Dandy in the Underworld
Marc Bolan & T Rex
The Damned were one of the first generation of punk bands alongside contemporaries such as the Sex Pistols, The Clash and Siouxsie and the Banshees. They are credited with being the band to release the first punk single (‘New Rose’ in November 1976) and then, a few months later, the first punk album released (‘Damned, Damned, Damned’ in February 1977) on the Stiff Records label. At the time of the Dandy tour, The Damned were promoting their then new single 'Neat, Neat, Neat' (see their 1977 performance of the single on the 'Supersonic' television show listed in the links below).
The Damned line up of 1977 (shown above left to right) comprised of Brian James (guitar), Rat Scabies (drums), Dave Vanian (vocals) and Captain Sensible (bass guitar). They had played their first gig in July 1976 when they supported the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club.
Most of the bands who had supported T Rex on previous UK tours had been fairly bland and contrasted against the more dynamic sound of Bolan’s, so it came as a surprise to Marc’s fans when it was announced that The Damned were going to be the support band.
Much to Marc’s credit, when most other established artists had mocked and ridiculed the emerging punk movement of late ‘76 and early ‘77, Marc had embraced it with his support of bands such as The Ramones, The Boomtown Rats, Generation X, Siouxsie and the Banshees and, of course, The Damned. There was a definite change in musical direction for Marc from early 1976, when T Rex toured with 3 sets of keyboards (Dino Dines, Tyronne Scott and Gloria Jones), to late 1976, when there was only Dino on keyboards and Miller Anderson was recruited to fill in on second guitar. Marc had moved the T Rex sound from a sluggish keyboard dominated sound to a much more hard hitting guitar driven sound. In 1977, Marc enthused about the punk movement which he saw as a ‘back to basics’ rock and roll sound, a sound that T Rex had excelled in around the time of ‘Electric Warrior’ and ‘The Slider’, and it seems likely that his change in musical direction was as a response to the ‘new wave’. Indeed, at the time, he proclaimed himself to be ‘The Godfather of Punk’, with possibly just a slight hint of tongue in cheek.
Never known for modesty, Marc said “I picked The Damned to tour with me because I wanted to put the best of the established bands against the best of the new-wave bands, so we’ll see who can out-punk the other every night” (source: interview with Phillip Crawley published in The Journal, 18th March 1977). In another interview he claimed that he picked The Damned to tour with them because Captain Sensible had the good taste to wear a T Rex t-shirt.
In truth, the package of T Rex and The Damned proved to be mutually beneficial as the tour attracted a lot of attention from the music press, with maybe just a few journalists questioning the wisdom of touring with a punk band as support. The reality was that it was a huge success with Bolan reclaiming some of the credibility which had diminished in recent years and The Damned receiving a lot of publicity from the tour. Thanks to Marc, many T Rex fans got their first taste of the emerging sound of punk in advance of the masses. Marc had taken a gamble and the gamble had paid off.
The Damned, featuring original members Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible, continue to tour with energetic performances and in November 2008 released the album 'So, Who's Paranoid?'.
The Damned set list for the Dandy tour
I Feel Alright, Born To Kill, Fan Club, Neat, Neat, Neat, Sick Of Being Sick, Stretcher Case, Help, New Rose, Stab Your Back, So Messed Up, Fish
Dave Vanian interview
First of all thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to ask you questions about the tour.
It’s a pleasure.
Bolan’s people they gave us a chance we normally wouldn’t have had. It was kind of reciprocal on both sides because Marc’s career was slightly flat at that point, because that’s what happens, and ours supposedly, The Damned, were the new kind of thing to happen so the pairing was a good idea but normally when you supported a band like that you expect to have to pay to go on tour and they waived all that because they knew we had no money whatsoever. We all travelled on the same bus and it was absolutely fantastic. It was a real eye-opener because that was the first hand experience of working with people that, at that point, were huge stars and had been stars for years and they were just such nice people to work with, Bolan in particular. You never know, sometimes you meet those kind of people and they are very stand offish, aloof or eccentric and Bolan wasn’t any of those.
Maybe in previous years...
I think sometimes that is a projected image when there’s press around but when it is other musicians that tends to disappear. He was an incredibly nice character and very easy to get on with.
