Marc Bolan
                                     The Vox Box Interview  1972
                                                                                         By Michael Wale

* A huge thanks to George Brown for supplying the interview
     and to Desdemona for transcribing and bringing it to Till Dawn

  One singer began to change the trend in the winter of 1971--Marc Bolan of T.Rex, an elfin-faced young man with an individual hair style that became part of his trademark.By Mid-winter "jackie" magazine, which sells over 600,000 copies a week, reported that they were receiving 800 letters a week about Bolan as well as having to deny ugly rumours that the star was dying of a rare blood disease, an occurrence unknown in the fan-mag world of pop since rumours of Paul McCartney's death after the Abbey Road album. On tour Bolan had to fight his way from the dressing-room door to his waiting white Rolls-Royce, 3 or 4 hundred young people a night were trying to grab chunks of him. This had not happened since the height of the Beatles. Girls also kept a vigil outside his home in London's Little Venice. When I arrived there he was being interviewed by a pleasant long-blonde-haired, cockney-accented girl from Mirabelle, another fan magazine. As the interview was ending, Bolan handed the girl a silver ring as
   T.Rex had originally been Tyrannosaurus Rex, a group that in the late sixties was in the foreground of the progressive underground music and was especially boosted by the progressive-music disc jockey, John Peel. The thought that Tyrannosaurus Rex could ever appear in the top-ten charts, let alone have a number one, would have brought about an instant attack of apoplexy to their fans at the time. By now, of course, as T.Rex they have appeared regularly in these same charts with hits like Ride a White Swan, Hot Love, Get it on, and Jeepster. As for Bolan, he has been around a remarkably long time for someone earning his money for appearing. He first came to the notice of the public in a glossy fashionable magazine of the time, About Town, and it was one of the first publications of the now famous photographer Don McCullin. McCullin had made his name by photographing his brother's gang in an East End bomb site. Now he's published a picture of the thirteen-year-old Bolan.

Why were you chosen?

  Well, I was at the forefront of that movement. I was still at school and used to steal scooters which was one of my great hobbies.I got busted once, that was very naughty, used to chrome the bubbles. What turned me on about that period of time was the total involvement materially with what was going on, because it was a complete involvement with perhaps seven people that one respected and really being important to be the leader of that materially. It was very material, down to clothes, totally. The only places I used to get clothes from was Vince's and Domino Male and these sort of places in Carnaby Street. John Stephens wasn't there and they were basically very camp shops. I didn't understand that most of the people were gay. I used to go in there because I dug the clothes. There were no mods as such, just people. I used to have my shoes made.We had four or five people that supplied what you wanted and occasionally one would get other clothes like Levi's.
    Levi's 7 or 8 years ago in England were unheard of, they were what the Americans brought over for their service camps and there was a place in Leman Street, Whitechapel, which used to have them. I remember going there, I didn't have a penny, and I went there and there were about 40 people that all looked lik Dickensian urchins, really like Bisto kids, we all looked so scraggy. All the clothes were Army surplus and this was a sort of surplus store and we just pulled up there on literally 40 scooters. And there was a big pile of Levi's and we just stole the lot. They were there, one wanted them and one took them. My scooter had zipped off without me and I stuck the Levi's up my jumper and I ran down the road and got a bus. My heart was pounding away. It was great knowing we were only one of a few people in England who had them. That was very funky.
   Then when this photo and article came out I just couldn't relate to it, it was very uncool for me, because it was like 6 months ago, and I was very into the time factor and I'd moved away and I was very bored with that, so when the article came out I didn't like the feel of it and I went to live in France. I was in Paris for about 6 months. A friend of mine had a big house which had about 40 rooms.He was a magician actually, very powerful man, very learned man. I learnt a lot of very important things off him, just sort of mythology, good things. I read alot of books. He had amazing books there, books by Allistair Crowley and handwritten books and things like that. Then I came back home again. I used to work at a clothes shop called Edgar's in Tooting Broadway and wash up in the Wimpy bar at night. I had two hours sleep at night and I did that for a week and had a mental breakdown--one of those Scott Walker numbers, at sixteen.

