No ‘culture’ trip this week, but a return to my passion for music, and in particular – music history.
The ‘theme’ for this gig is entitled ‘From the Cradle to the Grave’ – and focusses on one of my very first music idols from my early teens – and that is ‘Marc Bolan’. Marc Bolan (real name – Marc Feld) was born on 30th September 1947 in Stoke Newington-N16, north east London, and lived with his parents and his older brother, in a ground floor flat at 25 Stoke Newington Common.
As a youngster he was obsessed with popular music and the stardom that went with it, and spent a lot of his early teen years at the famous 2I’s Coffee Bar in Old Compton Street-W1 – where he would watch performances of all the young ‘Elvis’ wannabe’s of that time such as Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele and Adam Faith.
After a couple of disastrous attempts at starting his own ‘band’, but still with a burning desire to ‘make it’ in the music business – Bolan decided to adopt a minimalistic approach and formed a duo with a guy called Steve Peregrine Took, with just Bolan on acoustic guitar and Took on bongo’s and other assorted minimal percussion – and the duo performed under the name “Tyrannosaurus Rex’
Bolan always believed himself to be a ‘poet’, and drew his inspiration from Tolkien fantasies such as The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings – which led to him writing whimsical ‘folk’ type songs with lyrics about mystical characters and fantasies. His ‘way-out’ unique melodies and lyrics were ideal fodder for the ‘hippy’ ethos of the late 60’s – and very soon Tyrannosaurus Rex were one of the ‘in’ acts within the hippy underworld culture of that time. The duo were soon performing regularly at university venues up and down the country, and became regular favourites at the ‘Middle Earth’ club in King Street Covent Garden-W1, that was run by the late ‘underground’ DJ John Peel.
With a couple of well received (certainly not best seller) albums under his belt and a few quid now in his pocket – Bolan and his then girlfriend set up home in a top-floor flat at 57 Blenheim Crescent , Ladbroke Grove-W11
However, deep down Marc Bolan had always been a ‘rocker’ and was only really paying lip-service to the hippy movement with the music he was producing and playing – and having released 4 Tyrannosaurus Rex albums throughout the latter part of the 60’s – he felt that the time was right to try his hand again at forming a ‘rock’ band and fulfil his dream of becoming a big star, and so he ditched Steve Peregrine Took and took on 3 ‘minor league’ musicians (Mickey Finn-on bongo’s / Steve Currie-on bass guitar / Will Legend-on drums)- and to ensure that the record buying public and radio DJ’s would easily grasp and remember the band, he changed the name of the group from Tyrannosaurus Rex to simply “T.Rex”. All he needed now was a hit-single, and after 2 reasonably well received ‘acoustic/electric’ albums, he came up with “Ride a White Swan” which was released in October 1970. This tune simply caught the mood of the time, as the record buying public were starting to get a little bit bored of the self-indulgent ‘progressive’ music on the airwaves, and the denim clad type fashions that went with it – The teen market simply wanted to lighten-up and have fun, and ‘Ride White Swan’ was a record that was in the right place at the right time, to capture that ‘vibe’ – and it provided Bolan with his very first Top 10 hit.
The rest, as they say – is history…..because by simply applying a little bit of ‘glitter’ to his cheeks and wearing flamboyant colourful clothes – and latching on to a song writing formula that produced ‘number 1’ chart hits such as:- Hot Love / Get It On / Metal Guru / Telegram Sam / Jeepster / Children of the Revolution / 20th Century Boy – plus 2 massive selling albums:- Electric Warrior / The Slider…………a ‘Star’ a ‘Teen Idol’ and in particular, ‘Glam Rock’ was born.
With ‘Bolan-mania’ in full force, and his privacy threatened, Marc moved out of his Blenheim Crescent flat in Ladbroke Grove and relocated to a more secure and secluded apartment at Bilston Towers in Great Marlborough Street-W1. With massive record sales, and sell out concerts all over the country, the culmination of the success of T.Rex was a sell-out concert at the then Empire Pool – Wembley in 1972 (I was there by the way), which was filmed by the Beatle Ringo Starr, and released as the movie ‘Born to Boogie’. Sadly, Bolan did not move with the ever changing times, in terms of his song writing – and after a couple of years of unprecedented success his popularity started to fade. With the advent of ‘Punk’ rock, he did experience a slight resurgence in interest, when he was referenced by many of the major punk bands as the ‘Godfather of Punk’ – but he, nor T.Rex could ever regain the heights of success achieved in the very early 1970’s.
Marc Bolan lived life in the fast lane and always said that he would never make the age of 30 – and sadly on the 16th September 1977, whilst being driven home by his then girlfriend (singer Gloria Jones) from a night out at a west-end restaurant – the car hit a tree on the Queens Ride stretch of road in Barnes-SW13. Gloria Jones was badly injured, but Bolan died instantly.
Plaques commemorating his life are on display at the Golders Green Crematorium and his childhood home at 25 Stoke Newington Common – and, at the exact site of the car crash that ended his life, 2 memorial ‘shrines’ exist, one put there by ‘the fans’ and the other by the ‘Performing Rights Society’ – These have been and will no doubt continue to be, visited by hundreds of fans from all over the globe.
Marc Bolan – a London boy from the ‘Cradle to the Grave’