Thursday, January 20, 2011

Part 2 - I’m Ready Now So What The Heck…

As you may have surmised from the previous instalment of this tale, Glam Rock was the first “thing” I got into. Let’s face it, Glam Rock wasn’t really a “musical movement” it was just that the chart hits of the day featured be-glittered men in outrageous platform boots playing guitars and writing (or having written for them) great pop songs. Slade, T.Rex, The Sweet, Gary Glitter and the Glitter Band, Mud, (and of course Wizzard but that’s a little nepotistic) they were the bands that first captured the ears of this young fella. I would love to have listed Bowie and Mott The Hoople and Roxy Music there but I have to confess that at the time I think I found them a little strange, frightening even, and I didn’t really “get” them until later in life. But the reason I think Glam Rock appealed is for the exact same reason that music, of any sort, has appealed to me ever since; and the requirements are great big tunes, great big drum beats, guitars to front and centre, proper choruses you can shout or sing along to delivered by a great singer and you have to be able to dance to it. I discovered the dance-a-bility factor could be very important.

When I was around 11 or 12, one of my school friends was the son of a local licensee, and the pub where my friend lived had an upstairs function room. Myself and this friend (whom I recall was named Stephen) decided to put on afternoon “disco’s” for our school mates in this room, maybe at weekends, maybe in the summer holidays, I don’t really remember. What I do remember is the lads and lasses in attendance sitting on opposite sides of the room, the lads skulking and shuffling about on one side not quite knowing what to do while the girls, all dressed up in their finest outfits, sat talking amongst themselves on the other, while Stephen was playing his way through records by the likes of The Stylistics, The Bee Gees and Gilbert O’Sullivan (probably).

When it came to my turn I thought we should rock a little more and so proceeded to spin my very small selection of Glam Rock discs. It may be wishful thinking on my part but I am almost certain the first thing I played was Wizzard’s “See My Baby Jive” (which would date this event to around the Spring of 1973 at the earliest) but what I am most certain of is that, almost as soon as the needle hit the record, our previously empty dance floor was now a packed morass of writhing pre-teenage groovers. This taught me some very important lessons, chiefly, the effect music can have on girls; girls like to dance; girls like boys that can dance. Now I’m not suggesting any of the boys were budding Michael Jackson’s (in fact most of them were probably doing that rather strange Glam Rock dance that me and my brother have been known to indulge in, when drunk. You can witness it in this Top Of The Pops performance by Mud, take note at 1 minute 25 seconds in) but those lads that did venture out on the floor were receiving admiring glances and gigglesome comment from the grooving girlies.

Over the next few months my musical tastes started to, well, not narrow, but become more partisan shall we say. The cause of this was a growing obsession (the first of many musical obsessions I might add) with the Black Country’s, nay, the country’s finest Glam Rockers, the mighty SLADE. The first evidence of this obsession came when I bought…AN ALBUM. The album in question was SLAYED, their 3rd studio album but their first as bona fide pop stars. It was home to the singles “Gudbuy T’ Jane” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”. It had a great picture of them on the cover looking like some rough arsed gang of Glam boot boys and all sporting the word SLADE biro’d across their knuckles (I’m sure they were going for the gang-tattoo look but I was 12, I didn’t know what a tattoo was, but I did have easy access to biro’s). But this wasn’t the album that led me on to the next development in my musical journey. That was what I think was the next album I bought, SLADE ALIVE.

In 1971 SLADE had their first 2 hit singles, “Get Down And Get With It”, which reached number 16 in August, and “Coz I Luv You”, which became Slade’s first number 1 in November. SLADE ALIVE was released in March 1972 and was recorded before a specially invited audience of fans at the Command Theatre Studio to cash in on their 2 hits and so that the band’s increasingly talked about live show could be captured perfectly. SLADE were so confident in their live show that “Coz I Luv You”, their number 1 hit, isn’t even on the album.

For a single buying pop kid the album is a big progression. I knew what albums were about, a collection of songs that mostly were not singles, which were split between the 2 sides of the record with nice uniform silent gaps between the tracks. I owned SLAYED so I knew what to expect and my Dad had albums by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and others that demonstrated the same behaviour. But SLADE ALIVE was different. There were no uniform silent gaps between the songs, the band were talking, in fact everyone was talking, and shouting, and belching, and stomping, and clapping, and woooo-ing, in fact there was even a hint of someone bawling out swear words from the audience.

