Dandy in the Underworld
Marc Bolan & T Rex
10th March 1977, City Hall, Newcastle
Just over a year since the end of the Futuristic Dragon tour T Rex embarked on the first gig of their last ever UK tour. Marc championed the emerging punk scene and the addition of leading punksters The Damned ensured that the press were out in force for the opening concert of the tour - even to the point where Record Mirror (a leading music newspaper of the day) did a one and a half page feature on touring with T Rex from the roadie's perspective (apparently The Damned were told not to 'gob on stage' or for Rat Scabies to set fire to his cymbals).
With the venue three quarters full and numerous free seats in the balcony this must have seemed a little strange to Marc as the previous four concerts at the City Hall had all been sell-outs.
After the gig Marc gave an enlightening interview to Radio Newcastle. He stated that the new look T Rex had a lot of rehearsal and, with typical Marc modesty, claimed that he was surrounding himself with musicians 'as good as me'. He spoke of The Damned as being 'very good friends of mine' and described them as 'the best of the so-called punk groups'. Although Marc's fondness for a number of punk bands has been well documented when the Sex Pistols were mentioned he said 'I hate the Sex Pistols. I think they're terrible'.
The interviewer then asked Marc about his future plans, to which he replied that he wanted to go to America because he had not released anything there for three years due to record company problems, claiming that the record company wanted to present him to the American public in a way that he did not want to be portrayed. When asked how they wanted to portray him he replied 'they saw me as a Donny Osmond, and I see myself as Maria Callas' (the famous opera singer Maria Callas led a troubled life and died on 16th September 1977 - the same day as Marc).
The tour party stayed overnight in Newcastle before moving on to Manchester the next day.
At least two separate bootleg recordings of this concert exist, however both are very bad quality reflecting the limitations of cassette recorders at the time. These recordings have not been widely circulated.
The City Hall has an audience capacity of 2,135 and remains one of the leading music venues in Newcastle. It has changed relatively little since 1977 (official website newcastlecityhall).
Jeepster, Visions Of Domino, New York City,
The Soul Of My Suit, Groove A Little, Telegram Sam,
Hang-Ups, Debora, I Love To Boogie,
Teen Riot Structure, Dandy In The Underworld,
Hot Love, Get It On
Venue: Newcastle City Hall,
Northumberland Road, Newcastle
Sound check: 3pm
The Damned on stage: 7.30pm
T Rex on stage: 8.45pm
Marc wore: Yellow jacket, Dandy t-shirt
and purple lurex trousers
Memories of the Concert
Once the dates had been announced for the tour I awaited the day the tickets would go on sale. Excited at the prospect of seeing Marc again, I made my way to Newcastle City Hall after school to purchase my ticket and then waited for the night of the 10th of March to come.
A few weeks later the night arrived and I had decided to try and smuggle my cassette recorder into the venue. With the cassette recorder wrapped in a thick coat (and looking every bit like a cassette recorder wrapped in a thick coat!) I made my way from Sunderland to Newcastle.
Much to my surprise I had no problems getting the cassette recorder into the City Hall. Once inside I remember being surprised at the amount of tour merchandise available. With limited money in my pocket I bought the programme, sticker and badge but did not have enough money for the t-shirt (how much I would have loved one of those!). Although it is now well documented that the large circular tour poster was sold at the concerts I have no memory of seeing them there.
I made my way to the seat (J 31, 10 rows back in the stalls) and awaited the performance by The Damned. Having never seen a punk band, or for that matter, heard much punk music, I really did not know what to expect from them. Having Marc's 'seal of approval' went a long way with me and I enjoyed their performance with 'Neat, Neat, Neat' standing out as my favourite song.
During the interval it was nice to see members of The Damned come out to speak to the 20 or so punks which gathered around the stage door.
Although this concert has often been talked about as being a ‘sell-out’ it was, in reality, about three quarters full. It was strange to think that five years earlier when I saw T Rex for the first time, in June 1972, the venue was sold out for two concerts on the same night (a common practice in the early 1970’s when groups generally did very short sets).
At around 8.45pm the lights went down and the room filled with calls of 'MARC, MARC!' broken only by the screams of the adoring fans who had come to worship. Marc walked to the stage and after a few seconds, still in darkness, the opening strums of 'Jeepster' were heard and the place erupted.
The Bolan vibe filled the City Hall air as the new look T Rex sounded better then ever with Marc, in his yellow canary coloured bum freezer jacket and tight purple strides, looking much better than he had for a number of years. Gone was the excess weight of the 'Elvis years' and replaced by the sylph like physique of the new punked-up Bolan.
After ‘Jeepster’ Marc thanked the audience for coming and introduced the first of the new songs, ‘Visions of Domino’, which was then quickly followed by ‘New York City’ (a truly inspired song that has a mere 27 words but lasts four minutes).
After some retuning of the guitar, Marc chatted to the audience and asked if they liked his new trousers as he turned slightly and lifted his jacket, which brought about the predictable screams from the girls! In truth, Bolan looked stunning...and he knew it.
