August 22nd 1981. Donington Monsters of Rock festival. My first ever live gig, first ever festival and still (by a mile) my favourite, mainly because of the unbelievable impact that Slade had on the 65,000 strong crowd.
Thirty-odd years and many Slade concerts later I’m in front of the stage at Minehead Butlins to witness yet another Slade performance. As the writers of Merry Xmas Everybody and a slew of other number 1 hits, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea are long gone; enjoying what must be a very comfortable retirement from the music scene. Guitarist, Dave Hill, and drummer, Don Powell, remain though, still belting out the songs their erstwhile band members wrote. These days they are joined by Mal McNulty and John Berry who replace Nod and Jim respectively.
Slade fans are divided about this modern-day version of Slade. While some see it as a welcome venture to keep the songs and music alive, others see it as an undignified travesty which has done nothing but sully the name of a once-great band.
If truth be told the band were starting to get a bit frayed around the edges in recent years. Of the 2012 and 2013 joint Slade/Sweet tours many commented that the former were considerably outshone by the musicianship and professionalism of the latter. However, tonight’s Slade performance is tight, together and fizzing with energy. You can never beat the original Slade and the Holder-Hill-Lea-Powell Slade will always be irreplaceable. Nevertheless, the band before us are on form and whether it’s died-in-the-wool Slade supporters or more generic rock fans there is certainly an enthusiastic audience for this version of Slade tonight.
Opening with a rocking version of Gudbuy T’ Jane the crowd are singing along and buzzing. They’ve freshened up their setlist a bit, too, giving some of the 80s hits a rest and bringing in lesser known 1977 cover My Baby Left Me to the set. Take Me Bak ‘Ome, Coz I Luv You, Far Far Away and Mama Weer All Crazee Now are all there, though, as are Dave Hill’s colourful over-the-top stage antics throughout. He preens, he goofs around, he milks the crowd’s appreciation. But he doesn’t let it detract from giving faithful renditions of the guitar solos familiar to anyone who has the original recordings. Powell’s drumming is as powerful as ever and an intrinsic part of the Slade sound. Vocal duties these days are split between McNulty and Berry, who now takes on lead vocals on some of the slower numbers. McNulty’s range is never going to match Holder’s and there was talk of him vacating the vocalist slot altogether. This new job-share arrangement seems to work, however. One area where no member of the new Slade is ever going to live up to the original, though, is when it comes to the electric violin solo on Coz I Luv You. Berry’s tuneless scratching is something quite different indeed from what we used to hear from the classically-trained Lea, but you have to hand it to him for at least being game enough to try.
It was all over far too soon, sadly, and before we knew it they were brought back for a riotous encore of Cum On Feel The Noize. No Merry Xmas this time of the year, though. (You’ll have to wait til around October before they start playing that again…)
Is Slade still Slade without Noddy? Should Dave and Don still be going out under that name? For me the answer is simple. I carry on going to Slade concerts to experience those great songs in a live setting, to have an evening that is never less than huge fun and, importantly, to show my support to two men who have now worked together for over fifty years. Whether you appreciate what Hill and Powell are doing these days or not, Slade is something they’ve given their lives too. That’s got to be worth celebrating.
1. Gudbuy T’ Jane
2. Take Me Bak ‘Ome
3. Lock Up Your Daughters
4. Look Wot You Dun
6. Coz I Luv You
7. Run Runaway
8. Far Far Away
9. My Baby Left Me
10. Mama Weer All Crazee Now
11. Get Down and Get With It/Tutti Fruitti
12. Cum On Feel The Noize