  But I was really wasted, but I did it just to prove I wanted to work, but I didn't want to have my head confused with a job I didn't really want to do. I didn't know what I wanted to do,I had no direction at all, just that I knew something was going to be happening. I used to go and see alot of rock shows at the Tooting Granada. I saw the Beatles there, the Stones,the Ronettes, Marty Wilde. Then I went to see Joe Meek and did the 'I want to be a star,Joe' bit.
    He had his bedroom with the budgerigar where he made all the Tornadoes' stuff and for 6 months he said 'Sure,kid,record you next week'. And he never did.I'd never sung in fact but I assumed that I ought to be a rock-n-roll star or something. Then I did some acting. I shared a flat with a guy who was involved with the National Theatre, so I got to see alot of the plays there and I saw Royal Hunt of the Sun, Peter Brook's thing, all those things. It was amazing and I went up to Robert Stephens who played Atavulpa--which I used on the first album, Frown of Atavulpa--and I went up to him and he was all blacked up and I thought he was a black person. And he put his foot up and it was white underneath,and it slayed him. I did some walk-ons for a children's TV programme called Orlando. I did quite a bit of kids' TV, 10 quid touch stuff. I did lots of male modeling and I once made a grand in a week which impressed my parents no end. I didn't work for a year after that.It was so easy, all I had to do was
   Then through a friend I got introduced to a guy called Jim Iconomedes, who used to record the Beach Boys. He had just come over here to England. He was with Decca and I did a recording test. I don't know if they still do that, I should think they still do. This was '64, late '64, because I did The Wizard,which was the first record, in '65,so it must have been '64. And I did a thing, and the song that I sung to him was You're no Good which in fact was a Betty Everitt record which was out in America for 7 months before. I think the Swinging Blue Jeans covered it and I got it the week it was released in America because I had a friend over there who sent me the stuff over. And I really dug the song.


And what were you called then?

    The first record I put out was under Marc Bolan, but it was spelt M-A-R-K B-O-W-L-A-N-D and it was totally a Decca fabication. I thought, 'Who's that?' you know.I didn't know it was my record because they'd stuck this name down! So I did the test and they said, "Kid, with your face we'll make you a star".

Who said that?

    A couple of people. Dick Rowe was there, Jim Iconomedes-Jim was a good man. It's a weird thing. I did The Wizard, we did that in an hour, and Mike Leander who was around at the time, he did the orchestration for it and I did it at 9:00 in the morning, right, the record, and I just did my bit,and a couple of the Ladybirds, or the Vernon girls or someone did the backing.They talked about corsets and stuff, you know, between takes, knitting and things. My first big recording session that was, chicks knitting! And I did that and they released it. And that was under Mark Bowland, right? There were 2 little dots on it for something, they were meant to be for something or other, I don't know, and it came out. I got a lot of attention,we did Ready,Steady,Go--it was live then, Ready,Steady,Go, whatever it was called. Vicki Wickham was dynamite,she put me on there, but meanwhile the band played in the wrong key and missed the intro out, it was a terrible disaster the whole thing. And the record wasn't a hit.
    Then I spent a year trying to get away from Decca. They wouldn't record me, to be quite honest! They wanted to do a number. It was one of those "You've got to be commercial, kid" numbers, which I couldn't really foresee. I didn't understand what they were talking about. At this point Dylan had just happened and The Byrds were big and those sort of things, and that was obviously the avenue that I should be taking. The music was totally geared for that but they weren't prepared to even get involved, so eventually I got away from them.
    An interesting thing is that at that point I was playing with Cat Stevens,because he was signed to Jim too, you see, via another circuit. Mike Hurst was producing him, just before I Love My Dog, and we used to play alot together and we had nowhere to play. It was amazing now when you think of it, you got Marc Bolan and Cat Stevens dying to do concerts for like 2 quid, really, like we were begging to play anywhere, and all we got offered were folk clubs. Then Cat got involved with the Deram thing, which fortunately he's come out of in good shape luckily, and I got away, I left that.I boogied around for about a year doing nothing, just sort of writing alot. I wrote alot of material then.
   And then I met a guy called Simon Napier-Bell, and Simon had the Yardbirds then, Jimmy Page had just joined them and everything. He produced a record called Hippy Gumbo which we did. Which, in fact, was very interesting, because we used a string quartet on it, it was an interesting record.
I did Ready,Steady,Go again on that with Jimi Hendrix,it was Jimi's first shot at anything and he did the Hey Joe thing which was dynamite to watch, actually.

