MY STINT AS MM’S MAN IN AMERICA Part 21 – 1974 continued.

Rock shows at Carnegie Hall were a bit of a rarity during my stint as Melody Maker's man in New York. I can recall seeing The Chieftains there and being somewhat alarmed to see Irish independence sympathisers outside collecting openly on behalf of the IRA. Spare some change for the old country, they exhorted, so I kept my mouth shut. But there was an element of prestige involved in playing the Carnegie and Greg Allman pulled out all the stops at his show there in late March. Alongside him on stage were 29 other musicians, with a backdrop and scenery designed to suggest that he’d brought ‘Maykin, Jawjar’ – and he called his home town – to the Big Apple.

The show was produced by Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper’s manager, who never did things by halves and brought a touch of grandeur to the proceedings. My only complaint was that the effort necessary in presenting Greg in this way caused the show to start almost an hour late. Although the now legendary group took their name from Gregg’s surname, he was not the front man when I last saw The Allman Brothers, at the LA Forum the previous year. Guitarist Richard Betts was the star of that show while Gregg hid behind a Hammond to stage left, shyly taking an occasional bow and content to be out of the limelight.

        For the solo show, all this was changed. The Hammond stood in the centre of the stage, decked out with flowers and lit candles. The show was clearly aimed at pushing Greg forward, thus working against his natural shyness, and as a result he looked uncomfortable amid the splendour of the smart-suited orchestral back-up men.

        In effect we were seeing half of The Allman Brothers Band. There was Chuck Leavell – now The Rolling Stones’ keyboard player of choice – in a straw hat playing a grand piano at stage left, and Jai Johnny Johanssen alternating between bongos and a regular kit. The rhythm section was Cowboy, a quartet of session players from the Capricorn Studio in Macon, and the rest were strings, brass and backing singers with comedian Martin Mull bringing the complement up to 30 by acting as MC.

        The concert opened with an orchestral piece played by Leavell at the piano. As the strings and brass came on stronger, the rhythm section joined in and Allman made his entry to the delight of the crowd and chagrin of the stern Carnegie Hall staff who were kept busy returning fans to their seats throughout the entire show.

        “Dressed in denims and looking his usual dishevelled self, Allman appeared somewhat out of place,” I wrote. “His long blonde hair covered his features and even though the spotlight shone firmly down on him, he still managed to hide away behind his instrument for most of the time. He sways on the stool so much one imagines that any moment he’s likely to slip off on to the floor. It never actually happens though.”

        Predictably, the set comprised material from his 1973 solo album, which was aptly titled Laid Back, and Gregg’s contributions to the Allman Brothers song catalogue.

        “With such a huge band, the music sounded not unlike Joe Coker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen band,” I continued. “It was all very well-rehearsed, but Allman’s voice was frequently drowned out by the force of everything else. He doesn’t have the strongest of voices, but when it does shine through, he sings with a loping, casual Southern accent, slurring words together, sounding rather like a mean gun slinger.

        “During the entire show, he picked up the guitar only once – to sing ‘Midnight Rider’. This was a shame. He’s as good a guitar picker as you’ll find anywhere, and I’d have preferred to hear him on either the acoustic or electric instrument instead of endlessly pumping away on the organ. He’s a competent, if not brilliant organist but he was given few opportunities to solo and when he did it was nothing too spectacular.”

        Oddly, the second half of the show featured Cowboy on their own, with Allman returning for the finale, the massed congregation offering ‘Shine On Your Lovelight’. For an encore Greg played a new, unaccompanied piece at the piano before one and all joined in again for ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’.

A day or two later I interviewed Todd Rundgren at the offices of Bearsville, his record label, on East 55th Street, and for reasons best known to himself he brought along his main squeeze, the model Bebe Buell. Perhaps it was to show her off. Ms Buell, of course, was strikingly beautiful and in the fulness of time her name would be linked with Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, David Bowie, Elvis Costello and Steve Tyler, with whom she had a daughter, the actor Liv Tyler. 

Although Rundgren dressed outlandishly onstage and gave the impression that he was ‘way out there’, in reality he was a sober, clear-headed chap who adopted a methodical attitude towards his calling as a musician and record producer. Indeed, he had worked it out so that his successful career in the studio making records for others financed his critically acclaimed but less remunerative career as an artist in his own right. 

        “I discovered that I didn’t like most of the people involved in the so-called music business, so the fewer people I had to meet the better,” he told me matter of factly. “I figured a producer didn’t need to meet too many people. I like people better nowadays but it’s still not right, so I continue to disinvolve myself as much as possible from the business aspect.”

        Most recently Rundgren had been brought in to produce Grand Funk Railroad, and he certainly added some much needed sparkle to this rather dull HM trio. The resulting album, We’re An American Band, compared favourably with all their former efforts and as an added bonus there was a number one single from the title track – something Grand Funk had never had before – and also a modicum of critical acclaim, also new to GF.

        “I would say now that Grand Funk are better musicians than the world believe,” said Todd. “It is possible to make a band sound worse than they are in the studio which may have happened with Grand Funk. That’s very easy to do, much easier than it is to make a band sound good.” 

        We talked a bit about his own band and he was modest enough to admit that though he considered his live performances far more important than his albums, he loses money going out on the road. “I rack up tour debts though and that’s where the money that I make from producing goes. Everything evens itself out in the end.”

I would experience Grand Funk Railroad for myself a few days later, at Madison Square Garden on April 23. I was dumfounded by the volume at which they played. 

        “Ringing ears are a symptom of excessive listening to loud rock and roll,” I wrote in MM, opening myself up to a charge of stating the bleeding obvious. “When the ears tingle after a gig, you know the band in question has pushed out plenty of juice. When they’re still ringing the following day, then that band must have employed a brave sound engineer to control the volume setting. When the ringing’s still there as you head for bed the following evening, it’s something else entirely. I’ve experienced those ringing ears the following morning, but only once have I known it to last the entire day and into the night.

        “That was last Tuesday. On Monday evening I experienced a two-hour concert by Grand Funk, who, regardless of what the Guinness Book Of Records says about Deep Purple, go down in my book as the loudest band I’ve ever heard and, hopefully, the loudest band I’m ever likely to hear.” 

        I was sat near the front, a mistake though I wasn’t to know this beforehand. In any case, review tickets were almost always ‘good seats’, a description that, in this case, was certainly moot. Still, after all the atrocious reviews I’d read, they were better than I expected, though much of their attraction lay in the effects they laid on: their state-of-the-art lighting rig, the movies shown on a screen behind them and, of course, that terrifying volume. 

        “Their reception at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Monday evening was nothing short of unreal,” I wrote. “From the opening note, 20,000 fans stood on their chairs and cheered wildly until it was over. The ovation surpassed anything I’ve seen in the States, including Dylan at the same venue, and the enthusiasm knocked current scream-idols flat.

