marc bolan musicHOMEMARC BOLAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC (for the children)UNZIPPING THE ABSTRACT - The Marc Bolan Story
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Marc Bolan 1965-67 UNZIPPING THE ABSTRACT


 

 Marc Bolan and a cat




Despite the creative company of O'Hara and Bolam, Marc needed to focus on his recording career and returned to his parents home in Summerstown
 
Aware that he needed someone new to represent him, he visited one of London's leading impresarios, Phil Soloman, and met 18 year-old Mike Pruskin who was handling the publicity for Them (featuring vocalist Van Morrison) and The Nashville Teens, both managed by Soloman and signed to Decca

Mike's contacts made him an obvious choice to work with, and so Marc collected his guitar and notebooks and moved into Pruskin's basement flat near Baker Street 

Through Mike, Marc met with Jim Economides, a versatile American producer who had worked with American surf-rock guitarist Dick Dale and jazz-pop-swing vocalist Bobby Darrin. Economedies introduced Marc to Decca Records, who signed him on August 9th, and to the label's Musical Director Mike Leander


 Marc Bolan recording 'The Wizard' 

They worked on some songs at Leander's home before going into London's Decca Studios on September 14th to record two of Bolan's songs - The Wizard and Beyond The Risin' Sun and an American folk standard, That's The Bag I'm In, as tracks for a possible first release

Bolan's two songs were chosen for the single and acetates were produced at the start of October - Pruskin wasted no time in starting the publicity ball rolling by arranging an interview with Maureen Cleave of the Evening Standard -

Marc Bolan: Knit Yourself A Pop Singer
— Marc and Mike Will Tell You How


HUMILITY AMONG POP SINGERS used to be all the rage. “Mr. Presley,” the interviewer would ask, “is it to luck or to talent that you owe your success?” To which the great Elvis would reply in his humble mumble: “Luck, sir all luck”.

And Cliff Richard tell us in his autobiography that occasionally when his mother came to wake him in the morning, he would say: “Punch me, Mum, is this real?”

Humility went out with the Beatles. It was replaced in the millions who then took up pop singing not so much by quiet confidence as by monstrous conceit. If the rest of the world didn’t agree with them, they thought, then the rest of the world was thick in the head.

The conviction that he is the greatest ever seems to consume every contemporary pop singer: big is the way every pop singer now thinks.

One such is Marc Bölan, aged 18. I should immediately explain the umlaut. Mr. Bölan and his 18-year-old manager, Mike Pruskin, thought it looked French. “We thought it looked French at first,” Mr. Pruskin said; and one admired them for hanging on to it even when it looked less French.

Self-portrait

They live in a basement flat near Baker Street. They wear black jerseys and pale corduroy trousers, and they are much more agreeable than you might think from the way they talk. There is a cat asleep on an old fur hat on the windowsill; a green telephone and a self-portrait by Mr. Pruskin. “Very hermaphroditic,” he said critically, obviously seeing more in it than I could.

He wear spectacles and is a cousin of Lionel Bart. He left school when working for his A-levels. “I had to get out of the rut,” he said. He and Mr. Bölan have been working industriously methodically and intelligently for the last eight weeks on turning Mr. Bölan into a pop singer. They are as certain of success as the good knitter who follows the Fair Isle pattern, knowing the result will be a gorgeous splash of colour.

They tick off items of achievement: the article in the Observer, Ready Steady Go, the photographs in striking attitudes, the interested American producer, the record released in November (Caroline and London knocked out by it); and what became they want to know of the picture supposed to be in London Life? They must ring up about that.

They have ideas of a television programme about Marc: they must ring up Jonathan Miller. They deal with the telephone in the approved style; if anyone rings up to interview Marc, he must wait while Mr. Pruskin looks in the diary of engagements.

Marc hasn’t actually done any signing yet, except on the record and ages ago in a few folk clubs. And now the release of the record has been held up. But though weary of waiting, they have many plans that cannot fail. This American thinks that Marc will be bigger than the Beatles.

