Friday, 28 December 2012



I disown word-games.
I despise academic constipation.
I’m sick of literary incest.
I want to write poems fueled by anger.
I want poems grimed with perspiration,
poems that leak like mildew
through tenement walls,
poems punctuated by
the rhythm of factories,
poems of insolence,
poems that belch from
industrial chimneys showering
cities with syllables,
poems that thumb noses.
I want poems that slum children
can play with in gutters.
I want poems to chalk on the
walls of condemned buildings.
I want poems of hope for those
who slouch on street corners.
I want poems to be chanted at picket-lines,
poems set to the metre that measures despair,
poems to inspire insurrection against inequality,
poems that explode myths like neons at midnight,
poems encapsulating hopelessness.
I want poetry that is real.

Published in:
‘PAPYRUS CACAMA No.14’ (Germany – August 1977)
‘KRAX No.12’ (UK – November 1978)
‘PACIFIC QUARTERLY Vol.3 no.4’ (New Zealand – December 1978)
‘SYDE LINES ANTHOLOGY’ (UK – December 1981)
‘HARD LINES’ (Faber & Faber anthology, UK – January 1983)



What’s the point of a Christmas single? Why bother?
It’s a shameless merchandising ploy, obviously.
But can it be anything more? A returning reminder of those
we’ve lost – like Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas”.
An obligatory shot at adding your voice to the regularly
regurgitated pantheon of pap – like The Darkness’ “Christmas Time”.
Or an increasingly desperate career-end attempt to wrench
just one more hit from a sadly over-worked formula.
Like Shakin’ Stevens or Gary Glitter. And where to now?
How do you tap into spirituality in a godless age?
Andrew Darlington tries to make sense of it all...


‘They know Christmas is ‘ere when they start hearing that record’ goes Noddy Holder’s relaxed anecdote. Of course, he’s telling me about Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everbody”. But you knew that already. He leans forward, ‘the only thing that pisses me off is when I’m doing me own Christmas shopping and it’s on in every store I walk into – there it is, BLARING out, and everybody’s looking at me, pointing and going (in comic voice) ‘that’s him, he made that record!!!’ That DOES get a bit embarrassing.’ Chances are it’ll happen to him again this year. It’s impossible to avoid.

The Christmas record. Hate them or hate them, you can’t escape them. So be afraid. In an industry not exactly renowned for taste, sensitivity or artistic integrity, seasonal schlock has been responsible for some of the vilest atrocities ever inflicted upon the human ear. Christmas comes but once a year, but when it does, it brings Slade, Band Aid, Phil Spector, Elvis, John & Yoko, the Pogues & Kirsty MacColl… and now The Darkness.

So where do I begin? With the first snowflake and ruddy-breasted robin on sentimental Victorian illustrations? The shopping-mall Santa’s in their Coca-Cola TM colours? Or the cloying yet strangely affecting Yiddish cadences of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”, invested with the exact measure of yearning and cosy nostalgia that makes it an all-time hyper-seller. Originally featured in the movie ‘Holiday Inn’ (1942), then spun-off into immortality by the black-and-white movie-clip where avuncular fossil Bing Crosby croons to the wistfully attentive and adoringly rapt June Reynolds, it comes from a time the world forgot, before record-charts and Top Forty radio, to become the biggest selling single of all time. You’ll hear it again this Cool Yule, you know you will.

But oddly – when you take it all the way back to the earliest published Top Twenty charts, listing records cut on shellac as the 1950’s 78rpm gives way to new-fangled seven-inch 45’s, the illusion persists that religion is something of a necessary ingredient to the Xmas hit. Illogical – but after all, this was an age where to be an ‘unbeliever’ was to be the exception, rather than the healthier more tolerant more inclusive reverse situation that prevails today. Hence you get Harry Belafonte’s “Mary’s Boy-child” – not only a 1957 chart-topper for seven weeks, but also the first record to sell a million copies in the UK alone, around the same time that saccharine Pop-harmonies are propelling the hit-song story of the “Little Donkey” that carries a pregnant Mary towards Bethlehem. While the “Little Drummer Boy”, using an episode obviously omitted from the gospels, plays his best drum for the ‘new-born king’ as the ‘ox and ass keep time’. The song gets revisited by David Bowie in an uneasy TV partnership with an aging Bing Crosby many years later – on the crooning cardigan’s ‘Merrie Olde Christmas’ TV special, in what Bowie’s biographer David Buckley celebrates as ‘one of the most surreal events in Pop’. Yes – that one-time Scary Monster bisexual coke-snorting Ziggy Stardust. And yes, that same Harry Lillis ‘Bing’ Crosby who’d carved out an early career as a jazz vocalist recording with giants Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, and Count Basie – as well as Louis Armstrong. Odder still, Bing finally found himself charting posthumously with the Thinner Whiter Duke a couple of years after the heart attack that killed him, after completing his last round of golf.

But in tune with that long-lost era, all of these hits work at their most simple-minded ‘Christmas-Story-in-pictures’ level, direct, unquestioning. Designed for an audience soothed by the repetition of their reassuring message. Of course, we now know that the Catholic Grinch had merely stolen Christmas from the healthier pagan solstice rituals. There’s not even any real evidence that the birth of a mid-eastern mystic twenty centuries ago occurs anywhere near this time. Probably it didn’t. Informed consensus says it was more likely some time around Easter. But then – hey, we already have Easter, so why confuse a good party with awkward facts?


