Mark Feld was born on 30th September 1947 and grew up in post-war Stoke Newington, in the borough of Hackney, north-east London. The son of Phyllis Winifred (nee Atkins) and Simeon 'Sid' Feld, a market stall holder and a lorry driver respectively.
Along with his elder brother Harry, the family lived in the top floor flat at 25 Stoke Newington Common. Mark and Harry attended nearby Northwold Primary School, and then William Wordsworth Secondary School in Stoke Newington (now Grasmere School) before later moving to Wimbledon, south-west London, when Mark was aged 15.
Mark first discovered rock n roll by accident when his father Sid mistakenly bought him a copy of Bill Haley's 'Rock Around The Clock'. Mark had asked for a Bill Hayes record as he'd enjoyed listening to one of Hayes' previous records 'The Ballad Of Davy Crockett'. His disappointment soon turned to delight when he heard the sound coming out of the speaker. He later recalled "just one play of that and I chucked Bill Hayes out of the window". Nothing was the same ever again.
At the age of nine, he was given his first guitar and began a skiffle band. While at school, he played guitar in Susie and the Hula Hoops, a trio whose vocalist was a 12-year-old Helen Shapiro (who was to go on to have several chart topping hits a few years later) along with friend Steve Jameson.
During lunch breaks at school, he would play his guitar in the playground to a small audience of friends.
Aside from Bill Haley, Mark was inspired by the likes of Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Arthur Crudup, Elvis and Chuck Berry and would go along to The Hackney Empire, with his friend Steve Jameson, each week to watch recordings of the TV music show Oh Boy, where he would sometimes meet the stars such as his hero Eddie Cochran.
Later he would hang around coffee bars such as the 2i's in Soho which was part of the early mod scene in London. He appeared as an extra in an episode of the television show Orlando, dressed as a mod. He briefly joined a modelling agency and became a John Temple Boy, appearing in a clothing catalogue for the menswear store. He was a model for the suits in their catalogues as well as for cardboard cut-outs to be displayed in shop windows.
Town magazine featured him as an early example of the mod movement in a photo spread with two other local Stamford Hill faces. At 15, he left William Wordsworth School on mutual agreement.
In 1964, Mark met his first manager, Geoffrey de-la-Roy Hall, and recorded a slick commercial track backed by session musicians called ‘All at Once’ (a song very much in the style of his youthful hero, Cliff Richard, the "English Elvis"), This recording is now regarded as possibly the very first known track that the young Mark Feld had put to professional studio tape. There are, however, claims that his very first recording was with Joe Meek. This is based on a scratchy anonymous acetate disc discovered by the Joe Meek fan club, which has a slight resemblance to Mark’s vocal delivery. This recording, a song called ‘Mrs Jones’, is thought to date from 1963.
Mark Feld then changed his stage-name to Toby Tyler when he met and moved in with child actor Allan Warren, who became his second manager. This encounter afforded him a lifeline to the heart of show business, as Warren saw Toby Tyler's potential while Tyler spent hours sitting cross-legged on Warren's floor playing his acoustic guitar.
At this time he liked to appear in boho-chic, wearing a corduroy peaked cap similar to his current source of inspiration, Bob Dylan. A series of photographs was commissioned with photographer Michael McGrath, although he recalls that Mark “left no impression” on him at the time.
Warren also hired a recording studio and had his first acetates cut. Two tracks were later released, the Bob Dylan song ‘Blowin' in the Wind’ and Dion Di Mucci's ‘The Road I'm On (Gloria)’. A version of Betty Everett's ‘You're No Good’ was later submitted to EMI but was turned down.
Warren later sold Mark’s contract and recordings for £200 to his landlord, property mogul David Kirch, in lieu of three months' back rent, but Kirch was too busy with his property empire to do anything for him.
A year or so later, Mark's mother Phyllis pushed into Kirch's office and shouted at him that he had done nothing for her son. She demanded he tear up the contract and willingly he complied. The tapes of the first two tracks produced during the Toby Tyler recording session vanished for over 25 years before resurfacing in 1991 and selling for nearly $8,000.
After changing his name again, to Marc Bolan (via Mark Bowland), he signed to Decca Records in August 1965 and recorded his debut single ‘The Wizard’. Apart from Bolan's vocals, all other music was created by studio session musicians. ‘The Wizard’ was released on 19 November 1965. Bolan's first single was produced by Jim Economedes, with music director Mike Leander.