        “One young lady, for example, rushed at guitarist Mark Farner from her pitch at the front of the stage. She was roughly hauled aside by a member of the road crew and left to find her own way back to her rightful place at the front of the crowd. Somehow or other she managed to claw her way through the throng to the front again. Not satisfied with her earlier attempt, she dashed the stage yet again to clutch at Farner. Again, the same girl was bundled off. At the end of the show she was back up front again, having somehow pushed and shoved her way back to pole position beneath the sprightly lead guitarist.”

        Oddly, towards the end of the show the band deserted the stage while a short film about themselves was shown. Designed to depict the four members of the group in their natural environment, one was seen riding a horse, another on a motor cycle, another in a fast car and the fourth water skiing. Back at my flat later that evening, unable to sleep due to the ringing in my ears, I imagined how it would look if my pals The Who adopted something similar during their concerts: Pete worshipping at the feet of his guru Meher Baba, Roger ploughing his fields, John chasing spiders and Keith hurling a heavy object through a window. Nah - itd never work. 

        The following morning, my ears still painfully aware of the previous night’s experience, I breakfasted with the group at their Manhattan hotel, the St Regis. They were all thoroughly likeable guys, though none were particularly talkative, least of all Farner, the leader on stage if not off. Though he’s a bona-fide rock superstar, his conversation was on ration. Drummer Don Brewer was more talkative, while keyboard player Craig Frost, the newcomer, sat back to let the others do the talking. Bassist Mel Schacher was still in bed, suffering from ‘flu.

CC taking breakfast with Grand Funk Railroad at the St Regis Hotel. The fashion conscious will note that I am wearing a St Louis Blues ice-hockey jersey. 

        We talked about the group’s early days as Terry Knight & The Pack, losing Knight – who had exerted a disproportionate influence on them – and how Todd Rundgren had brought about a resurgence in their fortunes. A photographer commissioned by them turned up to take some photographs, including one of me lighting a cigarette (above), sat opposite Mark Farner who can seen in the mirror. 


MY STINT AS MM’S MAN IN AMERICA Part 20 – 1974 continued.

One of the great things about being Melody Maker’s man in New York was that it was just me, so tickets to all the best concerts weren’t shared around as they were in London. Those I reviewed were nothing if not eclectic. A glance at back issues of MM reveals that in April, May and June of 1974, I saw, amongst others, Rick Nelson, Steely Dan, Greg Allman, Grand Funk Railroad, Todd Rundgren, Roger McGuinn, Charlie Rich, Harry Chapin, Roxy Music, Sly Stone, The Who and David Bowie. Some of these will feature in future instalments of these memoirs.

I was particularly looking forward to seeing Steely Dan. When their first LP, Can’t Buy A Thrill, was released in late 1972 a copy arrived in MM’s offices on Fleet Street and, curious, Richard Williams, our assistant editor, put it on the office record player. It wasn’t long before those of us there that day stopped what we were doing to listen. “This is great, who the fuck is it?” we wondered as we gathered around the low-fi deck that IPC Business Press had so generously bestowed upon the massive cash cow that MM had lately become. For the next few months CBAT was on and off that deck more than any other LP.

(As an aside here it is worth mentioning that Melody Maker’s neighbour along the corridor of the IPC building was Cycling Monthly whose editorial staff once complained to Ray Coleman, our editor, about the volume from that record player. In his carefully considered response Ray declined their request to order us to turn the music down. “Our staff need to play records to review them and do research,” he wrote in his memo to their editor, adding: “We will not complain should the staff of Cycling Monthly ride bikes up and down the corridor to road test them.”)

But back to Steely Dan. On the same day as their April 3 concert at Avery Fisher Hall I interviewed Walter Becker and Donald Fagen at their record company’s offices, which was not quite as challenging as I had been led to believe, by which I mean they were friendlier than I expected. Perhaps this was because I was among the first British journalists to interview them. Also, bearing in mind their intellectual approach, I had taken the time to read up about them and play their music a lot. Come to think of it, I still do. 

        By this time, Steely had released three LPs. The most recent, Pretzel Logic, a firm favourite of mine, was their first to reach the US LP Top 10, and Becker and Fagen had now emerged as co-leaders of the group, composing all the material and laying down the law as far as advancement was concerned. But there was trouble afoot. These two were increasingly reluctant to tour and appeared to be demoting the rest of the group. They had yet to become a studio duo backed up by the world’s classiest session musicians but it was on the cards, and Becker and Fagen hinted at it while we spoke. 

        “Fagen is a tall, thin man with a slight hunch, probably caused through leaning over a piano for much of his life,” I wrote after a brief summary of their career thus far. “He’s a serious musician who isn’t afraid to voice his opinions on current rock giants, for whom he has little respect. Becker is pretty much the same, except that he’s short and tubby. Both would sooner spend an evening in a jazz club that at any rock concert you’d care to name.”

        “The band is in hibernation for certain parts of the year,” Fagen told me. “[Guitarist] Jeff Baxter goes and does some studio gigs or goes on tour with Linda Ronstadt, and the others do the same while we are writing. Then we all get back together again and make a record.”

        “I like to think that we don’t have to be limited by the concept of the group,” said Becker. “If one of our people wants to play with someone else and there’s time to do it, then it’s fine with us.”

Both spoke about the ‘horror’ of touring soon after Can’t Buy A Thrill was released, before they were ready. “Actually, Walter and I were complete novices as far as actual live touring was concerned,” said Fagen. “It took a while to find out what really happens at live shows. For all our experience in theory, we didn’t know much about the actual practice. We weren’t show orientated because we were jazz fans and were used to seeing musicians kicking over their bottle of beer while they were playing a solo. As far as we were concerned the show was watching a guy play and that was it, strictly for enthusiasts. 

        “It was a new thing for us to be playing on a bill supporting Elton John. We’re still not a show band. We try to arrange the show so that it’s dramatic musically rather than visually.”

        The concept of ‘putting on a show’ was quite foreign to them, and not something they were prepared to countenance. In this respect they had trenchant views about commercialism and weren’t afraid to stick the oar in when it came to bands they didn’t much like. Diplomacy wasn’t their scene. 

        “It always has been [commercial], but never more so than now,” said Fagen. “It just happened that in the sixties there were bands who came up one after the other with original ideas, but now everyone seems to be copying each other. I never seem to hear anything new. The last thing I heard that was really and truly new was the first Band album. The second was good too but after that you could chuck them out of the window.”

        Their explanation for the success of British bands in America was simple. Becker: “American people love to hear an English accent. English bands seem to have a flair for a certain type of presentation that was exciting when it first came out. Groups like The Who put on the kind of show that American bands would never do.”