“Bigger than Elvis Presley,” Mr. Pruskin said, adding by way of explanation that Elvis was bigger than the Beatles.

And why not? The boy is handsome, charming and a poet. He holds fashionable views: the record business is stagnant, parties are boring and Dylan is too old to be the idol he should be.

But it is for two qualities that Mr. Pruskin - a publicist - admires Dylan: “His projection of personality is excellent,” he said; “his image is a natural image - artistic but aggressive. What the Rolling Stones are trying to get. People want to be like Marc: he’s leading them somewhere.”

“And I don’t know where I want to go myself,” Marc said.

His biography - known as a biog in the trade - is uncluttered by details such as favourite food: corn on the cob; favourite dancing partner: mother. Instead it reveals astonishing facts.

His real name is Mark Feld and he comes from Stamford Hill. His parents have four stalls in Berwick Street market; Marc can tell you how much money they make out of them.

Clothes

His career at school was distinguished only by a passion for clothes, inspired by reading a book about Beau Brummell. He was one of the very, very early Mods. A journalist once interviewed him when he was 14 about his clothes, about how he had 22 suits and 50 shirts. The journalist was sceptical but when he went to the boy’s house there were the 22 suits and 50 shirts.

“I wasn’t a spoilt child,” he said. “All I did was tell my mother what was best.” Most of the unlikely things about him have a disconcerting way of turning out to be true.

When he was 15 he went to Paris, again inspired by Beau Brummell. He wrote poetry: “I had this thing about Greek Gods:; the whole idea about centaurs and horses with wings just knocks me out.

“I met this man who was a black magician and who had a big chateau on the Left Bank; I only left it about eight times all the year I was there. I learned about the black art but being evil didn’t particularly appeal to me. I think this man was getting old and wanted to work his magic through me. He liked my mind.

“I used to watch them when they cast spells. They crucified live cats. Sometimes,” Mr. Bölan continues chattily, “they used to eat human flesh just like chicken bones. From a cauldron.”

I may have appeared taken aback by this announcement because Mr. Pruskin murmured soothingly that it was all true; that was what was so marvellous. “I don’t care whether you believe me or not,” Mr. Bölan said generously. “It’s a bit scary how false it sounds. But what can I do? You tell me. It sounds ego; yet it’s true.”

He’s in pop music for the money. “Personally,” he said, “the prospect of being immortal doesn’t excite me; but the prospect of being a materialistic idol for four years does appeal. With this image we are putting out, I know I can communicate. If I have a couple of glasses of wine and I’m relaxed, I know I can come through.

“I know it sounds ego, but it’s really scary: if I go into a room and there are 10 girls, nine of them will fancy me. I’ve never failed yet with girls.”

They have very little money at the moment; they want a million pounds each. “I’m sick off modelling and living off wizards,” Marc said. “Besides, once I get over the fame, I will know where I stand.” A small, small doubt crossed his mind.

“My ego wouldn’t stand dying a death at this moment,” he said. “I would go right back into my shell and I’ve only just got out of it after two years.

“I look forward to growing old, to being mature and knowing good wine. I want to savour life; I want to have grey hair.”

“I want to communicate,” Mr. Pruskin said, “just like Marc.”


 

 

On November 12th Marc appeared on 'Ready, Steady, Go!' promoting his debut single, The Wizard - the performance didn't go well with the backing track playing out of sync., but he took the opportunity to spend time with the shows producer Vicki Wickham. Also appearing on the programme that night were fellow Decca artists The Small Faces, The Nashville Teens and Tom Jones, and, touring in the UK at the time, Wilson Pickett





 

 Marc Bolan's 'The Wizard' advert 

 THE WIZARD / BEYOND THE RISING SUN [Decca F.12288], released on November 19th. Both tracks had full orchestral backing arranged by Mike Leander with backing vocals by The Ladybirds

Marc Bolan's 'The Wizard' Demonstration copy Marc Bolan's 'The Wizard' with umlaut

As Marc had been promoting his name as 'BÖlan' (being spelt with an umlaut), when he received a demonstration copy credited to 'Bolan', he requested that the umlaut's be added

 
The single received a positive review from musician and critic George Melley in The Observer, comparing Marc to English poet and novelist, Walter de la Mare and in the 'Newcomers To Records' column, Derek Johnson of the New Musical Express wrote 'Try  and catch Marc Bolan's self-penned 'The Wizard' - it has a most intreaguing lyric, and his Sonny Bono-like voice is offset by a solid thumping beat, strings and ethereal voices...'

