YOU BOYZ MAKE
Glam-Rock Ikon – or Xmas Turkey?
‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ of turning pages
as NODDY HOLDER does a Literary Tour
to promote his autobiography,
telling tales of Phil Lynott, Oasis, Gary Glitter,
Glam-Rock Excess, “MERRY XMAS EVERYBODY”,
and Suicidal Groupies.... while
tags along. CRAZEEEE...!!!!!
CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE
... OF TURNING PAGES
Two desk-mikes. Red-back Noddy-books in anticipatory piles. A polished table adjacent to the History/Modern History section of the largest bookshop in Yorkshire. And Naomi – in delectably contoured ‘BORDERS’ T-shirt, spikes of hair and black-rimmed glasses, obviously flailing out of her depth when faced with publicly interviewing an amiable icon of an age before she was even born. Behind them, as she fiddles with bits of paper that other staffers have suggested her questions on, there’s a poster for Simon Clark’s exquisitely nasty horror novel ‘The Fall’. Another poster announcing. Terry ‘DISKWORLD’ Pratchett’s signing-visit to this very same bookshop. And in front of her, a patiently waiting block of Slade fans. “Which current CD do you listen to, Noddy?” she begins. “Macy Gray’s ‘On How Life Is’, best album of the year, in my ‘umble opinion” he comes back – live in person, with sideburns, to a mild swell of approval. Naomi smiles nervously, obviously encouraged by her success, and ventures ‘If I said to you ‘Who’s Crazee Now?’, who would you nominate? “You for a start” he teases, “and probably this lot for coming tonight” – indicating the audience, drawing them into the joke. “But Crazee bands? Jamiroquai – he’s crazy. Fun Loving Criminals – like ‘em, but they’re on another planet. And Geri Halliwell. She’s definitely lost the plot.”
So they muddle through, until in a final act of desperation Naomi suggests “alright Noddy, now is there anything You want to ask Me?” He grins mischievously, pulls a lascivious expression. “What colour knickers are you wearing, Naomi?” “NODD-EEE HOLDER!!!!” she gasps in polite shock, before throwing him over to the assembled fans. Lenny is first up. He has a tired Autumn 1972 Tour programme printed red-on-black. Thin Lizzy. Suzi Quatro – and Slade. “First gig I ever saw” he gushes. Noddy smiles indulgently as he sips his Britvic Clear Tonic Water. And signs it. Behind him, Michael has an original gatefold red ‘Slade Alive’ (1972) vinyl album to sign. “How’s the book selling?” he asks. Noddy brightens. “Went in the book charts at no.50” he chirps, “now it’s up to no.24”
Phew…!!! Avarice. Pride. Sloth. Lust. Gluttony. Wrath... and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Noddy’s autobiography ‘Who’s Crazee Now?’* tells it all, travelling from his childhood in the Black Country, through his pre-Slade scuffing bands during the sixties – into Glam-Rock and its aftermath. And this literary tour is designed to promote the book through local radio chat-slots, bookshop talks and signings. Right now he’s in Leeds, down from Macclesfield. And it’s my turn. So come on Nod – be honest, how can this tame literary slog compare with the insane anarchy of a Rock ‘n’ Roll tour? “It’s absolutely different to Rock ‘n’ Roll tours. A lot more civilised” he gags with a shocked expression. “But I’ve enjoyed everywhere we’ve been. And yes, I’ve been asked some STRANGE questions, but nothing I can’t cope with.” So try this on for size – there’s a lot about Rock ‘n’ Roll in your book, but very little sex and drugs. Does that mean that sex and drugs didn’t happen, or just that you’re not admitting to it? “There wasn’t drugs in our career” he straight-faces. “Slade weren’t a druggy band. We were a Boozing band. So we never got into that side of the business. We saw too many fatalities among our mates that were doing it. I mean – they were dropping like flies in the seventies. And we were – in a way, too PROFESSIONAL to go that same way. When we were doing an album, or a gig, we were always very focused, we were always on the money. We never partied until the job was done. Then we’d go overboard. But we certainly wasn’t going to let the partying be the main part of our life.”
