There were always two sides to Slade. They were the glam rock chart sensations in the seventies with a string of hit singles and outrageous tv appearances. At their core, though, was the fact that they were a hard-working live act, with skills honed through a lifetime on the road.
From their time as The N’Betweens in the sixties through their days of mega success, the wilderness years that followed and their eighties resurgence, the foundation of who they were on a stage was what carried them through.
As Dave Hill told MetalTalk’s Ian Sutherland, in the early days before success, Slade always had a thing about the show. “We always had to think about playing live,” Dave says. “We learned a lot of songs by other people, and we travelled a lot in the sixties. I think we formed in 1966 and were called The N’Betweens then, and there was just certain magic about the thought of us playing live. We always concentrated on performing well but also touring a lot.”
Slade honed their craft at clubs, Mecca ballrooms and universities. “All sorts of stuff we were doing in those days,” Dave says, “but there was always this impact about the strength of the band within as a rock and roll band. We got good together. We had great songs, even other people’s songs before we started to write ourselves. But we were always keen to perform live, get a reaction and dress up. I did a lot of that. It was always visual, and I think that’s always been with us.”
To celebrate the Slade legacy, the box set, All The World Is A Stage (BMG), will be released on 9 September, featuring five shows over eleven years that shows their live genius and versatility.
Chronologically, this set is bookended by two well-known releases. Slade Alive was recorded in 1971 and released the following year. The album that put them on the map is still a vital, vibrant listen now. Slade On Stage is from 1982 and is them at the peak of the excitement generated by their revival.
What will interest Slade fans, though, is the previously unreleased shows that accompany those recordings.
Live At The New Victoria is from 1975 and shows the band ready to hit the road promoting their movie soundtrack Slade In Flame. The thoughtful Everyday and How Does It Feel sit nicely against their usual, more raucous fayre.
Live At The Hucknall Miners Welfare Club is from June 1980 and has a more bootleg feel to the sound. The venue illustrates that their fortunes had wavered, but that bombastic, good time, no matter what joy just shines through the limitations of the time.
Finally, for the first time, there’s a complete official release of Alive At Reading, the gig which catapulted them back into public consciousness in August 1980. It’s one of those live albums that just crackles with atmosphere and really shows this legendary outfit at their very best.
“Even through the mega success, the live situation has always proved worthy to us,” Dave told MetalTalk. “There’s been many situations where performing at the right festival or something has been a positive career move for us.”
The Reading Festival is a prime example. “Well, of course, that was a big deal in 1980 for us,” Dave says. “We were not having hits at the time we played Reading. We weren’t announced at first because we weren’t on the bill. But Ozzy Osborne pulled out. We got a call, and we had never played there before. Our manager Chas Chandler, who was Jimi Hendrix’s manager as well, said this festival would really be great for you, and he talked us all into doing it because we weren’t sure.
“But he said the thing is you’ve got great songs, and you’re a great live act, and I think this is what this box set is saying. There are very poignant times in our career where the live thing has really helped us. That’s what I personally feel.
“Playing for years, and we knew each other so well. We could work together, and we were tight. We only had a little equipment in those days, no stacked amplifiers and things like PAs.
“We didn’t have any monitors in the early days. Not until the seventies did we have any monitors on the stage. We just heard each other. I think the unique thing about it was we traded off each other live and I think this box set highlights that with five shows that we did.
“I remember one thing we did was Donington Festival, and I think there’s a picture on there. That was another great live show, although it wasn’t recorded. But the picture tells me it’s Donington. So you can imagine what that was like for us?”
The Donington show is something I don’t have to imagine, as I was there. That was the first time I saw Slade live. I have been going to gigs for 45 years, and I tell Dave I still can’t think of a crowd reaction bigger than that one for a band.
“When you listen to this box set,” Dave says, “you realize how we were playing. These are our records and the way we were playing in those days. I mean, you’ve got the miner’s welfare club, some great tracks realized at the time, and I think this collection is really nice for loyal fans because you stick it on, and it’s what you get. You get us with our strength at the time? I’d love more of it.”
As for other shows that Dave wishes were included, Lincoln Festival is a great memory. “Sometimes you can’t always be in a position to record,” he says. “There’s been so many concerts. Lincoln Festival, for instance, was an extraordinary concert that Stanley Baker, the actor, put on in Lincoln, and we just had one or two hits then, you see.
“We weren’t known as a big live act, but that was another one of these opportunities. There were all sorts of bands on it, and it was raining. But when we went on it stopped raining and we went down an absolute storm. Some recordings don’t sound that good because the mix is not quite right, but these do. It’s having control over it sometimes, you know.
“I would like to have recorded Sweden Rock Festival in 2018, and there are various festivals I’ve done across Germany many, many times, but they don’t always record them, and you go down a storm.
“You know, sometimes you play for 20,000 people in some outdoor venues. In Berlin, for instance, I did three nights, and there were 20,000 people there each night, but nobody was recording anything.
“There are always special moments, but Lincoln Festival was one which we weren’t thinking about recording then. We were nervous about doing it.”
