MarcBolan died aged twenty-nine on 16th September 1977, just two weeks before his thirtieth birthday. He was a passenger in a purple Mini GT driven by Gloria Jones as they headed home from Mortons drinking club and restaurant in Berkeley Square. Gloria 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, southwest London. Neither occupant was wearing a seat belt. Marc Bolan was killed instantly, while Gloria Jones suffered a broken arm and broken jaw and spent time in hospital.
At Marc Bolan's funeral, attended by David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Tony Visconti, and Steve Harley, a swan-shaped floral tribute was displayed outside the service in recognition of his breakthrough hit single "Ride a White Swan". His funeral service was at the Golders Green Crematorium, in north London, where his ashes were buried. The car crash site has subsequently become a shrine to his memory, where fans leave tributes beside the tree. In 2013, the shrine was featured on the British BBC Four series Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain's Holiest Places. The site, referred to as Bolan's Rock Shrine, is owned and maintained by the T. Rex Action Group.
Marc Bolan never learned to drive, fearing a premature death. Despite this fear, cars or automotive components are at least mentioned in, if not the subject of, many of his songs. He also owned a number of vehicles, including a white 1960s Rolls-Royce that was loaned by his management to the band, Hawkwind, on the night of his death.
Marc Bolan was born Mark Feld on 30th September 1947 and grew up in Stoke Newington Common, in the borough of Hackney, east London. He was the son of Phyllis Winifred (née Atkins) and Simeon Feld, a lorry driver. His father was an Ashkenazi Jew of Russian/Polish extraction. Later moving to Wimbledon, southwest London, Marc became hooked on the rock and roll of Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Arthur Crudup and Chuck Berry and hung around coffee bars in Soho.
Marc was a pupil at Northwold Primary School, Upper Clapton. He appeared as an extra in an episode of the television show Orlando, dressed as a mod. At the age of nine, Marc Bolan was given his first guitar and began a skiffle band. While at school, he played guitar in "Susie and the Hula Hoops," a trio whose vocalist was a 12-year-old Helen Shapiro. During lunch breaks at school, he would play his guitar in the playground to a small audience of friends. At fifteen, he was expelled from school for bad behaviour.
Marc Bolan briefly joined a modelling agency and became a "John Temple Boy", appearing in a clothing catalogue for the menswear store. He was a model for the suits in their catalogues as well as for cardboard cut-outs to be displayed in shop windows. Town magazine featured him as an early example of the mod movement in a photo spread with two other models. In 1964, Mark met his first manager, Geoffrey Delaroy-Hall, and recorded a slick commercial track backed by session musicians called "All at Once" , which was later released posthumously by Danielz and Caron Willans in 2008 as a very limited edition seven inch vinyl. This recording is now regarded as possibly the very first known track that the young Mark had put to professional studio tape. There are, however, claims that Marc’s very first recording was with Joe Meek. This is based on a scratchy anonymous acetate disc discovered by the Joe Meek fan club, which has a definite resemblance to Marc’s vocal delivery. This recording, a song called "Mrs Jones", is thought to date from 1963.
Mark Feld then changed his stage-name to Toby Tyler when he met and moved in with child actor Allan Warren, who became his second manager. This encounter afforded Marc a lifeline to the heart of show business, as Warren saw Toby Tyler's potential while Tyler spent hours sitting cross-legged on Warren's floor playing his acoustic guitar. Marc Bolan at this time liked to appear in boho-chic, wearing a corduroy peaked cap similar to his current source of inspiration, Bob Dylan. A series of photographs was commissioned with photographer Michael McGrath. Warren also hired a recording studio and had Marc Bolan's first acetates cut. Two tracks were later released, the Bob Dylan song "Blowin' in the Wind" and Dion Di Mucci's "The Road I'm On ".
Warren later sold Marc Bolan's contract and recordings for £200 to his landlord, property mogul David Kirch, in lieu of three months' back rent, but Kirch was too busy with his property empire to do anything for him. A year or so later, Marc Bolan's mother pushed into Kirch's office and shouted at him that he had done nothing for her son. She demanded he tear up the contract and willingly he complied. The tapes of the first two tracks produced during the Toby Tyler recording session vanished for over 25 years before resurfacing in 1991 and selling for nearly $8,000. Their eventual release on CD in 1993 made available some of the earliest of Marc's known recordings.
