On 16 June 2006 I travelled to deepest South London to meet an old man in a heavily fortified semi-detached house. I’d been met en route by a go-between who’d set up the meeting; I did not know the address of my destination.
Although I thought it unlikely that I’d end up buried in the back garden, it did cross my mind. The purpose of the trip was to view Marc Bolan’s performance of Teenage Dream, recorded in February 1974 for Top of the Pops, broadcast once and never seen again. The BBC junked the vast majority of its archive of the programme, happily wiping pretty much everything from its inception in 1964 all the way to early 1977; they were especially harsh to T.Rex, wiping 21 performances. If this had been the nation’s art collection, people would have been imprisoned… but that’s another story.
The date coincided with Argentina playing Serbia in the 2006 World Cup. I sat in a small airless room, curtains drawn, with CCTV monitors showing the back and front entrances to the house. Stacked floor to ceiling were all kinds of ancient recording equipment. The two men undertook some business. I wondered how long it would take before the prize was revealed. I waited; I waited some more. I thought about the match and whether I’d be able to get out not only alive, but in time to see at least some of it.
It was probably an hour before the old man, thick set, large-framed glasses, dodgy hip, stale smell, stood with difficulty from his crumbling office chair and reached for a chunky tape. Before you could say, ‘Whatever happened to the teenage dream?’ one of the many monitors pinged into action, and there was my beloved pixie. I remembered seeing the original transmission, prefaced by Noel Edmonds making some half-baked joke about Marc’s hydraulic star having been borrowed from Tony Blackburn’s dressing room door (or was it the other way around?). In any event, the cost of tape in the ‘70s meant that this saviour had recorded only the elements of the programme he wished to preserve, which excluded the links. Bravo.
So, there it was. There he was. I was thrilled, excited, even ecstatic; I smiled. I’d been briefed on the journey south not to mention my role as a consultant to the T.Rex catalogue and archive, just to appear to be an interested fan – which, of course, I am. But this precluded negotiating to purchase the performance. I knew that it was for sale – other clips were sold that day – but I had to keep my mouth and cheque book shut.
Argentina won 6-0. It was certainly worth missing the match, but I was left hugely frustrated at not being able to take the encounter to a satisfactory conclusion.
So, that was that. One viewing. My link with the go-between broke down, and it was over two years before I made contact again, via another third party. This time the transaction was swift, and after parting with a wad of cash, I walked away with the prize.
All this comes to mind as this week another lost T.Rex performance from TOTP – New York City – suddenly appeared on youtube, courtesy of a man in Holland. That’s six years between discoveries. At this rate it will be 2078 before we’ve tracked down the other 11 missing performances (of the 27 definitely known to have been made). By then I’ll be 115. The funny thing is that up to a point it is still the thrill of the chase that is equal to the joy of seeing the performance again, and sharing it with friends. In the past 15 years I’ve tracked down many performances from all over the world, and had the privilege of being Associate Producer on the Born to Boogie DVD remaster/redux. There is nothing quite like the moment at which the dream becomes a reality, the screen pops, the pixie pops up, and I think, “yes, he’s there, we’re home again”.
Keep a Little Marc in your Heart, 30.09.47 – 16.09.77