I asked Dave if that was the festival the band were booed when they walked on, remembering something I had read Noddy had said. Back then, there could be a bit of snobbery from the rock press about chart acts.
“Yes, there’s a possibility of that,” Dave says. “But it didn’t work out that way, by the time we finished that set, because the press put us on the front covers, the NME and Melody Maker, Sounds. They all thought, hey, what’s this? That upped the ante because it got us into a frame where we’re more than just hit records.
“That’s the thing, isn’t it? We hadn’t had that many hits. These weren’t the Mama We’re All Crazy days. This was really early, Coz I Love You and things like that. There possibly was some snobbery about chart acts. We’ve made some really great albums, but with this, BMG shows the strength of the band.
“What’s wonderful about this is that it shows the ability of what we were. A serious group, but a lot of fun entertainers. It was a joyful time. It really was, and it’s such a pleasure to go back and listen to this and think, weren’t we playing really fast?”
No click tracks back then to keep you in check.
“Yeah, we haven’t got a timing device these days anyway,” Dave smiles. “I think if you had a click track, it wouldn’t be as exciting. Because at the time you start the show and you get to the end of the song, the song will be faster at the end.
“When you start, the excitement drives it with the audience. The audience is picking up on the energy that we’re producing. You’ve got some very, very, early songs that we were fiddling around with. Get Down And Get With It, which wasn’t written by us but nevertheless was a real crowd-pleaser.
“Slade Alive particularly sold more records than Sgt. Pepper in Australia. So we went to Australia, and we had Lindisfarne and Caravan to go on with us. Can you imagine that? We went over because nobody was going there. And this album, Slade Alive, was the one that tipped the scales and was on the radio everywhere.”
Slade toured through the seventies with a lot of top rock acts like Nazareth and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. “Nazareth were friends of ours,” Dave says. “We knew them really well. I’ve come across them in later years, too as well. They’re a good band, Nazareth. We’re all different bands, but we all do our thing, don’t we? It’s what we are.
“Watching the Stones recently doing those big gigs, and it’s Keith, and it’s all about the past. It’s all about those phenomenal years, and the seventies obviously was a very, very bright time for us all.
“There was colour television, and there was a change from black and white to colour in clothes and all things. There was so much good stuff going out of the seventies, whether it be hard rock. You had Zeppelin. You had Deep Purple. We seemed to appeal to a very broad market.
“The live thing, it’s just so important that we always went back to that even when we weren’t really happening after all the hits dried up. We stayed together and carried on because we had to get through it. And we did get through it, and in 1980, we came back and had some really good hits. Great songs. Are you familiar with Slade In Flame?”
I say I have seen the film and have the album, which has great songwriting but was a change in vibe compared to some of Slade’s previous albums.
“Yeah, definitely changing the vibe,” Dave agrees. “Well, there was definitely a change in a lot of things with Everyday, Far Far Away. As the songs developed, we started to get reflective, whereas everything earlier on was full-on driving music. We were quite capable of doing different things. Our manager was keen to try this film. A lot of bands had made a movie, so it was another step to try it. I’m not sure the American people understood the accents, though.”
But it was a great album. “It’s a really good album,” Dave says .” We’ve had many albums, but there are always ones you particularly like, and there’s a good flow in there, and it was fun making a movie as well. We had a lot of fun doing it.”
Slade had a few attempts at cracking America. What was it like touring over there? “I think the difficulty was when we first went, we were huge everywhere else,” Dave says. “It’s a difficult thing because, in America, very enthusiastic people thought it was going to happen quite quickly.
“The thing is, The Beatles didn’t go until they had a record, and other bands went over and worked their way up to success. Whereas we went from hysteria to a population checking us out, and you got press conferences and silly questions, things like that were going on.
“So when we first got there, we were possibly unprepared for what it would be like. Plus, I think American music at the time with Vietnam and all that was going on, a lot wasn’t what we were doing. I think maybe we went too soon. But we stuck it out.
“It was hard. We were put on the bill with some extraordinary acts like Grateful Dead and all sorts of people. There was Aerosmith and more. The actual sound of radio in America was so different from British radio.
“We were listening to this high fidelity sound coming across, playing Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and things like that. And we went over with this raucous sound and a strong singer, so we’re transported from hysteria to all of a sudden being on strange bills.
“But we gave it a few years, and we did start to break through in certain areas like St Louis. You could be quite successful in one state and totally unknown in another. You didn’t have television shows like Ed Sullivan. There wasn’t anything like that in the seventies. So, working the road was how we had to work at it.
“I lived in New York for three months to actually make the effort of staying there for a while rather than flying over and doing a week or two and then going back to England because we were very much homebodies. We ended up on the bill with J. Geils Band and different groups like that. Eventually, Kiss did make it, and then we went home and worked with them, which was far better because they were pulling certain crowds.
“We toured a lot with them, and we had a good time. We didn’t make it huge. We had a second situation in the eighties when Quiet Riot covered Cum On Feel The Noize. Then the Americans wanted the original band to go on. CBS wanted us to go back, and we had a hit record Run Run Away. We went on tour with Ozzy Osborne, and that was good, but unfortunately, our bass player got hepatitis or something and became quite ill. We had to come back to England because of what happened.
