It’s Christmasssss at Marlborough Memorial Hall!

In an attempt at a humorous Facebook status update a few years back I wrote a list headlined “it’s not Christmas until….” One option was “Hanz Gruber falls from the Nakatomi Plaza,” and another was “Noddy Holder calls it.” With Alan Rickman sadly passed, and a “will-they-won’t-they” Slade reform scenario apt for NME speculation clickbait, neither look likely. But the latter was as close as dammit last night in the glorious Marlborough College Memorial Hall, when, thanks to the MantonFest team, Slade tribute Slyde supremely tore down the impressively high ceiling with a retrospective seventies glam rock extravaganza. Yep, it’s now officially Christmas by my reckoning!

Though the Noddy-a-like frontman teased the audience he wouldn’t play Slade’s seasonal magnum opus, when they did, obviously for a finale, I was deep in conversation with purple goatee-bearded harmonica player, Nick Beere of supporting act Barrelhouse, about our dad’s make of cars in the seventies! The topic spurred by something the Noddy-alike (let’s call him by stage-name Nobby Boulder hereafter,) jested on stage, in true Black Country fashion, praising their attributing decade, “we all knew someone who drove a Ford Cortina!” Which coincidentally occurred just as I was contemplating the best method of assessing the value of a tribute act is to consider if a fan you know would appreciate them, and my dad loved Slade….and yeah, he drove a brown Cortina too!

For while uncannily looking and sounding akin to Slade to the point Nobby was mistaken for him in the street and actual band members endorse them, Slyde refrained from simply belting out their celebrated discography, opting to meld them with other sing-along classics of the glam era, only in the fashion Slade would’ve covered them in. This formed more a seventies nostalgia show than simply a tribute to one act, yet somehow retained the ambience of a Slade gig with silver disc top hats on. I mention this element now to answer the last paragraph’s question, would my dad have loved it? Undoubtedly, he would’ve, and been up doing his unique dad dancing, to the point I could envision his smirk through the crowds of bopping Marlborough folk. I was nailing “most definitely” prior to the icing on the cake, that being the final blast of Jeff Beck’s Hi Ho Silver Lining, as here is a tune which uncompromisingly dragged my dad to any dancefloor, to the point I parodied the lyrics into my eulogy to him.

But covers came thick, fast, and accomplished, much to the audience’s delight. Betwixt Slade’s greatest hits they were treated to Bowie’s Rebel Rebel, Sweet’s Fox on the Run and, Blockbuster in a medley with Gene Genie, Rod’s Maggie May, even Showaddywaddy’s Under the Moon of Love and Joan Jett’s I Love Rock n Roll, among others which included seasonal favourite Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day. In YouTubing other Slade tributes, including the ingeniously named all-female one Slady, nothing appears to be of the calibre of Slyde, such is the ethos when MantonFest choose a tribute act, heralding two at this summer’s festival; Rolling Stones Now and Badness.

For me personally, I might, on another day, rant on a loathing of the glam rock genre, because I’m of the era just past this, when it was considered uncool to like what your parents liked. But hearing these seventies anthems, played so thoroughly loud and proudly, was pure and embracing nostalgia for me, and certainly too for the elders of the vast age demographic present.

As reminiscences flooded my neurons last night, of family parties, of driving to the tip with my dad, and so many others when these classics were embedded in my mind from the Cortina’s mono shortwave radio, I’m at the age when I can shake off trends, and proudly announce these were my songs of growing up, no matter how I’d never wear platform shoes with goldfish in, they were what shaped my eclectic tastes. In conclusion to this point, it is one thing for me to praise a Bob Marley tribute act, or other firmly of my darlings, but for something slightly out of my like bracket, like Slade, I might be a tad more critical, yet Slyde ticked every box for me, and were utterly fantastic.

One could deem Slade an easy target to tribute, on account as was the era, Noddy was a shouty vocalist and the band took themselves with a pinch of salt, but those memorable gritty choruses were performed in such a precise manner by Nobby, that this ranks topper-most on the tribute acts list I’ve borne witness to.

Of course, this was assisted by the astounding venue and its acoustics, something which took the support act, Barrelhouse to another level of professionalism. Ah, yeah, let’s not forget to mention, before all this, this vintage blues band stalwart of any MantonFest event was present, and typically performed a belter. A set change due to a broken string on Tim’s handmade cigar-box guitar didn’t falter their blinding performance, for if seeing a Springsteen gig in New Jersey is on another level from seeing a Springsteen gig elsewhere, it’s a similarity with Barrelhouse on their home turf of Marlborough.

It never ceases to amaze me how this band, their excellence in being united, can attract such a vast age demographic by both covering the old-timey jump blues classics of Bo Diddly and Howlin’ Wolf et al, and arranging their own original songs akin to this notion. It can only be these are timeless, as Barrelhouse knock out their regular setlist I never tire of hearing, of Hoochie Coochie Man, and You Can’t Judge a Book, alongside the 12-bar version of Ace of Spades, finale of Everybody Needs Somebody to Love and an added Shakey Christmas cover for seasonal effect.

Breathtakingly on form Barrelhouse looked last night in these impressive surroundings, and making full use of the circular extended stage. Wow, what a venue, and what a night; It’s Christmasssss at Marlborough College’s Memorial Hall!  


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