Friday 16 February 2024

Life’s A Gas - Great Concerts Revisited: Tyrannosaurus Rex, Sheffield, 1968

 


by Stuart Penney

It wasn’t my first Tyrannosaurus Rex concert.  Quite by accident I’d seen them in March 1968 supporting Donovan at the 5,000 seat Royal Albert Hall.  But without a record in the shops at that point, they were still largely unknown outside the London underground club circuit.  Besides, I only had eyes for Donovan on that night, so you’ll forgive me when I say the duo’s short acoustic set passed me by virtually unnoticed in the cavernous RAH.

But things moved fast in the 60s, and much had changed when I next witnessed Tyrannosaurus Rex three months later on Monday, June 17, at the Memorial Hall in Sheffield.  In the interim they had signed to EMI’s impossibly hip Regal Zonophone label (see below) and their debut single “Debora” was getting a fair amount of airplay, much of it from their powerful friend and supporter John Peel on his BBC Radio show Top Gear.  So, while they were nowhere near as hot as they would soon become, there was already quite a buzz around this strange little duo comprising Marc Bolan and Steve Peregrin Took. 

(Ed. Note: music press ads and demo copies of the single showed the title as “Deborah.”  This changed to “Debora” when the record went on general release.  The Melody Maker ad for the single also misspelled Regal Zonophone as “Zonaphone”).


The Venue

The Memorial Hall sounds rather grand but it’s actually a small 400 seat annex within the Grade II listed Sheffield City Hall complex.  Opened in 1932, it’s the semi-circular structure shown at the rear of the building here.

Rear view of Sheffield City Hall showing the smaller Memorial Hall circa 1930s

On June 17, Tyrannosaurus Rex played two shows here, at 7:00pm and 9:15pm.  In the pre-decimal currency era tickets were on sale for 6s/8d (33p), 10s/6d (52½p) and 12s/6d (62½p).  My girlfriend and I caught the early show and since the hall was no more than half full, we had a perfectly decent view from our vantage point in the cheap seats.  In fact, there were only 13 rows of seats in total (10 downstairs and three in the small upstairs balcony).

1968 ad from International Times

The tickets were purchased from music store Wilson Peck which was located on the same street and maybe 50 yards from the venue.  Opened in 1896 it was Sheffield’s longest established and most famous music retailer selling pianos, guitars and musical instruments of every description, plus sheet music and records from a handsome building on the corner of Barkers Pool and Leopold Street.  Other than the actual venue box offices, Wilson Peck was virtually the only place in town where concert tickets could be bought at that time.  My first decent electric guitar, a Gibson SG Special, also came from there in 1969 (it cost 159 guineas [£167] bought on hire purchase, naturally). 

In later years the imposing Wilson Peck building (aptly named Beethoven House) would briefly contain a Virgin Megastore. Today it’s a branch of long-established Sheffield jewellers H.L. Brown and the building has been renamed Yorkshire House.  Too much information, you say?  You’re welcome.

The Liverpool Scene

Support (or perhaps joint headliners) were The Liverpool Scene, a poetry and music ensemble fronted by the rotund figure of Adrian Henri (1932 - 2000).  Along with Roger McGough and Brian Patten, he was part of a trio of esteemed Liverpool beat poets who rose to fame in the 60s.  Their 1967 book The Mersey Sound became one of the most successful British poetry anthologies of all time, eventually selling 500,000 copies over many reprints.

The success of The Mersey Sound book inspired the 1967 CBS LP The Incredible New Liverpool Scene (plus a book of the same name).  Featuring poetry by Adrian Henri and Roger McGough with music by guitarist Andy Roberts, this in turn gave birth to the actual band The Liverpool Scene.

With their RCA debut LP Amazing Adventures Of still five months away from release, it’s fair to say the audience had little idea what to expect from them.  Their set would have been unfamiliar to everyone except perhaps listeners to John Peel’s radio shows, where he often read selections from the poetry books and played tracks from their CBS album.  Employing his typically florid prose style, Peel wrote this about the group in the November 17, 1967, issue of underground newspaper International Times.

In Liverpool I spent an ecstatic evening with Andy Roberts, Mike Evans, Adrian Henri and, briefly, Roger McGough.  Perhaps there is a modern Olympus beneath the soot and decay of 64 Canning Street.  I came away feeling better than I have since the rape of Radio London.  Andy played me an acetate of Roger McGough reading the "Summer with Monika" poems to Andy's accompaniment.  During the past year so much love and beauty has passed through me and lingered in my mind, but nothing has surpassed this.

