Whilst there’s no denying the importance and, unquestionable, esteem that places the progenitor of the ‘glam’ boogie riff high in the musical pantheon, it could be argued that once you’d heard one T.Rex record, you’d heard them all. Which isn’t to pour a scornful bucket of sour piss over the Marc Bolan parade, as that template sound has yet to be equalled or improved by successive generations with the same élan; tight knit bedfellow Bowie and art school literate Roxy Music of course played with the prototype, and reverberations permeated throughout the industry, adopted to varying degrees of garish success by some of the patriarchs of Krautrock, Can and Amon Düül II
But that’s only part of the Bolan story; lest we forget both his burgeoning baptism of fire in the post-Mod troupe, John’s Children, and his reinvention as the languorous fantastical, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Though digestibly divided into a lineage, over six CDs, the three stages of Bolan all share a common bond; an essential lustre for revitalizing the spirit of rock and roll. They also all feature a hallucinatory and vivid cast of magical, mystical and diaphanous charterers and imps, designed to add colour and texture to the central themes of lament, love and regret.
It’s rather handy that the previous Bolan at the Beeb tome from 2007 is now officially unavailable, as much of that sixty-track collection appears on this revised edition. Compiled obsessively by the curly haloed musician’s archivist ‘super fan’, Clive Zone, there’s the additional bonus of treasures excavated from previously assumed lost sources: including, ‘ultra-rare reel-to-reel tapes and BBC transcription discs that even the BBC no longer seem to have in their archive.’ Bolstering this 117-track sextet, Zone has unearthed some thirty-six previously unreleased Tyrannosaurus Rex and T.Rex tracks, with twelve candid interviews thrown in, to make this the most complete collection yet.
In chronological order our impressive box set begins with the rambunctious, Simon Napier Bell conceived riot, John’s Children. Formed out of the aftermath of Mod, bordering on psychedelia, this encouragable antagonistic quartet burnt out after only two-years; Bolan the first to make a stage exit even before that.
Booted for chaotically disrupting and equally upstaging The Who on a German tour of 1967, the group’s rowdy, heavy leaden fuzz sound irked out a series of reasonably commercially successful hits. Though fleeting, their feedback clarion call opens up the first CD with a raw, loosely rattling and by the sounds of Bolan’s laughter half way through, a bum steered calamitous version of ‘Jagged Time Lapse’. Entering yet deeper fantastical realms – a cue for what was to follow – the group languidly grunts through a harassed acid blanched, ‘The Perfumed Garden Of Gulliver Smith’, and beat out a suitable garage Apache Morse code on, ‘Daddy Rolling Stone’; all performed on the Beeb’s Saturday Club in early 1968.
Short but sweet, the John’s Children set is soon lapsed by pulchritude glow of Bolan’s next incarnation, Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Compered by Bolan’s greatest champion John Peel, we’re party to not only the ‘Technicolor’ dreamt up lands and people that frequent Tyrannosaurus Rex’s poetic musings, but privy to the close enduring bond that existed between the DJ and musician. Accorded affable treatment by Peel – who had an enviable knack of augury when it came to sniffing out the more wondrous talent – the pared-down ‘Marc one’ version of acoustic guitar and drums duo perform most of their My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair…But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows and Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels Of Ages albums.
Cross-legged humbled versions of all their most whimsical inspirations – drawn from the shrouded veils of South American and the ancient banks of Persia – are reflected upon in a mood of merriment by Peel; as Bolan offers light on the songs meaning.
The next chapter, so to speak, continues the Tyrannosaurus Rex saga; traversing the group’s last two albums, Unicorn and A Beard Of Stars. With added instrumentation, the Unicorn era’s flowering track list of wistful rhyming couplets (‘Pewter Suitor’) and enchanted maladies (‘The Misty Coasts Of Albany’), show a step-change from the lax camp-fire songs of yore to transcendental stargazing. The lightest of caresses from an electric guitar enter the, so far mostly acoustic, sanctum, as Bolan’s ennui to tread new pastures took hold.
