Bolan performing live in 1973
|Born||30 September 1947|
Stoke Newington, London, England
|Died||16 September 1977 (aged 29)|
Barnes, London, England
Marc Bolan ( BOH-l?n; born Mark Feld; 30 September 1947 - 16 September 1977) was an English singer-songwriter, musician, guitarist, and poet. He was best known as the lead singer of the glam rock band T. Rex. Bolan was one of the pioneers of the glam rock movement of the 1970s. He died at the age of 29 in a car crash a fortnight before his 30th birthday. In 1997, a memorial stone and bust of Bolan, Marc Bolan's Rock Shrine, was unveiled at the site where he died in Barnes, London.
Bolan's appearance on the BBC's music show Top of the Pops in March 1971, wearing glitter and satins, is often cited as the beginning of the glam rock movement. Music critic Ken Barnes called Bolan "the man who started it all". T. Rex's 1971 album Electric Warrior, with all songs written by Bolan, including the UK chart topper "Get It On", has been described by AllMusic as "the album that essentially kick-started the UK glam rock craze." Producer Tony Visconti, who would also work with the other major glam rock pioneer David Bowie, stated, "What I saw in Marc Bolan had nothing to do with strings, or very high standards of artistry; what I saw in him was raw talent. I saw genius. I saw a potential rock star in Marc - right from the minute, the hour I met him."
Bolan was born at Hackney Hospital and grew up in Stoke Newington, in the borough of Hackney, east London, the son of Phyllis Winifred (née Atkins) and Simeon Feld, a lorry driver. His father was an Ashkenazi Jew of Russian and Polish ancestry, while his mother was of English, Welsh and Scottish descent. Moving to Wimbledon, southwest London, he fell in love with the rock and roll of Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Arthur Crudup and Chuck Berry and hung around coffee bars such as the 2i's in Soho.
Bolan 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, he 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 15, he was expelled from school for bad behaviour.
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, Bolan met his first manager, Geoffrey Delaroy-Hall, and recorded a slick commercial track backed by session musicians called "All at Once" (a song very much in the style of his youthful hero, Cliff Richard, the "English Elvis"), which was later released posthumously by Danielz and Caron Willans in 2008 as a very limited edition seven-inch vinyl after the original tape recording was passed onto them by Delaroy-Hall. This track is one of Bolan's first professional recordings.
Bolan 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 Bolan a lifeline to the heart of show business, as Warren saw Bolan's potential while he spent hours sitting cross-legged on Warren's floor playing his acoustic guitar. Bolan at this time liked to appear in boho-chic, wearing a corduroy peaked cap similar to his then current source of inspiration, Bob Dylan. A series of photographs was commissioned with photographer Michael McGrath, although he recalls that Bolan "left no impression" on him at the time. Warren also hired a recording studio and had 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 (Gloria)". A version of Betty Everett's "You're No Good" (still unreleased) was later submitted to EMI for a test screening but was turned down.
Warren later sold 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, 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 he willingly 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 Bolan's known recordings.
He signed to Decca Records in August 1965. At this point his name changed to Marc Bolan via Marc Bowland. There are several accounts of why Bolan was chosen, including that it was derived from James Bolan, a contraction of Bob Dylan, and - according to Bolan himself, that Decca Records chose the name. He recorded his debut single "The Wizard" with The Ladybirds on backing vocals (later finding fame with Benny Hill), and studio session musicians playing all the instruments. "The Wizard", Bolan's first single, was released on 19 November 1965. It featured Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan, was produced by Jim Economides, 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. Both songs are in a folk style reminiscent of Dylan and Donovan. A third song, "That's the Bag I'm In," written by New York folk singer and Dylan contemporary Fred Neil, was also committed to tape, but has not yet been released. In June 1966, a second official single was also released, with session-musician accompaniment, "The Third Degree", backed by "San Francisco Poet", Bolan's paean to the beat poets. Neither song made the charts.
In 1966, 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 Bolan 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 Bolan'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 Bolan into the Yardbirds. In early 1967 he eventually settled instead for John's Children because they needed a songwriter and he admired Bolan's writing ability. The band achieved some success as a live act but sold few records. A John's Children single written by Bolan called "Desdemona" was banned by the BBC for its line "lift up your skirt and fly".