Yuletide hits go from the cringingly dire, such as Dickie Valentine’s “Christmas Alphabet” which has the audacity to displace Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” at no.1 for a trio of weeks in December 1955, to the haunting “Scarlet Ribbons” written and interpreted by the incomparable Harry Belafonte. A singer and actor born in the Harlem ghetto, a black sex symbol a decade before Sidney Poitier, Belafonte worked his way up through clubs singing Folk songs, and through the ‘American Negro Theatre’ into acting, until his 1957 movie role opposite Joan Fontaine in ‘Island In The Sun’ led to the Ku-Klux Klan torching cinemas to ‘protect’ the young from his liberating influence. A politically radical life-time campaigner against racial injustice he was able to use his resulting high-profile celebrity to lead anti-segregation marches beside Martin Luther King. Yet in this Festive hit he’s merely a poor man, a loving father, who is tortured by his inability to buy the one gift his daughter most wants – ‘scarlet ribbons for her hair’. Until – returning home later, he finds her bed inexplicably inundated with them. The rich silky depth of his voice rises in mystified awe as he’s unable to explain their miraculous appearance. The implication – of course, is divine intervention. But we’ll let that pass.

With the new popularity of long-playing record albums, it seems that every artist with an eye to maximising their seasonal percentage had to have a Festive set on the market decked out in tinsel and holly-wreaths – Perry Como, the Beach-Boys, Johnny Mathis, the Carpenters… and Elvis, naturally. For Elvis it formed the first phase of his retaliation against the outraged moral guardians who were busy self-righteously condemning his sinful stage-antics. It was also a chance for him to draw upon those deeply ingrained Gospel roots he’d carried with him from those childhood Church Sundays at the ‘First Assembly of God’, and use them to vindicate himself in the sceptical eyes of the great American mainstream. He began by performing a moving “Peace in the Valley” on the nationwide event-TV ‘Ed Sullivan Show’. His interpretation conjuring the power of a transcendent vision of Heaven-on-Earth, one capable of transfiguring the world from weary pain and strife – something Presley, even at this early stage of his career, could find solace in. Emoting his plea for redemption with a deep sincerity sufficient to convince Mr & Mrs White America that beneath the hard-Rocking Satanic sex-animal there was a god-fearing mother-loving good ole boy. Combined with a personal intensity strong enough to touch the stony heart of even the most atheistic ear. Recorded at the Hollywood ‘Radio Recorders’ Studio between the 12th and the 19th January 1957 with the classic line-up of guitarist Scotty Moore, drummer D.J. Fontana, bass-player Bill Black and the smooth supporting close-harmony vocals of the Jordanaires, it emerged as a charting EP soon after.

Never one to miss a commercial opportunity, he followed it up with an album balancing the sacred with the profane in more or less equal proportions, like a hoodlum Santa arriving in a big black Cadillac, his bulging gift-sack generously packed with the future hit single “Blue Christmas” (for both Elvis and Shakin’ Stevens), as well as his own idiosyncratic take on “White Christmas”, and the surreal innovation that must be the first-ever down-and-dirty Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas song, Leiber & Stoller’s “Santa Claus Is Back In Town”.

The only other Xmas long-player worth your serious investigation is ‘A Christmas Gift For You’, re-titled ‘Phil Spector’s Christmas Album’ for its 1972 Apple-label re-release. Laboured over for almost half a year at the Los Angeles ‘Gold Star Studios’ at a (then)-astronomical budget in excess of £15,000, with his Philles stable of artists, an all-star studio orchestra including Leon Russell on piano, Steve Douglas’ roaring baritone-sax, plus Glen Campbell, Herb Alpert, Sonny Bono (playing the horse’s-hooves effects on “Sleigh Ride”) and Jack Nitzsche, it resulted in what remains indisputably the quintessential Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas album. Only, on its originally scheduled release date – November 22nd 1963, President John F. Kennedy had the inconvenient misfortune to get himself assassinated in Dallas, and in Spector’s words ‘nobody was vaguely interested in buying records, let alone a jolly Christmas album’. As a result, it took almost a decade before its timeless brilliance was recognised, and rescued. A sound that’s never been bettered, exemplified by the Crystals “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, the Ronettes delicious “Frosty The Snowman”, or the infectious enthusiasm of Bob B Soxx & The Blue Jeans “Here Comes Santa Claus”. Spector himself voices-over his own greetings-card message – ‘of course, the biggest thanks goes to YOU, for giving me the opportunity to relate my feelings of Christmas through the music I love’. In print it sounds to be schmaltz overkill, yet somehow, against the odd, it works. For this is also the album from which one of Darlene Love’s four exquisite contributions, Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich’s “Christmas Baby Won’t You Please Come Home”, is lifted by Steven Spielberg to play over the credits of his ‘Gremlins’ (1984) movie, perfectly evoking the warm Frank Capra-style nostalgia of festive small-town USA. As Spielberg well knows, it’s that kind of album.

Elsewhere, things aren’t quite so good. The first phase of Adam Faith’s diverse career – as Pop Idol, is not exactly enhanced by “Lonely Pup (in a Christmas Shop)”, a cutesy-trite proto ‘A dog is not just for Xmas’ warning to us all, with an ineptitude way beyond the damage-limitation salvage that even John Barry’s string arrangements can deliver. But this was a stupid time when, at regular twelve-month intervals the inky Pop press would break out into a rash of silly-Santa covers, with some embarrassed Beat Group or other – say Freddie & the Dreamers, or Gerry & the Pacemakers, kitted out in red suits and stick-on beards for photo-shoots beside the Xmas tree.

More sensibly, the Beatles don’t do things like seasonal hits. What they do do is mail out a series of seven flexi-disc Xmas messages exclusively to members of their fan-club (dated between December 1963 through to December 1969). Now hotly bootlegged and much sought-after the first few are simply a ‘Hi, and thanks for the year’ audio letter. In a limited edition of just 65,000 copies, the second one fades in with a kazoo and harmonica rendition of “Jingle Bells”, and Paul McCartney’s wacky gaffe ‘we hope you’ve enjoyed listening to the records as much as we’ve enjoyed melting them… no, that’s wrong – ‘making’ them’. While the sleeve informs us ‘this disc will not be in the hit parade’ and ‘additional copies will not be pressed’.