When and where did you first meet Marc, and what was your first impression of him?
The first time I met Marc was when the tour first kicked off. It was a weird thing because we were at Stiff Records and the building was shared, and above was the publishing office for Bolan so people were always coming and going and they knew that, especially Captain, was a Bolan fan and it seemed like a really good pairing for this tour coming up and they arranged it between them, Stiff and them.
The first time I saw Marc he was jogging up to the bus in a green track suit. We used to get the bus at Victoria and travel up to the shows and back . I remember Herbie Flowers and co was quite a character with his jumpsuits.
With the launch party for the Dandy album, on the night before the Dandy tour started on the 9th March, can you remember who attended the launch party? It’s documented that Donovan and Mike Mansfield were there. Was Johnny Rotten there?
I don’t remember Rotten being there. I remember Mansfield and quite a few other TV and radio guys. I don’t think Rotten was there.
What memories have you got of the launch party?
Not a lot, actually. It must have been a good party.
Did all members of The Damned turn up for that?
I’m not absolutely certain. I wasn’t actually living in London at that point and had to get the late night train. I think everyone from our band was there. Certainly Captain and Rat were there, and I’m sure Brian was there, and probably a bunch of Stiff Records people. I remember Mike Mansfield and that blonde guy who used to do the show with him.
What can you remember of Marc during the night? Was he nervous about the Dandy tour?
If he was he didn’t show it. I never noticed him to be nervous, he was very professional.
Did he say anything about the new album, band or tour?
We were to busy eating and drinking at the time. You’ve got to remember that for the band we were young kids that basically had no money whatsoever, weren’t being paid very much and were used to travelling to gigs in the back of a van with a mattress on top of the gear, lucky if we had a pint of beer between us. These kind of parties that turned up, we ended up foraging, drinking and reveling and somehow missing sometime.
Have you any idea why Marc held it at the Roxy?
I don’t know why. I think it was because it was the lynch pin where the centre of music was starting to happen at that time in London. It might have had something to do with Andy Czezowski as well who previously had been our manager and ran the Roxy. They might have asked Stiff about that and said ‘What do you think?,’ and they said Czezowski’s got the Roxy Club. I’m really not sure, but it was a good place to have it, that’s for sure.
Is The Roxy a Speedo shop now?
I haven’t been there for years. It’s been gone a long time. I really don’t what it is. In fact most of them, the decent venues and clubs have gone. It’s quite tragic.
Did it have a staircase in the middle going downstairs?
I think you’re right actually. It wasn’t big, and it always had trouble with the toilets overflowing. It was like all of these legendary places that everyone would say they were there and they loved it and it was great, they are always kind of shitholes basically, but the atmosphere and the bands you would see was what made them magical. It’s like CBGB’s, that place looked like a condemned wooden hut but it was amazing. So the Roxy was a long line of crappy gigs but with fabulous reputation and atmosphere.
Do you know if Marc was presented with anything during the evening? Do you know if he gave a speech during the evening?
That sounds familiar. Captain might remember more. That’s something I don’t really remember but you having said that makes me think something did happen. He might have been given a disc or something.
What did you think of the Dandy album?
I thought it was a good album. The thing I thought about Bolan was that he had been doing the stuff for quite a while and he had a team of people working for him that I felt were sycophantic. They were telling Bolan what he wanted to hear, rather than what he should have heard. I think he was obviously tough enough that he really should have been told the real side of things. Having said that, that’s no disrespect to him as I think he was a great musician, truth is, our career over the years, you reach a certain point in your career where you are older, things change, and if you have people behind you who don’t tell you the truth then you believe that it is still fine and I think there was a little bit of cotton wool around him at the time. Maybe that’s because with us it was so cheap and street level, so it was the truth whether you liked it or not. Maybe we saw it more than anything else.
I thought he would have probably weathered the storm he was going through and with the TV show he would have changed and gone and made some great songs. I would have liked to have seen what he would have done in the years to come. It’s a tragedy he life was cut short. Like every artist I think he was going through a section where he wasn’t quite sure of himself. He was just finding himself at that point and where he was going to go next. I think he would have surprised some people. I think he would have come up with some more interesting things. He might have re-invented himself a little bit more.
