Slade, the 1970s Glam Rock band are most famous for the perennial irratant ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’. I was – and remain – a fan and lament that they will forever be remembered for one crass Christmas song than their much larger body of sophisticated pop. The final nail in the coffin of their Glam career was a movie in which they played an imaginary band called “Flame”. It had been expected, when announced, that the then unnamed Slade movie would be made along the lines of the comedic Beatles movies like ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ or one of the cheap exploitation movies like “Never Too Young To Rock” that featured contemporaries like The Glitter Band, The Rubettes and Mud.
What ended up being made though, was a gritty expose of the way that young bands are exploited by record companies and managers who fleece them. It made for grim entertainment. Despite having a soundtrack written by Slade and containing which is widely acknowledged to be some of their best music, the film was not a success and caused deep divisions within the band.
The movie, called “Slade In Flame”, is an underrated gem and after several decades is gaining currency not just the best of the ‘popular band makes a movie’ genre, but one of the best British films of the 1970s.
In the movie, Barry – played by Dave Hill, the guitarist of both the real and the fictional band – lived at the Langsett Road end of the flats. Kelvin doubled for an inner-city estate in Birmingham and was chosen for its faded futurism. There’s are scenes set within one of the flats; shots of Hill wearily climbing up stairwells; long shots of the flats; a scene where a motorbike and sidecar erupt from the underground carpark. Although I lived on the flats, I had no idea that the car park existed as they had been abandoned and bricked up long before I moved in. I only found out about them by re-watching the movie.
My friend Carly told me that during breaks in filming, Slade would congregate in a greasy spoon cafe opposite the flats. She would bunk off school to watch them playing the pinball table and fruit machines while eating bacon butties and drinking tea and Bovril.
There was quite a community of artists and musicians living on the flats towards the end of its life. Another substratum of people who were seen as ‘wasters’ who didn’t want a ‘proper’ job and deserved nothing but rundown brutalism.
With unemployment being so high, country wide, the government was continually coming up with ideas to get people of the unemployment numbers. For the small price of a ‘business plan’, people could go on what was known as the “Enterprise Allowance” scheme. This amounted to a small grant and an extra £10 per week on your dole money.
For artists and musicians, it was a Godsend. For anyone who want to start up anything else, it was entirely inadequate. A year with £36 a week instead of £26 didn’t really give you the capital needed to survive in the world of business.
With no business premises needed and little outlay except for hiring a rehearsal space, it seems to have been tailor made for artists and musicians.
There was almost always music playing from the windows somewhere on the flats. Bands would practice in their front rooms and annoy the surrounding residents. One person converted his front room into an ersatz recording studio, recording lo-fi demoes for local bands. This was one of the truly successful Enterprise Allowance projects with the lo-fi aesthetic eventually transforming into the Kelvin Music Project. THE KMP taught people how to produce, DJ, play and perform. It continued from the mid-80s up to the point that the flats were demolished, whereupon it changed its name to Kelvin Media Project and began to embrace video and computer art and ran for another ten years before disbanding.
A number of people in bands chose to move onto Kelvin for a very specific reason. With a Kelvin address, you were instantly branded as being ‘in poverty’ which – as a knock-on effect – gave you a certain amount of ‘street cred’ but more importantly, access to development grants from the Princes Trust were more readily available. Kelvin had ‘Priority Status’. That meant special attention was given by the council, government and social funding agencies in order to support ‘problem estates’ and their residents. Kelvin’s priority status was often cynically abused.
Kelvin was also graced with an Artist in Residence. A grant by Yorkshire Art Space was given to a visual artist under the condition that he moved onto the flats for a year. Pete Clarke – now head of Fine Art at UCLAN – produced a series of paintings about life on the flats that went on to be displayed in Sheffield’s Graves Art Gallery.
Graffiti artists – some hired by the council – attempted to brighten up the decaying concrete and there were arts days, sponsored by the council that showcased the artistic talent within the urban rot.
Daisies through concrete.