On 16 September, London will celebrate the life and music of one of its most important musical exports, Marc Bolan, on the 40th anniversary of his untimely death.
Bolan pioneered glam rock with T-Rex (Formerly Tyrannosaurus Rex) inspiring a multitude of legendary artists including David Bowie (‘Lady Stardust’ was partly written about Bolan and supposedly had the working title ‘A Song For Marc’), and leaving behind him a trail of cosmic rock, including some of the greatest albums and songs ever created. Pubs and venues across the city are hosting nights in tribute to the electric warrior himself – but it all began right here in Hackney.
Born Mark Feld (it would be 10 years until he changed his name to Marc Bolan) on 30 September 1947 in Hackney General Hospital, Mark spent his childhood living at 25 Stoke Newington Common with his mother Phyllis, dad Simeon and brother Harry. In 1947, Stoke Newington was only just recovering from the effects of WW2 and was hardly the place anyone would expect a man who would come to reinvent the word flamboyant to be brought up.
Mark and his brother attended Northwold School, where he was to form his first group, a skiffle band, at the age of nine. Bolan also played guitar in Susie and the Hula Hoops during his time at Northwold, an experience he obviously felt was important to his success, often mentioning it during interviews at the height of his fame.
It was in his Stoke Newington abode, where Mark was to be exposed to rock ‘n’ roll for the first time, that he had been initially disappointed when his dad brought home Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around The Clock’ (instead of the Bill Hayes record he had asked for). As the needle hit the groove, however, almost instantly he was converted, later claiming “just one play of that and I chucked Bill Hayes out of the window”.
His new found love would bring him to the Hackney Empire, where he would go to watch recordings of the television music programme Oh Boy. It was at the Empire where 13 year old Mark was to meet his hero, Eddie Cochrane, who allowed him to carry his guitar out to the awaiting limousine after the show.
Once Mark became Marc he wasted no time paying tribute to his hero, having his Les Paul refinished in orange to pay homage to the guitar he carried out of the Empire at the age of 13, and also regularly covering ‘Summertime Blues’.
Before creating the movement that came to define the early 70s, Mark was busy helping to build the foundations of a much earlier one, the mods. Mark joined a modelling agency, and was shown in a photo shoot for Town magazine as a perfect example of the Mod movement that was sweeping across Stamford Hill and around Britain.
At the age of 15 Mark left William Wordsworth Secondary School, and Hackney all together, moving to Wimbledon.
In 1967 he would meet Steve Peregrin Took, forming the first line up of Tyrannosaurus Rex, and three years later with Mickey Finn in for Took, T-Rex would invent glam rock with their self titled debut album and legendary single ‘Ride A White Swan’. In 1971, the loud and proud guitars of ‘Rip Off’ signalled the arrival of the glam takeover of Electric Warrior and all the excitement, mystery and controversy that would follow in its wake.
On 16 September fans around the world will groove to Bolan’s “songs of darkness and disgrace” in celebration of a life cruelly cut too short.