In the land of the bland, the guitar riff will be King and Slade always had those to burn.
In 1973 things weren’t exactly great in Britain. People were struggling to get by; there was inflation, unemployment and industrial strife which had seen power cuts in the evenings over the previous couple of years. By the end of that year, Slade had racked up their sixth Number One single with Merry Christmas Everybody. They were a shaft of light for many in bleak times with their romping, stomping irresistible singalongs. They sold singles by the tonne but were always more than that as the NME called their third album, Slayed, “one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll releases ever”.
So, if you need a little lift (and many do at the present time), who better to call than the Black Country Buccaneers themselves. As the lights of the William Aston Hall dimmed and the Thunderbirds theme blasted out, the ‘international rescue’ team of Slade took the stage with Gudbuy t’Jane followed by Take Me Bak ‘Ome and Look Wot You Dun. Not bad for starters!
The present line-up sees Mal McNulty and bassist John Berry sharing lead vocals while original drummer Don Powell is still a powerhouse, driving out the pounding rhythms that were always such a vital feature of their distinctive sound.
Dave Hill is centre-stage, then stage right and left. He is a swirling, whirling ball of energy. This is the man who, upon being challenged by the rest of the band about his increasingly flamboyant looks, responded with the phrase “You write ‘em, I’ll sell ‘em” and he was as good as his word as the hits piled up alongside some spectacularly garish outfits.
Tonight he puts you in mind of a proto-Angus Young. He could easily have dropped out of a Christmas cracker; just wind him up and watch him go. In the land of the bland, the guitar riff will be King and Slade always had those to burn. Hill high kicks and wiggles his way through standards like Coz I Luv You, How Does it Feel and My Friend Stan while the crowd, many of whom probably drove their teachers to distraction with Slade-influenced misspellings, lap it up.
Run Runaway is a reminder of the second coming of the band as they rode a Hard Rock train to shake up the synth soaked Eighties after taking the 1980 Reading Rock Festival by storm as late replacements for Ozzy Osbourne. Slade still had the power and riffs that were the envy of many a band and those they influenced include The Ramones, Nirvana and Motley Crue to name but a few.
The licentious swagger of Mama Weer All Crazee Now and first hit Get Down and Get With It close the set before a trio of songs for encores that perfectly encapsulate the essence of Slade. The wistful melody of My Oh My, a song that somehow seems so appropriate at this time, is chased by the urgency of the top rocker Cum on Feel the Noize, which sits proudly alongside Motorhead’s Overkill as the final word in ‘up yours’ rock defiance.
And so we reach the inevitable conclusion, written in the summer of 1973 but very much with the winter market in mind. Arguably Merry Christmas Everybody is the Christmas song and the audience, who must have reached saturation point with it years ago, are lapping it up as if they have just unwrapped the single on Christmas morning all those years ago.
Noddy holder has said that when he wrote the lyrics all those years ago, he added the lines ‘look to the future now, it’s only just begun” to inject some optimism at the end of a hard year. It just goes to show, everything changes and nothing changes but Slade are still there, firing out the classics as only they can. Long may they continue to do so.
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All images courtesy of Ceridwen Hughes Photography