Saturday 7 January 2012
Bolan As Mod
Mark often summed up his youth by bragging that had always been a star, 'even if it was only being the star of three streets in Hackney'. To the few close friends in Stoke Newington who shared his hopes, he probably was - wrote Marc Bolan's biographer , Mark Payntress. Before T.Rex, before Tyrannosaurus Rex, before John's Children, even before his brief stint as Toby Tyler, Marc Bolan - then known under his real name, Mark Feld - was an 'ace face' in a Mod community of Stamford Hill, North London. Since the age of twelve, young Mark had been obsessed with clothes and he'd stop at nothing to get hold of the latest fashions: I was quite a villain (...) although I never hurt anybody. It came about because I was really into clothes, I mean obsessionally into clothes. I was about twelve and I'd steal or hustle motorbikes to pay for them. Clothes were all that mattered to me (Mark Payntress, Marc Bolan in The Sharper World - A Mod Anthology , ed. Paolo Hewitt, p 43). Diminutive Mark often used services of Bilgorri - a tailor popular among East End gangsters - to have his suits adjusted to his small stature. One of Mark's friends from that time remembers his visit to local meeting place in Clapton: He came in with his crowd from Stamford Hill Jewish youth club, who were rivals of ours, and I hadn't seen him for a while. The change was unbelievable. He was very slim, obviously taller, and was dressed from head to toe in his Modernist clothes : bumfreezer jacket, button down shirt, all the gear. He was obviously the leader of this gang and he came in and took the place over. We all thought, "Who does he think he is?", he was so sure of himself. But he always had a strong personality, even when he was nine (Hewitt, p 42). Mark Feld's position as 'ace face' was assured when in September 1962, he was featured in Town magazine in an article titled : "The Young Take The Wheel" written by Peter Barnsley. The photographs in the article (taken by Donald McCullin) showed fifteen year old Mark, and two of his twenty year old mates - Peter Sugar and Michael Simmonds. Town called them 'Faces Without Shadows', presumably because the pace of a Face's lifestyle was too intense to cast one (Hewitt, p 45).
Barnsley, impressed by young Mark's arrogance, articulacy and knowledge of the scene, made him a star of the article. That gave Mark an opportunity to enlighten the public on the subject of main priorities of a Mod 'ace face': 'You got to be different from the other kids' , says Feld. 'I mean, you got to be two steps ahead. The stuff that half the haddocks you see around are wearing I was wearing years ago. A kid in my class came up to me in his new suit, an Italian box it was. he says, "Just look at the length of your jacket," he says, "You're not with it," he says. "I was wearing that style two years ago," I said. Of course they don't like that (Hewitt, p 46).
Peter Sugar, Michael Simmonds and Mark Feld in Town magazine, September 1962. Note Mark's leather waistcoat - an extremely expensive garment at the time, and almost impossible to find in Mark's size. It was custom made by his neighbour, Mrs Perrone.
In the article,apart from clothing and lifestyle, Mark Feld also shared his views on why he unusually supported both, The Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (It's all exhibitionist, isn't it? I'm all for that) and The Conservative Party (they're for the rich, so I'm for them).
Mark Feld with the copy of Town, 1962
The article in Town shows that even at the age of fifteen, Mark Feld had all the qualities required for the rock star in making - immaculate style, arrogance, a desire to be rich and famous. But it also captures the Mod movement in the period of transition - Feld and his friends were not the original Modernists - they did not discuss existentialism while smoking Gitanes in cafes. But it is also hard to imagine them in parkas battling Rockers at the Brighton beach (Although Mark Feld, who was sometimes picked on because of his small stature, would get into occasional brawl in Mod clubs). The original Modernist indicate this period as the beginning of the end of Mod. One of them, Steve Sparks said: Mod has been much misunderstood. Mod is always seen as this working class, scooter - riding precursor of skinheads, and that's a false point of view. Mod, before it was commercialised was essentially an extension of the beatniks. It comes from 'modernist', it was to do with modern jazz and to do with Sartre. It was do do with existentialism, the working class reaction to existentialism. Mark Feld (who later became Marc Bolan) was an early example of what was the downfall of mod, which was the attraction of people who didn't understand what it was about to the clothes. Mark Feld was only interested in the clothes, he was not involved in thinking (Jonathon Green, A Days In the Life in The Sharper World - A Mod Anthology, Ed. Paolo Hewitt, p 50).
As for Mark Feld himself, he was unimpressed with the article in Town magazine.It came out about seven months after they'd actually come down to see me and taken the pictures - he said - During that time, a Face's wardrobe would have been completely transformed - several times over (Hewitt, p 48).
18 year old Mark Feld in 1965.
Always ahead of everybody else, Feld eventually ditched the Mod look around 1965 , at least a year before it went out of fashion for good.He also changed his name to Marc Bolan (having also tried Toby Tyler) He did remain obsessed with clothes, however, and within next few years he went through few different incarnations - a singing guitarist with psychedelic proto-punks John's Children (who performed all dressed in white), a hippie minstrel with Tyrannosaurus Rex, before becoming a precursor (and perhaps, an inventor) of Glam Rock and finally achieving superstardom with T.Rex in 1971.
Marc Bolan with John's Children, 1967
'The Third Degree' is a forgotten gem from Bolan's early career. He recorded it in 1966 - before he joined John's Children. It is one first singles to feature Bolan as a singer.It is alsoa great dance number.