Feld was born of a working class Jewish family in East London, September 30, 1947. He
was a rebellious youngster who was apparently knifed in a gang fight even before becoming a teenager. Music was his way off the streets though, and in 1961, at age 13, Feld formed a band with fourteen-year
old Helen Shapiro called Suzie and the Hula Hoops (Feld was on tea chest bass). Just
a few months later, Shapiro quit to embark on a solo career that included 2 British number ones that same year. Feld downplayed the impact of seeing one of his friends rise to the top so quickly, but it undoubtedly
had an influence on his thinking.
to have been expelled from school sometime in 1962, but probably just quit. Regardless,
he gave up on his music career to become a professional model, appearing in a few major magazines of the day. At 17 he quit modeling and gave guitar another go, playing folk music and using the name Toby Tyler. Tyler failed his audition for EMI, so he began calling himself Marc Feld again (though
dropping the “k” in favor of a “c”) and tried his hand at acting.
Feld appeared on a few TV shows, including the "Sam Kydd Show," but grew bored of the whole process fairly
quickly and decided to vacation in France to find a direction.
to Marc, while in France, he met a black magician who ate human flesh and had numerous tomes on mysticism. Marc claimed this “wizard” even let him witness sťances and sacrificial rituals. In France, Marc also read John Ronald Reuel
Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. These events had such
an influence on Feld that he began writing songs inspired by his experiences as soon as he returned to England. He recorded one song, “The Wizard,” based on his magician friend from France, and
sent the tape to Decca records, who immediately signed him.
When Decca sent Feld back the sample tapes, they changed his name to Marc “Bowland.” Marc modified it to “Bolan” and Decca released the single in November
of 1965. Marc had just turned 18 years of age.
“The Wizard” never turned into the hit Bolan hoped, and neither did his next single, “The
Third Degree,” so Decca dropped him in June 1966. By October, Marc
was getting desperate and in a bold move, showed up at Yardbirds manager Simon Napier-Bell’s door. He sat right down and played, so impressing Bell that he immediately took Bolan into De Lane Studios in
London and recorded 14 demos in one 50-minute session. These demos (plus 6 others
recorded later that year) were not released on an album until “The Beginning of Doves” in 1974.
While this is not Bolan’s official debut album (and in fact, almost all of these tracks are only
demos), for the purposes of reviewing, it marks the logical beginning of Bolan’s output, so it is where I am beginning. To make matters more confusing, I have the 2002 re-release with a total of 37 tracks
recorded during this time period, many of which are just alternate takes of the same song.
There is no way I’m going to comment on each of these tracks so I’ll just concentrate on the highlights.
The 2002 version of the album is made up of the flopped single Bell released in 1966, “Hippy
Gumbo” backed by “Misfit,” the solo demo recordings Marc made at De Lane Studios, and the
demo sessions Marc had with his first solo band, Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1967. Save
for the single, these songs are as stark as possible and really show that Bolan’s hippie sound on his debut album did
not just happen…there was a logical progression of sound as heard on these takes.
While many of the songs are straight blues and 1950s style ballads, they each display Bolan’s own signature whiney
vocal style. Most of the time you can’t make out any word he is saying,
but the noise he comes out with fits into the song like another instrument and is above all else, unique.
Being the released single, “Hippy Gumbo” had much more work put into it featuring
orchestration and double bass. I can’t believe it wasn’t a hit. It is moody and haunting with all that talk about “chopping you up for firewood.”
Clearly Bolan’s first masterpiece, the string section is particularly effective and it is easy to see why Bell was so
enamored with Marc the minute he heard him. “Jasper C. Debussy”
begins the whole album with Marc stating “Fuck off or keep cool.” The
tune features a piano and is a strange “circus blues.” Bolan’s
voice is ridiculously whiney, but the tune itself is fast paced and fun. “Beyond
the Rising Sun” punches right in with expressive bongos and a crazy whistle.
It is insane and sounds unbelievably dated, but the ending portion where Marc sings his la-la-las is very prophetic
to his later work. “Horrible Breath” is a little foreshadowing
into Bolan’s future as well…this tune is proto-punk—fast paced and wild.
“Black and White Incident,” “Hot Rod Mama,” “Mustang
Ford,” “One Inch Rock” and “Charlie” are original blues numbers with
Bolan using a more restrained vocal and each demonstrate that Bolan was still not very capable on guitar just yet. “Observations” is a much better tune, with its age-old melody, but Marc adds his own
mannerisms and contained shrieks to make it standout. “Eastern Spell”
is an excellent folk tune, dripping of Bolan’s future output. It has a
great vocal melody and is easily one of the better songs here. “Sarah
Crazy Child” rules—it is a fast paced, good time and the background vocals are perfectly out of focus. Bolan lets rip with his soon to be standard scat singing of sounds instead of words. “Rings of Fortune” is another very good track, with an excellent
melody. A little more sinister, it is close to matching Marc’s eventual
sound. “Jasmine ‘49” and “I’m Weird”
are folk rock tunes with attitude. They feature Bolan’s best guitar on
the album and he real nails the vocals as well. “Misty Mist (Highways)”
is a creepy tune with another great vocal melody over top of a gently strummed acoustic, while “Sleepy Maurice”
features a very cool guitar lick and an excellent vocal hook—a very sloppy, but interesting track.
In fact, virtually every song here is a very sloppy, but interesting track. None are over three minutes in length and few are over two, but each track really shows the genius that
Bolan most clearly was…whether it be solo on acoustic, backed by orchestration, or just with Steve Took pounding away
on bongos, Bolan’s presence shines through. This probably shouldn’t
be your first Bolan purchase, but you should not overlook it. There are some
fascinating gems here and this are essential if you are at all interested in how Bolan created his hippie sound.