Slade In Flame
UK (1975) Dir. Richard Loncraine
In the gritty working men’s clubs and wedding receptions of Northern England a low rent covers band, featuring egocentric lead singer Jack Daniels (Alan Lake), bassist Paul (Jimmy lea), guitarist Barry (Dave Hill) and drummer Charlie (Don Powell) are struggling to make a name for themselves. One fateful night they share the bill with a theatrical rock band The Undertakers, whose lead singer Stoker (Noddy Holder) is soon drafted into the band after Jack is ejected. Renamed Flame, the group fall out with their shady manager Ron Harding (Johnny Shannon) but end up quickly into the arms of ambitious marketing manager Robert Seymour (Tom Conti) who makes the band stars. But things turn sour when Harding decides that he deserves a slice of the profits and will go to any lengths to get them.
By 1974, in the UK at least, Slade were Glam Rock royalty with six number singles to their name and rabid following. Their manager, the legendary Chas Chandler, had decided that Slade were big enough to spread their wings beyond music and suggested they try their try their luck in films. After a number of rejected scripts – including a purported spoof of The Quatermass Experiment – Chandler found the script for Flame which the band finally agreed on. Naturally it would be the first and last film Slade would make.
Unsurprisingly the band weren’t exactly pushed acting wise, essentially playing themselves, although they do make fairly decent job of it, holding their own against their professional co-stars, with Noddy Holder showing the most promise (something which held him in good stead for a acting career in recent years). The story is your typical rags to riches yarn which exposes the darker side of the music industry, a bold move for this era when rock ‘n’ roll movies where usually lightweight fantasies with sunny premises and happy endings. Thus we have a much stronger entry into this sub genre but one it appears suffered as a result since it didn’t exactly set the box office alight (excuse the pun) and while the soundtrack did reasonably well – being released months before the film – the time away from the public eye meant the beginning of the end of the band’s reign on top of the music charts.
A number of the crazy and unfortunate incidents depicted in this film, were based on real life happenings and also served as a clear inspiration (even if not directly admitted) to the legendary spoof rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. One scene early on sees Jack Daniels put a padlock on a coffin that Stoker is supposed to leap out of on stage. Not only was this said to have happened to the iconic Screaming Lord Sutch but can be seen in Tap’s pod case scene. More crazy incidents include the car chase as The Undertakers look to get revenge on Daniels, the band doing an interview on a pirate radio ship (by a pre-husky voiced Tommy Vance) only to have their ship shot at, and various other ill-advised and embarrassingly publicity stunts Seymour dreams up.
While the band comes across as authentic and relatable it is the rest of the characters that feel contrived and flimsy tropes. Harding is the typical east-end gangster type with the bifocals, smooth talking patter and gang of heavies ready to turn someone into puree at his command, while Seymour is the suave, slick, affluent corporate businessman who looks like a saviour but is just as corrupt as the rest. Jack Daniels is every bit the caricature you’d expect him to be with such an “inspired” name while the wives, girlfriends and hangers on are equally underdeveloped and innocuous.
Then there is the music. The band wrote a number of fresh songs for this film, including the mighty How Does It Feel, while recreating some melodies and lyrics of old favourites to suit the film – Summer Song (Wishing You Were Here) is pretty much the über classic Merry Xmas Everybody rewritten. The live performance scenes are typical Slade although the gaudy “flame” outfits are hilariously camp and too ridiculous even for the band’s resident fashion freak Dave Hill.
Of course Slade In Flame wasn’t expected to compete against Citizen Kane on an artistic level but it can hold its head up high above the slew of lazily written, anodyne, glossy bubblegum entries that preceded it (and succeeded it), thanks to it grittiness and candour in dispelling the myth of being rock star is all roses and champagne. Well worth a look for music fans or anyone wanting to see what a “real” Spinal Tap would look like.