Interview with Malcolm Dome. Pictures by Robert Ellis
“Slade are like heroes to us” – Steve Zodiac (Vardis)
NOW HEAR this – Slade are most definitely NOT a bunch of dry rot-infested bozos. As the above ‘Zod’ quote hints, Jim Lea/Dave Hill/Noddy Holder/Don Powell have had as much influence on today’s Metal scene as the likes of Purple, Zeppelin, or Sabbath.
How, and why, did this happen? I’ve a theory about it, which I shall expound for your delectation, o lucky people. You see, in the early seventies, when many modern HM stars were just beginning to take an active interest in music, who did they have to copy? Very little Metal was heard on the radio, or seen on ‘Top Of The Pops’, whilst music from ‘hip’ supergroups such as Genesis, Yes, or ELP probably went over most of their heads. So, where did they turn for inspiration? To the stomping few whose brand of high-energy tunefulness regularly hit the charts – Sweet, Glitter, T. Rex, and Slade. And, since the earliest influence on any muso tends to be the most important, it’s these outfits who’ve subsequently etched their mark all over eighties Heavy Metal.
“Yeah, a lot of bands come up to us and say how much Slade has guided ‘em,” agreed St. Noddy, the Bishop of Bludgeon, during a recent pre-tour chinwag. “I suppose we’ve also had a lasting effect on the kids who follow HM today. You see, about 10 years ago when we were having all those hits, these people would only have been eight or nine years old. They’ve obviously picked up on the band from all the exposure we had back then, and the songs have stayed with ‘em. We certainly attract a very young audience nowadays – fans who just couldn’t have been old enough to see us live when we first happened.”
But, there’s more to Slade than those golden days of yore. For, at a time when the FUN has virtually gone from music, these veterans are again on a one-band crusade to bring the glam back to metal, and put the smile back on the face of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s incredible, yet undoubtedly true, that more than 10 years since they originally hit the top. Slade are still untouchable on-stage.
They’ve the unequalled gift to make each and everyone at a gig feel SPECIAL Whether up in front of a huge festival audience, or playing the Allied Breweries’ Workingmen’s Club in Burton, they create an intimate atmosphere and are the ultimate good-time rock ‘n’ roll stage act, host of eager novices from Rox to Silverwing have tried in vain over the past couple of years to imitate the Wolverhampton quartet’s style, but none has managed to come
“We’ve always been the way we are now. A lot of bands these days think it’s uncool to have a show like ours that just keeps on moving. But we plan our gigs to go from A-Z, with something happening all the time to keep the fans’ attention from wandering. It’s professionalism to us, and I suppose in a way we have our roots more in traditional music hall than anything else. Everything might look off-the-cuff but in fact the shows are worked out in detail.
“Of course, there’s still room for spontaneity. We’re always picking up on things at gigs, and incorporating ‘em on the spot into the act. We’ve been known to have one gag running throughout an entire show – it helps to create a rapport with the kids. We’ve never been any different; Slade is a band that relies on audience feedback to really make for a good concert. In fact it was this element that got us discovered in the first place. In the late sixties, we did a club in New Bond Street (London), and only had about 20 people in. Those fans were really going crazy, though, and Chas Chandler came down, saw us working the audience, and signed us up.
“I honestly believe that the way we perform means we can get away with lots of things others can’t. I remember in our earliest days, there was one fella at a particular gig we used to do, who turned up every time we played there. He was always the same – totally drunk, with two pints of beer in his hands, and covered in dirt, I think he was a foundryman. But each time, without fail, he’d come up onstage with us and sing ‘Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo’, whilst we’d play a rock beat behind him. The audience loved it. In fact, they expected it to happen when Slade appeared there. Now, most bands would have got bottled off for something like that But, we did this sort of thing all over the place – if a guy wanted to come up and sing with us for a bit, we’d encourage it!”