(Ed. Note: 64 Canning Street was the communal house in Liverpool where the group lived.  Radio London was one of the offshore pirate radio stations where Peel worked before joining the BBC in August 1967).



He may not have been a great singer, but what he lacked in vocal dexterity Adrian Henri made up for with a commanding stage presence, bags of energy and a wildly eccentric personality.  An engaging and witty frontman, his poetry readings meshed perfectly with the musical backing provided by Andy Roberts and Mike Hart, fine guitarists both.  Except perhaps for the Bonzo Dog Band, no one else sounded much like The Liverpool Scene at that time.

Their Sheffield set list has not survived, but they almost certainly played material such as “Mrs Albion, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter,” “Tonight At Noon,” “Don’t Worry, Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Batpoem,” “The Amazing Adventures Of Che Guevara” and “Car Crash Blues.”

One of their most popular songs was a spoof on the British Blues Boom, then in full flower.  Titled “I’ve Got Those Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, John Mayall, Can’t Fail Blues,” it didn’t appear on record until their 1969 second album Bread On The Night, but was always a live favourite.

According to the Melody Maker small ads, Liverpool Scene were gigging virtually every night during this period, playing endless club dates up and down the country.  A year later in June 1969 they would be chosen to support Led Zeppelin at the Royal Albert Hall.  Don’t ask me what the LZ fans made of them!

Andy Roberts went on work with Iain Matthews in Plainsong and he was the “R” in GRIMMS, a sprawling music, poetry and comedy troupe featuring members of various multimedia bands.  He later released several solo albums under his own name.  Guitarist Mike Hart also recorded an LP for John Peel’s Dandelion label. 

(Ed. Note: operating between 1972-76, GRIMMS consisted of members of Scaffold, Bonzo Dog Band and Liverpool Scene.  The band name is an acronym formed from the initial letter of the main members’ surnames: John Gorman, Andy Roberts, Neil Innes, Roger McGough, Mike McGear and Vivian Stanshall.  Many other notable musicians including Zoot Money and Ollie Halsall also passed through the band).


John Peel

Let’s be honest, in mid-1968 John Peel was more famous than Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Liverpool Scene combined.  He’d recently been voted Britain’s top radio DJ (a position he would hold for years to come), and his name was a sure-fire drawcard at concerts and festivals throughout the land.  But you might say he had a vested interest in this particular event, being a powerful ally and mentor to both bands on the bill.  

Not only did Peel write the poem on the back cover of the debut Tyrannosaurus Rex LP My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair... But Now They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows, but his familiar droll Liverpool accent can be heard intoning a children’s story on the closing track “Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love).”  John sometimes narrated the story onstage during their live shows.  As if that weren’t enough, his photograph even appeared (albeit very small) on the lyric sheet sleeve insert.  

He was less visible on the Liverpool Scene LP Amazing Adventures Of, but his producer credit appeared in giant type, as large as the name of the band itself.  Make no mistake, John Peel was already a hugely important and influential figure in the UK alternative music scene at this time. 

Unfortunately, as T. Rex hit the big time around 1971 Peel was abruptly dropped from their inner circle, allegedly for some less-than-favourable comments he made regarding the single “Get It On.”  He'd been a loyal and vigorous supporter of Marc Bolan dating back to his time with John’s Children and few had been closer to Tyrannosaurus Rex than him.  Peel took it badly and, always one to wear his heart on his sleeve, even grumbled on air that he had been snubbed by his erstwhile friend.  

Tyrannosaurus Rex

But such unpleasantness was still a few years away as Peel shambled onstage in his baggy sweater, desert boots and ill-fitting corduroy jeans to introduce Marc Bolan and Steve Peregrin Took to the meagre Sheffield audience.  This was very early days for the duo, so Bolan was still using his cheap nylon string guitar which he played sitting down, elfin-like, cross-legged on the stage.  Took, meanwhile, was perched high on a stool with bongos gripped between his knees.  From there he towered over Marc, peering out from under his mane of hair. 

Although I loved their somewhat wonky, ramshackle psychedelic folk music and Bolan’s trademark wavering vocals, the major appeal of Tyrannosaurus Rex for me in 1968 was undoubtedly their powerful image, and specifically Marc’s look.  I was just 18 at the time and developed a powerful fascination (let’s call it what it was - a man crush) with the beautiful boy in the striped school blazer (worn ironically, no doubt) with undoubtedly the best haircut I’d ever seen.