What happened to your record?

    It was a demo that I did that we put strings on. It was a good record but it never got played, it only got one play, actually, on the radio. We did that and then Kit Lambert had just formed Track Records and Simon had a deal with EMI or somebody, which was a one-record deal, and John's Children, that was a band that he had, had a record out in America, which was very big on the West Coast called Smashed Blocked or something. It was Simon's band, I don't even know who was in the band at that point. But some of the people left and they wanted a sort of Pete Townshend type figure, a writer/guitarist/creator sort of thing, and I was around so they thought I'd fit the bill and they put me in. We did Desdemona, we did one session actually and we did Desdemona which was a hit in about 7 countries, but it wasn't a hit here though, because no one would play it, it was banned again. It got played on the pirates which were going down, but the BBC wouldn't play it, said it was rude, which it probably was.
   It was the first time that anyone had spent any money on me.I mean Track spent alot of money because they had Pictures of Lily, that I think the Who put out after Desdemona, and they had Purple Haze,so it was like a good flash for them. Like there were ads for the first time, real ads, whole-page ads, which an artist has to have, you've got to, you can't just stick a record out, you know, and there was promotion done, very well done,actually,but I backed off because I could feel that I wasn't going to get the freedom that I wanted personally. So I left about that point, and they made some other records afterwards which were backing tracks that I'd played and they wrote different words to and put my name on, stuff like Go-Go Girl, which was one of my songs, Mustang Ford. I went to Joe Boyd who was doing the Incredible String Band then and some other people. I wanted him to produce us, and we did some tracks which were all right actually, they were pretty good, but they weren't quite right.

You were then called....?

   Tyrannosaurus Rex.Just after I left I met Steve Took via friends and he was a drummer, but we didn't have any money, so he sold his drums and we just did pop concerts and stuff.John Peel had been playing some of my earlier stuff on the Perfumed Garden, Radio London. And that had gone out and it had got alot of response, alot of mailbag about it, and then Radio London ended. They came back here and I met John and he was sot of on the street really as I was, and Middle Earth, which was a club at the time, had just opened up, it was really the first underground thing.We used to play there for nothing, without any amplification, just on the stage, until after a while we used to fill it, about 3000 people, you know. We were getting about a fiver, so it was a bit cheeky. It was just me and Steve, at that point, and what happened slowly, the word got about that something was going down, you know, and people saw it. We had about 5 record company offers and things. It was Apple and some other people.

Were you on the drug scene at that time?

    Me? No, I've never really been into drugs that much.I never got into smoking. I took acid but I never got into smoking. I took acid a couple of times, you know. I didn't find it relevant. I couldn't use it.

I just asked because that period was very much a drug period?

   Yeah, right, it was very much. I never felt the need for any sort of psychedelic drugs or hash really, on that level I'm sort of very naturally spaced in that way. The way I live my life I've got to have a very open head. I don't have any problems with my head really on that level. Deborah did something which we weren't ready for. I was very pleased about it but I didn't really know how to cope with it, and the album came out and got to number 2, I think,in the album charts. I was very pleased, but it was a shock because people didn't sell albums in those days, you know. No one apart from John Peel really played the music, it was like what's happening? So that was a big album and we were being offered lots of money. Deborah came out first as a single. I had a feeling about it and then the album came out and we were doing concerts then and we did the Albert Hall, I think, because we did few concert halls. It's very strange because we had I think about 3 or 4 albums, big albums, but what struck me

I didn't really know you at that time yet, I knew your image and it was totally different to what you were.

    Sure. They always are. I never got all that. Being me, I never saw it. It's very hard to get outside it, even now. I think we've sold 7 million records this year and I sit here on my own, playing a guitar. I'm playing about. I'm just not aware of anything. The only times I've really been shook lately is like at the weekends there's probably three or four hundred chicks outside, you know.Well, I don't know where they got the address from, but they appear, you know, and suddenly I look out the window and they all sort of scream and I think well, it sounds very naive. I mean, sometimes I'm really not aware of it at all. When you go to a concert one is geared to do the concert, it's very different. But it's odd to encounter that out of the environment.

