|Tyrannosaurus Rex – Steve and Marc|
Some of us will always see artists a certain way. For example, I’ll always think of David Bowie not as the miming artist he started out his career being, but as THE artistic mime we now know him as. I know people always see Marc Bolan as the pint sized glam god of T.Rex, for me he will always be the slightly fey, elfin flower-child from Unicorn.
Before the fame, fortune, ladies, and electric boogie, there was Mark Feld, a very precocious young man who tried to make it as a child actor model, then nearly dropped out of the business altogether as his early experiments combining folk music with Tolkienism, Neo-Romanticism, and Flower Power psychedelia were met with little fanfare but much critical exaltation. My track of the day, highlights how in 1968 Marc was unwittingly working to create another new strain of English folk music, simply by doing his best to make a bad situation better.
|John’s Children (Marc far right).|
Few people know this, but Marc had already gone electric by the time he recorded his first acoustic album in 1968, My People Were Fair…and Had Sky in Their Hair. In 1966, he got his first taste of rock stardom by fronting the Nuggets-style rock group called John’s Children. With this group he wrote, played electric guitar, and sang backup vocals for their hit song “Desdemona” a song so saucy, for its time, with its “lift up your skirt/and fly” lyric that it was banned from BBC radio playlists. The group itself was so outrageous and raucous on-stage that they even blew the Who off-stage when they toured together. When a group from the mid 60’s starts thinking of releasing their album with a title called Orgasm you know they weren’t quite ready for its time. Neither was Bolan, as he quit the band hoping to start a path to stardom by fronting his own rock band.
|Debut album cover.|
Tyrannosaurus Rex version 1.0 was a disaster. Initially, he put out an advertisement in some rock mag looking for band members. He gave the go ahead for a rhythm guitarist, a bassist, and Steve Peregrin Took, a young percussionist, who renamed himself after the hobbit Peregrin “Pippin” Took from Lord of the Rings, to accompany him on his quest. However, their first gigs were disastrous and panned terribly by the press. So, heinous were those performances that future gigs were cancelled leaving them penniless and broke. Marc and Steve, unlike the other forgotten two, rather than resign their dream, sold nearly all their rock equipment (full drum kit, electric guitars, amps and pedals) to have enough money to pay their rent while they busked together in the Tube as a acoustic guitar and bongo duo.
Whether by choice, necessity, or embarrassment, this early denial of his electric sound made him turn to folk music as his way to prove become a successful artist with Tyrannosaurus Rex version 2.0. Their early recordings found them exploring not psychedelia by way of drugs, but psychedelia by way of fantasy. His biggest influences going into the recording of their first album were musicians like Bob Dylan (heck, he took his stage name by combining the first two and last three letters of Bobby’s name), Donovan, the Incredible String Band and early Syd Barrett-era Floyd. Early performances and recordings were championed by influential rock DJs like John Peel.
What you hear in songs like Scenescof or “Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love)” is something very interesting, earnest, and naive. You could say, you’re hearing the start of twee folk with some really aimless acoustic guitar or ukulele melodies, and random percussion, they somehow found a way to use Marc’s vibrato/bleating goat vocals as the perfect backing for these fantasy-folk odysseys. The songs on that album have an interesting mix of Dylan abstract lyricism with untrained English neo-traditional folk. These are the types of recordings that producer Tony Visconti, of future David Bowie and Thin Lizzy fame, must have earned all of his production stripes trying to rope up into something presentable, let alone memorable. To their surprise they actually were a minor hit, not enough to pay the bills, but enough to keep recording.
Mere three months later, they would reconvene to create one of the most magnificent singles Marc would ever create called “Debora” in all his career. Somehow, this mix of boogie and English neo-folk never took off, and the album Prophets, Seers, and Sages: The Angels of the Ages they stuck it under (albeit as a reversed track!) failed to chart. The album itself though showed a bit of a step back in progression. Now they had songs with proper chord progressions and a very unique vibe, not much hippy, but more so medieval almost burgeoning on progressive (although such a style hadn’t existed yet!).
|Prophets, Seers, and Sages: The Angels of the Ages album cover.|
With a few choice changes, Marc choosing to unleash his vibrato in a more purposeful way and Steve actually playing percussion that fits the mood of the song, Tony allowed Marc leeway into creating his own uniquely fantastical songs. However, the album suffers from sounding too samey. Like new children repeating a particularly interesting word, Marc and Steve reuse or reconfigure a lot of the same sonic feeling throughout the album, which at first sounds cool, then progressively gets boring, and finishes being straight up trite. Some songs like “Trelawny Lawn” though stick in your head, and present a brief gradient of the outstanding colors they’d present next on Unicorn. My favorite, being “Stacey Grove” for one:
Its no surprise that yet again they were facing the end, and threatening to get lost in the music shuffle. However, what happened next was extraordinary, in more ways than he could have imagined. More of this story tomorrow though…
bonus track, the one of the first taped live performances of Tyrannosaurus Rex: