Danced Myself Right on to the Stage: Born to Boogie: the DVD and CD
Born to Boogie, Marc Bolan and T.Rex's famed concert film, is finally receiving a proper reissue. To get to the heart of this project, PopMatters spoke with key figures close to both Marc and the DVD/CD: legendary producer Tony Visconti; reissue director Mark Allen; reissue producer Mark Roberts; and Rolan Bolan, Marc's son.
Photo: Gloria Jones
PM: Born to Boogie is as much a product of Marc as it is other major personalities of the time: Ringo, Elton John, Lennon. Who else was consulted for this reissue project and how were they consulted?
MR: Ringo has been a force behind this DVD. Without his blessing, none of this would have been possible.
MA: Ringo's instructions were simple -- you can use my footage -- just don't mess with my film! We have kept him in touch with everything and of course we credit him as the original director -- it is his material and his work.
MR: Tony Visconti has been an inspiration, as you can hear on the DVD. Tony was involved in this project in 1972 and again over 30 years later to mix the sound. Bill Legend, the only surviving member from the T.Rex '72 band line-up, also lent his support and shared with us his experiences of being in the band. We made a decision very early on to keep the project in 1972 -- with T.Rex at the very height of their success.
PM: How did it feel to work with this film, over 30 years later?
TV: It was eerie. I don't want to sound like I'm a new age geek, but it felt like Marc was with us the whole time we were remixing. I also found my fingers twitching in the same places of the songs where I was meant to adjust the volume of a track, just the same as I did 30 years earlier.
MA: The amazing thing was that the original film was put into cans and has not been touched since that time -- so we were opening the cans for the first time. The quality of the footage -- once we had repaired it -- was so good it meant we could see detail that was hidden in the original film -- textures of clothes -- true [colors] of things like Marc's amplifiers. We also found lots of editors notes scribbled on the ends of the film -- you can see these in the background on the menus and in some of the artwork on the packaging.
RB: My dad died when I was very young, so I obviously learned a lot from everyone. He was a beautiful person.
PM: Please describe your impressions of Marc at this time. How did you feel at this time?
TV: Marc could do no wrong during this period. He was exposed by the music press as being a great exaggerator, but they loved him because he was a great interview and he helped sell lots of papers. You couldn't pick up a newspaper or magazine without seeing his face everyday. Hit songs were pouring out of him. Just two years earlier we would have to pool our pocket money together to buy lunch for the Tyrannosaurus Rex sessions, but now we were riding in limos and drinking Cognac in the back. I felt really good about having hits with Marc since I was an important member of the team. Offers of very serious work were coming in and I felt like I was on top of the world. I was around 28 at the time.
PM: Because the concert was to become a feature film, I imagine you all planned a great deal prior.
TV: Ringo planned the camera shoot, five cameras including himself on one of them. I booked a mobile recording studio and planned the microphone setup and all the recording logistics. The film was shot without a script, however, borrowing heavily on both Fellini and Richard Lester's way of shooting the Beatles' films. Even the Mad Hatters tea party scene was all ad-libbed. To be honest there wasn't much planning.
PM: Please describe how you approached recording the concerts.
TV: Even though there is careful planning, you share microphones with the front of house mixer. In the first show there was a buzz on the bass guitar rig, so Marc's road crew pulled my cables out and we missed the bass for the first two songs. Luckily that first show was a rehearsal. After the road crew was properly chastised we had no problems with the second show, the one used mostly in the film. Visually we couldn't have separate mics for the front of the house and recording, so we attached two cables to each one mic and split the signals, one to the live mixer and one to my truck. This is a complicated set up and it must be done right. As I said, it wasn't completely right until the second show. Also, we had to watch the tape machines and have a second machine ready to start when the first was running out of tape. That is scary and a little nerve wracking.
PM: In retrospect, was there anything about how the concert was recorded that you would do different?
TV: Well, the front of the house mixer got a little too enthusiastic with the house sound towards the end of the set. It was so loud it was feeding back and we had to do incredible trickery to get rid of as much feedback as possible. That was extremely hard to do 30 years ago but much easier now with computer technology.
PM: Who is DJ Emperor Rosko? Why was he chosen to MC the concert? What did he bring to the concert?
TV: He was an American DJ who made a reputation on the early British pirate radio stations that used to broadcast outside the three-mile limit from a ship in the North Sea. When radio became less centralized in the UK, all the pirate DJs came to the mainland and got jobs in commercial radio in the early 70s and became big stars. Rosko was one of them. I don't really know why Marc chose him as the MC, there were others he was closer to, John Peel, for instance.
PM: Marc frequently played songs he recorded electric as acoustic numbers, and vice versa. Did you assist him with rearranging songs?
TV: We would have preproduction sessions, usually at my apartment in those days. Marc would play his songs to me and we would discuss how we would record them. We let the band play freely, sticking to a basic arrangement. Afterwards I would listen carefully to what they played, especially Marc's solo guitar, and embellish the band with a string orchestra. That was one of our big trademarks.
PM: What were your general impressions of the concert and the overall atmosphere?
MR: Unfortunately I wasn't there -- although watching experiencing Tony's new 5.1 mix, I feel as though I was ... Keep a listen out for the tambourines playing behind you in the crowd -- these are the ones Marc Bolan and Mickey Finn throw out before the final two songs.
PM: Have you spoken with any fan that attended the concerts at Wembley? What have their responses been like to that concert?
MA: Yes, we spoke and filmed several of them; they appear in the main documentary on the second disc. They have never forgotten it -- they remember everything -- the smell of the place -- the fact it was very hot in the auditorium. They were -- as we were when we first heard it -- amazed by the sheer 'rock and roll' experience of Marc playing live.
TV: You can see that they were crazed in the film. Ringo said he never saw a crowd that crazed as a Beatle in his audiences. Marc was nearly ripped to pieces trying to get from the backstage door to his getaway vehicle after the concert.
PM: How did you feel the day after the concerts?
TV: Bruised and very tired. It was totally exhausting.
PM: What was the premiere of Born to Boogie in Soho like?
TV: It was a lot of fun. It was my first premiere and I took my wife, Mary Hopkin. The fans were lining the streets and we were all smiling ear to ear.
PM: For the performances on the Lennon estate, where did this idea come from? Did you write arrangements specific to the performance?
TV: It was Ringo's idea to use that setting and he got permission from John. It was decided about two days before to do it. The set was chaotic and the actor Geoffrey Bayldon was complaining that he had no lines and rarely improvised. The weather was looking bad and it rained for a little. Marc and I worked out his acoustic set very carefully and I wrote elaborate string quartet parts for it. But Marc forgot the arrangement amidst all the chaos and just came up with what you hear in the film off the cuff. That's why the string players had to mime. I had to rewrite those parts later and they overdubbed them to Marc's improvisation. The string parts have a few raindrops on the india ink because of the bad weather.