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:


Bringing Marc Home

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 23, 2012 by martinbarden

In the winter of 2011/12 my friends Sarah, Emma and Elaine encouraged me to audition for the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics. As fellow-members of the ENO Community Choir, they’d recently put themselves forward and made the trek out to deepest Bromley-by-Bow to be surveyed amongst hundreds of other hopefuls – not, apparently, to sing, but to dance. Emma was successful, selected to be part of one of the dancing ensembles. There continued to be a paucity of blokes coming through for the event, so I made a late application and was invited to audition soon thereafter.

Everything out East was exceptionally well organised, which indeed was a portent for the Games as a whole. I was particularly struck by the friendliness of the ushering staff and the use of safety pins for attaching my candidate number to my shirt. I was measured – height, head, waist, hands – for the costume I knew I would never wear.

The audition involved rushing around in groups, pairs, solo, arm waving, being required to find particular positions on a huge grid, and generally doing stuff in loose formation. Looking around, I noticed suspiciously large numbers of middle aged men with middle age spread and thinning hair. If this is what they’re after, I thought, I’m a sure winner.
The audition lasted about an hour. There was a fabulous spirit, communality, that thing you rarely get with strangers connecting freely. I caught the tube home, back to London, and was glad to have played an infinitesimally tiny part in the forthcoming monster that was London 2012.

Much to my astonishment and mirth, later that very night I received an email recalling me for a second audition. OK, I thought, they really do want hopeless men with chins and bellies. Bring it on.

Second time around was much tougher. There were far fewer candidates – which made sense – and we had to learn a routine involving extracts of Our House, Parklife, Common People and a short salsa number. This seemed depressingly clichéd and not the sort of innovative approach I’d expected of Danny Boyle. Maybe this was just to put the hounds off the scent – we’d been briefed over and over that we must not leak information about even this element of preparations for the Ceremony – but I felt my spirits sag as I prepared to mime (in ensemble) waking up, tooth brushing, getting dressed and scanning my imaginary Oyster Card. It was all over quickly and we were informed that we’d hear something within about three weeks.

Perhaps two months passed. I received one holding email, but no call for the actual Opening Ceremony which was fast approaching, so I put it out of my mind. Then late, late on I did receive a message to say I had been selected for the Opening and Closing… of the Paralympics.

In the meantime my circumstances had changed radically: no longer employed by Tate, but self-employed as a consultant with my own business. My time was my own – but I also had to pay all the bills whether I was working or not, and I needed to be working to get the business going. The other factor which led me to decline the invitation was that it was not the actual Olympics, but the second event. That is not to pass any judgement, but it just didn’t have the same appeal. So, no.

Like so many others, once it finally arrived I was completely absorbed by the Games, despite having being hugely disillusioned with many aspects in the years and months leading up to 27 July 2012. In the final run-up, it had become apparent that the Ceremony, liberally sprinkled with British pop and rock music classics, had no room for T.Rex. I took considerable umbrage, as is my wont. I launched an on-line petition to appeal to Danny’s finer judgement, but despite many hundred signatures, it seemed to be in vain.

The Ceremony was spectacular and I loved almost all of it. I could have done without Mr Bean, and the NHS segment went on far too long, and of course Macca should have pressed the auto-tune button, but these are minor gripes. It was astonishing in its ambition and delivery. But, despite being Hackney’s most famous son, there was no Marc Bolan – or so I thought.

Only in the days afterwards did I learn that there had been 10 Marc Bolan figures, alongside 10 of David Bowie and 10 of Freddie Mercury, in the Tim Berners Lee/1970s sequence. The Sunday Times magazine published a photograph snapped at the rehearsals – and there they all were. It was little surprise that in the maelstrom that was the Opening Ceremony, the cameras had missed this. Emma confirmed that she’d seen the heads, all piled up in amongst thousands of other props.

The only thing to do now was to try to procure one. I put out various feelers but made no progress. Then, more recently, my diligent partner found that three had become available for sale on the 2012 auction site – one of which I bought for about a hundred quid.