At that time, we viewed Marc’s hair as a logical progression of Dylan’s 1966 halo of curls, via the Hendrix Afro.  Few of us anticipated the truly gobsmacking corkscrew apparition that would later confront us on the cover of the T. Rex album cover (aka the "Brown Album," see below) in 1970.  To this day, that’s still one of my absolute favourite LP sleeves, by any artist.

In 1968 that look seemed almost achievable.  So, before long I was off to Kensington Market to secure a pair of the blue velvet dungarees I’d seen Marc wearing.  It goes without saying that I also made a pilgrimage to Anello & Davide, the West End theatrical footwear specialists (where the Fab Four had their Beatle boots handmade) to pick up a pair of the same women’s sandals Bolan adopted around that time.  As for the hair, my tumble of curls was never quite as magnificent as Marc’s but it was a fair approximation nonetheless and it got me into all kinds of trouble, especially outside London where skinhead gangs lurked, and the natives weren't always quite as enlightened as in the hippest parts of the capital.

In Sheffield the duo played their top 40 hit single “Debora,” of course, along with the as-yet unreleased follow-up “One Inch Rock.”  We also heard tracks from the upcoming debut LP My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair... which was still a month away from release.  The set list is missing, presumed lost in the mists of time, but you can bet your life “Mustang Ford,” “Child Star,” “Hot Rod Mama” and “Afghan Woman” were played. 



After it was all over, we waited patiently with a gaggle of die-hard fans at the front of the stage hoping to meet (and hopefully greet) Marc and Steve.  Always friendly and approachable in his bumbling, Eeyore kind of way, John Peel eventually wandered out to assure us that, in true Elvis style, the duo had already left the building to grab a bite to eat before the second show of the evening.  Bowed but undeterred, we drifted out into the night with thoughts of a truly memorable concert playing on repeat in our heads.  

To see the embryonic T. Rex in such an intimate setting as this, with Marc Bolan just setting out on what would be an incredible journey of fame, fortune and, ultimately, tragedy was indeed a moment to treasure. 


But back in the late 60s big changes were afoot.  In September 1969 Steve Took was fired and replaced with Mickey Finn, who played his first gig with Marc on November 21.  Their debut album together A Beard Of Stars appeared in March 1970.  Finally, Bolan had a musical foil who looked as good as him. 

Marc allegedly said this about Mickey “He can’t play a note, but he looks FABULOUS.”  It may well be an apocryphal story, but I'd really like to think it’s true.  It sounds like something Marc would say, after all.  The band name was then abbreviated, and the aforementioned T. Rex album was released in December 1970.


Their first hit single “Ride A White Swan” - which didn’t appear on UK pressings of the LP - signaled a sea change in the way the duo sounded and that was the moment they stepped out of the underground counterculture and into the major league of mainstream pop, virtually inventing glam rock along the way.
 

I hung around for Electric Warrior (September 1971), the Bolan Boogie compilation (May 1972) and The Slider (July 1972) and even scored tickets for an early screening of the movie Born To Boogie at Oscar’s Cinema in Brewer Street, Soho (December 1972) before the love affair came to an end in 1973 with the album Tanx.  

Bowie excepted, the glam scene really wasn’t for me.  T. Rex was attracting a much younger audience, and I just couldn't relate to the hysteria.  After seven good-to-great albums and maybe a dozen excellent singles (not to mention Marc's wonderfully impenetrable book of poetry The Warlock Of Love), it was time to move on.  I still treasure (and enjoy) those early psychedelic folk records, mind you, and wouldn’t change a second of the time I spent with them. 

Regal Zonophone

Part of the appeal of the early Tyrannosaurus Rex records was the old-style label design of their record company Regal Zonophone.  It fitted perfectly with the late 60s zeitgeist and matched the pop/psych image of virtually all the bands signed to the label. 


The company was first created in 1932 following a merger between the UK label Regal (founded in 1914) and US label Zonophone (established 1899).  It originally issued American recordings licenced from the Columbia, Victor and Okeh labels as well as popular wartime British artists such as Gracie Fields and George Formby. 

Regal Zonophone fell into disuse in the 50s towards the end of the 78rpm shellac era before being revived (for the first time) around 1963 exclusively to handle vinyl releases by Salvation Army artists the International Staff Band and The Joy Strings.  A couple of 1964 singles by the Joy Strings even made the lower reaches of the UK charts before the label was again put on ice. 

