Bowie and Bolan Get It On
Chris Welch | Melody Maker | 17 September 1977
Chris Welch reports from Manchester on David
Bowie's appearance on Marc Bolan's television show
"Oh that's really Polaroid! You've gotta keep
David Bowie rocked with laughter and Marc Bolan wiped
away the tears that had threatened to turn his finest hour into
a nightmare. The great day when David and Marc were reunited for
a TV show will pass into the history books as one of the funniest
episodes never filmed.
Perhaps one should say never video-taped for the
last show in the series Marc put together by Granada TV turned out
to be a drama of such pathos and uproar that it made Coronation
Street seem dull, if that's at all possible.
There were tears, outbursts of swearing, bitter rows
and the breaking of light bulbs when everything seemed to go wrong
when David joined his old chum for rehearsals and recording at Granada's
Manchester studios last Wednesday.
The clash between old wave and new wave was further
heightened by the power of trade unions and the congenital inability
of rock people to get it together in anything lik a normal, orderly
fashion. It was ten breaks and split-second timing versus artistic
temperament and inexperience.
I thought it funny but I'm sure producer Muriel Young
didn't, nor did the manager of Generation X who turned up three
hours late without any equipment, nor Barrie Masters and his famous
Rods who never got to appear on the show after waiting around for
In the event, by the miracle of editing and technical
wizardry, the show will go out complete with the Rods, and David
making a rare British television appearance on all ITV regions on
Wednesday, September 28 at 4:20 pm. But it would have been more
exciting if they had videoed the dramas taking place in and around
Marc was in his element as a television star and
part-time artistic director. As one studio boss was forced to ejaculate
when Marc was bellowing instructions: "I don't know why I'm the
floor manager" Said Marc: "When you've got your name up in lights,
you've gotta take responsibilities".
The show was born out of Marc's dream to be a media
man, dating back to when he once did some interviews for London
television. Here he could invite his favourite guest artists, do
a bit of chat and generally camp it up in time-honoured Bolan fashion.
As a cross between Judy Garland and Louis B. Mayer
he was brilliant. But one of the lads in the heavy rock combos booked
for the show stopped me dead in the gents by demanding: "Is he queer?"
"Nah, course not. Straight as a die, our old Marc" I protested.
A few minutes later Marc sailed past us in the corridor
calling out coyly: "What shall I wear? I know, the green dress with
black suspenders." In fact he turned up wearing a leopard-skin creation
that even a leopard might have baulked at.
The whole day was worthy of being turned into one
of those probing documentaries where people bare their souls and
the holes in their socks before cameras so discreet that nobody
seems aware of their presence.
It was just like the World About Us. The cast of
characters included Marc's PR Keith Altham, recently recovered from
a nervous collapse that he threatened would be brought on again
if Barbara De Witt said another word: Barbara De Witt, David's American
PR lady who wanted to know what Keith Altham was doing bringing
so many press in her artist's wake; Bob Hart of the Sun, anxious
to see Keith Altham, buying him a drink ("You're the only publicist
I can't afford to have lunch with"), Jeff Dexter, Sixties hippie
deejay, and now partner with Tony Howard in Marc's management,
the said Mr Howard resplendent in genuine 1968 teddy boy jacket,
and Eric Hall the man from EMI.
The whole party descended by train upon Manchester
and spent the day being hustled out of the studio by David's bodyguard,
a charmingly polite gentleman who kept appearing in front of us
saying: "You'll have to leave now". I half-expected to meet
him at the front gate when I got home that night, holding up both
hands to bar any further progress.
The main targets of his life's work (sending people
in the opposite direction from whence they came) were Marc Bolan's
manager, his press officer, and various friends hoping to see David
after his absence from the scene for many years.
"Ain't it strange what some people will do" was the
rather apt song being dance to by Heart Throb, the show's troupe
of girl dancers who had chosen to wear plastic see-through bowler-hats
for their routine.
On came the Rods Barrie Masters in jeans and
shirt miming to their backing track on "Do Anything That
You Wanna Do." "It's a bit Mick Mouse, this show," he said as he
came off the rostrum, indicating that he and the boys had been hanging
around in the studio all day waiting to do their bit.
Generation X arrived red of hair and pink of cheeks,
somewhat breathless from a disastrous day spent on the M1. A broken-down
van, no equipment available the bad news experienced by many
But it didn't stop them adopting the aggressive attitude
expected of a new wave combo. As offers were being made to lend
them equipment they discussed jokingly, whether or not to smash
up Marc's guitar, "What will it cost us 400 quid?"
Eventually guitars were lent, including Rod Paul
Gray's bass (he told me that if the X-men smashed up his bass guitar,
he would smash them up).
Miraculously, amplifiers and instruments were procured
and Generation X stormed into their big number "Your Generation"
and Billy Idol their pretty lead singer looking aggressively angelic.
In fact they played so well I found myself clapping their performance,
lone applause that must have sounded almost insulting in the silence
of the studio as the echoes died rapidly away.
