Transcript: Transcript Noddy Holder: The Iconic Voice of ’70s Rock Band Slade

Welcome to A Breath of Fresh Air with Sandy Kaye.



Hello and thanks for being here. I’m so happy you could join me. This week’s guest is someone I’ve been chasing for a very long time. You’ve asked for him repeatedly, so I’m really excited to finally be able to bring you our chat. He’s the legendary rock singer songwriter Noddy Holder, who rose to fame as the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the band Slade. One of the most successful british groups of the seventies, Noddy’s known worldwide for his distinctive voice, flamboyant outfits and catchy anthems, many of which he co wrote. He’s a cancer survivor for the last five years and remains the epitome of optimism, happy, effervescent, and so very willing to spin a yarn or two.



Hi there.



Hello, Noddy. How are you?



I think I’m doing pretty well for my age, considering the lifestyle of that as a rock and roller for. I was on the road for over 30 years, 70 years, actually. I’ve been performing on stage. I made my first appearance age seven.



You were that interested in being a performer from when you were a little boy?



Yeah. Yeah. My dad was an amateur singer around the midlands, where I was brought up. We used to have, on a Sunday night, our local club in our local hometown of Worsley. They’d have what was called free and easy. You’d call it karaoke now, but anybody could get up and do any sort of act. And my dad used to get up and sing. And then one Sunday night, out the blue, he called me up on stage because he knew I could sing around the house. I was seven years old and the number one hit record in the charts in 1953 at that time was the song I believe. I believe for every drop of rain that falls. But the version was by Frankie Lane, American country and western singer. Back in the day, it was number one at the charts in UK. And my dad knew I could sing that song because I’d sang it around the house.



I used to hold little concerts in the backyard. We had three houses onto our backyard. And I used to charge the local kids at old Penny to come and see my puppet show and me sing. So I was an entrepreneur, even those days. And my dad called me up on stage at this free and easy night and he said, I want you to sing a song. And all the audience were sort of clapping. They hadn’t heard me yet. I was a wee little thing. I was very tiny for my age. And I said, well, what can I sing? And he said, do you know, I believe to the piano playing? He says, yeah, of course. And he said, sing, I believe. So I sang, I believe in a sort of soprano y type voice. And because it was number one on the chart and I did sing it well, the audience went berserk at the end. Not only took the roof off the place, and of course I loved it. It was the first taste of applause. And then it was downhill all the way after that. I just wanted to get up every week and sing a song, which I generally did. And then about 1959 60, I formed my first band at school and started to play working men’s clubs, youth clubs, those sort of places with a little abbot abandoned. They were called the Rocking Phantoms. So I did always want to be an entertainer. I’ve never had musician on my passport. I’ve always had artists because I like to do a bit of everything, you know, singing, comedy, acting, adverts, radio. So I have artists on my passport.



Right. Is it true that you used to drive your dad’s window cleaning van and pick up Robert plant and take him to giggles?



Yeah. When? In the early to mid sixties. Robert’s local band that he was in at the time was a band called Listen. And they never had a van to run to get around their gigs in. They hardly had equipment sometimes. And so when my band, this is before what became Slade, I was in another band before that, when we were working and listen wanted a van, I’d rowdy for them. I’d drive my dad’s window cleaning van and drive planty and the rest of the van to whatever geek they got on. So we were quite good pals because we played in the same sort of venues. Robert used to come and see us a lot when we became the in betweens. And Ambrose Slade, before he joined what was the new yard birds that then up then, of course, became Led Zeppelin. They did a four day sting in Earl’s court in London. I think it was about 74, 75 Zeppelin. And he invited me and the band to one of the shows the one night. And we were sitting like up the size near the stage. I mean, we were huge, huge in Europe at that point. And Robert said, I’d like to do this song for my ex roadie, Noddy Holder. He’s sitting up in the. In the stalls, there’s. And all the crowd cheered. And he said, I’m going to play one of Zeppelin’s favourite songs for him then. And they played Kashmir for me, which I love.




