As Slade stage a Christmas party in Liverpool, Shaun Ponsonby feels the noize with the glam legend’s current incarnation.
It was pretty obvious going in that the night was all about nostalgia.
Slade’s selected support band were exclusively playing covers of 70s rock songs, and the PA was blasting but more 70s rock in between bands. Not that it mattered to the packed crowd, who seemed to be in their element.
Drummer Don Powell appears first, and kicks off Gudbuy T’Jane – one of Slade’s finest singles from their astonishing two year chart domination.
That they needed two singers to take the place of Noddy Holder shows how dynamic he really was. Of the two, Mal McNulty – formerly of Sweet – was put centre stage, but seemed to struggle at times. His voice began to grate a bit on Take Me Bak Ome’s high notes, and there seemed to be some trouble with keeping time on Run Runaway. He fares much better on the likes of Coz I Luv You and Far Far Away, both of which elicit mass singalongs from the crowd.
Second vocalist John Berry was taking Jim Lea’s spot on bass and violin, and was much more consistent than McNulty. His job seemed to be taking the more mellow material. Such as Everyday, How Does It Feel? and My Friend Stan.
If there is a problem, it lies in the lack of charisma the two men have. That’s not so much a put down on them, rather a commentary on the wealth of charisma and chemistry between the original line-up. After all, each member of the original band had a distinct and memorable personality. Why else did Vic and Bob create a series of sketches about them?
But maybe Dave Hill has all the charisma they need. At 71, he is still having the time of his life up there. Ever the show off, he leads the crowd in several singalongs and jokes around as he glides around the stage. There is no doubt that he was born to do this, and he is unlikely to ever stop. He even gets out his iconic Super Yob guitar out towards the end of the show.
They don’t dig too deep into the band’s catalogue – only a medley of Arthur Crudp’s (by way of Elvis Presley) My Baby Left Me and That’s All Right didn’t hit the top 20. But that kind of emphasised the tour’s name Christmas Shindig – The Ultimate Christmas Party. And it really was a party. How can you not have fun when they are playing Cum On Feel The Noize and Mama Weer All Crazee Now?
Of course, with the gig taking place just a couple of days before Christmas, they were always going to end on Merry Xmas Everybody. Personally, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the song as much as I did. Its ubiquity means that I was already sick of it by the time the gig rolled around. But when the band put on Father Christmas hats, and they turned on the mirror balls to make it look like it was snowing in the room, and the whole crowd went nuts for this modern day carol.
Perhaps more than any other song in their catalogue, it underlines why Slade have such a particularly fanatical following in towns like this. It is such a working class lyric. This isn’t about Christmas generally, it is about a uniquely working class Christmas in Britain; “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”.
I’ve read somewhere that Jim Lea has called Slade’s current incarnation “A slur on the original band”. I don’t know how true that is, but if it is it seems a tad unfair. Sure, if you see Slade today, you’re not going to get the kind of incredible show that the original band gave during their existence. But you’re still going to have a good time, and sing until you are hoarse. It may be nostalgia, but it sure is fun. No pretension, just ‘ave a gud time.
Though if they can make us grin so much with this line-up, imagine what how we would feel with Noddy and Jim in the fold.
Pictures by Graham Smillie