19 March 2020 | Blog

Did I Tell You The One About Me And Marc Bolan?

24 Feb.2020

Well that’s pushing it a bit, but I did come across the Elfin One on three occasions. On the first of these, the original ‘Van der Graaf Generator’, consisting of Peter Hammill and myself, supported the original ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’, consisting of Marc Bolan and Steve Peregrin Took, at The Magic Village club in Manchester in 1967. There were superficial similarities between the two outfits, since both were duos, each consisting of a gorgeous, guitar strumming singer with an odd-ball side-kick bongo-wielding/backing vocalist.

Peter and I were pretty left-field, doing songs later to be heard on ‘Aerosol Grey Machine’ and ‘Fool’s Mate’, with me bashing away as best I could on bongos and ocarina, and occasionally using a typewriter as a percussion instrument. However Marc’s band was truly weird, due mainly to his bizarre, high-pitched warbling vocals. He was certainly a very compelling performer, but we didn’t enjoy any back-stage hippie camaraderie. He clearly regarded us as pond-life, and having somehow copied his two-man format.

Come to think of it, we got up the noses of some other bands we supported, including ‘The Third Ear Band’, an almost spookily priest-like and po-faced instrumental ensemble, who accused us of ‘ruining the vibes, man,’ with our essentially jolly set of songs before they went on. It occurs to me that this was probably the last time anyone ever accused Peter’s music of lacking seriousness.

A few months later when Peter and myself had decamped to London, at that time at its most Swinging-est, Peter somehow got hold of John Peel’s address, which was quite a coup. At the time, Peely was the absolute epicentre of ‘progressive’ music, and as a radio DJ and Melody Maker columnist had enormous influence on the scene. Accordingly we went, unannounced, and complete with guitar and bongos, to JP’s muse cottage in central London, and knocked on the door. The DJ stuck his head out of a first story window to see who it was and we called up, “We are ‘Van der Graaf Generator’, can we play you some songs?” “Come in Van der Graaf Generator”, he replied.

Peel was a delight, hospitable and appreciative. We sat on his floor and did a few songs, quite which ones I don’t remember, but as soon as we got started, a door opened, and in came Marc Bolan, his tiny naked figure swathed in a bath towel. He glared at us in a distinctly hostile manner and stalked across the room to exit by another door. JP said nothing and we continued our ‘audition’, which resulted in a nice mention in his ‘Perfumed Garden’ column in the Melody Maker, which did us no harm at all.

In the late ‘60s, ‘Seed’, the Macrobiotic Restaurant in Westbourne Terrace, near Paddington Station was a delightful place to eat, and though I was a thoroughgoing carnivore at the time, I thought their vegan food was delicious. In my last sighting of ‘the Bopping Elf’, as the press was then calling him, I was eating there alone when a large central table was suddenly filled with by Bolan and his entourage; seven or eight ‘beautiful people’ dressed in the height of expensive hippie fashion with multicoloured psychedelic togs, perhaps from the Beatles’ ‘Apple Store’ or ‘Granny Takes a Trip’. Enthroned at the head of the table sat Bolan, going the full ‘Hobbit’, with hair flowing about his shoulders, draped in a velvet cloak and wearing a child’s, silver plastic armour breast-plate. This should have looked completely ridiculous….. but he looked absolutely fabulous!