Tribute or aficionado – Slade’s battle of the bands

‘Tribute’ or ‘devoted fan’? There lies the rub with bands that make a living out of past music. Slade, arguably the greatest pop band of the early 1970s, are a case in point. I had the lucky opportunity to hear both a recognised tribute band, Slade UK, and a trio of musicians who simply love the music. Pouk Hill Prophetz. To use a football analogy, it was just a score draw: maybe 3-3.
The event was the Slade 50 Years Convention at the aptly named Slade Rooms in their home city, Wolverhampton. The crowd were mixed. Well, there were a couple of teenagers, but most were children of the 50s and 60s. For many their musical awakening came in the shape of Noddy Holder bellowing Baby, Baby, Baby, down a mike, Dave Hill’s screaming guitar solos on top of critically high boots and weird costumes, Jim Lea’s brilliant and dextrous bass, violin, piano and song-writing, and Don Powell, a drummer who kept it all together and established a reputation for being the world’s loudest drummer.
What we have to understand is that the music of Slade is, beneath the throbbing amplifier, subtle, often melodic, sad and poignant, and deserves wide respect. The band were four individual characters who, for many years, actually liked and respected each other, even if they were living cheek by jowl everywhere in the world, 24 hours a day. Which brings me back to the battle between ‘tribute’ and ‘fan’.
Pouk Hill Prophetz are three guys – Nigel Hart, bass and lead vocals; Trevor West, drums; and Martin Brooks, lead guitar and vocals – who don’t get much chance to practice together, but are obviously diligent in their separate skills and talents. They work hard recreating the Slade music that they fall prostrate at the feet of.
At the Convention, the Prophetz had two sets. During the afternoon they eschewed amplifiers and electronics and performed an acoustic set that sent jaws dropping floor-wards. Precise chords, notes and cadences were followed almost religiously and one track stood out: Far, Far Away, a heart-rending anthem to the music of its era. Is it a love letter from a man to his at-home girlfriend? Is it an embracing paean for the whole of the rock music’s touring life? The absence of volume concentrated listening minds on the lyrics, and they really are clever.
Later, in the dark theatre, redolent of those 70s clubs that are tragically disappearing 40 and 50 years on, the Prophetz switched on the electrics and turned up the volume. Let’s state, categorically, that the musicianship was unquestionably of the highest standard, and let’s explore the spectacle. Nigel Hart augments a cheeky, happy attitude with bandana, perfectly trimmed goatee and dark glasses that make him stand out as the band’s ‘character’. Trevor West is one of those drummers you’d be happy to hear solo. He keeps it tight, reins in any excesses and drives the whole thing forward. Martin Brooks has assiduously honed his lead guitar skills around the numbers written by Jim Lea and he is note-perfect. He speaks many languages and his instrument does the talking.
In conclusion, the Prophetz are not a tribute band. Instead they carry the torch for a genre of music that was first lit by Slade and carried aloft all over the world.
Slade UK are a tribute band. The lead singer, if you close your eyes after a few pints, could be Noddy Holder. The drummer tackles probably the hardest task with aplomb. Emulating Don Powell is a tough task and those skills cannot be fudged or hidden: you either hit the skins and metal like Don or you don’t, and Slade UK make a very good fist of it. The lead guitarist dressed like Dave Hill (if a large bull elephant can be attired like Dave Hill!), but the problem is that Dave Hill is, I believe, one of the best, naturally-gifted guitarists with the innate ability to understand what the creator of the music actually wants of him. Being a showman is a big role, but it’s not the only one.
Where this tribute band really works is in the musical skills of the ‘real’ guitarists. The young lead and the bassman/pianist are enthralling in their talent: it’s rather like watching Top of the Pops, when the guys on stage are miming (not the vocals), while the real hard work is being done by the unsung heroes nearly in the wings.
Slade UK sound like Slade, that is not questioned, but Slade fans who listen carefully and closely to the band’s albums for hour upon hour – and there are some who do – will want more than the basic similarities. They want the subtlety, the quiet passion, the deep love and affection. Music appreciation is a very subjective matter, very opinionated: for me, I’d rather listen to Pouk Hill Prophtez.

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