marc bolan music

Polite Note - please remember that the basis of this was  compiled when I was in my mid-teens when very little was really known about Marcs early days - or anything about Marc - other than what he told the press - or of his early recording career and you will see that in this draft it is only lightly touched upon, obviously there is a great amount of detail to be added in due course


Wedding photo of Simeon & Phyllis Feld (parents to Marc Bolan)

Mark Feld was born September 30th, 1947 in Hackney Hospital, East London, the second son, Harry being born two years earlier, of Simeon and Phyllis Feld of Stoke Newington. Simeon was a lorry driver during the week and stall-holder selling imitation jewellery and fancy goods in Petticoat Lane market at weekends, while Phyllis had a stall selling fruit in Berwick Street market, Soho

 Harry & Mark Feld (Bolan)
Harry and Mark

In 1952 Mark went to Northwold Road Primary and at eleven to the William Wordsworth Secondary Modern School in Dalston. Three years later the family moved to South London where he changed to Hillcroft School in Wimbledon but was only there for a short period –

They just wouldn’t answer my questions at school. I mean questions about real-life things, about the whole business of growing up. I was an okay pupil in art and history but I wanted to find out about things that you just couldn’t look up in books. All I seemed to do was revision. I wasn’t being taught anything I wanted to learn about… while the rest of the English class wrote essays on Wordsworth, I was writing my own short stories about Norse gods. I hated school you see. I rejected it completely. It was a waste of time I thought

I don’t know the alphabet. I can’t say it to you. I can make it up to ABCD, you know, but it gets ‘blah, blah’ after a while. I never learnt Latin or anything at school. I liked nature study though. I liked geography too. I was always very interested in that. I couldn’t spell when I was nine or something but I found it a waste of time having to consider the way a word should look. It always looked right to me and I can make it sound right, so what does it matter really?

School works on a very strange level. It’s all about images. Everyone’s very taken up with personalities. The kids are, I mean. There not really concentrating on work or anything

In the end they expelled me. They were very nice about it. They really didn’t seem to mind at all and as I only had another six months to go before my fifteenth birthday when I could leave school anyway… my parents didn’t mind very much. They had always allowed me quite a lot of freedom and I think the teachers breathed a sigh of relief. They considered me to be a bit eccentric...

According to Mark he had a love of poetry and read extensively, apparently beginning with Beowulf when he was nine and through those early years he read Milton, Keats, Shelley, Byron and Rimbaud

When I first read him I felt like my feet were on fire… then I started reading contemporary writers like Jack Kerouac who was really important… then I moved onto Dylan Thomas, Gibran and science fiction, writing poetry all the time. I remember down Tooting Broadway, in London, I think it was number sixty-two or sixty-three, they used to sell old records, the real ones, old seventy-eights and there used to be lots of old book shops where you could pick up weird books very cheap. I used to love going there. Everywhere like that smelt musty and old

By this time Mark already had an avid interest in music, his introduction coming at the age of nine when his father brought him a record player and his first record -

The first time I heard music seriously was through my dad who worked in Petticoat Lane and used to bring me home records. The first I had was Ballad of Davey Crockett by Bill Hayes. I played that all the time until my dad came home one day and said ‘I’ve got this new Bill Hayes record for you’. I looked at the cover and there was this guy jumping around with his guitar. I said, ‘But dad, this isn’t Bill Hayes, this is Bill Haley.’ It was a real downer. But I played it… Rock Around The Clock, See You Later, Alligator… and I thought, ‘WOW. What’s this?’

We didn’t have a telly in our home until I was fifteen years old… Radio is the big forgotten influence – we were the last generation to be brought up before television became universal. Many of the things that influenced me most when I was younger came from the radio…

When I was a kid I used to listen to all the ‘Billy Cotton Band Show’ programmes when Cotton had Alan Breeze as his singer, ‘The Goons’, ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’, ‘In Town Tonight’, Big Bill Campell, The Stargazers, ‘Dick Barton, Special Agent’ and ‘Henry Hall’s Guest Night’ – and then when I was in my teens I moved onto Radio Luxemburg, and can remember listening to Cliff Richard, who used to have his own half hour show from seven to seven-thirty p.m. Whatever else I was doing, I always made sure I was home in time to listen to Cliff Richard. Then later when the Beatles started, they had their own show, ‘Pop Goes The Beatles’ on Luxemburg, and I never missed that or any of their shows with the groups that happened around the same time

