Tag Archives: Jim Lea

Rock: EP review – Jim Lea ‘Lost In Space’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Formed in the 60s, massive in the 70s and enjoying something of a revival in the 80s, the original Slade finally came to an end in 1991. Since then vocalist, Noddy Holder, has become a a perennial favourite on the nation’s chat show sofas talking about the old days. Guitarist, Dave Hill, and drummer, Don Powell, have resurrected the Slade name and continued to tour Britain and Europe belting out the old hits, with the latter also involved in a well-received collaboration with Suzi Quatro and Sweet’s Andy Scott. Arguably, however, it is bass-player, Jim Lea, who has delivered the most interesting musical output, post-Slade, of all four members. It’s not been a prolific output – family caring responsibilities and health issues put paid to that. However, 2007’s excellent solo album ‘Therapy’ has now been followed up with a six-track EP of new material: ‘Lost In Space’.

The title track is a great catchy slice of melodic pop-rock, proving that Lea has not lost none of his song-writing knack in that department. Semi-autobiographical, lyrically, the words are a paean to living life in an inner world, barely aware of what’s going on in normal life.

The rest of the EP takes on a decidedly more rocky approach. Whereas the the previous solo album took on a wistful, slightly Lennon-esque tone, a number of tracks here put me in mind of Slade in the early 80s – when the former glamsters enjoyed something of a renaissance at the hands of the emerging New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement thanks to the band’s triumph at Reading festival in 1980. Tracks like ‘What In The World’, all catchy choruses, pounding drums and crunching guitars, would not have been at all out of place on Slade’s 1983 album ‘The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome’.

Although it’s all previously unreleased tracks some of these songs have been around in demo form for quite some time prior to being worked up for release. Lea’s ‘Going Back To Birmingham’, which appears as a live track on the ‘Live At The Robin’ bonus disc accompanying ‘Therapy’, also finally gets a studio release here.

Anyone who has ever been wowed by Slade at one time or another should rush to buy this EP – not because it’s an interesting curio from the latter years of a former member but because it’s a great rocking EP with some great new songs and some great new music. It’s excellent. Buy it!

Lost in Space EP is released on 22nd June 2018 by Wienerworld

Read my interview with Jim Lea ahead of the release of his new EP here

Jim Lea - Lost In Space - EP artwpork

http://www.jimleamusic.com/

Related posts

Jim Lea For One Night Only – At The Robin
Slade at Donnington 1981
Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the greatest Christmas record ever made

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Lost In Space: interview with former Slade legend Jim Lea

This interview was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Jim Lea, the former Slade bass-player and one half of the mega-hit Holder-Lea song-writing duo, has a brand new six-track EP out: Lost In Space. I catch up with Jim to discuss the inspiration behind the title track and the other songs on the EP, to talk about his appearance at Wolverhampton’s Robin 2 venue last Autumn and, of course, to hear a few recollections from the old Slade days as well as the challenges that life throws up outside the world of music.

“Lost In Space was written deliberately as a pop song. Of all the songs I have come up with, this is one of my favourites. The ideas portrayed in the song are of someone spending their life living in an inner world, virtually oblivious to normal life. Some might say I have unwittingly written about myself,” states the press release accompanying the EP.

Jim Lea - press shot 1

So often, introspection is portrayed as being sad and angst-ridden yet Lost In Space is a very uplifting song with a great catchy chorus. Jim has certainly lost none of his knack for writing catchy uplifting choruses. For such an upbeat song I put it to Jim whether there is a subtle inference here that being caught up in your own world can actually be a pretty happy place.

JL: “It is when you’re happy yeah but you have to find yourself first. You have to be happy with it. I think a lot of people do it to escape. It’s one of the autistic symptoms when people are being diagnosed. They don’t connect. I’ll tell you who came out and spoke about it – Chris Packham from Springwatch. Millions of people must have seen that programme about it. I’m sure I’ve got grains of autism in me but I’m nowhere near as bad as him. He just lives in a tiny little cottage in the middle of a wood with his animals. But to be quite honest for a big part of my life I was not a big communicator. I didn’t really do interviews at all. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I began to look at myself and went into psychotherapy and completely changed my personality. I almost changed my DNA.”