His tenure with the band was brief. When the band split following an ill-fated German gig with The Who, Bolan took some time to reassess his situation. Bolan's imagination was filled with new ideas and he began to write fantasy novels (The Krakenmist and Pictures Of Purple People) 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 American actor Riggs O'Hara with whom Bolan made a trip to Paris in 1965. Given time to reinvent himself, after John's Children, Bolan's songwriting 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's equipment had been repossessed by their label Track Records. But Bolan, 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 Bolan: "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.... It was a disaster. He just got booed off the stage." Following this concert, Bolan pared the band down to just himself and Took, and they continued as a psychedelic-folk rock acoustic duo, playing Bolan's songs, with Took playing assorted hand and kit percussion and occasional bass to Bolan's acoustic guitars and voice. Napier-Bell said of Bolan that after the first disastrous electric gig, "He didn't have the courage to try it again; it really had been a blow to his ego... Later he told everyone he'd been forced into going acoustic because Track had repossessed all his gear. In fact he'd been forced to go acoustic because he was scared to do anything else."
The original version of Tyrannosaurus Rex released three albums and four singles, flirting with the charts, reaching as high as number fifteen. They were supported with airplay by BBC Radio 1 DJ 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 Bolan's otherworldly poetry. In 1969, 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 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 and roll interests, 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. Bolan married his girlfriend, June Ellen Child, on 30 January 1970. She was a former secretary to the manager of another of his heroes, Syd Barrett, and June was influential in raising her new husband's profile in the music industry. 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, Bolan's electric guitar and Finn's percussion. At this time he also shortened the group's name to T. Rex.
-- Adam Sweeting, The Telegraph.
Bolan and his producer Tony Visconti oversaw the session for "Ride a White Swan", the single that changed Bolan's career which was inspired in part by Mungo Jerry's success with "In the Summertime", moving Bolan away from predominantly acoustic numbers to a more electric sound. Recorded on 1 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.
Bolan took to wearing top hats and feather boas on stage as well as putting drops of glitter on each of his cheekbones. Stories are conflicting about his inspiration for this--some say it was introduced by his personal assistant, Chelita Secunda, although Bolan told John Pidgeon in a 1974 interview on Radio 1 that he noticed the glitter on his wife's dressing table prior to a photo session and casually daubed some on his face there and then. Other performers--and their fans--soon took up variations on the idea. The era of glam and glitter rock was born.
The glam era also saw the rise of Bolan's friend David Bowie, whom Bolan had come to know in the underground days (Bolan had played guitar on Bowie's 1970 single "Prettiest Star"; Bolan and Bowie also shared the same manager, Les Conn, and producer, Tony Visconti) but their friendship was also a rivalry, which would continue throughout his career.
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 a five-minute single, "Hot Love", with a rollicking rhythm, string accents and an extended sing-along chorus inspired somewhat by "Hey Jude". 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 re-titled "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" when released in the United States, to avoid confusion with another song with the same title by the American band Chase. The song reached No. 10 in the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1972, the only top 40 single the band had in the US.
In November 1971, the band's record label, Fly, released the Electric Warrior track "Jeepster" without Bolan's permission. Outraged, 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 Bolan. Despite the lack of Bolan's endorsement, "Jeepster" peaked at number two in the UK. In 1972, Bolan achieved two more British number ones with "Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru" (the latter of which stopped Elton John getting to the top with "Rocket Man") and two more number twos in "Children of the Revolution" and "Solid Gold Easy Action".
In the same year he 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.
In 1973, Bolan played twin lead guitar alongside his friend Jeff Lynne on the Electric Light Orchestra songs "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle" and "Dreaming of 4000" (originally uncredited) from On the Third Day, as well as on "Everyone's Born To Die", which was not released at the time but appears as a bonus track on the 2006 remaster.
By late 1973, his pop star fame gradually began to wane, even though he achieved a number three hit, "20th Century Boy", in February and mid-year "The Groover" followed it to number four. "Truck On (Tyke)" missed the UK top 10 reaching only No. 12 in December. However, "Teenage Dream" from the 1974 album Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow showed that Bolan was attempting to create richer, more involved music than he had previously attempted with T. Rex. He expanded the line up of the band to include a second guitarist, Jack Green, and other studio musicians, and began to take more control over the sound and production of his records, including by then girlfriend Gloria Jones on keyboards as well as backing vocals.
