Bolan, Burdon, a Plant and a Boot
Suddenly, I was laughing and joking with sexy Sally James in a TV studio alongside the Bay City Rollers in the days when they frolicked in the autumn mist.
Suddenly, I was sitting next to ex-Animal Eric Burdon on a coach from London to Cardiff where he was playing at Ninian Park stadium on a bill headlined by Bob Marley and the Wailers and featuring the Pretty Things and Country Joe and the Fish. I’m talking to the man who sang on the first record I ever bought. Shit.
‘Do you know, there are a lot more fucking police sirens in London than when I was last here three years ago.’
It wasn’t a question. Eric was that kinda guy. If it wasn’t for the music and, apparently, the acid, that accent and that face would’ve put the shits up anyone. It was like sitting next to a gangster from Get Carter, especially as it was pissing down outside.
'The city has gone up ten notches in violence. It’s the overspill from the States. People are into violence these days. Many Americans I’ve spoken to would rather spend a thousand dollars on arms for the IRA than on a holiday. They got better guns than the British Army, man.
‘It’s like in the movies where there’s too much violence and not enough sex. Sure you get the porn. But not the eroticism. The American sex object today is a gun.’
The rain continued to beat against the window. Fifty miles from Cardiff and Eric Burdon was talking to me and me alone.
‘And do you know the biggest weapon the Vietcong used against the US Army was dope? There are more ex-soldiers walking about in the States with pin pricks in their arms than gunshot wounds.
‘The ’67 generation tried to teach people the difference between good drugs and bad drugs. But we were put down. There was a successful movement on the streets of San Francisco in 1968 to get rid of LSD and turn kids on to speed and junk.
‘Acid has almost disappeared.’
And maybe the music didn’t turn him on either.
‘I know rock ‘n’ roll too well. For me there’s no danger zone anymore, no sense of the unknown. I’ve never regarded myself as a singer.’ But your record cost me 6s 8p, Eric! I want my fucking money back!.
‘The movies always did it for me. I’m a celluloid junkie, man. I moved to LA to be close to the business.
‘There are so many thnings I’d like to make movies about – my life on the road, the second invasion of Hamburg by the rockers in the early sixties, the ‘Day In A Life’ concept that Lennon used on Sgt Pepper, my life in America in the late sixties. That period was like an iron fist and it strangled me. I was manipulated in the rock ‘n’ roll business. I was lived off because I never cared about money.’
One of his projects involved Jimi Hendrix.
‘So much mysticism surrounds that man. Most of his concerts were diabolical. Maybe one in ten he really played. He was such a brilliant artist. He told me he was going to kill himself four years before he died. He tried to at Woodstock and even re-arranged the billing to carry it out.
‘How many great Americans have died in foreign lands rejected by their own people? From Hemingway to Hendrix, from Bessie Smith to Billie Holiday,’
What of The Animals?
‘We recorded an album together and that will come out after a few legal hassles have been sorted out. I see a lot of Chas Chandler and Hilton Valentine.
‘But nobody sees Alan Price. I don’t even think he does.’
Suddenly, a few hours after chewing the fat with my mate Eric, I was interviewing Marc Bolan in the Cardiff City players’ changing rooms at Ninian Park. Torrential rain had turned the day-long festival into a washout. At the time, ‘I Love To Boogie’ was a huge hit. It was also his swansong.
‘The song’s suited to the present climate,’ he said, while reclining on the player’s’ massage couch like Elizabeth Taylor on the Cleopatra poster. ‘It’s part of the cosmos. And anyway, my stars are with me this year.’
He wore a white suit and red silk shirt and was at least four stone overweight. The cute Bolan locks were gone, replaced by a short forties-style haircut. His face was beginning to show signs of what living in the pop world was all about, if you were Marc Bolan.
So what happened to the skinny idol who broke a million teenybop hearts?
‘I just got bored with playing music seven days a week and appearing on television every night.’ His voice was glitzy and giggly and so, so sweet. ‘It was time to re-evaluate. I found myself putting out virtually the same record every three months and watching it zoom to the top of the charts. I was being likened to David Cassidy and Donny Osmond – and that just ain’t me.
‘So I took a gamble. I packed my bags and went to live in New York City. I’m 28 years-old. I’m a musician. I’m a raver. New York was the place to be.’
Marc had written a film script with David Bowie and they were also recording an album together. ‘I went to Stockholm with him and we were just hanging about. I had my hair cut there. The front of it was green and the back orange.’
Marc was proud of his career. I played to the public. We were the purveyors of pubic rock. “Ride A WhiteSwan” took off in 1970 after T. Rex were four years of being an album band. “Hot Love” was number one for nine weeks. We sold millions. But I could see the end of glam rock and I was into longevity, man.
‘Look at the bands around today. Slik died after a week, the Bay City Rollers are finished. Even Donny is giving up the classics.
‘And guess what? I’m gonna get married!’
The lady in question, Gloria Jones, had been his constant companion for a few years. She was also appearing at the festival backed by Gonzalez.
‘I went along to Rod Stewart’s party the other night and it was lovbely until someone got smacked in the mouth, then people started having fights every two minutes. I met David Essex there. He hadhis haircut too and looks like a completely different person.
I figured that back in the glam days he wouldn’t have name-dropped like that. Marc was the only being in his universe when he was getting it on.
We left the dressing room together and went to the bar where his old friend, Robert Plant, was drinking a beer and wearing an ‘I Love To Boogie’ badge.
‘I haven’t heard Marc’s new song yet,’ Robert told me, ‘but it’s bound to be good.’ He looked to have completely recovered from the horrific car crash he was involved in the previous year. He and Marc both agreed to a quick exclusive pic for The Mercury with Robert’s finger planted firmly up his nose.
Marc Bolan and Robert Plant in one hit. Jesus.
Suddenly I was swamped with review albums and concert tickets and offers of interviews and backstage passes to amazing concerts, like the Who’s greatest moment at The Valley, Charlton Athletic’s home ground, on 31 May 1976 – officially the loudest rock show in history and as wet as Woodstock.
The concert was part of a short UK Who Put The Boot In stadium tour that also featured Little Feat, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and the Outlaws.
I sat in the covered VIP section immediately behind the band and it pissed down. I watched sixty-thousand people dance between raindrops as laser beams bounced off mirrors high up on the floodlights and punched holes in the moon.
It was some night.
The last and only other time I’d seen the Who was at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 when they performed the whole of Tommy at midnight and were preceded by the Doors, Emerson Lake & Palmer’s debut gig and my festival faves Ten Years After. I got jiggy with a cute hippy under a sleeping bag during ‘Pinball Wizard’ and it was the best version I’d ever heard.
At the Valley they disembowelled the saturated night. I managed to keep dry while the crowd shook off the torrential rain like dancing dogs. On their way to the stars, the lasers (the first time I’d ever seen them) cut through the damp steam that curled and twisted from sixty thousand rapturous souls. It was a concert I’d like to take with me six feet under.
At the end of 1976 I landed a job at Record Mirror and my first year on the paper was recalled in my book ’77 Sulphate Strip.
Fast forward to ‘78. And the five careers…
© Barry Cain 2013