Wednesday, December 21, 2005
The Bilston-gig, December 14, 2005
Many years ago when first I became a Slade-fan I wanted to go to Wolverhampton to see where it had all started. And now, more than 30 years later, there I was. With Don as my guide. Thinking about it, it must seem a bit strange, but it just proves what I've known for a while: I always get what I want, although not necessarily when I want it. It was a long wait for this wish to come true, but luckily I still wanted it, when it happened. And it was just SOOO great, Don pointing out several of the (former) pubs and clubs in Wolverhampton and Bilston, where the guys used to play in the sixties, even the place where he first learned to play the drums as a boy scout! It was just amazing.
With Don's friends Mikael, John, and John's wife Jane, we drove to the Wolverhampton railway station where John showed us a "mural" of Slade. We went to The Trumpet for a quick look, had several cups of tea in different pubs and a nice lunch at The Haven Hotel in Bilston. It was so much fun. I can't remember ever laughing so much!
Don also showed me the place where he first met Dave, namely Johnny Howell's former house, now a meat and vegetable-shop.
"We were playing like weddings, youth club dances, the occasional sort of small pub," Don told me, "We didn't get paid, it was just a hobby to us. I remember one time they asked us to…this be a local cinema and Saturday mornings was like the kids' programme and before then they used to have either a singer or a duo or someone like that play on the stage of the cinema before they started the cartoons and all the films for the young kids, and they asked us to play one Saturday morning. I remember when we met Johnny that day, he'd seen the people at the cinema, and they said they were gonna pay us. I said, PAY us?? We get PAID for doing this??? Oh, yeah, we're getting, I think it was £ 5. The cinema was only just around the corner so we could carry our equipment from Johnny's house to the cinema! We got paid £ 5, that was like…Johnny's father had like a small bed & breakfast-place here. There used to be an old repertoire theatre near here and the actors who were doing plays or whatever they would stay here, like a bed & breakfast. And we used to sort of rehears here and we used the extra £ 2 to pay Johnny's father for the teas and the milk and the sugar and the biscuits. So we had a £ 1 each and that was amazing that we got paid to doing it. We were rehearsing in the front room. It wasn't THAT big, but the toilet joined the main lounge. So we put the drums in the toilet and then Mick [Marson] would be off the corner somewhere and Johnny would be off the other corner so we used to shout to each other what we'd gonna play!! And that was where we first met Dave Hill. We were still The Vendors when we were playing a pub room somewhere once when this guy came up. His name was Chalkie White, his name was. He really liked us and he said, maybe you need a lead guitarist. He knew Dave Hill and that's how the introduction came. This Chalkie White bought Dave Hill down and he was looking for a band as well. We just played together and it was the first time I'd seen anyone actually play like Chuck Berry chords. And he played that."
Don's full of stories like that. As a writer I love good storytellers and Don is definitely one!
Anyway, we went to the Robin at 3 p.m. for the Bilston-gig. While Don was getting his drums ready with John I hung out with Jane and Mikael and tried to figure out how to get from point A to point B in this gigantic maze that calls itself The Robin 2. At 4 p.m. John (Berry. There were just so many guys called John!!!) and Mal showed up with the rest of the crew and Dave was there a little later. They sound checked for a couple of hours, really funny with John having a go at Run Runaway on the violin and Don doing bossanova rhythms on the drums.
Dave was off talking to a journalist from The Express and Star, their photographer took some shots and then the guys were on live-TV at the BBC Midlands Today. Here the guy doing the weather forecast first did an interview with Dave, then the weather forecast itself which Dave tried to totally ruin by continuously shouting, "Is it gonna snow? Is it gonna snow?" and making odd sounds on his guitar and finally the guys got to play MXE for about 20 seconds.
While they were backstage getting out of their new (and actually quite becoming) stage clothes, which they'd worn on telly, I went with Jane and Mikael to Woody's Bar where I had my first (but not last) Banks Original. What can I say? A very mild, "round" beer, not bad, but I missed the sharp almost metallic "clear" taste of my preferred (Danish) beer. Anyway, I met a few Slade-fans whom I know from The Slade Archive Forum and it was really great. Hi, John and Mark! Nice meeting you!
Then Jane's husband John came to cart us off to The Green Room for dinner and afterwards we just had to wait for the concert. Backstage I had a long chat with Mal, he's just such a nice guy, and I also met Dave's wife and children as well as Don's old friend and Vendors/'N Betweens-colleague Mick Marson with wife Pat. Man, were they nice, the lot of them!