But year-on-year these annual bulletins from Beatles-central complexify into the full 1966 ‘PANTOMIME: EVERYWHERE IT’S CHRISTMAS’, with “Yesterday” re-written to include the line ‘I believe in Christmas Day’, a Bob Dylan-styled “Old Lang Syne”, a snatch of the Four Tops “It’s The Same Old Song”, and a threatened “We’ll Gather Lilacs In An Old Brown Shoe”. With the flexi’s previously done as an after-thought tacked-on at the end of album sessions this longest-yet edition is done in time specially booked at the Dick James Music Studio in New Oxford Street and comes complete with surreal audio-sketches in John Lennon’s absurdist ‘Spaniard In The Works’-style, such as “A Rare Cheese (Two Elderly Scotsmen)” and the Spike Milligan oddness of “Podgy The Bear And Jasper” (already performed as part of their Hammersmith Odeon Xmas Show, with Paul as the hero, George the heroine, John the villain, and Ringo throwing snow around as the Props-effects man). There’s even manic Goon-ish songs like “Please Don’t Bring Your Banjo Back” (‘I wasn’t hardly gone a year / when it became the scene, / banjos, banjos, all the time / – I can’t forget that tune’). The fifth flexi-disc, ‘CHRISTMAS TIME (IS HERE AGAIN)’, ‘another little bite of the Apple’ for 1967, is even issued in a full ‘Sgt Pepper’-style collage sleeve, and opens with John Lennon announcing the ‘Interplanetary Remix Take 444’. He then reappears in the guise of ‘Audition Announcer’, ‘Sir Gerald’, ‘The Quizmaster’ on a spoof TV Quiz Show, and an incomprehensible ‘Scottish Poet’, alongside special guest interventions by ‘the feet and voice’ of Victor U Spinetti (who does a tap-dance routine with Ringo!), Malcolm Lift-Evans, and George Martin playing organ. Interspersed with mock-commercials, manic laughter, songs like “Plenty Of Jam-Jars, Baby”, and ‘augmented applause recorded on location in Dublin’. A good time is guaranteed for all. If you happen to have a full set of these in playable condition, you’re sitting on a rare treat.


The only sociologically redeeming aspects of 1970’s Christmas Pop is that Jesus no longer gets a look in. From now on it’s the party that’s important. Get dressed up. Get drunk. Fall over. Away from the serious heavy Prog-Rockers the new teen-gods were embarrassingly eager to plug into consumerism’s Yuletide gross-out. All Glam and glitter and already trussed up like oven-ready turkeys, Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everbody” – their final no.1, tops the chart for no less than five weeks in 1973, going on to clock up no less than thirty weeks on the lists. And bizarrely, it’s probably Noddy Holder’s most enduring contribution to chart history. ‘It just goes on and on and on,’ he confides. ‘It’s probably the one everybody will always think ‘THIS IS THE ONE’, even though I personally don’t think it’s the best record we ever made. Funnily enough “Merry Xmas Everybody” never actually gets re-released. It’s just never been deleted. It’s been on sale continuously. If you want to try, you can buy it at any time of the year. You just have to order it. And I don’t think there’s ANY other record that’s been on sale for that long – EVER!’

‘I wrote that lyric all in one night!’ he elaborates. ‘I’d been down the pub, got a bit pissed up, couldn’t drive ‘ome. So I stayed over at mi Mam’s ‘ouse. I’d already got the first two lines – ‘are you hanging up your stockings on the wall’, but I wanted to get the rest finished. Me Mam’d got a little bottle of whisky in the sideboard. So I sat down at 1 o’clock in the morning, got that bottle out, and by four or five I’d finished all the lyrics to the song. I’d set out to get a Working Class Christmassy-type feel to it. So I thought of all the Working Class Christmassy-type things I could think of to cram into the song. And probably two of the best lines lyrically that I ever did are in that song. Which are ‘does your Granny always tell you that the old songs are the best, then she’s up and Rock ‘n’ Rolling with the best’ – and we’ve ALL ‘ad it. Your Granny comes round at Christmas. You put a new record on and she says ‘ah, that stuff’s not as good as it was in my day’. But give ‘er a couple of sherry’s and she’s up and twisting and showing her knickers. It happens in every family. It’s those sort-of things I wanted to capture. And I think it works. Yet if you listen to the record, there are no Christmas gimmicks on it, no sleigh-bells, no jingle-bells at all. The only thing Christmassy about it are the lyrics. It’s a straightforward Pop-Rock song, that happens to be about Christmas. It’s probably the only Christmas hit that’s ever been like that. And funnily enough – in France, it got to no.1 at Easter!’

Meanwhile, Roy Wood was master-minding Wizzard’s more artfully Spectoresque “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” (no.4 in 1973, re-charting in 1981 and 1984), an impenetrably rich layer-cake coated with an inch-thick icing made up of the Suedettes, sleigh-bells, a children’s choir and ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’s in the fade. While Paul McCartney was writing one of his most clumsily inept lyrics for Wings sad festive fare, and Mud were aping Elvis doing it. Their Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman-penned Presley pastiche, “Lonely this Christmas” sat at no.1 for four weeks through December 1974. Gary Glitter did it. Shakin’ Stevens did it. Tediously. And even those seriously-heavy Prog-Rockers got in on the act with Greg Lake’s “I Believe In Father Christmas” charting 1975, 1982, and then again in 1983. As the Damned say – via the Marx Brothers, ‘there ain’t no Sanity Clause’.

