18 March 1972. Wembley Stadium. One band. Betty Wright’s “Clean-Up Woman” blares over the speakers. One man answers the call. 10,000 screaming fans respond.
And over 30 years later, you can take it home with you.
As the laughter swells at this statement, the following must be conceded: the recorded rock concert has become familiar to the point of passé. A live DVD usually means an added profit margin for a marginal artist and at best a sub-par performance. Rare are the musicians that breathe the true definition of an Italian spettacolo, let alone document something so extraordinary. So, leave it to an artist who passed away nearly 30 years ago to show the kids what it means to Rock.
Marc Bolan and his band T.Rex were arguably the first rock phenomena post-Beatles. In 1972, Marc was riding high off the success of three chart-topping singles, and his smash album Electric Warrior. However, for a musician who could sell 100,000 records per day, he had limited performance options in his native UK, being confined to two- to three-thousand seat venues. In November 1971, Led Zeppelin successfully used the 10,000-seat Wembley Stadium, paving the way for Marc to take it to the bigger stage. T.Rex played two shows that night in March, both of which were filmed under the supervision of one Ringo Starr; as if the event itself were not special enough, it was also the only time Marc permitted a live recording. The concert footage from the second performance was edited, and bolstered with musical and “life” vignettes featuring cameos from Ringo himself, Elton John, and Geoffrey Bayldon. The result was a lean feature-length film, Born to Boogie.
The movie captured Marc Bolan at the height of his popularity, and the essence of Rock Mania. The concerts were unreal—Marc was nearly torn to pieces by fans as he ran to his escape vehicle after the show—and Boogie provided a view from the inside. The miscellaneous “bits” were just as priceless: through Ringo’s connection, Marc recorded an acoustic set with a string accompaniment at John Lennon’s mansion in Ascot ... set against a surreal backdrop à la the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party; Elton John and Ringo joined T.Rex at the Beatles’ Apple Studios to record Rex originals and rock ‘n’ roll classics; and Marc simply had fun, cos life was a gassss ... However, just as Marc’s star met an untimely demise, the film faded from public view. Fans kept Boogie alive with periodic screenings, and a VHS version was released in the ‘90s, but with limited circulation and a decreasing pool of people in the know, the film seemed destined for a cult point of conversation. Along with a purported 50 hours of additional footage locked away, this monumental document begged not just a proper reissue, but a much needed reintroduction. Finally, Boogie has made its way out.
The continuing resonance of Marc on rockers ranging from Bowie to Moby and the popularity of the DVD format finally made a proper reissue plausible. While the cleaned-up sound and video of the original Boogie alone makes the package worth the price of admission—Tony Visconti, Marc’s long-time friend and producer (in addition to working with Bowie and Thin Lizzy), remastered the original audio and encoded it in DTS 96/24, Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 Surround Sound—the bonus material is a fan’s dream. The entire original concert used in Boogie has been restored in its entirety and in its original order. Additionally, the matinee concert, which has not been seen since that night, is featured here completely. Other extras that span the DVD’s two discs include: a documentary presented by Marc’s son, Rolan Bolan, and featuring interviews with the sole surviving member of T.Rex, drummer Bill Legend; original Boogie producer Tim Van Rellim; photographer Keith Morris; Wembley show MC and radio personality Emperor Rosko; Bayldon; Visconti; and many others; another documentary on the restoration process; multi-cam and multi-audio options; Cine-8 footage shot by Marc himself; and more. The double-CD soundtrack also features an interview with Marc from late 1971, not included in the DVD. To discuss everything from the fine details of Boogie to the beauty of Bolan, PopMatters spoke via e-mail with Visconti, reissue director Mark Allen, and reissue producer Mark Roberts; and via phone with Rolan Bolan.
Background to Boogie
PopMatters: Please describe your role in the reissue effort: when you first joined the effort, your role in the effort.
Rolan Bolan: I just wanted it to happen, because I’m a big believer in DVDs ... I tried to shop it for about two years just to get anyone to believe in it, and finally Sanctuary went for it. I wasn’t really gonna be that involved, but Ringo said if Rolan’s not involved, then it’s not gonna happen ... This is the first time the family has been involved
Mark Roberts: I’m the Producer on the Born to Boogie DVD. I became involved in mid-2003 when Brian Dunham, from Wizard [co-rights owner of the film with Apple Films], first approached Sanctuary to see if we’d be interested in bringing Ringo’s epic film out on DVD. At that point, in addition to some finished prints, Brian had 272 rusting film cans that we thought contained the only remaining film elements from the making of the movie. At the start, all I had seen was a poor quality copy of the film on VHS. What struck me straight away was the quality of Marc’s performance—and the terrific energy he possessed. A few months later, on a frosty December morning in London, I met Brian at a post-production facility in west London to see some of the footage from those rusting cans. The film was playing on a Steinbeck with muffled, out-of-synch sound, and very grainy black and white images. But up on screen were the unmistakable figures of Marc and Ringo larking around backstage at Wembley. This was never-before-seen footage ... and another 300 additional reels of film.
Mark Allen: I was the director ... I filmed interviews and wrote and edited the documentaries and extras. I also, along with the editor, created the style of the concerts and oversaw the process of re-mastering the original film. My background is entertainment documentaries for TV ... I wanted to make it a real feast of entertainment—and I wanted to have a narrative—so the concerts I wanted to be a journey—as if you were going. You arrive on the bus, you get through the ticket barriers, you find your seat—then we’re backstage with the band while Rosko whips the crowds into a frenzy—then you enjoy the whole concert—all of it as it happened. To enhance this I chose to use multiple split screens so you can see as much of the action as possible. I chose to bring in Rolan to be our guide ... After all, this is Rolan’s life.
Tony Visconti: I received an e-mail last autumn from the DVD producer Mark Roberts asking if I would like to be involved ... This led to a conference call with Mark Roberts and Mark Allen ... discussing how we would proceed and what I was bringing to the table. Soon I was on a plane to London where I met the two Marks and spent a day doing various video shoots for the inclusion of the bonus DVD. I was video’d mixing very early tracks and then I was greeted and interviewed by Rolan Bolan
PM: What was the prime impetus to seek the additional film footage and reissue this film?
MR: We always wanted to do more than just release the film on DVD. At the start of the project we thought we might have enough material to restore the Evening Concert to its full length and maybe most of the Matinee performance. The first batch of film turned out to be black and white ‘work print’—it wasn’t until months later that we finally discovered most of the original [color] negative. We finished with hours and hours of material.
TV: I wasn’t satisfied with the sound quality of the second-generation sound that was available ... the quality was very poor and a surround sound mix was unthinkable if this was all they could come up with. Back in the ‘70s I mixed the film’s music from the original 16-track analog masters and in 2004 they were missing. We all put our heads together and started a massive detective search for the missing tapes. They were found in a storage facility beneath Tottenham Court Road in London only a week before I was schedule to mix. After the 16-track masters were transferred to high definition digital medium, the re-mixing was a breeze and the excellent quality was downright scary good.
MA: Born to Boogie was to be just the beginning of a truly landmark production of Marc Bolan and T.Rex as audio and visual artists. The great thing about this production is that we wanted it to be a story and have a heart.