At 8 p.m. the support, Ballroom Glitz, went on, but I must admit that I only saw a single number of theirs as I hung out backstage most of the time. Slade went on at 10 p.m. and what an awesome concert! The best I've seen them do in their present line-up. The set list went like this:
We'll Bring The House Down
Take Me Bak 'Ome
Lock Up Your Daughters
Far Far Away
Look Wot You Dun
'Coz I Luv You
Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Get Down And Get With It
And for the encores:
Cum On Feel The Noize
Merry Xmas Everybody
Short, but sweet. The House Down-bit was only a short snippet, though, but Take Me Bak 'Ome featured a very strong Don on drums and Dave totally freaking out. Dave was really high spirited during this concert, playing a bit of Smoke On The Water during Red Hot and doing a lot of talking to the audience. When doing the intro to 'Coz I Luv You, he said something about that it had all started here in Bilston and him and Don being together for 43 years (I'm 43 years!). John's violin was more or less drowned out by the rest of the band during CILY, and I must admit, that I really didn't like that ugly, cheap violin of his. Get a decent instrument, John!!!
Anyway, Mal and Dave did their usual routines dancing back to back and side by side to Run Runaway (which featured no violin) and during Mama Weer All Crazee Now Mal introduced the rest of the band. Mal did a fine job that evening. His voice is getting even better every time I hear him. It's a real pleasure.
John introduced Dave again during Get Down And Get With It and Dave did a bit of Tutti Frutti during the song.
The encores were really funny, short Dave trying to reach tall John's mike during Cum On Feel The Noize and the whole band dressing up for MXE. Don in a Santa's hat, Dave in one that looked like a jester's hat, Mal in a red cowboy hat with a white fur braid and John in a Santa's coat. It was hilarious. Many of the fans in the audience were dressed in Santa's outfits as well and some even sported mirrored top hats. I was told that the guys could have sold out the Robin three times that night and I believe it. The audience was really responsive.
After the show I talked to both Dave and his wife and I had a long chat with John Berry about him playing the violin. That was indeed very funny! I also talked to Don about…his wristwatch! It has always nagged me why he's wearing it on the right wrist, but he told me he's ambidextrous. He writes with his right hand, but does everything else with his left. Hmm, that probably explains why he plays like a left-handed and -footed drummer, although I know at least one other internationally famed drummer who plays like that although he is right-handed and not the least bit ambidextrous.
Anyway, I had such a great time! Thanks a lot to you all, but especially to Don's friend John for being so nice and funny, to his wife Jane for the great company, to Mikael for being a familiar Danish face and for the night cap and finally to Don for his wonderfully cheerful mood and for taking such good care of me. You're the best, guys!
P.S. Apart from the Wolverhampton/Bilston experience my trip to the West Midlands also involved a great time in Birmingham, but that's a whole different story!!!
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Lochem broadcast from VARA Television
When Slade played Lochem in Holland, 1981, the Dutch VARA Television recorded the whole gig. However, only 3 of the songs were broadcasted, but luckily I've been able to see those 3 songs and they are superb.
The first of the broadcasted songs is Gudbuy T'Jane in a high speed version. You can see that it's from the end of the concert as Jim, Nod and Dave have taken off their jackets. It's the only song where you get a good look at Don and he comes across strong as ever on his drums, here in a baby-blue top. I've always wondered how that man pulled it off looking so masculine no matter how sissy his clothes were! I mean, who else could sport say a polka-dotted outfit in the 1970's and still look like a killer? You've always been a snappy dresser, Don, I'm impressed! Anyway, the guys really put on a show despite cameramen running around all over the stage. You also get a good look at the crew (nice) and the huge AND captivated audience going wild, wild, wild!!
The second song is Get Down And Get With It, the last song before the encores. This is also a very fast rendition. The stage is perfectly made for the show with small, extended stages for Dave and Jim to enter and huge podiums to mount. Jim is going crazy as usual and has his shirt unbuttoned by now. The interaction between Nod and Don is just perfect here and Dave is running around, teasing the audience. You get a good look at Chas Chandler as well as he is watching the show from the wings. The end of the song sees Jim kicking and mutilating his poor bass.
