British music films are a funny old breed, most tend to stick to the A Hard Day’s Night template of the band playing songs interspersed with a few wacky situations for 90 minutes. Sometimes there’s an attempt at a story, and almost always they involve some kind of journey too. They’re always quite light and fluffy, typical common denominator stuff, after all you don’t want to scare the fans off. Plus the film acts as a whopping great advert for your b(r)and, so best make it as wholesome as possible. During the sixties there were some great Brit-Pop films such as the Cliff and The Shadows actioner Summer Holiday, and some less great ones – Magical Mystery Tour and Catch Us If You Can being about as far away from goodness as is possible.
’73’s That’ll Be the Day, was a huge step away the smiling happy pop moppets of the previous decade, but suffered from not having the strongest soundtrack. Slade in Flame takes the gritty realness that That’ll Be the Day achieved and runs with it. The film is a fictional account of the rise and ultimate fall of Flame, who just like Slade have a brown chugging boogie vibe about them. It’s the kind of film you’d expect Ken Loach to have made, if he’d been a fan of popular music. It’s also the sort of thing that you wish The Beatles had done during the late sixties, but never did. Slade in Flame is set in the grim reality of mid-seventies Britain, houses are being boarded up and everything feels black and white. It’s actually what Glam was supposed to make you forget about, and probably why that particular period in music was so damn popular back then. Cheap and tacky, but also honest and rocking, you could dance to it and if you spent a few quid in Woolworths you could look like your idols. Well sort of.
Glam was split into two distinct groups, the arty lot – yr Roxy Musics, Bowies and Enos at one end of the spectrum and everyone else at the other. Basically bands that had been trudging around the working mans club/pub circuit for donkey’s years discovered that some glitter and dodgy clothes could get them noticed. So while these other groups such as Mud, The Rubettes and best of all Sweet and Slade would never instigate any great change in music, they kept the Glam flame burning long after Roxy and Bowie had moved on to pastures new. It’s something that happens in popular music all the time, just a few years down the line the same thing would happen with Punk.
Anyway back to the film. Now what normally happens with films starring bands is that the musical segments are great, but the stuff that happens in between (acting etc) is usually well below par. That’s where this film really triumphs, because not only does it have a great story and tight little script, but both Noddy Holder and Jim Lea are superb actors (admittedly playing versions of themselves – but what the heck). Props to director Richard Loncraine for recognising they could act and giving the bulk of the action to them. Dave Hill has a few moments but in general looks most comfortable on stage doing what he does best. As for Don Powell it looks like he’s just doing his best not to look directly into the camera. Which for the most part he manages. He does have the funniest moment in the film though, when he stands up on a train and declares that he’s off for a piss. Tom Conti turns up as a monied investment banker type that sees Flame as a way to diversify, and then there’s Johnny Shannon playing pretty much the same character he did in Performance. The rest of the cast are made up of people that you’ll remember from The Sweeney, and various other seventies Brit TV staples.
I absolutely love this film. It whips along at a fair old pace and before you know it it’s over and the wonderful black and white Dad’s Army ‘You Have Been Watching’ style credits appear. The music is spot on, How Does It Feel in particular standing out as a blinder of a song. What more could you want? Well how about Noddy Holder screaming most of his lines through the first half of the film, or the band being formed by two blokes standing at a urinal, you also get to see the biggest set of ginger sideburns ever. If only for that alone this should be seen. But really you should see this because it’s an important pre-punk glimpse of England on the cusp of going to the dogs, soundtracked by some top notch stomping tunes.