Is that partly why we are hearing more from Jim recently, I wonder. A new DVD, a live appearance at the Robin in Wolverhampton last Autumn and now a new EP. Are we seeing a new Jim?

JL: “Yes, yes. This is the new me. I’m obviously not bothered about talking to you at all. You seem quite a nice chap! I’m a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. Whereas back in the day with the band for a long time I wasn’t. I was better off in the eighties and going into the nineties, but in the seventies I couldn’t cope with all that. If you look at the band there were two who wanted to get their face in the camera and two who didn’t. The idea of fame is very nice. You think that’s what you want but when it comes – well it took me all of a couple of weeks to think hang on I haven’t got a life here. You couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t do anything. So a lot of people want that and they want that attention, whereas with me I wanted to go back to how I was before going on television.”

With that in mind I suppose when Slade were less in the spotlight in the late seventies that was OK for you, as long as the band were still gigging and recording?

JL: “That’s right. That was a good blueprint for me. That was great. And, of course, when we started having hits again in the eighties it was much easier to cope with because it wasn’t that mad teenage chasing-you-down-the-street type stuff.”

Lost In Space is a great catchy pop song. But the rest of the EP really rocks out. For me it seems to channel some of the spirit of Slade in the early 80s when the band had a comeback thanks in part to the heavy rock crowd post-Reading. Was it a conscious decision to go for a more rocky approach here compared to Therapy, your previous solo album?

JL: “No. The songs on this EP – I don’t know whether you know I had cancer – and these songs are from pre-cancer. They’re quite old. You can probably tell I’ve got a frog in my throat and I’ve never been able to get rid of that since I’ve had my cancer treatment. I’m not on the treatment any more but it just doesn’t go away. Luckily I’ve got some vocal tapes from god knows how many years ago that I just re-recorded quickly. Because my brother, who’s looking after me from the record point of view, says do you fancy doing an EP. He’d been talking to the record company. I said yes – four tracks? He said no, it’s six tracks for an EP these days. I said that’s half an album, when do you need it for? He said next Monday! But I did it because the songs were there. I had a vocal. I just slung everything at it and came up with what you hear.”

Jim Lea - press shot 2

Live at the Robin

You took the stage at the Robin last November for a Q&A session to launch your new DVD (a live recording of his 2002 solo gig at that same venue) but at the end you surprise everyone when you come back on stage with your guitar to blast out some old Slade classics.

JL: “When I went off – we had a bit of a scam me and Paul Franks (radio presenter and interviewer that day) and he said Jim wanted to share something and he’s just going off. But when I got down there the people who are looking after the stage side of things they’re all chatting together. And I said what are you doing I need my guitar. Where’s my guitar? I was shouting at them and I was really in a bad mood and I said to the sound guy get out the front and get on the desk…. and it was at least three or four minutes before I came out. And there is some fan footage (and we are going to put that out) but just before I come on you can hear people saying ‘where’s he gone?’ Just coming over the microphones you know. And the audience I could hear what they’re saying. And this one female voice says (adopts exaggerated Yorkshire accent) ‘Do you think he’s gone for a lie down?’ Oh dear, it did crack me up that did. And to be quite honest that’s what I do a lot of these days. I have to go and have a sleep.”

It was his brother Frank who had encouraged Jim to do a few songs at the end of the Q&A.

JL: “You’d see these old singers like Frank Sinatra when they’re past it and their voice just cracks up and I said I can’t do that. And then I got this idea of knocking a few backing tracks up and I did some vocals to see what it sounded like. But I only did four tracks and then I thought hang on I could play along. And in this day and age that was my justification. I would have loved to have had the same line-up as the Robin in 2002 – just a drummer and bass player and really thrash it out. But that whole complicated thing with equipment for four songs meant we wouldn’t have even got the balance sorted out.”