        “But it is true that the American people are inexplicably attracted by the English accent,” agreed Fagen. “It’s alien and it’s exotic and they never seem to get used to it. Even I think that. There’s a lot of English acts could fill, say, Madison Square Garden, but there’s very few of them I would go and see. It’s ironic that an English band will come out playing the blues and the blues started in America.”

        Becker: “I will begrudgingly admit that English bands are more polished performers. Their recordings are more carefully made and even the bad ones sound kinda good to me somehow. They’re better than their American counterparts and I can’t understand how that is.”

        The main reason why the terminally interview-phobic Dan men had agreed to speak to MM was because they’d be playing concerts in the UK the following month. Fagen was looking forward to it. “I have a feeling that European audiences will be more appreciative of our music. American audiences are fantastic but I don’t know what they appreciate.”

        “You can’t tell what they’re into at all,” said Becker. “From the stage, you see people at the front and they’re obviously into volume, a self-abuse trip. As for the rest of the audience we don’t know. We hope it’s the music.”

        “People who take their clothes off are into rhythm and we’re into that,” said Fagen enigmatically. 

        When I turned the conversation towards which groups they did and didn’t like it was clear they were hard to please. Indeed, they disliked almost every rock group on the planet, especially those from the world of glam. Their most hated group of all appeared to be my friends Slade, with whom they had shared a bill. “How they ever managed to get enough money together to come here and tour is a miracle,” said Becker.

        Uriah Heep was another whose popularity amazed them, along with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. “Black Oak Arkansas is an American band who imitate that kind of music and they’re absolute trash,” said Fagen. “I can’t listen to them. Even if I might enjoy the visual thing, I couldn’t possibly stay in a room and listen.”

        Becker agreed. “The more complex groups like Yes or Jethro Tull or Emerson Lake & Palmer are more interesting, but I’ve yet to hear one of those groups that has developed into anything more than quick changes and super niceties.

        “Yes is a very polished group, but I don’t particularly like their music,” added Fagen. “Their music doesn’t seem to hold together. We might be prejudiced because we like short songs and they like long songs. It has a sort of artificial sound, though, like it was put together deliberately to appear complicated.”

        One musician they did like was Frank Zappa. Fagen again: “A lot of those groups seem to me as if they picked up on Frank Zappa many years ago. Zappa puts a lot of complex things together which probably don’t make much sense but he looks at it with such a comical eye and the English bands don’t think it’s funny. They take it very seriously.

        “I’ve been to see about five rock concerts in the last five years and most of them have been Frank Zappa concerts. We’re really out of it as far as rock is concerned. It’s too loud. I’d go to see Joni Mitchell. She uses interesting chords.”

        “You wouldn’t go see Joni Mitchell,” snapped Becker.

        “OK. I might not go see her live, but I have bought Joni Mitchell records,” Fagen corrected. “Her voice terrifies me.”

In the light of this discussion it probably didn’t delight Becker and Fagen that they were supporting Electric Light Orchestra at the concert that evening. I got there early, determined not to miss anything. In the event it started late due to ‘technical’ problems that marred Steely Dan’s set throughout, a failing monitor system to blame, along with whining feedback. It was so bad that they stopped one number shortly after it started and began again. 

        Having mentioned all this at the start of my review, I continued as follows: “It would, I feel, be unfair to judge them on this display. It doesn’t happen often but it has a nasty habit of happening in New York.

        “Fagen is the focal point of the outfit. His grand piano is placed squarely in the centre of the stage and he frequently abandons his stool to conduct the rest of the band with his hands, turning his back on the audience as he does so.

        “The accent is very much on percussion with two kits and a conga player. Perhaps it was that sound system, but frequently the percussion drowned out the rest of the band. The twin guitars flow in unison for much of the set, and at times they sounded very influenced by Santana.

        “At their best they were magnificent, but this high was only reached occasionally. Problems or not, it was obvious that Steely Dan have set themselves a high standard and, as they told me earlier, were not content to sit back and play their rock and roll like everyone else.

        “Most of their numbers are fairly short, and the material was mainly from their new album Pretzel Logic. They finished with ‘Reelin’ In The Years’, their first major US hit, and a sympathetic audience brought them back for an encore. The band looked grateful, but it was obvious they were far from happy with the evening.”

        The next time I saw Steely Dan was at Hammersmith in the year 2000. There were no sound problems that night. 


MY STINT AS MM’S MAN IN AMERICA Part 19 – 1974 continued

My Melody Maker credentials made it remarkably easy to infiltrate New York’s rock’n’roll scene. The paper was selling 200,000 copies a week back in the UK and labels were well aware that coverage in MM would help their acts sell records there. I soon became a familiar face among the rock’n’roll cognoscenti. I saw the same men and women at clubs like the Bottom Line and Bitter End or backstage at gigs or at record company parties and was soon on Christian name terms with all the city’s music writers, PRs, and a few managers and concert promoters. It was a bit of a closed world but, boy, did we enjoy ourselves. 

        As far as I was aware, there were three rock photographers operating in New York in those days: Bob Gruen, who was everywhere that mattered, Leee (note the three e’s) Black Childers, who was outrageously gay and favoured the glam world, and Chuck Pulin, who seemed the least well connected, at least to me, and worked for Sounds. Leee’s pictures had already appeared in MM when Roy Hollingworth was our man in NY but my instincts told me Bob was the man to approach as my photographer of choice to accompany me to interviews and shows where I needed a picture to illustrate my story. We cut a deal that suited both of us. Any picture he took where access was enabled by me belonged to Melody Maker for one month. Thereafter it was his to sell to all and sundry in perpetuity. We saw a lot of rock together and became good friends. Still are. 

Bob operated out of a cramped apartment on the Lower West Side and could be counted on to fill me in on whatever was happening in the New York rock world. Every time I called Bob he’d say, “What’s happening, man?” and sometimes he’d call me and open up the conversation with the same question. Of course, Bob always knew what was happening more than anyone else I knew in New York, whether it was on the streets or in the clubs. It was instinct with him, and I liked the fact that he was just as enthused about taking pictures of some unsigned punk band as he was taking pictures of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin or John Lennon, with whom he developed a close relationship. Bob was an energetic, wiry little fellow with afro-styled hair. He drove a beat-up old VW Beetle, always wore a black leather jacket, t-shirt and jeans and more often than not had a tiny spliff clamped between his lips. For all his energy, he was as laid-back as anyone I’d ever met, unflappable, Mr Cool. Still is.  

Bob Gruen. I think this is a self portrait. 