But Generation X discomfort was not over. They had
to play a number at least five more times, constantly being stopped
by the technicians, something all musicians detest.
Marc had to keep repeating the same introduction
"This is Generation X. They have a new singer Billy Idol who is
supposed to be as pretty as me. I ain't so sure. Check it out."
Eventually he stumbled over the words by the sixth attempt. "Me
brain weren't connected to me leg" he explained with a grin.
Meanwhile more rows were breaking out between Generation
X's manager and producer Muriel. As Stewart bellowed abuse across
the studio floor, Muriel, a very ladylike professional, simply walked
"It's appalling" said Stewart "Now they are only
going to show half the song or pull it out. We'll do Top of The
Pops instead. Let's go!" He made a move for the exits, but the band
stayed on and later Granada confirmed that X would be in the show.
While the September 28 show was still being recorded
the day's edition was going out featuring Marc singing "Let's Dance"
the old Chris Montez hit which sounded pretty good given the Bolan
treatment as well as his new single "Celebrate Summer."
Now it was time for the studio to be cleared while
Marc and David rehearsed their big number. Momentarily eluding the
bodyguard I managed to hide behind a piece of scenery as Boland
and Bowie joined forces with Herbie Flowers, Dino Dines and Tony
Newman. It sounded like a bit of a shambles to the uninitiated.
In fact the song was only just put together in time
and remained untitled, a bit of casual rock jamming. But it was
fun to see them together and they sounded pretty funky with Marc
blazing enthusiastically on lead guitar.
And to complete the atmosphere of revivalism, Marc
launched himself into "Deborah" a new version, which had to be cut
when the backing track seemed to go out of sequence. "I don't mind
lip-synching but when it's the WRONG verse… " complained Marc
tartly. Suddenly there came a bellowed announcement "Will anybody
not on the show please leave the studio!" Once more we were herded
outside. "Oh why did we come?" said the Rods, also hustled away.
But a kindly floor manager keeping remarkably cool,
swiftly let the entourage back in again to witness the final historic
chapter. David readied himself for his solo number "Heroes" from
the album. With his jeans carefully rolled up to reveal lace-up
boots he stood cooly before the microphone, careless of the chatter
of the studio.
Ignoring some impudent feedback he began singing,
slowly and lowly at first with a deep voice that always comes as
a surprise from one of such slim build. There were pregnant pauses
between bars and then suddenly he bellowed forth "I will be king
and you will be queen… we can be heroes just for one day, we
can be heroes!" it was a remarkable performance even in a cold TV
Now it was Marc's big moment when he was to join
David for the taping of their hastily sketched-out number. While
David had his face made up, Marc called anxiously to the floor manager:
" Do you want me front or back?" "Just tough your toes, Marc, "
called out one of the Rods waiting to do their number on the opposite
The mighty duo began their number and, said Billy
Idol approvingly from the sidelines: "It's got that disco beat all
right" "What an old pooftah" grumbled a roadie uncharitably.
Suddenly there was competition on stage as the number
ground to a halt. "We're getting electric shocks up here" shrieked
Marc pointing towards the microphones. Nobody moved. Time was ticking
dangerously away. At 7 pm the union would pull the plugs out and
head for home and beauty sleep.
Attempts were being made by the production team to
stop the band. "We're rehearsing actually" said Marc somewhat put
David stood quietly to one side smiling and unperturbed
but suddenly he frowned. "That wasn't the actual take, was it?"
he asked as the truth began to dawn "What do you mean, not really?
Either it was or it wasn't:" "1-2-3-4!" and Tony Newman uncertainly
set the drums rolling once more. At this point Marc fell off the
stage with excitement. "A wooden box for Marc please" said David
"Look we've got to do that again, it wasn't finished". But the studio
man was calling "Let's have the Rods please. The Rods obediently
scrambled onto their rostrum to start recording and David and Marc
instantly started jamming. At 7 pm precisely all the lights went
out and the technicians disappeared. "You've got a black-out mate!"
called a voice from the floor.
A furious row broke out between the Rods and the
producer when it was realised there was no time for the group to
do their number. "This is really unfair" said Barrie Masters. "We've
been waiting here all day to go on, and we came up from London yesterday
to do the show. That's two days wasted."
The Rods stormed off to their dressing room where
a certain amount of swearing went on. Bolan was allegedly locked
in his dressing room in tears and Bowie languidly viewed the results
of the day's work on the video tape machine. All was smiles when
it was realised they had something of a classic in the can, even
it if was a shambles.
If there was any acrimony it evaporated later. On
the train going back to London, David sat next to Barrie and the
rest of the Rods shared beer, wine and chicken legs. "I want to
do a tour of Britain in the New Year" he said "Starting in Glasgow
and working my way down. I really want to play again. Today was
David also said that he had recorded a Christmas
show with Bing Crosby of all people, and had also been recording
album tracks with Marc.
But it was good to see him back again, and perhaps
next time we see him he'll be hero not just for a day but a whole