Playing along to backing tapes it may have been but that didn’t dampen the outpouring of emotion from fans at the event, seeing Jim Lea playing on stage again, fifteen years after his one and only solo gig and some thirty-four years after Slade’s final UK tour. Jim only became aware of just how emotional the event had been for the audience, however, when his brother finally caught up with Jim and the rest of the family some time later that day.

JL: “All the family went for dinner and my brother was an hour late and we were all starving. Well he said he stayed ’til the end. Nobody wanted to go. People were crying. And the boss of the club came over and my brother asked him why is everybody crying? Why won’t they go? And as the boss was walking towards him he saw that he was crying as well!”

While he is thoroughly bemused at the emotional audience reaction it has clearly made him ponder on how much he enjoyed playing on stage.

JL: “I wish I could find some way of getting on stage again. That would be really good. But you know I was very tired when I played the Robin in November.”

Coz I Luv You

From recent ventures we then delve back into the early days. I mention that he was one of the first to bring the electric violin into a pop-rock setting. Given that this was around the same time the folk rock thing going on I ask if he was conscious of what people like Dave Swarbrick were doing with Fairport Convention around the same time as Jim was putting a violin solo on Coz I Luv You.

JL: “Well I used to play the violin on stage. Really it was the band trying to stand out and I think it was about the end of the sixties and you are quite right about Fairport Convention and Dave Swarbrick and there was East of Eden and Dave Arbus. And that guy played on The Who’s Baba O’Riley on the Who’s Next album. In the studio Pete Townsend came walking through. I was there messing about with my violin and he said here mate can I look at your violin. And I said I’m not giving it to you. You’ll smash it up. No mate that’s just stuff on stage. I don’t do any of that. Can I have a look? I want to play a violin. And the next thing I know it’s on Baba O’Riley with Dave Arbus playing. But with Coz I Luv You we’d had Get Down And Get With It as our first hit and it was about coming up with the next one. Because Get Down And Get With It was an everybody-join-in type thing I thought to write something like that is just going to be a cop-out. So I thought about bridging the fact that we were going to make a pop single with trying to make it a bit gritty as well. So I came up with (sings melody) and I got my acoustic guitar and I went over to Nod’s. I’d never written with Nod before and really it was like trying to get the singer on board so it’s kind of political in case it was a ‘well I don’t want to do anything with a violin’. That’s what could have happened but it didn’t. And we worked on the ‘I just like the things you do’ bit and obviously I knew that this was going to be really big. And it was and it got to number one within three weeks. And it’s only recently where people have said I saw Jim Lea from Slade with an electric violin playing on Top Of The Pops and that’s why I started playing violin. And you know it’s really edifying to think that you might have set some trail for something that happens in the future.”

While Jim is not exactly comfortable with his former band’s often outlandish image, there is clearly pride at what the four of them achieved together back in the day.

JL: “And the other thing with the band was because of our sort of wacky image which we kept going on with for too long. Well not we but Dave did. You know look at Quo back when they did Ice In The Sun and they changed the way they looked to do a different thing. Same as the Beatles changed but you know that never happened with us. But there was something from the wacky side of it and because we were having hit singles. Back then if you were having hit singles you were a pop band and we weren’t a pop band. I mean we could always blow off anybody we were playing with. OK there wasn’t the musical virtuosity in the band but it was a fantastic band. And together – you can forget the recording and all that because you can always mess around with that and try to make it sound a bit more sort of credible – but there was something about the four of us playing when we were on stage. And we went to that big studio at Olympic. Get Down And Get With It was the first thing we ever recorded in that studio. And we always went to that studio because it was like doing a gig and we were comfortable with that because we were really bloody good. And I look at people now and you know big names and so on and they all came out to watch us… But we were something special right from the first few notes we ever played.”

Jim Lea - press shot 3

Jim’s story?

With so many insights we then get on to the topic of autobiographies. We’ve seen tomes from all the other three members of Slade but I put it to Jim that many Slade fans would say that the most fascinating and revealing of all would be a Jim Lea autobiography.