Today, just in time for seasonal festivities, Marc came home to Pimlico. You can follow his journey here. It was an unusual exercise, taking him on the Victoria Line, but now he’s happily settling in alongside Oscar Wilde, Mandeville and me. His black lips are velvet and glitter, he has snakes in his hair, and his hat sparkles with sequins and stars. He’s going to watch over me, just as I have tried to watch over him.

Happy New Year to you all.

Proper food by proper people

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10, 2012 by martinbarden

One of the joys of my present engagement at the lovely National Portrait Gallery is having the West End at my disposal. At lunch time the whole world is out there, waiting to be eaten.
Today I walked up to a little hidden gem, the imaginatively named Café Number One, on the corner of Earlham Street and Tower Street, just across the road from Fopp.
It’s a corner store, so is shaped like a slice of cake. It probably serves slices of cake, if you ask nicely, although I had a baked potato with coleslaw and cheese. I know, this is getting rather dull already but stick with me. The potato was properly baked: crispy and crunchy on the outside, fluffy and hot inside. It was just the right size and temperature for a hungry consultant on a cold day. The coleslaw was tasty, not gloopy or over-saucy. The cheese was flaked rather than grated, and not melted, so it was firm and cheesy rather than runny and greasy. I also had a cup of tea – tea bag in. All this came to £3.70, eating in at the little perchy table thing alongside the counter.
As I read the sports pages of the Guardian I earwigged the orders of the other customers. Leaving aside the number of people who said “can I get” when placing their orders (sure, come round this side of the counter and serve yourself) what struck me, other than the speed, friendliness and efficiency of the staff, was that all the customers clearly worked nearby. No Covent Garden-bound tourists, no Soho sightseers, no-one other than people who already knew this place was there.
This has to be one of the side effects of the Starbucks/McDonald’s/Subway/Pret hegemony. One stands accused of not paying taxes, one of causing obesity, several of their stores omit odours that make me want to vomit, but surely, all of them are causing people to do the boring thing, just go for the familiar, not take any chances – and, in so doing – not support small business and charming, independent, proper cafes serving delicious, bargaintastic food.
Please pop in to Café Number One. It’s great. I want it still to be there next week, next month and next year. You can spend the fiver you save at Fopp, on an upgraded copy of a CD you already have, thus keeping the ailing record industry afloat for another 34 seconds. Everyone wins.