After changing his name again, to Marc Bolan, he signed to Decca Records in August 1965 and recorded his debut single "The Wizard." The Ladybirds sang backing vocals, while apart from Marc Bolan's vocals, all other music was created by studio session musicians. "The Wizard" was released in November 1965. Marc Bolan's first single was produced by Jim Economedes, with music director Mike Leander. Two solo acoustic demos recorded shortly afterwards by the same team ("Reality" and "Song For A Soldier") have still only been given a limited official release in 2015 on seven-inch vinyl. In June 1966, a second official single was also released, with session-musician accompaniment, "The Third Degree", backed by "San Francisco Poet", Marc Bolan's paean to the beat poets.
In 1966, Marc Bolan turned up at Simon Napier-Bell's front door with his guitar and proclaimed that he was going to be a big star and he needed someone to make all of the arrangements. Napier-Bell invited Marc in and listened to his songs. A recording session was immediately booked and the songs were very simply recorded. Most of them were not actually released until 1974, on the album "The Beginning of Doves". Only "Hippy Gumbo", a sinister-sounding, baroque folk-song, was released at the time as Marc's third unsuccessful single. One song, "You Scare Me to Death," was used in a toothpaste advertisement. Some of the songs also resurfaced in 1982, with additional instrumentation added, on the album "You Scare Me to Death". Napier Bell managed the Yardbirds and John's Children and was at first going to slot Marc Bolan into the Yardbirds. In early 1967 he eventually settled instead for John's Children because they needed a songwriter and he admired Marc Bolan's writing ability. The band achieved some success as a live act but sold few records. A John's Children single written by Marc Bolan called "Desdemona" was banned by the BBC because of its line "lift up your skirt and fly."
Marc Bolan's tenure with the band was brief. When the band split following an ill-fated German gig with the Who, Marc took some time to reassess his situation. Marc Bolan's imagination was filled with new ideas and he began to write fantasy novels as well as poems and songs, sometimes finding it hard to separate facts from his own elaborate myth - he famously claimed to have spent time with a wizard in Paris who gave him secret knowledge and could levitate. The time spent with him was often alluded to but remained "mythical"; in reality the wizard was probably US actor Riggs O'Hara with whom Marc Bolan made a trip to Paris in 1965. Given time to reinvent himself, after John's Children his song-writing took off and he began writing many of the poetic and neo-romantic songs that would appear on his first albums with T. Rex.
When John's Children collapsed, among other problems, the band were stunned to discover their equipment had been stolen from a studio, according to a Marc Bolan biographer. But Marc, unperturbed, rallied to create Tyrannosaurus Rex, his own rock band together with guitarist Ben Cartland, drummer Steve Peregrin Took and an unknown bass player. Napier-Bell recalled of Marc Bolan that he got a gig at the Electric Garden then put an ad in Melody Maker to get the musicians. The paper came out on Wednesday, the day of the gig. At three o'clock he was interviewing musicians, at five he was getting ready to go on stage.
Following this concert, Marc Bolan pared the band down to just himself and Took, and they continued as a psychedelic-folk rock acoustic duo, playing Marc's songs, with Took playing assorted hand and kit percussion and occasional bass to Marc Bolan's acoustic guitars and voice.
The original version of Tyrannosaurus Rex released three albums and four singles, flirting with the charts, reaching as high as number fifteen and supported with airplay by Radio One disc-jockey John Peel. One of the highlights of this era was when the duo played at the first free Hyde Park concert in 1968. Although the free-spirited, drug-taking Took was fired from the group after their first American tour, they were a force within the hippie underground scene while they lasted. Their music was filled with Marc's otherworldly poetry.
In 1969, Marc Bolan published his first and only book of poetry entitled The Warlock of Love. Although some critics dismissed it as self-indulgence, it was full of Marc Bolan's florid prose and wordplay, selling 40,000 copies and in 1969-70 became one of Britain's best-selling books of poetry. It was reprinted in 1992 by the Tyrannosaurus Rex Appreciation Society.
