October 2011

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Hep cats and rockabilly dudes! 15 great tracks, including Dale Hawkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and George ‘Thumper’ Jones

Snooty friends at the time condescendingly dismissed Tyrannosaurus Rex as a camp parody of The Incredible String and tended to make what they thought were hilarious bleating noises at any given mention of Marc Bolan. I loved them both, the String Band and Tyrannosaurus Rex, played My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their HairÉ But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows and Prophets Seers And Sages Ð The Angels Of The Ages as much as The 5,000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion and The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (it was a heady time, when people actually called their albums things like this). A bit later, I played Unicorn until the label started to peel away from the vinyl and was excited when Bolan ‘went electric’ on “King Of The Rumbling Spires”, which left a lot of his original fans aghast. Further fond memories from that distant time include seeing Bolan and Steve Took at the National Jazz And Blues Festival in 1968, Marc cross-legged on a little mat on the stage where the night before Jerry Lee Lewis had caused a commotion. They were at the foot of the bill, only played for about 15 minutes, but were totally wonderful.

How sad then in early 1976 to happen upon Bolan promoting the recent T.Rex LP, Futuristic Dragon, at a barely full Lyceum, that grand old London ballroom. The glory days of T.Rex were by now long gone. Bolan for the last couple of years had been hard at the brandy and cocaine, and it showed in his bloated appearance. Whither the Bopping Elf of yore? He was now a lardy man in what looked like a fright wig, his face a balloon beneath it. I have a vague but unsettling memory of him wearing dungarees, possibly bright yellow. He forgot the words to “Debora”, which was some going as it was hardly “Desolation Row” and, anyway, the names of how many animals, exactly, rhyme with the name Debora?

A year after the sad debacle at the Lyceum, I’m in Newcastle, where Bolan and a new lineup of T.Rex are playing the City Hall on the opening night of the tour to promote the Dandy In The Underworld album. There are genuine signs that Bolan has pulled himself out of some possibly bottomless well of obscurity. From the opening blast of “Jeepster” to the euphoric encore of “Hot Love”, the show is an unlikely triumph and Bolan looks great, too, with enough weight lost to squeeze into a pair of lurid leather pants. The fans go actually wild, hundreds of screaming girls rushing the stage as soon as he appears, many of them weeping. Bolan looks at them, smiles, and is clearly ecstatic at being back, the looming tragedy being that it won’t be for long…