This tour rated highly in the priority ratings of the multiple music weekly papers that were in circulation in 1977. To a man, all of the London paper editors pointed one of their hacks in the direction of King's Cross Station with explicit instructions to get the low down from Newcastle City Hall, the first night of the 'Dandy In The Underworld' tour.
Here's what they said:
Record Mirror 19th March 1977
Melody Maker 19th March 1977
New Musical Express 19th March 1977
Newcastle City Hall Review
Sounds 19th March 1977
IS THIS a Jamboree Bag I see before me? Sure is, right there next to the row of Smarties tubes, the neat lines of Mars bars and a dozen or so other icky sticky things wrapped in vivid oranges, blues and reds, every single one of them with some tyke's oral cavity and points below for a target.
Location of this.l vivid hued parcel of saccharine geometry? Atop this little desk in the foyer of Newcastle's City Hall. A similar desk a few yards to our right deals in items of a somewhat less transitory nature, viz. various scarves, t-shirts and badges emblazoned with the legend T.REX.
You remember T. REX, I presume. But of course you do, how foolish of me to suggest otherwise. Dunno though, only three months ago I seem to recall seeing someone wearing a T. Rex t-shirt like the ones being sold here (a bassist, no less, his maniac presence in the here and now to be manifested in all its proud kookery a mere few moments hence) and it somehow seemed a very nostalgic little artifact, as locked in its own time as MariIyn Monroe's famous Warhol grin, that other favourite of singlet stampers.
Sure enough, time ticks no faster than in the rock 'n' roll world. But you know about that already. Like those posters saying 'Whatever Happened To Slade?' I keep seeing, wondering all the while how much I really care about the answer. Wondering too how many kids walk past the same hoardings who don't even know who or what Slade was. Same kids probably have vague blurs in their heads marked 'Beatles' that are no clearer than 'Robin Hood' or 'Henry VIII', just history, whatever that is.
Which is why, when I first heard about the upcoming T. Rex tour a few weeks back, I really did stop for a second to muse on the kind of reception the erstwhile Bopping Elf had waiting for him. Or not - what If you gave a tour and nobody came?
How I heard about this thing about to be launched in Newcastle's City Hall was, in fact, via the quartet of young gents known collectively as The Damned. Seemed the fearful foursome had landed the supporting role on what would be boogie Bolan's first national outing in almost two years. And, yes, I have to confess that my first thought was that the boys' appearance on said tour was Marc's way of keeping up with the times, ensuring full houses by adding a dash of good ole 'controversial' punkery to whatever circus he was heading.
And my second thought was that the boys in black would blow the 28 year-old Bolan clean off the stage. Third and final cogitation comin' up – what if (2) came to pass? WoVld The Damned find themselves slung off yet another tour? And, knowing that at least two members of the group retained a fair measure of admiration for MB, how would they feel if this actually came to pass?
Mind you, it'd be crazy to dismiss the Small One quite that lightly - after all, he's been in the bear-pit for near a decade, hardly the kind of background to make a first round wipe out an inevitability. Whatever, there's no denying the ingredients were all set for at least one stimulating evening's fun. Let's just hang loose and see what happens, shall we?
So forget the Jamboree Bag and let's forget ourselves in there - I know that fracas booming from behind the double doors, and it sure as hell ain't a Local Ratepayer's Assn. meeting.
NO SIRRAH, The Damned are on and blasting away for all they're worth, sic'ing the locals with most if not all of 'Damned, Damned, Damned' with nary a pause to blink. Rat Scabies is up back, of course, whacking at his kit so hard you just know what he's aiming at is some invisible point three or four feet beyond the drums, deep into the structure of the stage Itself.
To the right is Brian James, sharp in a black and silver shirt, doing his best to tie knots in the neck of his guitar.
And stage left is Captain Sensible, face and body contorting as he flails at his silver-faced violin bass, alive once more and out from the cardboard box it travels in.
Vocalist Dave Vanian, he's left ... no centre. . . er, make that .. . make that just about everywhere he can be in the narrow confines left him by two lots of equipment, hollering thelyrics to 'Help' (78 rpm version, natch), 'Neat, Neat Neat', and so on. Coupla newies in there too - 'Stretcher Case' and' Sick Of Being Sick', both of which sound rather splendid on this first hearing .
