Fame! When Andy met Marc in New York City

Posted in Marc Bolan with tags , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2022 by martinbarden

It is well known how Andy Warhol courted and was courted by rock stars from the Velvet Underground to Mick Jagger to David Bowie to Michael Jackson to Blondie, but his meeting with Marc Bolan – the first superstar of the 1970s – has been overlooked. What happened that day and who else was there? How did the corkscrew-curled Stoke Newington Ace Face get on with the platinum-wigged Pop Art pioneer from Pittsburgh? Does anything survive to confirm that it even happened?

Some sleuthing with help from the Warhol Foundation has revealed unknown information, shared here for the first time. As befits the legend of The Factory and the narrative surrounding both Warhol and Bolan, the story of their brief encounter is crammed with a cosmos of stars; both were compelling magnets to the glitterati and scene makers of the day; both had fame running through their veins.

The Beatles ‘conquered’ America in 1964, unlocking unimaginable riches and opening the door to the so-called British Invasion. Those who followed in Beatlemania’s jet stream sought to emulate their success, with T.Rex undertaking a six week headlining tour of North America in autumn 1972. The  group and its entourage flew into New York City on 13 September 1972, staying at the Sheraton City Squire Hotel on 7th Avenue at W 52nd Street before two shows at the Academy of Music, 126 E 14th Street the following day.

Photographs of the concerts were taken by Berry Berenson for Warhol’s Inter/view magazine. A 24-year-old Marc, looking healthy and cheery despite the intensity of the past two years of superstardom, is featured wearing a Zandra Rhodes top and (probably) Biba dark velvet trousers, playing his treasured Gibson Les Paul. The setlist included Chariot Choogle, Telegram Sam, Jeepster, Cosmic Dancer and Get It On.

Berry Berenson, who famously photographed celebrities including Cher and fashion designer Halston, was a successful actress and model, the granddaughter of Italian couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, wife of Anthony Perkins from 1973 until his death in 1992, and sister of actress Marisa Berenson, star of Death In Venice (1971) and Cabaret (1972). Berry was tragically killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a passenger on the doomed American Airlines Flight 11, travelling from her home in Cape Cod to visit her son Elvis Perkins in Los Angeles. Coincidentally Marisa was airborne at the same time, flying from Paris to New York, but landed safely in Newfoundland, Canada, where she learnt of the terrible news.

Marc Bolan by Berry Berenson, Inter/view magazine Oct 1972

On the day following the Academy concerts Marc Bolan was invited to The Factory, located on the sixth floor of the Decker Building at 33 Union Square West near the corner of East 16th Street, around the corner from the nightclub Max’s Kansas City on Park Avenue South. Max’s was popular with everyone who was anyone and prominent in its support of Glam Rock. Warhol would hold court in the back room, flanked by his Factory ‘superstars’. Bolan referenced Max’s in Baby Boomerang on The Slider, despite calling the club “shit” during an interview later that day, while Rabbit Fighter on the same album namedrops Moondog, whose 1957 album The Story of Moondog featured a cover by Andy Warhol.

The Factory was a natural destination for a superstar such as Bolan, not just because of his status but also as he was developing a keen interest in contemporary art. He’d recently acquired two canvases directly from London-based artist Duggie Fields, whose pop-art work was clearly influenced by Warhol. Bolan soon began collecting works by leading surrealists, including Dali and Magritte.

During the Factory visit Bolan and Warhol met. It is unknown what the interaction between them was other than a brief photo session or whether they ever met again but they no doubt would have sized each other up and talked about Gotham and the Academy shows. Warhol pulled out his Polaroid camera and photographed Marc in four head-and-shoulders colour shots, with a fifth showing his glittery applique Biba trouser leg. Bolan is wearing a silver jacket with a black collar and a V-necked black t-shirt. One additional shot was taken of his wife, June Child.

All the Polaroids survive and are included in one of Warhol’s famous Little Red books. Warhol would often have his subjects sign their Polaroids, and the first shot from that day is signed “marc bolan x” in blue ink at the bottom of the white border. 43 years later this shot was published in Taschen’s 2015 collection “Andy Warhol. Polaroids 1958-1987.”

The rest of the photos remain under wraps. As part of the Andy Warhol Foundation’s Photo Legacy Program this Little Red book was gifted to The Mint Museum of Art, N.C. in 2014.

One of Andy Warhol’s Little Red Books (© NGA, Washington DC)

Bolan (with June also in attendance) was then interviewed for the October ’72 issue of Inter/view. The encounter was conducted by the magazine’s editor Glenn O’Brien (later a successful author, TV host and screenwriter, known as The Style Guy for his GQ Magazine column), Robert (Bob) Feiden (later right-hand man to music mogul Clive Davis) and Ron Ross.

In the magazine feature titled “Marc Bolan & T.Rextasy”, Marc discusses his Ringo Starr-directed film Born to Boogie, the previous evening’s T.Rex concerts and the lacklustre audience response to the live band, Pasolini (“dull”), Bob Dylan, song-writing, and having written his autobiography at the age of 12.