Eventually, the vintage T. Rex line-up disintegrated. Legend left in 1973 and Finn in 1975 and Bolan's marriage came to an end because of his affair with backing singer Gloria Jones. 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. 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 September 1975 Gloria Jones gave birth to Bolan's son, whom they named Rolan Bolan (although his birth certificate lists him as 'Rolan Seymour Feld'). That same year, Bolan returned to the UK from tax exile in the US and Monaco and to the public eye with a low-key tour. Bolan made regular appearances on the LWT pop show Supersonic, directed by his old friend Mike Mansfield and released a succession of singles, but he never regained the success of his glory days of the early 1970s. The last remaining member of Bolan's halcyon era T. Rex, Currie, left the group in late 1976. In early 1977, 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 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 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. One episode reunited Bolan with his former John's Children-bandmate Andy Ellison, then fronting the band Radio Stars.
Bolan's longtime friend and sometimes rival David Bowie was the final guest on the last episode of Marc. The two performed Bowie's song "Heroes" near the end of the show, and after Bolan's signoff, they began to play a bluesy song over the closing credits. Right as the vocals were about to begin, however, Bolan stumbled off the stage and out of the camera frame. Bowie's amusement was clearly visible, and the band stopped playing after a few seconds. With no time for a retake, the occurrence was aired.
On 16 September 1977, Bolan was riding in a Mini 1275GT driven by Gloria Jones as they headed home from Mortons drinking club and restaurant in Berkeley Square. After she crossed a small humpback bridge near Gipsy Lane on Queens Ride, Barnes, southwest London, the car struck a fence post and then a tree. Bolan was killed instantly, while Jones suffered a broken arm and broken jaw.
At 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, a secular provision 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 BBC Four series Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain's Holiest Places. The site, referred to as Marc Bolan's Rock Shrine, is owned and maintained by the T. Rex Action Group.
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.
Bolan was the early guitar idol of Johnny Marr, who later found fame as the guitarist of the influential indie rock band the Smiths. In 1979, Siouxsie and the Banshees released a cover of "20th Century Boy" as the B-side to the single "The Staircase (Mystery)". The band had played the song live for several years and on the first anniversary of Bolan's death in 1978 played the song as the encore when they performed at Aylesbury Friars.
In December 1980, "Telegram Sam" was the fourth single released by British gothic rock band Bauhaus. Also in 1980, the Bongos were the first American group, with "Mambo Sun", to enter the Billboard charts with a T.Rex cover. Since then, Bongos frontman Richard Barone has recorded several other Bolan compositions ("The Visit," "Ballrooms of Mars"), worked with T.Rex producer Tony Visconti for his current solo album, Glow (2010, Bar/None Records) that includes a remake of Bolan's "Girl" from Electric Warrior, and has himself produced tracks for Bolan's son Rolan.
In 1983, NWOBHM band Girlschool covered "20th Century Boy" on their Play Dirty. In 1984, the Replacements released a cover of "20th Century Boy" as a B-side to the single "I Will Dare"; it is also included on the reissue version of their album Let It Be.
In 1985, Duran Duran splinter band Power Station, with Robert Palmer as vocalist, took a version of "Get It On" into the UK Top 40 and to US No. 6, the first cover of a Bolan song to enter the charts since his death. They also performed the tune (with Michael Des Barres replacing Palmer) at the Live Aid concert. In 1986, Violent Femmes covered the song "Children of the Revolution" on their album, The Blind Leading the Naked. In 1989, X released a live cover of "20th Century Boy" as the B-side to their single "Kurenai". In 1990, Baby Ford did a cover of "Children of the Revolution" that appeared on the album Oooh, The World of Baby Ford". In 1991, T-Bolan a Japanese rock band debuted. The name of this band was inspired by T. Rex and its vocalist Marc Bolan.
In 1993, Guns N' Roses covered "Buick MacKane" on The Spaghetti Incident? but it was mislabelled on the album as "Buick Makane". Rock guitarist Slash has worn a t-shirt with an image of Bolan on the front.Oasis' 1994 hit song "Cigarettes & Alcohol" is acknowledged as drawing strongly upon "Get It On" in its instrumental music. In 1993, Adam Ant covered the track live on his Persuasion tour. The song was included on a private preview show on 21 February 1993 in Burbank, Los Angeles which was recorded and released, complete with the cover version, as a live bonus CD with 1994 pressings of his Antmusic: The Very Best of Adam Ant collection.
