Noddy Holder, Dave Hill
Winterland, San Francisco
May 5, 1973
Photos by Dan Cuny
Text by Michael Collins Morton
Jim Lea, Noddy Holder, Dave Hill
Slade started out as The 'N Betweens, in Wolverhampton, England, in 1966, with Noddy Holder on vocals and guitar, Dave Hill on lead guitar, Jim Lea on bass, keyboards, and violin, and Don Powell on drums. The 'N Betweens played regularly at venues throughout the Midlands and in other parts of the UK (including London), and recorded a single, "You Better Run," produced by Kim Fowley (an American songwriter who was living in England) and released on Columbia Records.
The first time I saw them was with Humble Pie and Steely Dan. I remember not liking Steely Dan. My friends and I even sat down with our backs to the stage during their performance. We jumped up when Slade hit the stage. They were the flashiest band that I had ever seen. Dave Hill had glitter glued to has face and hands, and wore a glittery jumpsuit with the words, SUPER YOB, on his chest. Noddy Holder announced each song and bounced the spotlight off his mirrored top hat, so the light would hit the audience in the face. I thought that was a good effect. I remember getting hit in the eyes with the light a couple of times. They dressed in bright clothes and stomped around in giant platform boots. I could tell that they were enjoying themselves as much as we were enjoying them.
The glitter look seemed trendy to me. I had heard about it being popular in England, but I had my doubts about how well it would be received in the States. David Bowie had experienced a poor turnout in San Francisco the year before. His music, and the music of other glam stars like Marc Bolan, was not popular here at that time. I felt that San Francisco was behind the times when it came to flashy rock bands. The Bay Area was the home of The Grateful Dead and other bands who dressed in old jeans. Slade did go over well with the crowd, mainly due to the hard rock sound that they had perfected playing in clubs all over England.
We waited outside to get autographs after the show. Since Slade were not the last act, I wasn't sure that they would still be around after Humble Pie's performance. I was surprised when the stage door opened and all four popped out, and started down the street toward their hotel. I remember running after them to get their autographs. They were very friendly and seemed to be regular guys off stage.
Slade was a great band, and more than a fad. They had an interactive act and could really rock. They also were a real funny band. Noddy Holder had his stovepipe hat with mirrors that reflected the spotlights back into the crowd, giving him a tool that he used to mess with people. (Dan's autograph from him, with a drawing of a dog pissing, is a classic.) Dave Hill had a custom made, glittering gold uniform with SUPER YOB on it. Noddy Holder and Dave Hill were the front men. Jim Lea seemed to be the most serious musician of the bunch, but even he jumped around and wore a glittery jacket. He and Don Powell, the drummer, mostly remained in the background, churning out a solid barrage of support for the two front men.
Dave Hill played a mean, stinging lead guitar, and Noddy Holder (in John Lennon style) churned out chunky riffs that were real catchy. Slade really pushed for sing-along audience participation. "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" and "Cum on Feel the Noize" were strong rock anthems, like Queen wrote in the later days. Slade had lots of action and jokes, very loose (though tight musically) and fun. And they were LOUD.
They all took the stage like madmen, with Dave Hill jumping off a pedestal, and Jim Lea rocking around the stage. I remember them playing some of the songs from Slayed?, such as "Gudbuy T' Jane" and "Mama Weer All Crazee Now," with a lot of enthusiasm. They were great to photograph, and one of the more entertaining bands that I saw. I got some good shots of the band, and the memory of that show will definitely be with me for a long time.
Five months later, we saw Slade at Winterland again, and waited at the stage door after their performance. I had brought with me a 5x7 matted photo that I had taken at the previous show, hoping to have the band autograph it for me. One of their roadies saw the photo and took it to them to sign. I was extremely pleased to have it returned with all their signatures. Noddy Holder had drawn a little picture on the mat, which I couldn't make out. When they all came out of the stage door, I asked Noddy what he had drawn. He said, "It's a dog pissing on a tree!" I was a bit taken aback at first, but then I laughed. We got to talk with them for a while, which is always one of the fonder memories that I have from going to those shows.
Steely Dan (an American band who did not interest me at the time, but whose music I later came to enjoy) was a poor fit for that particular show, but having Slade open for Humble Pie, a British band whose music was hard and bluesy, was a good match. Although Slade probably was not known to most of those in the audience at Winterland (in spite of being superstars in the UK), they bounded onto the stage with good cheer and gave their all throughout their performance. They clearly were determined to make a strong impression on the crowd.
Noddy Holder took control of things as soon as he opened his mouth. His voice was so awesomely powerful that he probably did not actually need a microphone to be heard, and his hat, which was covered with small mirrors, was quite eye-catching. Dave Hill, with his glittery appearance and his broad smile, had everyone in a state of open-mouthed wonder. He looked as if he had stepped out of a comic strip. Jim Lea also was an active figure, and Don Powell kept up a relentless beat on his drums.
It must have been strange for Slade, then at the full height of their considerable fame in the UK, to be playing to an American audience that hardly knew them. They never did establish themselves as major performers in the USA, which is unfortunate, because they were one of the great bands of the period, with a strong collection of appealing songs.
Next: The Strawbs