The Academy gigs featured Aretha Franklin’s backing singers – likely to have been The Sweet Inspirations: Sylvia Shemwell, Estelle Brown, and Myrna Smith, who also worked extensively with Elvis. Marc said, “I’m using Aretha’s back up girls,” while a review in Words and Music magazine called them ‘Aretha Franklin’s back-up singers’. This was quite a coup for a boy from the streets of Hackney who was still little-known in the US; the introduction came via Gloria Jones.

Marc was partial to huge cut-outs of himself, and the stage backdrop included two 20 foot high images of the main man. The lighting was designed by Edward ‘Chip’ Monck, who lit and was the MC at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. He also worked with Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and many others during his long career.

“I was very excited by the show visually. I didn’t know what I was going to do with that ramp on the stage until I got there,” Bolan says, having delighted the audience by running up and down the ramp, encouraging them to their feet; there was even some screaming. However, at the show’s end he had declined to perform an encore: “I never do encores. I don’t like them. I once saw Marlene Dietrich in England and when some of the old clean up ladies were coming to clean up, she was still out there taking a bow.” [Bolan did, of course, often do encores in reality.]

Bolan then claims to have written music for a forthcoming film directed by Federico Fellini – feted for his surrealist movies – but is uncertain whether he will also appear in it. “I was going to do a film with Brando but I turned it down,” he adds, then clarifies, “I am not an actor; I’d prefer to direct.”

Asked whether he likes the reference to T.Rex in All The Young Dudes, Bolan responds, “I dig it. It’s a good song. You do something like that to call attention to a song.” When pressed about supposed competition with David Bowie, Marc dismisses his friend/rival, saying, “David’s not as big as I am anywhere at any time. In England they try to use comparisons because it’s healthy for them to get press. I’m not prepared to be bitchy about David because I don’t think he’s big enough… I’d be slightly embarrassed if I were him that the Mott The Hoople record was bigger than his single.” Bitchy, moi?

On the subject of fame – the central theme to everything Warhol ever did, and the subject of his most enduring quote although it is misattributed to him (“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”) – Bolan is honest: “I adore it. I like being famous, but I would never do anything just for the sake of being in the papers. I would never do a stunt or anything and I won’t talk to people unless I think they’re nice people to talk to. I’ve walked out of a lot of interviews.”

The magazine (50 cents at your favourite newsstand) was published with other features on Bette Midler and Peter O’Toole. T.Rex wound up the tour in mid-October with a high-grossing show at the Long Beach Arena, California, and were soon back in France recording tracks for the following year’s Tanx album.

Inter/view October 1972

Andy Warhol was shot and severely injured by radical feminist Valerie Solanas in June 1968 (at the Factory) and died in February 1987 following a gallbladder operation. In 2022 his silk screen portrait of Marilyn Monroe sold for US$195 million at auction. Warhol is arguably the most famous of all 20th century visual artists.

T.Rex undertook further tours of the US in 1973 and 1974 but ultimately the coast-to-coast slogs broke the band instead of breaking the States. Their final ever US concert was on 22 November 1974 in Detroit, Michigan. Marc retreated into tax exile in Los Angeles and Monte Carlo, returning to London for good the next year. Following his tragic death in 1977 he has gradually become recognised as one of the key figures in 20th century music culture. In November 2020 T.Rex were inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.



Text is © Martin Barden, London August 2022

With thanks to Cliff McLenehan, Paul Johnstone and @ShannaRay909

Life After Facebook

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2018 by martinbarden

Two years ago this week (in 2016) I left Facebook. I was quite a heavy user, especially while living in Australia. I found myself looking over my shoulder back to London, which was one of several factors which made settling down in beautiful Sydney far more difficult than I had anticipated.

Here are some thoughts about why I came off, and what happened next. If this sounds like a familiar story, that will be because it is. After all, there are over two billion active Facebook users, and if you’re one of them, I daresay you may recognise some of this from your own experience.

My use of Facebook made me seek approval. I would post a photo, a witticism, a minor news update, and wait until it was liked by someone, and then breathe in until it reached double figures or attracted some comments or whatever. This is me, a man in middle age, not a 12 year old. To put it into analogue, when I used to have a camera with a film in it, I would get the prints processed, look through them, maybe stick one or two in an album, and then put them away. So, what changed? Why the need for approval?

I joined Facebook in 2007 or 2008. In those early days everyone seemed to be rushing to get as many ‘friends’ as possible – even with people they’d never met. I remember sending off requests to minor acquaintances, making instant Facebook ‘friends’ with people I’d met in a bar only that evening, checking my friends’ friends for names I recognised. It was some time until it dawned on me that I should not seek nor accept requests from people I didn’t really know. That was a small, if obvious, step forward.

I did manage to re-connect with old friends with whom I’d lost touch. In this respect, Facebook acted like a more user-friendly version of Friends Reunited. However, I am scratching my head now as to whether I subsequently met any of these long-lost friends for a catch up. Maybe one, maybe two. Not a lot, is it, for all those hours of typing chit-chat and OMGs.

Then, of course, there are the keyboard wars breaking out all around. As a Marc Bolan fan, I was on the giving and (mostly) receiving end of quite a few of these. Was it any more edifying than having a scrap in the playground? No, and it was no more constructive either. FB allowed me to be dragged back to my nine-year-old self, but in print, in public, there for all to see what a complete knob I can be. Helpful? Probably not.