And sex? “When you’re in a successful band you obviously have a lot of female followers chasing you around. And when you’re young you make the most of it, don’t you? You’d be daft not to, wouldn’t you? But people think it’s all fun and frolics, which generally it is. But the public only get that one side of it, there’s a downer side too. You’ve got to be careful, certainly in America. I had this one girl who followed me everywhere, today you’d call her a Stalker, but of course they weren’t called Stalkers in those days. One day we did a show in Philadelphia and drove back to New York. And when I got back to my hotel she was actually in my bedroom. She’d bribed the hotel maid to get in. I said ‘You’re going to have to leave.’ She starts crying and all that business, then she says ‘can I use the toilet before I go?’ And I say ‘Yeah’. So she locks herself in the toilet. Twenty minutes – she still hasn’t come out. I’m banging on the door. No sign of her. So I call our tour manager – Swin, we break in, and she’d slit her wrists. There was blood everywhere. We had to call the paramedics. She survived. But that’s the other side of the coin. People throw themselves at you, put their lives on the line for you, so you have to be very careful how you treat them. These things happen. It’s frightening. It’s great being a Pop Star, being mobbed and all that, and I don’t regret a minute, but when you’re at the centre of it all, it can be very scary too.”
Did you ever throw a TV out of a Hotel window? “No. And I’ve never met a band that HAS. It’s a myth. Probably younger bands do it now because they heard somewhere that bands used to do it, so now they feel if you’re in a band you’re SUPPOSED to do it! But sure, we did our fair share of damage, wrecking rooms now and again, but we always paid for it.” So what was your greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll excess? “I drove a car into a swimming pool once. Not my own I might add” he erupts into raucous laughter. “And not on purpose. I was under an excess of drink in this hotel car-park, the throttle slipped, I went over an embankment and the car ended up in the pool. That’s probably the worst thing that ‘appened to me.” Right. Ho-Hum. So – and this one’s for Naomi, what colour Boxer-shorts are you wearing Noddy? Now it’s HIS turn to look just a little coy. “Erm... I don’t wear Boxers, Darlin’” he manages eventually in contrived-camp.
Slade – of course, are the quintessential early-seventies band. Rock ‘n’ Roll without brakes. Sartorial atrocities and rampant innuendo delivered at mega-echo volume. Shiny mirrored hits and more bacofoil that an entire Wal-Mart hyper-store chain. Their “Coz I Luv You” knocked Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” off the no.1 slot in November 1971, to be deposed by... Benny Hill’s “Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West”. Crazzee times?!?!?! But yeah, yeah – whatever, the first half of the seventies was a pretty stupid time, agreed? Old Hippie bands getting older, hairier, and more tediously self-indulgent. While all the young Dudes too new “to get off on the Beatles and the Stones” were busy aggravating their acne by sticking sequins all over their stupid faces. But hey, Pop without morons is like Capitalism without victims, or Catholicism without Hell. And if Marc Bolan was this generation’s new Beatles, then Slade were their new Stones. Only louder. Cruder. And more un-pretty.
Listen to the 21-track ‘Slade Greatest Hits: Feel The Noize’ (1997) compilation now, and it’s a solid wall of loutish volume with bass-lines repeatedly kicking you in the head with the intensity of repetitive brain-injury. From the straight-ahead Rock cover that started it all, “Get Down And Get With It” laced with Little Richard keyboard runs, into the Pure Pop madness of twelve top five hits, six of them no.1’s with football-chant choruses and graffitiised-titles threatening to corrupt the spelling of a generation. Even a ballad like “How Does It Feel” gets a dirty guitar riff slashed across it, while the reflective “Far Far Away” opens with a demented Don Powell drum barrage erupting into a vocal delivered at full frontal tonsil-mangling volume. Later there’s the 1980’s post-Reading Festival metal-revival with “We’ll Bring The House Down”, and the mature anthemic “My Oh My” – which not only became a no.2 hit here in 1983, but also Slade’s biggest ever Top 5 USA hit. And all that’s before you even get to mention “Merry Xmas Everybody” which alone entered the Top 20 no less than seven times. The lives and times of Slade are wondrous tales indeed... but never before have we heard it from Nod’s own gob. Until now.