Well, I was in a couple of bands before that. I was in the rocking Phantoms, who morphed into a band called the Memphis Cutouts then. And then a local name who was on tv was a guy called Steve Brett. He had a weekly tv show on the local tv station in the Midlands, and he saw us play one night. He asked us to be his new backing band. We became then Steve Breton and the new Mavericks. And I knew Don from playing all the venues around the Midlands. And he used to come and see my band play quite regular. And his best pal was a guy called Graham Swynnerton. Then we were both bands. Me with the Mavericks, them as the in betweens, the early in betweens. We were both going out to do a stint in Germany and on the ferry, although we got to talking, having a drink together. And Don and Dave said, we’re thinking of splitting up the band when we get back. And Don, of course, knew that I could pretty much sing any type of material. And they said, we’d love you to join at the new lineup. So I said to Don and Dave, well, no, I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I’m earning a decent living. And they said, okay, fair enough. So they went off and did their thing, and they did split up when they came back from Germany. And of course, we were the sort of band, the Mavericks, where we could do any sort of material. Steve Brett was doing, like Elvis and Jim Reeves, George Jones country material. But us, his backing band, we used to do half the set ourselves, and we’d be doing r and b material, just rocking mouth.



And everybody calls it the sugar shack while it’s just a coffee house and it’s made out of wood. Expensive coffee tastes mighty good. But that’s not the reason that I gotta get back up to that sugar chef.



The GI’s loved us as a band, and what they do is if we play a request for them, they buy us a bottle of beer, a whiskey chaser. But you couldn’t drink it on stage. You could drink the beer, you could just have a sip of the beer. But you weren’t allowed to drink on the stage. So they’d set it all up, the waiters on a table at the side of the stage. We’d have to polish off the beer and the chasers in our 15 minutes break. Otherwise the waiters would come and clear the booze and go and sell it in the club and pocket the money. So we learned how to drink very, very well in Germany. But when I came back, I had a bit of an argument over money with Steve Breck. I was doing as much work singing as he was, and we had a bit of a row. So I left the band. And just out of an accident, I was walking up in Wolverhampton High street and I bumped into Dave and Don, and they said, well, we still love you to join us. By that time, they’d already auditioned for a new bass player. They’d found Jim Lee, who just left school. It was a good idea what Dave wanted to do as a band. He wanted to have three lead guitar players, two leads and a bass. That would make it all three people playing the same riffs and everything. It was something different. And I said, yeah, well, I wouldn’t mind giving it a try, then see whether it worked right from the off. The first song we played, we sort of niched together and it sounded great. And so I joined them. That was it.



It was called Ambrose Slade, wasn’t it? Eventually became Slade. When did that happen?



Well, we were the In Betweens for two or three years. Then we went to London. We had an audition with a record company and they gave us an album deal. But he didn’t like the name the In Betweens. So he named us Sambro Slade. But then we needed a London agent and a London manager. An agent came along to listen to us in the studio and he brought with him Chas Chandler, who was the bass player in the animals. And he’d also been the man who discovered, managed and produced Jimi Hendrix. And Jimmy had gone back to America. Charles was looking for a band. He liked us. He liked what he heard in the studio. Anybody wanted to see us live, we were really good live band. We had a. We were loud band even in those days. And Chas put us in this little club in London, wasn’t a rock venue at all. And we went down there and he just wanted to come along and see how we got on playing. He come down the stairs and we were halfway through our first set and half the audience were on stage with us, dancing around us and joining in with us. And Chas couldn’t believe this. He signed us as manager the next day. He said, I want to manage it. He said, you’re about to fresh air to everything that’s going around. And that’s how it went. Took us another probably nearly two years before we got a hit record. But he didn’t like the name Ambrose Slade. Let’s make it simple. Knock off the Ambrose. He will call you Slade.



Were you already writing songs yourself at that time?



Very few. We were doing covers mostly at that point. We did start writing at Chaz’s insistence. We had one album out under the name Ambrose Slade, which was beginnings. Then the next album, play it loud, was the first one Chaz produced. We had a lot of the compositions on that one.




After we had our first hit in 71, we get down and get with it. It had been a long, hard slog. We were still building up this massive following live. But then suddenly Charles said, why don’t we put out the song that you finished the act with? And it always goes, astorm. Try and get it down as a record, which was a song called Get down and get with it. It was a cover of a little Richard song. Little Richard was my favourite artist. So we managed to get it down in the studio, got a good feel on it, and the radio started to pick up on it. It climbed the charts very, very, very slowly. But eventually we got on top of the pops with it. And because visually, we were a great band, visually, we just stormed it on top of the pops. And the next day, everybody in the pubs and everywhere were talking about us. It broke the charts.