The Apple Trabant

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 6, 2012 by martinbarden

In March this year, as I was preparing to exit stage left from Tate, my kindly colleagues past and present clubbed together in time-honoured tradition to purchase some leaving gifts. As ever, I was stumped for a reply to “what would you like?” I know, a simple enough question, but I had no answer. In the end, I recognised that it was about time to upgrade my ancient Sony Ericsson phone to something a little more contemporary, so I requested some vouchers for the Apple Store.
Come the evening of my leaving do, I was amazed and greatly touched to receive a beautiful laptop bag and a £500 Apple Store voucher. Yes, £500. That’s a lot of fivers, pounds and pennies into a brown envelope. I’m still amazed.
My technology consultant advised me to await the release of the iPhone 5 before making a purchase, so this I did. Come the magic day, the Apple website stated that it was necessary to apply on-line for a phone. The system worked as follows: select the product/colour you want, enter email address, wait for a reply to say you’ve been successful. That’s easy enough, I thought. Except, of course, it wasn’t.
If you’re not successful, nothing happens. No email. So you have to do it again, and wait. Again. And again. And again. It also stipulated that if you were fortunate enough to be allocated one of the blessed phones, you had to visit your nominated Store the following day, otherwise it would be returned to stock for re-allocation.
After three or four weeks of dancing to this tune, I paid a visit to the Apple church on Regent Street. It’s one of those places which makes me feel ancient, utterly out of my comfort zone, useless. Lots of happy looking people were playing around with lots of smart, small devices. The staff all looked too young to have left school, but that made them relatively easy to spot. I found a young man with a piercing through his lip, and explained my situation. He said yes, that’s how it works. I said that the problem for me was that it didn’t work. Apple had my (well, other people’s) money but weren’t apparently able to sell me a phone.
Ah, he said, this is a much better system than the last time around as then, people could just queue up outside and come in and buy the phones, and that wasn’t fair. Oh, it wasn’t? It sounds like capitalism working pretty well to me, I said, whereas this feels like the USSR in the 1970s. He didn’t laugh. I repeated my frustration but lip boy just said I’d need to keep on applying. Some people get one the next day, you know. Well, lucky them…
Around this time, Apple’s Head of Retail, John Browett, left the company after just six months. I decided that this was karma for my lack of progress with securing an iPhone.
Back to one-sided ping pong on the Apple website. On it went, for some more weeks. No reply. No phone. I was stuck – I couldn’t buy an iPhone anywhere other than Apple, as they had my money. But they seemed unable or unwilling to sell me one. I ventured back to Regent Street on a Sunday afternoon.
I explained the situation, again, and got the same replies. I asked to see the manager. Over she came. The manager, it has to be said, was polite, consistent, and firm. It seemed that she had had a lot of training in how to deal with customers who are displeased. Not once did she drop eye contact, lose patience, or back down one inch. The system is fair. It works. You have to keep trying. Some people get a phone the next day.
I tried some new moves on her to break the impasse. OK, I said. The apply-on-line system will mean that it is inevitable that at the end of each day, there will be some allocated phones which have not been claimed. Therefore, just go to the stock room and let me have one of them.
You don’t know that, I was told. Yes, I do, it is the law of averages. Well, that’s your opinion. No, it’s not just my opinion, it is obvious that if you allocate, say, 100 phones a day, not all 100 people will show up.
You don’t know that, I was told, and we can’t do that, it wouldn’t be fair as it would be queue jumping. I reasoned that I had queued for quite long enough and as the manager, she could use her discretion to get me a phone. Not possible, she said, as it would not be fair and, anyway, the system wouldn’t let her over-ride it.
But you’re a technology company, I said – you must be able over-ride the system. No, can’t. Can. Can’t.
Right then, another idea. This happened to be the weekend when the new mini-iPad was released for sale, and the store was chocker with people queuing up to buy one – and being sold one. Like in good old private enterprise. Why can’t I queue up for an iPhone? Well, there is a different system for the iPhone, I was reminded. Yes, I said, one which clearly doesn’t work.
I was getting exasperated although I kept fairly calm. OK, I said. If you won’t sell me a phone, despite having had my £500 for about seven months, I want to leave here with a refund. Ah, we can’t do that, we don’t refund vouchers. This got a bit heated. After a while, as a very special favour, it was agreed that a refund could be given.
But, inevitably, not to me, as I didn’t pay for the vouchers. The Store has to protect itself from fraud. I am sure it does, I said, but there is no chance of fraud here. Apple have had the money for seven months, the credit card payment is not suddenly going to be reversed or somehow fraudulent after all this time… but no, it wasn’t possible.
Right. Refund the money now then and we can call it a day. Ah, no, we can’t do that, we need the actual card in order to make the refund. No, I said. I have already had to make two wasted journeys to Regent Street, why on earth should my ex-colleague be inconvenienced to the degree of having to visit too? Because. No. Yes. No.
OK, another idea. I will call her now, using my Sony Ericsson, and she can give you her card number and all will be done. No, can’t do that. Yes, no, yes. Why not? Because our systems are not set up to take card-holder-not-present refunds. But you’re a technology company, and you’re the manager, so use your discretion. Can’t. You’ll have to bring the card in, or she will. Really? I could bring in someone else’s card and you’d accept that? This aspect surprised me and was left to one side as I wasn’t about to ask for and then present a card which wasn’t mine.
There was nowhere for me to go. I had to contact my ex-colleague and let her know that she would have to do this for me. Before I left I made two statements: firstly, that all this makes me feel that Apple is the most arrogant company on God’s earth, one which has completely lost touch with its customers, and seems to have designed structures which are impossible to navigate, and secondly that I will never, ever purchase anything from Apple. That, I was told, is up to you.
Does it end there? No. A few weeks passed before ex-colleague had time to visit the Regent Street church. She was told that the special offer of a refund stood for only 24 hours, and it was too late to claim one. She held her ground and, in the end – after more kerfuffle with identifying the exact card that was used – which necessitated her making yet another visit – a refund was given.
So, there you go. I wanted an iPhone, and I had in effect paid for it. Despite having had my money for seven months, and despite my attempts to navigate their ordering systems, Apple were happier to refund me £500 than make any allowance for what I would call customer service. They’re a technology company that was unable or hadn’t thought of the possibility to set up an on-line queuing system. If you don’t like it, tough. If you want to go and buy a Samsung, so be it. My lovely leaving gift money will now be spent at John Lewis. I feel confident that their approach will be somewhat more flexible and enlightened… Goodbye Apple. I will die without ever having owned one of your machines. Let it be.