Do you think the problems that you mentioned came from the management or from EMI, his record company?
All of it. The record company, the management, all of those people. It’s in their interest to keep their artist happy because the artist is making them money. Even if it’s friendly it’s still a business. In those days the record company, the publishers, the A&R people were also thinking about their new flat they were buying, their swimming pool and this, that and the other. Every band that is successful gets into that scenario. If you can walk away from it and see how it really is then it’s fine, but sometimes you don’t and it can be problematic.
Were you surprised to be invited onto the T Rex tour, and had Marc previously seen The Damned?
Yeah I was because he was a huge star. We had been on tour for a while and were getting very good attendances, which was good, and I think it was just a really good pairing. The great thing about it was it brought a whole bunch of people who would never had come to have seen a Damned show and they stayed with us, which was really cool. Likewise, it was good for him as punks wouldn’t have gone at that point (to see T Rex), or at least not as many.
Unfortunately after about two or three years after punk started there was this different version of what punk meant. When punk first started there were no rules whatsoever and it meant you could listen or do anything, or try anything and that’s what was nice. The combination of us and Bolan seemed like an ideal thing to me, because it was just music and different avenues. But, I think unfortunately for us at least, a few years into punk people put labels onto it and it became less diverse and interesting.
Captain was a big Bolan fan but the music I had listened to previously was from the 60’s, like The Seeds (1960’s USA rock band) and that kind of thing. Marc had his roots in a kind of weird female blues kind of thing and a rock ‘n’ roll kind of thing, and I had been a big Gene Vincent fan. I think there were bands that came out of that (glam) era that weren’t as good and they jumped in and shared the glory, like the Showaddywaddy’s and the Mud’s.
Did you always travel on the same coach together or did Marc arrive separately at gigs?
No, we all travelled together. That’s what was nice about it because we really got to know each other quite well. I thought we weren’t going to travel with them, and not only were we invited on the tour but we were all travelling on the same bus. It was very much a case of sit down and chat.
Do you know if Marc had a cine camera with him on the tour, and do you know if there is any footage of the tour?
There are lots of photographs, but I don’t remember seeing a cine camera. I remember he was on a bit of a health kick at the time, that’s why he turned up that first time in a tracksuit because he wanted to lose a little bit of weight as he was trying to get back into shape.
He lost a lot of weight between 1976 and 1977.
That was the thing. Throughout the shows he was tremendous. He was a true professional and a great showman.
Did you socailise with Marc during the tour and if so what sort of things did he talk about?
There wasn’t really time for much socailaising except for on the bus. Tony Newman and Herbie Flowers, the little team of drunkards, would tell us stories of working with Lou Reed. He was funny. Tony and Rat were vying for the most disgusting show-off because they were both a bit like that.
Do you know how many of the concerts were sell out if any of them? Newcastle was about three quarters full but was reported as being a sell out.
It was fairly full, but it wasn’t sold out.
I don’t know if that was repeated throughout the tour or not.
They were all decently attended but it wasn’t like the old days when it would have been queues around the block. We were just starting off and pulling a certain amount of people in. It was good for both of us. I think some of the shows were fairly close to selling out.
Do you know how long Marc spent at the soundcheck?
It depended. I remember when he caught the flu he didn’t want to do any singing at all but he always soundchecked his guitar, and play riffs and mess around. We did soundchecks every day.
What did you think of Marc as an artist before the tour and did working alongside him change your opinion in any way?
My opinion didn’t change except, as I said before, I was happy to meet him and find him such a nice person and easy to get on with because I have met other people from certain eras and they have not been so, and you can have your illusions shattered. He was an absolute gentleman and very funny, charming and every inch the superstar he’d been. Captain was enamored with him because he’d been a Bolan fan for years and worshiped Bolan. I remember seeing him on things like The South Bank Show special with Melvin Bragg and Mickey Finn, and him wearing them shoes for some reason. I remember Steve Harley wearing them shoes later on in Cockney Rebel.
Do you know if Gloria attended many of the gigs?
She came to some. I don’t remember how many.
We were asked to do his TV show as well but unfortunately the accident happened.
Were you going to be on the second series?
Had you been invited onto the first series?
