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FFF: The time Neil Tennant interviewed Marc Bolan for Marvel Comics

“Who d’you think you are, Captain Britain?”

A certain kind of Marc Bolan aficionado will know all too well he had quite a penchant for comic books. The Beano, The Dandy, The Topper, he read ‘em all and was glued to the hilarious hijinks of the cheeky school kids contained therein. But he had a particular love for Marvel Comics and their far out “superheroes” like Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange. 

Indeed, with his fairytale lyrics about everything from wizards to dragons to unicorns, even casual observers might have picked up on the reference to the mystical neurosurgeon, who sorcerered his way into the words of 1971’s Electric Warrior deep cut Mambo Sun, where the T. Rex mainman warbled in his best Larry the lamb stylee:

“On a mountain range
I’m Doctor Strange for you”

Yes, Marc, you are, oh but you are…

So, maybe it was inevitable, fated even, that the elfin glam rocker would one day quiz legendary Marvel Supremo Stan Lee.

In 1975, Bolan had an occasional stint conducting interviews on BBC Radio 4 programme Today. Despite it being my father’s favourite radio show since I can remember, it was the Beeb’s way of “getting down with the kids” by having a pop star talk to the kind of hip people they would like to interview, in the hope this would bring in a younger audience to their flagship news and current affairs show.

That October, Stan Lee was in London to launch a new British comic book The Titans. He was also in the Big Smoke to give a “one performance only” at the Camden Roundhouse where he provided insight about “all your favourite Marvel superheroes” followed by the opening of an exhibition of Marvel Comics artwork at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

One of the VIPs just happened to be a future Pet Shop Boy by the name of Neil Tennant. At this moment in time, Tynesider Tennant had moved to the capital and landed a plum job as editor-in-chief for Marvel UK, the British division of the comics empire, initially a repackaging operation to reprint material originally published by Marvel head office in the US, where he was responsible for anglicising the American dialogue of the comics to suit younger British readers, and judged whether the often risqué portrayals of female characters needed to be redrawn, ie censored.

Tennant was also at Marvel to oversee the launch of the brand Captain Britain title, hence the lyrical reference from PSB’s 2009 album Yes. It was a position he held for just over two years, from July 1975 to October 1977, when he switched to book editing for Macdonald Educational, just after Marc Bolan’s tragic death when the car his girlfriend was driving – that’ll be Gloria ‘Tainted Love’ Jones – collided with a trusty tree on Barnes Common.

A year earlier, Neil had tried to interview Marc for Marvel without turning on his tape recorder (famously, the singer was polite enough to get up, walk across the room and do it for him), so without further ado, here’s the exchange – short but sweet like Marc, courtesy of Marvel in ’76, which is the age he would be now had he not got in that after midnight Mini.

Protection, prevention…

NT circa ’76

The Pop World at the moment seems to be more Marvel-conscious than ever before. Allusions to Marvel heroes and stories are found in many songs. Last year Paul McCartney and Wings released a single entitled Magneto And Titanium Man*, and album covers are sometimes designed in the style of a Marvel comic. Even stage performances can be influenced by comics — Alex Harvey has described his band as “the World’s only rock and roll Marvel comic!” Mighty Marvel Marches on.

I recently spoke to Marc Bolan, leader and founder of T. Rex, the enormously successful band which has had no less than 16 consecutive hits since 1971. Marc has been a fan of comics, and particularly Marvel Comics, for a long time.