Steeleye Span do it in Latin (“Gaudete”), while Jethro Tull remember the true (Pagan) meaning of Christmas (“Ring Out Solstice Bells”), and George Harrison skips a week and goes for New Year instead (“Ding Dong”). John and Yoko, with Phil Spector in tow, use their Plastic Ono Band green-vinyl single to fuse the trashy yuletide feel-good factor with political purpose – at the time “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” was originally recorded the Vietnam war was still a nightly TV atrocity. And taking yet another course, Johnny Mathis – eighteen years after his first Xmas success with “Winter Wonderland”, gives a bizarrely interdenominational racially non-specific twist to the messiah’s supposed Second Coming with “When A Child Is Born” (no.1 for three weeks in December 1976). While Boney M wear massive white fur coats and take it all back to the 1950’s with their revitalisation of the Belafonte-penned “Mary’s Boy-Child” (no.1 for four weeks through December 1978).

It all begins to beg the question what is the point of a Christmas single anyway? Why bother? It’s a shameless merchandising ploy, obviously. But can it be anything more? A returning reminder of those we’ve lost – like Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas” (1984). An obligatory shot at adding your voice to the regularly regurgitated pantheon of pap – like Elton’s genial bounce-along “Step Into Christmas” (1973). Or an increasingly desperate career-end attempt to wrench just one more hit out of a sadly over-worked formula. Like Shakin’ Stevens and Gary Glitter.

And where can it all go now? As the Darkness ask – ‘When Will The Bells End?’ How do you tap into spirituality in a godless age? Cliff Richard is still trying – shamelessly using a seasonal anaesthetic to disguise his cartoon-simple coded Christian metaphors into the chart. And although he’s succeeded time and again, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s Band Aid are more accurately attuned to the zeitgeist, striking all the correct nexuses of consumer moral guilt and charitable benevolence with an all-star cast and a ridiculously catchy hook. “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, the first and greatest of all the charity singles, sells a cool three-and-a-half million copies in the UK alone, stays at no.1 for five weeks in December 1984 while holding Wham’s “Last Christmas” in second place, then goes on to spawn sequel singles and the Live Aid event. Superficial, ego-driven? Sure. But it achieves something more than all of those smugly pious 1950’s songs which merely quote or misquote antique myth-texts. For if Christmas is to be about anything, this is about as good as it can get. Global consciousness. Wealth redistribution. A slight tinge of ‘love’ in a left-over biblical sense for an agnostic age.

Since then – if it wasn’t already so ridiculously ludicrous, it would be tempting to say that from now on it gets really silly. Mister Blobby. “Nelly the Elephant”. East 17. Bruce Springsteen. Jive Bunny. “Bob the Builder”. Even the mighty Chumbawamba. And it’s even more difficult to say where it’s going now. Product targeting is so precise a science it seems to overlook the essentially ephemeral nature of the seasonal hit altogether. Despite the perennially annual air-play reappearance of such phenomena. And as the year-end spending orgy remains the highest sales turnover period, powered with gift tokens and present-purchasing, singles can so easily get lost in the floods of mammon if they don’t get super-charged by the cross-media tie-in incentives of a ‘Pop Idol’ to amplify awareness. But instead, the endless recycling up-gears. Until, surely even Noddy Holder must get sick of hearing his own Xmas hit? ‘No. I’m PROUD of it. When I hear it on the radio, or in a Club or a Pub today, it doesn’t sound dated to me, it still sounds quite fresh. It stands the test of time, which is the test of a good Pop record. And it still sells every year, so it’s a nice little pension for us too. It’s a great record and I think it’s got a fondness in everybody’s heart.’ Well, maybe.

But the greatest of them all? I’m watching a slurred Shane MacGowan and a wonderful Kirsty MacCall doing “Fairytale of New York” on a Festival stage in Leeds’ Roundhay Park in August. Yet even in this late-summer sunshine it’s a transfixing spectacle – evoking a range of reactions from poetic wistfulness to comedy as Shane forgets his own lyrics and she has to coax and lead him, waltzing him gently into the next verse convincing – as if you need convincing, that this is the finest seasonal record ever made.

Published in:
‘HOT PRESS’ December 2003 (Eire)



Glam-Rock Ikon – or Xmas Turkey?
‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ of turning pages
as NODDY HOLDER does a Literary Tour
to promote his autobiography,
telling tales of Phil Lynott, Oasis, Gary Glitter,
and Suicidal Groupies.... while
tags along. CRAZEEEE...!!!!!


Two desk-mikes. Red-back Noddy-books in anticipatory piles. A polished table adjacent to the History/Modern History section of the largest bookshop in Yorkshire. And Naomi – in delectably contoured ‘BORDERS’ T-shirt, spikes of hair and black-rimmed glasses, obviously flailing out of her depth when faced with publicly interviewing an amiable icon of an age before she was even born. Behind them, as she fiddles with bits of paper that other staffers have suggested her questions on, there’s a poster for Simon Clark’s exquisitely nasty horror novel ‘The Fall’. Another poster announcing. Terry ‘DISKWORLD’ Pratchett’s signing-visit to this very same bookshop. And in front of her, a patiently waiting block of Slade fans. “Which current CD do you listen to, Noddy?” she begins. “Macy Gray’s ‘On How Life Is’, best album of the year, in my ‘umble opinion” he comes back – live in person, with sideburns, to a mild swell of approval. Naomi smiles nervously, obviously encouraged by her success, and ventures ‘If I said to you ‘Who’s Crazee Now?’, who would you nominate? “You for a start” he teases, “and probably this lot for coming tonight” – indicating the audience, drawing them into the joke. “But Crazee bands? Jamiroquai – he’s crazy. Fun Loving Criminals – like ‘em, but they’re on another planet. And Geri Halliwell. She’s definitely lost the plot.”