Same Marc time, same Marc channel

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 12, 2012 by martinbarden

In June 2006 I paid a visit to Brian Berg, who at the time was Managing Director of Universal Music’s TV arm – responsible for their television-advertised releases and broadcast output. I wished to pitch various ideas to him for celebrating Marc Bolan’s 60th birthday and the 30th year since his death, both of which fell during September 2007. I wanted to be on the front foot, making a strategic approach to the management of his legacy – for the first time.

I had recently been a driving force in the teams that delivered the Born to Boogie DVD and its follow-up release, T.Rex on TV, and was confident that Brian would hear my ideas sympathetically. Moon on a stick was my approach – let’s do a whole festival! In amongst ideas for a live tribute concert, a cabaret show and an exhibition were two definite winners – a new Greatest Hits compilation, and a television documentary in which Marc would be granted the opportunity to speak for himself.

I was tired – who wasn’t? – of all the talking heads telling people’s stories on their behalves, usually with a huge lump of revisionism and score settling thrown in. There were enough television and radio interviews with the man, I argued, to give him back his voice. As one of the most visual performers, from the most televisual era of music, Marc is a natural for the screen, and always excelled in front of a camera.

Brian reached for his copy of the Book of Hit Albums to check on the chart position of the previous T.Rex compilation CD – one he’d overseen in 1995 and re-issued in 2002. Ah, he said, number 18. I assured him we could do better and he agreed that enough time had elapsed to warrant a fresh approach. I was most insistent that we should call it Greatest Hits – it’s the proper title for a hits compilation, better than Ultimate and Essential and Best Of and all the other mucking around. Greatest Hits is Greatest Hits in my book.

The agreement to release the CD was pretty much done there and then in his office in West Kensington. As for the television programme, Universal had an in-house production arm, and a follow-up meeting was arranged to discuss the idea.

The planning for the CD went very smoothly. I upped the ante and proposed a 2-CD set of hits, LP tracks and rarities, which was readily accepted. I also suggested that the first three T.Rex singles should be re-released on vinyl to support the marketing campaign; yup, let’s do that. I brought Kieron (‘Spud’) Murphy to the table to provide photographs for the CD sleeve and booklet. UMTV’s excellent marketing and production teams worked tirelessly to ensure that the CD looked fabulous and the singles were packaged and promoted as well as they could be. The only element to fall by the wayside was a digi-pack of the CDs which proved too costly to produce, although it did get to the final design stage.

As for the television programme, it got kicked around, various angles were developed, but in the end, Universal’s TV people passed on it. This left a bit of a hole, one which no-one particularly wanted to leave empty as the idea still had legs. I can’t remember how Double Jab Productions (RIP) got involved, but after another pitch from me, they readily accepted the challenge to make the programme, potentially for BBC4. Marc on the BBC at last! All previous documentaries had aired on ITV or C4. As often is the case, Double Jab’s top brass had a great love of Bolan and could see the potential in the programme.

The only problem was in raising the money for the budget. After various negotiations, funding was found from NBC in the US to match the money raised in the UK, and the project got the green light. In walked the fabulous Mark Tinkler as Director, which is when it really got started.