Permeated yet again by Peel’s insights and joviality, Bolan is offered numerous poetry slots; reciting a series of both titled and untitled elegant proses in a special showcase. Despite the articulate ‘Scarborough fair’ hippie allusions, these readings hark back to the old romantics of the 19th century and the exotic – though far less erotic – etchings of Aubrey Beardsley.
The second half of the CD is A Beard Of Stars heavy showcase. With absent erstwhile drummer, Steve Peregrin Took – fired after Bolan refused to feature any of his own penned songs on the album – Bolan adopted the tighter but more liquid Mickey Finn to replace him. Hardly a miraculous upheaval, this personnel change did create body and direction to the usually loose and ‘fancy free’ Tyrannosaurus sound, which at times floated into psychedelic blues and progressive rock – previously un-broadcasted, ‘Wind Cheetah’ even bears vague vestiges of a wallowing Hendrix.
The third section of this CD features a special John Peel hosted concert, with both singles and tracks from that same album; including feverish versions of ‘Hot Roc Mama’ – a track fresh to even Peel’s ears – ‘Deborah’, ‘By The Light Of The Magical Moon’ – Peel calls, “…a little electrical boogie opus, ala Eddie Cochran and all that” – and a jammed-out, electric guitar fuzz dueling, ‘Elemental Child’.
It finishes with the Bolan live staple, ‘The Wizard’, later to be released on the now abbreviated eponymous T.Rex LP – a song that even pre-dates John’s Children incidentally, and was worked into every Bolan epoch.
Turned on by a slicker, sauntering rock dynamic, the ‘Marc III’ T.Rex didn’t just resurrect ‘The Wizard’ but also refashioned other Tyrannosaurus mainstays and singles on that fifth LP. Many appear here, sometimes in duplicate, varied versions; such as Bolan’s mellifluous classic, ‘Ride A White Swan’, with a lighter airy rendition opening CD number three, and a wah-wah hectoring, wild interpretation at the opposite spectrum, near the end.
Still not finished with their last trip, A Beard Of Stars, there’s the blues chugging medley, ‘Woodland Bop’; a stomping holler through ‘Conesuala’, ‘The King Of The Mountain Cometh’, and of course the title track itself. Other impromptu highlights include a psych-shaking cover of ‘Summertime Blues’ and a rescued from the bonfires of overzealous de-cluttering, rough recording of an oddity called ‘Funk Music’.
Our next stop on the Bolan tour proves refreshing, as the ‘star child’ speaks openly and concisely to both Keith Altham and Tony Norman on the fourth instalment of this lavish trawl through the archives.
To Altham he offers light on the group’s workings; explaining the spark and energy that Finn brought his vaporous meanderings. He also mentions but gives a dismissive account of Took’s departure.
Norman however tackles – in a mildly emphatic manner – Bolan’s latent found fame, as T.Rex’s sales soared to new dizzying heights; totally at odds with the releases they were putting out only two years previously to that T.Rex album. Rather philosophically and mannered, Bolan takes it all with a proverbial ‘pinch of salt’; feeling neither pressured or particularly surprised that his refined, but more pop-lite sound had garnered such huge success – which he evidently brushes off as nonsensical and fantastical, opining that if it ended tomorrow he’d just go back to writing poetry.
By the time we reach the fifth CD, the projectile of Bolan’s career had almost reached its pinnacle. Now in rapid succession after launching the ’50s bop and ’70s glam union archetype, he brought out The Slider which built on that same blueprint; spawning such hits as ‘Metal Guru’ and ‘Telegram Sam’.
Half of that critically endorsed album appears on this CD, alongside singles and interviews with Andrew Salkey – a chat about Bolan’s concert movie, Born To Boogie – Johnny Moran – further insights on The Slider, and of various offers Bolan had received, including a straight acting part opposite Marlon Brando – and Micky Horne.
A heavier prevailing mood precedes The Slider, as the next T.Rex opus, Tanx, heads towards a deeper, more serious nirvana. Garnering mixed reviews from both critics and the fans for straying from the winning ‘glam’ formula, it heralded a certain decline as the records that soon followed did little to revive Bolan’s career. It’s rather telling that the behemoth and best selling single of that time for him, ‘20th Century Boy’, was left off Tanx. That missive is reflected here, with only a scant inclusion of two live versions of ‘Mad Donna’ and ‘Rapids’, from that record.