So they muddle through, until in a final act of desperation Naomi suggests “alright Noddy, now is there anything You want to ask Me?” He grins mischievously, pulls a lascivious expression. “What colour knickers are you wearing, Naomi?” “NODD-EEE HOLDER!!!!” she gasps in polite shock, before throwing him over to the assembled fans. Lenny is first up. He has a tired Autumn 1972 Tour programme printed red-on-black. Thin Lizzy. Suzi Quatro – and Slade. “First gig I ever saw” he gushes. Noddy smiles indulgently as he sips his Britvic Clear Tonic Water. And signs it. Behind him, Michael has an original gatefold red ‘Slade Alive’ (1972) vinyl album to sign. “How’s the book selling?” he asks. Noddy brightens. “Went in the book charts at no.50” he chirps, “now it’s up to no.24”

Phew…!!! Avarice. Pride. Sloth. Lust. Gluttony. Wrath... and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Noddy’s autobiography ‘Who’s Crazee Now?’* tells it all, travelling from his childhood in the Black Country, through his pre-Slade scuffing bands during the sixties – into Glam-Rock and its aftermath. And this literary tour is designed to promote the book through local radio chat-slots, bookshop talks and signings. Right now he’s in Leeds, down from Macclesfield. And it’s my turn. So come on Nod – be honest, how can this tame literary slog compare with the insane anarchy of a Rock ‘n’ Roll tour? “It’s absolutely different to Rock ‘n’ Roll tours. A lot more civilised” he gags with a shocked expression. “But I’ve enjoyed everywhere we’ve been. And yes, I’ve been asked some STRANGE questions, but nothing I can’t cope with.” So try this on for size – there’s a lot about Rock ‘n’ Roll in your book, but very little sex and drugs. Does that mean that sex and drugs didn’t happen, or just that you’re not admitting to it? “There wasn’t drugs in our career” he straight-faces. “Slade weren’t a druggy band. We were a Boozing band. So we never got into that side of the business. We saw too many fatalities among our mates that were doing it. I mean – they were dropping like flies in the seventies. And we were – in a way, too PROFESSIONAL to go that same way. When we were doing an album, or a gig, we were always very focused, we were always on the money. We never partied until the job was done. Then we’d go overboard. But we certainly wasn’t going to let the partying be the main part of our life.”

And sex? “When you’re in a successful band you obviously have a lot of female followers chasing you around. And when you’re young you make the most of it, don’t you? You’d be daft not to, wouldn’t you? But people think it’s all fun and frolics, which generally it is. But the public only get that one side of it, there’s a downer side too. You’ve got to be careful, certainly in America. I had this one girl who followed me everywhere, today you’d call her a Stalker, but of course they weren’t called Stalkers in those days. One day we did a show in Philadelphia and drove back to New York. And when I got back to my hotel she was actually in my bedroom. She’d bribed the hotel maid to get in. I said ‘You’re going to have to leave.’ She starts crying and all that business, then she says ‘can I use the toilet before I go?’ And I say ‘Yeah’. So she locks herself in the toilet. Twenty minutes – she still hasn’t come out. I’m banging on the door. No sign of her. So I call our tour manager – Swin, we break in, and she’d slit her wrists. There was blood everywhere. We had to call the paramedics. She survived. But that’s the other side of the coin. People throw themselves at you, put their lives on the line for you, so you have to be very careful how you treat them. These things happen. It’s frightening. It’s great being a Pop Star, being mobbed and all that, and I don’t regret a minute, but when you’re at the centre of it all, it can be very scary too.”

Did you ever throw a TV out of a Hotel window? “No. And I’ve never met a band that HAS. It’s a myth. Probably younger bands do it now because they heard somewhere that bands used to do it, so now they feel if you’re in a band you’re SUPPOSED to do it! But sure, we did our fair share of damage, wrecking rooms now and again, but we always paid for it.” So what was your greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll excess? “I drove a car into a swimming pool once. Not my own I might add” he erupts into raucous laughter. “And not on purpose. I was under an excess of drink in this hotel car-park, the throttle slipped, I went over an embankment and the car ended up in the pool. That’s probably the worst thing that ‘appened to me.” Right. Ho-Hum. So – and this one’s for Naomi, what colour Boxer-shorts are you wearing Noddy? Now it’s HIS turn to look just a little coy. “Erm... I don’t wear Boxers, Darlin’” he manages eventually in contrived-camp.

Slade – of course, are the quintessential early-seventies band. Rock ‘n’ Roll without brakes. Sartorial atrocities and rampant innuendo delivered at mega-echo volume. Shiny mirrored hits and more bacofoil that an entire Wal-Mart hyper-store chain. Their “Coz I Luv You” knocked Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” off the no.1 slot in November 1971, to be deposed by... Benny Hill’s “Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West”. Crazzee times?!?!?! But yeah, yeah – whatever, the first half of the seventies was a pretty stupid time, agreed? Old Hippie bands getting older, hairier, and more tediously self-indulgent. While all the young Dudes too new “to get off on the Beatles and the Stones” were busy aggravating their acne by sticking sequins all over their stupid faces. But hey, Pop without morons is like Capitalism without victims, or Catholicism without Hell. And if Marc Bolan was this generation’s new Beatles, then Slade were their new Stones. Only louder. Cruder. And more un-pretty.