Not the first series. I think they had already had that sorted but we were saved for the next one.
Marc met Steve Took at the aftershow party after The Rainbow gig. Did you see them meet?
I didn’t see that. I know it happened. I think he just turned up. The trouble with the tour is that it was over so quickly.
Do you think it was Marc who came up with the idea of taking a punk band on tour or do you think someone advised him?
I don’t know. I would like to think it was Marc’s, but I really don’t know. I think it was an accident of where we were because Stiff was below and his publisher was upstairs. I think that we were always coming and going, and they knew that Captain was a big Bolan fan and talking about him, and the buzz went around that The Damned were front page of the NME and doing this and that. I don’t know who was responsible for saying ‘let’s do a tour with them’ and ‘let’s see if they want to do it’.
Where were the Stiff offices?
They were in Alexander Street in Notting Hill.
Why do you think Marc was accepted by a number of the punk bands when they dismissed other established artists?
In the early days the punks bands weren’t so dismissive. What they were so dismissive of was the kind of pretentiousness of bands which had reached a level where they were so clever that it wasn’t about emotions and feeling anymore it was technical prog rock, they were very musical but not necessarily in a good way, whereas I think Bolan and some of his contemporaries were seen in a totally different light because there was an element of humour and they had taken dangerous steps musically. There was certainly a huge amount of blues and rock ’n’ roll.
In those days we played at The Roxy all the time and Led Zeppelin would come down and see us and other punks, we welcomed them with open arms. I think most of the bands that started up at that point felt the same way. The Clash for instance, Mick Jones was a huge Mott The Hoople fan, he followed Mott The Hoople for years. With this band Captain was a Marc Bolan fan and Rat was a Who fan, and I know Siouxsie was a fan of Roxy Music, Bowie and Bolan. I think the top people who were in that rock genre were respected by the punks. I think it was the pretentiousness of people saying ‘you can’t do this’ and ‘you can’t do that’, whereas ‘why can’t you?’, and there’s an element of that punk attitude in what Marc did and even early Bowie stuff.
There’s soundboard recordings of The Rainbow and Portsmouth gigs. Do you know if any other tapes exist from the tour?
In those days it was a lot harder to do that kind of thing, such as filming and bootlegging needed huge amounts of gear whereas now it’s someone with a phone. I’m sure there must be. I haven’t got any but I would like to think that there something out there. You never know because this stuff does turn up and you suddenly see something on eBay.
Did you have any contact with Marc after the tour? Were there any plans to tour with T Rex again or record with Marc?
The tour was successful, everyone was happy and we went off and we had a lot of other work lined up. At that time Stiff kept us working all the time and we were always going off and doing something. We were saved for the second TV show (the MARC shows) and we were looking forward to doing that.
When did you hear about Marc’s death?
I think someone rang me up and said ‘Do you know what’s happened?’ and I turned on the TV.
With Marc’s EMI publicity photo that came out with the promo copies of the Dandy album he is wearing a ‘New Rose’ badge. Did The Damned give it to him?
We gave it to him and were happy to see him wearing it.
I wish I could remember a little bit more but it was a time of extreme excess and it happened so quickly. You don’t think about things changing when you are 19 and you don’t always savour the moment as you might do later. But we had no idea that he was going to die and we were looking forward to working with him again. It was a a great loss all round and I think he would have done some interesting things. I think he was the kind of artist who would have stopped and done something different. I would have been intrigued to see what he would have done. I think he would have surprised people.
Captain Sensible interview
What were your first impressions of Marc when you met him?
I remember when I met Marc I was surprised at how nice he was for an international superstar. I didn’t know anything about his dark period when I think he was doing drugs and stuff like that. I was a T Rex fan but I didn’t know that he had got into a drink and drugs period and that he was behaving like a rock star. I just thought the guy was absolutely brilliant, he was really nice to us, almost humble in his dealings with us and his own band and the road crew. He didn’t put on any airs and graces whatsoever. In fact, I thought sometimes his own band overstepped the mark a bit on the bus, they would grab hold of the microphone at the front, it was like the bus on the magical mystery tour, The Beatles movie, where Mr Buster Bloodvessel was at the front and he’s being a bit racy on the mic. Herbie Flowers and Tony Newman used to go up and grab hold of the microphone. I remember one speech they made in particular, ‘Hi my name’s Marc. I’ve got these nice boys The Damned on tour with me and everything’s going great’, and Bolan would stick his head up at the back and give them the V-sign. I thought that was brilliant, he’s having the micky taken out of him and he’s putting up with it. If I behaved like that to The Damned they would soon tell me where to get off.