JL: (Laughs) “At times I thought about doing it. In fact, I was probably the first one to think about doing it. That was back in post-Reading days. But there seemed to be a reaction that I shouldn’t do that and that if there was going to be any book it should be a Slade book, not me. So I just left it and then Nod did one – which I’ve never looked at and Don did one which I’ve never read either but it’s supposed to be very good I’ve heard. The thing is I’d want to write it myself rather than sitting down with someone with a tape machine. You’d have to be able to taste it and smell it. If I’m talking about the smoke-filled rooms you’d have to be able to visualise from the words what that was like. The way it used to hang in the air in these grey layers.”

Jim also emphasises that his life hasn’t just been about music, particularly in the post-Slade years.

JL: “My musical career has been punctuated by having to look after my father to save my mother because he was driving my mother mad. He’d got dementia and then there were two or three years with my (older) brother the same thing happened and I was on care duty for both. So that’s six year’s gone and now my mum herself is housebound. I’ve just come from her now and I’ve always thought being of service to others is a big thing to do in life. It’s hard work because you have to give up your own wishes and your own life. You have to hand over what you want to do in order to help the person that needs the help. So being of service it’s a big thing. So with my mother as well it’s probably seven years gone. She became ill about a year ago and so put it all together you’ve got a whole chunk of life that’s nothing to do with music.”

For all of his musical legacy it’s clear that family is very important to Jim and you get the idea that there is no way he would not have been there for those who needed him most. But it’s also clear that Jim Lea still has something to contribute musically and is enthusiastic about his latest EP. He doesn’t even baulk at the round of promotional interviews that need to be done these days as long as, given his current health, there are not too many of them.

“I’m alright with you today, Darren, because I’ve only got you today – but the other day I had fifteen!”

Lost in Space EP is released on 22nd June 2018 by Wienerworld

Jim Lea - Lost In Space - EP artwpork

All photo credits: official artist publicity

http://www.jimleamusic.com/

Related posts

Jim Lea For One Night Only – At The Robin
Slade at Donnington 1981
Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the greatest Christmas record ever made

Review: For One Night Only – Jim Lea at the Robin 2, Bilston 5/11/17

Back in 2002 Slade’s Jim Lea performed a unique one-off solo gig at Bilston’s Robin 2 venue, the only solo gig of his entire career. Now, some fifteen years later, Jim was to take to the stage at the Robin once again for a Q and A session for fans that would immediately follow an official first screening of the new live DVD from that gig.

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Today’s event was not going to be a live performance we were all warned when we booked: “Unfortunately due to Jim’s illness he will be unable to perform musically at this event.” That was fine I thought to myself. It will still be something special, a unique Slade event, a chance to hear directly from Jim and, for me, an opportunity to see him up on a stage for the first time since I saw Slade on the My Oh My tour when I was still at sixth form.

The film itself is a nice memento. It’s fan-shot footage from the audience rather than a professional film but the quality is considerably better than the average blurry, wonky you-tube concert video and, coupled with the official CD soundtrack of the concert and some brand new interview segments with Jim as he reflects back on that night, it’s definitely a must-have for fans.

The DVD screening is then followed by a short warm-up from poet, Paul Cookson. Dubbed Slade’s official Poet Laureate by Noddy Holder, Cookson delivers two wonderfully affectionate Slade-themed poems, including one written especially for today. And then it’s time for the main event. Jim Lea takes the stage to warm applause as he begins his Q&A session with local BBC radio presenter, Paul Franks.

While there are many oft-repeated Slade anecdotes that fans, and many chat-show viewers, will have heard many, many times before from his less publicity-shy erstwhile band-mates, Jim delves deep with his recollections today. Fascinating insights emerge: such as his wife Louise being an uncredited co-writer of Slade’s 1974 hit Everyday; about the piano refrain in How Does It Feel being the very first thing he ever composed; about how the violin solo in the band’s first number one Coz I Luv You originally emerged out of his regular dressing room jamming sessions with Noddy Holder when they were channelling the spirit of Django Reinhardt. And for this famously private musician who has studiously eschewed the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle he also told us a lot about himself today. “Why now?” he was asked. “Well I realised I was no longer shy any more!” he confided. Sharing with the audience that he now understands he is probably autistic (although he’s never had any formal diagnosis) he suggests that this has likely been a key factor in both his levels of creativity and his introspection.