Listen to the 21-track ‘Slade Greatest Hits: Feel The Noize’ (1997) compilation now, and it’s a solid wall of loutish volume with bass-lines repeatedly kicking you in the head with the intensity of repetitive brain-injury. From the straight-ahead Rock cover that started it all, “Get Down And Get With It” laced with Little Richard keyboard runs, into the Pure Pop madness of twelve top five hits, six of them no.1’s with football-chant choruses and graffitiised-titles threatening to corrupt the spelling of a generation. Even a ballad like “How Does It Feel” gets a dirty guitar riff slashed across it, while the reflective “Far Far Away” opens with a demented Don Powell drum barrage erupting into a vocal delivered at full frontal tonsil-mangling volume. Later there’s the 1980’s post-Reading Festival metal-revival with “We’ll Bring The House Down”, and the mature anthemic “My Oh My” – which not only became a no.2 hit here in 1983, but also Slade’s biggest ever Top 5 USA hit. And all that’s before you even get to mention “Merry Xmas Everybody” which alone entered the Top 20 no less than seven times. The lives and times of Slade are wondrous tales indeed... but never before have we heard it from Nod’s own gob. Until now.


Today, Noddy’s sideboards are sparser, his outfit less flamboyant – purple shirt, long black drape jacket, stretch-side black boots, with his gold-rimmed spectacles worn on a Larry Grayson black expander-twine around his neck. Neville ‘Noddy’ Holder grins. “I was born being rowdy... I was screaming when I hit daylight”. His thick Midlands accent intact all the way from Walsall – just north of Brum, “the opening credits of ‘CORONATION STREET’ always remind me of Newhall Street” he says, getting nostalgic for the tin-bath in front of the fire and the outside lav. He saw Little Richard ‘with his bouffant hair, banging away on the piano’ in the 1956 ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ movie, and “I didn’t think Rock ‘n’ Roll could get any better”. Later, he got to see that same Little Richard headlining at the Wolverhampton Gaumont, with support from The Everly Brothers... and the Rolling Stones.

And soon, early Slade line-ups were moving in a star-system of other stalled sixties launches. Bolan, Rod Stewart and Elton John were all hanging out with routine loser sixties bands that never quite made the grade, all relentlessly gigging, all waiting for that first big career-break, and Noddy’s pre-chart history follows pretty much the same contours. While around this time, as part of the proto-Slade ‘N’Betweens Noddy made his first German trip to play ‘The Star Club’, a venue so wild that the waiters packed guns. It was here he ran into fellow wannabe Paul (Gary Glitter) Raven – ‘a Rocker in lots of leather with an Elvis-style quiff’. Living in red-light Keil, north of Hamburg on a diet of Glitter-recommended pea-and-ham soup the band were ‘farting all week’.

Then came the hits – and new associations. That Autumn 1972 tour with Slade supported by Thin Lizzy, for example. “Yeh, they supported us a couple of times, in America as well. Phil Lynott was a madman. Towards the end of that American tour he actually caught hepatitis, the –whatcha-callit, the contagious sort? We didn’t know until the tour was more or less finished. But when he went back to New York he was diagnosed with it, so everybody who’d been in contact with him on the tour had to have tests, all the bands and road-crew. Then we all had to have shots. They lined us up in a big row, we all had to drop our trousers, and there was this hideous sight of the bands and road crew showing their arses, and all having this hepatitis injection. Not a pretty sight, as you can imagine. And that was all Phil’s fault. Which we never let ‘im forget!”

Slade were always a strange band. Bass-player Jimmy Lea – a quiet, creative, formally trained violinist and the perfect song-writing foil to Noddy (‘to be honest, I think he would rather have been in Led Zeppelin than Slade’). Gum-chewing Don Powell on drums. Noddy. And Dave Hill on guitar, always the most outrageously flamboyant member of Slade, the SuperYob ‘Metal Nun’ in his all-over silver leather costumes. “Yeh. He was a constant source of amusement for us. His stage-gear was never intended to be a great fashion statement.” But unlike Ziggy Bowie or Bopping Elf Bolan, and despite Dave’s flirtation with his ‘feminine side’, Slade were never gender-transcenders. During their second TV appearance – promoting their single “Shape Of Things To Come” on ‘Top Of The Pops’, Dave was jealous of Elton John, also debuting, “because he thought Elton would end up pulling all the girls. How wrong can you be?”

And outrage has always been a part of Rock ‘n’ Roll anyway. Little Richard was doing it in the 1950’s... “sure. Little Richard was doing it. But even before that, the comedian Max Miller was doing it. A lot of the influences for various bits of stuff I wore later on, came from Max Miller. They were all seeds that had been planted when I was a little kid. You get it in every era of Show-Biz. You take a little bit here, a little bit there from somewhere else. Which happened in Glam-Rock just the same. Nothing’s new. Everything comes around from something else. I mean, a lot of Glam-Rock stuff, certainly the platform shoes and that came from the 1930’s. The Flappers were wearing those sort of shoes back then – in their own way. You just turn it on its head and give it a new lease of life. At the end of 1975/’76 everybody was saying platforms, bell-bottoms and flares would never be worn again. But here they are. They’re back. Now everybody’s doing it again...”

But at the height of Glam, wasn’t there ever a time when Noddy looked at himself in the mirror and thought “what the hell am I doing dressed like this?!?!?!?” “No. Never. I mean – it was all a big piss-take. We even used to take the mickey out of each other. We never looked on it as anything other than a lot of fun. Probably the only one in the band who wasn’t into all the dressing up part of it was Jimmy. It wasn’t him at all. He went along with it because he had to. But it wasn’t his bag. And he’ll admit it. He wanted more of that ‘serious musician’-type-thing. With the other three it was different, we weren’t interested in that at all.” But I’d always interpreted the lyrics of “Cum On Feel The Noize” – a song later revived by Oasis, as an answer to hostile critics. After all, Noddy is singing ‘so you think I’ve got an evil mind? well you should know better... so you think my singing’s out of time? well it makes me money’. Was I right? “Erm – no, it was more a statement than a come-back to the critics. We never had no problems with critics really, they were never harsh. Although they never took us seriously as a band. As serious musicians. We realised that at the time. They thought we was just disposable Pop, which all Pop is in a way. But now people look back and realise we wrote some classic Pop songs and made some classic Pop records. Oasis covered “Cum On Feel The Noize”, and it was good. I like it – it helps keep the band’s name alive, and the Slade back-catalogue too. It’s made me a few bob, so I’m not complaining. I went to see Oasis when they played Maine Road, Manchester. They invited me up to see the show and Noel Gallagher actually sent Meg – his missus, up to the place where I was watching them to take a photo of me just to see my reaction when they did that song. They did “Cum On Feel The Noize” as the encore and she took my picture. It was great – 40,000 kids going mad to a song me and Jimmy had written twenty-odd years before, y’know? It shows the song is still valid. So now we’ve got the recognition we deserve. It’s took us twenty-odd years to get that recognition, but it’s come eventually.”

