Express & Star

Fifty years of Slade's Christmas golden oldie

Mrs Regan stuck her oar in. Dave Hill almost got airbrushed out. Jim Lea lost two years. And then the crowds went wild, wild, wild.

A triumphant homecoming to the Civic Hall on November 6, 1972.

It won't be long now before you hear Merry Xmas Everybody. Again.

It has been getting grannies up and rock 'n' rolling with the rest ever since it went to the top of the charts 50 years ago, in December 1973, a singalong Christmas pop classic which has been the best selling and most enduring hit for Wolverhampton-based rockers Slade.

Their road to become one of the top groups of their era had been long with many twists and turns.

So to celebrate the golden anniversary of this particular golden oldie let's chart some key stages of their journey in pictures, starting by going back nearly 60 years to December 1964.

It was then that there was an early write-up about "a fast-rising Midland group" called The 'N Betweens, including two future Slade stalwarts, Dave Hill and Don Powell, although Don was not yet well known enough to get his name spelt correctly.

The 'N Betweens in 1964 with Dave Hill second from left and Don Powell standing.

"The 'N Betweens are predicted to have a big career in front of them in view of their fast increase in popularity recently. Three of the group, vocalist Johnny Howells, rhythm Mick Marson, and drummer John Powell (sic), first became participants in beat music when Mick's brother brought home a guitar.

"They started 'tatting around' then took it more seriously. But they tried to form a group three times without success. After a few months they broke up each time. Then, at the fourth attempt, lead guitarist David Hill joined them and they finally managed to keep together.

"With lots of help from Mr Squires, leader of St Giles's Youth Group, Willenhall, the group gathered experience but they got a big break by winning a talent contest which entitled them to play in a concert with The Hollies.

"After that they played with other well known groups, including The Fourmost and The Dennisons, but their next important breakthrough was when Mrs Regan, of the Plaza circuit, suggested that they play 'way out R and B.' They did, and it was a success."

So thanks for that, Mrs Regan.

Latest addition to the band, the article added, was bassist Cass Jones.

Various evolutions and comings and goings saw The 'N Betweens bring on board bass player Jim Lea and Walsall singer Noddy Holder, and transform into Ambrose Slade.

Our picture of Ambrose Slade was carried in John Ogden's "Tops In Pops" column in the Express and Star of February 6, 1969, and as you can see poor Dave Hill was given a paint job. There is a reason for that – the accompanying story was almost all about Jim Lea, so the group photo was cropped to just a headshot of him, which meant Dave got the airbrush treatment so his bonce didn't intrude into the published photo.

Ambrose Slade – Jim Lea, an airbrushed Dave Hill, Don Powell, and Noddy Holder.

"At the age of 17 Jim Lea, of Codsall, is well on the way to becoming one of the youngest record producers in the country – if not THE youngest," it said.

"Jim's work with Ambrose Slade in the recording studio – where he helped in the production of several tracks on their LP – so impressed Fontana Records' Jack Baverstock that he has asked him to do some A and R work on his own. And at 17 that's a big compliment."

Well yes, at 17 it would be. But Jim Lea was actually 19, having been born in June 1949.

Our man added: "Jim, who plucks bass with the group and has recently started playing amplified violin, has been involved in music for a long time despite his youth.

"A former violinist with the Staffordshire Youth Orchestra, he joined Ambrose Slade about two years ago when they were still known as The 'N Betweens. He soon settled down as a bass player, and it was after Jim joined that the group started writing their own material. He also plays piano and guitar, and I hear that on their single he will play violin, while joint lead guitarist Noddy Holder takes over on bass."

The breakthrough was however a little way off, and it was not until November 1971 that Slade, as they were by then, first went to the top of the charts with Coz I Luv You – the phonetic spellings were a Slade gimmick – with Jim's violin skills being used to good effect.

Dave Hill picks up the latest addition to his glam rock wardrobe, a multi coloured satin suit, from a boutique in Worcester Street, Wolverhampton, in October 1971.

Cue an era of stomping success, with 23 top 20 singles including six No 1 chart smashes.

Wolverhampton Civic Hall, Monday, February 6, 1972. Slade were Bak 'Ome and received a tumultuous reception on their return. Our photographer captured the scene with a particularly powerful flashgun (unless the house lights had been put up).

A triumphant homecoming to the Civic Hall on November 6, 1972.

The support acts were fellow rockers Thin Lizzy and Suzi Quatro. Were you there? You'll remember it if you were. As music journalist David Hepworth put it: “Nobody came away from a Slade show without understanding that they had been entertained, and entertained by a band who didn’t look down on them.”

Merry Xmas Everybody was still to come, and proved to be Slade's last No 1. It has never gone away since, nor have Slade, and founder member Dave Hill is about to take his incarnation of the band on a 50th anniversary tour with various UK dates in December.

All together now: Are you hanging up a stocking on your wall...

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