“I’ve been into Marvel since 1967. The Silver Surfer in particular was one I liked, Dr. Strange was another. At that time they were very weird compared to the other comics on the market, though they got more commercial since then and Stan Lee was a great writer.”
“It was nice meeting Stan last year, he was lovely to interview. Really he’s a hustler, a solid gold easy hustler! That’s just the way comic guys should be, he’s got such a lot of energy.”
“We talked about the possibility of me creating a super-hero for him. Something along the lines of Electric Warrior, a twenty-first century Conan.”
“In fact I don’t like Conan as a character — I think he should be something less of a barbarian, more like one of Michael Moorcock’s characters. You could make a much better composite character using Moorcock’s Elric, with a bit of the Silver Surfer, a bit of Thor, and create a far more involved character, a character more in touch with now …”
“I’m a bit bored with the primeval breed of hero, all that’s kinda cute, but I like my super-heroes to be able to walk into discotheques just as they are. I think Luke Cage is pretty cool, actually. I like the way he always wears a headband!”

So which comics do you read now? 

“I tend to like Marvel’s composite comics, but really I just buy what’s on the bookstalls — I buy anything. How’s the Titans doing? I loved the idea of that when it first came out — sticking all those characters together in one comic. I love Son of Satan. I like the idea that downstairs in his house was Hell. He could open a trap door and go down it to try to find his dad!”
“Yes, I’d like to write some comics for Marvel. I’ve actually got a book of Science Fiction stories coming out soon — there’s a couple of super-heroes in it. One’s a God from another planet.  These super-heroes aren’t really like yours, but they could be. Stan was very into the idea of my doing this.”

Does your interest in comics extend into your songwriting?

“Yes. There was the Silver Surfer in Teenage Dream, and Doctor Strange has been in one. My new album, Futuristic Dragon, has a spoken introduction which sounds very much like the intro to a Doctor Strange story — lyrically it’s very much like that. Have you seen the cover of Futuristic Dragon?  It’s rather like one of your comic covers.”

You interviewed Stan Lee on TV. Will you be doing any more television interviewing?

“I’ve been offered a late night talk show on London Weekend — sort of a Russell Harty show for freaks. I’d like to talk to science fiction writers, film directors, anyone who’d really interest the kids.”

How about films?

“Again, I’ve been offered something — in fact I’ve got the backing for a project, but I don’t think I’m ready to do it yet. I’d rather wait a couple of years. Doing a film is such a big thing — it takes a year to plan.”
“David Bowie and I have written a film script together. It’s a science fiction thing, like a futuristic Knights of the Round Table.  We’ve also cut eight songs together, just for pleasure really — we’re old friends you know.”
“And of course David’s wife, Angie, is trying to set up a Black Widow TV series — Stan’s very interested in this. Angie’s a big Marvel fan.”
“I think the great thing about comics, especially for kids, is that they‘re great release. That’s also probably why so many rock bands like them — they’re pure escapism, aren’t they?”

After interviewing Stan Lee on Thames TV’s Today programme last year, Marvel Comics made Marc an FFF (Future Foundation Founder) for services beyond and above the call of duty to Marvel. We reckon he deserved it! 

© 1976 Neil Tennant

Edited by Steve Pafford

* In most countries, Magneto And Titanium Man was the B-side of Wings’ 1975 single Venus And Mars/Rock Show, though in territories like Belgium the local label chose to flip the tracks


Our trusty guest scribe Wayne Studer writes that, as first revealed in Issue 20 of the Pet Shop Boys‘ fan club publication Literally, in 1998 Neil Tennant  and Chris Lowe created a song titled A Little Black Dress based around an excerpt from the classic T. Rex hit from 1971, Get It On (Bang A Gong):

This would ultimately prove, however, to be an extremely important point—and a rather unfortunate one. They had planned on including their demo among the bonus tracks released in 2017 with the reissue of Nightlife. But the fact that it was based on a sample of Get It On caused unforeseen difficulties. An unresolved dispute over the ownership of the late Marc Bolan’s song catalogue in the United States prevented legal clearance of the sample, so the Boys weren’t permitted to release their demo. The legal complications actually delayed the release of the reissues by several months as Neil and Chris kept hoping for resolution. But, in the end, they felt they couldn’t hold off any longer and had no option but to proceed with the Nightlife reissue without A Little Black Dress.

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