Two solo acoustic demos recorded shortly afterwards by the same team ('Reality' and 'Song For A Soldier') have still only been given a limited official release in 2015 on seven-inch vinyl. Both songs are in a folk style reminiscent of Dylan and Donovan. A third song, ‘That's the Bag I'm In’, written by New York folk singer and Dylan contemporary Fred Neil, was also committed to tape, but has not yet been released.
In June 1966, a second official single was also released, with session-musician accompaniment, ‘The Third Degree’, backed by ‘San Francisco Poet’, Bolan's paean to the beat poets. Neither song made the charts.
In 1966, Bolan turned up at music manager Simon Napier-Bell's front door with his guitar and proclaimed that he was going to be a big star and he needed someone to make all of the arrangements. Napier-Bell invited Bolan in and listened to his songs. A recording session was immediately booked and the songs were very simply recorded (most of them were not actually released until 1974, on the album The Beginning of Doves).
Only ‘Hippy Gumbo’, a sinister-sounding, baroque folk-song, was released at the time as Marc's third unsuccessful single. One song, ‘You Scare Me to Death’, was used in a toothpaste advertisement. Some of the songs also resurfaced in 1982, with additional instrumentation added, on the album You Scare Me to Death.
Napier-Bell managed the Yardbirds and John's Children and was at first going to slot Bolan into the Yardbirds. In early 1967 he eventually settled instead for John's Children because they needed a songwriter and he admired Bolan's writing ability. The band achieved some success as a live act but sold few records. A John's Children single written by Marc Bolan called ‘Desdemona’ was banned by the BBC for its line "lift up your skirt and fly".
His tenure with the band was brief. When the band split following an ill-fated German tour with The Who, Bolan took some time to reassess his situation. Bolan's imagination was filled with new ideas and he began to write fantasy novels (The Krakenmist and Pictures Of Purple People) as well as poems and songs, sometimes finding it hard to separate facts from his own elaborate myth - he famously claimed to have spent time with a wizard in Paris who gave him secret knowledge and could levitate. The time spent with him was often alluded to but remained "mythical"; in reality the wizard was probably US actor Riggs O'Hara with whom Marc made a trip to Paris in 1965. Given time to reinvent himself after John's Children, his song-writing developed and he began writing many of the poetic and neo-romantic songs that would appear on his first albums with Tyrannosaurus Rex.
When John's Children collapsed, Bolan, unperturbed, rallied to create Tyrannosaurus Rex, his own rock band together with guitarist Ben Cartland, drummer Steve Peregrin Took and an unknown bass player. Napier-Bell recalled of Marc: "He got a gig at the Electric Garden then put an ad in Melody Maker to get the musicians. The paper came out on Wednesday, the day of the gig. At three o'clock he was interviewing musicians, at five he was getting ready to go on stage.... It was a disaster. He just got booed off the stage". Following this concert, Bolan pared the band down to just himself and Took, and they continued as a psychedelic-folk rock acoustic duo, playing Bolan's songs, with Took playing assorted hand and kit percussion and occasional bass to Bolan's acoustic guitars and voice.
After teaming up with up-and-coming American record producer Tony Visconti (who would go on to produce some of Bolan’s most recognisable recordings), the original version of Tyrannosaurus Rex released three albums and four singles, flirting with the charts, reaching as high as number fifteen and supported with airplay by Radio 1 DJ John Peel. One of the highlights of this era was when the duo played at the first free Hyde Park concert in 1968. Although the free-spirited Steve Peregrin Took was eventually fired from the group after their first American tour, they were a force within the hippie underground scene while they lasted. Their music was filled with Marc's otherworldly poetry.
In 1969, Bolan published his first and only book of poetry entitled The Warlock of Love. Although some critics dismissed it as self-indulgence, it was full of Bolan's florid prose and wordplay, selling 40,000 copies and in 1969-70 became one of Britain's best-selling books of poetry. It was reprinted in 1992 by the Tyrannosaurus Rex Appreciation Society.
In keeping with his early rock and roll interests, Bolan began bringing amplified guitar lines into the duo's music, buying a white Fender Stratocaster, which he decorated with a distinctive enamel teardrop motif, given to him by Tony Visconti's girlfriend. Around this time Marc also took a few guitar lessons with Eric Clapton, which he described as "being sat at the feet of the Master".
After replacing Took with Mickey Finn on congas and occasional bass, he let the electric influences come forward even further on A Beard of Stars, the final album to be credited to Tyrannosaurus Rex. It closed with the song ‘Elemental Child’, featuring a long electric guitar break influenced by Jimi Hendrix.
