Slade - Slade In Flame (1974)

Slade - Slade In Flame (1974)

by Phil H

Slade - Slade In Flame (1974)

Flame is one of those great moments in cinema that really shouldn't work but does, like Ben Kingsley's gangster turn in Sexy Beast or Tom Cruise as the bitter and neurotic author of 'Seduce and Destroy' in Magnolia.

Those hirsute purveyors of blunderbuss glam rock starring in a gritty kitchen sink drama in the tradition of Billy Liar, Taste Of Honey and Kes? If you haven't seen the film then it probably sounds like a particularly fanciful Reeves & Mortimer sketch.

But then it's easy to forget what big stars Slade were by the end of 1974. After a three-year run during which they had 12 Top 5 hit singles in succession, they were just about the biggest band in the country.

Their manager Chas Chandler (the former Animals bassist and Jimi Hendrix manager) decided making a film was the next step, after all it hadn't done The Beatles or Elvis any harm. Well, The Beatles anyway.

They must have known The Who were turning their 1969 rock opera Tommy into a film with Ken Russell at the helm, and perhaps they saw this as an opportunity to earn a little gravitas and stretch themselves.

Social realism probably didn't seem that odd a choice with the TV popularity of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? and the success of 1973's That'll Be The Day, in which David Essex had taken the chance to prove he was more than just a pop pretty boy by starring alongside Ringo Starr in the tale of an aspiring rock star.

The 1974 follow-up, Stardust, took a slightly more jaundiced view of fame, with Essex ending up a bloated, over the hill star wasting his life hanging around in a castle with Adam Faith.

To an extent Flame seems to amalgamate many of the ideas from both That'll Be The Day and Stardust with its tale of the fall and rise of a band, their dreams and friendships steadily ground down by the venal characters of the music business.

The band all make a decent fist of acting, particularly Noddy Holder (Stoker) and drummer Don Powell (Charlie), with guitarist Dave Hill (Barry) just appearing to play himself and bassist Jim Lea (Paul) tending to stick to the background.

The whole film also captures the incidental details of the early 1970s brilliantly - all battered, smoke-filled nightclubs, bad fringes, bushy facial hair and muddy fabrics.

The scenes shot outside in Sheffield are full of post-industrial decline, with dirty canals, pigeon lofts, closed factories and neglected terrace streets that make The Full Monty look like it was shot in Manhattan.

Despite some knockabout humour along the way, the film ends on a decidedly downbeat note as the the band split up unable to deal with the hassles any more.

Flame came out in February 1975, just a month before Tommy, and many of Slade's young fans were left pretty baffled, forcing the band to repeatedly assure crowds that they didn't actually hate each other during the subsequent tour.

The album Slade In Flame had come out four months earlier, with the gatefold inner sleeve providing a teaser for the film with a series of stills.

The band signalled their intention to experiment with opener How Does It Feel?, which starts as a piano ballad before the horns and guitars roll in, with a nice bit of flute playing thrown in for good measure. It's a good song but not really what most Slade fans were after at the time. When they released it as a single to mark the film opening, it only reached No.15, their worst chart placing for four years.

Not that Slade In Flame deviates too much from the template elsewhere. Horns feature on a few songs and there's a sax solo on Standin' On The Corner but the songs still stomp along and the choruses are still rousing.

Holder's voice really is a remarkable thing, both high pitched and gruff at the same time. He belts through the likes of Them Kinda Monkeys Can't Swing and OK Yesterday Was Yesterday leaving you wondering how he didn't blow his voicebox out.

So Far So Good brings to mind Oasis's Roll With It, with an mid-paced anthemic tune about taking success in your stride, and Far Far Away celebrates life on the road, managing to smuggle the lines 'I've had a a red light off the wrist/ Without even being kissed' onto the radio.

Considering the cynical trajectory of the plot, the band never sound melancholy or bitter. Them Monkeys... is about the snake-tongued double-dealers of the music business but seems to celebrate more than despise them, and This Girl starts by bemoaning a woman's untrustworthiness before Noddy comes to the lascivious conclusion that he should give her a call.

The public's perception of Slade nowadays is mainly coloured by Merry Christmas Everybody, which has been jamming seasonal jollity in our ears for the last 37 years, leaving the rest of their career deep in its shadow - including five other No.1s and a further ten Top 10 hits..

by Phil H.

But you shouldn't underestimate the influence of Slade on Oasis, a fact partly acknowledged by their cover of Cum On Feel The Noize..

Another band inspired by the boys from the Black Country were Kiss, with Gene Simmons admitting: "The one we kept returning to was Slade. We liked the way they connected with the crowd, and the way they wrote anthems. We wanted that same energy, that same irresistible simplicity, but done US-style.".

Despite their influence, it seems a strange twist of fate that most of Slade's career has now been largely forgotten due to a Christmas single. Still, the royalty cheque must ease the pain when it arrives in January. .