With only enough space left for seventeen-tracks, Zone now squeezes in examples from Bolan’s last four UK albums – though he also includes the title track from the US only released, Light Of Love, album – onto the last CD in this box set.
It all begins though, with an interview between the now jaded Bolan and Annie Nightingale; that ‘glam’ millstone now dragging the strained artist through a miasma of delusion, his efforts to break free often backfiring.
Whilst we are, or should be, aware of Bowie’s flirtatious lifting of Bolan ideas, it’s the Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow: A Cream Cage In August album’s experiment with soul, a full eighteen months before the Thin White Duke’s own Young Americans, that proves to be the most obvious example of this latent influence.
Swelling the ranks with the seductive, sumptuous tones of Gloria Jones – who evidently became Bolan’s love interest and partner till he died in 1977; a relationship that resulted in the birth of their son, Rolan – Bolan’s music opened out into yet greater velvety, blue-eyed soulful panoramas; a mix of plastic R&B, glamorous strutting and quasi-New York candy pop. From the bomp and shoop of the Gloria(fied), ‘Truck On’, to, in Bolan’s mind, one of T.Rex’s most ambitious singles, ‘Teenage Dream’, there’s an almost salacious knowing sophistication at work.
Already being regarded in some circles as washed-up, the ‘Zinc’ alter ego was an attempt to concentrate resources on the UK, as he’d spent considerable time attempting to crack the US market. He would continue to adapt the soul train, jingle-jangle sound with various other ‘boogie-woogie’ styles, including swamp rock; as he demonstrates with zeal on the poorly received LP, Bolan’s Zip Gun – at this point he may have thought seriously about sticking that ‘zip gun’ to his head as the album didn’t even chart.
Worn down but not out, Bolan returned to those rock and roll roots once again for his next offering, Futuristic Dragon; with it’s resplendent Tyrannosaurus Rex artwork cover and mix of glorious soul backing, congas, swooning melodies and lush saxophone those T.Rex elements of the last five years are matched with a mature vigour; Bolan lurched out of addiction and apathy. Though he still coats it in glitter bomb coating of sugary romanticism. Only live renditions of ‘Dreamy Lady’ and ‘New York City’ could be found I assume, as they’re the only examples to surface.
The last two entries in this expansive saga are from his final, Dandy In The Underworld, eulogy. Well aware of the changing of the guard in music, with punk and the reverberations of pub rock disrupting the idyllic cozy ’70s as it seeped into the living rooms of a miserably grey, unchanged and far too languorous suburbia, Bolan played host to on his Granada commissioned show, Marc, to Eddie And The Hotrods, Generation X, The Jam and The Boomtown Rats. Another act from that show, The Damned, even toured with Bolan during the spring of 1977. Yet this final curtain call, released only three weeks before his untimely death in a car accident, edged towards past triumphs; built on bedrock of ethereal pop and good old-fashioned rock and rolling.
Versions of the upbeat, luxurious cheerful, ‘I Love To Boogie’ and ‘Celebrate The Summer’, don’t exactly do the originals any favours but they’ll stand as testament to the prevailing unbound joy of Bolan’s music.
Qualifying as the ‘full gamut appraisal’, Bolan At The BBC is a life-affirming testament to a much-missed character; encapsulating as it does the full range and diversity of his live performances. Unfortunately these, often touted, ‘best ever’, ‘most fulfilling’ and ‘complete’ box sets appear in ever-greater volumes, and more rapidly. In this respect many diehards and Bolan activists will own nigh on the lion’s share of this compilation already, and because many of the recordings are of a mixed quality – to be digested in bite size chunks rather than in one sitting – it will do little to draw in new fans. However it’s worth saying that it’s still a worthy edition if you have the room, capital or love to invest. And even a poor quality recording of a T.Rex song can still melt the most hardened of souls.
Released 16th August 2013