WALKING ON WATER –
RUNNING ON ALCOHOL
Today, Noddy’s sideboards are sparser, his outfit less flamboyant – purple shirt, long black drape jacket, stretch-side black boots, with his gold-rimmed spectacles worn on a Larry Grayson black expander-twine around his neck. Neville ‘Noddy’ Holder grins. “I was born being rowdy... I was screaming when I hit daylight”. His thick Midlands accent intact all the way from Walsall – just north of Brum, “the opening credits of ‘CORONATION STREET’ always remind me of Newhall Street” he says, getting nostalgic for the tin-bath in front of the fire and the outside lav. He saw Little Richard ‘with his bouffant hair, banging away on the piano’ in the 1956 ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ movie, and “I didn’t think Rock ‘n’ Roll could get any better”. Later, he got to see that same Little Richard headlining at the Wolverhampton Gaumont, with support from The Everly Brothers... and the Rolling Stones.
And soon, early Slade line-ups were moving in a star-system of other stalled sixties launches. Bolan, Rod Stewart and Elton John were all hanging out with routine loser sixties bands that never quite made the grade, all relentlessly gigging, all waiting for that first big career-break, and Noddy’s pre-chart history follows pretty much the same contours. While around this time, as part of the proto-Slade ‘N’Betweens Noddy made his first German trip to play ‘The Star Club’, a venue so wild that the waiters packed guns. It was here he ran into fellow wannabe Paul (Gary Glitter) Raven – ‘a Rocker in lots of leather with an Elvis-style quiff’. Living in red-light Keil, north of Hamburg on a diet of Glitter-recommended pea-and-ham soup the band were ‘farting all week’.
Then came the hits – and new associations. That Autumn 1972 tour with Slade supported by Thin Lizzy, for example. “Yeh, they supported us a couple of times, in America as well. Phil Lynott was a madman. Towards the end of that American tour he actually caught hepatitis, the –whatcha-callit, the contagious sort? We didn’t know until the tour was more or less finished. But when he went back to New York he was diagnosed with it, so everybody who’d been in contact with him on the tour had to have tests, all the bands and road-crew. Then we all had to have shots. They lined us up in a big row, we all had to drop our trousers, and there was this hideous sight of the bands and road crew showing their arses, and all having this hepatitis injection. Not a pretty sight, as you can imagine. And that was all Phil’s fault. Which we never let ‘im forget!”
Slade were always a strange band. Bass-player Jimmy Lea – a quiet, creative, formally trained violinist and the perfect song-writing foil to Noddy (‘to be honest, I think he would rather have been in Led Zeppelin than Slade’). Gum-chewing Don Powell on drums. Noddy. And Dave Hill on guitar, always the most outrageously flamboyant member of Slade, the SuperYob ‘Metal Nun’ in his all-over silver leather costumes. “Yeh. He was a constant source of amusement for us. His stage-gear was never intended to be a great fashion statement.” But unlike Ziggy Bowie or Bopping Elf Bolan, and despite Dave’s flirtation with his ‘feminine side’, Slade were never gender-transcenders. During their second TV appearance – promoting their single “Shape Of Things To Come” on ‘Top Of The Pops’, Dave was jealous of Elton John, also debuting, “because he thought Elton would end up pulling all the girls. How wrong can you be?”
And outrage has always been a part of Rock ‘n’ Roll anyway. Little Richard was doing it in the 1950’s... “sure. Little Richard was doing it. But even before that, the comedian Max Miller was doing it. A lot of the influences for various bits of stuff I wore later on, came from Max Miller. They were all seeds that had been planted when I was a little kid. You get it in every era of Show-Biz. You take a little bit here, a little bit there from somewhere else. Which happened in Glam-Rock just the same. Nothing’s new. Everything comes around from something else. I mean, a lot of Glam-Rock stuff, certainly the platform shoes and that came from the 1930’s. The Flappers were wearing those sort of shoes back then – in their own way. You just turn it on its head and give it a new lease of life. At the end of 1975/’76 everybody was saying platforms, bell-bottoms and flares would never be worn again. But here they are. They’re back. Now everybody’s doing it again...”