Indeed, even the most mega of bands can learn from Slade’s relaxed attitude. For, as their new, absolutely incredibly live LP ‘Slade On Stage’ shows, this lot begin a gig at the sort of level most bands would be happy to finish on! And, if you’re at all sceptical of their prowess, then ‘SOS’ is guaranteed to change your mind.
Forget about the occasional studio overdubs, they’re irrelevant. What matters is the remarkable way da boyzz have captured their stage set on vinyl. With most live albums one ends up feeling like an uneasy eavesdropper on an historical event But this one makes the listener feel a part of the whole show from the off. If ever a piece of plastic actually sweated itself into a state of frenzied exhaustion, then ‘SOS’ is it.
“I think we’ve managed to keep the excitement of the gig virtually intact. It’s true we had to do a few studio bits to tart it up, but these have been kept to a minimum. However, I’ve got to be honest and say that I’m not one of these people who believes a live LP should go out as it was recorded – whatever the quality. You’ve always got to remember that someone is gonna pay hard-earned cash for the record. And, whilst every effort should be made to preserve the atmosphere of a thing, if adding a few touches to it can enhance the final sound, then I think you owe it to the punter to do just that.
“With ‘SOS’, though, all we’ve done is to make up for bits where, for example, a guitar string broke or something. Oh yeah, and we had to cut out part of the audience as well, ‘cos one of the microphones in the auditorium at Newcastle City Hall (the only gig to be recorded) was set up next to a loony. He kept on shouting into it “bastard!” at the top of his voice, so obviously that had to go. But, apart from these things, everything is faithful to the show.”
The LP was mixed by the band at London’s Portland Studios. And, typical of their workaholic attitude, they recorded a new album while they were there, for which the current single ‘(And Now – The Waltz) C’est La Vie’ is an excellent taster.
“It’s an album that’s bound to surprise people. A lot of different styles have been incorporated, which perhaps aren’t usually associated with Slade.
“It’s funny, you know, in our early days, we always found working in a studio very hard. We’d forever wanna do songs as we did ‘em live, and just couldn’t get to grips with studio requirements. But now we produce ourselves, things work out far better. We’re more at home recording these days than ever we were in our big hit era. And, because of that, we’re making out best-ever music.”
All of which brings me to a final point. It seems that the art of penning good, three minute foot-stompers is fast being lost. Modern bands just don’t seem to have the ability or inclination to write instantly memorable numbers in the classic mould of ‘Goodbye T’ Jane’ or ‘Get Down & Get With It’. Slade via such modern marvels as ‘When I’m Dancin’, I Ain’t Fightin’ and ‘Lock Up Your Daughters’ are out on their own in this respect. So, are the band really the last of the great rock songsters?
“It’s probably the most difficult thing in music to write a simple, good, three minute rock song. Certainly, it’s far easier to pen a three minute ballad. But, it saddens me that there seems to be no bands around who are even trying to do this. The trend towards cover versions obviously hasn’t helped; I feel too many good groups see the cover as an easy option and a quick route to the charts.
“I can’t believe there is no new talent capable of writing three minute, catchy rock numbers. There are loads of truly excellent Metal bands around, with great technical abilities. I’m sure many of them could write great songs.
Perhaps they lack the perseverance to keep on battling away until they have a hit, or else maybe no-one has given ‘em the encouragement to go out and have a bash at it.
“If I had the time, I’d love to take hold of a good group, and given ‘em some guidance in this respect. What some of these young bands need is to spend a little less time on image and a bit more on material. Slade have always had an image, but we’ve never let it take precedence over the music. And if, as has happened, we release a single which flops, then we just take that failure in our stride and write some new, hopefully better songs. The great secret is never to let anything get you down – don’t panic and always have faith in your ability.”
This is clearly a philosophy that’s served Slade well for they’ve now been together 17 years – without a change of lineup. And, it’s a measure of the high esteem in which they’re held that rock ‘n’ roll minus these chaps is as unthinkable as your average semi-detached suburban house without electricity. Roll on 1985, and the 20th anniversary celebrations.