Always the most thoughtful, the most creative and the most fascinating member of Slade, notwithstanding that all four members played an irreplaceable part, Jim Lea was the genuine musical genius of the band. In the DVD he recollects the time he was asked by late manager, Chas Chandler, why he became a bass player when, like Hendrix, he was such an instinctive natural on lead guitar. “I didn’t want to get noticed,” Jim replied.

And so, as the Q&A draws to a close, I start thinking what a special day today has been: getting to pose with Jim’s bass in the morning after much, much queuing, seeing the inaugural screening of Jim’s DVD on the very stage where it was originally filmed, hearing Jim share his fascinating insights into the band and, of course, getting to meet lots of fellow Slade fans.

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And then it all started to get ever so slightly odd on stage. Jim went off stage to get something. Something about some notes for the final question host, Paul Franks, said. But then microphone stands start appearing. Surely he can’t be? He can’t be playing for us can he? Oh my God, there he is back on stage with his guitar. Is he really going to do this?

He’d not got a full band he confessed but he had recorded some backing tapes to play along to and he wanted to do something special to finish the session, he said. And he did. Launching into a blistering version of Cum On Feel The Noize, he rocked out on lead guitar and sang for all he was worth in his first public performance since that last Robin gig fifteen years ago. Gudbuy T Jane and We’ll Bring The House Down quickly followed and, with an ecstatic demand for an encore, he finishes by giving the emotional crowd of Slade fans Mamma Weer All Crazee Now.

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We had been warned not to expect a live performance. But he certainly gave us one, and not some gentle, reflective, soul-searching, acoustic reinterpretation but a full-on, amped-up, raucous rock performance that so perfectly captured the spirit of Slade.

The man who didn’t want to get noticed certainly got noticed today.

Thank you Jim for what you did for us today. We wish you the best of health in your ongoing treatment and we thank you for all the music you gave us in the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band the world has ever known.

http://www.jimleamusic.com/

20171106_142635

Related posts:
Slade at Donington 1981
Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the greatest Christmas record ever made
Slade UK and Pouk Hill Prophetz at Wolverhampton
Slade at White Rock Theatre, Hastings
Slade at Giants of Rock, Minehead

Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the greatest Christmas record ever made

Brash, colourful, over the top, glittery – 1970s glam rock and Christmas seemed made for each other. Yet glam had been in ascendancy for some two years before anyone contemplated putting the two together. And more than anyone else, we can thank Slade for that. From the familiar pounding on the harmonium in the opening bars to the final “It’s Christmaaaas!” Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody remains one of the most well-known and most popular Christmas records of all time. Released 43 years ago today, the Performing Rights Society calculate that it is the world’s most listened to song, heard by an estimated 42% of the global population.

“My mother-in-law the year before had said why don’t we write a song like “White Christmas”, something that can be played every year.” Jim Lea, Slade (Uncut Magazine)

Recorded in New York in the summer of 1973, Noddy Holder told Uncut magazine that he wanted the lyrics to convey a mood of optimism. The song certainly does that. But at the time of recording it, the band would have little clue as to how grim things were going to get in Britain that particular winter. Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath’s increasingly fractious battle with the miners took a dramatic turn. Mineworkers, like all public employees at the time were suffering the effects of below-inflation pay increases at a time of hyper inflation, and were pursuing industrial action for higher pay. Regular domestic power cuts became a fact of life.

MXE

Merry Xmas Everybody was released on 7th December 1973. On 12th December Heath announced that in order to conserve coal stocks, as from midnight on 31st December the Government would be enforcing a three-day week. Companies were to be permitted to consume electricity only on three consecutive days per week, additional working hours were to be banned and TV companies were required to cease broadcasting at 10.30pm each night.

“We shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the War.” Edward Heath

This was the Christmas in which Slade’s Merry Christmas was first unleashed on to the public.

