Updated December, 2016Noddy Holder lead vocal, guitar
At the end of 1967, The 'N Betweens (see The 'N Betweens) were sent over to Germany for a month booking at the legendary 'Star-Club' in Hamburg but returned after a few weeks because of disagreements they had with the club management. The Astra Agency next sent them to the Bahamas during the summer of 1968 to play a six week booking at the luxury Tropicana Club.
As can be expected, the Bahamas booking started as an enjoyable one for the 'N Betweens until the hotel where they were staying changed management leaving the band members responsible for unpaid hotel bills. Because of this, the group were forced to stay there longer to work until they had paid off the debt. This experience changed the band considerably.
Noddy said; "Previously we had been playing mainly Motown, R&B and a bit of pop. After the Bahamas, our repertoire totally changed." While there, the band had been exposed to and learned a lot of American rock music that hadn't yet been released in Britain such as Steppenwolf's 'Born To Be Wild' which they started using to close their show. Eventually after more than four months in the Bahamas, they were able to get enough money to fly themselves and their equipment back to England but this episode strained and ultimately ended the relationship that the group had with the Astra Agency.
After securing new management with Wolverhampton's Roger Allen agency (who had also managed The Montanas and The Californians), the 'N Betweens were able to get a recording deal with Phillips Records and in February of 1969 recorded an album's worth of songs consisting mostly of material they were currently performing on stage. Interestingly, the tracks included covers of 'Knocking Nails Into My House' and 'Fly Me High' by fellow Brum groups Idle Race and Moody Blues respectively.
By this time, the 'N Betweens had adopted a rather trendy 'hippie' image for their appearance complete with long hair, kaftans and beads. The record company had the group change their name and so The 'N Betweens became "Ambrose Slade", billing themselves initially as "Ambrose Slade - Formerly The 'N Betweens", so as not to confuse their fans in the Midlands. The record company also advised the group to get London-based management and so through various connections, Ambrose Slade was introduced to Chas Chandler who was well known in the British music business.
Chas Chandler started his career in music as bass guitarist for 'The Animals', the well known and successful group from Newcastle who had a run of hit records starting in 1964 with 'House Of The Rising Sun'. Despite The Animals international success, the band members made little money from their records and split up in 1966 with Chandler using connections he had made to go into the business side of pop music. Chas Chandler had discovered Jimi Hendrix in New York in 1966 and after arranging for him to go to London, managed Hendrix's career for the next two years. This association made Chandler a rich and respected figure in the London music scene and by 1969 he was looking for a new group to produce and manage.
Chas first saw Ambrose Slade perform at 'The Rasputin Club' in London. Years later he told interviewer Keith Altham; "I walked into the place and there was a group playing live... somehow their exhuberance was like a breath of fresh air. They were just four kids having a ball and their audience was having a great time too. They weren't trying to be the greatest musicians in the world but they were enjoying themselves and getting across to others."
Chas Chandler was as impressed by Ambrose Slade as they were of him. After taking over as manager, he booked the group to perform at influential venues as well as keeping them on the road full time to help pay for better equipment and promotion. Note: Chas Chandler also checked out the Wolverhampton 'super-group' Trapeze, before ultimately deciding to go with Ambrose Slade.
In April 1969, Philips Records issued the first Ambrose Slade album under the prophetic title 'Beginnings' with a group written single - a progressive-sounding instrumental titled 'Genesis' taken from it (they would re-record the song with lyrics for their next single under the new title of 'Know Who You Are').
The LP back-cover text proclaimed; "So stand by for a group that will really blow your mind... Ambrose Slade is for real!" The single missed the charts but Chas Chandler told the band to write more of their own material and by the end of 1969 had shortened their name to "Slade". The group continued to work up and down the country but were still regarded by many as an 'underground' attraction.
In an attempt to get them noticed, Chas Chandler had Slade go for a new "skinhead" image complete with Doc Marten 'bovver' boots, braces and shaved heads. At that time, skinhead gangs were getting a lot of press coverage so the idea seemed like a good one but Dave Hill and Jim Lea were not happy with this decision. They especially hated going to the barber to get their beloved long hair shaved off!
Noddy remembers an advantage of their hard-knock appearance was there was never any hassle collecting their gig payments from promoters who feared they might get beaten up unless they promptly handed over the full amount! The tough skinhead image did create the desired effect in the music press with Slade given photo coverage and the first Slade album titled 'Play it Loud' issued on Polydor Records featured a cover picture of the group dressed as skinheads.
