We’re in an era of rock history where bands’ fiftieth anniversaries are increasingly common. The Stones did a world tour,including a celebrated gig in Hyde Park. All the surviving leading members of the Beach Boys reunited and The Who had a well-received anniversary tour which packed out arenas, too. Now it is the turn of Slade, a band who had their breakthrough in the early 70s but who formed in the 60s, when Noddy Holder and Jim Lea joined Dave Hill and Don Powell in an existing band called the N Betweens, a band that would eventually be renamed Slade. It’s exactly fifty years since the four first shared a stage together but there’s no big reunion of the original members, no sell-out gigs at the O2 or the Wembley Arena and no wall to wall press coverage. Instead, the occasion is celebrated with a fans convention in the aptly named, though modestly-sized, Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton where there are performances from a couple of tribute acts, Slade UK and the Pouk Hill Prophetz.
Throughout the afternoon and early evening there’s a Slade quiz; there’s some Slade-related poetry from stand-up poet, Paul Cookson (who perhaps is to the glam rock genre what John Cooper Clark is to punk); and there’s even a speech and formal welcome from the Mayor of Wolverhampton. The Pouk Hill Prophetz play the first of their two sets, an all-acoustic set that delivers acoustic versions of well-known classics like Coz I Luv You and Cum On Feel The Noize, as well as far more obscure material that fans of Slade seldom get to hear in public.
The Pouk Hill Prophetz came together through their shared love of Slade. They’re not a tribute act in the classic sense, in terms of dressing up and adopting the persona of individual band members, and they don’t restrict themselves purely to Slade’s back catalogue either – they throw in a couple of Sweet and T-Rex numbers in the evening set. But in both their earlier acoustic set in the bar and their later evening set on the main stage their love for Slade’s music clearly shines through. Where the band really excel, particularly in the later set, is in the delivery of pre-glam era “before they were famous” Slade songs – stunningly authentic versions of songs like Know Who You Are and Dapple Rose from 1970’s Play It Loud album, for example. Indeed, one of the highlight’s of the whole day is when, drummer, Trevor West’s 13 year old daughter takes the stage to play a beautiful rendition of the violin solo on Dapple Rose, the first decent violin rendition I’ve heard on a Slade song since the classically-trained Jim Lea stopped performing with the original band years ago.
Slade UK are more of a traditional tribute act. They dress like early 70s Slade and vocalist Nidge (Nod) Hillam arrives on stage replete with enormous sideburns, lots of tartan and a mirrored top hat. In the past I’ve tended to be a bit sniffy about tribute acts – of all genres. Slade UK are bloody good though. In fact, the voice of the lead singer is far closer to the raw power and sound of Noddy Holder than Holder’s actual replacement in the modern-day Slade, Mal McNulty. There’s a real energy to the musicianship, too, and they capture the authentic sound of Slade perfectly. As with the previous act, it’s not just about delivering the well-known hits either. We get B sides, we get songs that were never performed live by the original band and we get songs from many different eras of Slade, stretching from the early days right through to the band’s very final hit single, 1991’s Radio Wall Of Sound. Loud and blisteringly authentic they do the band proud. There can be only one song to finish though: the band return to the stage with Santa hats, fake snow pumps out from the stage and the familiar opening chords signal the start of the greatest Christmas song ever made…
The night may have lacked the huge arenas, the enormous crowds or the wall-to-wall press coverage associated with other famous bands’ fiftieth anniversaries. But there is no lack of love for Slade and their music here tonight and both acts do the band and its fans proud.