Later on, I became more aware of privacy settings and started to limit access to my photos, my thoughts, my half-arsed jokes, my rants and raves. And then I limited them a bit more, and then I limited my profile to only my actual friends, having cleared out anyone who wasn’t really a friend at all, or having been cleared out (un-befriended, or unfriended in FB speak) by several others. So what did that tell me? If this space is so unsafe, why am I here? What am I doing?

This then led me to realise, at last, why FB was not for me anymore. I am a private person. I have very loving, long-standing and cherished friends with whom I may share more intimate moments, thoughts and details – face-to-face or perhaps by phone – or not, depending on how I feel, what it is, who actually needs to know. What was I doing banging away at a keyboard, revealing stuff about my old soul with no filter, no chance to stop and think more clearly? No, this is not right. This is not me. This is not what I do. So I have to stop.

I moved back from Sydney in mid-2015 and re-established myself in London. A dear friend died and I organised a wake in his memory to be held in mid-January 2016. This I organised primarily via Facebook. And when it was over, when we all walked out into the chilly Fitzrovian winter night, I picked up the laptop, stabbed at a few keys, posted a final note to say ta-ra, and it was done.

So, what happened next? Nothing. Nothing really happened at all. The world continued to turn. I used the phone a bit more, and certainly used Twitter more – but mostly to rant about stuff that pisses me off (particularly about environmental issues in Australia) or to share information about Marc Bolan, or to recommend cultural things to do in London.

Did I see more of my friends? Perhaps a bit, but what was immediately different is that we would talk far more when we met, and with more depth – because we didn’t already know, or think we knew, what each other had been up to. The experience is richer as our memories recall only the more interesting bits, and we can animate them, interrupt each other, discuss, laugh, have another drink, be alive, you know, like in the olden days.

What do I do with my non-FB time? I read more books, take more time to think, get on with my work with a more clear mind, listen to music; normal things. But I no longer needed to check in every time I went to the pub, cinema, theatre, restaurant, airport, or post pictures of whatever it was I was up to, an endless stream of nothing particularly interesting. Nor was I reading the details of all my friends doing those same everyday things, every day.

Do I miss it? No. Do I miss out on some things? Yes, there are events which I never hear about, or maybe the odd birthday party or what have you, but if someone really wants me to know, I’m still here. I have a phone, am on email, I even have a letter box.

Will I go back? I cannot imagine that I ever would.

Never, as a boss of mine once said, is a long time, but that’s OK. Never can wait. We’ll all be dead soon enough, and maybe not spending time on FB makes my life just that little bit more worthwhile.

I suppose the obvious conclusion is that heavy use of Facebook risks changing the nature of friendship from something real to something virtual. If that works for you, great. If it doesn’t, maybe have a go at putting your iPhone down awhile and remembering how life used to be. It may just have been a little richer, a little better, a little more life-like.

(Minor disclaimer – I recently downloaded FB messenger so as to be able to have group conversations with my siblings about a family matter. I would prefer to use WhatsApp but there you go. Guess what? All my old messages are still on there. Have I read any of them? Well, that would be telling…)

Party like it’s 1997

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 27, 2016 by martinbarden

The Marc Bolan Party 1992 – 1997

One of the outcomes of setting up the Marc Bolan Liberation Front in September 1991 was having to put one’s money where one’s mouth was. Sniping from the margins but offering no solutions was never the idea: we wanted wholesale change, we wanted people to connect, and we wanted to make being a Bolan fan fun again. Step one of the social side of the campaign was to set up regular Bolan pub nights in London. Step two was to re-establish London as the staging post for the major Bolan party each year.

The team that put on the parties was the core of me (I did the deals with the venues and ran the press and PR campaigns), Ros Davies (ticketing and accounting, and sourcing the DJs) and Noel Hammond (who provided essential support services). In addition, shortly before the first party, we were fortunate to be befriended by Rexpert Jörg Günther who offered us exclusive, previously unseen footage which he had discovered of Marc Bolan and T.Rex. Jörg continued to find footage year after year, and he made a huge contribution to the success of the parties.

In later years we also had Production Management support from Gary Horsman of Chat’s Palace, and often hosted a live performance by T.Rextasy, who would play for just minimal expenses. Every year we donated at least 50% of profits to charity, retaining the balance for the following year’s party, and to oil the wheels of our various activities. Mostly the party was delivered through calling in favours from designers, musicians, technicians, journalists, etc – all of whom had a little Marc in their heart. Babes, you know who you are.

In September 1992 we held the first annual Marc Bolan Party at Lacey’s Club in St Martin’s Lane, WC2. We chose the venue on the simple premise that it had previously proved a good spot for a similar party staged there five years earlier. On that occasion it had been organised by Colm Jackson and Pete Old  ̶  two Liverpudlians, which seemed a pretty poor reflection on us London-based fans. It was time to step up.

We had five guiding principles:

  • make the party big, in a proper club in Central London;
  • get press coverage, so as to make it an event;
  • invite some quality guests;
  • make the tickets cheap;
  • screen previously unseen footage and play nothing but Bolan all night. Also, the DJs never spoke.

This was the formula we used for the next six years.