In January 1970 Marc married his girlfriend, June Child (a former secretary to the manager of another of his heroes, Syd Barrett), who was influential in raising her new husband's profile in the music business.
Becoming more adventurous musically, Marc bought a vintage late 50's Gibson Les Paul guitar (featured on the cover of the album T. Rex) which he had refinished in a translucent orange reminiscent of his childhood hero Eddie Cochran's Gretsch guitar. This is the guitar most associated with Bolan and the T. Rex sound.
He then wrote and recorded his first hit ‘Ride a White Swan’, which was dominated by a hand-clapping back-beat, Bolan's rockabilly inspired electric guitar parts, and strings. At this time he also shortened the group's name to T. Rex.
Marc and his producer Tony Visconti oversaw the session for ‘Ride a White Swan’, the single that changed Bolan's career, which was inspired in part by Mungo Jerry's success with ‘In the Summertime’ – which in turn was influenced by some of the earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex recordings.
Moving Bolan away from predominantly acoustic numbers to a more electric sound, ‘Ride a White Swan’, recorded on 1 July 1970 and released later that year, made slow progress in the UK Top 40, until it finally peaked in early 1971 at number two.
Bolan followed ‘Ride a White Swan’ and T. Rex by expanding the group to a quartet with bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend, and cutting a five-minute single, ‘Hot Love’. With a rolling rhythm, string accents, backing vocals courtesy of former Turtles and Mothers Of Invention Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, and an extended sing-along chorus inspired somewhat by ‘Hey Jude’, it went to number one and stayed there for six weeks.
Bolan took to wearing drops of glitter on each of his cheekbones for TV appearances and photo shoots, as well as expanding his wardrobe to include much more glamourous clothing, courtesy of his stylist Chelita Secunda. Bolan told John Pidgeon in a 1974 interview on Radio 1 that he noticed the glitter on his wife's dressing table prior to a photo session and casually daubed some on his face there and then. Other sources claim that it was in fact Chelita Secunda who first came up with the idea, when she daubed two glitter teardrops under Bolan's eyes prior to a Top Of The Pops appearance performing 'Hot Love'. Either way the era of glam and glitter rock was born.
'Hot Love' was quickly followed by ‘Get It On’, a grittier, more adult tune taken from the forthcoming album Electric Warrior. 'Get It On' spent four weeks in the top spot.
The song was renamed ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’ when released in the United States, to avoid confusion with another song of the same name by the American band Chase. The song reached No. 10 in the United States, the only top 40 single the band had in America.
Recorded on-the-fly during short breaks in touring the USA in April 1971, and with additional recording done back in the UK after the American tour, T. Rex’s next album Electric Warrior went on to become the band’s most successful album to date. Coinciding with the era of "T. Rextasy", Electric Warrior is now generally regarded as one of the all-time classic albums. It's cover, featuring a gold-on-black outline of Bolan on stage stood in front of his amplifier stack, is one of the most iconic images not only of Bolan but of the entire glam rock era.
In November 1971, the band's record label, Fly, released the Electric Warrior track ‘Jeepster’ without Bolan's permission. Outraged, Bolan took advantage of the timely lapsing of his Fly Records contract and left for EMI, who gave him his own record label, the T. Rex Wax Co. Its bag and label featured yet another iconic image of Bolan, this time a blue and red head-and-shoulders image. Despite the lack of his endorsement, ‘Jeepster’ peaked at number two in the UK, being held off the top spot by Benny Hill's novelty single 'Ernie'.
The glam era also saw the rise of Marc's friend David Bowie, whom Marc had first come to know in the days when they were both mods about town, and then again when they were both budding underground figures. Marc had also played guitar on Bowie's 1970 single ‘The Prettiest Star’. Bolan and Bowie also shared the same producer, Tony Visconti, but their friendship was a friendly rivalry, which would continue throughout their careers.
In 1972, Bolan achieved two more British number ones with ‘Telegram Sam’ and ‘Metal Guru’ (the latter of which stopped Elton John getting to the top with ‘Rocket Man’) and two more number twos in ‘Children of the Revolution’ and ‘Solid Gold Easy Action’.
In the same year he appeared in Born to Boogie, a documentary showing a T. Rex concert at Wembley Empire Pool on 18 March 1972. Mixed in were surreal scenes shot at John Lennon's mansion in Ascot and a session with T. Rex joined by Ringo Starr on a second drum kit and Elton John on piano.
