Paying tribute to the life of Marc Bolan

Story by Jack Foley

THE life of one of the original founders of Glam rock is being recaptured through a series of photographs devoted to him, at Proud Central Gallery in London. Marc Bolan - A 20th Century Superstar will be running from September 10 to 16 to mark the 25th anniversary since the tragic death of one of the Seventies best-loved musical icons.

Featuring images from many photographers, the exhibition traces Bolan's life from working class Hackney boy to young star, whose life was tragically cut short following a car crash on September 16, 1977.

The show also takes in his musical transition, from his early days as a folk singer through to his high-profile, wildly successful T-Rex days, which continue to inspire musicians of today.

Born Mark Feld in London on September 30, 1947, Bolan was the son of a working-class Jewish couple, Simeon and Phyllis Feld. He developed an interest in music at the age of 12 and joined a band called Susie and The Hula Hoops soon afterwards.

He became obsessed with Mod fashions at the age of 13 and frequently spent his money on similar clothes, going on to become a model before changing his name to Toby Tyler at the age of 17 and shifting his attention back to music. He then entered the British folk circuit, but success still seemed a long way off, as his first recording was turned down by EMI. It was a rejection which prompted him to revert to the name Mark Feld.

Bolan then travelled to France, and lived with a wizard, indulging in his obsession for Greek mythology and British romantic poetry. His early poems and lyrics were greatly influenced by Tolkien's classic The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings trilogy.

In 1965, record company Decca released The Wizard and Mark Feld became Marc Bolan, joining John's Children in 1966 and producing several singles, including Desdomona. But owing to the band's lack of success, he quit to team up with percussionist Steve Peregrine Took and three other musicians - the band which resulted was called Tyrannosaurus Rex; although this, too, was short-lived as the hire-purchase company took their equipment.

Bolan and Took remained as an acoustic duo, however, and in the autumn 1967, producer Tony Visconti stumbled across them and signed up Tyrannosaurus Rex. They re-emerged with the single Debora, taken from the album My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair But Now They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows.

Prophets, Seers, And Sages, The Angels Of The Ages followed in the summer of '68, as did Unicorn, described by many as their most accessible.

Took was then replaced by Mickey Finn and, in March 1970, A Beard Of Stars was released, narrowly missing out on the Top Ten.

However, the band then decided to switch from acoustic to electric guitar and adopted the shorter name, T.Rex, hitting number two in the UK chart with Ride A White Swan.

The album which followed in December 1970, T.Rex, saw bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend join the duo and Hot Love topped the chart for six weeks in early 1971.

The classic Get It On followed and proved to be T.Rex's biggest hit ever, while the album, Electric Warrior, was released in September of the same year.

Bolan was now so successful that he launched his own record label, the T.Rex Wax Co, and opened his own central London offices. In January, the new label was launched with Telegram Sam, and the Slider album followed in July.

This was followed up by 20th Century Boy in 1973 and the album, Tanx, which was described by the artist as a 'gospel album'. It was to mark a watershed in the band's success story.

Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow or a Creamed Cage in August was released in February 1974 and took in the sound of American soul, partly because of his relationship with American soul singer/songwriter, Gloria Jones. In March of the same year, Tony Visconti and Marc go their separate ways, while Mickey Finn departs later in the year.

Bolans's Zip Gun, which came out in 1975, proved the least popular Bolan album to date and marked the singer's lowest point, although he came back from America determined to put any failures behind him and, in January 1976, he and T.Rex embark on the most extensive tour of England since 1971.

However, their next album, Futuristic Dragon, only reached 50 in the chart, while the single, I Love to Boogie, only makes 13. Dandy In The Underworld followed in March 1977 and put T.Rex back in the spotlight, prompting Bolan to be given his own TV show to host, called Marc.

The same month saw the release of the final single, Celebrate Summer, but just a month later, the car he was riding in, driven by Gloria, hit a tree and he was killed just weeks before his 30th birthday.

Photograph by Julian Baum.

Marc Bolan - A 20th Century Superstar, September 10-26, Proud Central, 5 Buckingham Street, The Strand, London, WC2N 6BP. Opening times: 9am-5pm. Nearest transport. Rail: Charing Cross/Tube: Embankment.
Telephone 020 7839 4942 for more details.