Friday, September 23, 2005
Slade meets Dickens
Last Tuesday I visited Don. We had lunch, did a bit of work during the afternoon, did a bit of talking and in the evening we drove to the town of Herning with his girlfriend to attend the dress rehearsal of that play "Oliver T." at the Team Theatre that was mentioned on Danish TV a few days ago. It was really good and in director Mikael Helmuth's version Slade's music plays an essential role.
In the press release from the theatre it says: "On stage are 6 professional actors, 17 extras and a 7-piece orchestra with both rock- and chamber-musicians. The musicians of the production do of course have music in common but quite extraordinary they all play renditions of songs written by the old glitter rock group Slade. Songs with lyrics that strangely enough could have been written by Charles Dickens himself. As an extra feather in the cap, the theatre has made contact with some of the members of the old band and Slade's drummer Don Powell has visited the theatre several times to attend rehearsals, just as he is expected to be among the guests at the original performance on September 22nd 2005."
Don actually thought that Mikael Helmuth was crazy the first time he heard that he would put Slade's music to Oliver Twist, but he - and all the rest of us - now knows better. It is amazing and I must admit that the play really blew me away.
The Oliver Twist-story itself has been re-written by writer Peter Hugge, changing perspectives, so that it is no longer the poor who are bad and the rich who are good. The picture painted of society is a bit more complicated in this version and the story comes out with a "happy" ending that is ever so much different from the one that Dickens wrote. And there are other changes. The prostitute Nancy has been renamed Jane in order to fit with Gudbuy T'Jane, but the goodbyes in this play are also quite different from Dickens'. The real masterstroke is, however, that The Artful Dodger is missing from the story line and has instead been turned into a narrator/singer. The guy playing this part is named Flemming Bang and believe it or not but HE actually sings like Noddy! He also masters the same showmanship as Nod, heck, he even looks a bit like him, I mean, the red hair and sideboards, as well as being a bit voluminous, you know. I was so (pleasantly) surprised. "Noddy Holder" as The Artful Dodger - who would have guessed?
Slade's music fits just perfect to that play. Right from the start when they open with Get Down And Get With It to a scene of the busy streets of London I couldn't help smiling from sheer joy. They had really put a lot of songs in there, the re-occurring theme being How Does It Feel. But also Gudbuy T'Jane, Far Far Away, Know Who You Are, Cum On Feel The Noize, MXE (which had everybody rolling with laughter because of the scene and the singer), Mama Weer All Crazee Now and god knows what, the favourite among the musicians and actors being Jim's Universe. It is marvellous! To top it off the play sports ingenious set design and lights.
The "Oliver T."-play only runs until October 14th 2005 and all shows are already almost sold out. I sure hope that this play is going to become an export article, as I'd wish for all non-Danish Slade-fans and theatre-fans to see this.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Don Powell on Danish television
Don was on Danish television this evening in connection with a new production of "Oliver Twist" on the Team Theatre in Danish town Herning. The director, Mikael Helmuth, is a big Slade-fan and uses Slade's music in the play. Helmuth met Don at Slade's Holstebro-gig last month and Don has attended some of the rehearsals of the play. This made a nice item in the TV-programme "Saadan ligger landet" on the DR1 channel today. Here you could see interviews with both Mikael Helmuth and Don, their first meeting in Holstebro had been filmed as well as Don attending a rehearsal. Furthermore there was some footage from the Slade-concert in Holstebro and even some old clips of the original Slade from respectively their concert in the "K.B. Hallen" in Copenhagen in 1974 and from their performance on Danish music-programme "Eldorado" in 1983.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Those Danish papers!
At the moment I'm trying to find all gig-dates in Denmark of the original Slade. In that connection I've noticed that whenever Slade was in Denmark we had a paper-strike. Well, maybe not always, but often enough to make it difficult to find anything about their gigs.
