Glam: When Superstars Rocked the World 1970-74 by Mark Paytress

A distinctively English affair defined by a vivid portrait of the UK music scene in the early 1970s

Glam! When Superstars Rocked the World 1970-74
Author: Mark Paytress
ISBN-13: 978-1913172282
Publisher: Omnibus Press
Guideline Price: £30

Can It Really Be Happening Again? was how the Sunday Mirror captioned a photograph of screaming, swooning T Rex fans with stars on their cheeks in a 1971 feature. The call back to Beatlemania, in a pop landscape newly denuded of the Beatles themselves, acknowledged the phenomenon but also registered a cultural shift.

The dream was over; here were the Children of the Revolution, and what they wanted was Marc Bolan’s seductive, infectious charisma and blithe spirit of delight. Reader, I was one of them; at the age of eight, enraptured by the mesmerising, otherworldly beauty and quirky brilliance of this corkscrew-haired, satin-clad genius, I devoted a scrapbook to Marc, with pictures culled variously from my sister’s copies of Jackie, disreputable English newspapers I somehow persuaded my mother to buy and the new teen mags dedicated to the rising stars of glam rock.

Glam! features a poised, elegant text written by Mark Paytress, author of the definitive biography of Bolan. Pitched somewhere between the opinionated clarity of Barney Hoskyns’ superb monograph (also titled Glam!) and the meticulous authority of Simon Reynolds’ comprehensive Shock and Awe, Paytress covers sensitively and in absorbing detail the main actors — the artists (Bolan, Bowie, Alice Cooper, Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music); the Chinnichap stable (Sweet, Suzi Quatro); the forerunners (Lou, Iggy); the mavericks (Slade, Wizzard); the latecomers (New York Dolls, Cockney Rebel, Sparks, Queen) — and keeps tabs on the parallel rise of glam-adjacent stars Rod Stewart and Elton John to present a vivid portrait of the UK music scene in the early 1970s. (As Todd Haynes acknowledged in his introduction to Hoskyns’ book, glam rock may have incorporated American elements in its musical mix, but it was a distinctively English affair.)

Bolan’s glittering rise, frustrating fall and ultimate eclipse by friend and rival David Bowie form the spine of the saga; an epilogue notes a poignant series of reconciliations between the two, the last a mere fortnight before Bolan’s shocking 1977 death. The story is well told here, but where Glam! really excels is as a luxury scrapbook: crammed with press cuttings, record sleeves, ticket stubs, magazine covers (Popswop! Music Scene!) and fan memorabilia. It is a ravishing evocation of the richest and most culturally resonant era in English rock music.

Declan Hughes

Declan Hughes

Declan Hughes, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a playwright, novelist and critic