Nobody could have guessed that a music show filmed in Manchester in 1977 would become an epitaph for the undisputed king of Glam Rock – Marc Bolan.
The T. Rex front man died in a car crash on September 16th just days six days after shooting the final episode of his weekly TV programme Marc at Granada studios.
Bolan’s funeral had already taken place by the time the show was aired on September 28th. Fittingly, the last set-piece number was Heroes sung by Bolan’s friend David Bowie.
The idea for Marc came up when Granada producers were looking for a programme to fill the traditional half-hour slot straight after the school day.
They asked Bolan to host the weekly show for a six-episode run, inviting his friends to play along between T. Rex numbers.
The budget and production values may have been low, but the programme was electrifying. The guest list read like a Who’s Who of the 1970s’ pop world.
As well as Bowie, performers included the Jam, Generation X, Radio Stars, Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Boomtown Rats, Hawkwind, Mud and Showaddywaddy.
Also on the guest list were Hawkwind, Desmond Dekker, Stephanie de Sykes, the Steve Gibbons Band and Stockport group 10cc. Queen drummer Roger Taylor made a rare solo appearance.
Even fading teenage sensations the Bay City Rollers played on episode two after starring in their own Granada TV show – Shang-a-Lang – in 1975.
Each week, Bolan and T. Rex mimed to three of their hits although Bolan’s guitar famously never appeared to be plugged in!
There were many memorable moments. In one episode Bolan was reunited with former bandmate Andy Ellison of Radio Stars. The two had played together in the group John’s Children.
In another, Bowie rescued the day when Bolan tripped over a microphone cable and fell forward while the pair were duetting the song Sleeping Next to You.
As the two were good friends, Bowie called out: ‘Could we have a wooden box for Marc to stand on?’ There was no time for a retake, so the fall was aired.
After the show, Bolan and Bowie wrote and recorded a rough version of the song Madman, later to become a hit for the Cuddly Toys.
Bolan had been through difficult times since T. Rex’s final UK Number One, Metal Guru, in 1972, and the last Top Ten single, 20th Century Boy, in 1973.
The original T. Rex line-up had fallen apart, and Bolan’s marriage had ended due to his affair with backing singer Gloria Jones. He’d become a tax exile in Monaco and the USA, pursuing an unhealthy lifestyle and putting on weight.
Things changed in 1975 when he came back to the UK to appear on the TV music shows Supersonic and the Granada’s Rock On With 45, hosted by Ayshea Brough and later Kid Jenson.
A much modified T. Rex performed their new single New York City on the programme. It later peaked at No. 15 in the UK charts.
By early 1977, Bolan and T. Rex had released a new album, Dandy in the Underworld, and had begun a new UK tour with punk group the Damned as the support act.
The first episode of Marc, produced by Muriel Young and directed by Nicholas Ferguson, went out on August 24th 1977.
The Jam played All Around the World while Radio Stars performed No Russians in Russia. Bolan and T. Rex chipped in with their hits I Love to Boogie, Celebrate Summer and Jeepster.
Each episode included a dance number performed by the troupe Heart Throb, consisting of Isobelle Skullnice, Alison Basham, June Griffiths and Kirsty Hayes. The group released their own single, Ain’t It Strange, which Bolan introduced on the show.
The sixth and last episode of Marc, including the Bowie microphone incident, saw T. Rex perform their classic hits Deborah and Ride a White Swan. Other guests included Gonzalez and Generation X.
Bolan died at the age of 29 when the Mini driven by Gloria Jones struck a fence post and then a tree after crossing a humpback bridge in Barnes, south west London, on September 16th 1977.
The crash site has since become a shrine to the singer’s memory and is maintained by the T. Rex Action Group.
Bolan’s musical influence across genres ranging from punk to Brit pop has been profound. He was an early idol of Johnny Marr, guitarist of Manchester indie Rock band the Smiths.
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