It’s a groundbreaking Christmas song in a number of ways. Unlike the treacly nostalgia of previous Christmas classics, Holder and Lea managed to capture the essence of a working class family Christmas:

Are you waiting for the family to arrive
Are you sure you’ve got the room to spare inside
Does your granny always tell you
That the old songs are the best
Then she’s up and rock ‘n’ rolling with the rest

That was combined with a genuine spirit of bright, breezy optimism:

So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now, it’s only just begun

There is a freshness about the way that hookline is delivered that still sounds fresh even today. “In terms of comfort we shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the war,” Heath declared ominously. But while it might be argued that anything Slade recorded at that particular time in pop history was destined for the Number 1 slot anyway, there was something marvellously subversive about Slade’s Christmas single being the best selling record at the time. People singing along to a chorus that celebrates having fun and looking to the future during the middle of a heated political stand-off, a major breakdown in industrial relations, a draconian response from government and a very bleak-looking New Year indeed.

The three-day week came into force on New Years Day 1974. The Christmas song that was the antidote to it remained at Number 1 until well into the middle of January. In fact, it was February before it dropped out of the charts. As the chorus makes clear, the song is very much a song for the New Year – looking ahead to the future – and not simply one about Christmas.

The Government’s battle with the miners continued to intensify and, refusing to back down, Heath called an election in February 1974. “Who governs Britain?” demanded Heath. “Not you!” the voters told him. He lost the election and embarked on what became known as the longest sulk in British political history. The National Union of Mineworkers secured their pay rise, returned to work and lived to fight another day. But they would be brutally smashed by the Thatcher Government a decade later and Britain’s pit communities decimated. Whatever the battles of the past, the challenge of climate change, of course, means that the only sensible coal policy today is to leave the rest of it in the ground.

Yet Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody lives on, outliving the three-day week, Ted Heath, the miners and (in its original formation) even the band itself. That celebration of working class life in the festive season and the bright sunny optimism for a better future ahead still makes it the greatest Christmas song ever recorded.

It’s Christmaaaaaas!!!

http://www.slade.uk.com/

Find my other Slade posts here:
Slade Fan Convention 2016
Slade live in Hastings 2016
Slade live in Minehead 2015

Slade at White Rock Theatre, Hastings 14/11/15

Tonight was my twenty-third Slade concert. After seeing them three times as a teenager in the early 80s the band abruptly stopped touring. But since guitarist Dave Hill and drummer Don Powell revived the band in the early 90s, sans Noddy Holder and Jim Lea, I’ve see them most years since. Yes, I miss Holder’s unmistakeable voice. Yes, I miss Lea’s musical dexterity. And yes, I miss the combined songwriting talent of the two of them which produced all of the big hits but isn’t producing any new ones. But going to a modern-day Slade gig means I don’t miss out on hearing those wonderful songs being performed live still. And it means I don’t get to miss out on the sheer, unadulterated, wacky, crazily eccentric sense of fun you get from a Slade gig.

The set-list has hardly changed much in the last twenty years but it’s great to be punching our hands in the air to Gudbuy T’ Jane, throwing toilet rolls across the stage during Mama Weer All Crazee Now, applauding Dave Hill showing off his“superyob” guitar during Get Down and Get With It, swaying along to Everyday and My Oh My and jumping up and down with wild deranged abandon to Cum On Feel The Noize.

In the nicest, friendliest, most good-natured way the whole place was pretty much going crazee. Everyone, that is, apart from two gents on the front row who complained bitterly throughout the concert about people dancing about, jumping up and down and waving their arms in the air. I don’t think they quite got the whole Slade concert business. Never mind, they were gone before the band came back on for Merry Xmas Everybody. A month too early? No way! I don’t put together Slade’s winter tour schedules but mid-November is surely near enough to Christmas for the crowd to be singing along to the greatest Christmas song ever made.

For fifty years Dave and Don have been playing together now. Let’s toast them.

