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On This Day In Music… March 20, 1977: T. Rex Play Final U.K. Concert

The Portsmouth show came six months before Marc Bolan's tragic death.

marc bolan t rex
Source: mega

By 1977 Marc Bolan was once again a major musical force.

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On March 20, 1977, T. Rex played the last night of their Dandy in the Underworld tour, at the Locarno in Portsmouth. Nine gigs in 11 days across the country had seen Marc Bolan’s outfit once again perform for ecstatic crowds and rave reviews – and with support coming from The Damned, it seemed that Bolan had not only managed to see off the challenge of the new breed of punk rockers, but actively embrace – and be embraced by – them.

Their set that night was packed with classics from T. Rex’s heyday: “Jeepster”, “Telegram Sam”, “Hot Love” and “Get It On” all featured, as well as songs from most recent album Dandy in the Underworld, including the title track as well as “The Soul of My Suit” and “I Love to Boogie”, which had peaked at No. 13 the previous July, giving Bolan his biggest hit for two years.

Marc Bolan would never play another British gig. Six months later, on September 16, 1977, the car in which he was a passenger careered into a tree in Barnes, South West London, killing him instantly. He was 29 years old.

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marc bolan t rex concert
Source: mega

Bolan inspired hysteria in fans when he broke through in the early 1970s.

Dandy in the Underworld represented a remarkable turnaround in Bolan’s fortunes. After the wild success of his early years, the vintage T. Rex line-up had split, as well as the disintegration of his three-year marriage to June Bolan – she would eventually sue for divorce in 1976, citing his adultery with backing singer Gloria Jones (who had scored a smash of her own in 1965 with “Tainted Love”). Bolan had subsequently fled to the U.S., but after the birth of son Rolan, returned home and began a tentative return to the stage.

By early 1977, energized by the punk explosion of ideas and energy, he formed a new incarnation of T. Rex and on March 11 released Dandy in the Underworld… and began to rediscover the mojo that had made him such a thrilling prospect just five years earlier.

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marc bolan
Source: mega

T. Rex had an astonishing run of nine Top 4 singles in under three years.

It’s difficult to overestimate the effect Bolan had on teenage audiences at the beginning of his career. Debut album, 1968’s (as Tyrannosaurus Rex) My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (hey, welcome to the 60s, kids!) was an off-kilter, psychedelic, acoustic oddity – that nonetheless made No. 15 in the U.K. album charts, and the following year the similarly spaced-out Unicorn reached No. 12.

And then, in 1970, Bolan plugged in. With the band renamed T. Rex, he introduced a poppier, more electric sound, breaking into the Top 10 for the first time. The same year he released the stand-alone single “Ride a White Swan”… and suddenly the 23-year-old was the hottest property in music. Over the following three years T. Rex embarked on an astonishing run of hit singles: “Hot Love”, “Get It On”, “Jeepster”, “Telegram Sam”, “Metal Guru”, “Children of the Revolution”, “Solid Gold Easy Action”, “20th Century Boy”, and “The Groover” were all released between February 1971 and June 1973 – all reached the Top 4 in the charts, with four making No. 1.

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Veteran BBC DJ Bob Harris witnessed the rise of T. Rex – and especially of Bolan – first hand, telling Uncut in 2020 how their early 70s tours provoked Beatles-like hysteria.

“The first gig was Portsmouth Guildhall,” he remembered. “The band finished their set, and we were hanging out. We realized there was a lot of noise in the street – the whole crowd was round the backstage door.

“The place was surrounded by girls with scissors trying to get locks of Marc’s hair. What I remember is a lot of stainless steel flashing around at eye level. It was madness!”

“People were ready for Marc,” Bolan’s long-time producer Tony Visconti added. “You have to remember: everyone was growing a beard. Musicians were trying to distance themselves from being slick. People were wearing jeans. You’d see people on Top Of The Pops with beards, wearing jeans and flannel T-shirts. Then Marc came along. He was very good-looking. But he was cheeky. He was preening himself to be a rock star.”

marc bolan dave vanian
Source: mega

Bolan with Dave Vanian of the Damned - Bolan was one of the few early-70s stars embraced by punk.

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But if just a few years later the punk movement had seen the kids eschew Bolan’s glitter and glamor in favor of spiky hair and safety pins, the same was not strictly true of the bands themselves. Along with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, Bolan was one of the few early 70s stars it was apparently acceptable to admit being a fan of… and Bolan himself reciprocated, declaring himself a devotee of Manchester punk outfit the Buzzcocks, and when it came to finding a support act for the Dandy in the Underworld tour, he didn’t hesitate in asking The Damned.

Following the final U.K. gig on March 20, T. Rex would play one more headlining show, at Gröna Lund in Stockholm on May 24th – other artists at the venue’s summer concert series that year would include Bob Marley, Thin Lizzy and The Clash.

By the end of the summer Bolan was back with a bang, hosting his own Granada Television TV show, called simply, Marc. Over six episodes he championed new bands including The Jam, The Boomtown Rats and Generation X, as well as performing T. Rex classics.

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The final episode of Marc was recorded on September 7, 1977, and featured David Bowie, who performed “Heroes”, as well as joining Bolan and T. Rex for an extended jam. The show ended with Bolan delivering the line: “All the cats, you know who they are”. It was immediately commissioned for a second series.

Nine days later, as Gloria Jones and Bolan drove home from a restaurant, Jones lost control of their car and Bolan was killed. By the time the final episode of Marc was broadcast, his funeral had already taken place.


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