Does it not affect you at all that you get all this sort of praise which, of course, every man wants in his life?

   It's hard to know. I'm basically a musician and I accept that I'm a rock-n-roll star, whatever, that's the outward thing, that's how it looks from the inside. I'm basically a record produce really. I'm into that. I write songs and I'd like to produce them. To be quite honest, in the past in the early days of the band we were never played on the radio very much, which is probably my fault for not perhaps making the sort of music they play on the radio, but I didn't want to at that point. I wasn't upset by it, but that's probably why we were very much a cult thing. I read a really weird thing that's in one of those papers when they're writing about something and it said,"Marc Bolan now is a teenage rock-n-roll star" and all this stuff. "and he drives about in his white Rolls-Royce, but meanwhile, what about the days when they lived in poverty as Tyrannosaurus Rex?"
   We used to get a grand a night, man! You know, this is what's stupid about that thing, is in fact I earned more money then than I do now! Honestly, because the expenses of running the thing, and with roadies and gear--we had no gear, we used to carry it out in a little van. That's what's silly about that, I mean, it's like the whole conception is wrong, you know. I'm probably more ethnic now than I ever was, much more, because I'm much more involved with the art of producing, hopefully for me, what gives me good funky energy rock music. I was not aware of really playing for humanity as I am now. I'm very aware of the people that I'm playing for now. At that point I wasn't really sure who I was playing for.

Why did the change come between Tyrannosaurus Rex and T.Rex?

    It came because I'd done 4 albums and we were boogying along, we were very comfortable, things looked really nice, but they were comfortable, you know? And I don't like to be too comfortable. I was very unhappy with the way that we were really being ignored by the media of all sorts and the papers and the radio and that.It was upsetting me, it was something new. I'd hear something like a new Dylan record or a new Beatle record or a Who record and I'd know that I was as funky as them, you know, it was not an ego number, I mean, Pete Townshend was the first dude to come up to see me and say that Desdemona was amazing. We did a tour with them in Germany, he blew his mind, you know. And I knew I was on that sort of level of being an artist I felt should be reaching people. I had a cottage in Wales at that point. I'd rather stay at home and record on my Revox and send them out as albums, you know. And I felt that I was doing it and not really reaching the people. I'd got to a metal wall and the album

You were making money?

   That wasn't the reason I did it. Money buys freedom. I don't deny money, but the excitement is what I do it for, honestly, like fulfillment. I'd do what I'm doing now if I worked on a lathe producing nuts, and bolts, and in the evening I'd probably play in a club somewhere, you know, or in the street. I mean, I started in the street.

When did you drop the Tyrannosaurus Rex?

    What happened was I decided that I was either going to be a writer literally and get into novels and science fiction and screenplays, which I had offers for, but it meant like giving 6 or 7 months up really, which I wasn't prepared to do, or getting involved speeding up the whole process of the recording I've done.
   So what I did really was a gamble. 'Either we've got to get a hit record, or I'm going to be a writer'. End of story. Like I was just going to back off, because I was beginning to be bored with what I was doing, the way I was doing it. That was, I suppose, just before 1970, just before White Swan, just a little before. And I'd written White Swan and we cut it and it sounded like a hit, you know, I felt it was going to be a hit. So I thought, "Well, fuck it. I'm going to put it out and if it's not a hit there ain't no way that I'm ever going to get a hit record, just no way". It was a 2 minute second, funky, snappy, foot-tapper, you know, it was all your shit, and also lyrically I was pleased with it. And I wanted to get on there and make some changes in a way that wouldn't hurt anyone. The business as such was at a very low ebb at that point, there was nothing really going down. And we put it out. I was well prepared for it to bomb, I expected to get alot of aggravation from people saying like, "

And you are calling yourself T.Rex?

     What happened was we had, I had, a lease-tape master deal with Strato Productions, which is Denny Cordell's thing and David Player's, and their deal with Regal Zonophone ran out. They formed Fly records which was their label, so we had a new label to come on, and again, with a bit of push, David had spent some money on a new sound as such, a new statement anyway, a new urgency to the situation, so I thought, 'Well, everybody calls us T.Rex, you might as well shorten the name, see if it helps.' I was going to do my shot, if it works, fine, if it doesn't...So that was really why I did that and why White Swan happened.

