15 September 2012 (gig)
20 September 2012
If Saturday night’s turnout was anything to go by, one could be forgiven to think the country is anything but in a recession! Crammed full with devoted ‘Bolanites’ and T.Rex fans of all age groups, the Shepherds Bush Empire played host to a very special concert bound to shine on in the memories of many.
The Marc Bolan 35th Anniversary Concert (in aid of the PRS For Music Members Benevolent Fund*) saw a line-up of stellar performers making the ticket price worthwhile. All the artists were supported by the official Marc Bolan tribute band T.Rextasy – fronted by Bolan clone Danielz.
Before I unleash my full-on and extensive report of the evening’s events, brew yourself a cuppa or pour yourself a tipple… cause dear readers, you gonna need it!
Fans of the iconic glam star, who tragically died in a car crash on Sept 16th 1977, aged just 29, had travelled from all corners of the globe to celebrate the memory of the musician, writer and poet often referred to as the ‘bopping elf’.
After seemingly endless minutes of anticipation, the lights finally dimmed and the ladies known as The Dirty Pretty Strings appeared on stage, oozing pure sophistication. Like a slink cat, legendary producer/composer Tony Visconti showed up next. Lights went darker still, and T.Rextasy appeared – but with spotlight on the string orchestra. The quartet began to play the intro to ‘There Was A Time’. The audience eagerly waited as to what might happen next. What happened next was that Danielz (spotlight now on him) sang the very song that he usually has played (albeit sung by Bolan) as an intro to ‘Raw Ramp’. Alas, on this occasion it was Danielz who delivered an awe-inspiring rendition. The audience certainly seemed impressed and as the stage lights went bright again, the T.Rextasy frontman greeted the fans by remarking that they all look good to him. Glam fever spread quickly as the band blasted into ‘Raw Ramp’, rounded off with ‘Electric Boogie’. What a promising kick-off!
Then it was high time for the hosts of the evening to take to the stage, and both are stars in their own right: award-winning performer Lynsey de Paul, and former Slade frontman Noddy Holder (looking like a colourful character out of a Dickens novel). After some entertaining banter they introduced the next special guest of the evening – Level 42 founder and keyboard player Mike Lindup, who confessed he’s been a Bolan fan since childhood. Together with T.R. and the Strings he performed ‘Ride A White Swan’ followed by ‘Baby Strange’. And he sang it oh so well!
Many more highlights were yet to come, but one of my personal highlights had arrived when Danielz shouted the cue for one of my all time favourite Bolan songs… T.R.E.X… twaaang… and the whole band blasted into ‘The Groover’! For your novices out there, the whole band are Neil Cross (rhythm guitar and backing vox), Paul Marks (bass and backing vox), John Skelton (drums), and of course the man himself – Danielz (lead vox and Les Paul riffmeister extraordinaire).
The next guest needed no further introduction, as he’s played on and off with T.R. on numerous occasions. Spiky blond Andy Ellison of John’s Children (a band Bolan had briefly joined) performed his usual acrobatics and amused the audience with his high-wired antics – as flexible as an elastic band. ‘Sara Crazy Child’ and ‘Desdemona’ were the chosen songs (performed with an equally amused T.R.). Lift up your skirts and fly? Probably!
After ‘Baby Boomerang’ a special lady was announced, and she too turned out to be another regular amongst T.R. gigs. The irrepressible and eccentric Linda Lewis belted out ‘Children Of The Revolution’ (accompanied by Visconti and the Strings) and you could probably still hear her at the other end of Shepherds Bush Green. Her second song was ‘Metal Guru’, for which she was joined by ace saxophonist Howie Casey, who had played on various Bolan/T.Rex albums. Lewis’ incredibly powerful voice injected the songs with a real R&B vibe. She proudly pointed out that the multi-coloured jacket gracing her figure had once belonged to Bolan!
Suffice to say there was a total party mood going on and punters had themselves a ball, but there was one surprise in store that further added to the overall enthusiasm: Tony Visconti had schlepped his son Morgan along to perform a ‘premiere’ of sorts – the new Bolan song ‘Childlike Men’. Morgan was introduced as a jingle writer, although two audience members (standing next to me) obviously didn’t catch the intro at all… To my amusement, they speculated which boy band Morgan belongs to, and why a member of a boy band was asked to perform at a Bolan memorial gig! Hilarious!
Meanwhile, Daddy Visconti explained that last year he had given his son some of Marc’s songs to play around with. In turn, Morgan then explained how he had sampled the songs. Lynsey interrupted to clarify the fact that a poem Marc recorded had been added in. It had indeed been added as some kind of rap. Tony addressed one of the sound technicians with, "Hey Mr. Soundman, Marc is gonna be on stage!" Morgan started on the keyboard accompanied by the Dirty Pretty Strings and T.R. Danielz, however, sang without playing guitar – only adding a brief electric riff after the poem rap.
Barely time to recover from all the excitement, the audience was treated to one special guest after another. Now it was Marc Almond with ‘Ballrooms Of Mars’. He sported a red tunic, which during the course of the evening would make place for a black one and a gold lame one. There is little to say about Mr. Almond except that he has been, and still is, one of the finest performers around. And of course, a huge Bolan/T.Rex fan!
Clad in his signature black leather outfit, Alvin Stardust followed and threw a rockin’ rendition of ‘Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller’ together with T.R. Alvin also seems to have learned the lyrics since I last saw him perform the same song at the O2, Islington.