I don’t remember a great deal about this first party but I know I was interviewed for London Tonight on ITV (or possibly BBC1’s equivalent) that day, 16 September 1992, that Capital Radio ran a feature, and we got advance publicity in NME, Time Out, and elsewhere. It was the day that the UK was forced out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism and interest rates briefly hit 15%; Chancellor Norman Lamont looked even more vampiric than usual. While panic spread across the streets of London, we got on with the real business of the day.

Guests included Harry Feld (who was a stalwart supporter of everything we ever did), Bill Legend, Annie Nightingale and Nikki Sudden (who were great friends at the time), and several members of Primal Scream. We sold about 350 tickets. In my naivety I hadn’t realised that the club would be charging West End club prices for drinks – well they would, wouldn’t they – the effect of which was that a lot of people, understandably, decamped to the nearby Salisbury pub for refreshments.

Over the years the party moved from club to club – from Lacey’s to 69 Oxford  Street W1, then to Ormond’s in St James SW1, then to Turnmills in Farringdon EC1, and lastly to the Complex in Islington, N1. None of these places still exist, with both Turnmills and the Complex having been demolished for property developers to do their worst. I soon got the hang of negotiating with the venues for the drinks to be sold at pub prices (or lower). We built up a strong, loyal, international following of Marc’s fans who would come year in, year out, buying their tickets in advance and ensuring we could confidently plan for the future.

The big one was 1997. 20 years after Marc Bolan’s tragic death, the planets were at last starting to align and he was being granted appropriate respect by the media at large. Granada TV produced the first in-depth, hour-long documentary (Dandy in the Underworld) for screening on Channel 4, the Performing Right Society commissioned a memorial at the scene of the fatal accident in Barnes, and Demon Records were breathing new life into Bolan’s immense back catalogue. I also arranged screenings of ‘Born to Boogie’ at the Prince Charles Cinema in the West End that day, so people’s appetites were well and truly whetted for the evening ahead.

We decided to go large and hired the Complex (formerly the Paradise Club) in Islington – just across the street from where T.Rex had rehearsed in the Pied Bull over twenty years earlier. The club was on four floors with a reasonably big stage for live performances, a huge dancefloor and excellent sound system, a games zone, a VIP lounge, and even a proper little box office booth for me to sit in and flog tickets. They were all of £7.50 that year.

The guest list was pretty stellar: in no particular order, Harry & Sandy Feld, Tony Visconti & May Pang, Bill Legend, Mickey Finn, Jack Green, Jeff Dexter, Tony Howard, George Underwood, Kieron ‘Spud’ Murphy, Andy Ellison, and our guest of honour, Rolan Bolan. This was Rolan’s first appearance at a Marc Bolan party, and it was a great pleasure to welcome him to the club. It was the first time he’d been exposed to that degree of intensity about his father, and it almost didn’t happen: the over-zealous bouncers tried to refuse him entry, saying his name wasn’t on the list…I think I’d pissed them off earlier by trying to get them to wear red HIV awareness ribbons, which we were giving to everyone on their way in. I distinctly remember one of the men saying ‘I ain’t wearing no ribbon thing’.

I decided on the spur of the moment to introduce T.Rextasy before they came on stage. By the time I reached the live venue space, it was packed solid and it took me at least five minutes to fight my way to the front. It was steaming in there. They did a star turn and took the evening up to another level.

We screened a preview of the Dandy in the Underworld programme, and exclusive footage including T.Rex on the Midnight Special in 1973 – which had never been seen in the UK before. There was a film crew from Holland, a photographer from the Evening Standard, a Demon Records stall, fans from all over the world, and for the first and last time we did a raffle. Inevitably in the hubbub of the evening, when Harry drew numbers out of the hat, barely a winner could be found, but we got there in the end.

The proceeds of the raffle, about £250, went to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund (she had died two weeks previously). There were over 800 people in the club that night. We knew in advance it was going to be the biggest one of all, and we had decided that this would be the last one we’d organise. There was nowhere to go from here. We donated 100% of the evening’s profits to the London Lighthouse: £3,582.73.

The one enduring image I have of the evening is this: we were running about half an hour late to open the doors. It’s not a good look when people have travelled hundreds or thousands of miles to your party. Just before we were, finally, ready, Ros and I popped up the stairs and went out onto the street to see if anyone was waiting. The queue was three and four deep, all along Liverpool Road and round the corner. I was staggered. Hundreds upon hundreds of Marc Bolan fans were there, in sheer dazzling raiment, awaiting the party. I wish I’d had a camera with me to capture the moment. The next five or six hours passed by in a flash.

The parties were always great fun to organise, and it was most rewarding to be able to create a moment which honoured the man who had brought us together in the first place. It’s never that much fun to attend your own party as there is too much going on to be able to relax and enjoy it – but still, those happy memories linger.

At the end of the night, I stuffed about £2000 in cash under my shirt, hopped into a taxi with Ros, and we returned to Notting Hill for tea and Marmite on toast. Or at least, I think we did…

Letting the hat out of the bag

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 21, 2016 by martinbarden

No one can wear it, of course. No one can. A crown is for the king, not his subjects.

It’s been stolen, it’s been recovered, it’s been squashed, it’s been trashed, it’s been restored and conserved, it’s been exhibited at Tate, toured to Austria and Germany, and of course shown in Hackney, birthplace of a superstar. When JK Rowling conjured up the Sorting Hat for Harry Potter, Marc was at her shoulder, guiding the nib.