At this time T. Rex record sales accounted for about six percent of total British domestic record sales. The band was reportedly selling 100,000 records a day.
T. Rex were at this point the biggest band not only in the UK but Europe, Australia and Japan, and continued their success into the following year.
But by late 1973, Bolan's pop star fame gradually began to wane, even though he achieved a hit, ‘20th Century Boy’, in February and mid-year ‘The Groover' followed. ‘Truck On (Tyke)’ missed the UK top 10 reaching only No. 12 in December.
However, ‘Teenage Dream’ from the 1974 album Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow showed that Bolan was attempting to create richer, more involved music than he had previously attempted with T. Rex.
He expanded the line up of the band to include a second guitarist, Jack Green, and other studio musicians, and began to take more control over the sound and production of his records. He parted company with long-time producer Tony Visconti and also had a change of image.
Eventually, after a short UK tour to promote the Zinc Alloy album in January 1974 the vintage T. Rex line-up started to disintegrate. Bill Legend had already left in December 1973, and Mickey Finn was soon to follow. Bolan's marriage came to an end because of his affair with backing singer Gloria Jones.
He spent a good deal of his time in the US during this period, continuing to release singles and albums which, while less popular to the masses, were full of unusual lyrics and sometimes eccentric musical experiments.
Although Bolan's health began to fail as he put on weight, mainly due to bad diet and an increasing drink problem, he continued working, producing at least one album every year. T. Rex spent most of 1974 recording and touring in the USA and Marc then spent the best part of early 1975 living in France as a tax exile.
These times saw Marc with many changes in his appearance. Some not always flattering.
Bolan returned from exile in May 1975 and took to appearing on TV in such guises as an interviewer on London's Today programme, also starting his long run of appearing on ITV's Supersonic pop show as well as playing a short low key tour of UK ballrooms.
Gloria Jones gave birth to Marc’s son in September 1975, whom they named Rolan Bolan (although his birth certificate lists him as 'Rolan Seymour Feld').
The beginning of 1976 saw T. Rex embark on their biggest UK tour since 1971, a tour which also saw Bolan drinking heavily. The tour was to celebrate Bolan's return to the UK and to promote the new Futuristic Dragon album. It was more a greatest hits tour as Marc played the hit singles including some live debuts but ommitted to play anything from the new album. The tour including a performance at London's Lyceum Ballroom, T. Rex's first London gig since December 1972. During the tour Bolan appeared on various radio stations including London's Capital Radio where an infamous argument between Marc and host Kenny Everett was played out live on air. A few months after the tour, the last remaining member from the halcyon era T. Rex, bassist Steve Currie, left the band after the sacking of drummer Davey Lutton, leaving only keyboard player Dino Dines to remain after the tour.
Spurred on by his new responsibilities as a father Bolan released his most successful single for 18 months. ‘I Love To Boogie’ reached 13 in the UK charts and was quickly followed up by ‘Laser Love’ which would also see another image change.
At this point Bolan took stock of his life and career and decided to clean up his lifestyle and reinvent himself. He stopped drinking, went back on to a vegetarian diet and embarked on a fitness regime.
In early 1977, Bolan got a new band together with seasoned session musicians (some of whom he poached from David Bowie) released a new album, Dandy in the Underworld, and set out on a fresh UK tour, taking along punk band The Damned as support.
Granada Television commissioned Bolan to front a six-part series called Marc, where he introduced new and established bands and performed his own songs.
Such TV debuts were given to The Jam, Generation X, Alphalpha, Boomtown Rats, Eddie & The Hot Rods as well as established artists such as Thin Lizzy, Hawkwind, Steve Gibbons Band and Roger Taylor of Queen.
By this time Bolan had lost weight, appearing as trim as he had during T. Rex's earlier heyday.
The show was broadcast during the post-school half-hour on ITV earmarked for children and teenagers and proved to be a huge success which saw Bolan being thrust into the limelight once again.
One episode reunited Bolan with his former John's Children bandmate Andy Ellison, then fronting the band Radio Stars.
The last episode featured a unique Bolan "duet" with David Bowie during which Bolan, by accident, fell off the stage just as the singing was commencing. With no time for a retake, this shot was aired and is now the last TV appearance from Marc, shown 2 days before his death.
Tragically Marc died on 16 September 1977, two weeks before his 30th birthday. He was a passenger in a purple Mini 1275GT (registration FOX 661L) driven by Gloria Jones as they headed home from a night out at Mortons club and restaurant in Berkeley Square.
