As the casual follower of this man`s career – this article learned me a lot that I didn`t know about what he did before be became the Bolan that “everyone” knew. Quite interesting! Bound to be a star?
Beau Brummel, Bert Weedon, Bill Haley and Helen Shapiro… figures in the formative years of the T. Rex leader
By Nick Logan
EVEN with the wine Marc had put away beforehand, it must have required a good deal of precocious arrogance. A “dude” dresser from the age of 9, writer of his autobiography at 14, subject of glossy magazine features at 15 here he was at 19 making his first ever public appearance in front of six or seven million people. And he’d never sung before.
“I had no real idea how to sing,” remembers Marc of that “Ready Steady Go” promotion on his first solo single, “The Wizard” back in 1965. “I had only sung before in the studio when we made the record. I thought it would be easy. You just stood there and started singing and that was that.”
But for the child Bolan, who’d learnt all he knew about singing from watching Cliff Richard in “Summer Holiday,”
Elvis in “Loving You” and Eddie Cochran in “Untamed Youth,” that wasn’t that. The result, with the band starting late behind Marc and playing in a a different key, was a fiasco.
” I was so embarrassed,” recalls Marc, who made a silent pledge to himself as he left the set “to really work at being a musician from that moment on.”
One time sideman for Helen Shapiro (yes really), male model, child poet and first of the East End Mods before the breed had yet been given a name by the press, Marc’s has been a chequered life.
“The first time I heard music seriously,” he recalls, “was through my Dad who worked in Petticoat Lane and used to bring me home records. The first I had was Ballad Of Davey Crockett’ by Bill Hayes. Remember that?”
Just in case I didn’t, Marc was on hand with a half-remembered verse, “Da-aavy, Da-aavy Cro-ckett….”
“I played that all the time until my Dad came home one day and said: `I’ve got this new Bill Hayes record for you’ and I thought great. I looked at the cover and there was this guy jumping around with a guitar. I said ‘But Dad this isn’t Bill Hayes, this is Bill Haley.’ It was a real downer. But I played it…. Rock Around The Clock,’ ‘See You Later Alligator’…. and I thought ‘Wow … what’s this?’
“Bill Hayes got thrown right out of the window.”
Apart from serving as a kid at the famed 2 I’s coffee bar — where incidentally he can remember Cliff Richard being thrown out for jamming in the downstairs room — Bolan’s next brush with the temptingly attractive world of rock and roll occurred at the Hackney Empire where “Oh Boy” was being filmed weekly and where the “fave” rock stars of the day could be seen and idolised and later imitated in front of the mirror at home, guitar clutched to breast.
Marc as yet couldn’t actually play the thing, but he could pluck a nifty tea chest bass, his dexterity on which got him a placing with a local outfit — not so much church hall as street corner group — glorying under the name of Susie and the Hoolahoops. Lead singer was Helen Shapiro.
It was when the friends of that period grew apart, and Miss Shapiro went on to be a teenage star — “I couldn’t relate to that because it was outside my neighbourhood and that was all I knew” — that Marc got into the clothes scene.
“The Life Of Beau Brummel” being one of the first books he got deeply into, he’d been a “smart dresser” from as early as nine but at 13 fell in with an older crowd from Stamford Hill for whom clothes had become a way of life. These were the early days of what was to ignite the whole Mod cult and the Carnaby Street bonanza.
“Visually,” remembers Marc, “these cats were amazing. They were about 20 when I first knew them but I decided that that was where I wanted to be too and by the time I was 14 I had the same sort of respect they had in the neighbourhood.”
So strong became their reputation, spreading further afield than the immediate East End, that when the National Press realised not only that Mods existed but that they would make good copy Marc and his friends were the people they went to.
At 15, “Town” magazine was devoting an article to Marc’s wardrobe and his views. He got out, he says, when the media moved in but claims that if you went around certain parts of the East End and mentioned Marc Feld, his real name, there would still be people who would remember.
His obsession for clothes came to an end when the family moved to Wimbledon — “because nothing ever happened there.”
Leaving school, he “went into exile for two or three years, like Beau Brummel had done.”A living of about £4 a week was made knicking records from second-hand record shops and selling them back.
He also did a bit of male modelling, for John Temple, the tailors, among others, and then, having learnt by then how to play as well as pose with guitar — with assistance from the Bert Weedon “Play In A Day” instructor — he set about breaking into music.
He made demos for everyone and anyone, failed an EMI recording test singing Betty Everett’s “You’re No Good” and finally signed with Decca to cut “The Wizard,” a new extended version of which is on the current T. Rex album.
From that first abortive “RSG” he went again into a form of exile, cutting himself off from former friends and associates — as well as Decca — to learn the art of songwriting. His difficulty was a lack of anywhere to play. The Underground was non-existent and the choice for a solo performer singing his own songs with a guitar was either folk clubs or rag balls. “I knew that the kids were there though,” says Marc, “because they were buying Dylan records.”
It was with producer/manager Simon Napier Bell that Bolan made his second solo record, “Hippy Gumbo.” A press handout of the time was recording such illuminating facts as…. “Likes: £9,000 cars. Dislikes: £8,000 cars.” Again, through his friendship with what was then the elitist circle of the day he was able to do a further “RSG” promotion. “I wasn’t ashamed of that one,” comments Marc, who remembers it primarily as the first unforgettable television appearance of Jimi Hendrix. Despite it, the single sold about 200 copies.
Napier Bell also managed a group called John’s Children who had had a minor hit with their first single. They wanted a lead guitarist. “Actually they wanted Pete Townshend and I was the nearest equivalent thing he had under contract,” laughs Marc.
John’s Children are probably best remembered for publicity photographs posed in the nude (before Marc joined) and their single “Desdamonah” (after). The single was Marc’s song all the way through, and often looked back on as a source of encouragement when things looked black.
When he finally split from John’s Children because he didn’t like the way their music was going, Marc started Tyrannosaurus Rex. It isn’t commonly known that for a brief spell they were a five piece electric group.
Marc had modelled them on Tomorrow and they managed a few gigs at The Electric Garden, later Middle Earth. “We didn’t rehearse,” recalls Marc. “We didn’t know about rehearsing. We thought you just went on and said `Here are the songs’…..”
Big Rex had a short life, permanently stunted when Track Records re-possessed the band’s equipment. Marc, bereft of his Gibson, bought a £12 acoustic with money his mother had given him and with Steve Took, who’d played drums with the five piece, set up the bopping duo.
John Peel’s assistance through “Perfumed Garden” and the duo’s free gigs in Hyde Park aroused the initial interest and created the impetus.
Before long they were back at Middle Earth. “A fiver a night and a cab home to Wimbledon we got when we started. A cab home…. wow that was really living.”