Koko, London, December 18
Sometimes, in the course of this journalism lark, you take advantage of your position to attend shows that, as a fan, even if earning twice my current salary you probably wouldn’t shell out twenty squids’ worth of your hard-earned for. And tonight, I suppose, is one of them. Let’s be honest, there’s not that many people, outside the hardcore fanbase and a few casual Xmas nostalgia-seekers, who would push out the sovs on a cold, overcast Sunday to see Slade, minus Noddy Holder and Jimmy Lea, especially starting at 7.15 pm and finishing by 8.45. Even if it is all in aid of the Lords’ Taverners.
All such considerations taken, though, I’m glad I got off my arse, got my boots on, got down, and got with it, as tonight Slade were far better than I or anyone else had a right to imagine, and exceeded several of (if not quite all) my expectations. True, they’re never out of work, and have been playing in this incarnation now for the best part of 17 years, mainly abroad where they’re warmly welcomed. Also, speaking as one who watches the Stranglers every year without fail, who promoted Sweet twice with only Andy Scott remaining from the original band, and continues to this day an association with the Holton-less Heavy Metal Kids, I’m not, obviously, averse to the idea of classic acts with new lineups. But for some reason, the thought of a Noddy-less Slade always seemed a little beyond the pale. That is, until they hit the stage…
The minute Don Powell begins thumping the intro to 'We’ll Bring The House Down', after which Dave Hill appears, hat and silver cape in place, holding his Firebird aloft and peeling out the riff, and Mal McNulty (their vocalist for some 8 years now) screams “WOH-O-O-OH-OH!!” , things begin to fall into place, and then it dawns on you: you’re watching Slade. Not a tribute band (which I’ve seen enough of in my time) but Slade, or at least as close as you’re likely to get barring some miracle capable of dragging Holder out of comfortable DJ semi-retirement. Koko isn’t exactly full tonight (fair enough, those stage times would have put most people off) but the 500-odd attendees go suitably nuts, and with due cause, as when they put their mind to it, as on the booming, cavernous 'Take Me Bak Ome' the fist-punching onslaught of 'Lock Up Your Daughters' or the ultimate arm-waver 'Far Far Away' (your humble scribe’s very first single, bought for him by his Mum at the tender age of 2!) , Slade are great.
Tue, when they don’t, they’re uncomfortably sloppy- 'Everyday', whilst still inducing similar singalong hysteria, is played a little too slow to keep the adrenalin up, and Hill unnecessarily fluffs an otherwise perfect, tub-thumping, fiddle-scraping rendition of 'Coz I Luv You' by pausing in the middle to make the audience sing accapella - something that doesn’t happen in the original and is therefore a little pointless, not to mention confusing. Luckily, they pull together and get it back again, and when they do, the effect is simply colossal. Plus, when fully on fire, even during lesser-known '90s material like 'Red Hot' and 'I Hear You Calling', it’s impossible to not recognise this man as the unheralded guitar hero of 70s rock he truly is- even if he does belong nowadays to some nutty religion that has as much to do with rock and roll as Abu Hamza does with a kosher Shabat.
Powell, a man who nearly perished in a hideous tree/car window/head interface many years ago but thankfully lived to tell the tale, is no slouch either, and while I may wish he’d shuffle like he used to on 'Gudbuy T Jane' and 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now', he still pounds the skins with the power of a mammoth, his hair flailing the way it did at a million sold-out theatres between 1970 and 1975 and several in the '80s too. With so many hits to choose from, it’s great to see the less obvious 'Bangin’ Man' in there: needless to say, there’s no room for psych-era obscurities like 'One Way Hotel', 'Pouk Hill', 'Knocking Nails Into My House' and 'Shape Of Things To Come', or, indeed, my all-time favourite from 1976, 'Nobody’s Fool'. But be honest, you wouldn’t expect there to be, and if they avoid that era entirely, then there’s no chance of the dreadful 'Dapple Rose' either, so be thankful for small mercies.
“AAAAALWRAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT EVERYBOOOODY!! LET YOOOOUUUUR HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIR DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWNNNNN” yells Mc Nulty, and suddenly we’re at the climax: a pounding 'Get Down….' (the song that singlehandedly turned a zillion suedehead soulboys into heavy rockers) followed by the arm-linking sway of 'My Oh My', which in turn gives way to a triumphant 'Cum On Feel The Noize' (prefaced by another ear-splitting vocal intro, of course) and inevitably leads to that song- you know, the one they always play on the radio this time of year. It may be cheesy now, but after all these years and God knows how many overplays, it never loses sight of its Beatles/Bee Gees influence (lest we forget, it began life as a Toytown popsiker entitled Buy Me A Rocking Horse') and there, in that hall, played by two of the people who originally recorded it, it regains every inch of its former resonance.
In reality, of course, Christmas is a bloody horrible time of year, a hideous commercial enterprise designed to drain the West of its money and propagate capitalism, and the future that’s “only just begun” will probably be worse than the past (the sight of tens of shopworn, tired housewives atop the balcony, who at one time were probably the lithe young platform-booted things grooving to the band on TOTP, only serving as a further reminder of our own mortalities) but for 90 minutes, in the confines of Koko’s ornate walls, if you were one of those singing along, or linking arms, stomping boots and yelling “WE WANT SLADE!” at the top of your voice like it was still ’74, you could almost genuinely believe there was a true festive season, and four blokes from Wolverhampton were going to bring it gift-wrapped to you. It wasn’t perfect by any means - it could have been tighter, it could have been later, and, considering we’re dealing with a band to whom ‘noize’ is paramount, it could have been a lot louder - but it was pure, unadulterated fun, of the kind not oft experienced in oh-so-cool Central London. After a whole year of digesting lost prog and psych nuggets, it was great to sing along with some songs I’ve known practically all my life. Just one thing, though - if, as they say, the best rock and roll is catchy and infectious by nature, do yow think that explynes woi soomthing funnoi has happund ter moi accsunt?
DARIUS DREWE SHIMON