Jones lost control of the car as it negotiated a humped-backed bridge: it struck a steel reinforced chain link fence post and hit a sycamore tree near Gipsy Lane on Queens Ride, Barnes, south-west London.
Marc was killed instantly, while Jones suffered a broken arm and broken jaw and spent time in hospital; she did not learn of Marc's death until the day of his funeral.
Bolan's home, which was less than a mile away at 142 Upper Richmond Road West in East Sheen was looted shortly thereafter, and many of his possessions including guitars, clothes, records and books were taken. Some have since resurfaced but many have simply "disappeared".
At Marc's funeral, attended by David Bowie, Tony Visconti, Eric Clapton, Les Paul, Rod Stewart and many other faces in the music and film industry, a swan-shaped floral tribute was displayed outside the service in recognition of his breakthrough hit single 'Ride a White Swan'.
His funeral service was at the Golders Green Crematorium which is a secular provision in North London. His ashes were buried at Golders Green Crematorium.
His crash site has subsequently become a shrine to his memory, with fans travelling from all over the world to leave tributes beside the tree. In 2013, the shrine was featured on the BBC Four series Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain's Holiest Places.
Marc never learned to drive, fearing a premature death. Despite this fear, cars or automotive components are at least mentioned in, if not the subject of, many of his songs.
He also owned a number of cars, including a white 1960s Rolls-Royce that was loaned by his management to the band Hawkwind on the night of his death.
Today, Bolan’s music is covered by many artists and has been vastly influential, particularly on the glam rock, punk rock and Britpop genres. Artists as diverse as Oasis, Guns N' Roses, New York Dolls, The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam Ant, The Damned, U2, Primal Scream, The Libertines, Robbie Williams, Duran Duran and Billy Idol, amongst others have cited Bolan as an influence.
His music is featured regularly on TV, Radio and Film, which is testament to his continuing influence some 39 years after his death.
In 1972 Paul McCartney cited T. Rex as The Beatles successor. John Lennon is quoted as saying only Marc Bolan and T. Rex held his interest during that period, and Ringo and George Harrison became close friends of Marc's.
He was a true innovator, a unique performer and individualist. His legacy assures that he won't be forgotten. He was and still is, the one-and-only MARC BOLAN.
Golders Green Crematorium Memorial
Marc’s final resting place following his funeral on September 20th 1977, Golders Green Crematorium in Hoop Lane has since become a focus for fans to visit and pay their respects throughout the year. On September 16th each year a Memorial Service is also held, attended by members of Marc’s family and hundreds of fans, who come together to remember him and to celebrate his life. Money donated by fans and family has enabled the “The Marc Bolan Memorial Fund” to place five beautiful memorials to Marc within the Crematorium grounds. There are two marble plaques in the courtyard, a wooden plaque in the Jewish Shrine, an illuminated manuscript in the Book of Remembrance and a fabulous bespoke, carved oak bench featuring a Swan, Unicorns and the T.Rex badge. Positioned opposite Marc’s rosebush, where he rests with his parents, it is the ideal place for fans to sit quietly in thought, to reminisce, and to give thanks for all that he gave us.
“Sitting there, we remember him”
Ride a White Swan - The Lives and Death of Marc Bolan
A detailed insight into Marc Bolan's life as a young child growing up in Hackney to his rise as the UK's biggest idol since The Beatles. Lesley-Ann Jones, paints a meticulous portrait of the T. Rex front man. From his childhood to his untimely death at the age of 29, Bolan's life was one of relentless experimentation and metamorphoses.
Lesley-Ann has been granted access to those who knew Bolan best, including his partner and the mother of his only son, Gloria Jones and his brother, Harry Feld.
Bolan: The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar
Marc Bolan was the very first superstar of the Seventies. As the seductive focus of T Rex he revelled in fame and fortune, released a string of classic records, but then lost his way. The fatal 1977 car crash that cut short his planned comeback as a punk rocker was also to fix him forever as the classic icon of Glam Rock. Today, almost 40 years after his death, the legend of Marc Bolan lives on and not just for the image. His music and chameleonic style were to influence many future bands. Mod, Beatnik, Hippie, Glam and Punk Rocker - Bolan's numerous guises offer a fascinating glimpse into the man himself as well as British pop history. This classic biography of a pop obsessive draws from interviews with many friends and colleagues including the late John Peel, brother Harry and band members Mickey Finn and Bill Legend.