You’ll have read earlier about my previous gig near misses (The Kinks and Wizzard) and I hadn’t yet managed to attend a gig. I didn’t actually know what happened at a gig other than the band played their songs. I guess I had imagined everyone sitting down and listening politely then applauding at the end of each song and on to the next. So to hear the chaos that was happening (audience wise) on SLADE ALIVE was something of a surprise. It also convinced me that I needed to go to a gig. I’d immersed myself in singles, moved on up to albums and so surely seeing a band live was the next logical step.

Now it’s here that the timeline once more gets a little messed about with. The last few paragraphs events occurred over a period beginning somewhere in 1973 and winding up at their conclusion on 5th May 1977, the night I went to my first gig, that bit I’m sure of. The venue: Birmingham’s Hippodrome Theatre; The occasion: the 5th night of SLADE’s “Whatever Happened To Slade” UK Tour.

Details are hazy. The Hippodrome is now a newly refurbished shining home to the Birmingham Royal Ballet company. Back in 1977 it was a slightly frayed around the edges old Victorian theatre. My Dad had secured tickets and he, me, my brother and a school friend, and fellow SLADE fan, of mine known as Martin settled into pretty good seats I must say, in the stalls on the left side of the house probably a dozen rows back from the stage. The lights went down, I thought this was it, but the guys who walked out on stage weren’t SLADE. This was how I discovered support bands. This lot were called “Liar” and a review of the gig 2 days later in Manchester by one Paul Morley had this to say about them:

I was asleep when Liar came on. As the shrill thrusting boogie raked my eardrums and the vocalist sincerely grunted "I've been up and I've been down / I've been lost and I've been found" I was paralysed by the type of fear usually associated with dark alleys and filed teeth. Not, I shivered, trying to rip my eyes open, The goddam Steve Gibbons Band again.

"We are Liar," said the ever so butch frontman at the conclusion of their five-minute bullying and my eyes popped open in relief. Some relief . . . Believe this - Liar are a pale imitation of The Steve Gibbons Band, and actually play a song called 'Born to Rock'n'Roll'.

So I guess it’s not so much of a surprise that I don’t remember anything about them. However, during their set the gig experience was much as I had imagined it might be at one time, everyone sitting down and listening politely then applauding at the end of each song and on to the next, not like SLADE ALIVE at all. Liar finished their set, the lights came back up and I sat back expectantly awaiting the main event and thinking what a great view we would have when SLADE finally appeared. And after a while a series of somewhat shocking events occurred

The lights went down again, suddenly
Everyone in front of and around me simultaneously stood up, so I couldn’t see the stage, and expelled some sort of unintelligible primal roar, so I couldn’t hear much either.
What I thought was a small herd of elephants sounded like it was approaching rapidly from behind me down the aisle to my right.

And then most excitingly of all, SLADE launched into “Get On Up” at a volume I can only liken to that of standing between 2 of the engines on a Boeing 747 at take off, otherwise known as killingly loud.

I couldn’t see a bloody thing. Eventually my Dad got us all to stand on our seats and we could finally see SLADE as well as hear them. I don’t remember too many details of that night but I’ve done some research to help out. I’ve discovered they probably followed that opening song with “Be” from their then current album “Whatever Happened To Slade”; Dave Hill had shaved off his long hair and was now completely bald but still bouncing about like a madman; all around me people were punching the air and singing, no bellowing, at the top of their voices; Jimmy Lea was doing impossible back bends while playing and I thought any minute now he’s gonna fall over; it was loud, so loud my ears were literally ringing for days afterwards and I loved every bloody minute of it.

I can’t even begin to total up how many gigs I’ve been to since then. I’m sure I’ve been to better ones, bigger ones, I’ve been to gigs that I recall in more detail than that one but I’ve not been to a gig that meant more to me than that one at the time.

10 months later I saw Slade again,(21st March 1978 at Birmingham Town Hall supported by Little Acre whose bass player, trivia fans, was one John Bryant, also the DJ at a club in Dudley that was eventually named after him, JB’s) but by then my whole musical world had been flipped upside down, back again and given a good old fashioned kicking for good measure. Just 22 days after that first gig at The Hippodrome, a record was released that would ensure many things would never be the same again.

But that tale is for another installment

No comments: