- 18 Aug 10
When glam popsters Slade released a movie in 1974, they were widely assumed to have made a Hard Days Night-style lark. In fact Slade In Flame was an acid-bath satire of the music industry. Singer Noddy Holder looks back at the controversy.
It seems almost unseasonal to be talking to Noddy Holder on a balmy July day. A prominent broadcaster and actor, the former frontman with Slade may have achieved a great many things over his 64 years. But a day does not pass when he is not accosted on the street and asked to bellow the festive declaration of intent that kick starts ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’.
“I have lots of quips prepared at this stage,” he says. “I mean I’ll do it when it’s actually Christmas but if you ask me in July I’ll say: ‘Noddy is for life and not just for Christmas’ or something like that. It’s funny because I get recognised by different people for different things. For some people, they’ll talk to you about The Mark Radcliffe Show or The Grimleys. And little kids know me out of Bob The Builder. But ‘It’s Christmas!’ will always be the thing they shout from passing cars.”
Born in the British West Midlands not long after WW2, young Master Holder had the benefits of a thorough musical education; his dad, an old school crooner, was including Noddy in his working men’s club gigs from the age of 6; mum, meanwhile, played violin.
“The Black Country is a very musical place,” says Noddy. “It gets overlooked in favour of Manchester and Liverpool but think of Ozzy Osbourne and the Moody Blues and all of the bands that come from this part of the world.”
Growing up the family was hardly well off; dad washed windows for a living and the area was not known for its career opportunities. An extremely bright kid, Noddy scored well in his GCE examinations and his school was rather hopeful that the youngster would head off for teacher training. He, of course, had other ideas.
“Everyone thought I was mad,” he laughs. “People just didn’t do that. Professional musician was not a career choice. My dad cleaned windows at the school. He had never been out of the country except during the war. So when Slade made it big I’d send back postcards from Tokyo or New York or wherever we were. And he’d always bring them down to the school to pass them around. ‘He’d never have got to Tokyo with teacher training’, he’d say. But I had to try it. Once I saw Little Richard and Rock Around The Clock, there was no going back.”
At the height of their powers Slade could fill stadia just about anywhere on earth or its main satellite. Like any major act of the era, the time came for the band to think about making a movie.
“We really did think about it as well,” says Noddy. “The first idea was the Quite A Mess Experiment because the Quatermass Experiment was popular. Dave Hill was supposed to be the experiment but, in the script, he was killed off after eight minutes so that was out. Dave wasn’t having any of that.”
The gang instead plumped for a gritty script by Jane Birkin’s brother Andrew. Slade In Flame, a film that critic Mark Kermode has called “the Citizen Kane of its genre” charts the rise and sudden implosion of a fictitious Slade clone named Flame. Drawing heavily from several real life Spinal Tap-alike incidents - most notably an occasion where Screaming Lord Sutch got locked in a coffin - the film forms a damning portrayal of the music industry.
“A lot of it is real,” says Noddy. “Tom Conti - I think that was the first time you saw him in a film - is the crooked manager and the industry was full of them. And the funny thing is, I’ve since heard Simon Cowell say some of the things Tom Conti says in the script. Once we decided we wanted to do something more realistic, we wanted to do it properly. And we took Andrew, the screenwriter, and Richard Loncraine, the director, out on our US tour so they could get a feel for things. Well they just couldn’t believe what they were seeing. At that point, it was a different city every night with different women and different parties, then up the next morning and on to the next city. Same again. They had to head home after a few weeks. They couldn’t keep up.”
Sadly, the team’s artistic decisions did not sit well with the band’s fanbase. Slade In Flame was released to positive notices and a bewildered public in 1974.
“We were a big loud flamboyant band,” says Noddy. “The fans were expecting something like The Beatles did with Richard Lester. They didn’t know what to think. We had to keep explaining that we weren’t fighting in real life.”
The teenyboppers who had queued to buy copies of ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ were less than enamoured with this unplugged version of their glam idols.
“In those days everything was based around touring. You toured for years to get a record deal and then you’d get a five-album deal - I don’t know how these young acts are expected to come on if they’re only picked up for one record at a time – and then you’d tour to promote the albums. Dave was quite down on the movie for a while. He thought it hurt our career. It did take us off the scene. Up until then, everything had hit the number one spot. We used the opportunity to get back to the music we listened to when we were younger. I think it’s some of our best work. People like Noel Gallagher talk about ‘How does It Feel?’ as one of their favourite Slade songs. But back then, it only got to number 15 in the chart, I think it was.”
Mr. Holder is not surprised that both film and soundtrack have since found a dedicated following.
“I’m still very proud of it,” he concludes. “It’s fantastic to think that it’s out there 36 years later.”
Slade in Flame screens on August 26 as part of the Queens Film Theatre, Belfast Flickstock season