It was talks, plays, radio variety shows – that was the stuff I grew up on… and because you couldn’t see it, because so much was left to the imagination, it was very different

I can remember seeing Cliff Richard’s first film ‘Expresso Bongo’ when it first came out. I though he was great in that, and afterwards I used to stand in front of the bathroom mirror at home, trying to make myself just like him

Another film that made a big impression on me was ‘Untamed Youth’ which starred Eddie Cochran. I was a great fan of his, loved ‘Summertime Blues’ and used to have photos of him and Gene Vincent on my bedroom wall. I saw them both when they appeared in this country. When we lived in Stoke Newington we weren’t very far from the Hackney Empire when the theatre was used for producing the ‘Oh Boy!’ TV series. I saw Billy Fury, Marty Wilde and Adam Faith down there… all the new British rock ‘n’ rollers as well as the American guest stars they used to have some weeks. They always used to allow fans into the theatre to make up the studio audience. Then I started going to the touring pop shows and kept up with that when we moved to South London when I used to catch most of the package shows that visited Tooting Granada. Brenda Lee, Brian Hyland, the Rolling Stones, Bo Diddley, the Everly Brothers – I saw them all at Tooting

By this time Mark was preparing to make his first venture into the music business, having been given a guitar by his parents when he was 9. He made friends with another boy, Keith Reid who was happy to teach Mark a few basic chords and then met Stephen Gold, who introduced him to a small group he later referred to as Suzie and the Hula Hoops. The rock’n’roll combo comprised of Susan Singer and her cousin, Helen Shapiro (both a year or so older than Mark), Helen's brother Glenn on tea chest bass, Gold on guitar and Melvyn Fields on cardboard boxes. Following a few rehearsals they played a few lunchtime shows at their school and a local café before disbanding. Stephen and Mark continued playing together and managed to obtain a short afternoon slot at Soho's 2i's coffee bar, at the Casbah Café in Stamford Hill and Stamford Hill Youth Club

 Mark Feld (Bolan, far right) with friends from Stamford Hill

 Mark had also developed a taste for colourful clothes

I got into the clothes thing when I was about thirteen. One possibly looked very camp at that time, though one wasn’t

I remember wearing quite amazing things when I was younger. I used to have a black velvet jacket with a white satin collar and a gold walking stick with a white elephant handle and I’d go walking around Stoke Newington. It was unheard of!

I got a lot of rass, of course, from other lads. But in that environment, if anyone did that you just smashed them over the head with your cane handle. You learnt to be tough. You had to be the heaviest cat in the gang – and that meant, in most cases, that you had to have the coolest clothes


He told Rolling Stone that it all began with a guy called Martin Kauffman -

... he had on ginger Harris-tweed trousers, Very very baggy and a pair of green handmade shoes with side-buckles, very long points, and a dark green blazer with drop shoulders. One-button cutaway. Very short. All this I checked out later, where all the stuff came from. Flash. Harry Flash. And that was dark green, with a very high-backed collar so one’s hair would go over the back. His hair was parted down the middle… The impact of having just seen what one thought was a really trendy looking Teddy Boy and then seeing this cat… just the image of him! I can’t trace how he got like that but I knew something was going on

 Mark Feld (Bolan) in 'Town' magazine

At 15 Mark was featured in ‘Town’ magazine in an article on some of the ‘faces’ from Stamford Hill. With two 'faces' that Mark adulated, Michael Simmons and  Peter Sugar, both in their early twenties, they were photographed by Don McCullin at the market, down by the canal and around the clubs of the east end. The article was the first media coverage of the new devotees of fashion and was an inspiration to many. Mark told Peter Barnsley, reporter for ‘Town’ -

