Noddy Holder was just seven years old when he stood up on stage at a working men's club to sing. Sixty years on, he talks to Roz Laws about his glittering musical career - and what happened to that famous hat.
Noddy Holder is celebrating three major anniversaries this year.
It is 40 years since he first bellowed “It’s Chriiiiiistmaaas!” and Merry Xmas Everybody went straight to number one in the charts.
It is 50 years since Noddy made his professional debut as a musician, on leaving school in Walsall.
And it is 60 years since he first sang in public.
He was just seven when he got up on stage at Walsall Labour Club in 1953.
“My dad was a window cleaner and part-time singer round the working men’s clubs,” remembers Noddy.
“The Labour Club was his local. In those days it was like a version of karaoke, they had a pianist and a drummer if you were lucky and anyone could get up and sing or tell a joke on Free and Easy Night, usually a Sunday.
“My dad called me up from the audience because I was used to singing round the house. I did I Believe by Frankie Laine, which was number one at the time, and I brought the house down. I got a taste for applause and it was downhill all the way from then on!
“But I could never have imagined that I could make a living out of singing or still have success 60 years on.”
Noddy is reminiscing as he’s going on the road with his show An Audience With Noddy Holder, playing “intimate venues so I can see the whites of their eyes”. DJ Mark Radcliffe will be asking the questions and he’ll also answer posers from the audience.
He’s kicking off in Telford and Redditch, but hopes to return in the autumn with a Birmingham date if it goes well.
“Mark Radcliffe has been on at me for years to do something like this,” says Noddy.
“I worked with him for eight years on his Radio 2 show and was always coming up with stories. He’d say ‘I’ve not heard that one before, people would like to hear these tales’.
“I put it off but this year he was badgering me so much that I gave in.”
It wasn’t that long after his stage debut that Noddy formed a band. The Rockin’ Phantoms was born at TP Riley Comprehensive in Walsall when he was just 13.
“We played weddings, youth clubs and pubs, doing cover versions of pop hits of the day,” he remembers.
“As I left school to turn professional, the band morphed into The Memphis Cutouts which had more of an R&B vein.
“We were taken on by Steve Brett, who was quite a local celebrity. He had a TV series in the Midlands called For Teenagers Only. His backing band left him so we became The Mavericks.”
In 1966, Noddy was persuaded to join The ‘NBetweens by Don Powell, which eventually became Slade.
They sold 50 million records and had 18 hits between 1971 and 1991, with six number ones including Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Cum On Feel The Noize and Merry Xmas Everybody.
They may not have been able to spell, but they were hugely successful – and continue to be, thanks to their perennial Christmas hit.
“Merry Xmas Everybody has become an iconic Christmas song, and I’m very proud of it,” says Noddy.
“It went straight to number one on its first day of release and stayed there for five weeks – it was still there at the end of January 1974. But we never dreamed it would still be going strong 40 years later, no way!
“If anything, it’s even more popular now. Kids come up to me who have performed it in their school concerts. It’s great to know that new generations are learning it.”
Glam rock is in vogue again, thanks to an exhibition at Tate Liverpool. It includes several huge photographs of Slade, though not Noddy’s top hat with mirrors.
“That’s in a bank vault,” he reveals. “It’s very precious to me – you can’t value something like that, it’s priceless, but I’d never sell it anyway.
“I keep getting asked to loan it to exhibitions but I lent it out once and it came back damaged, so I’ll never do it again.
“The hat took on its own identity and became an icon of the glam rock years. It went round the world and we had a special case built for it. The roadies lived in fear of losing that hat box, as I’d have shot them.”
In the 20 years since he left Slade – “I got bored with the travelling, I thought we’d done everything we could with the band and I was getting offers to do different sorts of things” – he’s had his own radio show, provided a voice on Bob The Builder, acted in The Grimleys and made a cameo on Coronation Street.
His voice is used in the lift announcements in Walsall New Art Gallery and he was the third person to be inducted on to the Birmingham Walk of Stars.
Would he like to try more acting?
“Yes. I’ve just done a cameo for a Sky Atlantic thing, Common Ground, with Charles Dance as a former rock ‘n’ roll tour manager.
“The trouble is, I mostly get offered the part of an ageing rock star who kills himself with drink and drugs. I don’t really want to do that! What I’d really love to play is a gangster.”
Noddy has two daughters from his previous marriage and an 18-year-old son, Django, with TV producer Suzan.
“Django is very musical, he can play the guitar and drums. He’s very technical and wants to be a sound engineer,” he says.
Noddy is clearly looking forward to his show An Evening With..., especially the Midland dates.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of people I know turning up asking embarrassing questions, but that will be part of the fun,” he smiles.
* An Evening With Noddy Holder comes to Telford Oakengates Theatre (01952 382382) on May 9 and Redditch Palace Theatre (01527 65203) on May 17.