Inevitably, it was Bob who introduced me to the New York Underground. It was a matter of routine for me to write about acts, famous or otherwise, that were contracted to record labels but it was quite another thing to venture out on my own initiative to see an act that wasn’t signed and wasn’t expecting any interest from a paper like MM. I’d heard a bit about rowdy young bands playing in a rough downtown club on the Bowery called CBGBs and in a club not far away called Club 82, and I decided to check out this scene for myself. I was a bit unsure about all this so I called Bob for advice. He suggested I join him in a couple of night’s time in Club 82 where a band he liked called The Stilettos was playing. “There’s this singer, a blonde girl, looks just like Marilyn Monroe,” he said on the phone. “Check her out man, you won’t believe it.”

Club 82 was an old-style drag club with mirrors everywhere, famous in its day for its risqué floor shows but now fallen on hard times, and the girls who worked it, all of them of a certain age with short cropped hair and dressed in dark men’s suits with buttoned-up shirts and ties, had figured that a bit of rock’n’roll might keep the creditors at bay. For a while it became a sort of sister club to CBGBs, of which more later, but it was never as well-known. Still, it was fun, with more of a party atmosphere than CBGBs. On the night Bob suggested I paid my $3 on the door – no freebies for MM writers here – and went inside, bought a beer and found him by the stage, camera at the ready.  

The Stilettos turned out to be supporting Wayne/Jane County, with whom I was already familiar because I’d seen him/her at Max’s Kansas City. The support act, The Stilettos, was a trio, backed by a four piece, who took their cue from the girl groups of the pre-Beatles Sixties. There was a black girl, a redhead and a blonde who stood in the middle and appeared to be the leader, and Bob was right. She wore a clingy, low-cut, full-length, off-the-shoulder, satin ball gown in all gold that flattered her figure, and she was a dead-ringer for Marilyn, with platinum hair, a cute smile and strawberry lips. Their set was under-rehearsed and short – everybody’s was down there – and afterwards Bob took me backstage to meet her. 

Her name, of course, was Debbie. Up close she was incredibly beautiful, but she was also cool, committed and she knew her pop. I tried not to let her appearance interfere with my interviewing technique as we talked about this and that while Bob took some more pictures. She told me she wanted to be a full-time singer but she had a daytime job in a New Jersey beauty parlour right now. She hoped someday to get into the music business full time. I told her I’d stay in touch and she gave me her phone number. Bob took some more pictures, and I went away and, in a week or two, mentioned her and The Stilettos in a generic piece I wrote about several unsigned New York bands who were operating downtown. 

        “Never had I seen the 82 more crowded than about three weeks back than when Wayne County topped the bill over The Stilettos,” I wrote. “Wayne came out in full drag which was pretty stunning, but the music was overly loud and under inspired for my tastes. He went down a bomb though.” 

        The piece mentioned 10 other acts, but I found room for Debbie. “The Stilettos, who opened up, had more potential but less rehearsal. Fronted by a cuddly platinum blonde called Debbi (sic), they’re a girl vocal trio with a male guitar/bass/drums back-up band. The three chicks take turns to sing solo while the other two chant away behind, and some of the songs were well worth putting on vinyl. Ninety-five per cent were original, but the style was taken from the late 'fifties era of vocal groups.”

        I have good reason to believe that the 74 words in that second paragraph – out of a total of about 1,500 in the whole piece – were the first ever to be written about Debbie Harry that appeared in a British paper, music or otherwise.

The Stilettos on stage at the 82 Club. Left to right: Chris Stein, Debbie H, Elda Gentile, Rosa Ross & Frankie Harlot. Picture by Bob Gruen.

It just so happened that Bob gave me a few pictures of Debbie that I sent over to London and, somewhat inevitably in the light of her appearance, someone on the subs desk at MM opted to use them to illustrate the feature. A week or two later that issue of MM landed on my doorstep so I called her up at the beauty parlour where she worked and told her that her picture was in Melody Maker. She was very excited about this. It was evidently the first time she’d ever had her picture in a magazine, or so she told me, and she seemed desperate to get her hands on a copy. 

        A night or two later she drove up to my apartment on East 78th Street in an old green banger with bench seats. I gave her three copies of the paper and took her out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant on the West Side. Over sushi and tempura and sake she told me that The Stilettos were breaking up and she was forming a new band with her boyfriend, Chris Stein, their guitarist, its name as yet undecided. I took note of this and would mentioned her plans in my next MM New York news column, no doubt the first mention of the fledgling Blondie anywhere. 

        It was around midnight when Debbie Harry drove back through Central Park to drop me off at my place over on the East Side. Before getting out of her car I pulled her towards me across the bench seat, kissed her on the lips and invited her inside. But I was too late – she’d already met that other Chris.


MY STINT AS MM’S MAN IN AMERICA Part 18 – 1974 continued.

It’s almost a year since my memoirs of the time I spent in New York as Melody Maker’s US Editor ground to halt. In the meantime, I went out of sequence by writing about my route to MM and first few days on the paper, but I’m back in 1974 again now and over the next few weeks will continue to write about what I got up to that year. So here’s the first instalment of this new instalment… 

New Yorkers will tell you that the season they call the fall and we call autumn is the best month to be in the city but I preferred spring when I lived there. Of course, I came to realise that the colour of the trees in Central Park as they shed their leaves was a beauty to behold, but Manhattan winters were mighty cold so it was a big relief when the winds that whipped around those blocks eased off and what the weathermen called the wind chill factor was no longer an issue, especially for the likes of someone who’d been mollycoddled by our temperate British climates.

One Tuesday morning in the spring 1974 I decided to walk the length of Fifth Avenue, from 78th Street, where I lived, all the way down to Washington Square, a distance of about three miles. I’d lived here since the beginning of the previous December and it was high time I tasted Manhattan on a sunny day. I wanted to look at the people, the shops and cafes, to watch the yellow cabs whizzing by, to gaze up at the Empire State Building as I passed 34th Street and the Flat Iron Building where Broadway disrupted the grid pattern at 23rd Street. I wanted to get a fix on the city I now called home, the skyscrapers, the lattice-like layout of one-way streets, bisected by Fifth Avenue, that alternated east to west or west to east, apart from the big wide ones at 72nd, 57th, 42nd, 34th, 23rd and 14th. It was only when my sister or friends from outside music arrived for a stay that I indulged in any traditional sight-seeing during my time there. I was less interested in seeing the established tourist sights than getting to know my way around this concrete world and, of course, experiencing its rock’n’roll. 

When I reached Washington Square old men were playing outdoor chess on tables with chequered boards etched on to their surfaces and young men were playing Martins, their velvet-lined cases open in front of them to collect change. A crowd had gathered around one busker. “Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow… let me forget about today until tomorrow.” I smiled at the thought of Bob carrying his guitar across this square in maybe 1964 or ’65, writing the songs for Bringing It All Back Home and this one in particular, or earlier when he lived on West 4th Street with the lovely Suze Rotolo, with whom he was photographed, hunched up against the cold, for the cover of the Freewheelin’ LP. 

