Monday, 18 April 2011

Dandy In The Afterlife

Marc Bolan died on September 16th 1977, two weeks before his thirtieth birthday. This is going to sound awful but, at the time, I was glad. Why? Well, because for several weeks before his fatal Mini crash I had been greatly troubled by a recurring nightmare where Marc was pursuing me around a canal boat as it made its way slowly through a tunnel. After he died, the bad dream went away. In hindsight, it's easy to see the root of the unease as a conflation of my incipient claustrophobia and my regular and nervous viewing of Bolan's ITV music show 'Marc'.

'Marc' may have been a kids TV show, but it was the most exposure Bolan had enjoyed for some time and he went all out to make the most of it. That said, it's pretty poor, and Marc is terrifying in it. Tiny, skinny, pale, whispery, narcissistic and in a selection of revealing trousers, I now realise, of course, that he's just camping it up but I still think he's an incredibly androgynous and ambiguous figure to be in charge of entertaining children, especially as he seems lost in a private reverie most of the time, a mocking and lacivious look on his elfin face. Perhaps most disturbing to a young mind was that the last two episodes were broadcast posthumously, one a mere four days after his death.

The music is fairly average, too. I'm not a massive T Rex fan by any means, but I do listen to them and understand the pop appeal of their best stuff. Here, Marc mixes new and banal material with pre-re-recorded sludgy pub rock versions of his greatest hits to underwhelming effect and his guests, carefully picked never to outshine the underperforming star, are, for the most part, either forgettable, regrettable or unforgivable.

I have several clips I intend to share with you but, first off, do you remember one of Marc's very early hits, 'Oh Deborah, you look like a zebra'? Yeah, that one, the whimsical, quirky acoustic number with hippy dippy charm and an interesting time signature. Well, watch it die.

Here's an example of one of the guest bands on the show, most of which sank without trace. Sub Bay City Rollers band Rosetta Stone's main claim to fame was that they featured Ian Mitchell, a baby faced guitarist from Northern Ireland who had been in the actual Bay City Rollers for seven troubled months. Ian Mitchell's main claim to fame is that his brother Tony wallpapered my front room.

More soon, same Marc time, same Marc channel.


  1. Not 100% but I am sure The Damned and Generation X were on the show.

  2. Generation X were, and The Jam, Boomtown Rats and Eddie & The Hotrods. Patience, Keith, patience!

  3. And Mr Bowie! Anyway, even in his career's decadence Marc was still a true star with masses of charisma. Hard to imagine what was going through kids minds watching this though... probably words like 'frightened', 'bottoms' and 'confused'.

  4. Brr. That really has the tootlingest of organs doesn't it? From what I've read, Marc was trying to align himself with punk in an attempt to boost his image and prolong his career - I'm not sure how looking like an ill Nadia Sawalha and fronting a kids TV show would do that. He is a fascinating character though, and it was good to see The League of Gentlemen's joke band Creme Brulee made flesh in the second clip.

  5. Photographs of the Les McQueen wallpaper or it didn't happen !

    Never understand why I like Bolan so much, considering what an arrogant sod he was.
    Interview footage often makes me cringe, and his treatment of John peel was unforgivable; but I still worship him as a supreme magickal entity.

  6. The clip of the singer from Rosetta Stone wiggling about in his horrible flares as he threatens somebody with delivery of his "dawn surprise" must surely qualify as one of pop music's most repellent moments. Did we really fling our kids at this pop filth?

    Like Fearlono, I'm baffled by my continuing devotion to Marc Bolan. Mod chancer, ersatz hippy, vanity poet and cynical bubblegum prince ... everything about him screams "fake". But such a magnificent fake.

    I never watched any of the 'Marc' TV shows. Looking at these clips, I'm really glad that I didn't. That version of 'Debora' makes my flesh crawl. It's beyond the worst that even Vic Reeves's pub singer could manage. And yet there's something oddly moving about the whole business. I think it's the air of sheer desperation which is palpable as Bolan tries to cling on to an era which has already passed into history. How many weeks without chicken wings and champagne did he suffer in order to slim down for this last, doomed grope at the short hairs of the public imagination?

    There's an interesting write-up of the debacle surrounding Bowie's appearance here:

  7. "Mod chancer, ersatz hippy, vanity poet and cynical bubblegum prince ... everything about him screams "fake". But such a magnificent fake."

    ;-) I know exactly what you mean though some Marc fans would disagree and say that Marc was always wonderful and everything he ever wrote was perfect when of course he wasn't and they weren't.

    But at the same time he had the most amazing charisma and many of his friends, such as Keith Morris one of the photographers who knew him for more years than most ever did laughed when I quizzed him about the Good and the Bad and he laughed and said "yeah, but Marc was Marc!" and that was that.

    Some say I'm not a 'Marc Fan' because I see the warts and all and admit that he did treat John Peel and others dreadfully.

    Some never really got over it because they fell in love with the smile, the charm and the charisma which hid his darker side. Whether of not the fault that they never recovered was theirs or Marc's is open to debate and is something I am wrestling with as I write Steve Peregrin Took's biography.

    Tooky who was just 17 when he met Marc, who was almost 20 and far more worldly wise. Tooky said that for a time Marc was a "very good hippy" but of course what Marc wanted was fame and you don't get that doing underground, hippy music. There are a whole lot of 'issues' associated with the split of Bolan and Took which I'll go into.

    But this year, for now with Marc's 35th Anniversary and 65th Birthday next month (16th and 30th respectively) I'm focussed on finalising the details of the new MARC BOLAN rose which we (TAG) are registering this year, with the money raised being split between TAG as we care for Marc's Shrine in Barnes, SW London and the other half going to the Marc Bolan School of Music and Film in Africa.

    I'm also just finishing the expanded guide of Marc Bolan Sites in London - the 2007 version was 28 pages. The 2012 new version is up to 60 pages!! Details on our web site soon!

    If anyone can make it to Barnes, we'll be there on the 15th and 16th September from around 11 am to 6pm and hope to have the odd special guest visiting on Saturday 15th September.

    I often think I'm mad for doing so much work-for-free to care for the shrine, but I became a fan of Marc in 1970 and despite having a family the Tree remained a special place for me to visit which is why when it was given less than three years to live in 1999 I formed TAG to act to save it.

    I'm pleased to say the site is safe, as is the Tree and the English Tourist Board recognised it in 2007.

    So, if I'm mad it is, at least, in a positive way which benefits everyone who visits the site free-of-charge and also via our free access web site.

    Rock On Everyone.