The next song was announced as the new single ‘You Damaged the Soul of My Suit’ (which had been an earlier working title for the song) and featured a lovely mid-song guitar solo by Marc. After ‘Groove A Little’ (and more retuning of his guitar) Marc again chatted to the audience, playfully saying ‘You want to touch me? I want to touch you’ to someone near the front. He was obviously in a good mood and enjoying the occasion as much as the fans.
Marc then announced ‘We’re going to do one of the old ones for you now. One of the hits’ before launching into a wonderful 7 minute version of Telegram Sam - a song that, to this day, has never dated and remains full of energy. Marc changed some of the lyrics of the song for the live version, notably ‘Me I funk but I don’t care’ was changed to...I think you’ve already guessed it!
Before the start of ‘Hang Ups, ‘Marc asked the audience if they were enjoying themselves and mentioned about having a new guitar (a black, Gibson Les Paul) and that his old guitar had been stolen.
After more thanks from Marc for people coming to see the show he said ‘This is the first song I put out. A song called Debora’ (this was not strictly true, but it was his first notable hit single with Tyrannosaurus Rex). As for the song itself?, it was electrified and rocked like a good ‘un! As this song was not performed on the French tour of February 1977, I guess this was the first time this version of the song had been performed live. I was pleased that Marc performed it on the ‘MARC’ shows later in the year.
‘I Love To Boogie’ was introduced as ‘My last hit record’ and at nearly 5 minutes long was about twice the length of the original version, though fortunately, like ‘Telegram Sam’, Marc chose to repeat verses rather than to do over extended guitar solos.
The following song, ‘Teen Riot Structure’, with it’s blazing mid song guitar solo sounded so good, and for me at least, was the probably the best of the new Dandy songs heard that evening, though I felt spoilt for choice as ALL of the new songs sounded wonderful.
For ‘Dandy in the Underworld’, Marc kept in the line ‘exalted companion of cocaine nights’ (it would later be re-recorded for a single release with ‘cocaine nights’ being substituted for ‘T Rex nights’). When the first verse was repeated in the song Marc used the line ‘exalted companion of my cocaine nights’ - was there ever any doubt about this song being autobiographical? For me, the ‘Dandy in the Underworld’ song is Marc at his lyrical best and remains one of his greatest songs. This song, and there are many other examples on the Dandy album, shows how far Marc had travelled from the lyrically weak offering of ‘Futuristic Dragon’ just a year or so earlier.
A relatively short (three and a half minutes) version of ‘Hot Love’ followed with the band then leaving the stage. After a short while the band returned to the stage for the final song, a 13 minutes version of ‘Get It On’, which for me is my favourite Bolan song of all time, partly because it was the first T Rex single I bought and, I guess, was the catalyst for me becoming a life-long Bolan fan. Although it was always great to hear Marc play ‘Get It On’ live I feel that it was a song where he could never improve on the released version. The original 1971 version with Marc’s laid-back vocal delivery, Tony Visconti’s lush production and Ian MacDonald’s sax is simply unsurpassable. As with previous live versions of the song Marc guitar went into overdrive, though fortunately, no whips were involved this time!
T Rex performed the final song without any involvement from The Damned. At the Portsmouth gig 10 days later, The Damned would join T Rex on stage for the encore, possibly indicating how much Marc had enjoyed working with group. As T Rex left the stage the fans started to filter out of the City Hall with smiles on their faces and, based on this performance, with the knowledge that T Rex were still very much a force to be reckoned with.
As I reached the foyer there was some commotion as the merchandise stall has started to sell copies of the Dandy album - the day before it was officially released! Lack of money became a problem again and I dashed out of the City Hall to get some more money from my parents who were waiting in the car park opposite. Once I had the money for the record I dashed back across the road and into the foyer only to see the last few copies of the album being sold. The disappointment of not getting the album did not diminish the pleasure of what had been an incredible night. Bolan and the new look T Rex of Dino, Herbie, Miller and Tony had given an awesome performance. Marc’s belief in the new Dandy songs was obvious - never before had he performed so many new (and previously unheard) songs live in concert in the UK.
Just prior to the concert I had a feeling that this would be the last time that I would see Marc - though this had nothing to do with the sad events that would follow in September, but much more to do with the changing landscape of the music scene. This was early 1977 and the punk/new wave movement was gaining momentum and threatened to make the old wave look ‘tired’. Much to Marc’s credit he fully embraced the punk movement and, possibly uniquely, he was the only established artist to invite a punk band to tour as a support act.
Seen in the context of the time this was a very brave move on Marc’s behalf. Remember that this was just over three months after the infamous Bill Grundy/Sex Pistols incident on the ‘Today’ show which resulted in the Sex Pistols being banned from virtually every town in the country. For most people their only exposure to punk rock was via the coverage of the Sex Pistols in the tabloid papers. Marc looked beyond the tabloid headlines and saw a movement which was fresh and exciting.
Before the concert I harboured thoughts that Marc may not be around in a year or two’s time. Those thoughts evaporated during the concert as T Rex delivered one great song after another.
Would I get to see Marc again? Of course I would, wouldn’t I?
Photos from the concert
Click on the link on the left to view the Tour Itinerary for this gig.