   And then I was in the strange position of deciding whether or not to become a standard rock band. There was only the two of us,it was all overdubbed, so then I got in Steve Currie to play bass, and after that we did Hot Love and that was a number one. And then I realized I had to get a drummer, but I didn't want Micky to play drums because I wanted to use the congas and hand drums that he could play, so what I did was get in Will Legend, he's a drummer. I got him in and suddenly we were a rock band! It was very weird. It had to happen, because if we were going to play and do concerts and be like what I heard in my head, it had to happen. And I'm still doing it now, I'm still exploring what's in my head, you know.

Then you brought in Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman as backing singers?

    That was for the records. What happened was I met them in America the first time I went there and then they came over with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, about the time of Hot Love it was. And I just got the backing track, I was about to mix it and Howard rang me up, and I said I was mixing the record and I said would they sing on it, just back out the thing, and they came down and we did it and it was amazing. And they blew my mind, and I mixed it. And then we went to America for about the first real tour in May 1971 and I recorded half the Electric Warrior album in Los Angeles and they were there and I used them on that. I could have done the same thing by overdubbing myself or using other people but I believe they're probably the best singers in the world. I mean for rock back-up musicians, they have so much knowledge about that.

And there you were suddenly a rock star, and how did the incredible fan thing appear to you to be happening?

  About 6 months ago, really, just after Hot Love, it began to come together because people were getting used to seeing us and getting attracted, or whatever, to the sound. This last tour has been the one, because this has been so dangerous at many points, which is very odd. The sweetest thing of all is we didn't try to hype anyone of the Press about anything and slowly people were saying like, "what's going on?", you know, and four or five of the papers came to some of the gigs and they couldn't believe it, because you knew they were going to say, 'Wow! Beatlemania!', or whatever, that sort of stuff. But we didn't want to say that, because I don't feel it is that, I think it's a whole new thing, very different sort of thing, more involved, more personal, more involved with music but also with personalities--like you see all the chicks have got Marc Bolan T-shirts, or Marc Bolan hair and so on, very freaky to see. I mean, hairdressing shops, they do a Marc Bolan hairstyle. It's weird! It's very flattering.

But you said, 'I'm going to make a hit or else'?

   Yes, but there are hits and hits, you know, I mean a hit to me was top 20. We haven't put a single out that's sold less than half a million in England alone. Jeepster--which is not even the official single, we didn't release that, Fly records put that out--it's not the follow-up to Get It On at all, because that's something else that is coming out. I didn't want that released even, in fact, that's done 350,000 already in 9 days. And I can't relate to that, I don't, you know, because a normal hit record in England does 100,000 to 150,000 a biggy, you know, and it's like we've doubled the sales of people, treble almost, which to be in a group that 2 years ago was told would never sell a record by alot of people...'Well, you've got a funny voice, Marc', and 'I'm sorry kid'. And that's what's been freaky, it's gone so much more than I anticipated and that's amazing, you know, like I didn't expect to be this big, honestly.

There's been a backlash now you're no longer progressive and I gather John Peel won't play you now?

  John played all the last album, he played seven tracks from that, but I know what you mean, you're going to get people that do that, but I think that many of the people that have said that I've sold out, many of those letters have been so ill-informed. 'Why did Marc go electric?'. Three quarters of Beard of Stars is electric, so obviously the person that wrote that (which is the album before the T.Rex one) never listened to Beard of Stars anyway. Because there's alot of electric stuff, very heavy, in fact probably heavier than the album which followed, the T.Rex album. Many of the people that come to the concerts have been with us for a long time, obviously it's probably seventy-five per cent chicks now, and they throw knickers on the stage and all that stuff but one can appreciate that, that's cool. All I know is I do half an hour of acoustic numbers, right, and it's dead quiet, totally quiet, they sit there listening to the music, you know, they're listening, they'll be quiet for half an hour.

You live in this flat now. Do you see yourself buying large houses which everybody always does?