But at the height of Glam, wasn’t there ever a time when Noddy looked at himself in the mirror and thought “what the hell am I doing dressed like this?!?!?!?” “No. Never. I mean – it was all a big piss-take. We even used to take the mickey out of each other. We never looked on it as anything other than a lot of fun. Probably the only one in the band who wasn’t into all the dressing up part of it was Jimmy. It wasn’t him at all. He went along with it because he had to. But it wasn’t his bag. And he’ll admit it. He wanted more of that ‘serious musician’-type-thing. With the other three it was different, we weren’t interested in that at all.” But I’d always interpreted the lyrics of “Cum On Feel The Noize” – a song later revived by Oasis, as an answer to hostile critics. After all, Noddy is singing ‘so you think I’ve got an evil mind? well you should know better... so you think my singing’s out of time? well it makes me money’. Was I right? “Erm – no, it was more a statement than a come-back to the critics. We never had no problems with critics really, they were never harsh. Although they never took us seriously as a band. As serious musicians. We realised that at the time. They thought we was just disposable Pop, which all Pop is in a way. But now people look back and realise we wrote some classic Pop songs and made some classic Pop records. Oasis covered “Cum On Feel The Noize”, and it was good. I like it – it helps keep the band’s name alive, and the Slade back-catalogue too. It’s made me a few bob, so I’m not complaining. I went to see Oasis when they played Maine Road, Manchester. They invited me up to see the show and Noel Gallagher actually sent Meg – his missus, up to the place where I was watching them to take a photo of me just to see my reaction when they did that song. They did “Cum On Feel The Noize” as the encore and she took my picture. It was great – 40,000 kids going mad to a song me and Jimmy had written twenty-odd years before, y’know? It shows the song is still valid. So now we’ve got the recognition we deserve. It’s took us twenty-odd years to get that recognition, but it’s come eventually.”
Yet bizarrely, “Merry Xmas Everybody” is probably Slade’s most enduring contribution to chart history. “Yes, it’s probably the one everybody will always think ‘THIS IS THE ONE’, even though I personally don’t think it’s the best record we ever made. Funnily enough it doesn’t actually get re-released. It’s just never been deleted. It’s been on sale continuously for twenty-six years, it just goes on and on and on. Yet I wrote that lyric all in one night! I’d been down the pub, got a bit pissed up, couldn’t drive ‘ome. So I stayed over at mi Mam’s ‘ouse. I’d already got the first two lines – ‘are you hanging up your stockings on the wall’, but I wanted to get the rest finished. Me Mam’d got a little bottle of whisky in the sideboard. So I sat down at one o’clock in the morning, got that bottle out, and by four or five I’d finished all the lyrics to the song. I’d set out to get a Working Class Christmassy-type feel to it. So I thought of all the Working Class Christmassy-type things I could think of to cram into the song. And probably two of the best lines lyrically that I ever did are in that song. Which are ‘does your Granny always tell you that the old songs are the best, then she’s up and Rock ‘n’ Rolling with the best’ – and we’ve ALL ‘ad it. Your Granny comes round at Christmas. You put a new record on and she says ‘ah, that stuff’s not as good as it was in my day’. But give ‘er a couple of sherry’s and she’s up and twisting and showing her knickers. It happens in every family. It’s those sort-of things I wanted to capture. And I think it works. Yet if you listen to the record, there are no Christmas gimmicks on it, no sleigh-bells, no jingle-bells at all. The only thing Christmassy about it are the lyrics. It’s a straightforward Pop-Rock song, that happens to be about Christmas. It’s probably the only Christmas hit that’s ever been like that. And funnily enough – in France, it got to no.1 at Easter!”
Aren’t you sick of hearing it? “No. I’m PROUD of it. When I hear it on the radio, or in a Club or a Pub today, it doesn’t sound dated to me, it still sounds quite fresh. It stands the test of time, which is the test of a good Pop record. And it still sells every year, so it’s a nice little pension for us too. I think Jimmy’s sick of it. But he still takes the royalty cheques. The only thing that pisses me off is when I’m doing my Christmas shopping and it’s on in every store you walk into – there it is, BLARING out, and everybody’s looking at me, pointing and going (in comic voice) “that’s him, he made that record!!!” That DOES get a bit embarrassing. But I’ve lived with that for twenty-six years now, and my ears tend to block it out. But it’s a great record and I think it’s got a fondness in everybody’s heart. They know Christmas is here when they start hearing that record!”
