ (aka ‘Get Down With It’, as labels here indicate) and, not long after, ‘Coz I Luv You’, the first Holder/Lea composition, the first to top the charts and the first to utilise the phonetic spellings that caused such anguish in teachers’ common rooms. By this time I’d become aware of the group and was writing enthusiastic reviews in Melody Maker, largely inspired by the excitement they generated at live shows. “They’re a breath of fresh eayer,” Chandler would yell at me over the din in his slightly threatening Geordie accent. Indeed, here was a group that had honed their craft over hundreds of nights in clubs and pubs up and down the land, an apprenticeship that would ensure their fortunes for as long as they plied their trade. Appropriately, then, it was their 1972 live LP, Slade Alive, that sealed matters, spending 58 weeks on the charts, far and away the longest of any Slade album.
Recorded over three nights – October 19, 20 & 21, 1971 – at Command Studios in Piccadilly at a cost of only £600, I was present on the 20th, a Wednesday. Earlier that day, in the late afternoon, Slade had recorded an appearance on Tops Of The Pops, performing ‘Coz I Luv You’. Euphoric at having reached number one for the first time, they arrived at the studio straight from the BBC Centre in Shepherds Bush in a state of high excitement, and it would be an understatement to say that, with Noddy leading the charge, the four boys from the Black Country were at Olympic fitness that night. Five years of hard slog had finally paid dividends and as I watched the “Full poke, Charlie!” show from among an audience of 300 I knew I’d picked a winner.
Fittingly, over four pages are devoted to this landmark release and thereafter The Noize details the upcoming glory years with all the LPs, picture sleeves and labels you would expect. Slade had 12 top five singles between 1971 and 1974, including six number ones, and three number one albums, making them the country’s most consistent hit makers in an era when the competition – T. Rex, Bowie, Rod and Elton among them – was at its most intense.
Slade’s progress is summarised in text that prefaces each year’s releases, and I was delighted to note that in their review of 1973 – a key Slade year – Edmundson and Selby draw attention to the US group Kiss’ adoption of Slade’s style: “Kiss saw the band in concert in New York and consciously adopted the whole Slade attitude,” they write, “some of the dress sense and to an extent the general sound of Slade on their own recordings.” The authors add that Kiss’ hit ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ – note the misspelling – even included the lyric, “You drive us wild, we’ll drive you crazy.” Kiss, of course, have been inducted into America’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Why not Slade?
In many respects 1973 was an apogee for the group. Though the year ended with their biggest hit, ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, it was their last number one, and thereafter, gradually, things would calm down for them. Nevertheless, an aspect of Slade’s career that is truly reflected in The Noize is how Slade never gave up trying when the chips were down. They battled fashion, a punk backlash and indifference, enjoyed a brief renaissance in the early eighties and carried on releasing records throughout the decade, and all these later releases on a myriad of Chandler-backed labels are carefully listed and annotated.
Slade last played together before a paying audience in 1984, but there was one final, brief appearance, at the 25th Anniversary Slade Fan Convention at Walsall Town Hall in 1991. What happened that day is described for the first time in some detail in The Noize, and I won’t spoil things by revealing it here, but Slade as a live band were effectively dormant from that day onwards. As Jim Lea puts it, “I drifted into drifting.”
It seems fitting here to mention for those unaware of it that between 1971 and 1975 I probably wrote more about Slade than any other music writer, and more enthusiastically too. Like the authors of The Noize, my fondness for Slade also never waned and in 1983 I was commissioned by Omnibus Press to write a book about them. I approached Chas Chandler who, in exchange for copyright control, agreed to co-operate, and as a result the book, titled Slade: Feel The Noize!, carried the word ‘OFFICIAL’ on its front cover. I interviewed the band, who’d become friends of mine over the years, and various people associated with their career, including chief roadie Graham Swinnerton, who sadly died in 2015, their PR Keith Altham and even Louise Lea, Jim’s wife, who related the hair-raising saga of a New York bank robbery that occurred while she, Leandra Holder and Jan Hill were queueing for a teller, an episode that foretold Slade’s ill-fated American dream.
Although the book was ‘authorised’, the members of the group and others were remarkably candid about their lives and the ups and downs of Slade’s career. No one, not Chandler or the band, requested text approval. Perhaps in hindsight some of them now feel they were a bit too candid, and this might explain why the book has been allowed to go out of print, effectively suppressed by the heirs to Chandler’s business interests, and why I haven’t been asked to update it. Nevertheless, I’m gratified to learn that most fans still consider it the ‘Slade Bible’. (Used copies occasionally appear on Amazon for anything between £50 and £100, more on Ebay.)
When I lent my support to the Genesis of Slade CD project, giving my go-ahead to use text from my book in its sleeve notes, I felt the wrath of those who control Slade’s business affairs come down upon me. Although the compilers had cleared the necessary copyrights, the management considered I was out of line and that the CD was ‘unauthorised’. I’m not quite persona no grata – and I’m still on very good terms with two members of the band – but I didn’t help my cause by publishing Don Powell’s book, which didn’t sit well with the same corporate interests, and commissioning for Omnibus Press a further ‘unauthorised’ Slade biography which has yet to be published.
I’m confident it will appear before long, even though its original author has been replaced, and in the meantime Ian Edmundson and Chris Selby’s book The Noize will act as a fitting tribute – and a nice companion to my own book – to a band I’ll always remember with enormous affection – that “breath of fresh eayer” that my old pal Chas drummed into me all those years ago.