THE BEGINNING

In 1974 Slade starred in their own film. Of course, it was nuts, but it also showcased some of the band’s best songs. Andrew Anderson revisits Flame

slade

SLADE: FLAME (1974)
What do you think of when you think of Slade? I am guessing it’s the sound of Noddy Holder screaming ‘It’s Christmas!’ out of every shopping centre speaker from roughly the 15th of November to the 25th of December every year. While ‘Merry Xmas, Everybody’ might have started out as a fun festive song, it has since become a legitimate reason to disembowel yourself in WHSmith.

This is an unfortunate injustice because Slade are actually a brilliant band with tons of excellent tunes. 1972’s ‘Slayed?’ is a contender for the greatest ever glam album, with hits like ‘Gudbuy t’Jane’ alongside super duper deep cuts like ‘How D’You Ride?’ (Slade had an affinity for apostrophes). Holder’s unique screech, Lea’s overblown bass, Don Powell’s doziness and Dave Hill’s unstoppable haircut still add up to 34 minutes of glammy goodness.

How could they follow up such a stonker? Their heels were already impossibly high, Holder’s face already heroically ugly and the band’s Brummieness close to critical-mass. Chas Chandler – former bass player in The Animals and one-time manager of Jimi Hendrix – suggested they do what all good bands used to do: star in a film. Slade, not exactly shrinking violets, said yes.

Flame, released in 1974, is a bit unusual even in the bizarre world of band-films, and not what you might expect from a band known for their comic overtones. For a start, they don’t play themselves but rather a band called Flame (I am guessing this was so they could dress up in outfits that look like flames, which they do). Also, unlike so many other band films, it actually features a serious storyline and, get this, some believable acting from the band themselves. Who knew Slade had it in them?

Anyway, to the film itself: we start with Dave Hill playing at a wedding in a pub band fronted by a chap called Jack Daniels. As soon as he gets on camera, Hill lifts up a girl’s skirt using the neck of his guitar – the first of many acts of casual sexual harassment that let you know that yes, this film was made in the 1970s. After the ensuing punch up, Hill and his cohorts head off to another gig where they run into The Undertakers, a band that travels around in a Hearse and features Noddy Holder on lead vocals (which he delivers from inside a coffin).

Eager to get one up on the competition, Jack Daniels’ band padlock Holder inside his coffin, leaving him imprisoned and unable to burst out for The Undertakers’ big finale. This, of course, leads to another punch up and a car chase through the night. It must be said that this film is somewhat of a PR nightmare for the seventies, littered as it is with punch ups, groping and brown objects.

Let’s deal with that right now – this film has opened my eyes to just how, well, brown everything looked in the seventies. It is as though someone has dipped the whole decade in tea, like at school when you wanted to make your crappy version of the Magna Carta look old. It is somehow very satisfying, and gives the film an earthy feel.

Anyway, after the fight, two separate bands become one, forming Flame (aka Slade). Immediately the music gets great as Flame storm the charts with tracks like ‘How Does It Feel’ and ‘Far Far Away’ (the latter being my personal favourite Slade track).

These tracks don’t sound like 1972 Slade; they aren’t simply snarled stompers that shout about stuff that doesn’t entirely make sense. No, these tracks have a bit more to them. The musical palette is more varied with organs, acoustic guitars and horns making an appearance, while the lyrics are deeper and convey a sense of loss and longing. This is Slade showing that they’re more than a glam-gimmick: they are artists with something to say.

But while Flame are hitting the top of the charts a second story emerges – one of corruption. Flame’s original manager – a cockney crook with a grubby office and an interest in greyhounds – comes back to stake a claim in the band from their new manager, a rather smooth character with the sort of posh accent that immediately signposts evil intentions.

Ultimately the strains of success and the problems of poor management cause Flame to burn out (sorry), leaving the members longing for their old lives. Luckily though justice is served and both managers get screwed over themselves: the cockney by losing the band (they quit), the posh one by having his daughter abducted (which seems fair). Also Jack Daniels gets his toes cut off with a spade, which is pretty brutal.

Oddly enough in real life Slade went on to pursue the kind of commercialism that the film warns against, releasing a string of albums aimed at getting sales in the US rather than making meaningful music. But no matter: Slade In Flame is one of the best band films there is, and the soundtrack showcases a group at the top of their game. So, next November when you hear that famous Christmas caterwaul and are about to take the name of Slade in vain remember this: Slade were once a serious band with actual artistic merit.

dot

« Previous Article