“Oh Debora, always dress like a conjuror
It’s fine to see your young face hiding
‘Neath the stallion that I’m riding, Debora”
Of all the groups and singers that offended the sense of decency surrounding my dad and his mates there was one that was head and shoulders above the rest. It wasn’t Alice Cooper and his over-the-top approach, it wasn’t the camp glam rock style of the Sweet, it wasn’t the yobbo glam rock of Slade (who were secretly liked), it wasn’t even Gary Glitter and his eyebrow contortions. Number one in the pantheon of dislike was the corkscrewed haired Marc Bolan. I assume that it was his lack of aggression, the appearance of vulnerability and his good looks coupled with make-up and ‘interesting’ lyrics (“it’s all about wizards and fairies” – my dad circa 1972) that made him a target for their distrust.
And as for me? Well I loved his style, songs and most of all the effect he had on girls. If my dad had known this I don’t think he would have worried quite so much about the influence he thought Bolan was having on me!
Marc Bolan (born Mark Field) found his interest in music at an early age when a fortuitous mistake resulted in his father buying him a Bill Haley record rather than one by Bill Hayes. Eager to recreate some of the excitement he felt in hearing the record he soon decided he was going to be a star and started to practice playing guitar. A few years later, in 1959, he gave his first public performances at a local school and a local cafe as one of “Suzi and the Hula-Hoops” (Marc, Helen Shapiro and Stephen Gould).
Marc then started to concentrate on his image and appearance, earning him the nickname “The Face” and resulting in him being featured in “Town” magazine as it reviewed the Mod scene in 1962. This was followed by a brief period model for menswear catalogues while he recorded demos, as Toby Tyler, and tried to break onto the music scene. As Toby Tyler he had no luck but in August 1965 he signed to Decca as Marc Bolan.
Released in November Marc’s first release, “The Wizard”, saw him receiving good reviews and appearing on TV but failing to hit the charts. The same happened with his second single and by late 1966 Marc was without a recording contract once more.
It was at this point that Marc’s legendary self-confidence asserted itself, he contacted record producer Simon Napier-Bell, turned up at his house and played live for him in his living room. On the back of this Marc got to release “Hippy Gumbo” on Parlophone, another commercial flop but one that the god of aspiring rock stars, John Peel, picked up on. Marc was then persuaded by Napier-Bell to join “Johns Children” as guitarist and backing vocalist, the premise being that this would allow the record buying public to get used to his vocal style. The move was not a success, despite writing their outstanding track “Desdemona” Marc resigned after a few months unhappy with production values and being only a supporting member of the band.
Marc then formed “Tyrannosaurus Rex” with Steve Peregrin Took and, following the repossession of his instruments by Track Records, the style became acoustic. With extensive gigging and the support of John Peel the group began to build up a following around theUK and in 1968 signed with Regal Zonophone. Their success continued with both their first single and album (“Debora” and “My People Were Fair And Had Stars In Their Hair, But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On their Brows” respectively) hitting the charts. The touring continued, as did the support of John Peel via his Radio 1 show, as the group continued to record and build up their fan base. The relationship between Marc and Steve was strained however, Marc had introduced the electric guitar into the group and Steve’s performance was affected by drugs and drink – following a disastrous UStour Steve left.
Marc however wanted to keep the group alive and brought in Mickey Finn as his replacement. This was shortly followed by a constricting of the group’s name to T.Rex. The first single with the new moniker was “Ride A White Swan”, hitting number 2 in the UK charts in 1970 and breaking into the US Hot 100. Enlarging the group to give a more accomplished and fuller live sound and hitting the top twenty with the album “T.Rex”, Marc was about to gain his childhood wish of being a star.
The following year T.Rex really took off, “Hot Love” became their first number 1 and Marc wore glitter eye makeup for the first time on TOTP. While it is arguable whether this was the birth of glam rock, it is at this point that Marc can definitely be seen as one of its founders. With Marc’s style being copied by fans and a major British tour underway, the group hit number 1 on both the UK single and album charts (“Get It On” and “Electric Warrior”) and also dented the US charts where they reached number 10 and 32 respectively. This success was followed with “Jeepster” reaching number 2 as Marc looked for a larger record label for the group.
In 1972 T.Rex signed to EMI and started the year with a concert in Lincolnshire that caused the media to coin the term T-Rextasy as the fans became hysterical in the presence of their new rock god. By the time T.Rex played Wembley in March, supported by yet another hit single “Telegram Sam”, the reaction of the fans was even wilder – this time it was caught on film and used in the film “Born To Boogie”. The rest of the year was just as frenetic with “Metal Guru” reaching number 1, “Children of the Revolution” and “Solid Gold Easy Action” reaching number 2, “The Slider” album selling 100,000 copies in four days, a successful tour of North America and the release of “Born To Boogie” on the big screen.
1973 saw Marc widening the group to include backing singers and a second guitarist. With the hit “20th Century Boy” taking the glam rock style back to its metal core and “The Groover” being classic T.Rex fare, live the group were gaining more of a ‘boogie’ vibe. While live and critically the group were still well received, in commercial terms they had peaked and by the middle of 1974 Marc was living in tax exile and T.Rex was a group in name only.
Marc never returned to the glam rock scene but continued to play and was introduced to a new generation of fans when he was given his own show “Marc” in 1977. Rather than concentrate on old styles Marc used this show to introduce new music, my personal favourites being The Jam, Roger Taylor (of Queen) with his solo single and Hawkwind (complete with Bob Calvert and stuffed parrot!). Unfortunately whether this would have led to a resurgence of Marc’s commercial career will never be known; on 15th September Marc was killed in a car crash.