The Cameron Crowe-created movie Almost Famous features a scene where a Black Sabbath groupie is telling aspiring journalist William Miller (said to be created in Crowe's own image) about how, "Marc Bolan broke her heart, man. It's famous," regarding the character of Penny Lane, played by Kate Hudson. In 2000, Naoki Urasawa created a Japanese manga entitled 20th Century Boys that was inspired by Marc Bolan's song, "20th Century Boy". The series is a multiple award-winner, and has also been released in North America. The story was adopted into three successful live-action movies from 2008 to 2009, which were also released in the US, Canada and the UK.
In 2003, Depeche Mode's Martin Gore recorded covers of "Life Is Strange" and "Left Hand Luke and the Beggar Boys", and included them as b-sides of the single "Stardust". In 2006, Def Leppard released their album Yeah!, which contains covers of their favourite bands while growing up, the first song on this album is "20th Century Boy". Joe Elliott wanted to sing "Metal Guru" while Vivian Campbell wanted "Telegram Sam" but end up agreeing to "20th Century Boy". It's not the first time that Def Leppard has sung a T.Rex song; there is a live version of Get It On. "Children of the Revolution" was similarly performed by Elton John and Pete Doherty of The Libertines at Live 8, 20 years later. U2's Bono and Gavin Friday also covered "Children of the Revolution" on the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack.
"20th Century Boy" introduced a new generation of devotees to Bolan's work in 1991 when it was featured on a Levi's jeans TV commercial featuring Brad Pitt, and was re-released, reaching the UK Top 20. The song was performed by the fictional band The Flaming Creatures (performed by Placebo, reprised by Placebo and David Bowie at the 1999 BRIT Awards) in the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine. In every decade since his death, a Bolan greatest hits compilation has placed in the top 20 UK albums and periodic boosts in sales have come via cover versions from artists inspired by Bolan, including Morrissey and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Similarly, "I Love to Boogie" was briefly used on an advert for Robinson's soft drink in 2001, bringing Bolan's music to a new generation. Mitsubishi also featured "20th Century Boy" in a 2002 car commercial, prompting Hip-O Records to release a best-of collection CD titled 20th Century Boy: The Ultimate Collection.
His music is still widely used in films, recent notable cases being Breakfast on Pluto, Death Proof, Lords of Dogtown, Billy Elliot, Jarhead, Moulin Rouge!, Herbie: Fully Loaded, Breaking-Up, Hot Fuzz, Click, School of Rock , Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Dallas Buyers Club. Bolan is still cited by many guitar-centric bands as a huge influence (Joy Division/New Order's Bernard Sumner has said that the first single he owned was "Ride a White Swan".) However, he always maintained he was a poet who put lyrics to music. The tunes were never as important as the words.
An ongoing row about his fortune. Bolan had arranged a discretionary trust to safeguard his money. His death left the fortune beyond the reach of those closest to him and both his family and journalists have taken an active interest in investigating the situation, so far with little result other than bringing the story to wider attention. A small, separate Jersey-based trust fund has allowed his son to receive some income. However, the bulk of Bolan's fortune, variously estimated at between £20 and £30 million (approx $38 - $57 million), remains in trust. As of 2007, Bolan's family is supposed to have a house paid for by the trust, and Rolan is supposed to receive an allowance.
There are two plaques dedicated to his memory at Golders Green Crematorium in North London. The first was placed there in the mid-1990s in white marble and was installed by the Tyrannosaurus Rex Appreciation Society with the help of fans worldwide. The second was installed by the official Marc Bolan fan club and fellow fans in September 2002, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his passing. The inscription on the stone, which also bears his image, reads '25 years on - his light of love still shines brightly'. Placed beneath the plaque there is an appropriate ceramic figure of a white swan.
In 2006, TV series Life on Mars, William Matheson portrays Marc Bolan, circa 1973, in a bar in Manchester. Time-travelling Sam Tyler recognises him, has a fan boy moment, and warns him to be careful of riding in Minis. In the American version of the series, the character is replaced by that of Jim Croce, who died later that year in a plane crash, and Sam warns him. However, the T. Rex version of "Get It On" is played in the New York dance club in that scene.
In 2007, the English Tourist Board included Bolan's Rock Shrine in their guide to Important Sites of Rock 'n Roll interest 'England Rocks'. As reported in 2011, a school is planned in his honour, to be built in Sierra Leone: The Marc Bolan School of Music and Film. A musical, 20th Century Boy, based on Bolan's life, and featuring his music, premiered at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich in 2011.
See T. Rex discography for full details of releases by Tyrannosaurus Rex and T. Rex. Solo releases and other releases are listed below.