 

Walking in the woods one day
I met a man who said he was magic
Wonderful things he said
Pointed hat upon his head
He knew why people laughed and cried
Why they lived and why they died

Shadows followed him around
He walked the woods without a single sound
Golden eagles at his door
Cats and bats played on the floor
Silver sunlight in his eyes
He chants his magic from the eastern skys

Walking in the woods one day
I met a man who said he was magic
Wonderful things he said
Pointed hat upon his head
Scarlet flashes in his eyes
The wizard turned and melted in the sky

- The Wizard









Helen Shapiro and Marc Bolan

Around this time Marc met up with Helen Shapiro again at a party held by 'Fabulous' magazine, almost a decade after playing guitar in her rock'n'roll combo




On November 23rd Marc performed The Wizard on Redifussion TV's 'Five O'Clock Funfair'




 Marc Bolan 'Reality' Acetate Marc Bolan 'Song For A Soldier' Acetate 

On December 30th Marc returned to the studio for a second Decca session, again under the guidance of Mike Leander, looking for material for the follow-up single, and recorded four demos  - Rings Of Fortune, Highways, Reality and Song For A Soldier. Acetates were produced but the songs were not used









Marc appeared on ABC TV's 'Thank Your Lucky Stars' on February 19th 1966, performing The Wizard. Also on the show, The Animals


During the start of 1966, Leander, unable to secure a deal with any of the new material, lost faith in Bolan, however Economides pushed Marc for further material and was finally presented with a song that the producer felt was suitable for a new single. Taking him to De Lane Lea Studios in London, he brought in popular session bassist John Paul Jones to give the track some edge, this time Marc was fronting a 'studio band', playing his guitar and providing his own backing vocals, having the opportunity to double-track his vocal for the first time





 Marc Bolan 'The Third Degree' Demonstration copy

On June 3rd 1966 Decca released THE THIRD DEGREE / SAN FRANCISCAN POET [Decca F.12413]
 
A reviewer described the track - 'Contagious driving shake beat keeps you moving to the rhythm, as Marc Bolan deul-tracks this swinger. Self-penned.'

Despite the considerable publicity Marc had gained with only one single behind him, The Third Degree failed to succeed and Marc left Economides, and a while later, Pruskin, and again returned to his parents

Everywhere I go people question me
She read my head and I can see
Philosophising mad psychiatrist
Closing off my mind in darkness
Beware of the third degree

Everywhere I go people follow me
They look, they smile, they cannot see
I am too much for them to take in
They only say that I am faking
Beware of the third degree

Everywhere I go people always say
It's sad to see him act this way
Philosophising mad psychiatrist
Closing of my mind in darkness
Beware of the third degree

Sanity baby is all I got
I'm as sane as you believe it or not
Philosophising mad psychiatrist
Closing up my mind in darkness
Everywhere I go people laugh at me

- The Third Degree











 Simon Napier-Bell 

During 1965 film-maker Simon Napier-Bell had met TV Producer Vicki Wickham, who suggested he moved into Artist Management

Over the first-half of 1966 he wrote and produced three singles for his first clients, but although they had no commercial success, he had gained them considerable publicity and himself some notoriety. When Wickham's secretary, girlfriend of The Yardbirds bass player, heard that the band were looking for new management, she recommended Simon - as they were aware of his recent activities, they were eager to engage him
 
While management negotiations were taking place, a song-writing partnership between Napier-Bell and Wickham resulted in You Don't Have To Say You Love Me being a No. 1 hit for Dusty Springfield in April, the single was also produced by Napier-Bell