In 1967 EMI brought Regal Zonophone back to life yet again, specifically to issue records by artists signed to music publisher David Platz’s Essex Music / Straight Ahead company.  These included Joe Cocker, Procol Harum, the Move and, of course, Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Following a trio of 45s on the Decca offshoot label Deram by the Move and Procol Harum (including "A Whiter Shade Of Pale"), Regal Zonophone got underway in August 1967 with the single “Flowers in the Rain” by the Move (which was also the very first record played on BBC Radio 1).  The inaugural LP on the label was the self-titled debut by Procol Harum released in December 1967.

Although Regal Zonophone limped on into 1975, all the big-selling Essex Music artists (including the now-renamed T. Rex) had already left the label by late 1970 and moved over to the newly created Fly records.  The debut single on Fly was “Ride A White Swan” and the first album was Looking On by The Move.

Within two years and only eight new LP releases (plus a number of compilations and Toofas) it was all-change yet again.  Fly was gone, to be replaced by Cube records who once again reissued virtually all the earlier material by the aforementioned Essex Music artists. 

Meanwhile, in 1972 Marc launched his own vanity label T. Rex records (through EMI). Kicking off with the single "Telegram Sam" (January 1972) and The Slider LP (July 1972) the label ran for around a decade before winding down in 1982. 

Note: Although the Salvation Army RZ records used the same label design as the later pop releases - and in fact the two did briefly overlap around 1967 - they employed a different numbering system and are not connected, other than both were part of the EMI parent company. 

In 1977 Regal Zonophone was briefly revived yet again for the one-off LP release Thrillington by Percy "Thrills" Thrillington, an orchestral version of Paul McCartney's Ram album. If you're Paul McCartney, I guess you have the power to resurrect a defunct EMI record label for just one release!

Below is a partial Regal Zonophone discography covering the years 1967 - 1971. 

Regal Zonophone Discography 1967 - 1971



Albums (LRZ = Mono, SLRZ = Stereo)

Regal Zonophone S/LRZ 1001 - Procol Harum - Procol Harum (December 1967)

Regal Zonophone S/LRZ 1002 - The Move - Move (April 1968)

Regal Zonophone S/LRZ 1003 - Tyrannosaurus Rex - My People Were Fair and Had Sky In Their Hair... But Now They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows (July 1968)

Regal Zonophone S/LRZ 1004 - Procol Harum – Shine On Brightly (December 1968)

Regal Zonophone S/LRZ 1005 - Tyrannosaurus Rex - Prophets, Seers & Sages, The Angels of the Ages (October 1968)

Regal Zonophone S/LRZ 1006 - Joe Cocker – With A Little Help From My Friends (May 1969)

Regal Zonophone S/LRZ 1007 - Tyrannosaurus Rex - Unicorn (May 1969)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1008 - Junior’s Eyes – Battersea Power Station (July 1969)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1009 - Procol Harum - A Salty Dog (July 1969)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1010 - Tucker Zimmerman - Ten Songs By Tucker Zimmerman (November 1969)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1011 - Joe Cocker - Joe Cocker! (November 1969)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1012 - The Move - Shazam (March 1970)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1013 - Tyrannosaurus Rex - A Beard Of Stars (March 1970)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1014 - Procol Harum - Home (June 1970)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1015 - Toe Fat - Toe Fat Two (November 1970)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1016 - Masters Apprentices - Masters Apprentices (March 1971 released in Australia with the title Choice Cuts)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1017 - Idle Race - Time Is (May 1971)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1018 - J.S.D. Band - Country Of The Blind (November 1971)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1019 - Number Not Used Officially (A Tyrannosaurus Rex bootleg titled In The Halls Of Faeire later appeared with this catalogue number)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1020 - Northwind - Sister, Brother, Lover (July 1971)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1021 - Tear Gas - Tear Gas (August 1971)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1022 - Masters Apprentices - A Toast To Panama Red (December 1971)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1023 - Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 With Ginger Baker - Live! (1971)

Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1024 - Accolade - Accolade 2 (1971)



