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Q&A: Noddy Holder

With half of the original Slade acting as their own tribute band, their former vocalist reflects on the early days, TV celebrity - and his mission to get people to nibble Nobby's Nuts.

It’s difficult to imagine life without Noddy Holder of Slade fame. From the ear-splintering holler of ‘Baby-baby-BAAA-BY!’; to the mizspelt songtitlez; to the never-ending stream of smash hits in the 70s; to the time- honoured cavort-with-your-granny festivities of Merry Xmas Everybody... this glam-rock icon with his Dickensian side-whiskers, calf-length tartan trousers and mirrored top-hat is part of the fabric of British society. One half of the original group (guitarist Dave Hill and drummer Don Powell) is still active as Slade II, but Holder officially left with bassist Jim Lea in the early 90s. Since then Noddy has forged a career as a radio DJ, Grimleys TV actor and all-round celebrity. He gained an MBE in the Millennium New Year’s honours list. “It was for services to music, not spelling or grammar,” he laughs. Now promoting a new range of snacks called Nobby’s Nuts, Holder reminisced about his crazee career.

You were a skinhead band, Ambrose Slade, before you became plain ol’ Slade. But before that, even, you were called The N’Betweens.                                           

When we were The N’Betweens we wangled a six-week residency in the Bahamas. This was 1968. We played in the black area of the island where the tourists went for cabaret. There were fire-eaters, belly dancers, limbo dancers – and us. It was quite an experience. We’d been used to playing scrag-holes in the Black Country.

There was a midnight curfew when the tourists had to go back to their area of the island but we’d stay on stage until four in the morning and play to the black crowd. We did loads of James Brown stuff, because I could more or less imitate his voice. We did Sam & Dave, Temptations, Stevie Wonder... We thought we were going to die on our arses but they loved us. We ended up staying in the Bahamas for 18 weeks. They couldn’t get rid of us.

It was a big leap from that to Ambrose Slade, and then Slade. We came back to Britain with a whole new show. In the Bahamas we’d picked up records from American tourists that hadn’t been released in Britain – Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf being one of them. We were playing a lot of Amboy Dukes stuff as well.

Notorious music biz svengali Kim Fowley was a supporter of The N’Betweens.        

We played a gig in London at Tiles Club in Soho. We saw this long streak of piss in the middle of the crowd with a cowboy hat on, doing all this hippy dancing. We thought: “What the fucking hell’s that?” It was Kim Fowley. He came backstage and said: “What I like about you guys is, you’re different. You’re going to be big stars. You project.” We made a single with him, a version of The Young Rascals’ You Better Run.

But we decided not to get too involved with him when we found out that he wanted us to go to America and pretend to be Van Morrison and Them, who had just recently split up. A typical Fowley stunt.

Did you ever meet Fowley again?

Well, he did a cover of Mama Weer All Crazee Now with The Runaways. We hadn’t seen him for years and we bumped into him in Munich. He was always wisecracking; always on the scam. We asked him: “What are you doing here?” He said: “I’m producing an album for [1972 Eurovision Song Contest winner] Vicky Leandros!”

Slade were a big influence on Kiss.

Gene Simmons has admitted that Kiss took Slade’s show to its furthest extreme. He obviously saw in us the makings of what became the Kiss phenomenon.

Simmons once said: “Before Slade, no one really knew shit about how to make an audience riot.” Before us it was just girl screamers at Beatles and Rolling Stones concerts. It was part of the whole package of Slade to send people berserk. But it wasn’t screaming girls – it was all lads. We were probably the first uproaring laddo act.

Slade flopped in America though.

That’s bollocks. We didn’t have big hit singles but we didn’t bomb. We could top the bill at 20,000-seaters and sell them out. People used to add us to their bill to shift tickets. ZZ Top were a huge act in the south, where they could outdraw Led Zeppelin, but in the northern states they didn’t mean dick shit. They put us on their bill to bring the crowds in. This is before beards – ZZ Top were a cowboy band.

We toured with Santana – can you imagine Slade and Santana? Here’s another line-up for you: we were top of the bill, King Crimson were second and The Strawbs opened. One of the funniest lines I ever heard from was from [King Crimson guitarist] Robert Fripp. King Crimson were playing their set and all the Slade fans were shouting: “Boogie! Boogie!” And Fripp’s just playing this weird stuff that goes ‘bloop-de-bloop-de-bloop’. So he walks up to the mic and says [adopts posh English voice]: “We have no intention of boogying.”

Slade also impressed Kurt Cobain.

I only found out about that recently. Cobain had been to a gig of ours as a very young kid and he was quoted as saying we were a massive influence on him.

Cobain said he admired you because “Slade were a band that would never bend over”. 

I know what he meant. We wouldn’t bend in America. If we’d’ve bent we probably would’ve been bigger than we were. But we wouldn’t toe the corporate American line.

After your amazing string of No.1 hits in the 70s, Slade’s career fizzled out. But you made a remarkable comeback at the 1980 Reading Festival.

It was the second time that sort of thing happened. Our first breakthrough from Top Of The Pops to being a respected concert-tour act came at the Lincoln Festival in 1972 .We stormed it – and the Beach Boys had to follow us. Stanley Baker, the actor, was the festival’s promoter; he was a big music fan. For our encore we got Stanley on stage and played the Zulu theme from the movie he was in. Everyone went wild.

What about Reading in 1980?

Ozzy couldn’t do it; his Blizzard Of Ozz wasn’t ready. We were the last-minute replacements. We’d virtually split up because we’d become unfashionable in the punk era. We didn’t even have backstage passes – we had to park in the public car park and walk through the crowd to get to the backstage area, carrying our guitars.

We were supposed to go on after Def Leppard but Leppard said: “Slade have had their day, we demand to go on after Slade.” That was probably the worst move of their career. We tore the place apart. Then Leppard made it even worse – they went on stage and the first thing they said was: “You’ve heard the crap, now you’re going to hear the good stuff.” The sky just filled with cans and bottles.

Slade are one of the few bands to have survived the glam/glitter days with their reputation intact.                                    

There was a period certainly in the 80s when everybody thought the 70s were a bit of a joke. But Slade now seem to be looked upon with a good deal of reverence. People are finally realising the 70s were great.                                                   

NODDY GOES NUTS                                  

You’re promoting a new range of snacks called Nobby’s Nuts. Jamie Oliver probably wouldn’t approve...

Why not? Nuts are very healthy. Everybody should eat more nuts, quite frankly. They’re very good for you. And these are flavoured nuts as well. Nobby’s Nuts are more aimed at the drinking market – they’re nice to have with your beer or alcoholic beverage. They’re great-tasting nuts. And crisps. Just be careful you don’t overdose on them. Anything is fine in moderation.

CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE - SLADE

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