‘…All the faces go to Bilgorri (of Bishopsgate) and John Stephens. He’s very good on trousers.’ They also spoke of finding cheaper clothes, suits from Burtons and shirts costing 14/6d from C&A. ‘Some faces won’t look at them because they’re only 14/6d. That’s just ridiculous,’ Mark Feld said, and told of a gingham shirt he’d seen that morning in Woolworths, ‘Only ten bob, a few alterations and it would look as good as a four guinea job from John Michael’’

 Mark Feld (Bolan) holding a copy of 'Town'

A while after the article was published in September 1962, Mark returned to one of the locations, an amusement arcade – 

It was my first encounter with sussing out human nature. I’d been very funky to be around and even though I was still very funky to be around, as a face, you know, I was still the heaviest face – the fact that I’d not been around and other cats could move in brought total resentment at having me back there. No-one would talk to me. And it made me very sad for about five minutes. But I could dig it. It was like I was too heavy. I was in that magazine and all that stuff had come out and I was somewhere else. They didn’t know where. I’d ascended to Olympus. And suddenly I was there. The funkiest thing I could’ve done from a theatrical point of view was split. So I did. It was instant immortality, you see

Mark was reportedly living on around five bob a day which he was given by his mum, now and again helping out at her stall or working for a couple of weeks washing dishes at the local Wimpy bar, until a friend who was with a model agency found him some other work –

I was a John Temple boy, if you can believe it. At the time they thought me outrageous because I had quite long hair. The flash was that I was in their shop windows as a cardboard cut-out… and that was very odd to see. I didn’t much like it. I didn’t like the suits, they were terrible and I told them so, actually. But it was like a job to me and it was worth a grand!

Later he was to be featured in a colour supplement in The Observer which delved into the Mod movement

I thought those Mods were just fantastic. I used to go home and literally prey to become a mod. I really did that. Then I started and gradually I came to have about six suits. Suddenly people started to look at me and come up to me and I was accepted as a Mod. I didn’t think what it was all about. I didn’t think at all. The only thought I ever had was ‘oh, I just bought one suit this week and I should of bought three.’ I was, quite simply, quite knocked out by my own image

Part of the image was created by his handmade shoes from a man called Solly - 

They were tiny shoes, they crippled you. They fell apart in about a fortnight, but they were also beautiful. I’d say they were almost the biggest kick of all


In July 1964 Mark met fellow musician David Jones at promoter Leslie Conn's office, who put them to work painting his office walls, however the pair left the job half-done and Mark introduced Jones to the business of collecting discarded clothes and material from the bins of the fashion shops of London


Mark's main interest had quickly moved to music and, financed by a friend of his, on 26th August 1964 he entered I.B.C. studios and recorded a song both lyrically and vocally in the style of his first musical hero, Cliff Richard, titled All At Once, backed by a small band.    With money earned from modelling work Mark bought a new acoustic guitar and began some serious studying, he also regularly visited the studios where ‘The Five O’clock Club’ was filmed and made friends with one of the young presenters, Allen Warren. In due course he moved into one of Warren’s spare rooms in Lexham Gardens, Knightsbridge and concentrated on his dream of being a music star, now immersing himself in the music of rising folk singer, Bob Dylan, before suggesting that Warren should manage him

 Mark Feld as Toby Tyler (Later Marc Bolan)

Towards the end of the year, arranged by Warren, Mark recorded a version of Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind, accompanying his guitar with harmonica, at Regent Sound Studios which, although failing to gain him a recording contract, did secure him a test session for Columbia Records

However, impatient to produce more material to present to other labels, in January 1965 Mark took himself into Vic Keary’s Maximum Sound Studio and recorded an obscure Dion DiMucci B-side The Road I’m On (Gloria) and, again, Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind, this time leaving the guitar work to someone else  

 Toby Tyler 'The Road I'm On (Gloria)' Acetate (Marc Bolan) Toby Tyler 'The Maximum Sound Sessions' (Marc Bolan)

When Mark returned to collect acetates from the session he asked Keary to credit them to his new Artist name of Toby Tyler when typing up their labels, he also obliterated his own name on the tape box of the session and wrote this new name, as well as sticking two recent photos of him and his new guitar on to the box. Toby Tyler was the name of a Walt Disney film which Mark most likely saw around five years earlier, it featured a small boy called Toby Tyler who ran off to join a circus and became very famous, as he was aspiring to

