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It's 1973, glam rock is at its peak and Slade are the kings. Their boisterous, good-time yobbery has given them 12 consecutive top five hits; Noddy is on his way to becoming a legend and the band look like they are living the dream. The decide to make a movie, and consider a screwball sci-fi comedy called 'The Quite A Mess Experiment' but instead begin work on a yarn about a working class band, its journey to the top and subsequent immediate implosion.
Anyone who was expecting a top-hats-with-mirrors, loveable scamps, Hard Day's Night type romp must have been astonished by the 1975 Slade In Flame. This was a grim, Ken Loach-like piece of social realism - brutally stripping away any mystique and cool about rock and roll to produce a sort of kitchen sink drama about starry eyed kids eaten up and spat out by a cynical industry machine. It's depressing, violent, bleak and actually an extremely good film. Proper actors in it as well - Tom Conti as an oily industry toff, Johnny Shannon as a villainous manager - and Noddy is excellent.
In fact, the film was a bit of a disaster for Slade. Not only did the making of it take them away from their day job for long periods when they were at the peak of their powers, the gritty realism of the film was decidedly "off-brand" for happy-go-lucky terrace faves Slade. The film also documented a bitter rivalry between the Noddy character and Jim Lea's that didn't play well with the image of four mates having a laugh and taking on the world. They didn't have a top ten hit for six years after the release. The film has stood up really well. Critic Mark Kermode called it the Citizen Kane of rock musicals.
The premiere of the movie was held at The Metropole Theatre, Victoria in London on 13 February 1975. The skies that evening were lit up by searchlights and the band arrived on back of a vintage fire engine.
The stand-out song is, of course, the brilliant 'How Does It Feel?' written by Jim Lea. For me, this would always be in my top 20 jukebox of 1970s singles. A wistful, minor key rock ballad that any supergroup of the era would be proud to have on their CV, it's delivered with a world-weary bluesy sadness by Noddy and seems especially heartfelt. Slade's time at number 1 was over. Commercially, they had peaked - and what a high, snowy peak it had been. But in How Does It Feel they showed they were not just all about badly spelt, stomping daft songs. It's a timeless classic that always makes you stop and listen. It echoes down the years and seems as apposite now as then.
Everyone thought Slade in Flame would be rubbish. We were all happily very wrong.
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