New Musical Express, April 15th 1972
TOOK Talks to James Johnson about T. Rex
Marc said I played ego games … but what sells his 8" x 10" photo for 25 pence? If that's not ego, what is?
Since he left T. Rex Steve Took says he's spoken to Marc Bolan just twice. The last time was about three months ago at Boston Gliderdrome, on a night when Rexmania reached a new peak.
After feeling a little out of place all evening Took went backstage to talk to his former colleague. After a while a journalist came in to ask Bolan a few questions, ending up with how he accounted for the phenomenal success of T. Rex. Before Bolan could speak Took stepped out of the shadows and simply said: "I left."
Since then the two men who formed the original band back in '67 have not met, and Took isn't particularly perturbed. Although he doesn't state it categorically, you feel they no longer have much in common.
On the musical side Took has moved into a new scene, maybe not as lucrative as Bolan's, but one he feels is perhaps a little more genuine, playing his own songs, solo, with just an acoustic guitar.
Between gigs he sits around his small flat, a comfortable, but hardly opulent place in London's Ladbroke Grove; like many others in the area, with a water-bed in the corner, a battered stereo, a few sci-fi books and friends coming by regularly.
It's the area where you'd expect him to live. Some would say it's London's most liberated zone – certainly the nearest the capital ever got to Haight Ashbury. Even now freaks, mystics and hustlers try to live out hippy ideals among the dilapidated houses, general squalor; wrecked cars in the gutters and wrecked people on the streets.
Now Took wants to reflect the whole life-style in his songs simply because he is still as deeply involved in it as he was in the days when T. Rex was Tyrannosaurus Rex and the group was, as he puts it, a "flower child, acid group".
Explaining his point about his departure helping the success of T. Rex, he says: "Marc and I were together for three years, during which we recorded three albums and had varying degrees of hits. Yet we only appeared on television twice, once on a John Peel show – surprise, surprise – and once on a six o'clock religious programme. At the time we kind of wondered why we weren't on more often, but now it's quite easy to see. Simply they didn't particularly like hippies.
"Nowadays people consistently ignore the hippy thing about the group of the early days. Tyrannosaurus Rex was just a completely different concept to what T. Rex is now. "I guess for a while Marc was a good hippy. Like, we used to sit around and rap about what needed changing. I know he doesn't do that now.
"The trouble is that after you've had two or three hits you find yourself socialising with a different type of person – other people with hits, or managers of groups with hits. While I was still lying around smoking dope Marc would be out checking these people out. Or instead of him lying around rapping about the history of rock and roll or something, he'd be saying what a drag it was there was nowhere to go.
"Of course it's quite easy to lose contact but I think we were always different types of people. That's why, for a while it worked so well. It was always a very violent pop thing."
But Took doesn't necessarily feel that a clash of personalities was his reason for leaving the group. Rather there were disagreements over musical policy and Took's dislike of the way the group was being managed.
"When we started off Marc would look after the melody part of a song and I'd be responsible for the percussion and the arrangement. And it worked very well. Then I started writing things of my own and instead of being on the fantasy part of the trip they were about what happens to the kids on the street around here. But the record company started objecting to words like 'breast' or 'drugs' and it frustrated me greatly.
"Also I was getting really shat on by the management. A typical thing was when I used to go out and jam occasionally with the Deviants and the Pretty Things. The management would come and say, 'Boy, don't go and jam with this group, it's bad for the image' and I'd go, 'What? What image? I'm Steve Took well-known drug addict.' Then they'd say, 'Yes, but we don't want to mix with these revolutionaries. We want to get you on television.' But, you see, I didn't particularly want to do six o'clock religious programmes. I mean, what a joke.
"Anyway, meanwhile Marc was sitting at home writing his stuff and I wasn't able to do mine. It's understandable in a way, but he wasn't too keen on it.
"But in fact I saw in the NME that Marc said I played ego games at that time. Well, what's that all about? We're all on some kind of ego trip, but what's selling his 8 in x 10 in photo for 25 pence? If that's not ego what is?"
Took doesn't see as surprising any change in Bolan's character since the early days. After all, he says, he's been through a few changes himself. Success can do that to you and Took saw quite a bit before he eventually split. "Like, being mobbed at the Festival Hall. The little girls like you if you're skinny and pretty. That's half the trip, you know. Bob Dylan wouldn't have made it if he was fat. No way."
Nowadays Took's used to being thought of as the guy who used to play with Marc Bolan. He says people seem to like to compare him with dead people; Brian Jones, guys like that. At a recent college gig he was asked if he felt anything akin to Peter Best, once of the Beatles. But he's not particularly concerned. He didn't know that two weeks ago "Deborah" was in the charts again – almost five years after it first came out.
Of the new Bolan sound, he says: "I think Marc really makes really nice singles and he writes nice three-minute tunes. But when I saw them live there was a lot missing from the singles. It didn't happen for me. They didn't move it. I mean there's boogeying and boogeying. I can boogey on the guitar as well."
As it is, though, Took is more into acoustic things at present. He's playing about four or five gigs a week and trying to get by without a management contract or a record company, in spite of several offers. So what's he writing about now? "Sex, drugs and violence, I suppose. No, I don't know. Things that people get into around this part of the world, things that happen to kids on the streets.
"Basically, all I want do is sit under an orange tree, play my guitar in the sun, get stoned and dig the smells and colours. Unfortunately there aren't many orange groves around here and you can't go picking oranges off lamp-posts.
"I don't particularly envy Bolan. It's all down to what you think is success. He's a very ambitious person, and perhaps the only thing that's changed is his values. Possessions can get hold of you once you're earning a certain amount of money. I hope he's happy with what he's got. Personally I just think he could do a lot more.
"I mean, he's got the media now. He's on television every other day. Maybe he could tell people a few things about pollution. Maybe he could tell them that in 50 years there ain't going to be much left. Maybe he could play a few benefits for people. "But I can't see him doing it. I had a rap with him about it and 'I don't need hippies' is his attitude.
'And let's face it, his audience aren't hippies now anyway. I tried to score in Boston and I just couldn't. Then when I went back to the dressing room there were three policemen being given whisky."