“It seemed to me that we went for the second time, and there was something sweeter about it. I still meet American groups that come over here, and they talk as if it all happened for us, but we never thought that way. We just thought it was all about timing. We tried it, we gave it quality time, but you have to remember that you have the rest of Europe to think about when you’re spending too much time in America, and it can be difficult because America is so big.”
Gene Simmons from Kiss says Slade was an influence on them. “I think they used to put Slade Alive on to get them in the mood,” Dave says. “They’ve always been very complimentary about us. A lot of bands liked us. I remember Bruce Springsteen coming to see us as well.
“We were happening everywhere else, like in Australia and Japan. We did quite well there. But America, it was probably something we weren’t quite prepared for. It seemed the obvious next step.
“Then eventually, after one or two years or more, we felt we wanted to come back and concentrate on where it was working for us. I have to say we’ve had some very, very good experiences there, though.”
Dave Hill is still touring with the current Slade. “I’ve never, never stopped doing it,” he says, “and it works very well. We have a keyboard player because many Slade songs have a piano. So we chose a guy who could sing and play keyboards as well. We have a drummer who’s a very rock drummer, and we have a bass player who has got a very good voice.
“So we have two singers, and we have me centre stage. So that works really well, especially for the audience recognizing you when you walk in. But it’s all about the music. It’s all about the excitement, and I still entertain as I did. I don’t think that’s going to stop. I still dress up and still go on there, and I still believe in what I do, and I still enjoy it.”
There are always rumours about a reunion of the original four guys of Slade as a one-off show or as a tour. “It may interest me, but I’m not sure that’s shared by the others,” Dave says. “I know there was talk about doing Glastonbury, but it seemed to be a bit of a hoax to me. I was at a restaurant with Noddy, and then there was a photograph and people were talking about it.
“We had a bit of fun with that. It was not going to happen, and sadly, I’ve known that for years. We’re good friends as we always have been, and we have a laugh about it, but it will not happen as far as Noddy is concerned. He chooses what he does now. He still has a really good voice. I know that.
“He probably decided many, many years ago that he just had had enough of touring and albums and wanted to do other things. It’s common knowledge he is happy for me, and I appreciate that, and I’m happy for him.
“He’s got a good marriage, and we come together and talk about some of the things we did together. That’s good. Our music is a lot different from other people’s music, and the demands on the singer are quite strong.”
With all the touring Slade did, that Noddy has managed to keep his voice is remarkable. “He was a lot younger then, singing extraordinary notes,” Dave says. “You can’t expect him to be singing like that now, at the same age as me. The demands on it, physically. I’m sure he still can sing, and I’m sure he’s still got a good voice but maybe different.
“That’s what I think. You got to live and be happy with what you’re doing. It’s all about the music, and it’s all about people’s memories. I know that as people come up to me and compliment me and say how great it was to hear all those songs.
“Some people hear them and say, I didn’t realize how many hit records you really had because, in an hour and 15, I’m still doing hit songs. That’s how many we have to choose from. And it could go on longer.
“It’s a great legacy to have because when I play, I know what people are coming to hear. If you want to see the Beatles, you’re bound to want something that you bought when you were 14. You want to hear that again. And most of the fans are 50 or near on, 60, I suppose.
“But we still have a lot of young fans who are very interested in what we do, interested in the style. I think it’s because they seem to think that bands from that era were real bands and played real music. It wasn’t artificial, and no click tracks.
“When we used to go and record in the studio, we played several times before we decided which take. When you’re doing choruses and things like that, it’s bound to be slightly different the next time you hear the chorus because what makes the record different is the nuances in style.
“We always kept the guitar from the first take because there’s always something about it. That’s what I think with Nod’s vocals. Sometimes we kept Nod’s vocal as a benchmark, just in case we wanted to use it because he’s not under pressure. He just sang it as if he’s singing it live, but you can see him in the booth, and we saw each other in the studio.”
Slade – All The World Is A Stage
The three previously unreleased live shows featured on ‘All The World Is A Stage’ are;
Live At The New Victoria recorded on April 24 1975, captures the band before they went around the UK to promote their feature film, In Flame. Heard officially for the first time, it now presents a fitting snapshot of the group’s powerful live performances.
Live At The Hucknall Miner’s Welfare Club recorded on June 26 1980, shows the band unwilling to trade exclusively on their past with songs featured from their new studio album at the time ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’, along with classics ‘Take Me Bak ’Ome’, ‘Gudbuy T’Jane’, ‘Everyday’ and the perennial ‘Mercy Xmas Everybody’.
Alive! At Reading the third unreleased full live set, captures the band delivering a sensational live performance to over 80,000 people. As last minute replacements for Ozzy Osbourne, few knew they were going to be performing but their sensational set was the highlight of the festival and led to Slade enjoying a renaissance in the eighties.
Completing this raw and epic new live box set are the previously available; Slade Alive!’ considered one of the greatest live albums of all time, “Sounds better, the louder you play it” – Los Angeles Times, and 1982’s Slade On Stage.
Pre-order from https://slade.lnk.to/alltheworldPR