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‘My brother chased Marc Bolan down the road with a dustbin lid’

Lee Harpin delves into his family history to tell of his mother's teenage romance with the King of Glam Rock

    Marc Bolan in 1965
    Marc Bolan in 1965 (Getty)

    We listened to music a lot in our house in Southgate, north London when I was growing up, but one singer was taboo.

    Marc Bolan, whose band T-Rex sparked the craze for glam rock in the early-to-mid 1970s, could not be mentioned in our suburban home. My mum, Janice, warned us that Dad “didn’t like him.”

    Dad’s dislike wasn’t an objection to Bolan’s warbling vocals or wild curls. In short, he was jealous. Marc had been Mum’s first love.

    She’d met him when she was 14, outside the schtip — the now infamous amusement arcade in Stamford Hill. They went out for three years, before she dumped him for Dad.

    Portrait of Musician Marc Bolan, of music group, T. Rex, with girlfriend, singer Gloria Jones. *Date unknown
    Portrait of Musician Marc Bolan, of music group, T. Rex, with girlfriend, singer Gloria Jones. *Date unknown

    Even though Dad died a few years ago, I’d never discussed Mum’s Bolan years with her, so strong was the family taboo. But, now, 40 years after the star’s untimely demise, Mum has been interviewed for a TV documentary on Bolan, which will be screened on Saturday night, providing a fascinating insight into the friends, family and heavily Jewish-influenced upbringing of the future rock ’n’ roll icon.

    Much more importantly, it provided me with an opportunity to gain a no-less fascinating insight into my mum’s teenage years, as I quizzed her about her first love, who wrote classic songs like Ride a White Swan and Children of the Revolution, not to mention the seminal I Love to Boogie.

    I have to admit to feeling slightly awkward. Not only was I breaking a family taboo, but I was asking my Mum (now 72) to discuss her teenage love life, not an easy subject for any son. What’s more, her first love was a man noted for his singular fashion style and enthusiasm for drugs, rock ’n’roll and I’m not sure I want to know what else.

    “I’d seen Marc around a bit before but one day he just came up and approached me outside the schtip and said: ‘Hello, I’m Marc, what’s your name?’,” Mum tells me. “We got talking and got along really well from start.

    “I remember Marc looked different from the other boys at that time. Some people thought he was a bit of poseur, but I loved his style.

    “We were both mods. Marc loved dressing in really well-fitting black suits. He would also carry an umbrella, even when it wasn’t raining. He’d carry it around with him unfolded. It was part of his look.

    “Our meeting place, day after day, was outside the schtip after school. We’d see each other all the time, though Marc went to Northwold School and I was at Markfield school in South Tottenham.

    “A bit later on, we would start to go to Carnaby Street. Marc just loved walking up and down, eying up new clothes and showing off what he was wearing.

    “Firstly, we’d meet as part of a crowd but then I started to go back to his house and we used to sit in his bedroom, where he would play the guitar.

    “He was already working on trying to come up with his own songs, even then. He’d strum along, just playing chords — not just trying to play along to the big songs of the time.”

    Bolan trusted Mum with his dreams of stardom but met with little encouragement. “He always used to tell me he would go on to be famous. I used to laugh, to be honest. I had no idea he would turn out to be the superstar he became.”

    Mum ended up dumping Marc in 1962 when she was 17. Just after returning from a holiday in Italy with her parents, she decided that she preferred my dad,who hung out with a different crowd of Jewish boys in the Hill. She’s just a little vague when I asked her why. “I think you just worry about being with someone for too long when you are young. You don’t know you are going to end up marrying someone when you first meet them, do you?”

    Marc in his Seventies heyday on stage with T.Rex
    Marc in his Seventies heyday on stage with T.Rex (Getty)

    The documentary, which will be shown on Sky Arts, explores Marc’s slightly tricky Jewish background. His father Simeon Feld, a lorry driver, was Jewish, while mum Phyllis was not.

    Marc, it emerges, was given his name in honour of an uncle who was killed in an antisemitic attack by “an Irish chap” who didn’t like the fact he was a Jew.

    Some have suggested that Bolan himself was troubled by the fact he was not “fully” Jewish. But that is dismissed in the documentary by the programme maker, Bolan’s cousin Caroline Coggin, and by Mum.

    “Marc would mix with an all-Jewish crowd — nobody questioned whether or not he was Jewish,” she says. “Marc had a load of Jewish friends in school and he just went with them,” adds Coggin. “His mother wasn’t Jewish but his dad was, and he just loved the Jewish way of life and the warmth and everything.”

    But while Mum was welcomed into the Feld family with open arms — regularly making the journey up to Berwick Street market with her boyfriend to see his parents at their stall — Bolan received a less than enthusiastic welcome at my grandparents’ home in Braydon Road in Stamford Hill.

    “My brother Robert didn’t really like him,” admits Mum. “One day, he chased after Marc along our street with a dustbin lid after he walked me home. I think he was just being the protective brother but he saw Marc as being a bit flash and not really his type.

    “And my parents — well, I think they thought we were both too young to be dating. If we went out for the night, Marc would always walk me home first — and then walk back to where he lived in Stoke Newington.

    “He never went inside my parents’ house, ever. But he didn’t mind. The relationship went on for three years. I used to see a lot of him.”

    The couple loved to boogie on a Saturday night. “We went to this club, the Discotheque in the West End, which was written about in the newspapers at the time as the hangout for the stars.”

    Their break-up can’t have been easy as they both saw each other as their first love — something confirmed by Mum and by Bolan’s family. “I can’t remember what Marc said when I ended the relationship with him, although I think he was a bit surprised.”

    “I’d seen Dad around the Hill since he was aged 12. He was friends with a different crowd, but he used to see me out with Marc.” Dad had no aspiration to be a rock star — he had an office job with Phillips — although his record collection did include an album by Bolan’s pal David Bowie called Station To Station — which to this day is one of my favourite records ever.

    Mum never forgot her first love. “Of course I carried on following Marc’s career after we broke up.” She kept all his letters and the photographs of them together.

    But this didn’t go down well with Dad at all.

    “Your father was not impressed when he found the photos and letters Marc had left me,” she reveals. So she handed over the photographs to a friend, Sandra Fogelman, for safekeeping when both were still just 18 years old.

    “We lost contact. I don’t know where she went,” says Mum. “I know she left the country and unfortunately I heard that she had passed away.

    “I’m not sure she would have even kept all the letters and photographs. We were kids at the time. She didn’t know Marc was going to be famous then either.”

    This weekend, Mum will join members of Marc’s family and friends for the annual celebration of his life, given added poignancy this year, 40 years since his tragic death. On September 16 1977, as Marc travelled to his Richmond home after a night out in Mayfair with girlfriend Gloria Jones, mother to his son Rolan, her car slammed into a tree at a notorious black spot on the edge of Barnes Common in South London. Marc died instantly.

    “Of course I was upset,” says Mum, of the moment she learned of his death. “Teenage love is really important because you never forget it. He wasn’t really romantic as he was so young, but he did tell me he loved me.

    “I feel really lucky to have dated Marc as he really was a talented young man.” She still loves his songs, particularly Children of the Revolution. “It just reminds me of being young and happy and excited about life.

    “Not just about being with Marc, just about having a good time. It was different then. But you grow up don’t you?”

     

    ‘The Making of Marc Bolan, is on Sky Arts on September 16 at 9pm

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