Marc Bolan (born Mark Feld) was the elfin prince of Glam. He’d tried being a mod, he’d tried being a hippie, he’d tried being a model, but he was ultimately Born to Boogie. RIP.
Bolan was brought up in Stamford Hill, London. His first band – the mid-Sixties psychedelic outfit John’s Children – overdressed sufficiently for him to talk about them later as the first ever Glam Rock act.
But the sensitive artist side came to light when, as half of acoustic duo Tyrannosaurus Rex (with percussionist Steve ‘Peregrine’ Took), he made albums with mystical titles like My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair . . . But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows, and topped off the gentle folkie music with lyrics centring on mythology, magic and mumbo jumbo in general.
The duo released their second album, Prophets, Seers and Sages, The Angels of the Ages, in November 1968. By this time, Tyrannosaurus Rex was building a sizable underground following, which helped Bolan’s book of poetry, The Warlock of Love, enter the British best-seller charts.
In the summer of 1969, the duo released their third album, Unicorn, as well as the single King of the Rumbling Spires, the first Tyrannosaurus Rex song to feature an electric guitar . . .
A psychedelic painter and decorator with a keen eye for motorbikes and girls, Mickey Finn harboured few ambitions until he met Marc Bolan in October 1969. Taking an instant liking to Finn’s name, and his chiselled features, Bolan installed him on bongos in Tyrannosaurus Rex following Took’s sudden departure.
Finn couldn’t play, but that didn’t bother Bolan, as long as his side-kicks looked good and obeyed orders. By 1972, Finn’s classically handsome face gazed down from a million bedroom walls, a perfect foil to Bolan’s poetic prettiness.
The hippies loved it, but when Bolan went all electric in 1971 – and shortened the group’s name to T. Rex – he found a new teenage following attracted to his pumping rock, coy sexuality and cheeky good looks.
He was possibly the first performer to publicly make the transition from dirty hippie to Electric Warrior – the watershed moment being the time Marc thought “I wonder what this would look like” and smeared a load of glitter underneath his eyes.
For Marc Bolan, glitter was a definite decision – a uniform, a look that defined him. Some eyeliner, a bit of something to make him stand out, something that made him sparkle. Like glitter. It worked a treat. Bolan hit upon something that inspired an army of clones who revelled in his success.
He shone a light in the hearts of kids who were being brought up in a grey world. It was escapism and realism combined. He had the hair, the stare and the flares. Hell, Marc Bolan WAS Glam as he minced around (banging his gong) singing Ride a White Swan.
That’s what “T. Rextacy” was all about.
Bolan expanded T. Rex to a full band, adding bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend (born Bill Fifield). The new line-up recorded Hot Love, which spent six weeks at #1 in early 1971.
That summer, T. Rex released Get It On (retitled Bang a Gong (Get It On) in the US) which became their second straight UK #1. The single would go on to be their biggest international hit, reaching #10 in America in 1972.
Electric Warrior, the first album recorded by the full band, was released in 1971 and was number one for six weeks in Britain and cracked America’s Top 40.
By now, “T. Rextacy” was in full swing in England, as the band captured the imaginations of both teenagers and the media. The image of Marc Bolan in a top hat, feather boa, and platform shoes, performing Get It On on Top Of The Pops became as famous as his music.
Parents didn’t particularly like him (which made him even more appealing) but he was flamboyant and sexy – he was the ultimate rock & roll superstar.
At the beginning of 1972, T. Rex signed with EMI, setting up a distribution deal for Bolan’s own T.Rex Wax Co. record label. Telegram Sam, the group’s first EMI single, became their third #1 single.
Metal Guru also hit #1, spending four weeks at the top of the chart.
By spring of 1972, T. Rex had sold 16 million records since the start of 1971. Bolan had his own record label and publishing company. He bought luxury cars even though he couldn’t drive. He developed a sneaky liking for Dom Perignon champagne and cocaine even though he’d been a virtual teetotaller for most of his life.
Recorded in Paris and Copenhagen with producer Tony Visconti, The Slider, released in the summer of 1972, shot to #1 upon its release, allegedly selling 100,000 copies in four days. The album was also T. Rex’s most successful American release, reaching #17 over there and marking a breakthrough for glam rock in the United States.
Appearing in the spring of 1973, Tanx was another Top Five hit for T. Rex, and the singles 20th Century Boy and The Groover soon followed it to the upper ranks of the charts.
In the summer of 1973, rhythm guitarist Jack Green joined the band, as did three backup vocalists, including the American soul singer, Gloria Jones, who would soon also become Bolan’s girlfriend. At the beginning of 1974, drummer Bill Legend left the group and was replaced by Davy Lutton.
After an all-too-brief period though the record reviews started to criticise Bolan, claiming all T. Rex singles sounded the same . . . and 15-year-old girls are a very fickle audience.
By 1974 Marc had gained a lot of weight, left his wife, sacked band members, baited the press, gone into tax exile in Monte Carlo and stopped having hits. He was also awash in cocaine and cognac.
He weathered the dark period though and settled down with Gloria Jones. They had a son and Marc seemed to have settled down.
By 1975, with the band on the slide, Bolan could no longer afford to retain Mickey Finn and sacked him. Despite his subsequent descent into personal and health problems, Finn remained loyal to the T. Rex legacy and his mentor.
Released in the summer of 1976, I Love to Boogie, a disco-flavoured three-chord thumper, became Bolan’s 20 hit. He released Dandy in the Underworld in the spring of 1977 and it was a modest hit, peaking at #26.
While The Soul of My Suit reached #42 on the charts, T. Rex’s next two singles failed to chart. Sensing it was time for a change of direction, Bolan began expanding his horizons in August.
In addition to contributing a weekly column for Record Mirror, he hosted his own variety television show. In fact, Bolan was saved by the box – first in the form of Mike Mansfield’s pop show Supersonic, and then through his very own kiddiepop show Marc.
Bolan’s glam years came full circle when he invited David Bowie to be a guest on the last Marc show. Here was the former Ziggy Stardust sharing the stage with the underworld dandy who’d washed up on the shores of children’s TV.
Duetting on a hastily-written song called Standing Next to You the two men had barely started singing when Bolan tripped over a wire and toppled off the stage. Could there have been a more painfully symbolic end to the Electric Warrior’s career?
Only a week later – on 16 September 1977 – Marc was killed when the mini driven by Gloria Jones hit a tree in Barnes, South West London as they headed home from Mortons drinking club and restaurant in Berkeley Square.
Jones lost control of the car. It struck a steel reinforced chain link fence post and came to rest against a sycamore tree after failing to negotiate a small humpback bridge near Gipsy Lane on Queens Ride, Barnes.
Neither occupant was wearing a seatbelt and Bolan was killed instantly. He was just 29. Jones suffered a broken arm and broken jaw and spent time in hospital. She did not learn of Bolan’s death until the day of his funeral.
Bolan’s home, which was less than a mile away at 142 Upper Richmond Road West in East Sheen, was looted a few days after the crash by fans who stole most of his possessions.
Gloria went back to America after recovering from the accident. She was later summonsed to appear in court in London on charges of being unfit to drive and driving a car in a dangerous condition, but she never returned to face the allegations.
The couple’s son Rolan Bolan settled in Los Angeles and became a musician and model for clothing brand Tommy Hilfiger
Mickey Finn died in South London as a result of kidney and liver problems on 11 January 2003, aged 55.
Steve Took passed away on 27 October 1980. He was just 31.
Steve Peregrine Took