By Dean Pedley
Welcome to the Christmas 2013 edition of Sleep When I’m Dead, the column that inspired the T Shirt…which if you haven’t checked it out yet can be purchased here and makes the perfect gift for that special someone:-
With that shameless plug out of the way we can get down to celebrating the festive season. This month we are most definitely talking a right load of baubles. And who better to welcome back for their annual visit to the LG Arena than the band that holds the record for the most ever appearances there – Status Quo. Quo’s first gig at the old NEC was on May 12 1979 with the ‘Frantic Four’ line-up of Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan together with Andy Bown on keyboards and Bob Young on harmonica. They have returned on pretty much every tour since. In 1981 they played an incredible four nights at the arena in support of Never Too Late and on September 21 1991 they made music history by playing four shows at four different venues in the space of 12 hours with Sheffield Arena, Glasgow SE&CC, and London’s Wembley Arena making up the quartet. Quo will be back on December 7 along with 10cc and it is a pretty safe bet to say they will open the show with ‘Caroline’. In recent years Quo have treated us to a festive medley as part of the encore – just keep your fingers crossed they don’t work this abomination into the set:-
Anyone who wants to see the Frantic Four version of the band can look forward to next April when they will return for two recently confirmed shows at Wolverhampton Civic Hall.
There is always an abundance of gigs to choose from at this time of year and a selection from the coming weeks includes a just announced NWOBHM double header from Raven and Girlschool at Rock Zombie in Dudley (November 29) and a double helping of ‘80’s Goth with Fields Of The Nephilim and The Mission at Birmingham Academy (December 17). But for the ultimate Nativity In Black then you simply have to be at either the LG Arena (December 20) or the NIA (December 22) as we welcome home Black Sabbath at the end of their long tour of the globe. If you’re going to the gig forget the talk about if Ozzy’s voice will hold out, ignore the fact that Bill isn’t behind the kit and simply enjoy the music for what might very well be the last time. And finally, hope that the Prince of Darkness isn’t suitably motivated to dust off this little gem:-
This time of year is really all about two songs…and on December 16 gig goers in Birmingham will be faced with the ultimate choice. Slade (together with Sweet) will be at the Town Hall and just a short walk away at Symphony Hall Roy Wood brings his Christmas Rock N Roll Party Show. It marks the fortieth anniversary of the famous Christmas Chart Battle of 1973 that took place in our very own back yard with the Black Country taking on Birmingham. The final result saw ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ taking the top spot for five consecutive weeks whereas ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ only ever reached as high as number 4.
Due to a dispute around what label Roy Wood and Wizzard were committed to for their single, Slade had a two week advantage in the timing of the release of both songs. Over the years the two perennial festive favourites have been reissued many times and covered by artists as diverse as The Mission, R.E.M, Westlife, Leona Lewis and The Spice Girls who, in what can only be described as a travesty for music lovers everywhere, covered both.
Back in 1996 Q Magazine featured a piece on the making of ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ which was recorded in the baking hot summer of August 1973. Even though recording took place in London Roy Wood, who wanted a choir of children on the track, insisted it had to be Birmingham kids. Those chosen were pupils at StocklandGreenSchool, located in (of all places) Slade Road. Roy is quoted as saying “I decided to make a Christmas single because they’d been unfashionable for years. We thought it would be worth trying a real rock ‘n’ roll Christmas song. When I was in the control room listening to the kids singing what I’d written, I got really choked up, and the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck. It was glorious”. Indeed, it most certainly was:-
This year ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ will once again be in contention for the Christmas chart topper, having been adopted as a charity single by The Big Reunion as the TV show challenges The X Factor for chart supremacy. The 2013 version is performed by Blue, B*witched, Atomic Kitten, 5ive, Liberty X and Honeyz so make of that what you will but remember it is all for an extremely good cause.
For Slade, 1973 was an eventful year in their history. In February ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ became the first single to debut at number 1 since 1969 and The Beatles with ‘Get Back’. In July ‘Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me’ repeated the feat but its success coincided with drummer Don Powell suffering serious injuries in a car crash. The piano led ‘My Friend Stan’ just failed to make it a hat trick of consecutive number 1’s when it peaked at number 2 in September. Slade were on tour in America for the recording of ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ hence the song was recorded at the Record Plant in New York, with John Lennon in an adjoining studio working on Mind Games. With advanced orders of around half a million the single debuted at number 1 and stayed there until January. No promotional video was ever made but Slade were all over national TV that Christmas and, just like today, there was no getting away from hearing the song everywhere you went.
“We’d decided to write a Christmas song and I wanted to make it reflect a British family Christmas”, Noddy Holder told the Daily Mail back in 2007. “Economically, the country was up the creek. The miners had been on strike, along with the grave-diggers, the bakers and almost everybody else. I think people wanted something to cheer them up – and so did I.” What Noddy and fellow songwriter Jim Lea didn’t realise at the time was that the song would leave an indelible mark on the Nation. “We didn’t think for a minute it would still be going strong 40 years later” he admitted to TNT magazine in 2011. “It’s great that a new generation discovers it year after year. I get little kids coming up to me saying they performed the song in their school Christmas concert. Though people do forget we had 40 other hit singles, too.”
By 1980 Slade’s success had dried up and they were all but over. A last minute addition to the bill for the Reading Festival saw them take the event by storm and in the mid-afternoon sunshine there was really only ever one song they could play for the encore…
So as a young and eager record buyer back in 1973 with just enough pocket money to buy one single before Christmas which song would you have chosen? No sitting on the fence with this one and for yours truly, it would have to be Roy Wood and Wizzard and ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’. All together now “When the snowman brings the snow, well he just might like to know…”
That’s all from Sleep When I’m Dead for 2013 and when the column returns early in the new year we’ll be turning the clock back thirty years to 1984 and reflecting on what was happening musically around the region during the year that gave us Born In The USA, Perfect Strangers, Purple Rain and This Is Spinal Tap.