Well, what can be said about Boy George that hasn’t been said already? A (karma) chameleon in the truest sense of the word, the Boy surprised everyone not only with an exquisite rendition of ‘Telegram Sam’ but by sporting an unusually sober outfit comprised of a grey suit, and a black Kangol beret. Perhaps he didn’t wish to upstage the always flamboyantly dressed Bolan, who might well have watched from above. To be fair, George wore a glamtastic t-shirt underneath, and some serious slap on his eyes. Boy George too turned out to be a mega Bolan fan (from the tender age of 11 to be precise), expressing his eternal disappointment of never having met Marc in the flesh.
It already seemed as if the concert had been going on for hours when in fact, it was only the end of the first part! Lynsey and Noddy introduced the second part (the acoustic session) and it turned out to be something else.
Another rock legend in the shape of ex-Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock obviously wished to pay tribute by performing one of his favourite T.Rex tunes – ‘Deborah’. Rock on, Glen!
Then Marc Almond returned together with former Sigue Sigue Sputnik guitarist (and occasional Almond sidekick) Neil X for another hugely impressive performance, namely ‘Broken Hearted Blues’ (with a little help from Tony Visconti and the Strings). A truly rextastic gem followed promptly when Almond sang ‘Till Dawn’ in a harmonious duet with Danielz. Simply great, and delivered with much passion and emotion by one of the best torch song crooners around. Accompanied only by guitar, Danielz – wearing green satin pants, a Wild Thing t-shirt and sparkling jacket – cut a striking visual contrast to Almond’s entirely black outfit. Sorry folks, but can’t stop swooning over this one!
From satin glam and rainbow colours back it went to grey with another appearance by the exuberant Boy George, who also performed an inspired duet (‘Spaceball Ricochet’) with Danielz – albeit with the help of a lyric sheet.
The glamorous Lynsey returned to introduce one of the longest-standing artists in the rock firmament, Steve Harley. However, and for whatever the reason, there seemed to be a delay of sorts - leaving both Lynsey and Noddy stranded with compere duties. “I wish they told us we’ll be here for ten minutes having to entertain the audience”, joked Noddy. Then the pair decided one way of entertaining the fans while they were waiting is by sharing their experiences with Marc. Lynsey knew Marc from his appearances on Top Of The Pops but insisted that the glamster was a perfect gentleman who never attempted to make a pass at her. Not quite believing it, Noddy – a connoisseur of soul music - told how Marc once brought him back a record from the States, ‘Clean Up Woman’ by Betty Wright. Noddy would have loved to do a cover version of it but, he added, sadly the other members of Slade never really went for the idea.
Finally Mr. Harley turned up, insisting the delay wasn’t his fault. Having had to endure the usual ”Come on, make us smile” jokes from some fans, the ex-Cockney Rebel turned rather emotional while fondly remembering his former friend of two years, Marc Bolan (the pair often socialised together): “Marc was my friend and I miss him to this day. Yes, he was crazy and half the time he lived on fantasy-island, but he had charisma in spades! There are pop stars, there are rock stars, and then there’s Marc Bolan!” Rapturous applause followed. Flanked two female musicians, Harley delivered ‘Lofty Skies’ followed by ‘Dandy In The Underworld’ (he contributed backing vocals on the original Marc song.) For the latter, Steve got support from T.R. All in all, it was a performance worth the delay!
If you think things couldn’t possible get better anymore, then let me tell you they did. For the final part - and for the next surprise - 60’s pop icon (and so much more) Sandie Shaw took to the stage. Looking every inch the star in a peach-hued sequined dress, her take on ‘Life’s A Gas’ – performed barefoot - can only be described as breathtaking. Sandie remarked that she first met Marc in the 70’s, and that he was one of the prettiest boys she ever came across.
Danielz also got his chance to tell the audience how he discovered his passion for all things T.Rex, and it happened while he lived in Germany (where his dad was stationed with the army). After he first heard ‘Jeepster’ on the radio, he was hooked and became a Bolan worshipper ever since.
From then on, things unfolded ever more energetic and bang-on quick, with some of T.Rex’ best loved hits churned out: ‘20th Century Boy’ (Howey Casey and T.R.), ‘I Love To Boogie’ (Alvin Stardust and T.R.), ‘Teenage Dream’ (Marc Almond and T.R./the Strings), plus once more Boy George – delivering fantastic renditions of ‘Rabbit Fighter’ and ‘Beltane Walk’ (supported by Visconti, the Strings, and T.R.). Boy George also took the opportunity to say ‘hi’ to his mum, who sat in the audience.
At some point in between all the razzle-dazzle, ex-T.Rex drummer Bill Legend made a brief appearance, though unfortunately his words bypassed me - courtesy of loud cheers and applause. Last but not least, the very gentleman who ‘discovered’ Marc Bolan told the audience of his first encounter with him. “When I heard Marc perform for the first time” remembered Tony Visconti, “it was in a small basement club in London, and the act was called Tyrannosaurus Rex. A young man with corkscrew hair sat cross-legged on the floor, and a percussionist called Steve Peregrin Took sat next to him. I don’t know what kind of music it was, but I knew that Marc Bolan would be famous one day.”
Then it was time for the grand finale, and despite the concert’s three-hour playtime all the assembled artists looked as fresh as a daisy. Ok, they probably didn’t feel like it, but it certainly came across that way. ‘Get It On’ (during which Danielz mercilessly worked his various guitars to the ground) and ‘Hot Love’ were performed with the same professionalism and gusto as all the other songs, but there was no doubt that by now it was party time and EVERYONE was reminded that they were born to boogie! The climax was reached with the release of dozens of balloons from the upper circle – what a fitting tribute to the legacy of Marc Bolan!
(*The Members Benevolent Fund has been helping songwriters and composers in crisis due to illness, disability, age-related and financial difficulties for 78 years. Since 1977 when Marc Bolan tragically died, a share of his song royalties has been paid to the PRS for Music Members Benevolent Fund, enabling his music legacy to assist and inspire thousands of other songwriters.)