There’s a picture of you taken at the launch party for the Dandy album with a poster over your head. What’s the story behind the picture?
Was that at the party? It was at The Roxy. I remember it because Marc was one of the few people who like the punk thing, which is why he got us on the tour in the first place. He saw me in a magazine wearing a T Rex t-shirt and he said he wanted those guys to be my support act. A lot of other stars of the mid 70’s hated punk, Phil Collins, Cliff Richard, Yes and people like that, but Marc openly embraced it. He thought it was fabulous and he was playing a rocking set for the Dandy tour. It was punk influenced, definitely.
What memories have you got of the launch party?
I don’t remember too much about it.
What did you think of the Dandy album?
I thought it was fantastic. absolutely brilliant. I’m not just saying that. It was full of really good tunes. The band had survived by being tune based. I was a big Bolan fan and I collected everything. I remember him saying to me ‘Captain, it’s all about the tunes’ and ‘You’ve got to treat your audience with respect and give them value. It’s nothing to you to put two ‘b’ sides on a single. Give them something extra, they’ll love you for it’, and I always remember that and I went crazy myself when I had a single called ‘Wot’ and I tried to put 20 ‘b’ sides on the 12 inch but I didn’t realise the little band between the actual tracks would take so much time out. I did remember what he said.
Were you surprised to be invited onto the tour, and do you know if Marc had seen The Damned live previous to that?
I don’t know if he ever saw us live. I think it was all about the shirt and he knew we were fans, so he would obviously get on well with us. Although we were a pretty full on punk group and we wouldn’t have given a lot of them the time of day, but for some reason for us, and for The Damned fans, he wasn’t the enemy. The enemy was the kind of 20 minute drum solo, foot up on the monitor, singing about groupies crap. People like Clapton didn't fair well in the punk days, but Bolan was a hero, an absolute hero. Everyone liked him, from Siouxsie and the Banshees to The Damned. The shirt in question that I wore, I remember ended up with Mark Perry from Sniffin’ Glue. I must have been drunk and swapped it for a pint of beer or something. I wish I still had it. I remember it had stars coming out of it in a circle.
Did you always travel on the same coach and stay in the same hotels as Marc?
As far as I remember, yes. We were on the coach, which was a total adventure for a bunch of youngsters. I remember something funny, for the first gig in Newcastle the driver took a wrong turning and he was headed up via Birmingham and I am a bit of a map fan, I tried to join Ordinance Survey when I left school but i didn’t have my Maths ‘O’ level. I had to go up to the front of the coach to the driver as we were going up by Stoke and said ‘You’ve taken the wrong turning. Newcastle’s over the other side of the country, mate’. That was life before SatNav.
Do you know if Marc had a cine camera with him on tour?
I vaguely remember a cine camera, Super 8 or something like that.
Was that Marc’s camera?
I can’t remember who had it. I do remember people walking around with these cameras.
Have you seen any footage from the tour?
I haven’t. No. But I would love to. That would be remarkable.
Did you socialize with Marc during the tour, and if so, what did he talk about?
Yes we did. We were always welcome in his dressing room. There was no ‘off-limits’. I did get into trouble on the bus because being a young band, and the first time we had been on the road, for an ugly git like me having gorgeous ladies being interested in me was like a new phenomenon. I had just left school and had never had the gift of the gab, so we were inviting these gorgeous ladies onto the bus and having a snog up the back, but as soon as we had a quick kiss and cuddle they would be off straight down to where Marc was sitting. He told me off one day and said ‘Captain, it’s pretty uncool bringing these chicks on the bus because, I don’t went to dent your ego, but they are getting on the bus with you and then running off to me’. I had to understand that that is what they were doing. I thought they were after me but they weren’t, they wanted Marc!
Did Marc have a healthy eating regime at the time?