When you throw a party for someone who can’t be there, they need to be there, so last night at the BFI’s screening of Born to Boogie, Marc came along in the shape of his quintessential leather hat. Harry Feld – a friend for 25 years now, Marc’s brother and custodian of the hat – generously brought it along for the evening. We had dinner before the event, and I could not resist teasing the hat out of its bag for a quick photo. A thing of such beauty demands its moments as the centre of attention, just like its erstwhile wearer.


The Children of the Revolution turned out in force; every seat in the 400+ capacity auditorium was taken. There was a celebratory air, not so much of anticipation but of affirmation. We always knew Marc was immortal, that his artistry transcended fads, fashions and fame itself, and here he was, 40 years after the fact, making a Friday night to remember.

Back in the 1990s I was a box office supervisor at the Royal Albert Hall. I always found it impossible to sit through a show there, however much I might have loved the artist. I’d sooner watch the rehearsal, or pop in and out of a box during the evening. The burden of responsibility was such that I’d be thinking of the 5,000 people in the Hall, concerned about their comfort, views, and enjoyment. Last night was a bit like that, too. Did that frame of the film just jump? Is there a weird edit there, in this restored version? Hang on, the sound just went up to 11 when perhaps it oughtn’t have. How should I get the hat to the stage without me getting on the stage with it?

It all worked out fine. The Q&A was the first time – after all these years, after so many hundreds and thousands and millions of words having been written and spoken about the man – that Marc was discussed in an institution as renowned as the British Film Institute, by a man at the heart of the T.Rex family, legendary producer Tony Visconti. Elvis Costello famously said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture (although he seemingly did not actually coin the phrase), but this forum format works in a completely different way. It’s live, it’s alive, it’s participatory and inclusive.

The maestro and the scribe found a space in which to explore, jab a bit, jive a bit, let the love in the room crystallise into carefully chosen words of reflection, of affection, if not revelation. The stories have been told, the records have been made, the film has been shot, the job was done long ago – it’s just that we don’t want to get to the end of the final page of the final chapter of the final volume. Let’s take a few steps back, try this bit once more, cock our ears that little bit to the right and test the sound.

This was a rare opportunity to let the music play loud, let the colours dazzle and sparkle brightly, to relish the sheer raw power of T.Rex.

I walked home along the banks of Old Father Thames in the early hours of Saturday morning. Yes, we did this thing; yes, Marc is still the Main Man, but he danced himself into the tomb way before his time.


It’s not over until it’s over

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 26, 2016 by martinbarden

This morning I attended a test screening of Born to Boogie at the NFT on the Southbank. It’s a cold but bright day in London Town. Sitting in a 400-seat cinema with four other men of a certain age at 10am was unusual, it would have to be said. As the title sequence ran – one which I must have watched a couple of hundred times – I was transported back to the late 1970s, to a 15-year-old me, sitting in considerably less plush seats in undeniably less salubrious surroundings, to the Essential Cinema at 76 Wardour Street, Soho.

It cost 30p to be a member of the Essential, and you had to be over 18. I quite clearly was not of age when I joined, but the staff didn’t care and were familiar with a bunch of bereaved Bolan fans who rocked up once a month for the Saturday evening screening of Marc Bolan’s Ringo Starr-directed film. We’d often meet beforehand at the Intrepid Fox just across the street, or upstairs at the Ship, up towards Oxford Street. I bought copies of the original releases of ‘Debora’ and ‘One Inch Rock’ from some dodgy geezer in the foyer, for about £10 each. It was at these screenings that I go to know fellow fans, some of whom are friends to this day – and who will be attending the screening on May 20th, followed by a Q&A with producer Tony Visconti.

Born to Boogie is being re-issued on DVD by Demon Music Group on 13 June, and making its debut on Blu-Ray. Is this another re-issue, repackage, you ask? In some respects it is, but then again, there’s no point in painting a masterpiece and then keeping it in your attic, as the man once said. It will create a moment, it will reach people who were previously unaware of it, and will help to keep burning a flame that, without nurturing, could have flickered and faded many a year ago. There is a little bit of previously unseen footage which we found during the research for this issue, and the packaging reverts to the original 1972 style, rather than the more contemporary designs utilised for the release in 2005. It will also remind us what an extraordinary writer, performer and musician Marc Bolan was, and how well Ringo Starr and his crew captured that moment of T.Rextasy.

What is undeniable is that in 5.1 surround sound – mixed in 2004 by Tony Visconti, the film sounds incredible. Your ears prick up as they pick up on elements that were never apparent back in Wardour Street – the camera crew laughing as Marc & Ringo goofed their lines, the power of Bill Legend’s drumming, the little guitar noodles thrown in by Marc as he blew them away at the Empire Pool, Wembley. The film also looks stunning now, having been restored from the original 16mm negatives in 2003/04 – again, to a quality we would never have enjoyed in the 1970s. Previously yellow skin is now rosy pink, you can see the threads in Marc’s Alkasura finery, and that tiger in the Apple Studios sequence looks ready to eat you for lunch.

If you can’t be at the BFI screening, there’s another chance to recapture that moment on Born to Boogie Day, 14 June 2016, when the film will be screened at 20 Picturehouse cinemas nationwide. Go on, you know you want to. There’s nothing like hearing and seeing the film on a big screen, with big sound reverberating through you as your mind travels back to that golden, glamstastic, T.Rextatic age. You too can be 15, just for one day.