Yet bizarrely, “Merry Xmas Everybody” is probably Slade’s most enduring contribution to chart history. “Yes, it’s probably the one everybody will always think ‘THIS IS THE ONE’, even though I personally don’t think it’s the best record we ever made. Funnily enough it doesn’t actually get re-released. It’s just never been deleted. It’s been on sale continuously for twenty-six years, it just goes on and on and on. Yet I wrote that lyric all in one night! I’d been down the pub, got a bit pissed up, couldn’t drive ‘ome. So I stayed over at mi Mam’s ‘ouse. I’d already got the first two lines – ‘are you hanging up your stockings on the wall’, but I wanted to get the rest finished. Me Mam’d got a little bottle of whisky in the sideboard. So I sat down at one o’clock in the morning, got that bottle out, and by four or five I’d finished all the lyrics to the song. I’d set out to get a Working Class Christmassy-type feel to it. So I thought of all the Working Class Christmassy-type things I could think of to cram into the song. And probably two of the best lines lyrically that I ever did are in that song. Which are ‘does your Granny always tell you that the old songs are the best, then she’s up and Rock ‘n’ Rolling with the best’ – and we’ve ALL ‘ad it. Your Granny comes round at Christmas. You put a new record on and she says ‘ah, that stuff’s not as good as it was in my day’. But give ‘er a couple of sherry’s and she’s up and twisting and showing her knickers. It happens in every family. It’s those sort-of things I wanted to capture. And I think it works. Yet if you listen to the record, there are no Christmas gimmicks on it, no sleigh-bells, no jingle-bells at all. The only thing Christmassy about it are the lyrics. It’s a straightforward Pop-Rock song, that happens to be about Christmas. It’s probably the only Christmas hit that’s ever been like that. And funnily enough – in France, it got to no.1 at Easter!”

Aren’t you sick of hearing it? “No. I’m PROUD of it. When I hear it on the radio, or in a Club or a Pub today, it doesn’t sound dated to me, it still sounds quite fresh. It stands the test of time, which is the test of a good Pop record. And it still sells every year, so it’s a nice little pension for us too. I think Jimmy’s sick of it. But he still takes the royalty cheques. The only thing that pisses me off is when I’m doing my Christmas shopping and it’s on in every store you walk into – there it is, BLARING out, and everybody’s looking at me, pointing and going (in comic voice) “that’s him, he made that record!!!” That DOES get a bit embarrassing. But I’ve lived with that for twenty-six years now, and my ears tend to block it out. But it’s a great record and I think it’s got a fondness in everybody’s heart. They know Christmas is here when they start hearing that record!”


A guy from local band Neon shoves a copy of their CD ‘Heroes’ across the table at Noddy. “We’re playing ‘THE ADELPHI’ tonight. Why don’t you come and see us?” “I might just do that” lies Noddy. Then in an aside to me, “you’ve got to do that. When you’re in a band you’ve got to shove yourself.” But during those long early Slade and pre-Slade days wasn’t there ever a time when you thought it wasn’t going to happen, that you were never going to make it? “We-e-e-ell, it obviously crosses your mind. But we always had amazing confidence. We were cocky little gits. It was only a matter of time. We knew we’d got the goods to do it. It was just a case of having the right record at the right time to get the breaks. But we had no doubt in our minds that we would break through at some point. And that when we did break through it would snowball for us. We had that sort of youthful cockiness to think that we were the best band in the land. And you’ve got to have that confidence. You’ve got to have that level of self-belief.” As Blur say it, Confidence is a preference. But Slade always came across as a highly motivated band. “We were very highly motivated. But you have to be if you want to get into the Rock ‘n’ Roll business. If you go into it with the intention of making a fast buck, if all you want is quick killing – nothing’s going to happen, it’s not going to work. It certainly wouldn’t in those days, and I don’t think it will today. We always looked on it – me in particular, as a long-term thing, a long-term proposition. And that’s why we stuck at it as a band for so long. We had the same line-up together for twenty-five years. NO band has ever achieved that, with the same line-up for that long. There’s none. There’s bands that’ve been going for twenty-five years – but not with the same line-up.” So will you go and see Neon tonight? “No. I’ll be gone by then. But I will listen to the CD.”