Oh sure there's a few cock-ups, times when the shared vocals on one of the new songs don't quite come together, when Dave gets so carried away that the mike leaves his mouth before the end of a line does, little things like that. Big deal, the thing of it is, the fire is there. And there's plenty of really fine moments, not the least of which is the way 'New Rose' rockets its way into 'Stab Your Back', a real breath-stealer. Tasty little bit of mini-theatricals in the finale too. Rat's cymbals bursting into flames so real that even vintage Belgian rocker Rene Magritte would be up and clapping for more were he with us tonight.
Applause? Riotous almost, went down better than well and called back for an encore which time unfortunately won't allow for. All the same, The Damned have made more than a few new friends on Tyneside tonight.
WHO THESE friends will be exactly is another matter. The lights go on to reveal a truly motley crew. Like, there's the little chickies upfront in the home-made fathead top hats like on The Slider' cover with probably little more than thirty years between the three of them. Also lots of young couples, mid teens and all dressed up for an evening out, a few early twenties, scattered denim soldiers, even a sprinkling of crophaired, monochrome New Wavers, some fifteen hundred souls maybe, filling out the stalls and with a little surplus scampering for front row balcony seating.
Heading for the stage door I suddenly find myself face to face with someone who absolutely begs to be described as a fully fledged son of Woodstock Nation, he with the hair curling over his shoulders and (oh, what? as they used to say when everyone looked or wanted to look like this) a head-band tied around his cranium.
But hey, I know that face . Why, it's only Phil Sutcliffe, 'SOUNDS' man on the banks of the Tyne his-self. Heloo there, Jimmy.
Turns out Phil is here to tape an interview for the local radio station. Asks if I'd lend a hand, seeing as The Damned aren't quite his particular cup of meat. Needn't have even bothered to ask really, should know me well enough by now to realise I never refuse the chance of a little extra exposure.
Unhappily the citizens of Newcastle and environs won't have the indescribably moving thrill of clasping your reporter's dulcet tones to their bosoms or wherever else they keep their trannies this time around on account of Phil managed quite capably on his tod. Wouldn't go so far as to call the ensuing chat amicable ("Why you wear that headband?" sez Cap. "To keep the hair out of my eyes ... ") but it should make quite interesting radio. Phil stood his ground regarding what was, to him, a very repetitive performance and the boys did their best to explain that there were at least a couple of slow numbers in there too.
In the end things had to be terminated because of the sound of T. Rex taking the stage. “It was alright," Brian said as he left. "Better than people saying you're great all the time." Phil was off to catch upon some local talent, maybe eventually to also listen to the Damned's album a few times too. Before Phil split though I did find out that his appearance still drew a lot of abuse from his fellow locals - while down South it was his opposites who were getting aggro for their lack of hair. Pish, human beanz is just too silly for words.
SO NOW it's the Elemental Child's turn and here he is folks, the little bopper himself, half canary (the jacket), half plum (the tight, gleaming pants), topped off with the original corkscrew hair.
And guess what? There really is no Moment Of Truth at all. Because it's only two minutes in and the hall's going crazy and I'd bet my last florin it was like this even before he hit the stage. C- R-A-Z-Y, there really is no other word for it - this place is undoubtedly bopping.
No denying it, the kid looks great. So what if he's twenty-eight, take a computer a hell of a long time to hit all the sixteen year-old males who'd give everything to look half as good.
As for the current T. Rex - true that they leave the visual part of the show almost entirely to Marc but as far as playing's concerned they're probably the sharpest bunch of musos he's ever worked with. Miller Anderson on guitar, bass c/o Herbie Flowers, Tony Newman on drums and Dino Dines on ze keyboards all adds up to a very solid band. Bolan plays lead guitar too, of course, and though he's no virtuoso it must be said that he has a very distinctive tone still.
The contents are a deft blend of old and new, chartbusters like 'Telegram Sam' , 'Jeepster' and even a spiffingly executed 'Debora' swim alongside the new album's 'Visions Of Domino', 'I Love To Boogie' and 'Groove A Little', all fused into a homogenous whole by the catchy simplicity of it all and the very definitely recharged batteries of the show's frontispiece.
