Simon Napier-Bell: Meeting Marc Bolan (T Rex)
Simon Napier-Bell: “It was a shock to wake up to the news that Marc’s mini had tried to fell a tree. The night before I’d bumped into him at Morton’s and we’d agreed to get together for meal later in the week. That was now out the window it seemed.
I first met Mark when he knocked on my front door in 1965 around seven in the evening, with a guitar slung round his neck and a beguiling smile. “Are you Simon Napier-Bell, the manager of the Yardbirds?”
I owned up to it.
“Well I’m a singer songwriter and you ought to manage me too.”
Marc, five foot two and with a mop of black curly hair, was dressed like a street urchin from a Charles Dickens novel.
“Do you have a tape of your songs?”
“No, but I’ll play them to you if you like”.
He walked brazenly into my flat, chose the largest armchair, sat in it cross-legged and put a capo on the neck of his guitar. “The songs are fantastic,” he said. “You’re going to love them.”
And I did.
An hour later, after listening to fifteen or so of them, I booked a recording studio where we went in a cab, arriving around 9pm – De Lane Lea Studios, in Kingsway. After he’d put all his songs onto tape, we went to dinner at the Lotus House in Edgware Road, where we ate lemon chicken and salt roasted prawns and drank champagne till 2am.
The next day I was managing him. My first proposal was that he simply did for the world what he’d done for me – put a huge armchair on the stage, curl himself into it, and sing his songs. Simple, sweet and strange.
He laughed. “It would never work. I need a band. I need to be a rock ’n’ roll star.”
So I went in another direction and made a very expensive studio recording of what I thought was his most alluring song, “Hippy Gumbo”, using a forest of double basses and celli to back his weird woody lyrics. But when I took it to record companies they rejected it, every one of them, because of the strangeness of his voice.
In the end I suggested he replace the guitarist in my group John’s Children. Marc could sing backing vocals until people got use to his quavering voice. Then he could leave and make his own records.
It went way better than I expected; he fitted in well with the group. They made records and a video together and then toured Germany as support for the Who.
Marc entered into the crazy act we devised with as much gusto as everyone else. At the beginning of the set Andy Ellison ran round the auditorium throwing feathers out of a sack, creating a snowstorm. At the end, Marc produced some metal chains and started thrashing John and Chris, the bass player and drummer.
Kit Lambert, the Who’s manager, objected. We were upstaging his group. John Children’s violent act drained the audience of the energy they needed to greet the Who. Besides, with feathers still swirling in the air, Roger Daltry couldn’t sing.
In Nuremberg, on the fifth night, having been told by Kit not to do it again, John’s Children did it anyway. The audience were roused to such a frenzy that the riot police were called. As they came onto the stage on one side, helmeted and with batons, the group ran off the other side, straight into my Bentley and we headed for the hills, driving down the autobahn and up into the mountains to Luxembourg, the nearest border.
There, we stopped overnight, and as we were checking into the Grand Hotel Cravat I noticed a poster for a concert by Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitarist. Two hours later the five of us were sitting in the front row of the circle at the Théâtre Municipal watching Shankar on a rug with a tabla player, surrounded by joss sticks, playing two hours of classical ragas and talas. Marc was entranced.
Back in London he decided the time had come to leave John’s Children. He wanted to form his own electric guitar group, Tyranosaurus Rex, which would become the world’s biggest, “Bigger than the Beatles,” he insisted. He asked me to get him a suitable first gig and I booked him at the Rock Garden in Covent Garden.
“Who’s going to be in the band?” I asked.
He’d put an ad in Melody Maker but it only came out on the day of the gig. Unfazed, at three in the afternoon Marc started auditioning. He truly believed he lived in the benign aura of the cosmic supernatural and he chose his musicians by who would look best for the part. At eight in the evening they took to the stage and by ten past they were off again. They’d done no rehearsal, they just walked on stage and Marc shouted one two three.
The cosmic supernatural failed him. The next day he told me. “I’m never going to play electric guitar again. And I’m never going to be let down by anyone else again either. I’m going to play alone.”
So Tyranosaurus Rex ceased to be electric and went back to being what Marc had delivered that first night in my flat sitting cross-legged in my big armchair – exactly what I’d proposed in the first place. I felt no surprise when it took off. It was as magnetic and entrancing for everyone else as it had been to me.”
Simon Napier- Bell’s next book is TA-RA-RA-BOOM-DE-AY a complete history of the music business.
Pledge now by ordering a copy here http://bit.ly/1aHZHMO