The grid pattern loses its symmetry below Washington Square and the maze of streets beyond, known collectively as Greenwich Village, have names instead of numbers. I would come to know Bleecker, the most famous, well. Further south we find Soho – which stands for South of Houston (Street) – and then Little Italy, Chinatown and, finally, the Wall Street financial district, not really my cup of tea. But they’d have to wait until another day as after three hours doing nothing I was hungry. I bought a sandwich – probably ham and cheese on rye – in a deli and ate it while I listened to the busker. I gave him fifty cents, then took the subway back to 77nd Street, which cost a quarter in those days, walked back to 51 E 78th Street where I settled down to write up a review of Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band whom I’d seen a few nights ago at the Bottom Line Club.

Many years ago I owned a few of his singles on the black and silver London American label, among them ‘Poor Little Fool’ and ‘My Babe’, which I played in a teenage covers band. He was Ricky Nelson then, and from the age of eight he’d appeared in a prime-time US family-friendly TV sitcom called The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. A career as a teen idol followed, his records much enhanced by the guitar playing of James Burton, but I’d been given to understand that he was now a mature performer, leaning towards country. Indeed, his song ‘Garden Party’ was geared towards giving the impression that he’d shaken off his earlier image and entered into the seventies in a spirit of renewal. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem the case to me. 

        “Nelson is as much steeped in nostalgia as the rest of them,” I wrote. “His set at the Bottom Line Club last weekend was about two-thirds drawn from his old repertoire with very little added to the basic arrangements. Nostalgically, it was mildly entertaining, but musically it was flat. The reason was quite simple: after a while all his songs sounded pretty much the same. They all seemed to be in same key, sang at the same pitch and at a similar tempo. They were all a little countrified thanks to the steel guitar wizard in the band, and Nelson’s own sorties on the guitar hardly qualified him for the virtuoso league.

        “He still looked good, though, in his Nudie western shirt with rhinestone collar, but it was all too easy going for me; sort of supermarket pop brought up to date, if you know what I mean. The material included some out and out rockers like ‘My Babe’ which was a hit for him long, long ago; some of the traditional Nelson melodies like ‘Hello Mary Lou’, ‘Travellin’ Man’ and ‘Lonesome Town’; and some new material which, of course, included by far his most impressive recent offering ‘Garden Party’.

        “The audience lapped up the older material and remained totally indifferent to the newer stuff, which probably frustrates Nelson when he tried to introduce something new along the way. One member of the audience insisted on yelling for ‘Poor Little Fool’ between every other number, but it transpired that the Stone Canyon Band (bass, lead, drums and slide) didn’t know it.

        “When The Ozzie and Harriet Show was the biggest thing on American TV, their two sons portrayed everything that the all-American clean-cut kid ought to be. Rick ain’t changed much.”

        The Bottom Line, which held about 400, hadn’t been open that long when I arrived in New York, and I would go there to see shows at least once a month. In the next couple of years I saw dozens of acts there, among them Bruce Springsteen and Little Feat, and most times I had a ‘tab’ from the record company whose acts were playing. This meant I was entitled to free drinks. I asked the waitress for whatever I wanted and gave her my tab so she could add it on, and at the end of the night handed it in at the bar. I can’t remember if there was a limit – there probably was – but the bill was then sent to the record company. 

        All of which meant that I never needed to have much money on me when I set out for evenings like this. The Bottom Line was on West 4th Street, not far from the Bowery and Lower East side, an area I’d been advised to avoid at night, so I always made a point of dressing like someone who wasn’t worth mugging, which more or less meant I fitted in quite easily with the clientele at the Bottom Line. After a show there, I could catch the subway all the way back uptown, switching from local to express for 72nd Street, and be home in less than half an hour, all for a quarter, the price of any subway journey, regardless of length.  They ran all night too, and though they were much dirtier and noisier with  uncomfortable metal seats, they certainly had the jump on the London Underground. 



My Just Backdated posts about Gillian Welch and her musical partner David Rawlings don’t get that many hits compared to those on the popular rock bands I write about, but I’ll keep plugging away. The latest little Welch/Rawlings gem to reach my ears is ‘Butterfly’, a track on Greenfield: The Gibb Brothers Songbook Vol 1, the recently released album of Bee Gees songs recorded by Barry and various country artists. 

Chosen as the lead track, it is a song I’d not heard before, written and recorded by the Brothers Gibb in Australia before they arrived in the UK in 1967. It first saw the light of day on an LP called Inception, a compilation of early recordings by the Gibb Brothers that was released without their approval in 1970. The tracks were a mixture of originals and covers, including four Beatles songs, all recorded in Australia in 1966. 

Since quality control is high on the agenda for Gillian and David, it goes without saying that ‘Butterfly’ is a lovely song, very suited to their harmonic skills and reminiscent of The Everly Brothers at their melodic best on songs like ‘ALL I Have To Do Is Dream’, ‘Long Time Gone’ and the sublime ‘Kentucky’. A count-in and some characteristic sharp end guitar picking by Rawlings leads into the opening line, ‘Green fields where we used to wander’, suggestive of the album’s title, sung in soaring, expansive unison by Barry, Gillian and David. It’s a floaty, melodic love sung, surprisingly mature when you consider that the eldest Brother was just 19 when it was written, his brothers only 17. 

Though the album as a whole is firmly country, and includes duets with Dolly Parton, Keith Urban and Alison Krause amongst others, ‘Butterfly’ leans towards the bluegrass style of Welch’s own records, a mid-tempo ballad that flows like the best of those expansive early Bee Gees songs. Trivia fans might be interested to know that in 1965 and 1971, respectively, it was also recorded by the UK bands Unit 4 + 2 and Marmalade, and in 2013 The Bee Bees sanctioned the release of Inception, including ‘Butterfly’, which they retitled Bee Gees Diary


IT'S ALL TOO MUCH by David Stark

The well-known cliché amongst those of us for whom publishing books about rock was a way of life is that everyone who ever met The Beatles feels compelled to write a book about them. I must be an exception. I met John seven times, Paul eight and George once but failed to encounter Ringo at all, and the fact that I can recall all of these meetings quite distinctly must mean something or other. However, it obviously means a whole lot more to David Stark, publisher and editor of SongLink International magazine, whose long-term ongoing mission in life seems to have been to ambush The Beatles, collectively or individually, whenever and wherever possible, a bit Forrest Gumpish in some respects except that, unlike Tom Hank’s loveable but rather dim creation, David limits his encounters with defining figures of the 20th Century to Beatles only.

