Like his sparring partner David Bowie, Marc Bolan was a real London boy, starting from his birth at Hackney General Hospital on 30th September 1947, until his death in a car-crash on Barnes Common almost exactly 30 years later.
He came from a working class Jewish family and grew up at 25 Stoke Newington Common in Stamford Hill, attending William Wordsworth Secondary School. The teenage Mark Feld, to give him his original name, sometimes helped his mother with her job on a stall in Berwick Street Market in Soho. He also worked on the counter at the legendary 2I’s coffee bar at 59 Old Compton Street, which was the spiritual home of British rock n roll. The major home-grown talent – Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard and Adam Faith – had all played there but the precocious Mark failed to get a gig. Mind you, he was only in his early teens at the time.
He moved with his family to Sun Cottages, Summerstown in Wimbledon and attended Hillcroft School in Beechcroft Road, Tooting (now known as Ernest Bevin College). However, he was much more interested in making a career in music and he became friendly with a teenage star called Allen Warren, who was a presenter on a kids’ TV programme called ‘Five O’clock Club’. He moved into Allen’s flat at 81 Lexham Gardens in Kensington and soon they had produced a record entitled ‘You’re No Good’, which rapidly went nowhere.
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Like Bowie, Marc was a chameleon and his 1965 persona, Toby Tyler, was a very late-in-the-day imitation of the early Bob Dylan. During the first incarnation of Tyrannosaurus Rex he gradually emerged as a hippy elf-child and many of his early gigs were at the Middle Earth club at 43 King Street in Covent Garden, where Pink Floyd also played.
With his wife June, Marc moved into an attic flat at 57 Blenheim Crescent, just off Ladbroke Grove. It’s over 25 years since his death so how about a blue plaque from English Heritage? As his circumstances improved he progressed to a better flat on the next floor down and it was while he was living in this house, from 1968 to 1971, that he rose from being an underground hero to an international pop star and the father of glam-rock. As fame threatened his privacy, and he said that he felt like he was living in a goldfish bowl, he moved to 47 Bilton Tower in Great Cumberland Place W1.
In early 1971 the now abbreviated T.Rex were number one on Top of the Pops with ‘Hot Love’. Probably the culmination of his fame was his concert at Wembley Empire Pool (now the Arena) in March 1972, which was the basis of the movie ‘Born to Boogie’, directed by Ringo Starr.
Marc’s popularity waned after 1973, and his personal life was turned upside down as he divorced June and got together with his backing singer Gloria Jones (who, incidentally, recorded the first version of ‘Tainted Love’). However, Marc was resilient and adaptable to the end and, having been the father of glam, he was to become at least a favourite uncle of the punk rock scene in this country when he toured with the Damned promoting his ‘Dandy in the Underworld’ album in 1977.
Apparently Marc had predicted that he wouldn’t live to see 30 and sadly this was to be true. At 5 a.m. on 16th September 1977 as he was nearing his home at 142 Upper Richmond Road West, from Morton’s Restaurant in Berkeley Square, his Mini – with Gloria at the wheel – hit a tree on Queen’s Ride and Marc died instantly. He was cremated four days later at Golders Green Cemetery.
Words and pictures by Ian Mole