The last song is Born To Be Wild, the last of the encores with lots of bog roles on the stage floor and the whole band sweating like pigs. Jim has now taken off his shirt, but Nod has put on a bowler hat and the sweat is dripping from Dave's hair. Hmm, here I go again with Slade and sweat. A recurring theme, me thinks. Anyway, there are some nice crosscuts between Dave and Jim although the guys play so fast that the television editor can't keep up with them and finally decides to stay on Jim. It pays off, as Jim is playing the bass with his teeth (eat your heart out, Hendrix!) and sticks that battered instrument to the speakers for feedback. The audience is really into it, raised hands in the air and all.
Slade was always at their best when playing live and these Lochem songs fully illustrate that. Too bad, that the rest of the concert was never aired as I would really love to see it.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Danish teen magazines from the 1970's
Per Christensen, the guy who let me use his photos from the Ølstykke-concert this summer, just gave me copies of some of his wife Kirsten's teen magazines from the 1970's, mainly the ones called "Go" and "Vi Unge". Those magazines were filled with articles and photos of music- and film-idols of the time and of course Slade is also represented. Sadly the magazines are mostly from 1976 where Slade's star had reclined in Denmark, but there are also a few ones from 1974. The articles here are pretty interesting.
For instance in No. 62 of Go Magazine (1974) the band reveals that their new album is going to be called "Stop". As we all know it ended up with the title "Old New Borrowed And Blue". The band also says, that although it would be provoking having their hair cut short again like in their skinhead days, they wouldn't do it (hmm, how about that bald head of Dave's some years later?) Finally they admit that although they are not political they would never dream of voting Tory because of their working class backgrounds.
Then there's No. 54 of Go Magazine (1974). Here the guys say that if they are still around when they are 64 they'll make a No. 1 hit and call it "Easy Now Feel The Peace" (as opposed to COFTN). So how about it, Don and Dave? Only 5 more years to go!
Nice read, Per and Kirsten. Thank you. A real stroll down memory lane.
Friday, December 02, 2005
The Very Best of Slade - DVD
Last Monday the new "greatest hits" DVD and CDs The Very Best of Slade came out. I didn't get the CDs as I already had all the tracks on them, so here I'll just make a review of the DVD.
The Very Best of Slade DVD is divided into 3 sections: Wall of Hits with 15 songs, Set of Six with (of course) 6 songs and More Hits with another 6 songs.
The Wall of Hits section is not quite the same as the Wall of Hits-DVD from 1991. Them Kinda Monkeys Can't Swing has been moved into the More Hits-section and Mama Weer All Crazee Now and Cum On Feel The Noize have been added. Both familiar videos from Top Of The Pops. The hilarious Merry Xmas Everybody-video from Wall Of Hits showing a rather drunk band doing a German television performance has been replaced by a Top Of The Pops version.
When watching the Wall of Hits section you can choose whether or not to include the band's comments from 1991. If you choose to see the comments it is quite an experience as it is sooo poorly made. The comments freeze at the end, so you don't get to see the very last part of them. For instance you don't see Jim cringe over Nod's "It's Chriiiistmas!!" before MXE. And then the screen turns black for a few seconds before the actual songs comes on!
You also have to be adept with the volume button on your remote control. The levels of the sound of comments and of songs are not the same, so either the comments come out a whisper or the songs a roar if you don't do anything. Bad, bad editing. This could have been done much more elegantly.
Furthermore it seems odd that the clips that were not on the Wall of Hits don't have any comments and not even a chart position like the WOH-clips. Also the comments for Wall of Sound have been deleted as the band here said something about this being their new hit. The comment/no comment, chart position/no chart position, high/low sound etc. make this section seem rather messy. It is so poorly organised and I sure wish that someone had spent a little more time, love and effort in presenting the clips in a better way.
The Set of Six section is the fabulous live studio performance from Granada TV (gotta love it!). It was taped in front of a small audience at the Granada Studios in 1971 and the whole band delivers one heck of a performance here. It has Noddy giving his best both as a vocalist and an entertainer and Dave is in high spirits interacting with the audience. It shows a beaming Jim doing backbends and jumping up and down while playing the violin as well as Don in far-out high heeled boots playing the drums so hard that splinters from the sticks are literally flying around the studio. It's just perfect.
