The outfits may have been outrageous and the choruses far too overplayed, but lots of Slade’s songs were simply brilliant. As a bumper box set charting the band’s highlights is released, former frontman Noddy Holder tells ANDY WELCH why there are no plans to reform
“Are you hanging up your stocking on the wall?”
No, Slade, of course we’re not, it’s October.
It seems to get earlier every year, but Noddy Holder’s distinctive cry of ‘It’s Chriiiiiiiistmas’ at the beginning of the band’s 1973 festive hit Merry Xmas Everybody signals the start of the season - no matter what the John Lewis marketing department and those chancers over at Starbucks with their red cups might try to tell you.
The band, formed in the West Midlands in the late Sixties, are inseparable from the song. It was written by Holder and bandmate Jim Lea, sparked an annual race for Christmas Number 1 and has charted almost every year since it was released. No wonder Holder refers to it as his “pension scheme”.
Strip away, if you can, the fact you’ve heard it hundreds, maybe thousands of times, and underneath, there’s a fantastic song. And it’s most certainly not the only one in Slade’s back catalogue, as a new box set is about to emphatically prove.
When Slade Rocked The World will be released on October 30, and features, among other things - such as a reproduced copy of 1975 book The Slade Story - a two-CD collection of their first four albums.
As well as that, that quartet of peerless glam-tinged rock - Slade Alive!, Slayed?, Old New Borrowed And Blue and Slade In Flame - have been remastered and reissued on heavyweight vinyl.
It’s a collector’s dream, and will hopefully earn Slade the kind of critical reappraisal they’re so overdue. Bands as diverse as Motley Crue, Kiss, Ramones and Sex Pistols cited them as an influence, while it’s hard to imagine Oasis sounding like they did without Slade. The Manchester band even covered Cum On Feel The Noize as a B-side. “I think we’re far more respected now than we were at the time,” says Holder, 69. “We were incredibly commercially successful, but a lot of people regarded us as a bit of joke.”
Look at any photograph of the band from their heyday and you have to admit, he has a point. There are tartan jumpsuits, 10-inch platform shoes, tailcoats, space-age silver one-pieces, and that’s before you get to Dave Hill’s ridiculous fringe or Holder’s mutton chops and mirrored top hat.
“We were always on TV as well,” says Holder. “A lot of people probably thought that overshadowed the content of the music. We don’t have any complaints, though. Like I said, we were phenomenally successful so we didn’t notice any criticism.”
It’s hard not to think a band with as many hits as Slade should be held in slightly higher regard than they are, however.
They had six Number 1 singles in the UK, the same as Queen, Blondie and Rod Stewart, and more than The Police, David Bowie and Bee Gees. Slade also made the Top 20 with 17 consecutive singles.
Combined, Slade spent 211 weeks in the Top 40, while their three Number 1 albums were in the charts for 153 weeks, and on top of that, there were chart toppers in Japan and Australia too.
US success largely eluded them, until metal bands started dropping their name as a big influence at the start of the Eighties and they enjoyed a handful of hits in the States, years after they’d all but faded into obscurity in the UK.
Holder hasn’t heard the four albums being reissued for some time. “It’s not like I sit at home listening to Slade records,” he says, although he has given them the once-over now they’re being re-released.
“I don’t think they’ve dated, they still sound relevant and fresh,” he says. “And I’m hearing it as a member of the public will hear it. These records are 45 years old, and I’ve forgotten a lot of it.”
He says the time has gone in a flash since the band first formed, initially as a skinhead group in the late-Sixties, after spending time in various bands around the Wolverhampton and Walsall area.
When Chas Chandler saw them, he suggested they change their image and write their own material, rather than performing the R&B and Motown covers they had been. As Chandler had discovered and made a star of Jimi Hendrix and was formerly bass player in The Animals, they listened, returning two years later with long hair and a raft of their own songs.
“Where did those 45 years go?” says Holder. “I am proud of it, proud of all of it. We were together for 25 years, the four original members; me, Jim, Don [Powell] and Dave, and we were recording for pretty much all of that.
“We had our first hit single in ‘71 and we had our last in ‘91, so that was good. We put together a vast catalogue.”
Holder left the band in 1992, as did Jim Lea, who didn’t want to continue without his old mate.
Powell and Hill have continued to perform and record music under the name.
Aside from the brief reunions - Chas Chandler’s funeral and Holder’s episode of This Is Your Life - the band have never reformed and, according to Holder, they never will.
“That’s not going to happen,” he says, flatly. “We’ve gone past the stage of reuniting. Too much time has gone by and I can’t see the four original members getting back together to play again and tour.
“I had 30 years on the road, that was enough for me. 25 years of those were with the same guys. Little arguments become big arguments, things get silly, and I never wanted to carry on playing for the sake of it, so I won’t.
“That’s not what I got into it for. I liked going to the studio and putting an album down in a few weeks, spontaneity was important, and after doing that for 30 years, I realised there’s a big wide world out there that I wanted to see.”
He says the past 20-odd years since he left the band have been very varied, keeping his interest afloat and life exciting.
He’s acted, had his own radio show, hosted a surreal TV quiz show and toured his one-man show around the country.
As the band’s 50th anniversary approaches, he’s happy to listen to their music for the first time in years and let the memories come flooding back.
“It’s 50 years since our worlds turned upside down,” says Holder. “I’ve been reminiscing, and there’ll likely be more reissues to come. That’s more than enough for me.”
n When Slade Rocked The World: 1971-1975 is released on October 30.