On being a Marc Bolan fan

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 15, 2014 by martinbarden

I have been a fan of Marc Bolan since the age of seven. I became aware of Hot Love, the first T.Rex number one single, for several reasons. All these years later, here are my memories.

There was no pop music in our home. My parents did not listen to any contemporary music, not even Elvis or the Beatles. They were in their early thirties when I was born, but somehow their tastes had been set before the advent of Rock & Roll, and were stuck. My two older siblings were yet to show an interest in modern music – or if they were interested, I was unaware of it – so I had to find my own way.

We lived in a Home Counties town. Our garden boundary was no more than a single piece of limp wire, woven through occasional two-foot posts. We’d just hop over the wire to play with next door’s kids. On one such sojourn I heard music coming through the kitchen window. It was probably the Sunday evening chart run down. The music I heard was Hot Love.

Around the same time I watched Top of the Pops – quite possibly for the first time – and there, again, was Hot Love. Whether this first exposure was to one of the two March 1971 performances by T.Rex, or the BBC-created video to the song, I am unsure. I must have seen at least two of the three as I clearly remember two anonymous figures riding horse-back in an English idyll, as well as seeing Marc Bolan for the first time. He was like nothing on earth, and certainly like no-one in the three streets around me.

My third memory is from our 1950s prefab junior school. Each year’s classroom joined on to the next, both via the general corridor and the gardens outside. I was in the third year, and the oldest kids were in the first year (as it was numbered backwards; very Home Counties). The first year kids’ teacher had died tragically young, and as a special dispensation they were allowed to play records during their break times to help ease the pain, or something. One day I could hear Hot Love coming out of their open metal-framed windows, past year two’s classroom, and down to year three. In my grey short trousers and grey short-sleeved shirt, I ventured past the shrubs and herbaceous borders. I started to dance. To my horror, one or two of the girls in the classroom spotted me. I was very, very small as a boy, and these girls were huge in comparison. Their long hair made them seem even taller. They came out and grabbed me, made a circle around me and insisted that I continue to dance. Hot Love.

I asked my mother for the single for my next birthday, that July. Hot Love was the first record I ever owned. It came from Rumbelows, in a plain white bag.

43 years later I still keep more than a little Marc in my heart. Rest in peace, beautiful pixie man.

30 September 1947 to 16 September 1977

Holidays in the Sun, Part Three: a reasonable economy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 22, 2014 by martinbarden

Perhaps being here is partly about being an economic migrant. It’s not as though I was particularly suffering in London – far from it. As usual, the capital seemed immune from the impact of the recession triggered by the banking collapse of 2008. As a consultant, the service I was offering (in essence, helping arts organisations make some money) was keenly needed in face of the harsh realities of the Cameron/Osborne era. But in the back of my mind there was a notion to sit out the rest of this one and see how Donald Horne’s Lucky Country was faring.*

People in Sydney still speak of the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) in hushed tones, as though it were the death of a near-relative from a sexually transmitted disease. Australia did not suffer in any meaningful way, partly because its banks appear not to have become casinos, unlike so many back home, and because the land is the gift that just keeps giving. The country has been turned into an enormous mine. You plant something, and like Jack’s Beanstalk, it grows and grows. The vegetables here practically glow, the fruit too. Unlike in the UK, you can’t get everything all year round, flown in from South America, Africa, the USA. The fish seem still to leap from the waters without more than a tickle. Most fresh produce is local and, well, fresh. The land is very giving; except to those from whom it was stolen.

Australia has enjoyed 22 years of unbroken economic growth. Working in the arts here pays considerably better than in the UK – ironic, given that Australia is often dismissed as having no culture whatsoever.

Immigration is an extremely dirty word in Australia these days, unless you arrive on a 747 with a job secured and proof of your financial wellbeing. The current federal government is coming very close indeed to violating international law as it turns away refugee boats from Asia – and implements a media black-out on reporting any such incidents. 1788 is clearly so long ago that the irony is lost, along with compassion and common decency.

To answer my questions, is it better? Did I lose anything? Well, yes and no, and yes. The quality of life is astonishing for the few, just like anywhere else, and not for the many, just like everywhere else. The difference is that there is no class system. There is a hierarchy informed by wealth, but no ‘old money’ in the way that we British understand it. Everyone with money is sort of equal – just as everyone without is equally poor. It’s not a revelation but perhaps a realisation that a better climate improves one’s sense of well-being. The sky is big and far above and almost always blue. There is space – even in a city seemingly obsessed with building upwards as well as outwards. It is said that Australians have the world’s largest homes. They are apparently the planet’s worst greenhouse-gas polluters per capita, as I can well believe, given the urge to cool down, warm up, drive everywhere and fly great distances just to get anywhere. Every freedom has its price. Indigenous people make up just 3% of the population at large but 30% of the population of Australia’s prisons.

And loss? I damaged the soul of my English-tailored suit, I disengaged from my roots. The revelation, or realisation, is that a career is a career, but the people you have known throughout your adult life, who know you for who you are, the ones you love, are the ones you can’t replace. The truth becomes apparent: what are we but our friends?

