Happy Birthday to my beloved Mr Bolan, who would have been 63 today. Spread the sparkly love around…. This interview is from Honey, November 1970. I love that the interviewer describes Marc and Mickey as “hairy and melodic”.
If the Revolution is anywhere, it’s somewhere between Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove. You walk through scruffy streets filled with big houses filled with bedsitters filled with either enormous black families, or else pale young people in velvet trousers who burn joss sticks and spend their lives trying to get it together; and no doubt when they succeed something’s going to give like it hasn’t given before.
This is where the Underground is, with all its religions, philosophies, prejudices, freedoms, newspapers, organisations and music. And this is where Marc Bolan lives, which is where the Underground is as well.
Marc Bolan is the original founder of Tyrannosaurus Rex, that twosome who warbled their way into the lives of millions when Top Gear first came on the radio. A lot of people switched off immediately and signed up with Tony Brandon or Jimmy Young. But a few people kind of clutched their heads and went ‘Wow!’ and have been seen at the Roundhouse ever since, where they listen to T.Rex singing how they want it sung, and J. Peel saying it how they want it said.
Marc Bolan lives, as has been said, just off Ladbroke Grove. You go up through a house where bits of prams and peeling paintwork set the tone of the place, and then you go into his flat, which is all plain colours with music drifting out of the bedroom and a nice bunch of flowers on the scrubbed wood table, and the smell of incense hanging in the air around the colour television set. There you see Bolan Child sitting at the table in velvet trousers and a little jumper which ties up in the front, and in shoes with straps on them, and he’s really the prettiest little thing you ever did see.
Over a pleasant cup of coffee we got to talking about the past. Before Marc got into music, his main claim to fame was as King of the Mods in Stamford Hill.
“I never liked school very much, so I started getting into clothes when I was about twelve. Clothes were then, I suppose, wisdom and knowledge and getting satisfaction as a human being. In those days all I really cared about was creating a sort of material vision of what I wanted to be like. If I go out and buy clothes now, it’s either because I feel down or because something looks nice. And if I wear that to do something it’ll make me do it better. But it’s not the goal any more, you see. At that point if you designed a new suit or a pair of light green shoes with buckles all over them, it was like you conceived it and saved up for it—which might take you three months—and then you got the shoes, and those shoes were, for three months, the only thing that made you go. Whereas now, it’s just a day, or like I’ve just bought a new guitar which cost me £400, which I’ve always wanted, but it’s a practical thing. I don’t sit there going ‘Wow!’; whereas then, a pair of shoes was like meeting God—it was a very strong buzz.”
Not exactly chain-store sales talk, but he had me more convinced than any sweating little man measuring my inside leg might hope to achieve. He talks a bit like he sings, with his voice going up and down, almost bubbling.
We got on to integrity next, which is one thing these fellows from Notting Hill are very hot on, seemingly unbesmirched by the nasty ploys of money-crazed businessmen.
“When I was fifteen it was very important for me to be in the public eye. Now it’s important only as a means to an end—I write now, and that’s what gives me pleasure. The end product is getting it to the people and having them appreciate it, but not worshipping it, because that’s very boring.
“A lot of kids I speak with are very sheltered—they’ve never had the experiences that I’ve had or that someone else that writes has, just because they’ve had strict parents and they’ve never read anything,can’t afford anything, and they look to you as someone they want to be like. They don’t really know what you are, any more than I know what I’m like. They just see the shell which you create, which perhaps is more real than the real thing—it’s what you want to be like. I’m very truthful as a person really, so I’m like what I appear to be. Whether that’s nice or not I don’t know.
“I try to be the same on stage as I really am. The only way it’s worth being successful is when you’re exactly what people think you are, otherwise you’re not successful, you’re the product of something. Which is only exciting when you are the product, because then you eliminate all the pressures—you are what you appear to be.
“The whole Top Twenty thing must be an incredible pressure. It’s like every time you put out a new single your career’s in the balance. You have 25 hits and one bomber and you’re finished. If you’re an LP seller like me, it’s important that you maintain a momentum of excitement, but it’s not a great pressure. Fortunately we’ve been lucky with that.”
Tyrannosaurus Rex, if you didn’t know it, consists of Marc and new member Mickey Finn, both of whom are hairy and melodic, singing about joy and love rather than street fighting (“I can’t get into Mick Jagger’s head”), and they manage to get very close, if not right into, their audience, because the audience and group are all very much a part of the same thing, and that’s what the talk turned to next.
“Gigs in England are like meeting friends instead of performing, although London is the least exciting place to play of all—we get better receptions in Scotland than we do in London, where it’s always nice but quite reserved ; whereas out of town they really freak. It’s only vibrations. You’re playing the sounds on instruments that men designed two thousand years ago to satisfy their fingers—it’s just pieces of string on wood—and you plug in and you’re doing it for them. No matter how much you enjoy the performance, if the audience don’t, you’re brought down. I believe people should be joyous.
“I think that to probably 75 per cent of the people who listen to us, the things that I’m saying are very new, but it’s only what I’ve read and thought and know about.
“I think people that come across as very humble are just insecure really, and they do believe they’re a bit of a groove but they’re frightened to say it. You’ve got to basically enjoy yourself because that’s all you have to start with—awareness of yourself is an up.”
Time was drawing to a close and Marc’s wife came in wearing a patch over one eye, with a dollar sign on it, covering a scratch recently inflicted by some unhip dog. We chatted a little bit more about how people refuse to accept things, how they question everything and how Marc chose the name of the group as a reminder that there were once animals walking this earth which were so fantastic and beautiful that they made fools of people who didn’t believe in dragons and the like. We listened to T. Rex’s new album A Beard of Stars, where they’ve gone electric and have shown that they can do much more than the gentler sounds of Unicorn and Prophets. (“There are spirits that live in chords and if you do a C to A minor chord, it’s magic—like every rock song is that chord”), And then we closed with some serious discussion.
“I do believe very much in the immortality of the spirit, I believe—I know for me it’s real—in reincarnation. I know this is only a lifetime for me to work out the Karma—it’s a thing I’ve got to do.”
So I went out into Ladbroke Grove knowing that there is a little corner of W. 11 that is forever India and, until I’d waited 20 minutes fo a number 52 bus, I was living on Cloud Nine.