There was the famous strike in 1977. It only lasted for nine days, 16. - 24. April, but then of course Slade played in Denmark in April from the 20th to the 25th. When Slade came back in May 1981, the papers were on strike again, this time from April to August just to be sure that nothing about Slade would be mentioned.
Well, even if the papers hadn't been on strike they probably wouldn't have written about Slade anyway. None of the "serious" national papers did. Some of the district papers sometimes brought reviews. And they weren't pleased.
I found a rather representative review from my district paper, appropriately accompanied by a really lousy, grainy photo. The review is from November 25. 1974, the day after a Slade-concert here in the city of Odense. The day before the concert, Alvin Lee & Co. (not Ten Years After) had also given a concert in Odense. The reviewer, "claus", quickly mentions that 500 people attended the Alvin Lee-concert, whereas 1,800 attended the Slade-concert, but…as he very loudly stresses…the Slade-audience "only" consisted of extremely young kids who almost demolished the venue in their enthusiasm - not a serious audience.
I know for a fact that that Slade-concert was awesome. I have it from this guy who was there. He was 11 years old at the time. 25 years later he managed to father my daughter, but that really has nothing to do with it. He was there, 11 years old, and he even got backstage and met the band, as his father was a jazz-musician who knew the promoter.
Anyway, back to the review. The reviewer "claus" praises Alvin Lee and then goes on to comparing Slade to him: "Quite different was Slade's unmistakable concrete rock, hard, straightforward and with no nuances. You have to admit that the band members know how to sell their music, though. They give their all in a perfectly arranged show with loads of fancy lights, a lot of action on stage and interaction with the audience in a very professional manner. It is a redeeming feature that Slade doesn't take things too serious, making room for a little fun now and then.
The music as such is not very good. Composition-wise it is very primitive and all songs actually sound exactly the same. Furthermore the vehement volume with which Slade plays removes all possibilities of distinguishing any nuances, if there are any. It is hard and straightforward, but one has to admit that it is well done."
This is symptomatic for the way the "serious" press looked upon Slade back then. They admired the stage show but hated the music. Much ado about nothing they would have called it, had they been that bright. I think that many a reviewer turned over in their graves or rocking chairs when Slade almost 30 years later were honoured with a fellowship from Wolverhampton University for their contribution to music. I don't think that has ever happened to Alvin Lee!
P.S. I love Alvin Lee, don't get me wrong, I actually met him once where he tried to get me to give him my red velvet jacket, but with no luck. I still have it.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
I just remembered that I have some footage of Slade from their concert in Copenhagen at "K.B. Hallen" in November 1974. At that time Denmark only had one TV-station and they shot some footage of the band both on and off stage. It was aired again some time ago in connection with a series about Denmark in the 1970es. Slade had a major influence on the Danish youth of that time so the band was obviously found worthy of being featured in this programme.
The footage is in black and white with no original sound. The whole thing lasts around 2 minutes, making it likely to have been an item in the television news. Most of the 2 minutes consists of interviews with young fans before the concert, but you also see the guys backstage. In the first clip they are in the dressing room, Nod is eating, Don is drinking, Jim's getting dressed and Dave is tuning his Superyob guitar. The second clip shows Dave leaving the dressing room upon which Don says something to Jim, making Jim burst into laughter. Nod is still eating. The final clip shows the band on stage ever so briefly, before zooming out on the crazed teenage fans. The sound for this is "Hear Me Calling", clearly taken off the "Slade Alive!" album.
I've once seen some other footage from the concert. A clip of Slade entering the stage and two short ones from the concert itself, Jim standing provocatively close behind Nod on one of them. Now I'm curious if that Danish TV-station has the whole concert somewhere in the archives...
Thursday, September 01, 2005
The Genesis of Slade
I don't believe my luck! I was presented with a copy of "The Genesis of Slade" the other day. I've wanted this album for a long time and now it's finally mine!
The album is from 1996 and covers the recordings of the members of Slade in their early years (1964-1966) with respectively The Vendors, Steve Brett & The Mavericks and The 'N Betweens.
