Party like it’s 1997

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…


3 Responses to “Party like it’s 1997”

  1. Oh, how I remember these times with great affection and fun! Real die-hard fans congregating as one big family. Sadly, so many have have now departed and It seems a lifetime ago now, and I guess it is…but what memories…..x

  2. Marc Hartley Says:

    The Complex was amazing! I dearly hope the 40th anniversary is given as much clout……Marc deserves it.we deserve it…….rock on!

  3. Martin, Ros, Noel, and the gang, I’ve so much to thank you for over the years…love you Guys you are the people who make things happen Xxx

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