Singles 1967 - 1970

Regal Zonophone RZ 3001 - The Move - Flowers In The Rain / (Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree (August 1967)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3002 - Biddu - Daughter Of Love / Look Out Here I Come (September 1967)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3003 - Procol Harum - Homburg / Good Captain Clack (September 1967)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3004 - The Tickle - Subway (Smokey Pokey World) / Good Evening (November 1967)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3005 - The Move - Fire Brigade / Walk Upon the Water (January 1968)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3006 - Joe Cocker - Marjorine / The New Age of The Lily (March 1968)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3007 - Procol Harum - Quite Rightly So / In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence (March 1968)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3008 - Tyrannosaurus Rex - Debora / Child Star (April 1968.  Promo copies show the A-side title as “Deborah”)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3009 - Junior’s Eyes – Mr. Golden Trumpet Player / Black Snake (June 1968)

Regal Zonophone TRZ 2001 – The Move – Something Else From The Move (5 track EP - June 1968)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3010 - Johnny Nash - Hold Me Tight / Let’s Move and Groove Together (July 1968)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3011 - Tyrannosaurus Rex - One Inch Rock / Salamanda Palaganda (August 1968)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3012 - The Move - Wild Tiger Woman / Omnibus (August 1968)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3013 - Joe Cocker - With A Little Help From My Friends / Something’s Coming On (September 1968)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3014 - Richard Henry - Oh Girl / Lay Your Head On My Shoulder (November 1968)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3015 - The Move - Blackberry Way / Something (November 1968)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3016 - Tyrannosaurus Rex - Pewter Suiter / War Lord Of The Royal Crocodiles (January 1969)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3017 - Green Bean - The Garden’s Lovely / Sittin’ In The Sunshine (Unreleased)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3018 - Junior’s Eyes - Circus Days / Woman Love (April 1969)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3019 - Procol Harum - A Salty Dog / Long Gone Geek (May 1969)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3020 - Tucker Zimmerman - The Red Wind / Moondog (July 1969)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3021 - The Move - Curly / This Time Tomorrow (July 1969)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3022 - Tyrannosaurus Rex - King Of The Rumbling Spires / Do You Remember (July 1969)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3023 - Junior’s Eyes - Star Child / Sink Or Swim (August 1969)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3024 - Joe Cocker - Delta Lady / She’s So Good To Me (September 1969)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3025 - Tyrannosaurus Rex - By The Light Of The Magical Moon / Find A Little Wood (January 1970)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3026 - The Move - Brontosaurus / Lightnin’ Never Strikes Twice (March 1970)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3027 - Joe Cocker with Leon Russell & the Shelter People - The Letter / Space Captain (June 1970)

Regal Zonophone RZ 3028 - Reign - Line Of Least Resistance / Natural Lovin’ Man (October 1970)



10 comments:

  1. I don't think they cruely dropped John Peel, once the bands tatse success he kinda drops them??

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    Replies
    1. You might want to look into that a little more closely.

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    2. Bob Harris has stated that it was more Peel's fault than Bolan's that the friendship ended, he knew both at the time.

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    3. I can find a dozen quotes that say the exact opposite. For example, former Ty Rex manager Peter Jenner is quoted thusly: "Bolan himself was a complete arsehole, the way he turned over Peel, and everything else. Quite clearly he was just a very ambitious little kid who wanted to become a pop star. He was feeding all the rest of us this bullshit which we bought. He'd sussed that the way through for him was by being a little hippie. He used me and he used John Peel. Peel's investment was far deeper, a personal commitment. He waved the flag for Bolan all the way through, until Bolan became huge and then Bolan gave him the old heave-ho in such a cynical fashion"

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    4. Great read 😎👍Tanx for taking the time to share your personal memories

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  2. I saw T.Rex very shortly after they truncated the tyrannosaurus but before he learned how to play guitar standing up. And he saw me. We, my pals and me, were enjoying a pre-gig spliff (grass with seeds and stems) outside the fire door to the Lanchester Polytechnic gym hall, which one of us had cunningly fixed open from inside earlier that day. Suitably refreshed, we edged through the gap into what we thought was the darkness at the back of the hall, because that's how it usually worked. We hadn't received the memo about changing the layout so the stage was now at the back. Gathering our remaining wits about us, we combat-crawled past a bemused Marc n' Mickey and fell into the crowd, accompanied by laughter from band and audience. Marc took up his song from where it had been so rudely interrupted, and I imagine a splendid time was had by all, although that's as much of the evening as I can remember. I can still smell that spliff.

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    Replies
    1. Great stuff! You paint a vivid picture, sir.

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    2. ... and that's a pretty vivid picture you have as your header! Kudos!

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    3. Thank you. It was done by a good friend of mine. Between you and me I think he was suffering a spliff flashback!

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