In keeping with his early rock&roll interests, Marc Bolan began bringing amplified guitar lines into the duo's music, buying a white Fender Stratocaster decorated with a paisley teardrop motif. After replacing Took with Mickey Finn, he let the electric influences come forward even further on A Beard of Stars, the final album to be credited to Tyrannosaurus Rex. It closed with the song "Elemental Child", featuring a long electric guitar break influenced by Jimi Hendrix.
Marc Bolan married his girlfriend, June Child, a former secretary to the manager of another of his heroes, Syd Barrett, who was influential in raising her new husband's profile in the music business. Becoming more adventurous musically, Marc bought a modified vintage Gibson Les Paul guitar, featured on the cover of the album T. Rex, and then wrote and recorded his first hit "Ride a White Swan", which was dominated by a rolling hand-clapping back-beat, Marc Bolan's electric guitar and Finn's percussion. At this time he also shortened the group's name to T. Rex.
Marc Bolan and his producer Tony Visconti oversaw the session for "Ride a White Swan", the single that changed Marc Bolan's career which was inspired in part by Mungo Jerry's success with "In the Summertime", moving Marc away from predominantly acoustic numbers to a more electric sound. Recorded on 1st July 1970 and released later that year, it made slow progress in the UK Top 40, until it finally peaked in early 1971 at number two.
Marc Bolan took to wearing top hats and feather boas on stage as well as putting drops of glitter on each of his cheekbones. The era of glam and glitter rock was born.
The glam era also saw the rise of Marc Bolan's friend David Bowie, whom Marc had come to know in the underground days. He had played guitar on Bowie's 1970 single "Prettiest Star". Marc Bolan and David Bowie also shared the same manager, Tony Howard, and producer, Tony Visconti, but their friendship was also a rivalry, which would continue throughout his career.
Marc Bolan followed "Ride a White Swan" and T. Rex by expanding the group to a quartet with bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend, and cutting the five-minute single, "Hot Love", with a rollicking rhythm, string accents and an extended sing-along chorus. It was number one for six weeks and was quickly followed by "Get It On", a grittier, more adult tune that spent four weeks in the top spot. The song was renamed "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" when released in the United States, to avoid confusion with another song of the same name by the American band Chase. The song reached No. 10 in the USA in early 1972, the only top 40 single the band had in America.
In November 1971, the band's record label, Fly, released the Electric Warrior track "Jeepster" without Marc Bolan's permission. Outraged, Marc Bolan took advantage of the timely lapsing of his Fly Records contract and left for EMI, who gave him his own record label, the T. Rex Wax Co. Its bag and label featured an iconic head-and-shoulders image of Marc Bolan. Despite the lack of Marc Bolan's endorsement, "Jeepster" peaked at number two in the UK.
In 1972, Marc Bolan achieved two more British number ones with "Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru" and two more number twos in "Children of the Revolution" and "Solid Gold Easy Action". .
In the same year Marc appeared in Ringo Starr's film Born to Boogie, a documentary showing a concert at Wembley Empire Pool on 18 March 1972. Mixed in were surreal scenes shot at John Lennon's mansion in Ascot and a session with T. Rex joined by Ringo Starr on a second drum kit and Elton John on piano. At this time T. Rex record sales accounted for about six percent of total British domestic record sales. The band was reportedly selling 100,000 records a day; however, no T. Rex single ever became a million-seller in the UK, despite many gold discs and an average of four weeks at the top per number one hit.
Eventually, the vintage T. Rex line-up disintegrated. Legend left in 1973 and Finn in 1975 and Marc Bolan's marriage came to an end because of his affair with backing singer Gloria Jones who gave birth to his son Rolan in 1975. He spent a good deal of his time in the US during this period, continuing to release singles and albums which, while not reaching major commercial success, were full of unusual lyrics and sometimes eccentric musical experiments. Marc Bolan was not living healthily and began to gain weight, though he subsequently improved and continued working, producing at least one album every year.
In early 1977, Marc Bolan got a new band together, released a new album, Dandy in the Underworld, and set out on a fresh UK tour, taking along punk band the Damned as support to entice a young audience who did not remember his heyday.
Later in 1977, Granada Television commissioned Marc Bolan to front a six-part series called Marc in which he hosted a mix of new and established bands and performed his own songs. By this time Marc Bolan had lost weight, appearing as trim as he had during T. Rex's earlier heyday. The show was broadcast during the post-school half-hour on ITV earmarked for children and teenagers and it was a big success.
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