* Horne’s expression has been misunderstood and misused by many writers in the past 40 years, including this one.

Holidays in the Sun, Part Two: arrival

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 12, 2014 by martinbarden

On 10 July 2013 I arrived in Sydney for the third time in six months. My comings and goings coincided with frequent changes in Prime Minister. Julia Gillard was deposed by the returning Kevin Rudd at the end of June, Gillard having pushed him from the throne three years previously; he’d soon lose the general election to Liberal Tony Abbott. Three PMs in three months. Was this a banana republic after all?

My new employers – which in itself felt weird, having been self-employed for a while – had found me temporary accommodation in Darling Point, in what I soon came to understand to be the Eastern Suburbs. ‘Suburb’ in Sydney does not mean somewhere like Croydon or Mill Hill in London; it means anywhere which is more than 200 yards away from the city centre. The Eastern Suburbs is the posh end of town, and Darling Point is a particularly plush, harbour-hugging peninsula.

I was greeted at the door of the apartment – despite it being only about 6am – but the jolly Jono, who was as helpful as could be, without being intrusive. He set the tone for Sydneysiders as a whole – welcoming, accepting, polite, open. The sun rose over Double Bay, the boats bobbed about, birds tweeted and I went for a nap.

Over the next few weeks I grew accustomed to looking out from the terrace at the gorgeous bays all around, and travelling to and from work by ferry: an eight minute journey of such beauty I had to pinch myself to believe it was real. There is no point in staring at your iPhones and BlackBerries, ladies and gentlemen. Put them away and look out of the window. You are travelling along the most astonishingly beautiful waterway in the world. Drink it in. You are blessed. These are ancient waters with a million stories to tell. The sun is always shining. Wake up and listen!

I’ve done no end of travelling but other than being away from 1990-91 on my first mid-life crisis trip, there was always a return flight booked and I didn’t have to work. Culture, beach, wildlife, sunshine: usual recipe. Sydney had always been a holiday destination; now it had become something different.

The most beautiful harbour in the world is home to the most beautiful building in the world, and that rather impressive bridge; double top everything. The climate is near-perfect, the Botanic Gardens a divine, extraordinary sanctuary. The pace of life is calm and the quality exceptional. The lucky country, indeed. After a few months I moved to Woolloomooloo, not least of all because it has eight Os and scans well to the tune of Metal Guru. It’s just on the edge of the Gardens, through which I walk each morning to the museum on Circular Quay.

I’d not appreciated before the degree to which Sydney’s historic harbour is emblematic of the shocking legacy of European colonisation: the settlement was established from a base at Circular Quay and the first consistent contact between the British and indigenous people happened here. It is said that when the First Fleet made its way round the harbour and the Brits came ashore, the Gadigal people thought that they were just visitors, as others had visited before them. But they stayed, and so began the catastrophic collision between native and colonialist. To this day, the country which became known as Australia has not resolved this conflict. As recently as this month Prime Minister Abbott referred to Australia as having been ‘unsettled’ prior to 1788. In a stroke he forgot that Aboriginal Australians are the world’s oldest continual race, dating back perhaps 50,000 years. Other than the re-naming of the land upon which the Sydney Opera House sits as Bennelong Point, a visitor would have no idea whatsoever that this land had been inhabited by non-Europeans before 1788, that it belongs to the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. The irony is that the original name for Bennelong Point was actually Warrang, meaning ‘scars in the back’. Bennelong was not a Gadigal, rather a Wangal. See more here. Aboriginal culture at Sydney Cove (formerly Warrane) has been reduced to a couple of men busking with didgeridoos. Are there any historical reminders, you wonder? The Quay’s pavements contain markers for the former shape of the shoreline in 1788 and 1844, and – absurdly – plaques to honour European Australian writers such as Clive James, but that, matey, is your lot. It is a scar upon us all.

I don’t know why but I am far more interested in local history than, say, the history of British Kings and Queens or the repeal of the Corn Laws. I’m eating my way through Australian history books, novels, non-fiction, pretty much anything which comes my way. Somehow the land has connected with me and despite living on the 14th floor I feel very close to it. Perhaps it is because I do not sense any true nationhood here; perhaps it’s because its European history is still so young and around here, at least, its ancient history is almost hidden. Perhaps it’s because it is so like being in England, albeit an England we don’t really have any more, and because so many people here are British or descended from the British, but have adapted to their adopted land. Suffice to say it fills my thoughts and I have become a slightly different person this past year.

More to follow in part III.

Holidays in the Sun, Part One: departure

Posted in Uncategorized on July 7, 2014 by martinbarden

On 8 July 2013 I left London, heading to Botany Bay, having decided to transport myself to Sydney (albeit courtesy of Qantas, rather than an eight month voyage in the bowels of a prison ship).

This journey had begun in 1990 when I arrived at Kingsford Smith for the first time, half way through a round-the-world adventure. I was in my 20s then. It continued over the following two decades. At first I was a frequent visitor, taking two or three weeks in Sydney every few years, usually when Christmas loomed and the thought of endless uninterrupted dark winters in London became too much. In the most recent decade, I had visited just once, thinking I was done with Australia.

