Indeed, there was a time some four and a half decades ago that one Marc Bolan was, according to Bari’s liner notes, “the biggest pop sensation of the time”. Aided and abetted variously by Steve Peregrin Took (who died 35 years ago this week), Bill Legend (the only surviving member), Steve Currie, and Mickey Finn, Bolan ruled the charts and airwaves in the early '70s as the wild-haired wonder fronting both Tyrannosaurus Rex and its glammy successor, T. Rex. This is Watts’ tribute to his hero. But it’s not simply a collection of cover tunes (there are plenty of Bolan-related tribute albums already). Watts meticulously, but not slavishly, recreates some of Bolan’s signature styles, right down to enlisting Middle Earth DJ (and America manager) Jeff Dexter to sit in for John Peel and contribute the spoken word segment of the title track while Bari emulates Bolan’s bleating goat warble in the background.
So, with the respect due to Neil Innes for his own honourable discharge that is The Rutles, we can sit back and play “spot the original” as Watts chronologically performs his own spot-on impressions of Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex period via the surreal wordplay on the hippie gumbo ‘Ratskull’, the slurred acid folk ballads, ‘Here There Be Dragons’ and ‘Crystal Pagoda’, the bongo fury of ‘Kerenza’ (complete with awesome Tookish vocal squeals), and the dreamy (albeit quite Prince-ly) ‘Gypsy Girl’, wherein Bari tries out some of his own Bolan guitar moves to great effect. (Bari understands how underrated a guitarist Bolan was and uses his own skill sets to attempt to acknowledge this in his own inimitable way. Check out his solos at the fade to ‘Motorcycle Ram’ and throughout the chugging swamp stomp of ‘Demon Love’.)
The seminal T. Rex period is unveiled with the stomping flash of ‘The Queen of The Marshes Call’, the elegiac, ‘Ballrooms of Mars’-y ‘Magical Myst’, and the intentional anti-Donovan whimsy of ‘Magic Hurdy Gurdy Man’ (I’ve got an idea for your next album, Bari!) For balls-to-the-wall rawk, bang a gong along with the ‘Raw Ramp’-y ‘Fly with the Silver Swan’, “slide” along to ‘Boogie Mama’, and put on your dancing shoes and do the ‘Antediluvian Hop’. And if you haven’t already guessed, the track list is a veritable litany of punny Bolanistic titles: ‘The Wizard of The Skies’, ‘The Queen of The Marshes Call’, ‘Motorcycle Ram’ (Bolan, probably to his and our eternal regret, never drove, but he wrote numerous “car songs”), ‘Crystal Pagoda’, and ‘Fly With The Silver Swan’.
Bari’s own career dates back nearly three decades to his 1987 debut as the titular “Lord of The Dark Skies”, his debut release under the Outskirts of Infinity moniker on Nick (Bevis Frond) Saloman’s Woronzow imprint (Saloman was the Outskirts’ bassist on the album!) He also contributed to several Woronzow compilations and played some blistering guitar solos on several Bevis Frond albums (including the pseudonymous Scorched Earth), along with solo albums by Frond bassist, Adrian Shaw (see review elsewhere), who plays bass throughout in his own spot-on Steve Currie manner. [Saloman himself contributes Sitar Guitar to ‘Magic Hurdy Gurdy Man’.] So Watts’ pedigree as an ace axe man is unimpeachable. Here his talents as an inveterate interpreter of one of his own biggest influences is lovingly and respectfully presented and has the double advantage of appealing to fans of both its creator and its inspiration. As mentioned earlier, there are any number of straight Bolan tributes out there (cf., Resurrection of The Warlock, Children of The Revolution, the Bolan tribute band T.Rextasy’s Legacy, and the curiously-titled Great Jewish Music.) By honouring instead of aping, Watts has created the best of the lot.
The Lp comes in the same packaging of the first Tyrannosaurus Rex album with textured cover on front and flip-back
Side One There Was a Time, Ratskull, Here There be Dragons, Kerenza (my lady love), The Wizard of the Skies, Gypsy Girl, The Queen of the Marshes Call. Magical Myst (neath the willow)
Side Two Magic Hurdy Gurdy Man Motorcycle Ram Crystal Pagoda Demon Love Fly with the Silver Swan Boogie Mama Antediluvian Hop
Bari Watts: All vocals and guitars, Moroccan clay drums, bongos, African Talking drum
Nick Saloman: Sitar guitar on Magic Hurdy Gurgy Man
Adrian “Ade” Shaw: Bass guitar and clavinet
Jules Fenton: Drums
Jeff Dexter: Spoken word introduction CATALOG