By the time of the release of Simon's first single as manager and co-producer of The Yardbirds they had already achieved four Top ten hits, his growing notoriety encouraged Marc and his then manager, Mike Pruskin, to approach Napier-Bell to see if he would produce Marc, but at that time he was committed to establishing his position with The Yardbirds

Possibly encouraged by Wickham, and no longer with Pruskin, towards the end  of September Marc approached Napier-Bell in person, first by phoning him to arrange a meeting before turning-up at his home, acoustic guitar in hand and having performed an hours worth of material Simon immediately booked time at De Lane Lea studios, and over a two-hour session that evening they recorded nine songs. At the start of October they returned to the studio to record a further five numbers, including Hippy Gumbo which Simon suggested should be a single, for which they returned to the studio for Marc to re-recorded the track, along with another number for the B-side. Napier-Bell subsequently arranged a deal with EMI for a release on their Parlophone Records lable







 Marc Bolan 'Hippy Gumbo' (Demonstration Copy)

November 25th - HIPPY GUMBO / MISFIT [Columbia  R5539] - Marc referred to Hippy Gumbo as 'slow but aggressive', one of its reviewers was far more descriptive - 'Well well, Mr Napier Bell never disappoints, let's say that for him. I expected therefore suprises from Marc Bolan on "Hippy Gumbo" but even I was stunned by the way the perfectly normal sounding gentlemen from "The Wizard" now sounds like a crazed mixture of a bad female Negro blues singer and Larry The Lamb'

For Hippy Gumbo Napier-Bell had added a string backing to Bolan's acoustic guitar, whereas for Misfit Marc was backed by a full band 


 Met a man he was nice
Said his name was paradise
Didn't realise at the time
That his face and mind were mine

Hippy Gumbo he's no good
Chop him up for firewood

It seemed good and it seemed right
That I should dig him all the night
But in the morning with the sun he pulled an automatic gun
He blew my soul, he blew my brain
He said I could not do the same

Hippy Gumbo he's no good
Chop him up for firewood
Hippy Gumbo he's no good
Chop him up and burn the wood

- Hippy Gumbo




On December 16th Marc performed the new single on 'Ready, Steady, Go!', also on the show were The Escorts, The Merseys, The Troggs and Jimi Hendrix -

I did a 'Ready, Steady, Go!' with Hendrix. It was his first ever gig here. 'Hey Joe' was out, but it wasn't a hit, and it was amazing to watch him for the first time. Everyone else used to have backing tracks, but he was going to play live because they got him on the show the same day. I was in the control room with the producer, just sitting about, when they started 'Hey Joe' and this old lady really freaked out and said 'Turn the backing track down!" because it was really loud. All the machines were shaking. And they said, "But there is no backing track", and people blew it because he was playing through four hundred watts of stacks and no-one had ever seen it. And that really interested me. He came up and I spoke with him a bit and he said that he dug the way I sung. And he said "One day you're gonna be big", and I thought 'bullshit', you know

 

 

In February 1967 Napier-Bell took Marc into Advision Studios in London to record a possible follow-up single, Jasper C. Debussy with session musicians Big Jim Sullivan on guitar, Nicky Hopkins on piano and Clem Cantinni on drums, but was unable to secure a release from Parlophone. He suggested to Marc that he used his writing talents as part of one of the bands he was managing at the time, John's Children, and take the opportunity to build up his stage-craft skills

 

They wanted a Pete Townsend-poet combination, really, and I fit the bill. I wrote songs and had intellectual enough of an image





John's Children: Andy Ellison, Chris Dawsett, Geoff McCelland and John Hewlett 



John's Children, once a R&B group called The Few, and then a mod band called The Silence were Chris Townsen on drums, Andy Ellison on vocals, Chris Dawsett on bass, John Hewlett on guitar and Geoff McCelland on lead guitar. They had released two singles on Columbia Records - The Love I Thought I'd Found (retitled Smashed! Blocked! in America where it had gained some notoriety) and Just What You Want, Just What You'll Get, released in February, made a minor impression on the UK charts. The proposed third single, Not the Sort of Girl (You'd Like to Take to Bed) was not taken-up by their label and Napier-Bell moved them to Track Records, run by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, who were having success with The Who and Jimi Hendrix