        David’s account of all this is an enjoyable ride for fans of the group, a sort of autobiography written around his love for them and myriad bids to end up in their company, sometimes by chance, more often by good management. A fortuitous encounter with Clive Epstein, brother of Brian, during a family vacation at Torquay in 1964 gets the ball rolling, and offers David a name to drop after he’s caught interloping at the 1968 premiere of Yellow Submarine. Having successfully evaded security by entering the cinema via its roof, he gets lucky when Keith Richard tells him Mick won’t require the next seat to his, so David plops himself down behind John Lennon to watch the film. Such ingenuity warrants high praise indeed. 

        And so the stage is set and we’re off, with David fondly recalling each and every encounter he’s ever had with The Fabs, most of them post-split of course; watching concerts, getting backstage, at receptions and awards ceremonies, in the street, on their doorsteps, just about everywhere you can imagine apart from their bedrooms. Naturally, he’s met – and writes about – peripheral figures from the Beatles’ circle too; family, friends, management, support staff and collaborators, many of them almost as well known now as The Beatles themselves, not to mention many other successful rock musicians, though there is no mention among the book’s 182 pages of any pets, Martha the sheepdog and her successors having evidently eluded David’s relentless quest. 

        Some such encounters are more interesting than others. I wish he’d taped his conversations with Aunt Mimi in 1981 when he spent a weekend at Sandbanks near Poole, twice visiting the home of the eldest of the Stanley sisters into whose care young John Winston was bestowed at the tender age of four. “He did come back to see me, secretly, in disguise,” she told David after he inquired whether she’d seen John since he left the UK for America in 1971. If true, this is a genuine scoop but David – like everyone else – believes it to be wishful thinking on Mimi’s part.

        Having worked in various capacities in the music business since he decided in 1974 that estate agenting wasn’t his bag, David henceforth found it much easier to meet and/or attend concerts by Paul, George & Ringo, so the second half of the book lacks the creative subterfuge of the early encounters. Meeting Paul in a professional capacity or watching him on stage aren’t anywhere near as compelling to read about as bumping into him outside a café in St John’s Wood. Still, David seems never to have missed a single London concert by Paul or Ringo, or a tribute show like the Concert For George in 2002; he regularly attends Beatle fan conventions, auction room sales of Beatles memorabilia and gatherings like Beatle-related Blue Plaque unveilings; and he plays drums in a Travelling Wilburys tribute act called The Trembling Wilburys. In short, nothing much escapes him and if the name dropping occasionally gets a bit much, well that is the title of the book after all. 

        Finally, I must declare an interest since it was I who introduced David to the publisher, for which I am duly thanked. Largely uncritical and steering well clear of anything remotely controversial, It’s All Too Much is a brisk read and unlikely to make it onto any list of thought-provoking or even revealing Beatle books, but as one man’s journey through life with The Beatles as his guide, mentor and deity, it does just fine.



This is the interview I did with Chas Chandler that was published in Melody Maker in October, 1972. 

“We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do.

"We gotta get out of this place, girl there’s a better life for me and you.”

— Written by Cynthia Weill & Barry Mann, recorded by The Animals, 1965.

Brian James Chandler, who will be 34 in December and who has been called Chas since his schooldays, is learning to play the guitar again.

        His reason this time around is simple — Father Christmas is bringing his three-year-old son a guitar next Christmas and Chas has to be the teacher. Chandler Junior is already well into rock: he can sing along to Slade and some of The Beatles, but he doesn’t seem to like Jimi Hendrix. He likes Ray Charles but only because dad recommends it.

        It’s not surprising that Chandler Senior has this influence on his son. Chas Chandler was the original bass player with The Animals which taught him as much about the rock business as Georgie Best knows about football. From there he went on to discover, produce and manage Jimi Hendrix and now he’s managing Slade, the hottest property to arrive on the rock scene for a long while.

        For a one-time docker in the Newcastle shipyards, Chandler has put a real meaning into the words of the old Animals’ hit. Now he lives in a rambling country mansion on the road to Eastbourne and has offices in Mayfair.

        He lives, he says, for the present and the future but it’s the past that has taught him all he knows. He can recall a list of names of businessmen to trust and with whom he has dealt – and he can reel off a bigger list of characters who are crooks, swindlers and conmen. It would be very hard to swindle Mr Chandler today.

        In his youth Chas’s main preoccupation was avoiding conscription. To this end he enrolled for engineering college where he learned to design power stations. On the day conscription ended he quit college and worked on the docks. He was docking by day and playing in a variety of Newcastle clubs by night.

        Various combinations of the five musicians who became The Animals played together before the band was formed, and docking seemed much less attractive. Eventually docking occurred on Sunday afternoons only — with double pay for the same amount of work.

        Towards the end of 1963 The Animals came down to London to find work. Eight months previously Chas had been sacked from the shipyards for irregular hours. He’d play music all night and go straight to work in the mornings and work suffered the most.

        On arrival in London, the Animals met Mickie Most who wanted to produce their records. The first one ‘Baby, Let Me Take You Home’ was a hit and three years of being an Animal began. It was, says Chas, three years of total lunacy – working every night, touring all the time and never knowing who to trust.

        “We were green, so green we hardly knew what was happening to us. We just did what we were told and so long as we had enough money to live on it didn’t matter.”

        ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ was their second record and biggest hit. It was also a massive hit in America and The Animals became the third British group to cross the Atlantic – after The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five.

        “We spent the money so fast we never had time to sit down and count it. We were screwed here and screwed in America. We had a big turnover but no capital and we always stayed in the best hotels. Then, one day in Ireland, we just decided to drop the whole thing.”

        Alan Price was the first Animal to leave. Price has a phobia about flying and he opted out of a Scandinavian tour at the last minute and went home to Newcastle. Mick Gallagher was brought in as a temporary replacement and Dave Rowberry, who is with The Kinks today, became Price’s permanent replacement. Next to go was Johnny Steele, the drummer, who went home to Newcastle and who, today, is Chandler’s assistant.

        “Eric (Burdon) and I were starting to get wise to things,” says Chas. “We had done our own production deal by this time but the whole thing was still crazy. One night we just decided to quit – we would carry out all the engagement booked and no more.

        “I didn’t want to stay a bass player all my life or play one ever again at that moment. I hadn’t a clue what to do but we all knew The Animals were over.”

        The last few months of The Animals, says Chas, were their best days. There were no tensions or arguments as all the band knew it was over. It was during this period that they made what Chas considers to be their best record ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’.”

        “During the last eight months our only objective was really to make some money while we still had the chance. It was a question of grabbing what we could before it was all over.”

