A thread on a Slade Facebook page brought back some of my earliest Slade experiences and inspired this post.
The first sleeve notes I ever wrote for anyone appeared on the back on Slayed, Slade’s chart-topping 1972 LP. Chas Chander, their manager, paid me £20 in cash, and in the text I wrote I invented some fictitious Slade fans, all of them couples, including ‘Chris and Janet’. The truth is I wanted to impress a girl called Janet at the time and this was a coded message that I thought might boost my chances with her. This followed a prolonged and ultimately successful campaign on my part in Melody Maker to get them noticed, which paid off handsomely for both MM and myself when they became the top singles act of their era. They never forget my early support and, to this day, I’m on good terms with them all.
The first time I saw Slade was at a club called Samantha’s in New Burlington Street, off Regent Street. It was in late 1970 and all I remember is that it was a cellar club, very dark and there weren’t many people in there that weekday night. They were really loud and all through the gig Chas kept buying me whisky and cokes and yelling into my ear about how good they were. ‘They’re like a breath of fresh eayer, mon,’ he screamed in his thick Geordie accent, a quote I’ve used many times now.
Slade were actually deafeningly, horrendously, loud, playing a set that mainly comprised their own souped-up arrangements of covers like ‘Hear Me Calling’, ‘Darling Be Home Soon’ and, as a finale, ‘Born To Be Wild’ with police sirens added for effect. If they played any early originals, like ‘In Like A Shot From My Gun’ or ‘Know Who You Are’, they went in one ear and out of the other because I hadn’t seen or even heard the group before.
I met them all for the first time after their set and they were all over me, treating me with great respect, asking questions about Melody Maker and whether I liked their group. I liked their group a lot, and not just because I recognised a powerful, well-drilled and very watchable (and very loud) live band when I saw one, but because they seemed 100% natural, not a trace of ego to be found anywhere, and they were very funny in a droll, Black Country sort of fashion. They spoke in thick Midlands accents with cadences that rose at the end of sentences, making statements sound like questions, and that endeared me to them too.
I saw them many times in London during 1971, at the Marquee, the Lyceum, the Temple in Soho, the Red Lion in Leytonstone, and I went further afield, to at least one show in Scotland, where they’d built up a following as solid as anywhere in the UK, and three memorable shows in Holland, one in Rotterdam and two in Amsterdam where we stayed at The Thirteen Balkans, a down-at-the-heel tavern slap bang in the middle of the famous Red Light district. Liquor was cheap in the bar but to save everyone’s blushes I’ll draw a veil over the precise details of what occurred there after the gig at the Paradiso.
I was also there for one of those nights when Slade Alive! was recorded at Command Studios in Piccadilly. That was another night to remember as they’d come straight from filming Top Of The Pops, performing ‘Coz I Luv You’, their first self-penned chart entry which in two weeks would become their first number one, and they were on a high, adrenaline surging like no tomorrow. The following year, of course, the hits came thick and fast and the size of the venues increased, and I don’t think I saw them quite as often as I had the previous year.
There are websites that list all Slade’s early gigs – and, boy, did they work hard – but I cannot find Samantha’s club among them and nor can I find yet another truly unforgettable night somewhere in the city of London, the financial district, where Slade had been booked for a private event in a posh ballroom. It was a Saturday and Chas had invited me along just because it was bound to be a fun night – Slade performing, quite late, for a crowd of toffs and toffesses, all dolled up in their dinner suits and fancy frocks for some rich bugger’s 21st birthday party. They’d probably accepted the booking because the pay was good – an early example of the current trend for big acts to collect a whopping fee from the mega-rich to play at their parties – and Chas had assured me there’d be plenty of free booze. He wasn’t wrong there. All of us got utterly plastered on the beer and whisky, the set was a tad sloppy but no one cared, least of all the guests who were also drunk and who weren’t to know that the band they’d booked would soon be topping the charts over and over again.
All of Slade lived with their mums and dads around Wolverhampton in those days and when they stayed overnight in London they used the Edward Hotel near Paddington Station, which just happened to be not far from where I shared a flat with two other blokes in Bayswater. One night Nod, Jim, Dave and Don all came round to the flat for a drink and to listen to records, which surprised the hell out of one of my flatmates’ girlfriends who was a bit of a fan and had just seen them on Top Of The Pops. I spent a few pleasant evenings with the group in the bar of the Edward, which head roadie Swin told me charged only £4 a night. Slade were always frugal and when I learned from them that a roast chicken dinner in the restaurant could be had for less than a quid I went there regularly, even when Slade weren’t around.
At the beginning of 1973, on January 7, Slade appeared at the London Palladium, a gig that was somehow connected with celebrating the UK’s entry into the EEC – oh the irony! Chas asked me to introduce them on stage which I did… ‘Here they are…’ and I was well and truly drowned out by the cheers. I watched the show with Chas from the side of the stage and recall how the balcony swayed up and down as fans jumped and stamped their feet. I honestly thought it might collapse at one point, and drew Chas’ attention to the potential danger, not that he’d have been able to do anything about it. ‘Fook me, Chris, mon,’ he said in that lovely Geordie accent as he gazed up at the fans in the circle. ‘Whatever you do, don’t say nooothin’. They might stop the fookin’ show, mon.’
There’d have been a fookin’ riot if they’d tried to do that, mon.