Memories of my first ever live gig – Slade at Donington 22/8/81

When I went to Monsters of Rock at Donington, aged 15, in 1981 it was not only my first ever festival but also my first ever live rock gig of any type. It still remains my favourite gig of all time, in particular the set by Slade that afternoon.

We arrived at Donington a little late and by the time we had parked and got into the arena the band More were most of the way through their set. The next band on were Blackfoot who I have no real recollection of at all. What I do remember is the anticipation of waiting for Slade to come on. After several years in the doldrums Slade had burst back into the charts a few months earlier with ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’. Their storming performance at Reading Festival the previous year (when the band replaced Ozzy Osbourne at the last minute) had already become legendary and this all meant that in the space of a few months Slade went from being a band that sang about Christmas that I vaguely recalled from my childhood to being my number one favourite band in the whole world. And that was even before I witnessed what would become (and still remains) the most remarkable live performance I’ve ever seen. Loud guitar-driven rock, commanding showmanship, unforgettable songs and sheer over- the-top-eccentricity, it was an absolute master-class in compelling live performance.

On the back of the previous year’s Reading appearance, the early 80s heavy metal crowd had really taken Slade to heart. Looking at the setlist from Donington now the songs basically fit into three categories. Firstly, there were, unsurprisingly, the 70s hits like ‘Gudbuy T’ Jane’ and ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’. Secondly, there was newer material like ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’ and a sneak preview of their soon-to-be-released new single ‘Lock Up Your Daughters’. Thirdly, there were the old 50s rock ’n’ roll covers, which Slade had begun inserting in their set in their wilderness years in the late 70s but had kept in as they began to be embraced by the heavy metal crowd. Although the look couldn’t have been more different, this latter group of songs demonstrates how much late 50s rock ’n’ roll and early 70s glam rock had in common in terms of song structure, lyrical themes and instantly memorable choruses.

It was Noddy Holder’s masterful ability to connect with the 65,000-strong crowd, however, that was perhaps even more memorable than the songs. Witty, irreverent and on a mission to entertain no matter what, in spite of the non-stop rain, Holder was able to strike an instant rapport with a huge festival audience in a way that few can. And that’s before we even get on to discussing the surreal sea of moving objects that danced above the heads of the crowd throughout the entire set. Although ever-more hostile missile throwing was to mar a number of festivals around that time, with Slade it was turned on its head and rather than being fuelled by aggressive machismo, chucking stuff about became a life-affirming celebration of communal craziness. White plastic beer bottles full of beer, bundles of hay that had been laid on the ground in an attempt to soak up the mud, packed lunches, burger buns – everything that could be thrown in the air was thrown in the air . The band, of course, joined in with one toilet roll after being another lobbed out into the crowd during Mama Weer All Crazee Now. When the crowd called for Merry Christmas at the end of the set Holder told us all that if we wanted it we would have to sing it ourselves, which is precisely what everyone did…

After Slade finished, and soaking wet from rain, beer and mud and covered head to foot in hay we made our way further towards the back of the crowd to catch our breath and I wondered whether I would ever see anything on stage quite so magnificent ever again. There were more fantastic performances to come that day – with memorable sets from both Whitesnake and AC/DC (once a completely underwhelming performance from Blue Oyster Cult was out of the way). However, even though I’ve seen many exceptional performances from many exceptional bands over the years, nothing has ever quite matched the intensity of seeing Slade at Donington.

Setlist:

Dizzy Mamma
When I’m Dancin’ I Ain’t Fightin’
Take Me Bak ‘Ome
Lock Up Your Daughters
Everyday
Somethin’ Else
Pistol Packin’ Mama
Gudbuy T’Jane
We’ll Bring the House Down
Get Down and Get With It
Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Cum On Feel the Noize
Born to Be Wild
Merry Xmas Everybody

Related posts:
Slade at Minehead 2015
Slade at Hastings 2015
Slade Fan Convention 2016
Slade, strikes and the three-day week

Monsters-Of-Rock-1981

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28 thoughts on “Memories of my first ever live gig – Slade at Donington 22/8/81

      1. No video footage exists of an amazing concert that took place on 2 June 1982 at Royal Highland Showground Edinburgh. More than 18000 fans filled the Showground for what was an epic concert. Queen had come to Scotland.
        This was the second and final show in Scotland of their Hot Space Tour that travelled to Europe, North America and Japan.

        I had been a fan of Queen for a couple of years and was so excited to see and hear, up close and personal, one of the best bands in the world. To get us all into the mood a band I never heard of before was supporting Queen. They were called Heart. They were brilliant and the Wilson sisters’ guitar playing was superb.

        After Heart went off stage a wave of chants swooped over the Showground like a tidal wave crashing down on the stage, only to rise once more and start all over again. We waited and waited. Then, the rise of a drum was heard in the distance, slowly rising. The stomping and chants became louder. As the music became louder, the stomping changed beat to be in sync with this now searingly loud song that spread throughout the Showground while the stage remained empty. The song was ‘Flash’, a taped intro to start the concert. As the intro began to fade Queen came on stage and the crowd erupted.

        My friend put me on his shoulders. The sight was amazing! Freddie in his white trousers and vest, Roger Taylor sitting behind his drum kit, Brian May picking up his guitar and John Deacon reaching for his bass.

        Then the live music began. ‘The Hero’ pounded our hearts and ears and from then on in it was a delirious overdose of some of their best songs including We Will Rock You; Somebody to Love, Now I’m Here; Love of My Life; Save Me; Under Pressure; Fat Bottomed Girls; Bohemian Rhapsody; Tie Your Mother Down and We Are the Champions.

        They gave their all, raising our hearts on one song only to move them on another. The show felt like a dream because, no sooner had they started to play than they were they were coming off stage to a taped outro of God Save the Queen.

        One of the best concerts I have ever seen in Edinburgh and one I can still remember.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Was there with you Darren, probably quite a way back from you, I was there and there only to see Slade. I became a Slade fan when i was 11 and had seen them quite a few times up until then. I made a point of going to this one, me and three friends in my 1965 Riley, as I couldn’t get to Reading for the glorious come-back. No surprises this time, everybody knew they would be favourites again, the rock clubs of Brum were buzzing again after their performance. It was wonderful to see them enjoying great days again after the end of the 70s doldrums. Nice write up, well done. KOR!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a good job I have a good memory. But this is seared on my brain – even though I can’t for the life of me recall what Blackfoot were like. I also got stomach ache watching Whitesnake as myself and the lad I was with got right to the very front – but it was quite a crush so we went back a bit for AC/DC.

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      1. I’ve always thought of Slade as a bit of a novelty singles 70s band. I have a friend at work who counts them as his favourite ever band and a gig of theirs in Manchester as his best ever gig too, so I got put right on that score!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My First Festival that was as you say Slade kicked arse and don,t forget that Blackfoot earlier in the day were top drawer.
    As for BOC I saw them 3 days earlier at the Venue perform as Soft White Underbelly and it was a great gig but in the 3 days Albert Bouchard their drummer had left/been booted out the band and they did their Donington set with a roadie sitting in who did,nt know the older songs !
    As you say Whitesnake and Acca Dacca played storming sets and to end with a whimper I ran out of petrol on the M1 on the journey home !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish I could remember the Blackfoot performance but I don’t recall a thing about it. I’m not sure if we were busy finding a decent spot for Slade or I was just too full of anticipation to take it in! Certainly a very memorable day though. I was in a youth theatre group and I had to skive off rehearsals for Donington that day!

      Like

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