        It was during the last Animals tour of America that Chas met Jimi Hendrix. “I was asked to go to the Cafe Wah? in Greenwich Village and see him and that was it. I had thought about producing records and this was the man I wanted to produce.”

        When The Animals finally split Chas came back to New York and brought Hendrix back to London. He had just £1,400 to show from his days with the group and he grabbed most of this during the closing months.

        During the next three years he managed Hendrix and produced his records until a point was reached where Jimi no longer wanted to work. They parted company amicably and Chas, who had improved substantially on his £1,400 by this time, was out of work again. In the three years with Hendrix he was married and his wife, Lotte, was expecting Chandler Junior. For most of the time he had shared a flat with Hendrix which was rented from Ringo Starr, but the time was now ripe to move out to the country.

        After four months Chas joined the Robert Stigwood Organisation with no specific role. “By this time I had become very hardened and learned a lot about the business. I was supposed to look for new acts with Stigwood and do some record production.

        “One day I had a call from a guy who told me about this group called Slade and that they wanted a manager. I went down to see them at the Rasputin Club in London and they knocked me out. I was as impressed when I first saw Slade as I was when I first saw Jimi Hendrix.

        “I wanted to find something different from the blues. The Animals had been mainly blues, and Jimi was the same thing but Slade just had a ball on stage. After watching them work I had to sign them.”

        Chas signed them up and shortly afterwards left Stigwood to form his own company and concentrate entirely on Slade. He has no plans to manage any other acts.

        “Slade were very young when I first met them – much younger than the Animals when we came to London – and they were getting screwed just like we had been. As far as publicity was concerned they weren’t very successful in the early days but they were still earning good money. The business took every opportunity to knock them because of the skinhead thing, but they were slowly building up a very big following.”

        Slade, originally on the Fontana label, switched to Polydor and the rest of the story is too recent to recount again. America is Slade’s next goal and already they have received rave reviews around the country – unlike T. Rex. 

        “Slade are far and away better musicians than The Animals ever were,” says Chas. “Hilton Valentine couldn’t play a guitar like Dave Hill and I could never hope to be able to play bass as well as Jim Lea. I have a guitar now and I bring it out once a year.

        “My attitude as a manager is to get as much success and as much money for the act I am managing, and my experiences as a musician have helped me a lot. I never try to analyse my own actions which are mainly inspirations based on experience. That’s how I picked up Slade.”



Chas Chandler, right, with Johnny Steel, the Animals' drummer who became Chas's right-hand man when Chas managed Slade. Photographer unknown.

Referencing Chas Chandler in a Slade-related Facebook post a few days ago led me into thinking more about Slade’s larger than life manager and to seek out an interview I did with him in 1972 when Slade were riding high. Headlined ‘Slade Driver’, it was published in Melody Maker in October that year, by which time Chas and I had become good friends. I’ll post it verbatim tomorrow, but first a few thoughts on the Slade Driver. 

        Of course, my friendship with Chas wouldn’t have arisen had I not been on the staff of Melody Maker and he hadn’t been managing one of the most successful bands in the UK, but in the time I knew him – roughly from 1970 to 1976 – I came to like him a lot. I admired his ‘never-give-up’ attitude towards managing Slade, his relentless positivity and dedication to their cause. He was a big bloke, well over six foot and brawny with it, and while not as confrontational as, say, Led Zep’s manager Peter Grant, it would be unwise to utter a disparaging word about Slade in his presence, especially if he’d had a few drinks.

        “They’re like a fookin’ breath of fresh eayer,” he kept telling me the first time I encountered Slade at that Samantha’s disco off Regent Street in 1970. He was yelling that into my ear all through the gig. He had to yell. The band on stage were always deafeningly loud. 

        “The band bloody worshipped Chas from the word go,” tour manager Graham ‘Swin’ Swinnerton told me when I was researching my Slade book. He was right. Hanging around with the five of them in the early seventies, especially before the hits started coming, it was easy to detect the group’s admiration for their manager, this devoted Geordie who would scream about them from the rooftops if he thought it would advance their career.

        “He was strong at dealing with us and he was strong at dealing with the record company,” Noddy told me in 2005, a decade after Chas had left us. “He had so much confidence in us it wasn’t true.” When Chas told him and Jim to buckle down and write some songs they did just that, fearful that Chas might drop them if they didn’t. “We’d have done anything to avoid that,” added Nod.

        “He was one of those big men with unlimited energy who’d sweep you along with the force of his conviction,” wrote his great friend Keith Altham in an obituary that appeared in Mojo magazine. At Chas’s funeral Keith told the congregation about a plan Chas had to link Perth and Sydney by canal. No project, however unlikely, was too big for Chas to contemplate.

        Chas Chandler was a man of the world, well-travelled, well versed in the ways of the music business and pretty much fearless, well able to look after himself in a tight situation. He told me he once spent a night in jail in America after punching a cop backstage at a Jimi Hendrix concert. Another time, in New York, we were riding around in a limousine together when he asked the driver to take us down to the Bowery where he might find a lady of the night to keep him company. He knew precisely where to find such a companion but failed in his mission, largely because his thick Geordie accent was incomprehensible. “Alreet luv. ’Ow’s it gan hinny?” he said to the startled girl. “Are ya doin’ buzzziness?” She looked at him like he was from Mars. I had to laugh. 

        Like Peter Grant, Chas was a manager from the old school who led from the front, placed a high premium on the security of his charges and didn’t like to miss a gig. Equally importantly, he was always one for the big gesture, something that would attract publicity, a move that would get Slade noticed. “Ya can be the best fookin’ band in the fookin’ world but if no one knows about it who gives a fookin’ toss?” he said. 

        That was why, at PR Keith Altham’s suggestion, he persuaded them to become skinheads in late 1969. He knew the papers would latch on to this as a story and although there was a bit of a backlash, it worked. Then again it might not have worked had Slade not been such an experienced, well-drilled live act. A gimmick and a bit of silly press can only get you so far but if you don’t have the chops to back it up you’re doomed. Slade had chops to spare. 

        In 1972 Chas lived with his lovely Swedish wife Lotte and young son Stefan in a fine detached house at Lingfield, about 25 miles directly south of London, not far from Gatwick Airport. I remember driving down there to do this interview on a Sunday afternoon, eating dinner and spending the night chez Chandler since the booze we drank rendered me hopelessly incapable of driving back to London. Chas liked his booze and fags, and he liked to smoke joints, big ones too, but I never saw him do any stronger drugs. 

        Although he was the bass player for The Animals he didn’t rate himself much as a musician and once told me he’d be embarrassed to play in front of Jim Lea. He looked on his time with The Animals as an apprenticeship for a far greater mission, managing Jimi Hendrix and then Slade. Like many acts in the sixties, The Animals were ripped off wholesale and he made sure the same thing didn’t happen to Slade. 

