African orphans rock to sound of 70s glitter

By Adam Sherwin

Marc Bolan. Photo / AP
Marc Bolan. Photo / AP

There is a corner of a field in Sierra Leone that will for ever resound to the very English strains of Marc Bolan. The war-torn African state is the unlikely location of a school for orphaned children created by the glam rock star's family.

Bolan, famed for his feather boas and glitter-flecked cheeks, electrified the post-Beatles music scene with huge hits such as Ride a White Swan and Metal Guru.

He was killed in a car crash in 1977, two weeks short of his 30th birthday.

Bolan's former partner Gloria Jones and his son, Rolan Bolan, are hoping to restore the influence of the star, whose music and style proved an inspiration for punk and the New Romantic movement as well as Britpop bands including Suede.

Jones, who was driving Bolan when their car crashed into a tree in Barnes, southwest London, has set up the Marc Bolan School of Music and Film in Makeni, Sierra Leone's fifth-largest city.

She hopes to enrol 100 students who have been rescued from "blood diamond" mines or left orphaned by the West African country's civil war.

Jones, an American-born former backing singer who recorded the original version of Tainted Love, moved to South Africa in 1995 with her husband, Chris Mitchell, where they established an HIV charity.

The couple travelled to Sierra Leone where Jones established the school in Marc Bolan's name in order to "heal through music" children who had suffered trauma.

Jones is appealing for donations to pay for teachers' salaries and learning materials for the children. "We currently need assistance to build more classrooms in Makeni."

She is assisted by Jed Dmochowski, the frontman of a London-based Bolan tribute band, who has visited the school and performed charity gigs to send guitars and keyboards to Sierra Leone.

He said: "The children are getting to know more of Marc's music and will be playing his songs. But Gloria really wants them to be inspired by Marc's energy and vision and to develop their natural talent."

Rolan, aged 2 when his father died, is supporting the school and is also backing 20th Century Boy, a new stage musical about Bolan's life which premieres next month.

It tells the story of the star's life and death, through the perspective of Rolan, and features 27 Bolan and T. Rex songs.

- INDEPENDENT

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