Up until this point it was a bit like speed dating, meeting people and presenting ideas, getting a nod or a no, moving to the next stage or sideways a bit. With Tinkles on board, we went into overdrive but had a very short time indeed to deliver – only about nine weeks, which in telly world is the blink of a small mouse’s eye.

Mark has oodles of experience and oodles of contacts and we shared a love of tracing impossibly lost footage. I knew where to find pretty much everything we wanted, and everyone on my list was known to one or other of us, so between us we worked our contacts and began scheduling interviews. Yes, this was going to be Marc’s show, in which he talked about Marc, but of course we also needed contemporary interviews and to find someone to hold the narrative together.

I was insistent that certain people should be found who had not been on record before, and that we should try to keep the interviewees to a reasonably small number. I also wanted Marc to be considered as an albums artist just as much if not more than man who made a unique series of spectacular singles.

Lots of people helped out, some unwittingly. My mate Clive had provided me with a load of lost radio interviews, which proved essential in building the story. Marc’s brother Harry was, as ever, generous in lending his time and – for the first time – revealing some of his private collection of Marc’s clothes, photographs and personal effects. I was really chuffed that we landed Lorna Luft (sister of Liza Minnelli, the other daughter of Judy Garland, big chum of Marc’s), his school-friend Richard Young – the internationally renowned photographer, Zandra Rhodes, and Marc Almond, with whom we spent a most pleasurable couple of hours when we filmed his interview at the Café de Paris. Zandra made me an excellent cup of tea at her exotic studio in Bermondsey and happily showed us Duggie Fields’ portrait of her with the equally exotic Chelita Secunda.

So far, so good – but we’d not yet found the spark elevate the programme to the show we knew it could be.  Mark had, however, traced a fragment of footage of John’s Children performing in April 1967 at the 14-hour Technicolor Dream at Alexander Palace – the earliest-known footage of Bolan yet to emerge.

In June we hopped onto flights – separately – to New York, and the project really took off. Tony Visconti had agreed to an interview, scheduled to take place at the downtown studio facility he shared with David Bowie and Philip Glass. I’d convinced Essex Music to grant access to the multi-tracks of Jeepster and Ride A White Swan, which were transferred to Pro Tools and mailed over to Tony. This – again, for the first time – gave the opportunity to film the maestro, re-united with the master tapes and able to explain the techniques with which he and Marc had created the unique T.Rex sound.  By the time we reached him he’d already spent several happy hours with the music and had isolated various elements to highlight on camera. He’d also brought along a number of his previously unseen photographs. Tony’s generosity of spirit was such that the interview stretched to something like five hours, providing ample material for Tony, in effect, to become the programme’s backbone.

We also got the money shots – Tony, mixing desk, multi-tracks. Marc was very much in the room as Tony revealed each element of these timeless, classic recordings. Bassoon on Jeepster? Yup, there it is. Marc’s double-tracked vocals on White Swan, sealed forever together on 8-track tape? Oh listen again, said Tony, I can hear a third vocal track! It was a magical afternoon.

We interviewed BP Fallon in a subterranean private hairdressing salon, as you do. Beep could not have spoken more graciously and movingly about a man he loved dearly, a man who still does little favours for him, who watches over him. It was important to me that BP should feel comfortable, that he should be included, that he should have his say and not be snipped down to just two sound-bites – or overlooked – as had happened before. He described how he’d coined the phrase T.Rextasy and, when the programme was completed and he’d seen a preview tape, how pleased he was that the word had been enlivened to illustrate his vision of it being “like typeset on fire”. (Regrettably, this effect had to be removed from the broadcast version due to its potential to trigger distress – really! – but survives in the longer DVD edit.) There was a big cat in the salon which caused anxiety to the crew as it moped around and made more noise than is ideal on a shoot.

The drama of the trip, however, centred on the arrival of Gloria Jones. She was driving up to Manhattan from Philadelphia. We’d booked her and husband Chris a suite at our mid-town hotel, while we made do with more modest accommodation. GloJo was due in on our first evening and we were planning to take the two of them to dinner. The big hand on the clock went round, the little hand on the clock followed it. No Gloria. I called her, to discover that she’d yet to begin the journey but was about to embark. She’d arrive late in the night but we’d meet for breakfast before going down to Christopher Street, where we were due to interview her in a piano bar famed for its transvestite chorus girls. Gloria liked that idea…

Mark and I found a diner nearby and drank a few beers, retiring early so as to be fresh for the morning – and to overcome the inevitable tiredness of an East-West Atlantic crossing.