I remember when we stopped at the services I would be sat there with Dino, Herbie and Rat Scabies and we would be tucking into a plate of really unhealthy greasy food and Marc, who was wearing a tracksuit for most of the tour and really getting fit, would be jogging around the service station. It was crazy. Good luck to him. You could time your watch by him. A minute and a half and he would be running past the window again.
Do you think he was quite serious about the health side?
He was. Completely serious about it. He cut right down on the nonsense.
Was he doing drugs at that time?
No. I know what drugs look like on a person. I don’t think he was touching anything. I don’t even know if he was drinking.
Do you know how long Marc took to do a soundcheck?
From vague memories, I think he did soundchecks. They had a Hammond so that will have taken a while to set up. I don’t seem to remember them being over long. They used to do such a good version of Debora and we said to him ‘Why don’t you re-release that and do it as an ‘A’ side with the version you are doing on stage, the electric version is so dynamic and so different. You’d have a number 1 hit again’, and I remember Tony Howard saying to him ‘Don’t listen to them, Marc’. It was pumped up and had an edge to it, just sensational.
Was Tony Howard on the full tour or just certain dates?
I don’t think he was there all the time. I don’t know what Tony’s role was, but I got the impression that Marc was getting advice from people that wasn’t the greatest advice of all time.
Who do you think that was?
I don’t know. I always thought that Marc was such a genius, and such a great tunesmith, singer and superstar. When you get into a situation like that people attach themselves to you and it’s in there interests not to change much, but I think Marc should have.
Can you give any examples of the bad advice he was given?
That Debora thing. It was so nice to see him play really great raw electric guitar on stage. It was sensational. There was Hendrix in there, he was great player, really great. A very underrated guitar player.
Do you know if Gloria attended many of the gigs?
I remember meeting her but I don’t know how many she attended. That might have been the problem with me and Rat Scabies with birds on the bus. She might have told him to tell us off.
Did you have any contact with Marc after the Dandy tour and did he ever talk about recording with The Damned?
I don’t think so. At the time I was just amazed to be doing what I was doing. I’d never written a song, didn’t know what a producer was.
Were you invited to appear on the Marc shows?
Yes, we were. The terrible tragedy of it was that myself and Rat Scabies, being the young ruffians that we were, had not too long previous being on another show, I think it was ‘So It Goes’, on the way to the TV studio we bought some air rifles and we shot some cameramen up the arse while they were filming another band and the technicians union banned us from TV for 6 months. That’s how powerful unions were in those days. We then saw the Sex Pistols and these other bands jump over us in the popularity stakes. At the most important time for a band, when we were really hot, we didn’t do any TV at all, including the Marc shows, which we had been invited to do. It was a real shame, that was.
Were you invited on the first series or the second series?
I can’t remember. Eddie and the Hot Rods went on instead of us.
Which punk bands did Marc like and dislike?
Couldn’t tell you.
When did you hear about Marc’s death?
It was painful. I was sitting in my back garden, it was a nice day and my mum came out the back door and said ‘Ray, that pop star that you like has died. Roley?, or what’s his name, Boley or something like that’, I said ‘Not Marc Bolan is it?’ and she said ‘Oh yeah, that the one’. I ran around the corner to get an Evening Standard to see if it was true, ‘cause that’s how you got your news in those days. Sure enough, Marc had died and I was absolutely distraught.
I locked myself in my bedroom with a guitar and wrote a song ‘cause I was so upset and it became ‘Smash It Up, Part 1’ which was a nice little guitar piece which we chopped onto this really raucous tune. It’s completely unrelated and yet it works as a piece. I wrote ‘Smash It Up Part 1’ for Marc. It really is a haunting little piece.
Soundboard recordings exist from the Portsmouth and Rainbow gigs. Do you know if other concerts were recorded?
I’m not happy to hear that tapes exist of the Portsmouth gig where we jammed on ‘Get It On’! I was absolutely sloshed. They gave me a guitar and I was ripping the strings off the guitar with my bare hands and I got the thin strings off and I was absolutely determined to rip them all off and show Marc and the world that I had ripped all the strings off my guitar. It’s something I had never tried before and it cut right through my hands. There was blood everywhere. I never tried it again!