    Not really. I mean, it depends what you want. I have to find 500 pounds a week to pay people before we even do anything,you know, it's been going on along time. I mean I don't make money. I'm not a skint, you know, but it's all taxed. I've got a Rolls-Royce, but I don't have a big house.I didn't buy my Mum a house. If things continue the way they are now perhaps in five years' time I might be a wealthy young elf, but I don't know. It depends. I spend more than I earn anyway, on records mainly, clothes, guitars, stuff, people.

What guitars do you have?

   Lots, I've got about ten. Five Gibsons, a Stratocaster, a Flying Arrow, 4 gold Gibson Les Pauls. But I love them, I mean, it's not like 'I buy guitars, kid' you know, each has an individual sound. I mean that one there, which is an amazing sound, costs 35 pounds. It's a cheap Japanese guitar, which is a copy of a Gibson guitar which sounds just like a Gibson guitar, so I bought that. A Gibson costs 300 pounds. I'm not into status stuff. I bought the Rolls. It's an old one, we didn't pay very much for it. It's 1960, a white one, and I bought that because I like the shape. I can't drive anyway, mind you. My wife June drives me about, or one of the roadies. I never learnt. I should've learnt. It's silly.

How do you feel now about being a popular hero?

   I'm very flattered, honestly, very flattered. What gets me most of all is that one is, you know, T.Rex or a band, for instance the Who, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, whoever. You can do a single record a 3-minute plastic record, and it can be a banal piece of hummable commercial music and it can sell a million records and 2 weeks later be totally forgotten. Or you can make records which will sell as many records but people will remember, and I like to think--I might be totally wrong, totally--but I like to think that when a T.Rex record comes on people feel involved with it and get sort of an energy burst off it, you know, and think about it a little more. I mean, if you listen to the words of Jeepster actually, there's some funky lines in that, and as opposed to 'I love you baby, the way you wear your hair', you know, 'the moon is green and I don't care', and that sort of stuff, which could in fact go to a very strong melody and still be a hit record, very easily, like Mammy Blue or whatever.

Do you write the lyrics or the music first?    Normally at the same time. I'm trying to think of that Jeepster line...'You slide so good/with bones so fair/you've got the universe/reclining in your hair!' I like the idea of seeing the whole planet, because the head is very round. 'Your motivation/is so sweet/your vibrations/are burning up my feet'. I like that. What's the other one? It's a sort of Gene Vincent one in here: 'the wild winds blow/upon your frozen cheeks/the way you flip your hip/it always makes me weak.'

If you go out would people recognize you?

  Yeah, they do, but I mean they only do because I'm--which is probably why the whole thing is so successful--I look like, well basically, I mean, basically, roughly, with your eyes shut, I look a bit like what I look like on television. I look basically like what I'm supposed to look like. But what I did was we never manufactured an image in any way, all I did was took pictures of what I felt like, what I was, you know, in which case you can' are what you are, you know, so that it becomes much more credible. Certainly I can walk down the street and people will whisper and they point you out and stuff, but if I pin my hair up or put a hat on, they wouldn't recognize me at all.

Your hair, now, you say girls can get a "Marc Bolan". Who does your hair now?

    I never comb it. I don't do anything with my hair at all. I haven't combed it for 3 months. I just wash it. I cut it myself with scissors. I haven't cut it for a long time. It's very scraggly. I just cut bits off, you know, but I never comb it which is why it goes so curly.

How long have you been married?

    Two years.

And how did you meet your wife?

    The first management company of Tyrannosaurus Rex, that underground group, cult here--she was managing the Floyd at that time, that's Blackhill, when we were there, and we were with them for a period for the Deborah record, that first album, and when I left I just took her with me. It fucked their office up a bit.

Why did you get married? In these permissive days it's a bit old-fashioned isn't it?
   It felt like something interesting to do one day, to be quite honest, really. We didn't tell our parents or anything. We'd lived together for 2 years, so there was no problem. Just like it felt like an event, you know, a reason to have a champagne lunch, really, I mean we married. I'm not a 'married man'. I'm still waiting to get hair on me chest, you know, let alone be married. But we're two human beings who like being together. We've had times, of course, when we haven't wanted to be together and we haven't been, and we've probably been with other people, no doubt, you know, but June's the funniest chick I ever met and while she fills that role I shall be a happy married, family man with slippers and a dog and a pipe.