The band had a club in Leatherhead called The Bluesette which they used for rehearsals and to put on concerts


In March 1967 Napier-Bell replaced McCelland with Bolan and introduced him to David Platz's Essex Music for a publishing deal, immediately starting the band on rehearsals for studio and live work -


We are writing and arranging all our own material... and although I still hope to record independently as a solo artist, as far as this group is concerned Andy is lead and sings on the disc.
Our club, The Bluesette, is a knockout - we choose all our artists. Last night we had Graham Bond and next week Simon Dupree


Within weeks they were in the studio recording one of Marc's songs for their first single. On April 29th, the band played on the first day of a two-day event at the '14 Hour Technicolour Dream' at Alexandra Palace, London. Also performing at the biggest psychedelic gathering in the UK was Pink Floyd, Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Savoy Brown Bluesband, Soft Machine and Tomorrow -



Andy Ellison: "At the Alexandra Palace 14 Hour Technicolour Dream our whole set comprised of Bolan with guitar balanced on top of his head causing ear-splitting feedback. There was no music, just an hour of strange noises. At other times Marc would lob chains around and kick in the speaker cabinets. They took a lot of destroying, those Jordon speakers

We were actually quite a violent band, never very much into peace. If anything we were taking the piss out of Flower Power, though nobody ever saw it as that..."




The following day, the 30th, they played at Epping Hall, Epping, Essex and on April 1st at the Il Rondo Club in Leicester, then back to Surrey for a show at The Bluesette Club, Leatherhead, which may have been followed with a second show that day at the Agincourt Ballrooms in Camberley in Surrey 





With Track Records label-mates The Who booked to undertake a 13-date West Germany Tour, John's Children were chosen as support, travelling out on April 7th and joining The Who on their second night of the tour at Messehalle, Nurenburg on the 8th, continuing to the Thalia-Theatre, Wuppertal (9th), the Jaguar Club, Herford (10th), the Reinhalle, Dusseldorf (11th) and the Freidrich-Ebert-Halle in Lugwigshafen


 John's Children live - Bolan's back to camera

I remember we did a German tour with The Who which was amazing. I used to use a silver whip on stage. I'd chain up a bank of amplifiers and drag them accross the stage, then I'd whip the guitar. I couldn't play a note, but I sure used that whip well! By the end of our act the stage was littered with feathers and brassiers and God knows what. Amazing!

We don't just do a musical performance... it's a 45 minute happening... sometimes we're barely concious of what we're doing. It's like big turn-on seance between us and the audience. I've seen Andy go quite mad like a witch doctor in the tribal dance. He leaps off the stage and runs around the audience or sometimes he attacks one of us. In Dusseldorf he got in a fight with John, and they both fell 15ft. off the stage onto Andy's head


 John's Children mayhem on stage!


I watched them (The Who) every night but they had us taken off the tour because we upstaged them. Not with music - just with the visual thing



John Hewlett: "John's Children came to a halt after Ludwigshaffen when all our equipment was confiscated by the police after the damage that was done to the hall - people were throwing chairs through the windows..."



At the start of May the band began recording material for the follow-up single to their forthcoming release, this included a band recordings of The Third Degree and Hippy Gumbo




 JOhn's Children NME cover advert for 'Desdemona' (by Bolan) 

Marc Bolan's first appearance on the front of a national music paper was on May 13th on the cover of the New Musical Express advertising the bands new single, Desdemona. Inside the back page the Classifieds included details for the John's Children Fanclub, run by Gillian Ross of Clayhall, Essex. The artwork for the cover was the same as Track Records promotional posters pasted-up around London



 John's Children 'Desdemona' (Marc Bolan)

The new line-up's first release featured a Bolan song as it's A-side, released on May 24th - DESDEMONA / REMEMBER THOMAS A BECKETT, [Track 604003], the B-side was a Hewlett / Townsen composition recorded prior to Marc joining the band 