I thought that I had scratched the Sydney itch, but then in February 2013 found myself back here, renting an apartment in the CBD for a three week holiday – into which I snuck several professional appointments. I had a notion to become a trans-continental cultural consultant, rather than one based in London with most clients not far beyond the end of my arm. Wouldn’t it be great to spend summers in Sydney and in London – maybe four months down under, eight months up top? Of course, it didn’t turn out quite like that.

My interest in Sydney had been reawakened, strangely, as a result of becoming bored in the declining days of my employment at Tate. I had dreamt up a side-line as a tour guide, deciding – correctly as it turned out – that Tate Members would be interested in the history of Tate Britain’s Millbank site and its little known role in the transportation of prisoners to Terra Australis during the mid-19th Century. The more tours I led – at £10 a head – the more research I did, the more fascinating I found the story.

What is now Tate Britain, formerly the Tate Gallery, was built on the site of Millbank Penitentiary. From approximately 1842 until 1857 this was the point of embarkation for thousands of petty crooks as they began the long, hard journey to the Land Beyond The Seas. Transportation was by then being downscaled as Australia became increasingly self-sufficient, free settlers were building the colony apace, and the gold-rush made the destination even more desirable. New South Wales was unwilling to take any further convicts and the final prison ship to reach Sydney docked in 1850; ships were by this time more likely to go directly to Perth or Van Diemen’s Land. Transportation ceased in 1868.

The entrance to the Tate gallery is pretty much where the front door of the prison stood, and some of the gallery’s foundations date from the earlier building. Moreover the local pub, favoured by Tate staff – the Morpeth Arms – was frequented by prison staff and, on occasion, housed felons in its cellars for their final night before leaving the putrid London air for all time. It is also thought that the Millbank Estate – public housing which sits behind the gallery – is partially built from brick recycled when the prison was demolished. There was, after all, no eBay in those days.

The vessels of the First Fleet (1787/88) initially dropped anchor at Botany Bay on 19 January 1788, the location recommended by Captain Cook after his voyage of 1770. Finding no fresh water supply, a week later they disembarked at what is now Circular Quay, Sydney. Upon its shore today sits the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, housed in the former Maritime Services Board building. During my February 2013 holiday, it was the MCA that showed most interest in my proposition. However, they weren’t looking for a consultant to have a cheap holiday at other people’s misery, more someone to take a new role directing their commercial and philanthropic offers.

When fate starts pulling you in a new direction, you really have to let it do its thing. As discussions with the MCA developed, I kept checking the fundamentals: what have I to lose, and could my life could be even better if I rolled the dice and hopped on the Sydney express? There was only one way to find the answers.

Once the decision was made, at the end of March – following a five day trip back to Sydney to present  my vision to the MCA Board – there was then the small matter of completing a load of client work and unpacking and re-packing my life. Inevitably things happened during the following three months which pulled very hard indeed in the opposite direction to the prevailing wind, but tickets were booked, boxes packed, parties held and tears shed as departure loomed. Somehow I also squeezed in a landmark birthday. It really did seem like the end of part one…

(to be continued in part two)    

Heading for the final post

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 13, 2013 by martinbarden

At the Post Office in Lupus Street this afternoon an elderly man in a mobility scooter, frail and fragile, but still strong of voice and will, made his way, electronically, to the service window. He declared that he’d been in hospital for some time and wished to withdraw money from his pension account. To do this, he needed to put his plastic card into the chip and PIN machine, pop in his PIN, and decide how much money he wished to withdraw. Yup, simple as that. We do it over and over and over again without thinking about it.

When he stood up, he was just bones. There was nothing inside his clothes, no definition, no shape at all. He looked like a scarecrow on a pole. He had those thick, huge-rimmed, yellowing-lensed spectacles worn only by very old men. Given that the Post Office must serve proportionately more elderly people than most other high street institutions, one wonders why they don’t have lower counters for people with mobility challenges.

The chap serving at window number three was the very epitome of patience and courtesy. Each time the pensioner went to put his card in the machine, he’d put it in upside down or back to front, and had to try two different PINs before getting the green light. Once he’d established his balance and how much he wished to withdraw, the procedure began again, and of course he’d forgotten again his four digit code. The transaction went on and on, during which time I and many others were served further along the counter. I left without knowing whether he managed to get any cash. He had no helper with him, no-one in the queue offered to assist (including me) but he appeared unfazed by his predicament.

This branch is one of two Post Offices in Pimlico and is under threat of closure. Even the local Tory MP has spoken out in favour of keeping it open. The Post Office argues that the other branch, far away at the Victoria end of Vauxhall Bridge Road, will serve the local community just as well, blithely ignoring the obvious, overlooking that it is already too busy most of the time and, indeed, has considerably less good customer service…

I am sure today’s pensioner would find the additional mile-or-so to Vauxhall Bridge Road too much. What would happen then? Would we need to pay someone from Social Services to collect the money for him? Perhaps he’d just give up and die. I know that’s what the Post Office often makes me feel like doing.

All this brings to mind the challenge of the aging nation, people living longer and longer, advances in medicine meaning that we’ll all live seemingly for ever. No longer three score and ten. 7bn people getting older and older. I wonder what benefit this brings, other than more customers for the Post Office to send miles out of their way to collect their hard-won pensions?

You can sign a petition to keep the Post Office open here: http://tinyurl.com/d9nsk7r