Slade were a successful band long before they shaved their heads and learnt to ‘speek ‘n’ spel’ badly. In fact, they were one of the Black Country’s tightest bands before rock became a musical term. The bands founding member was drummer Don Powell, who was introduced to Johnny Howells and Mick Marson around 1961 and they later became The Vendors. Dave Hill joined them in 1963 and they became a popular band on the local scene. By 1964 they were signed to the Astra Agency books and in September 1964 they turned professional and became The ‘N Betweens.
It’s difficult to understand how different the music business was in the 60’s, a bands worth was measured by how well they covered other groups songs. Bands did not write their own material, that was for established songwriters. In 1965 The ‘N Betweens were one of the hottest bands on the circuit. Playing a mixture of popular Pop/R&B/Blues they had a large following and lots of press coverage in the local papers and the music press that covered the local scene, Midland Beat. This was a scene akin to Mersey Beat but centred around the Black Country.
In 1966 the group broke up causing controversy on the Midlands music scene. Dave and Don wanted to leave the Blues behind and they brought in seasoned pro, Neville ‘Noddy’ Holder and a fresh face, James Whild Lea to form a new group. In a twist of irony, the rest of The ‘N Betweens went their separate ways leaving them with the band name. Holder had been with various bands on the circuit, notably Steve Brett & The Mavericks.
In Summer 1966, The ‘N Betweens became a 4 piece band playing Beat Music and R&B with a rock edge. Most of their followers, including their agency and management expected them to crash and burn but they went out with more enthusiasm and vigour than ever. They bought in to the psychedelia scene, found a way to boost their sound and honed their performance to become the loudest and most exciting live act to come out of the Midlands (yes, I am including Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin). What they lacked in fancy guitar work, they made up for in sheer exuberance.
A dalliance with Kim Fowley allowed them to record You Better Run which irked a young Robert Plant, whose band Listen had recorded the same song. In Spring 1967 they recorded some Psychadelic Pop, Delighted To See You, at Abbey Road studios but it was not until the end of 1968 that they finally got the break they needed.
Signing up with Jack Baverstock at Fontana Records brought Chas Chandler into their career. Having pulled out on the Jimi Hendrix Experience because he didn’t agree with the way they were being led. Chandler needed a new group to manage and he was introduced to The ‘N Betweens. Baverstock chose their new name, Ambrose Slade, and Chandler watched them perform at Rasputins Night Club in London. The rest, as they say, is Rock History.
From their skinhead introduction to the national music press in 1969, all the way through to their Wall Of Hits demise in 1992, Slade have Rocked! There have been moments that many would prefer to forget of course, the curse of Xmas, the Okey Cokey and Dave Hill’s fringe to name but a few, but anybody that has witnessed the ‘G force’ of a Slade live performance can testify, they were a unique and incredible band. The glitter was a very small part of the bands image that bought them a place in the national charts. Forget the Glam, it was the Rock that rolled.
For the story of one of the UK’s most underated groups, the story of Slade, concentrating on what the group done rather than what they looked like, click here.