I wrote this one myself, and it took me twenty-five seconds! The story's about a girl called Desdemona, a rich girl, and a fellow who lives by the River Seine, all rather complicated and difficult to explain. I would say it's rather slow and moody. The chorus swings. We're hoping it will do very well anyway


John Hewlett: "Marc's songs are... they're super-dimensitive... not just double meanings but millions of meanings. Take 'Desdemona'. A lot of peope say that 'Lift up your skirt and speak' is dirty. But it's not. Marc wrote those words because they gave him a buzz... they weren't meant to mean anything"



The single received notoriety by initially being banned by the BBC for the line "Lift up your skirt and fly," an alternate version with the lyric "why do you have to lie" was supplied to gain airplay, however it was receiving positive press cover with one reviewer commenting  that 'Some have said that "Desdemona" is a very dodgy song indeed, and John's Children say no, it's not. So be it. But even to my uncontaminated mind the words don't seem to leave much to the imagination. All very weird, with Marc Boland's odd black magic voice coming through well'.  Another said that 'I found it a stimulating track - energetic, tingling, vigourous. It has gimmick appeal in the contrast repetition of the title name, and the novelty semi-spoken phrases reminiscent of the Who and the Troggs. And it's lifted all the way by some berserk drumming.'  It reached No. 34




Desdemona just because
You're the daughter of a man
He may be rich he's in a ditch
He does not understand
Just how to move or rock and roll
To the conventions of the young

Desdemona, Desdemona
Lift up your skirt and fly

Just because my friend and I
Got a jute joint by the Seine
Does not mean I'm past fourteen
And cannot play the game
Oh, I'm glad I split and got a pad
On Boulevard Rue Fourteen

Desdemona, Desdemona
Lift up your skirt and fly

Just because Toulouse Lautrec
Painted some chick in the rude
Don't give you the right
To steal my night
And leave me naked in the nude
Oh, just because the touch of your hand
Can turn me on just like a stick

Desdemona, Desdemona
Lift up your skirt and speak


- Desdemona






On June 16th the band played at the Youth Club, Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire  

 

John's Children 'Midsummer Night Scene' (Bolan)








On July 7th, less than six weeks after Desdemona, Track released  MIDSUMMER NIGHT SCENE / SARAH CRAZY CHILD [Track 604005] - both tracks written by Marc, however, on hearing a copy in advance of release, he was unhappy with the production quality given to his song and demanded its withdawl, although up to 50 copies were given away to fans at the groups club in Leatherhead


We never made an LP, we cut five tracks, all of which they used and changed the words - they were all my songs, they just changed the words... There was only one recording session but 'Desdemona' was the only one I was involved with and one called 'Midsummer Night Scene' which, infact, when I left the studio, all of us, I was in tears, we were so happy 'cos we knew we had a No. 1 record


 John's Children recording (Bolan on right)

The next day I went back to the studio and listened to it and the guy who was producing had totally destroyed the song - so much so I just walked out





In the park, getting dark, eating the heat
There's an eye in the sky, melting your feet
You see a chick, who starts to nick the petals and flowers
She starts to joke and then provoke the Dance of the Hours

It's all down to a Midsummer Night's Scene
It's all down to a Shakespearian dream

In her face there's a place disfigured with love
Her hands are white, like the night encased in a glove
She starts to swing and watches you nick
petals and flowers
She starts to joke and then evokes the Dance of the Hours

- Midsummer Night's Scene




It was swiftly replaced on July 14th by COME AND PLAY WITH ME IN THE GARDEN / SARAH CRAZY CHILD [Track 604005], the A-side being a Hewlett / Townsen number

John's Children naked poster


John's Children 'Come And Play With Me In The Garden'

A promotional campaign was quickly put together for the single with Track Records arranging a photo session of the remainder of John's Children apparently naked, with discreetly positioned flowers. Posters were produced and displayed across London



 










 


 


 


 












marc bolan musicHOMEMARC BOLAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC (for the children)UNZIPPING THE ABSTRACT - The Marc Bolan Story