September 23, 2022

It is practically possible to feel the (Reading Festival) crowd’s own realisation that, hey, these guys aren’t just an over the hill glam rock outfit, they are the real deal – hard, heavy, in your face, and so working class and ‘laddish’ that they make Liam Gallagher sound like the love child of Bryan Ferry and James Blunt.

Ah, Slade – who among us of a certain age don’t get a frisson of nostalgia just from the mention of the name? A mental picture of Noddy Holder in tartan pants and mirrored top hat, Dave Hill throwing ridiculously camp shapes with his frankly alarming haircut and ‘bacofoil glitter’ outfits, Don Powell behind his drumkit, looking as if he’d just gone ten rounds with Joe Frazier but hadn’t really noticed, and last but not least Jim Lea, happy to quietly play his bass in an unassuming manner while he gets on with being the musical glue holding the whole thing together. But that’s only a part of the whole Slade picture, as are the misspelled song titles, the screaming teenybopper audiences and ‘Iiiiiiiit’s Chriiiiistmas!!’ – because underneath it all Slade were simply a damn fine rock band, devoid of frills and happy to kick your arse seven ways to Sunday in a live setting. And that is what brings us to this set – five discs with five different live albums covering a decade in the band’s career, with three of them officially released for the first time. And it has to be said, it’s a bloody good listen all round!

Opening things up on the first disc is the legendary Slade Alive!, recorded in 1971 just as they were on the verge of hitting the charts and taking over Top Of The Pops, but here working their collective balls off to a compact yet enthusiastic crowd, resulting in an album so raw and crackling with energy that you feel you could escape the worst of the current energy crisis by simply plugging all of your appliances into the disc and powering your house. With just seven tracks, from a pummelling Hear Me Calling through to a steamroller-heavy take on Born To Be Wild, the album is an absolute beast. Highlights include a surprising yet brilliant take on John Sebastian’s Darling Be Home Soon (Holder’s unplanned belch during the song is a classic moment), a great Know Who You Are (containing the bizarrely unexpected line ‘Tired of your socks?’ in the lyric), and of course the astonishing crowd manipulation and bruising riffery which is Get Down And Get With It. It’s no coincidence that Kiss named their own game-changing first live album Kiss Alive! as a nod to this, one of their favourite live albums. It remains a landmark recording, by a band who nobody in their right mind would have tipped to be the darlings of the singles charts within a year…

Omitting the Slade Alive Vol 2 album from 1978 (perhaps wisely as it really wasn’t any sort of worthy sequel), we next get to SOS – Slade On Stage, recorded in Newcastle in 1981 and released a year later. A fine recording, featuring some of the latter-day live favourites including We’ll Bring The House Down and Lock Up Your Daughters, only two things work against the album. Firstly, the fact that – alone out of these recordings – it was patched up with studio overdubs later for its official release, and secondly that owing to vinyl length it contained only nine actual songs (the credited You’ll Never Walk Alone at the end is a crowd singalong which fades after 30 seconds or so, just long enough for us to hear Noddy’s singing of ‘…with holes in your arse…’ which always raises a smile). It’s a fine and powerful record, but overall perhaps just slightly ‘safe’.

Better – MUCH better in fact – is the third disc, containing the full recording of the band’s incendiary appearance at the Reading Festival in 1980, when they took over the spot vacated by Ozzy Osbourne as a very late replacement and proceeded to take the whole place by the scruff of the neck and pretty well own the festival. The performance was such a watershed moment that it almost single-handedly led to a career resurgence for the band, who had been languishing a little for the last few years after an unsuccessful mid-’70s attempt to crack the USA. Previously only represented by three tracks on a live EP, it is easy to see from this recording just how much Slade won over the crowd, and how comprehensively they were collectively eating from the palm of Noddy’s hand by the end. Get Down And Get With It sees the main set climaxing with the crowd so won over that had the top-hatted frontman suggested they all take their trousers off at the count of three, there would have been a forest of pants waved at the stage. And when they then come back to hit the audience with a double header of Cum On Feel The Noize and Born To Be Wild, the victory is complete. It is practically possible to feel the crowd’s own realisation that, hey, these guys aren’t just an over the hill glam rock outfit, they are the real deal – hard, heavy, in your face, and so working class and ‘laddish’ that they make Liam Gallagher sound like the love child of Bryan Ferry and James Blunt. A genuine milestone performance which is pure gold here, and an important release. The sound is great as well – just as pterodactyl-wild as Slade Alive, but simultaneously well-balanced and clear as a bell.

Disc Four gives us a recording of a complete show in the less than glamorous surroundings of The Hucknall Miners’ Welfare Club, near Nottingham. Recorded in December 1980, and sounding pretty good despite a couple of brief sound gremlins, it shows Slade totally re-energised following that Reading performance of a few months earlier, and resolutely avoiding any hint of ‘how the mighty fall’ self-pity, as they just play the way they did best, kicking out a set of raw and heavy rock along with a supreme audience rapport, the whole thing almost allowing you to feel the sweat dripping down the walls. Some of the latter-day highlights from Reading are again included – the true story of The Wheels Ain’t Coming Down and the irresistible When I’m Dancin’ I Ain’t Fightin’ – rubbing shoulders with a series of classic hits (including, given the time of year, that Christmas song!) as well as some then-contemporary deeper cuts such as Night Starvation and the oddly psychedelic-influenced Lemme Love Into Ya. It’s a brilliant performance, and almost the equal of the Reading show.

Disc five rounds things off with a trip back to Slade at a point not far from their chart peak, just after the release of the 1974 film Slade In Flame, with the album Live At The New Victoria, previously available as a highly rated bootleg. It’s a fascinating contrast to the later, back-to-basics Slade, as despite the very low mix of the crowd it is possible to hear the screams of the teenage audience members. The banter is far more family-friendly, and the whole show is a more ‘fun glam-rock’ affair than the ‘grimy heavy rock crew’ of a few years later. That said, it’s still a cracking rock performance, there is no doubt of the band’s genuine live credentials, and the setlist is a marvellous contrast, finding room for some great but later dropped songs such as The Bangin’ Man, Thanks For The Memory, How Does It Feel, Far Far Away, OK Yesterday Was Yesterday and the opening Them Kinda Monkeys Can’t Swing. There’s no Born To Be Wild in evidence to finish things off, nor Get Down And Get With It, but Mama Weer All Crazee Now wraps things up in excellent style. It’s a different recording, but no less essential for all that.

All in all, this is a set which should be investigated by anyone remotely sceptical about Slade’s claim to be a top-drawer, serious heavy rock act, as it leaves absolutely no doubt in the matter. In particular, it is incredibly gratifying to hear, after decades of being portrayed as simply a larger-than-life ‘cartoon pop star’ almost, that Noddy Holder was, at his peak, one of the best frontmen and most powerful singers in British rock. It’s something which easily gets forgotten, and this very much redresses that balance. It’s also fascinating to see that, from all indications given by these performances, that while they clearly loved the fame and fortune of the ‘glam hits’ years, the band actually sound as if they were never truly happier than when they were having a party with 65,000 ‘mates’ at Reading, or playing to a crowded Hucknall social club in a haze of beer and sweat. And that really does indicate the mark of a truly genuine rock band as opposed to simply a chart act. These guys loved it live, and they loved it loud – the hit singles were just something that came along with it as a nice bonus. And more power to them for it. This is a set to restore your faith in golden-age British blue-collar rock, even if it was dressed in glam clothing. You can take the Black Country boys out of the clubs and the bars, but… well, you know the rest. Get down – and get with it!