They were off and running and they rightly thought all their Christmases had come at once.



This is a breath of fresh air with Sandy Kaye. It’s a beautiful day.



As their success grew, the band members started to grow their hair long to look like the rock stars they were quickly becoming. Manager Chas Chandler then insisted they begin to write their own hit songs.



He pointed at me, he said, noddy Jim, you two have got to go away and write a hit single. And we’re. Well, how do you do that? How do you write a hit signal? And he said, I want you to come back to me in a week or two with a hit song. And we went, oh, Blimey, what we going to do here? Anyway? We sat down and went in the dressing room. Before we used to go on stage, we used to tune the electric violin, and we used to play look, a little ditty that was sort of in the style of Django Reinhardt and Stefan Capelli. So we started to jam this tune and I started to sing over the top. Very simple. I won’t laugh at you when you boo hoo hoo because I love you. Didn’t think we were going to stick with those lyrics, but it just worked. And in 20 minutes, we got a complete song. I couldn’t believe it. It’s catchy, but is it a hit song? We went to Chas with it because he demanded. We went to him and we played it him, and Chas said, wonderful. He says, we’re going to record it. He said, I don’t only think you’ve written your first hit. He said, I think you’ve written your first number one. And we went in the studio and we cut it within a day, sounding really good. And we said, but it don’t sound like Slade. It’s not. Got that fact, that slide right on the aftermath of get down and get with it, which was real rowdy, raucous record. And we said, let’s put the same things, the ideas on this as we did on get down and whitworthy. So we went in the corridors at the recording studio and did put on boot stamping, hand clapping and the truck sort of came alive. We Sladified it.



Within two weeks, it was number one on the chart. Actually stormed it on top of the pops. Everybody’s raving. It went to number one and stayed there for four weeks. You know, we were on. It opened the way for us. And just after, because I loved. We brought out a live album, Slayed Alive, which then did break us worldwide. It became a phenomenally successful album for us. We did 13 months on the charts in UK with that album and in Australia it was bigger than the Sergeant Pepper.



Yeah, Noddy Holder. I remember that album so well. Everybody had to have a copy of that.



It was amazing, really, because we recorded their album over three nights in a little studio theatre in the middle of London and the audience, only about, probably three or 400 people in the audience. And we were on such a high because I love you as riding high and did the recording on the Wednesday night, which became the hit album. That really did break us worldwide. But the whole thing, three nights and mixing it, cost us 400 pounds.



Did you have a favourite song on that album?



Well, I do have a soft spot for darling be home soon. It was a John Sebastian song. One of the reasons why. Because in the middle of the song, we come to go back to a quiet bit again and I did a burp. We’d been drinking a lot of beer at the top of the pub that before we went on stage, so I have to get wind up, let’s put it that way. And I kept it on. It could have been erased, obviously, off the track. It became very much a focal point of the song. And if I didn’t do a burp every time we performed it for years after, I had to do a burp or the audience went mad and did it for me.



That’s definitely my favourite track on that album, too. That was the classic slayed album, wasn’t it? You did go on to have so many more hits after that. In fact, in total you had 21 hit singles, 15 albums. With your original lineup, you became really well known for that Christmas song that you wrote every Christmas that’s played well.



It’s 50 years old. It’s got a life of its own. Everybody in Europe knows that song. Me and Jimmy wrote it. It was based originally on a song that I’d written in 1967. What happened earlier that year? Jim’s mother in law the previous Christmas had said to him, why don’t you ever come up with a song like why Christmas? Like Bing cross beginnings, so he can get played every year. And Jim Pooh poohed the idea and then thought, I’m going to take up this challenge that she set me. And he remembered this song that I’d written. It was a song in the hippie dippie psychedelia days called buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by. And the chorus went, so won’t you buy me a rocking chair chair to watch the world go by buy me a looking glass to look me in the EY. I played it to the band and they went, rubbish. So I threw it in the bin. But I never wanted to get rid of stuff. I suppose it was corny, but Jim remembered it, so it must have been a bit catchy. And he got a verse that he hadn’t got a chorus for and he put it together with this old song of mine. So on the night I went to the pub, had a few drinks, went back to my mum and dads and wrote the whole lyrics in one go. I wanted to make it what happens at Christmas. I was having a thing. I’m talking that period, 1973 and the economic situation in UK at that time was minor strikes. Electricians were going on strike, so tv was off at 10:00 at night. Dust men were on strike, bakers were on strike, grave diggers were on strike, country was in total turmoil. The only light at the end of the tunnel was Christmas was coming. You know, one of the lines I came up with was, look to the future now it’s only just begun, because it couldn’t get any worse. Much applies today. I think that’s why it’s still going strong today.