Two English boys met for breakfast in the hotel. Still no Gloria. Still no Gloria?? The hotel manager confirmed that Gloria had not yet checked in, and that he’d let her reservation go. Great. Another phone call revealed that Gloria and Chris were just emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel, and would be arriving in the next 10 minutes. One very unhappy Director and I made emergency plans. He’d go ahead to the venue, get set up, keep the crew under control, I’d nab Gloria, bundle her into a yellow cab, and we’d just about make it for our two-hour slot.

Gloria arrived. Not unreasonably, she wanted to freshen up. Of course this took longer than the time we had available – and then things got a bit more nerve-wracking when she wanted to visit a salon to get her hair fixed. No, we don’t have time! OK. Gloria came down to the lobby and whispered into my ear, “I had a whore bath! That’s what we used to call it when you freshen up quickly after being up all night!” Into a cab we leapt. Next request: could we stop at a toy store and try to buy a frog, to reference Marc’s hit New York City? No darling, we’re already 12 hours late…

We reached the venue. Gloria sat at the piano and, as the crew warmed up, she looked into my eyes and played and sang the opening bars to her hit “If I Were Your Woman”. Goose-pimples… We started to film, but were troubled by a low rumbling noise. What was it? Oh, it’s the star’s stomach, not having eaten yet. I nipped out to a deli to procure some provisions.

We got underway again. Another intervention – a crew started digging up the road outside. Were we actually making a Carry On film? Some hastily-donated dollars shut them up long enough to allow filming to be completed.

Stresses now behind us, we spent a late night as guests of BP Fallon at a club where he was staging a special glam night, featuring his new protégées Semi-Precious Weapons. For two songs that night their guest on bass was none other than Tony Visconti. On another night out we were guests at a Gibson Guitars party to mark the 92nd birthday of Les Paul – and the legend himself was there. Also there was my old friend May Pang, as always great fun and full of stories.

Inevitably we had enough material for a Beatles Anthology-length programme, but the budget wouldn’t withstand any such thing and we had only an hour’s broadcast slot. We did, though, have an agreement for a DVD release, which gave the opportunity to make a Director’s cut and include bonus features.

The edit was completed in record time and, aided by expert insight from my dear friend Marquita Palaganda, by early August, it was done. We couldn’t settle on a title: I suggested Words and Music: Marc Bolan, we tried In His Own Words and in the end struck on “The Final Word” which, so far, it has proved to be.

A couple of additions were made specifically to appeal to the American market – commentary by Suzi Quatro, and a brief interview with Roger Taylor of Queen. Did we stay true to my original vision? By and large, we did. Marc got to speak, we featured the breadth of his career as well as the more obvious linear journey, and presented him a serious writer and performer. The programme aired during the anniversary weekend. Some critics focused on Marc’s darker side, finding fault not in the programme but in his music and persona, but on the whole it was well received and the ratings were good.

Tinkles had kept an ace up his sleeve until the very end – to ask interviewee to describe Marc Bolan in three words. This made for a most unusual, moving end to the programme; the final word indeed.

Greatest Hits – with a television advertising campaign, exclusive website and media onslaught, entered the charts at 15. It was the highest chart position for T.Rex for over 15 years. Get It On even cracked the top 75 for a week. And then… it all went into reverse gear. The CD slipped to 19 and never recovered. I was disappointed – I’d been sure we could reach the Top 10, but we failed. Could we have done more? I don’t know. What I do know is that years and years of multiple releases of budget CDs had probably exhausted a market which was already in considerable decline.

At the same time as all this activity, I was working on a tribute show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and a cabaret show at the Café de Paris – stories for another day.

See The Final Word (BBC edit) here




A search that never ends

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 12, 2012 by martinbarden

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