I have a piece in the latest Uncut magazine about Slade, the glam rock bovver boys who became the most successful British group of the 1970s.
Slade were proud Black Country band – all raised in and around Wolverhampton and Walsall – and they never really took to life in London, something that may have explained why it took them so long to break through. As Don Powell, the drummer, told me, ‘We didn’t really feel comfortable in the London scene when we could just be in the pub with our mates in Wolverhampton.’ Even today, all four remain wonderfully faithful to their roots and have the flattest vowels of any band I have ever interviewed.
But London still had an impact on their career. In 1966, beanpole producer Kim Fowley spotted the band – then called the N’Betweens – playing Tiles nightclub in Oxford Street and promptly hustled them into the recording studio. This was the result.
Tiles was a Mod club. John Peel played there once but his hippie tunes didn’t go down too well with the audience and he recalled: ‘It was certainly not the kind of place where they wanted to hear what I was doing. And there were waves of irate customers coming up over the footlights to try and persuade me to play whatever it was they wanted me to play. Which certainly wasn’t the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish or whatever I was playing. They didn’t like me at all.’
This terrific Pathe newsreel shows The Animals playing at Tiles, and it was ex-Animal Chas Chandler who gave Slade their next big break after he saw them performing at Rasputins on Bond Street. Noddy Holder told me, ‘Chas wanted to see us live. So we were booked to play a tiny place called Rasputins in Bond Street and we played our usual set there. People stopped dancing to watch us, which didn’t really happen at the time, and as Chas came down the stairs he said we were that good he thought it was a record being played. He thought it was fantastic and signed us the next day, no second thoughts. We started working a lot of London clubs and bigger venues around the country.’
Thereafter, Slade became regulars on the London circuit, and were the first band to book Earl’s Court (Bowie played a show before them, but had booked it after Slade). While Bowie’s show was plagued by sound problems, Slade were able t learn from his mistakes and their concert was deemed a great success.
Their favourite venue was probably the Top of the Pops studio in Elstree, where their rabble-rousing songs and remarkable outfits meant they practically became the house band.
Sadly, though, two of their greatest London moments have been lost forever. As one fan writes here, the band recorded two promo videos for Top of the Pops, one at Chessington Zoo for “Look Wot You Dun” and another at Greenwich Observatory for “Gudbuy T’Jane”. Both films have been wiped and seem to be lost, among with many other studio Top of the Pops appearances.
Finally, here’s the band just before they made it. Still known as Ambrose Slade, this promo for their first album was filmed in Euston Station. The band had recently come out of their skinhead phase, and are nothing like the colourful eccentrics they would soon become.