So here it is. Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun look to.



The future now it’s only just begun.



It’s the fastest selling single up to 1973, of any record in the UK, and it’s charted many, many times over the last 50 years again. And we were top of the tree at the time. We’d already had five number ones up to that .2 that year, going straight in at number one. First day of release, which was, come on, feel the noise and squeeze me, please me. So the record company were on our back to bring out a record at Christmas, not necessarily a Christmas song. They wanted a release at Christmas. Unluckily for us, five days after the last show, Don Powell, our drummer, was in a car crash. It was a fatal car crash where his girlfriend was killed. Don was thrown through the windscreen and he was given 24 hours to live, which you could imagine. We were right at the top of the tree, pinnacle of our career, and overnight we were bang, rock bottom, because we didn’t know whether he was going to survive or not. He was in intensive care for probably six weeks and he survived. And the doctor said to him, you either get on the drums now and see if you can still play. If you don’t do it now, you never will get on the drums again. So we decided to take him to America and see if he could still play the drums. So he wasn’t under the spotlight in Europe. He couldn’t taste or smell. He had no memory. He couldn’t remember any of the songs, any of the hits, where he lived, his hometown. He could remember nothing. Nothing at all. And so we took him to the States and we went, booked a recording studio. And the only song we’d written to record was Merry Christmas, everybody. So we decided to try and put that down because it wouldn’t have been too difficult for him to play anyway. Of course, he couldn’t remember the song from start to finish. So what we had to do, we had to record it all in little bits. I couldn’t sing to a basic track because there was no basic track to sing to. We did not have high hopes that it had worked. We went on off on off on tour, then to sort of break don in and see if he could handle playing live for, you know, a couple hours a night. And of course, Don couldn’t remember the stage numbers. While I’m talking to the audience, Jim would be whispering in his ear the intro to the next song. And that’s how we have to work for the next two or three years. We have to work that way.



You had discovered what an awesome songwriter you were. It came quite easily for you.



Oh, no, it wasn’t easy. You did struggle to come up with follow ups all the time. Jim used to panic about it all the time. He was mainly the melody, man. I have that rock and roll approach me. I’m like, what will be will be? And the next song will come by hook or by cook. But the pressure on us at that time, we had to come up with at least three singles a year, at least while we were touring constantly as well.



It’s huge pressure.



Record companies were making a lot of money from us.


00:32:58 You’re only is ever as good as your last single, aren’t you?



You are. That’s very right. You are correct. And the pressure on us was phenomenal. But we prided ourselves as a live band as much as anything else. We knew we made good records, great records, but our forte was live. Everybody who ever saw us never went away unhappy. Even when we came to Australia the first time, I remember it well in those days, it was a 28 hours flight from UK to Australia. And of course, on our first tour there, we didn’t realize what success we’d had there before we got there. We knew we’d done well, but we didn’t know how well. And of course, we were doing all the racing courses in all the big cities, and we’d been drinking. All these four english farms, well, us and Crown and Lindy’s farms, had been drinking on the plane for 28 hours. And we got off the plane in Sydney. And what greeted us, the media there with a barrel load of fosters expecting us to jump in and start drinking. The fosters as soon as we arrived, which we did, of course, we had such a great tour and we didn’t realize Slade Alive had been number one for six months. It was knocked off the number one spot by our next album, which was Slayed, and we had three singles in the charts all at the same time.



You were really riding the crest of a wave at the time. Your egos must have been exploding.



Well, not slightly.



Slade was dominating the charts, often outperforming artists like Sweet T Rex, Susie Quatro, Roxy Music and David Bowie. Quite simply put, they were on fire.



