Jim Lea – a day of love and loud Slade rock

I didn’t go to be entertained; I went to re-connect with a guy I’d known well when we were in our heady 20s. I left touched by genius; by bravery; by the emotion that makes men and women weep; by the thunderous crash, squeal, moan and pound of a guitar wielded by a man who has music in every pore of his wearied body. Jim Lea, musical genius, thank you.
The afternoon in Bilston’s Robin 2 – a venue redolent of 70’s sticky carpets, but now, thankfully, without the lingering fag ash and smoke – was one of those events that ended, not in a stunned silence, but in the gabbling incoherency of people struggling to come to terms with the dream-like reality they’d experienced.
Chronologically it was: a tight-pressed queue for at least two hours; a cathartic, loud DVD that lifted the rafters; a few poems; a question and answer session that de-bunked some of the myths of Slade; and then raw, wonderful music. I should stops there; the memories we hundreds savour will live forever – but I won’t.
The DVD was a masterpiece of hand-held 2002 footage from Mark Smith, with input from Dave Kemp and Nomis Baurley (three, very long term Slade fans) from Jim’s only gig since the end of Slade in 1994. It was raw: there was some gristle, a little bit of fat, but mostly red-running meat – yes, that raw.
Paul Cookson, the poet laureate of Slade, read from his anthology, Touched By The Band Of Nod, and a new poem, penned for this one-off, never to be repeated, occasion.
The lights dimmed and the star of the show, looking a lot fitter for his 68-year, rock ‘n roll career, stepped onto the stage and took his wicker armchair seat next to BBC WM’s Paul Franks.
I could get personal – everybody in that packed auditorium has a personal story of Slade and Jim Lea – and it was wonderful to hear of his love for ‘our’ heroes, including The Beatles and Hendrix, but let’s stick to Jim’s words. Most music fans know about Jim Lea and his musical leadership of Slade – Britain’s biggest band of the 70s – but rumours and stories have mushroomed since the band ‘had run its course as the original foursome’ in 1994. Jim deftly laid out the truth.
Manager Chas Chandler was a big man and teenager Jim was in awe. Nobody disagreed with the near seven-foot-tall giant, and when he told the band they had to write their own songs, the four buckled down. We know that the original pairings for this were Nod and Dave, and Jim and Don, and it worked well (Jim and Don co-wrote Dapple Rose and Look Wot You Dun), but gradually Jim, the youngest member of the band, took over and would take his rough work to Nod so they could work together.
But Slade were not the only writers. Everyday – a melancholy almost ballad beginning – was born when Jim and his wife Louise (they married in 1973 at the height of Slade’s early fame and have been together ever since … very rock ‘n roll!) were having a dinner party. Jim announced that everybody had a song in them, but Louise refused to perform her idea in front of the others. She and Jim went into a separate room and Louise sang: “Everyday, when I’m away, I’m thinking of you”. Now you can understand why such a personal lyric should be between just two people. So does Louise deserve a credit along with husband Jim and Noddy? Yeah, of course.
Most of Jim’s writing took place in a confined space; mostly the toilet! Sometimes the shower! Merry Christmas Everybody, perhaps the best known Slade song and heard by billions worldwide, was down to Jim’s ferocious talent, and the late Chas Chandler’s powerful influence. It was September 1973; it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit in New York; Chas has found out that John Lennon is not using the studio; and Chas wanted a Christmas Number One! The result was that Jim Lea went for a shower and the Slade Christmas song was born within minutes – and none of the band liked it! For some people, success comes stumbling through the door like a drunk; for Jim Lea it is a natural talent that he has nurtured ever since he picked up a toy guitar. Jim’s daughter told him he was autistic. If that’s true, then Jim Lea is a classic savant, with musical ability as his speciality, but he just seems too well-rounded and what an incredible communicator!
There was more, much more, and Jim was in his reminiscent stride until he suddenly leapt to his feet and walked off. Something was happening, but what?
In 2014 Jim was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had been undergoing treatment ever since. The treatment is tiring; it affects his physical strength; and he’ll never sing again like he did. We all knew this … so who was this smiling doppelganger with a black six-string hanging round his neck re-emerging from back stage? That sell-out audience rose as one, cheered as one, clapped like the rat-a-tat of a machine gun, and swooned like the teenagers they used to be.
Cum On Feel The Noize bounced out of the stage. Jim’s guitar reverberated and, after saying he’d need help with vocals, hundreds of voices tried, and failed, to drown his voice. Gudbuy T’ Jane followed, with that driving, resounding beat stripping away the years. That was it; two tracks from a man not in the best of health was surely enough? No. I was taken back to the early 70s; those days of screaming, seat-wetting young girls – and lads – crammed into bulging venues all over the world. We’ll Bring The House Down burst out of the stage and it very nearly did as that audience waved and screamed, shouted and adored their star.
Jim was no longer a pensioner claiming his weekly pay from the Post Office. This was a youngster with a grin that would have swallowed Bilston and eyes so much brighter than any firework on the day. November 5, Bonfire Night 2017, will last forever. Nothing was going to stop James Whild Lea from a final offering, and Mama Weer All Crazee Now took away the last struggling vestiges of middle and old-aged decorum. This was no blast from the past; this was the past being resurrected for the chosen few in the Robin 2.
It was an afternoon of love. Love for the man and his music, and love for each other. It was also love between the original members of Slade. Conjecture, downright lies, and rumours have resonated round the ‘feud’ between the guys: so here was Jim Lea praising Noddy Holder for his work on songs and music, declaring the way he worked happily alongside Dave Hill, and his deep affection for Don Powell. They’ll never play together again as a band, ever, so let’s just be thankful for the music they gave us back then.
The ‘Slade family’ of fans is a wonder to behold. Almost all are middle-aged, some a lot later (with the exception of a ferociously dedicated young lady school teacher and a few others); most of us have taken life’s battering; but standing in a cold queue for most of a Sunday morning, became a joyous reunion. We were not disappointed by the legendary bassman, violinist, lead guitarist, vocalist and phenomenal songwriter that is Jim Lea.
It was a day that will be savoured and remembered. When Slade fans get together we reminisce, and that afternoon in Bilston will live on in our memories.

3 thoughts on “Jim Lea – a day of love and loud Slade rock”

  1. A fantastic piece Dicky, well constructed and I am glad Jim debunked some of the “myths” surrounding him and certain band members. I was sorry I could’nt make it, and more sorry I could’nt see my Slade “family”. Plans are under way for a meeting next year, and I hope you can come along.

    Peace and love


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