What’s your favourite track on the Dandy album?
Oh crikey. There’s a slow one I liked... ‘The Soul Of My Suit’. That’s a great tune.
Any other stories from the Dandy tour?
He gave me this most marvellous necklace. A kind of eastern bead based thing. I later found a picture of him wearing it. I still have it at home. It’s a treasured possession, but what I really wanted was a guitar.
Brian James interview
from 'Memories of Marc', Record Collector article (October 2007)
We supported Marc on his last ever live shows, the Dandy in the Underworld tour, which was sort of the comeback album, really. He hadn’t been too well for a couple of years, as far as I can remember, he’d gone down the familiar route of drink and drugs. I hadn’t really kept up with what was going on in his career, but when I first met him down The Roxy club he struck me as a really sweet guy.
It may surprise people to think of Marc coming down to what might have been perceived as a punk stronghold, but in truth The Roxy was never exclusive to punks, it wasn’t like it was some kind of battle headquarters. We had all sorts turn up, some of the lads from Led Zeppelin came down a couple of weeks on the trot, and I they were all there because they’d heard some of the music and were genuinely excited by it. I think it reminded them of the 60’s London club buzz, there was the same sort of feeling that something good was going on. Marc liked the place so much that he held the launch party for his album there.
I think we were actually playing at the club the first time he was there. I think he liked us as people, as well as a band, which thrilled the Captain (Sensible), who had always been a huge fan. Our publishers were in the same building as Marc’s management, so this little plan was hatched and we ended up on the tour. It wasn’t exactly old meets new, because Marc was an influence on a lot of the punks. Personally, I always preferred the earlier stuff with Tyrannosaurus Rex, I was never that much a fan of the glam thing, maybe because I was living in Brussels at the time and it was never that big in Belgium.
At first, I don’t think Marc’s audience knew what to make of us, and it was initially a bit weird for us too. All the gigs were in seated venues for a start, which was totally new to us, but after a few dates we started to notice familiar faces turning up to every show. It was the Marc fans whoo followed him around on tour, and they began to warm to us. I remember Nikki Sudden of Swell Maps was a real T Rex nut, and he was in the audience for a lot of the tour. Later, when we were back doing our own headline gigs, we’d see a load of the same people in our crowds. It was like we’d inherited Marc’s followers.
Marc never came across as the big star, it wasn’t like he kept himself to himself. Both bands, us and his lot, including Marc, travelled around on the same coach, which was a lot of fun. Tony Newman (drummer) and Herbie Flowers (bassist) were playing with him at the time and they were a right pair of practical jokers. When we stopped at motorway service stations, they’d do stuff like tie fishing wire between tables in the café to trip up the waitresses – talk about out-punking the punks, they did it big time! We had such a laugh on the tour, it was a really special time.
I remember Marc wore a green tracksuit on the tour bus, almost every day, and whenever we pulled in to the services he’d be first off the bus and start jogging around the petrol pumps. That’s how fit he was then, he’d knocked a lot of hard-living on the head and was keeping himself in shape for the gigs. It was a funny old sight, especially as we’d only ever seen him as the glittered-up rock star on the telly!
We had many a long conversation on the bus about the music business; he gave us a lot of good advice and the benefit of his own experience. Some punk bands might have sneered at an old hand trying to pass on his wisdom, but we were tremendously grateful. We felt very lucky to have spent so much time with him. The Damned were always about fun, there was a showmanship to what we did which I think Marc identified with. We had a lot more in common than people might think.
On the last night of the tour we all got up on stage together. I think we did this long jam on Get It On, which was a real hoot. There’s not many big stars who’d let the opening act join in the fun like that. We never got to work with him again, sadly. We were asked to appear to appear on the TV series he filmed after the tour, but we were off in America by then.
I can’t really say what he might have gone on to do if he’d lived, but he seemed to be back on top form when we knew him. I think he was really thankful that he’d recovered from his earlier problems and was still out on the road. Like myself, he was a big Eddie Cochran fan, and he loved the whole rock ‘n’ roll star thing. As long as he was up on stage with his Gibson Les Paul and a decent band behind him, he was in his element. And on that last tour he was spot-on. Every single night.