SEVEN YEAR (B)ITCH
A guy from local band Neon shoves a copy of their CD ‘Heroes’ across the table at Noddy. “We’re playing ‘THE ADELPHI’ tonight. Why don’t you come and see us?” “I might just do that” lies Noddy. Then in an aside to me, “you’ve got to do that. When you’re in a band you’ve got to shove yourself.” But during those long early Slade and pre-Slade days wasn’t there ever a time when you thought it wasn’t going to happen, that you were never going to make it? “We-e-e-ell, it obviously crosses your mind. But we always had amazing confidence. We were cocky little gits. It was only a matter of time. We knew we’d got the goods to do it. It was just a case of having the right record at the right time to get the breaks. But we had no doubt in our minds that we would break through at some point. And that when we did break through it would snowball for us. We had that sort of youthful cockiness to think that we were the best band in the land. And you’ve got to have that confidence. You’ve got to have that level of self-belief.” As Blur say it, Confidence is a preference. But Slade always came across as a highly motivated band. “We were very highly motivated. But you have to be if you want to get into the Rock ‘n’ Roll business. If you go into it with the intention of making a fast buck, if all you want is quick killing – nothing’s going to happen, it’s not going to work. It certainly wouldn’t in those days, and I don’t think it will today. We always looked on it – me in particular, as a long-term thing, a long-term proposition. And that’s why we stuck at it as a band for so long. We had the same line-up together for twenty-five years. NO band has ever achieved that, with the same line-up for that long. There’s none. There’s bands that’ve been going for twenty-five years – but not with the same line-up.” So will you go and see Neon tonight? “No. I’ll be gone by then. But I will listen to the CD.”
And will there be new Noddy Holder recordings? “I don’t know, people keep asking me, but I haven’t planned anything. After I did a couple of acoustic songs in the last TV series of ‘The Grimleys’ all the record companies were coming onto me to do an album. But that would mean getting used to the corporate structure of the business again. And it’s awkward for me to take that on board. ‘Cos I’m a bolshie so-and-so. You get record company A&R men who are – like, twenty-five, and they’re telling ME what to do, as though I’m a new artist and I don’t know what I’m talking about! And I have to say – LOOK! – I’ve been in the Music Business for over thirty years!... I’ve been through the mill a few times. I know the structure of things, and how things work. But honestly, this year’s been chock-a-block. I spent the first part of the year writing the autobiography. I delivered it to the publishers, and the next day I started out on three months filming for ten new episodes of ‘The Grimleys’. After which I started out on the book promotion. But I would like at some point to go into the studio and record, as a solo project. I’m hoping I’ll have time to write some new stuff next year, and then maybe record it the year after. But at the moment I’m just happy doing the things I’m doing. I’m acting with ‘The Grimleys’. I’ve written the book. I’m doing a lot of music for TV-adverts, I’m doing voice-over stuff. I’ve got my own radio show in Manchester. So I’ve got all these things going on. And I know what makes me feel right. Even if I don’t sell one copy or not one person watches it. I can’t help that. That’s out of my control. It’s not a case of how many records I sell or whatever. It’s more at the end of the day if I think I’ve done that work to the best of my ability – and if I think it’s turned out good, then – to me, I’m successful.”
Naomi shuffles the few remaining unsold, unsigned red-back Noddy-books into a neat pile, and bins the empty Britvic bottle, as Noddy watches the last of the Slade fans contentedly dispersing through the History/Modern History section and back out into the Leeds Briggate precinct beyond. His book is not a complex one. There’s little depth or insight. But he can be a man of unexpected contradictions. A curious oscillation between bragging bombast, and the consideration to care about the sensitivities of the groupies who once demanded his carnal attentions. A one-time Glam-Rock animal who played to a sold-out Earls Court Stadium, yet is now happy to perform to a rabble of fifty fans in a bookshop and enjoy their uncritical adulation. He once wrote a song that went ‘many years from now there will be new sensations, and new temptations... many years from now, there will be new tomorrow’s, How Does It Feel?’ It seems that now those new tomorrow’s are here he’s quite content to simply enjoy them.
* “WHO’S CRAZEE NOW?: MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY”
by NODDY HOLDER (with LISA VERRICO)
(Ebury Press, £16.99, ISBN 0-09-187075-5)
Interview originally published in:
‘HOT PRESS Vol.24 no.1’ (Feb 2000)
‘G.C. ROCKS no.8’ (UK - March 2000)