wed 08/12/2021

Reissue CDs Weekly: Tyrannosaurus Rex | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Tyrannosaurus Rex

Reissue CDs Weekly: Tyrannosaurus Rex

Marc Bolan’s confident advance to superstardom is tracked over his first three albums

An unequal partnership: Steve Peregrine-Took (left) and Marc Bolan, 1968

 

Tyrannosaurus Rex My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair Deluxe EditionTyrannosaurus Rex: My People Were Fair and had Sky in Their Hair, Prophets, Seers & Sages: Angels of the Ages, Unicorn

“I was just reflecting and talking about things most people thought or wanted to hear about at the time.” Marc Bolan’s comment about why Tyrannosaurus Rex became popular so quickly is heard in a brief BBC interview included as one of the extras on this new edition of My People Were Fair and had Sky in Their Hair, the summer 1968 debut album.

Bolan himself, as the liner notes to the related reissue of Prophets, Seers & Sages: Angels of the Ages state, was astutely in keeping with the time. He “made a convincing mystic. He kept a statue of Pan, which he named Poon, by the fireplace at the Notting Hill attic flat he shared with girlfriend June Child. He'd leave notes to this icon of inspiration, and his head would soon be filled with new songs about spells and mages and Red Indians. It was a higher power and Bolan believed in it. And, in turn, many believed in him.” Indeed, percussionist Steve Peregrine-Took, Bolan’s partner in the band, had sold his drum kit to help the initially cash-strapped duo.

Bolan, born Mark Feld, and Peregrine-Took, born Stephen Porter – Bolan chose his partner's new name after a Hobbit in the vogueish Lord of the Rings – made three albums together before the latter’s dismissal. Then followed the hook-up with Mickey Finn, a subsequent name contraction to T-Rex and 70s pop fame.

Tyrannosaurus Rex Prophets Seers & Sages Angels Of The Ages Deluxe Edition An acute awareness of the mores of the time, coupled with reinvention, self-belief and ruthlessness, helped Bolan achieve the blast-off to superstardom. Before then, with Peregrine-Took, he had brushed the charts on single and album but hadn't established a firm grip on either the loyal or massive fan base it would take to secure his future. He, and his music, were curiosities. With the help of John Peel, Bolan attracted a cult audience.

This trio of Deluxe Editions of the first three Tyrannosaurus Rex albums are sharp reminders of just how curious this duo was. Although the similarly two-handed and unconventional Incredible String Band spring to mind as possible like-minded souls from the era, Tyrannosaurus Rex always had rock – as in rock ’n’ roll – and the pop market in their sights. Recorded with producer Tony Visconti, My People Were Fair and had Sky in Their Hair (1968), Prophets, Seers & Sages: Angels of the Ages (also 1968) and Unicorn (1969) chart Bolan’s path towards a more straightforward pop. Nonetheless, all three albums are as bonkers as they were carefully crafted. The acoustic guitar and Peregrine-Took’s pattering percussion took a back seat to Bolan’s convoluted language, mystical lyrics, references to esoteric literature and affected voice.

Each Visconti-remastered reissue comes as two-disc set and each – amazingly, considering the time that has passed – is stuffed with previously unheard material and sympathetically compiled archive material heard beforehand only on random reissues. The liner notes are by Bolan expert Mark Paytress. Although the albums were last reissued in 2004, these new versions add a significant amount of new content. Vinyl editions are also available, but the CDs have the maximum amount of tracks.

Tyrannosaurus Rex Unicorn Deluxe EdiitonThe albums themselves are familiar enough. The interest here is the bonus material. With each CD set, between six and 12 BBC session tracks are supplemented by demos, outtakes from the album sessions and the odd single and promotional item. Unicorn is bolstered by an extraordinary 20 previously unreleased versions. The entire studio-recorded outpouring – there can’t be much, if anything, else out there which now remains unheard – of the Bolan/Peregrine-Took era is compiled across 159 tracks (including two interviews and one live cut). This represents little more than 18 months of recording.

Fans of Bolan will need these. But the less conversant will also find much to love. Here is a possible way to tackle the mammoth undertaking of listening. Start with the fantastic, electrified 1969 single “King of the Rumbling Spires” (included on the Unicorn package), then work back to the previous year’s hit 45 “Deborah” (Prophets) to marvel at how fast Bolan was moving. Next, check out Disc Two of Prophets’ then-unreleased, tentative Take 2 of “Deborah”. After that, listen to each album as it was issued in chronological order of release. Penultimately, tackle each album’s outtakes to hear how Bolan, Peregrine-Took and Visconti got there. Finally, listen to the BBC sessions as, although speedily recorded, these were where Bolan knew he would reach a ready audience.

More than definitive editions of three seminal albums integral to the development of British pop, these six CDs are a masterclass in finding and then seducing a mass audience while retaining and streamlining a unique musical vision. And on the way there Steve Peregrine-Took became collateral damage.

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