The following month, on the 16th February, he entered Abbey Road studios where for the Columbia test session he is believed to have recorded You’re No Good. This could be one of two different songs both with the same title, the 1963 almost-hit for American soul singer Betty Everett, or American one-man band musician Jesse Fuller whose version was on his 1963 San Francisco Bay Blues album which Marc bought around this time with earnings after a performance in Chelsea, he wrote in one of his note-books which was used as a diary and for poems and lyrics – 

‘The gigs not bad, I got £3 and 4 meat pies. So next morning, I went on a shopping spree. I bought strings, a new kazoo and harp and a Jesse Fuller album (San Francisco Bay Blues, he’s a gas). Next 3 days spent digging the album and learning the songs.’

Around this time had returned to his given name but with the slightest of changes – he was now signing himself as Marc Feld. He then met American actor Riggs O’Hara who had recently played a small role in Beckett, a film starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Tool and they became close friends, reportedly Riggs managed to get Marc some work for a couple of weeks as a delinquent in the Sam Kydd series ‘Orlando’. But his heart was not in acting, he wanted new excitement - Riggs suggested they go to Paris

Riggs O'Hara

 Marc Bolan's Passport photograph  

We went by boat and train. We checked in to a small hotel. A few mornings later I set off on my own to see all the treasures at the Louvre. I was standing there, looking at a statue when I heard a voice behind me comment on it. I turned round and a man of about fourty. He looked very distinguished and intellectual and I was particularly struck by his eyes. They were bright and penetrating

He said he was an American living in Paris and that he was greatly interested in Art and History. Soon after, his girlfriend arrived, young and very very pretty. They said they were going to his place for a meal and would I like to join them. I readily agreed… For the rest of the day and far in to the night I talked to the American and his girlfriend. The longer we talked the more captivated I became by the fantastic knowledge this man had. I kept firing questions at him. I was saddened by the thought of having to leave. There was this big and dreamy house, rather like a castle, there were all those wonderful books… there was this man who could obviously teach me so much. When I said I ought to be going he replied quietly, ‘Mark, why not move in here? Stay as long as you like'

I learnt a lot of important things off him – just sort of mythology, good things. I read a lot of books. He had amazing books there, books by Aleister Crowley and handwritten books and things like that. He wasn’t a black magician, he had many old books about control of the environment by thought projection and he could transmit feelings so that you understood what he meant implicitly – what is magic to me

It’s a very powerful thing, and it’s not just a matter of tricks. Magic is colourless and its impact depends upon your motives. This man used his magic in the pursuit of knowledge

I wrote out a rite calling on Pan to change me into a satyr. Literally, with hairy legs and hooves and horns. But I realised I couldn’t do it. What’s going to happen? I’m not going to be able to walk onto an Arcadian hillside and go up to my cave and just hang out. I wouldn’t be able to get out of this house for a start. If I did I’d probably get locked up and put in a hospital somewhere and dissected. Or put in a zoo… The rite would’ve worked

I believe that if you are one of the chosen people – and there are many – there are certain people that are very funky people. And if you are one of the chosen people, those creatures will come to you because they dig you

I want to talk upon the galaxies. I want to hold the oceans in my hand. Many people say, ‘yes, very poetic’ – a magician means he wants to hold the oceans in his hand. End of Story

…I began to realise I had an ego that I wanted to satisfy. I was either going to be an actor, a poet or a musician in the end and I began to see that it would be a faster road to freedom of any sort, not financially but with the ability to sit in a flat and not have to do anything other than what I wanted to do, to be a musician

Following their long-weekend, on his return, Marc moved into O'Hara's flat in Barnes, shared by actor James Bolam who was gaining fame in a new BBC TV series, 'The Likely Lads'. Aware that he would need a new name for his forthcoming recording career, he called himself Marc Bolan

 CND Rally with Donovan, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Vanessa Redgrave and Marc Bolan

In May Marc found himself gaining press coverage when he joined the big London CND Peace rally, headed by American folk singer Joan Baez, UK folk singers, Donovan and Tom Paxton and actress Vanessa Redgrave  

Next: Marc Bolan 1965-67 UNZIPPING THE ABSTRACT