The six songs are Hear Me Calling, Look Wot You Dun, Darling Be Home Soon, 'Coz I Luv You, Get Down And Get With It and Born To Be Wild. All songs are just perfect, but my favourite here has to be Get Down And Get With It. This has to be the best live performance I've ever seen of that song. Noddy is absolutely captivating both as a singer and interacting with the audience, silly, loud and ever so charming. Jim is going totally crazy on stage, on his own and with Noddy, and both Jim and Dave are totally in touch with the audience. Don's still back there, holding it all together, breaking sticks and pumping up the energy with his hard beats on the drums. The energy is fierce!
This Granada Studio performance is so far the best that I have seen with Slade - except for the real thing (live) of course. It was always amazing watching those guys live, and this is probably one of the ultimate performances.
The More Hits-section on "The Very Best"-DVD includes - apart from Them Kinda Monkeys Can't Swing - versions of Take Me Bak 'Ome, Everyday, How Does It Feel?, In For a Penny and The Bangin' Man.
And well, how does it feel? I felt a little disappointed. Because this is stuff that we have all seen before. I mean, all the clips are very good and of high quality, but there's just not anything new for us hardcore fans. It's a great DVD for people who are just getting into Slade or who just want one greatest hits-DVD, but for the rest of us… Why couldn't there be a little something for us hardcore fans who - after all - have carried the band through the good years AND the bad?
The two biggest disappointments to me are MXE and Them Kinda Monkeys Can't Swing. Okay, I have to say that the version of Them Kinda Monkeys Can't Swing is loads better than the one on Wall of Hits, because on Wall of Hits the clip had been brutally edited. On the new DVD you get the whole song, including the dialog between Alan Lake and Johnny Shannon from the Flame movie, but… why doesn't the DVD include the brilliant comments from Nod, Don, Dave and Jim which could be seen on Wall of Hits? These were in my opinion the funniest comments on the whole 1991-DVD with Don pretending to forget his name and Jim impersonating Tom Conti. I just don't get things like these.
I don't get the replacement of MXE either. The Top of The Pops-version on the new DVD is good, but the original one from Wall of Hits with the drunk band was way better. It was just so hysterically funny with Don going berserk on the drums and Jim laughing so hard that he almost wet himself. Actually there are two versions of this German TV-performance. On the other one the band doesn't come across as drunk. Instead Don is chatting with the audience and Jim is almost blown off stage by a fake snowstorm where the fake snow flakes come in so heavy that he gets them in his eyes and mouth, making it impossible for him to play. In this version the song ends with Dave, Nod and Jim singing in perfect harmony, whereas the Wall of Hits-version ends with Jim and Nod almost tumbling over on the floor while Jim's voice drowns out the playback. But I digress… Back to the new DVD. I really, really think it a shame that the great version from WOH is not included on the Very Best of Slade.
When that is said I have to admit that to me the highlight on the new DVD is…the Top of The Pops-version of Merry Xmas Everybody! I know this may sound a little self-contradictory, but the reason for my fondness of the TOTP MXE-version is, that I hadn't actually seen it before. I know most other hardcore fans have, but for some odd reason not me. And this version is really very charming with a cheerful band and Don on toy drum when the band goes into the audience. Here Jim is sporting his Elvis-shakes and Don even does a little twist. Truly charming. I just don't get the liner-notes for this version as it says that it was aired on Top of The Pops on December 12, 1973. How come that Dave has short hair, then? As far as I know Dave didn't have his hair like this before the filming of Flame in 1974. Furthermore I've been informed thay the clip is from TOTP's Christmas show in 1974 and if I can get that kind of info, the ones behind the DVD certainly could have got it as well!
Anyway, this brings me to the design of the DVD, the graphics, and it is horrible! The cover is white with a head shot of the band looking very sullen and miserable, the back cover has misspellings (of misspellings) of several of the titles and the DVD is only accompanied with a piece of paper stating the basic info on the songs. Boooring! And the cover doesn't even catch the tiniest bit of what Slade was and is all about.
Now that I've vented my frustration I also have to say this: buy the darn DVD! Buy it, buy the CDs, buy it for yourself, for your friends, for Christmas, just buy it! Because as said before, it is a really good introduction to Slade for newcomers and also a great reminder for those who haven't followed the band closely since their heydays. And the rest of us, well, we have to buy it as well, just to let the powers that be notice that we are still here, we are still supporting the band, so maybe in the future we could get something that we actually haven't seen before. Please? Pretty please?