It’s a little known fact that the biggest Christmas single in the world, Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody, began life as a “hippy dippy” song about a rocking chair.
Former frontman, Noddy Holder, who refers to his biggest hit as “The Christmas song,” recalls: “The chorus and middle eight was the first song I ever wrote, way back in 1967.
“It was called originally, Buy Me a Rocking Chair. It was the same melody but a different song, very psychedelic. I played it to the band and they didn’t like it at all - so it got thrown in the bin!
“Then about six years later, I think it was Jim’s auntie said; ‘Why don’t you do a song that will come out every year, like a Christmas or a birthday song?’
“Jim at first didn’t want to do it. But he’d got a verse melody that he’d had hanging around for a while. And he was looking for a chorus to put with it and he remembered the chorus of this song I’d done all those years before.
“So we met up - and put the two together. I went away and wrote all new lyrics to it as a Christmas song.”
Does he remember the original lyrics? “I do - but you’ll have to come and watch the show if you want to find out!”
The “show” in question is Noddy giving in to his old mate DJ Mark Radcliffe’s urging that he should share his incredible fund of anecdotes - which Radcliffe has been hearing for years - with an audience.
The result is An Evening With Noddy Holder In Conversation with Mark Radcliffe, which is at Preston’s Charter Theatre on Saturday.
Noddy says: “I was on Radio 2 with him for eight years and he knew loads of stories about me. So when we used to go to the pub, he’d be like, ‘Ooh, I’ve not heard that one before!’
“He’d say, ‘You should be going out and telling the audiences these!’ I said, ‘Oh, I don’t think anybody would be interested.’ Anyway, he’s been pestering me - and this year is my 50th year in show business professionally and my 60th year since I first got up on stage singing in working men’s clubs so I thought if there was any time to do it, this would be it.”
He’s enjoying answering fans questions and says: “I was expecting things like, ‘What was it like on Top of the Pops?’ - and you do get that. But people are interested in why I would give up a band like Slade and go off and do my own thing. I don’t mind talking about that because it’s probably stuff that’s not on record.
“Basically, I was on the road for 25 years with the same four guys and I was touring with other bands before - so I was actually on the road for 30 odd years. I was getting bored, quite frankly. It was album, tour, album, tour, year in, year out, and I didn’t foresee myself carrying on with it for the rest of my life.
“I was going through a divorce from my first marriage and my dad was dying so there was a lot of things building up on me - and I didn’t want to be away from home, going round the world for the 30th time! So I had to make the conscious decision.”
He gave Slade three years notice and, though they rarely see each other, relations are good. Drummer Don and guitarist Dave Hill have carried on with “Slade Mark II” as Noddy calls them. But he’s never seen a show.
He audibly baulks at the thought and admits: “I purposely haven’t gone. It would just feel weird for me to go and watch a band I was with for that long and see other people doing it. And they’d probably be very nervous if I turned up!”
Slade grew from Dave and Don’s former band, The In Betweens. Noddy joined after bumping into them on Wolverhampton High Street. He recalls: “They said, We want to form a brand new band doing different sorts of material, would you be interested? I said: “Yeah, I’ll have a rehearsal and see how it goes.”
At the first rehearsal, in a pub over the road from Noddy’s parents house, it was clear there was something special there.
Noddy says: “I wouldn’t say it was fantastic right from the off, we put a lot of work in. But you know there’s a certain magic there and there’s even a certain sound there that you seem to be creating for the first time. And I think it was in the style we played because we all came from very different backgrounds.”
Living at the pub was a young man whose parents had thrown him out. Named Robert Plant, Noddy used to roadie for him in the days before he fronted one of the world’s biggest rock bands, Led Zeppelin.
But he could have been beside Noddy in Slade. Noddy laughs: “There was a point - because we did have another singer as well as me in the band and when he left, we were going to ask Robert to join us.
“I haven’t seen him for a while but we used to bump into one another all the time, especially in America. The last time I saw Zeppelin play, it was at Earl’s Court and he said: “I’m going to do a song now for my ex-roadie, Noddy Holder - and he did Kashmir for me because he knows I love that song.”
Slade got their big break when they met their manager Chas Ambler, of the Animals. But their greatest disaster happened just as they were creating Merry Christmas Everybody - when drummer Don was in a catastrophic car crash.
Noddy recalls: “His dad called me at 4am and said, ‘Don’s been in a car crash.’ I just thought he’d been in some little bump but he dropped the bombshell that he’s only got 24 hours to live.
“I raced up to the hospital with his brother and he was lying in this big intensive care tent with all pipes coming out of him, his head was shaved, he’d got a massive gash down his skull where he’d gone through the windscreen, his girlfriend had been killed .. and as far as we knew he wasn’t going to last 24 hours.
“We’d had five Number One records, we were sitting at the top of the charts with Squeeze Me, Pleeze Me, everything was going absolutely incredibly well. We were at our pinnacle. And here I was looking at Don in this oxygen tent.
“He had no memory, no taste or smell. We didn’t know if he was going to live or die, we didn’t know whether the band would survive or crumble, it was a very traumatic time - and out of all this came Merry Christmas!”
An Evening With Noddy Holder is at Preston Charter Theatre on Saturday May 18. Tickets are £24.50 on 0845 344 2012.