Setlist:
Gudbuy T’ Jane
Lock Up Your Daughters
Take Me Bak ‘Ome
Look Wot You Dun
Everyday
Coz I Luv You
Run Run Away
Far Far Away
My Baby Left Me
Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Get Down and Get With It
My Oh My
Cum On Feel The Noize
Merry Xmas Everybody

http://www.slade.uk.com/

dave hill hastings

Photo credit: Dave Kemp

Previous Reviews:
Slade at Giant of Rock, Minehead
Merry Xmas Everybody

Single review: Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody

Brash, colourful, over the top, glittery – 1970s glam rock and Christmas seemed made for each other. Yet glam had been in ascendancy for some two years before anyone contemplated putting the two together. And more than anyone else, we can thank Slade for that. From the familiar pounding on the harmonium in the opening bars to the final “It’s Christmaaaas!” Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody remains one of the most well-known and most popular Christmas records of all time. The Performing Rights Society calculate that it is the world’s most listened to song, heard by an estimated 42% of the global population.

Recorded in New York in the summer of 1973, Noddy Holder told Uncut magazine recently that he wanted the lyrics to convey a mood of optimism. The song certainly does that. But at the time of recording it, the band would have little clue as to how grim things were going to get in Britain that particular winter. Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath’s increasingly fractious battle with the miners took a dramatic turn. Mineworkers, like all public employees at the time were suffering the effects of below-inflation pay increases at a time of hyper inflation, and were pursuing industrial action for higher pay. Regular domestic power cuts became a fact of life.

Merry Xmas Everybody was released on 7th December 1973. On 12th December Heath announced that in order to conserve coal stocks, as from midnight on 31st December the Government would be enforcing a three-day week. Companies were to be permitted to consume electricity only on three consecutive days per week, additional working hours were to be banned and TV companies were required to cease broadcasting at 10.30pm each night. This was the Christmas in which Slade’s Merry Christmas was first unleashed on to the public.

It’s a groundbreaking Christmas song in a number of ways. Unlike the treacly nostalgia of previous Christmas classics, Holder and Lea managed to capture the essence of a working class family Christmas:

Are you waiting for the family to arrive
Are you sure you’ve got the room to spare inside
Does your granny always tell you
That the old songs are the best
Then she’s up and rock ‘n’ rolling with the rest

That was combined with a genuine spirit of bright, breezy optimism:

So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now, it’s only just begun

There is a freshness about the way that hookline is delivered that still sounds fresh even today. “In terms of comfort we shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the war,” Heath declared ominously. But while it might be argued that anything Slade recorded at that particular time in pop history was destined for the Number 1 slot anyway, there was something marvellously subversive about Slade’s Christmas single being the best selling record at the time. People singing along to a chorus that celebrates having fun and looking to the future during the middle of a heated political stand-off, a major breakdown in industrial relations, a draconian response from government and a very bleak-looking New Year indeed.

The three-day week came into force on New Years Day 1974. The Christmas song that was the antidote to it remained at Number 1 until well into the middle of January. In fact, it was February before it dropped out of the charts. As the chorus makes clear, the song is very much a song for the New Year – looking ahead to the future – and not simply one about Christmas.

The Government’s battle with the miners continued to intensify and, refusing to back down, Heath called an election in February 1974. “Who governs Britain?” demanded Heath. “Not you!” the voters told him. He lost the election and embarked on what became known as the longest sulk in British political history. The National Union of Mineworkers secured their pay rise, returned to work and lived to fight another day. But they would be brutally smashed by the Thatcher Government a decade later and Britain’s pit communities decimated. Whatever the battles of the past, the challenge of climate change, of course, means that the only sensible coal policy today is to leave the rest of it in the ground.

Yet Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody lives on, outliving the three-day week, Ted Heath, the miners and (in its original formation) even the band itself. That celebration of working class life in the festive season and the bright sunny optimism for a better future ahead still makes it the greatest Christmas song ever recorded.

It’s Christmaaaaaas!!!

http://www.slade.uk.com/

MXE

Previous live review: Slade at Minehead

Slade at Giants of Rock, Minehead 8/2/15

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.

Setlist:

1. Gudbuy T’ Jane
2. Take Me Bak ‘Ome
3. Lock Up Your Daughters
4. Look Wot You Dun
5. Everyday
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

http://www.slade.uk.com/

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