There are four songs with Don and Dave's old band The Vendors on the CD, all previously unreleased. The recordings are from circa 1964. One of the songs, "Don't Leave Me Now", is penned by Dave and Vendors-singer John Howells and the rest are cover songs. When listening to the tracks you can hear the influence from both the Shadows and the Beatles, the music being late 1950es/early 1960es-styled rock'n'roll. There is no doubt about Don and Dave's destiny as famed musicians, especially Don is notable on his drums on for instance "Take Your Time", although The Vendors' music doesn't stand out from other contemporary music as such. The tracks are from a privately pressed EP, recorded at the Domino Studios outside Wolverhampton.
The seven Steve Brett & The Mavericks-tracks feature Noddy Holder on guitar and backing vocals. You can hear that this band is a little more professional and a lot more polished than The Vendors when it comes to playing, arranging and instrumentation. Of course the sound is also better as these tracks are professionally recorded in the Grosvenor Studios, Birmingham, and released through EMI's Columbia label. Most of the songs are wimpy ballads, though, but there are also some rockier such as Brett's own "Sad, Lonely & Blue". The "Genesis"-CD also includes a previously unreleased track, "Hurting Inside".
The 'N Betweens (Mk.1) features Don and Dave and this is really something else. The eight tracks from 1965 are sweatier, faster and harder rock than the music of the two previous bands. I've taken a liking to especially "I Wish You Would". This Yardbirds tune The 'N Betweens used as an opener to their shows. "Feel So Fine" which Slade later recorded on the 1972-album "Slayed?" is also among the eight tracks. It is strange to hear The 'N Betweens' version of this Leonard Lee song. Slade certainly did that song a favour, but unfortunately you can't say the same of John Howells. He is generally a good singer, but not on this track where his vocals are rather annoying. Four of the tracks are previously unreleased, the rest are recorded at PYE Studios and released through Barclay Records, France.
The six last tracks on the CD are with The 'N Betweens (Mk. 2) which means that this is the original Slade line-up in 1966. There are three unreleased tracks, "Hold Tight", "Ugly Girl" and the previously unreleased "Need". They were recorded in Regent Sound studios in London along with the other tracks, "Security" released in the US only as a promo single through Highland Records, and The Rascals' "You Better Run" with "Evil Witchman" as B-side released through EMI's Columbia. "Evil Witchman" is actually The Artwoods' "I Take What I Want" with new lyrics. When comparing The 'N Betweens (Mk. 2) to the rest of the tracks on the "Genesis"-CD you realise that what makes the big difference is Nod's voice even though it still hasn't developed into that loud raucous roar that we've all come to love. But there is something about his diction that makes his voice stand out anyway. And at least I notice Jim's bass as well. My personal favourite track is "Ugly Girl" which supposedly was made up on the spot by the band and their then-producer Kim Fowley who also delivers additional vocals on both this and "Need". The music, the lyrics, the "harmonies" in the chorus on "Ugly Girl" are great, and Fowley's vocals are hilarious. Even Nod can't help laughing, neither on this track nor on "Need". All in all the six 'N Betweens-tracks are pointers towards the career of Slade. The cheekiness, the raw, hard, soft, fun, blunt and ever so versatile sides of the band, they're all there, ready to be developed further.
"The Genesis of Slade" is a little gem to Slade-fans, who want to know more about the musical backgrounds of the guys. The CD even comes with a great booklet, where former Vendors/'N Betweens-singer John Howells tells about the work and progress of the two bands. He also reveals that The Vendors got their name because the first thing he and rhythm guitarist Mick Marson learnt to play was an instrumental entitled "Peanut Vendor". Backgrounds on Steve Brett & The Mavericks as well as on The 'N Betweens (aka Slade) are taken from Chris Charlesworth's 1984-book "Feel The Noize". The booklet includes several rare old photos of the groups as well. So glad that I finally got it!