And will there be new Noddy Holder recordings? “I don’t know, people keep asking me, but I haven’t planned anything. After I did a couple of acoustic songs in the last TV series of ‘The Grimleys’ all the record companies were coming onto me to do an album. But that would mean getting used to the corporate structure of the business again. And it’s awkward for me to take that on board. ‘Cos I’m a bolshie so-and-so. You get record company A&R men who are – like, twenty-five, and they’re telling ME what to do, as though I’m a new artist and I don’t know what I’m talking about! And I have to say – LOOK! – I’ve been in the Music Business for over thirty years!... I’ve been through the mill a few times. I know the structure of things, and how things work. But honestly, this year’s been chock-a-block. I spent the first part of the year writing the autobiography. I delivered it to the publishers, and the next day I started out on three months filming for ten new episodes of ‘The Grimleys’. After which I started out on the book promotion. But I would like at some point to go into the studio and record, as a solo project. I’m hoping I’ll have time to write some new stuff next year, and then maybe record it the year after. But at the moment I’m just happy doing the things I’m doing. I’m acting with ‘The Grimleys’. I’ve written the book. I’m doing a lot of music for TV-adverts, I’m doing voice-over stuff. I’ve got my own radio show in Manchester. So I’ve got all these things going on. And I know what makes me feel right. Even if I don’t sell one copy or not one person watches it. I can’t help that. That’s out of my control. It’s not a case of how many records I sell or whatever. It’s more at the end of the day if I think I’ve done that work to the best of my ability – and if I think it’s turned out good, then – to me, I’m successful.”

Naomi shuffles the few remaining unsold, unsigned red-back Noddy-books into a neat pile, and bins the empty Britvic bottle, as Noddy watches the last of the Slade fans contentedly dispersing through the History/Modern History section and back out into the Leeds Briggate precinct beyond. His book is not a complex one. There’s little depth or insight. But he can be a man of unexpected contradictions. A curious oscillation between bragging bombast, and the consideration to care about the sensitivities of the groupies who once demanded his carnal attentions. A one-time Glam-Rock animal who played to a sold-out Earls Court Stadium, yet is now happy to perform to a rabble of fifty fans in a bookshop and enjoy their uncritical adulation. He once wrote a song that went ‘many years from now there will be new sensations, and new temptations... many years from now, there will be new tomorrow’s, How Does It Feel?’ It seems that now those new tomorrow’s are here he’s quite content to simply enjoy them.

(Ebury Press, £16.99, ISBN 0-09-187075-5)

Interview originally published in:
‘HOT PRESS Vol.24 no.1’ (Feb 2000)
‘G.C. ROCKS no.8’ (UK - March 2000)


Album Review of:
(Cherry Red Records CDMRED 173)

There are few bands so essentially matched to their time-frame as Slade are to the tacky glam ‘n’ glitter stomp of the 1970’s. Yet, as this album, and as Noddy’s autobiography ‘Who’s Crazee Now?’ (Ebury Press 1999) shows, the various elements of the band were lurking on the outer fringes of Pop-dom throughout the sixties waiting for the big break that never came. Some of these tracks are lifted directly from carefully hoarded fans’ vinyl, and bear the ‘unobtrusive’ surface-hiss and scratch-noises of authenticity. Other tracks never even got that far, and are salvaged intact from a never-released lost cassette. So pristine sound quality is not an issue here.

Archaeological speaking, the earliest examples date back as far as 1963/64, with the quaint period charm of a privately-pressed EP by the Vendors – a name derived from an instrumental hit of the time called “Peanut Vendor”, and used by youth-club Beat-Boomers Don Powell, guitarist Dave Hill – and vocalist John Howells, who is now Jurassically resurrected to provide the sleeve-notes. They harmonise on Buddy Holly’s “Take Your Time”, write their own “Don’t Leave Me Now” (Hill and Howells), and do a note-perfect cover of the Shadows’ “Peace Pipe”. Meanwhile, as Noddy recalls in his memoirs, his school-age band the Memphis Cut-Outs were recruited by Steve Brett, already ‘a well-known entertainer in the Midlands’, as his new ‘Mavericks’, and it was in this guise that he got his initial ‘taste of the music industry’. “Wishing” was their first of three 1965 singles – all the A’s and B-sides collected here, which provide Noddy with his introduction to studio-time, albeit playing ‘exactly as we did every night on stage’. Essentially a ‘bunch of hicks from Wolverhampton’, they played Germany together with their mix of Brett’s big-voice Country ballad-cover of Elvis’ “Anything That’s Part Of You” and their failed Surf cover of Jimmy Gilmer’s American no.1 “Sugar Shack”. While “Candy” is a cheesily bounce-along Austin Powers Swinging Sixties quasi-TV-theme. Now That’s What I Call Easy Lounge-Core!

But by then Hill and Powell had graduated to become The ‘N Betweens, and tracks 12-15 are regulation Soul / R&B covers about dance-crazes with stupid names like “Can Your Monkey Do The Dog” and their take on the Yardbirds’ “I Wish You Would”, tracks lifted from a ‘cassette recording of a private acetate that has since gone missing’, plus further tracks originally put out on a French-only Barclay-label EP dismissed by Noddy as ‘just basic Blues tracks straight from their live set’ – including an inferior version of the Sorrows’ “Take A Heart”. The final six tracks come from 1966 and – although credited to The ‘N’ Betweens (Mark 2), unite the complete Slade line-up for the first time, with Noddy’s vocal debut clearly not yet at his microphone-wrecking best, but getting there. The sequence consists of one single – a flawed cover of the American Young Rascals hit “You Better Run”, plus the previously unissued out-takes they did with legendary American madman and fractured genius Kim Fowley, its ‘B’-side, “Evil Witchman” which ‘Kim made up on the spot’ around Noddy’s guitar riff, plus studio try-outs of Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich’s “Hold Tight”, and “Ugly Girl” – dedicated to ‘Our Fan-Club President in Afghanistan’. ‘See how beautiful her ugliness is’ Fowley voice-overs, then fades out with ‘buy our next record, it’s even groovier than this one...!’ And, of course, it was. For by the next record they were re-branded by Chas Chandler as Slade. But meanwhile, it’s sadly obvious to see why the 1960’s overlooked these naive and unfocussed attempts, and that it was only when the decade’s real innovators were either dead or creatively burned-out that Slade achieved their long-awaited moment. So this is a souvenir for hard-core fans and tacky Glam-Rock archivists only.