Bolan: 40 years on...

This September is a poignant month for all fans of the great Marc Bolan. It marks 70 years since he   was born on the 30th September 1947 (as Mark Field) and 40 years since his life was tragically cut short on in a car accident on September 16th in 1977.

Marc still has a loyal army of fans who will no doubt be marking these anniversaries in appropriate ways but, outside of this group of devotees, I think the importance of Bolan is sometimes under-estimated.  He is often categorised as one of the leading lights of glam rock and while this is undoubtedly true, he was also so much more than that.  Tunes like ‘Metal Guru’ and ‘Children of the Revolution’ are timeless classics and he is cited as a key influence on many music careers, including the likes of both Johnny Marr and Morrissey.

The last year of Marc’s life showed him back at the top of his game and if his life hadn’t been cut short I have no doubt he would have gone on to even greater heights. Unlike many of his peers Marc wasn’t afraid of change; in fact he embraced it. While most of his contemporaries were running scared of the punk revolution, Bolan welcomed it with open arms. He seized on its energy and fervour and upped his game as a result. Members of The Damned talk with great affection about the tour they did supporting Bolan in 1977.  Bringing a punk band on tour was a pretty radical statement at the time as punk groups largely played with other punk bands and many of the larger venues were still very wary of booking anyone associated with this new movement.

Not only did Bolan insist on The Damned being his support on the tour, he also looked after the young band, who like all at groups at that early stage of their career, had little or no money to help them get around the country.  Marc let them share his tour bus and apparently even paid for their hotels (this was at a time when support bands often had to get their record companies to subsidise the main act’s tour costs by paying them for the privilege of being allowed to be their tour support).

In one interview with The Damned’s Captain Sensible, he talks hilariously about the many overnight stops on the tour for food at motorway cafes.  The Damned tucked in to the usual unhealthy fry-ups while watching Bolan run past the window in front of them every few minutes as he jogged around the service station in his tracksuit.  Sensible says that one of the reasons Marc picked them out was because he saw him wearing a Bolan T shirt, but Bolan undoubtedly also saw a group that mixed ferocious energy with some great pop songs as on their brilliant debut single ‘New Rose’.

Long before glam rock and punk, Bolan first came to the public’s attention with his psychedelic folk duo, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Recently, I had a chat with someone who was lucky enough to see them on a short 1969 tour they undertook. The line-up for this now looks pretty amazing and included sitar player Vytas Serelis, David Bowie and John Peel. Peel had always been a big supporter of Bolan’s work and on the tour poster Peel is described as the ‘catalyst.’  The fan I talked to said that, at the gig she went to, Peel read extracts from ‘The Hobbit’ as his contribution to the show. Bowie? He performed his mime act, which depicted China’s invasion of Tibet! Years later Bowie recalled Peel advising him that nobody really liked mime and that he should stick to his music!

Bolan achieved mainstream success when he went electric, shortened the name to T Rex and had a hit for the first time in 1970 with the Tony Visconti produced ‘Ride A White Swan’. At this stage T Rex were still a duo, although Mickey Finn had replaced the marvellously named Steve Peregrin Took on percussion.  T Rex became a full band and between 1971 and 1973 they dominated the UK charts with a stream of singles that included classics like ‘Hot Love’, ‘Get It On’, and ‘Jeepster’ and two great albums.

Bolan continued to make interesting music after this peak but was never to reach these dizzy heights again.  He returned to form in 1977 with a new band and a great album in the beautifully titled ‘Dandy In The Underworld’. That year’s tour with The Damned saw Bolan back to his best and later that year he was given his own TV show simply called ‘Marc’.

I remember coming home from school to watch the show, partly because it featured a number of punk bands and you didn’t get much chance to see them on telly in those days. The likes of Generation X and The Jam appeared, but it quickly became apparent that it was all about Marc. He was made for TV and he grabbed and held your attention.  He was a gorgeous, exotic looking creature with a dress sense that fitted perfectly with his magical, ethereal persona.  The final moments of the last show sees Marc performing with his old friend David Bowie.  It is a poignant and magical bit of footage but also incredibly sad given that Marc died just over a week later.

If you don’t know much about Bolan then treat yourself and go and have a listen. He wrote and sang more great songs than any one individual has a right to; perfect pop from one of the UK’s greatest pop stars.

At BME we have a collection of amazing artefacts from the glam rock era including a guitar and outfit that belonged to Marc Bolan loaned to us courtesy of a Marc Bolan fan. The Damned have a strong presence in our punk display and there is a whole case devoted to the late, great David Bowie.

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