        I stood next to Chas at the side of the stage at Earls Court on July 1, 1973. He’d been made aware of the problems that David Bowie suffered in the same venue on May 12, the first time Earls Court had hosted a rock show. Bowie’s PA system was inadequate, the acoustics were terrible and the band performed at floor level, all of which led to serious crowd disturbances and could probably be blamed on Bowie’s management skimping on costs. Chas was having none of that for Slade, who became only the second act to headline Earls Court. Midway through the show, as we gazed out at 18,000 Slade fans having the time of their lives, he was yelling into my ear, just like he did way back when at Samantha’s: “All yee’ve got to do in a place like this is to build a big fookin’ stage and light it properly. And get a decent fookin’ PA. It’s as fookin’ simple as that.”

        As everyone knows, the night was a triumph. 

        The last time I saw Chas was around 1994 at Champneys, a private health club on Piccadilly in central London. He’d lost weight, was pasty faced and looked much older than I remembered him. If he was unwell, he certainly wasn’t there to improve his physical fitness – heaven forbid – but because it had a posh members-only bar and restaurant. Keith Altham had set up a meeting, the purpose of which was an attempt on my part to persuade Chas to write his life story. (Keith had set up all the interviews for my Feel The Noize! book.) I knew Chas read a lot, science fiction mostly, and I half succeeded insofar as he promised to think about it. In the event he died two years later and it never happened but I often wonder whether he made a start on it. If he did, it never came to light. 

        By this time Chas had moved back to the north east and settled down with his second wife, Madeline Stringer, a former Miss UK, with whom he had two daughters, in the coastal town of Cullercoats. A few miles east of Newcastle, this was where I attended his funeral on July 22, 1996. He had devoted the last few years of his life to his role in the creation of what is now the Utilita Arena Newcastle, the largest concert and exhibition venue in the North East, which had opened in 1995. By all accounts he put as much effort into this as he did as Slade’s manager, learning all about the construction business with the same dedication he put into handling their career. 

       Unfortunately, no one thought to erect statue of Chas outside. 

I’ll post my interview with Chas tomorrow. 



I have resisted buying Cum On Feel The Hitz – The Best Of Slade, the most recent hits compilation by my favourite Wolverhampton band, largely because I already have three hits CDs by Slade, all of which are accompanied by my sleeve notes, but they didn’t ask me this time around. I know I am out of favour with their management for crimes against what I’ll term 21st Century Slade Revisionism but, in any case, I’d probably have found it hard to write something different from all the other sleeves notes I’ve written in the past.

        My part-time job as Slade's go-to man for sleeve-note writing began in 1972 with Slayed, on the back of which were the first I did for anyone. Chas paid me £20 by cheque, which is about £250 in today’s money, not bad for about 300 words. Then came the hits albums, the first Slade: Wall Of Hits, released in 1991; the second Slade Greatest Hits: Feel The Noize (1997); and the third The Very Best Of Slade (2005), this last one – like the most recent – a double CD. This had my most extensive notes of the three and benefited from an interview I did with Noddy in the bar at the Landmark Hotel on Marylebone Road in London. I think he’d come down from Cheshire specially to meet up with me so I could cobble together something new. Nevertheless, I was pissed off when the CD came out because whoever designed the booklet had opted to use tiny white type on a silver background, thus rendering my notes illegible unless you used a magnifying glass. Art direction and design were credited to someone who went by a single name – ‘Peacock’ – so if anyone knows who he or she is, please communicate my displeasure. 

        Come to think of it, my Slade sleeve-note tally could arguably amount to five because a quote from me, dated 23/12/70, appeared on the fold-out sleeve of the original Slade Alive! “… on stage Slade are one of the few groups who work hard to entertain an audience, they have a long future ahead of them and plenty of time to develop their exciting style.” That’s actually a bastardised version of my prediction in Melody Maker  recently posted here on Facebook  that Slade would be one of 1971’s top bands. (Trivia fans might like to know that a couple of inches below that is a quote from Leon Hickman of the Bradford Telegraph & Argus. In 1968 Leon and I worked together on the T&A and between us we produced the paper’s first ever weekly pop page, my first stab at music writing.)

        In considering whether or not to buy the new compilation I spent an hour looking over the other three Slade hits CDs on my shelf, all of which were probably given to me by Slade’s record company in return for the notes I wrote, along with progressively larger remuneration. And though I say it myself, I’m still quite proud of my notes for the first of these for Wall Of Hits (not Hitz!). It was 39 years ago that I first identified an issue that still rankles with me and many Slade fans today. 

        “As the pop music industry reaches its hi-tech but insecure and rather overcrowded middle age,” I wrote, “statistics from earlier eras take on truly insurmountable proportions. Did The Beatles really have 22 top ten hits – including 17 chart toppers – in the seven years that followed their chart debut in 1963? Yes, they did. And in the decade that followed did Slade come the closest anyone ever has to emulating that? Yes, they did: 16 top 20 hits between 1971 and 1976 that included six number ones, three number twos and two number threes. No other UK act of the period, not T. Rex, not David Bowie, not Elton John nor any other ‘superstar’ act enjoyed such constituency; nor is such consistency feasible today.

“Two decades after the event, Slade remain the only act ever to enter the UK chart at number one with consecutive releases, a feat they accomplished three times in all.

“Despite these statistics, rock historians have been less than charitable to Slade. Their happy-go-lucky, good humoured personalities, their complete lack of pretension or political motivation and their generally irreverent attitude towards the art of rock were never likely to appeal to serious music critics, and there seems to have been a post-Slade conspiracy to place them in the file marked ‘trivial’; little more than an amusing footnote in the story of glam rock.

“This is unjust, not least because their success was by no means confined to their extraordinary run on the singles charts. Three of their albums topped the LP charts between 1972 and 1974 and a fourth, Slade Alive!, reached number two and stayed on the charts for an astonishing 58 weeks. Simultaneously Slade concerts filled the largest halls in the country, including a memorable sold out show at Earls Court that drew 18,000 fans. They were without question one of the most popular – and most competent – live rock acts this country has ever seen.” 

The charts don’t mean much now. In the 39 years since I wrote all that, Slade’s achievements have been surpassed by all and sundry. The boy band era that began with Take That saw all manner of fiddles – sorry, marketing strategies – that enabled single after single to enter the charts at number one. At one point it was so common that not to enter at number one was regarded as a failure. Sales of singles are a fraction of what they once were and when Top Of The Pops bit the dust no one much cared anymore. Still, it was nice to see Cum On Feel The Hitz – The Best Of Slade doing as well as it did, even if I didn’t buy a copy myself. 

By the way, who wrote the sleeve notes?