This album, released in November 1970, gained more attention than the previous Ambrose Slade album but although the songs were well produced and they promoted one of the singles from it 'Shape Of Things To Come' on Top Of The Pops, it did not sell enough copies to make the charts.
Slade were however, becoming a major live attraction in the clubs and this was largely due to Noddy Holder's ability to work the audience into an almost frenzy like state. One song in particular they performed that gained much reaction was an old Little Richard number titled 'Get Down And Get With It'. Chas Chandler saw the potential of the song as Slade's next single, so he had the group record it with their version being issued in May of 1971. The song featured Noddy Holder's now trademark vocal style as well as a foot stomping/hand clapping chorus and became Slade's first hit record reaching Number 16 in the UK charts.
It was around this time that Slade took to wearing colourful and ever-more outrageous clothes on-stage, thus shooting to the forefront of the Glitter or "Glam Rock" movement that also included fellow Midlander Roy Wood's group Wizzard (see The Move). Slade's outfits were actually more extreme versions of their skinhead outfits featuring big boots and braces along with Dave Hill's glitter make-up and Noddy's famous mirrored top hat.
Unlike many inexperienced new groups who found themselves with a hit single, Slade were well prepared for the success that awaited them and their next single titled 'Cos I Luv You' got to Number 1 in the charts by November of 1971. This catchy song was composed by Noddy Holder and Jim Lea thus establishing a successful writing team that began a run of hit singles for Slade - including an incredible six Number Ones by the end of 1973 thus making the group the most successful in Britain at that time since the Beatles. Note: the mis-spelling of song titles reflecting a "Black Country" accent was to become a trade-mark for Slade during their most successful chart period.
Slade hits that topped the U.K. chart were; Coz I Luv You, Take Me Bak 'Ome, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Cum On Feel The Noize, Squeeze Me Pleeze Me, and Merry Xmas Everybody. Their other top ten singles during that time were; Look Wot You Dun, Gudbuy T'Jane, My Friend Stan, Everyday, Bangin' Man and Far Far Away.
The group's working-class image and colourful visual appeal certainly contributed much to their popularity in the UK. Dave Hill's over-the-top stage outfits would often have Jim Lea, who was considered the "serious" member of Slade saying; "I'm not going on television with you dressed like that!" Dave's often repeated reply was; "You write 'em, I'll sell em!" Sadly, the successful songwriting partnership of Noddy and Jim would contribute towards the group 'falling out' years later.
Despite not making a big impact in the USA in terms of record sales, Slade would enjoy international success elsewhere until falling from fashion in the late 1970s. Following a surprise performance at the 1980 Reading Festival, they made a respectable comeback culminating with their records 'My Oh My' and 'Run Run Away' becoming worldwide hits in the mid 1980s. Even today, well known artists continue to record versions of their songs and the Slade classic hit 'Merry Xmas Everybody' still remains a well-played seasonal favourite.
Noddy Holder left Slade and the music business in the early 1990s but remains a well known personality as a radio host and television actor. Jim Lea who also left, initially formed a new band with his brother Frank. While somewhat reclusive, Jim continues to compose and play music along with working on re-mastering Slade's extensive catalog of recordings for re-issue in today's digital marketplace. In 1993, Dave Hill formed a new line-up with Don Powell initially called 'Slade II' (now shortened to Slade) with whom they continue to perform Slade's hits as well as new songs to enthusiastic audiences.
Will we ever see a reunion of the original Slade line-up on-stage? Sadly, the answer seems no. Noddy and Jim continue to draw a hefty "pension" in the form of songwriting royalties and performance fees from the group's hits they wrote together. Dave and Don however, continue to earn a good living by performing those same hits as part of a working band on the road which in their advancing years grows ever more arduous. While they still enjoy playing to an appreciative audience, they don't have the same financial freedom as Noddy and Jim to enjoy life as they choose.
A reunion tour would no doubt be very lucrative for all the original band members. Having long since turned his back on making music, Noddy Holder recalled a meeting several years ago with the other members of Slade to discuss the possibility of a reunion. "It really saddens me that the four guys who were in Slade can't get together and sit round the dinner table" he said. "I got the four of us together so we could air our grievances face to face, but it was so painful, I'd never want to repeat it."
Sources: 'Slade' by George Tremlett 1975; 'Feel The Noise' by Chris Charlesworth 1984; 'The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles' 5th edition 1985;'Who's Crazee Now?' by Noddy Holder 1999; plus The Daily Mail 2015.
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