December 4, 1970. I’d turned 20 three and a half months ago and was on my way to a gig to see a band I’d heard about – ex-skinheads playing proper rock. It was Slade, and that gig was going to change my life as a music lover.
The crowd at Derby College of Art and Technology was, as always, packed and joyful. So many have left this earth and even the younger ones are older than me now – I avoided adulthood as a bore – but I have vivid memories of just how the Black Country foursome thrilled every one in the audience. Perhaps, Slade did as well. When it came time to record Slade Alive, still the best live album in my opinion, a party from the college was invited to Piccadilly – and I was among them.
My review of that concert was, in retrospect, immature. I don’t remember many of the tracks, with the exception of Born To Be Wild, which was, and remained, the best rendition of a rock classic. There was Comin’ Home and Tudor Baker, both mentioned in the next day’s Derby Evening Telegraph ‘Saturday Page’, along with Knights In White Satin with Jim Lea on violin.
Slade took rock music in their vibrant, hard-worked hands and offered it up as a tribute, and it was gratefully accepted. They were, and remained, totally professional and, despite the Glam Rock of glitter and Dave Hill outrageous costumes, music was always the ultimate priority. They were No 1 several times during the early 70s, not because Dave wrapped himself in tin foil, but because of the band’s exceptional musical ability.
I’d seen some great bands – Chicken Shack, Family, East of Eden, and the full line-up over two days at the Bath Festival – but meeting Slade was the life-changer. If I was in awe after the gig preparing for the usual interview, that was swept away in a salvo of warmth and welcome in the dressing room, followed quickly by banter and mickey taking. These were not just ordinary guys; they’d become firm friends within minutes. A short while later they dubbed me ‘Big Dick from Derby’ – and I have treasured signed albums with that moniker.
The change in my attitude to music crystallised from purely aural understanding to a deeply personal feeling. These guys, plus the amazing roadie and ‘doorman’ Swin, were going to be special – and within a few months they began their legendary time as the greatest UK rock band.
Almost by association I was drawn into Slade’s success. The late middle-aged news editors agreed with every request to accept an invitation to see them and review gigs. I was ‘sent’ to Bardney in Lincolnshire where I experienced pre-gig self-doubt that dissipated as the first chords were struck; I covered the recording of Slade Alive; the Lanchester University gig where Slade handed over to Billy Preston and where Chuck Berry recorded My Ding A Ling; and many more gigs.
But it all stems from that first gig at the college. So today, 50 years on, I can say thank you to Tim Price, who booked the band; Swin, who sadly is no longer with us; and Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill, and especially Don Powell, a powerful friend and one of the world’s most powerful drummers.
If I have any advice for young music lovers today it’s: Avoid adulthood – just keep living the dream of great rock music.