And the kids love every second of it, every bump and bounce of the main protagonist, every little electric thrill. And yeah, I like it too. Not that I've been a particularly constant fan over the last couple of years and know every song or anything or that I've ever been wholly reconciled to Bolan's wholesale plundering of standard blues and boogie but there's no denying there's a very happy, innocent and joyful vibe going down here.
If there's anything at all I'd fault it's the extended soloing during the encore's 'Get It On' during which MB goes well over the top of his guitar 'prowess'. But I'll forget about that one because it does give the band a chance to ease out a little and because by now the kids are in such a frenzy that they can actually benefit from a little looseness.
So there you go; in Newcastle at least Bolan's star shines on; with nary a few nickers dampened and everyone leaving looking flushed and happy. But the real evidence of what's been
going down here is yet to come.
TWENTY MINUTES later the hall's empty and we're all let in to the star dressing room. I finally get to meet Marc, noting that even in close up he looks amazingly healthy and well preserved. Meanwhile there's a rumbling at the curtained windows and a hubbub of young voices. Suddenly a hand appears and draws back a foot or so of curtain and it becomes obvious there's a fair-sized crowd gathered outside, all of them with one thing in mind. It's about five feet tall, has dark, curly hair ...
Bolan's entourage have seen it all before of course, and pretty soon the thirty or so people in the party mass together for a quick rush to the coach positioned a couple of yards from the backstage door. This we do, the idea being to confuse the kids into thinking they've missed their prey. In fact Bolan leaves the building last, running the gauntlet of the distracted crowd and boarding the bus from the rear. He's spotted, of course, but by then it's too late - a little heave and he's in and we're off.
I've never been in this particular situation before and it's not a little disturbing. If you saw 'Stardust' you'll know what I mean - those last few seconds before the vehicle moves off when all you can hear is the fierce drumming of countless fists on the outside. Adulation, right? Gives you the shivers all the same, knowing that the mob outside would probably tear Marc Bolan into several small pieces in the space of about thirty seconds if they could only get hold of him.
Bolan's been through it all too many times before to look anything but slightly amused by it all. Just the same he must be getting a little buzz of satisfaction at knowing for sure now that he's still needed so badly by his fans, having gone so far as to admit he'd not been totally sure about how much enthusiasm he could conjure still.
It's there alright. There about a mile down the road when a pause at a traffic light finds more fans squaling at the window, there when we stop outside the band's hotel for a few minutes only to find another gaggle of the faithful pressing against the windows for fleshless kisses, and even at the distant Holiday Inn where four girlswait patiently for the opportunity of being photographed next to their dream merchant.
The reason we're gathered here is for a celebratory bash thrown by EMI - plenty of food and drink for the bands and their crews plus the handful of press who've come up to cover the start of the tour. Me and Marc miss out on most of that though as there's an interview planned.
I'd looked forward to interviewing Marc Bolan for quite a while but I don't, in retrospect, think the twenty minutes we manged to get on tape are really worth bothering with. For a start, we were both ridiculously over-tired, Bolan's problem being somewhat more serious than my own as he was in danger of blowing out his voice and had a show to do the following night. It was rushed and shapeless and there were dumb questions and - dare I say it - dumb answers aplenty.
Okay, if I wanted to make Bolan look silly it'd be easy to take out things at random and do just
that. But then one can do that with practically any interviewee and it's a practice I don't care for one little bit. Worst of all, it'd be totally dishonest unless I also admitted I'd made quite a few boobs myself.
But all it was really was preamble, the requisite amount of probing one would normally engage in before the dialogue proper began. Only this is where it ended. As it was we blew it and we both knew it. We agreed to meet over breakfast next morning to pick it up from there but that proved impossible.
After Marc left I was pretty angry and was all set to write a piece that compared Marc Bolan to
Farley's Rusks - in short a product which would always be in demand but never by the same people for very long. Only next day I realised that I still get the occasional hankering
for a Farley's. And anyway, a baby's breakfast never made me laugh. What follows – intentionally or not - did just that; it's Marc's preface to one of the songs on his 'Dandy In The Underworld'LP: 'A fool's lament is a wise man's milkshake.'
It's the way he tells 'em.