Coventry gig that saw the start of T.Rex renaissanceBY PETER CLEMONS
Pete Clemons recalls the journey Marc Bolan made from folk to rock... and THAT gig at the Lanchester Polytechnic
Marc Bolan of T.Rex fame and inset, an advert for the Coventry gig
I have enjoyed listening to music for as long as I can remember but one particular single release sticks in my mind as much as any other.
This was the sudden, yet significant, appearance in 1970 of Ride A White Swan by T.Rex.
The same year saw Marc Bolan announce that he was abbreviating Tyrannosaurus Rex and changing his musical direction from folk to rock.
T.Rex – Bolan on guitar and Mickey Finn on percussion – were a band I had been unaware of up until that time but that single, with its incredible lyrics, made a real impact on me.
When this record came out I was still at school and my only form of income was from a newspaper round and cleaning the neighbour’s cars and other such odd jobs. This meant that I could afford to buy singles and the occasional LP.
The other option, apart from the radio and TV programmes, was to visit the record lending library which at that time was based in Bayley Lane in a room within the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum building. But, in the main, I had to wait for a birthday or until Christmas came along, and hope that my wish list of records was answered.
Ride a White Swan
Ride A White Swan meant that Bolan was no longer confined to a single audience. Marc Bolan and T.Rex had now, suddenly, discovered a more commercial market.
The fans that had supported him since 1968 were upset and saw him as ‘selling out’. But, of course, at the time of its release I did not fully understand the furore.
The follow-up, Hot Love, was released during February 1971. The lyrics were more sensual than mythical. By now, Bolan had broadened out the band by bringing in Steve Currie on bass and Bill Legend on drums.
On March 19, 1971, T.Rex made their one and only appearance in Coventry in the Student’s Union Sports Hall at the Lanchester Polytechnic – now known as Coventry University. The timing by whoever had booked this gig was perfection.
This performance came just a month after the release of Hot Love and the single was now riding high at No.1 in the UK charts.
Sadly, for whatever the reasons, little is remembered from this gig apart from the fact that it was 60p to get in and was billed as the last gig before a tour of the US – although that was not strictly true.
Marc Bolan performs on stage cross-legged at the Empire Pool, Wembley, on March 18, 1972
In addition to the singles, I am guessing that songs like Beltane Walk, One Inch Rock, King of the Rumbling Spires and By the Light of a Magical Moon would have been included in the set list as they had been favourites during 1970 and the early part of 1971.
One thing is for sure, this was new ground for T.Rex. This gig had been one of the earliest they had performed since they had changed their name and their direction by way of the introduction of electric lead guitar.
July 1971 saw the release of Get it On (Bang a Gong). It was a taster for what was to come. And it was another single which would top the UK singles chart.
Within the space of a year from that Coventry gig, T.Rex would be topping the Weeley (Clacton) Festival of progressive music in August 1971 and would be playing sell-out gigs at the Empire Pool (Wembley Arena).
Between those two events the album Electric Warrior was released. This album also contained the band's hit single of 1971, Jeepster.
The album’s title also give a tip of the hat towards the bands transgression from folk to rock, and became the biggest selling album of 1971.
January 1972 saw T.Rex’s next single, Telegram Sam, released on the band's own imprint through the EMI label. All previous releases by T.Rex had been on the independent Fly Records label.
Another single, Debora, followed during March 1972. It sounded very different. This was a bit more folky. It was then I discovered that Debora had been a re-release of a 1968 song by the band's previous name of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I could be cynical and suppose that it may have been the Fly Record label cashing in. But what that record did do was to introduce a lot of people to their back catalogue prior to Ride A White Swan.
This phenomenal success, however, could not continue and by 1974, despite some still fine music, T.Rex’s success was beginning to slip.
Marc Bolan in concert at the Empire Pool, Wembley, on March 18, 1972
After a few years of not so much of being out of the limelight – more being out of fashion – 1977 began with high hopes as Marc returned to the greater public’s attention.
He released his Dandy in the Underworld album and this was supported by a UK tour that stopped at the Birmingham Odeon in March of that year.
The future then looked even brighter when Marc Bolan was given his own TV programme which went out later that year.
It was only a half-hour show but it crammed in at least three T.Rex performances per episode along with songs by the likes of Generation X, The Jam, Desmond Dekker, Eddie and the Hot Rods and The Boomtown Rats.
It was essential viewing. Of course this renaissance of his talents all came in the same year as his tragic early death.
Looking back now and the music, in my opinion, had basically remained unchanged. How much real difference was there between Desdamona and Ride A White Swan? Or between Woodland Bop and Get it On?
Breaking into the mass market meant that Marc Bolan had lost none of his charm. He was just such a unique artist in so many ways.
What did happen, however, was that Bolan became more of an extrovert on stage – and what’s more, he made the most of it.
Debora live on John Peel
T REX live Wembly 1972