This is a Breath of Fresh Air with Sandy Kaye. It’s a beautiful day.


00:36:07 Speaker D

I’m Noddy Nolder. You’re listening to a breath of fresh air. Yippee.



Slade was so much more than a fun and catchy glam rock band. They proved to be a pioneering and innovative force that paved the way for punk, metal and indie. But as you’re about to hear, it wasn’t always easy for noddy holder to be a rock star.



I do recall a very quirky story about you, that you always travelled while on tour with a set of tools. Tell me about that.



Well, this only came to light for the public about five years ago. Six years ago, I did this tour and it was a q and a show. And this one night we on stage, and I used to carry this little, like, doctor’s bag with me. Mark Radley said to me, he said, what is that bag you carry about with you? Because he’s taking the mickey in case I’ve got something weird in the bag. Is it your drugs or something? I said, no. I said, it’s my toolkit. And he says, what do you mean, your toolkit? And I said, well, to spend time. I hate going in the hotel and there’s things wrong with it. If you’re paying a lot of money for a hotel room and there’s usually something wrong, the wardrobe door is hanging off or the shell curtain or the rail is coming down, there’s always something wrong. Something’s creaking or whatever. And I said, I mend these things while I’m wall. I’m in the room to try and put them right. And he was like, amazed. The audience are amazed at this. And Mark Rudley said to me, you must only be the only rock and roll star in history. Usually they wreck rooms, you repair rooms and leave them in a better condition than when you check in. Well, that was the story of that bag of tools. I mean, I’m outside all the time, but if I’m bored, instead of watching the telly or whatever else you used to do in the hotel room back in the day, I used to get my tool kit out and start repairing the top.



What were some of the other weird questions you got?



Well, I’ll tell you this one. Before the show started, we used to have a big box in the bar where the audience could put questions in the box. Mark would go through the box and see which. What were good questions. He landed them on me unexpectedly. And then we’d also have a roving mic to go around the audience. And the first question was, Susie Quatro, did you? And the audience just went it up?



Right, and what’s the answer?



I’m not telling you. Susie’s a big pal of mine. We had Susie when she first came over to UK. We took her out as opening act on our tour. We have thin Lizzie as the second act, and then we finished the show and we’re talking 50 years on. She still says, you only gave me 15 minutes at the start of the show. I said, but that’s all you knew. You don’t do that. You didn’t know more than 15 minutes, but you got a good reception right on the back of that tour. She got cam. The cam. And that started her career off.



Noddy, you’ve got two books out at the moment. The first one, your autobiography, was Who’s Crazy Now?



Well, they’re quite old now, the books. Yeah, but they are.



People still may want to pick them up. There’s some great stories in there. So the first one came out in 1999, who’s crazy now? And the second one in 2014, called the world according to Noddy. Is there a third one in you?



Well, there is a third one in me, but it’s not. It’s not due yet, but I haven’t quite decided what route I’m going to go for the third one. But the reason I did the world according to Noddy, it was a series of books, actually, and the first one was the publishers had asked John Collins to do it and she did the world according to John Collins and it did very well for the publishers. And they thought the next year they wanted to do someone else doing the same thing and they thought, who’s the other end of the spectrum to John Collins? So they thought, ah, bloody holder. And it was really my take on modern life, what goes on in the modern world as compared to when I was growing? But there’s one out, actually, that I was given, and it’s a book, the guy has put it together, he’s not written, he’s put it a book together of all fans, recollections of gigs they were at. And the book’s called Wild, Wild, Wild. It’s great to read what certain fans thought about you. And it’s very interesting on this one.



You’re getting a whole different perspective on this one.



I’m getting a whole new perspective on what did touch my heart, actually, one fan, and this guy wrote, he came to see us in the later days of the band, before I left in the early nineties, and he come to one of the last shows that we’d done and he was saying, we’re still as good as ever. And he gave us a fabulous review and he said the thing that touched him now, it just reminds him of his mates when they were growing up and they were at school together and they used to listen to the chart every Tuesday lunchtime to see where our record was in the charts. And then they maybe get save all their money to buy the new record and the sacrifices they made between them, a gang of chaps, all girls included, to actually go out and buy your record, go out and see a gig. And he said, all those guys now are dying and it just makes him cry when one of our records comes on, because he remembers his mates, then it brings back to him the camaraderie of his mates. And that’s far more important to me than how many records a certain record sold. That’s really what we were all about. Us in the audience were as one. It was our thing. It was Slade singing.



