‘Take Me Bak Ome’ – Slade after 40+ years

It started with a kiss – a kiss of rhythm guitar from Mal McNulty, a soft undercurrent of venom from John Berry’s bass, and then a rumble of drums and a crash of lead guitar. The scene was set for yet another ‘welcome home’ gig for Slade, just 42 years since the last one I’d been to.
The two new members had settled well, as you’d expect from talented and experienced musicians who’d worked with some of the great Glam Rock bands of that era, but this was Slade: the rambunctious, powerful, driving, soaring and dipping sounds of some of the great anthems of rock and roll from the early 70s into the 80s. What’s changed in those 40+ years? Not as much as many people think, but musically much more than I’d expected.
Dave Hill, who was always a star of instinctive lead guitar, has matured, but retained his showman appeal. His cheeky grin, foot-stomping and clambering over speakers belies what we have always known – he is a commensurate musician. His lead guitar reaches pinnacles of tone and texture that prog-rock lovers stand open-mouthed, gaping at. He is a leader and master, and the stage is his circus ring.
Don Powell has always been loud, always on time, always driving forward. What was different at Wolverhampton Racecourse was the way that he not only dictated the speed and direction of the constant salvo of rhythmic beats, but the controlled power in which they were delivered. When the ground trembles beneath your feet, you know it’s going to be a great night … and it was.
‘Goodbye to Jane’ started it all, then it was straight into ‘Take Me Bak ‘Ome’, but these were scene-setters, a statement that this was Slade and this was going to be an evening of Slade music. Don Powell’s ‘Look What You Dun’ was the climax of the first part of a long set that comprised three sections – like a great classical concert, but a different meaning of the word ‘classical’. Don’s track showed his respect for, and encouragement of, Dave Hill’s musicianship, perhaps a statement about their enduring relationship that has lasted 53 years.
The set slowed for Everyday … ‘when I’m away I’m thinking of you’; as the open air crowd sang joyously. Then Coz I Luv You; Run, Run Runaway; Far Far Away; My Baby Left Me; and Mama We’re All Crazee Now. As the finale drew near it was time for Get Down and Get With It, and a succession of encores – My Oh My; Cum On Feel The Noiz; and the timeless, Merry Christmas Everybody.
When I was faced with seeing the band again after all these years, and without Jim Lea, a recognised music maestro, and Noddy Holder, who’s distinctive voice almost fashioned the sound of 70s music, I feared some disappointment. The result was oddly different. Forty years ago there were four different personalities, each displayed through music and their personalities: today Dave and Don are the ‘stars of the show’ and show a musical talent that has been honed and toned over the years.
Mal and John took a back seat – well, it was Slade’s homecoming to Wolverhampton – but they slot easily and comfortably into their roles. What helps is that, while years ago they strutted their stuff as Glam Rock stars, today they let their music do the talking. Mal can be front man, a singer, a guitarist and, where needed, a bassist. John’s bass is simply a part of the man and he makes it sing and delve deep into Don Powell’s rhythms.
What’s really different? Dave Hill no longer wear’s glitter that would confuse the International Space Station – although the drone that buzzed the crowd was a little un-nerving; John does not clamber like a multi-disjointed climber over the stacks like Jim Lea did; and Mal is a little more laid back than Noddy Holder. But today’s Slade is a highly professional, musically talented, outfit that is well worth seeing. Someday they’ll have to call a halt, but there’s a lot of gigs to go before then. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be: it’s got a whole lot more exciting.

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