The mention of Slade conjures up a picture of glam rock at its most gaudy. Of mirrored top hats, platform boots and silly hair styles. Rowdy, foot-stomping music and misspelt song titles. And of course THAT Christmas single1.
But what was the rest of their story?
The group line up of Noddy Holder (vocalist/guitar), Jimmy Lea (bass), Don Powell (Drums) and Dave Hill (lead guitar) had been together since 1966.
Hailing from the Black Country2, they were first known as The N'Betweens. The music they performed during this period was drawn from Tamla-Motown and Rhythm and Blues. They fast became a top attraction in the local bars and clubs.
Their first single was released in August 1966. In the early part of 1969 they were invited down to London to record an album. It was suggested at this time to change their name to Ambrose Slade. The most important event was when they met Chas Chandler.
Chas Chandler was the former bassist with The Animals and manager and producer of Jimi Hendrix. After seeing them perform two 45 minute sets he decided to manage them. Chandler insisted that they start writing their own material. He also suggested that they drop the Ambrose part of their name to become Slade.
Their image was also in for a change. By the time of the release of their first album they were into the progressive / hippy look. But they were not being noticed. So to get a reaction from the music press they adopted a skinhead look. The publisity stunt work. Pictures appeared of them in the press, but there was also some reluctance from promoters to book them due to the violent image of skinheads.
At the end of 1970 saw the release of first album recorded as Slade. But this failed to enter the charts. They were still playing live, five days a week, eleven months of the year and were becoming ever more popular.
Live, they still performed a mixture of their own material and cover versions. One cover that went down a storm live was a Little Richard number Get Down And Get With It. Chandler noticed how well it was liked and got the group to record it as a single. It became their first hit.
When the single was released in May 1971 Slade had adapted their skinhead appearance to a more colourful and less threatening one. Another product of their live performances was the release of their second album Alive!. This captured the essence of a Slade performance, good rock tunes, loud and fun. The album stayed in the chart for over 50 weeks.
Between 1972 and 1975 saw Slade at their most popular. 13 top ten singles, 6 of which were number ones, three of those going in straight to number one. Five Albums made the top ten, three of which were number one. And there was one film, Flame (released in 1974).
Flame portarys an up and coming band. Issues dealt with include, management problems, publicity, success and the internal conflicts that happens to a band. The film was a serious look at the music industry. An unusual choice considering their unpretentious attitude to music and performance.
Having achieved so much in the UK and elsewhere (In Australia when they toured there in 1972, the top three chart singles and the top two album's were Slade's. The band was also popular in Japan and Europe.). There was one market that they had yet to find success, America.
The first tour of America was in 1972 was as a support act. In 1973 saw a promotion and concert tour. But still there was no chart success, but they were now gaining a reputation as a live act. In 1975 the band relocated to New York. In a determined drive to find success, a summer tour had been scheduled, the first of many tours.
However nothing came of their two years spent in America. While the East Coast and Midwestern States were receptive. The South and West Coast were unresponsive. By 1977 the tours and living in rented accommodation were draining their resources. Their earning from the UK had to be used to subsidize the venture, and their popularity back in the UK had started to wane.
Returning back to the UK in 1977 they found themselves out of favour with the public. They continued to release records and toured, playing clubs, universities and even the cabaret curcuit but nothing came of it. They had become reviled. Earning had almost dried up and the band looked like finishing.
It was a chance cancellation of Ozzy Osbourne from the 1980 Reading Festival that offered Slade one final chance to go out in style, in front of 30,000 people. They went on stage and proceeded to deliver an exceptional performance, one mixed with old and new material, to the audiences and presses acclaim. This marked a turn of fortune for the band.
From 1980 to 1991 Slade had a number succesful singles and albums. They continued to attract a good following for their live shows. Even success in America beckoned when Quiet Riot charted with a couple of Slade tracks. Slade even found themselves with a hit single. But just as they were about go on tour, one of the band became ill, so the tour was cancelled. And America remained unconquered.
By 1991 Slade had disbanded. Noddy Holder began a successfull career as a DJ and actor. Jimmy Lea went on to study psychology. And Don Powell and Dave Hill continued to record and play live under the name Slade II.
For further information there is the Noddy Holder autobiography Who's Crazee Now. The Slade biography by Chris Charlesworth Feel the Noize. Or visit Slade online