It just brings it down to how important the party works of people’s lives, especially how gigantic we were at the time and reading this book. It does bring it all back to me because we were in a bubble, don’t forget. We couldn’t. Me and Dave particularly, we couldn’t go out to the cinema, we couldn’t go out to shops or anything like that in those days. We were just too big. It was impossible to live a normal life. And when we were two in the world, we were in this bubble and we didn’t know really what was going on in the outside world. We knew our records were going to number one, we knew we were selling our gigs, but we didn’t know to what extent and how big we were. I mean, even today I didn’t realize it, but we told by statistics we were the biggest selling uk singles fund in the whole of the seventies. We sold more records than anybody else in the seventies, and I’m including Bowie, Mark Boland and everybody else that was around. So it’s incredible, these facts that come back to you.



There were a lot of compromises, sounds like, that you had to make in your own personal life because of all this fame, weren’t there?



Yeah, yeah, absolutely.



Did you ever regret it?



I don’t look back on stuff like that. We worked ourselves to death, really. I mean, me in particular, because I was out there, doing the gigs and recording and all the rest of it and writing, but I was always the main one that went out and did the promotion, went round all the radio stations, you know, when the new album or a new single was out, doing all the press interviews, it was mainly me. And of course I didn’t see my two elder kids that are in their forties now, my two daughters. I didn’t see them growing up at all. I didn’t see their first nativity play, I didn’t see their school concerts. I didn’t see none of the normal things you do as a parent to see kids. Of course I saw them when I was at home and we had a great time, but it couldn’t have been nice for them either that I was away all the time, but it did in the mid eighties, it did wreck my first marriage because the lifestyle I was leading. I’ve been married ten years and my lifestyle wasn’t changing. I was still out on the road, touring all around the world, and she just got fed up with it and we just drifted apart. And so that was a shame for the kids, really. So there was that part that you do have to sacrifice when you’re in a rock and roll band on the other side. I mean, you got somebody like Jim and Gabe in the band. Both their marriages survive. They’re both married to the same person they were married to way back in the early seventies.



When we came back from America in 1977, the whole landscape in the UK had changed. Punk thing had come in. Honk and disco were the big things and we were considering boring old farts. We had a. A couple of years in the doldrums, but while we were in the Doldrums, we were still gigging constantly, selling out places and playing fabulously well. And we used to get all the punks and the what would soon become the new metal bands or the new romantic bands. They were all coming to see us. They were all fans and they used to come and see us. We were the pioneers in that sort of way. We only know so because bands that became famous in the wake of us tell us so they tell us. We were a big influence on. When we went back to LA in the eighties, all the new glam metal bands in LA all came up and told me that we were the band that set them on the trail of what became the new glam metal era in Los Angeles. Quiet riot, one of those bands, went to number one. We come on, feel the noise out there. So the proof was in the pudding.



Noddy, do you still sing today?



In fact, suddenly, after my illness, I’ve been doing a few geeks with a ten piece boogie woogie jazz band who are really great band. They’re all under 30, they’re all great jazz players. They’re absolutely fabulous musicians. They haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about half the time, but they love playing with me and they love me stories. I tell stories on the stage and we just have fun and there’s no pressure on me because I don’t do many. What I like about it is I only have to turn up. I don’t have to do sound checks or anything, I just walk on the stage, test my mic in the afternoon’s working and then I’m free to do what I want and I just go on and take the accolades. Yeah, but I never thought I’d be doing this again. Five years ago I just thought, well, this is a bonus. I’m still alive, I might as well go out and have a bit of fun on stage again.



What an incredible force you are, Noddy Holder. The world loves you and so do we.



You are a sweet talker. You really are.



It’s true, though, and you know it. And we thank you for the music and for your fabulous attitude towards life.



Thank you very much. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been good. Keep on rocking.



The inimitable Noddy Holder, who’d been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in 2018 and given six months to live. Thankfully, he recovered due to experimental chemotherapy. I’m very glad he’s still with us. I’m sure you feel the same. Thanks for your time today. I’m already counting down till I can be back with you. Same time next week. Bye now.