(Steve's life up to his departure from Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1969 and the genesis of his songwriting career)
Images with Red borders are thumbnails. Click to view a larger version.
As stated in the introduction, in this text, I primarily intend to concentrate on Steve's career as an independent musical creative force following his split with Marc. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that some background detail regarding Steve's early life is necessary. Born Stephen Ross Porter on the 28th July 1949, he did not enjoy a happy upbringing. His parents split up when he was five and he was often victimised at school because of the eczema condition from which he suffered. Aside from reading books on animals and making up stories to entertain younger children in the street, his primary diversion in life was music. Having been given a toy drum by his grandmother when he was four, he briefly sought employment with the GPO to raise funds to purchase a drumkit. After working with several informal bands of the weddings/funerals/christenings ilk, he finally found his first proper band in the Waterproof Sparrows, the brainchild of two mod friends, Pete Keen and Richard "Wally" Woodcock, whose set included a cover of the Batman theme. By 1967, Steve was a regular on the mini-scene that centred around Blackheath's Three Tuns pub, and when the Sparrows broke up, Steve, still aged just 17, answered an advertisement in International Times calling for recruits to a new band fronted by ex John's Children guitarist Marc Bolan. (At around this time, he adopted the professional surname Peregrin Took, originally the full name of the character Pippin from the Lord of the Rings, a surname often corrected to 'Peregrine' by overzealous spellchecking promoters and record companies. However, as socially, and later in the 1970s, professionally, he was known simply as "Steve Took", this is the name by which he is referred in this biography.)
What followed has more than adequately been covered elsewhere, but suffice to say that although the band broke up after one disastrous gig at the Electric Garden, Marc and Steve formed a two man acoustic unit and, after busking their way out of pennilessness in Hyde Park, soon graduated to the underground clubs circuit and BBC studios and thence to the recording studios, so that by mid-1968 they had notched up two Top 40 hits and a top twenty album. What is of more immediate relevance is that it was during this period that the first seeds were sown of Steve's own separate musical career, the dawn coming from two sources. On the one hand, Steve first began recording his own ideas during sleepovers at Tony Visconti's house after Tyrannosaurus Rex had spent the evening demoing new material. Steve would often spend the night on the floor of Visconti's lounge, having 'accidentally' missed the last train home and here, equipped with a guitar and a tape recorder, he would jot down on tape brief ideas for songs, odd riffs, brief snatches of lyrics. At this point of Steve's life, it was little more than an out-of-hours hobby and consequently, although Visconti maintains a full set of Tyrannosaurus Rex demos, the tapes of Steve's own first efforts appear to have gone AWOL during a house move circa 1992. According to Visconti, no complete songs were composed at this point. Although when interviewed for Mark Paytress's "Twentieth Century Boy" book, he dismissed Steve's efforts as 'awful' he was more charitable when interviewed for Nigel Cross's "Beautiful Dreamer" article for Rockerilla in 1991, describing them as being "like Tyrannosaurus Rex without Marc singing, ... all the things that Steve did in the background were like the way his own songs were."
Another early source of encouragement came from the more hard-core elements of the underground, with which Steve increasingly began to fraternise in 1968. By this time, Tyrannosaurus Rex had begun to catch the attention of the hardcore Ladbroke Grove freak community. In particular, Took befriended ex-Tomorrow and then Pretty Things drummer John "Twink" Alder and hardcore hippy band the (Social) Deviants, whose frontman was one Mick Farren, also a respected activist and writer for underground newspaper International Times who would go on to front the UK section of the anarchist White Panther Party and who later still wrote for the NME. From this circle of friends, Steve acquired two attributes, the incentive to play a more active role in Tyrannosaurus Rex and a strong taste for drugs, especially LSD.
This gang had already sounded out Marc Bolan as a potential member but both they and Marc were not to each others' tastes. Perhaps they perceived the ambitions for stardom which lay buried beneath Marc's hippy guise. The gang called themselves "The Pink Fairies All Star Rock 'n Roll and Motorcycle Club." Certainly, Steve enjoyed the wild times he had with this gang - it seemed a release from the commercial pop world to which Marc aspired. "I was a flower child" he later commented, "and there's things a flower child can't do. Being a natural born rebel, I wanted to do all the things I was not meant to do. That caused a lot of raps with the management and a lot of raps with Marc."
By early 1969, with recording just complete on Tyrannosaurus Rex's third LP, Unicorn, Steve felt confident enough to make his move. According to Visconti, Steve tentatively suggested to Marc that the duo could perform some of his own material as well as Marc's on the duo's putative fourth album. If Steve was expecting Marc to be encouraging, he was to be gravely disappointed - Marc was very much taken aback at this suggestion that anyone other than himself could have a creative role in Tyrannosaurus Rex - indeed it was at this point that Marc, mentally at least, transformed into the Marc of T.Rex. For two years, Bolan had been deceiving, sometimes himself as much as anyone else, into thinking of Tyrannosaurus Rex as an equal partnership. Now, he was finally forced to confront the fact that it was not - it was The Marc Bolan Band. It was probably something of a major shock to his system to even have to consider the scenario of having to perform Steve's material. Needless to say, Marc's answer was "no." If this seems to reflect badly upon Marc, then in fairness to him, it should be remembered that the formation of his own band was the raison d'etre of his departure from John's Children; Tyrannosaurus Rex had been set up so Marc could have a band of his own.
Nevertheless it was both a major blow to Steve and the beginning of a coming-apart at the seams for the original band. Likewise, Regal Zonophone, Tyrannosaurus Rex's label, were not very enamoured of Steve's songwriting ideas. "I started writing things on 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." Rejection by Marc didn't stop Steve from searching for an outlet for his own material and he fairly soon found one in the form of the recording work for a solo album by Twink, now departed from the Pretty Things and also looking for a fresh creative outlet. "Think Pink" was recorded at Trident Studios in the summer of 1969 and not only featured percussion work from Steve on several tracks, but as an added bonus, two of Steve's song ideas were furnished into completed efforts with some assistance from Twink himself. "Three Little Piggies" and "The Sparrow Is The Sign" were included at the end of side 2 of the album. While the former, a whimsical nursery rhyme of a song, captures the "like Tyrannosaurus Rex without Marc singing," style of Steve's early ideas (complete with examples of Steve's talent for funny voices as also heard during John Peel's fairy story on "Unicorn"), the latter, a mid tempo rock ballad featuring Steve on lead vocals (with Twink occasionally butting in) points to the style of songwriting that Steve would adopt two years down the line, once he had his creative autonomy.
Needless to say, Marc was extremely angry and possessive when he found out what Steve had been doing behind his back, and, as a consequence, Steve was effectively sacked from Tyrannosaurus Rex - Marc would continue the group but with a puppet replacement, and all creative power vested in himself. In interviews from around the time, Marc in particular portrayed the split in rather amicable terms, with Steve "doing his own thing" namely either forming or joining another band, in which he would have the greater creative influence he desired. However 'amicable' the original split agreement was (and that is open to a variety of interpretations!) Steve was contractually obliged to complete the US tour before he could depart the band. The flyout date happened to fall the day after the completion of recording on "Think Pink" and so on the morning of departure, Steve was sleeping off the effects of a particularly legendary end-of-sessions wrap party for Think Pink the previous evening at the Speakeasy club in London (which largely consisted of disrupting an industry showcase by King Crimson at the venue.) One of Marc's roadcrew had to climb in through Steve's window and he had to be taken to the airport and woken up sufficiently to sign his name. While this was happening Steve missed the flight and was put on one four hours later!
Once on the other side of the Pond, the real problems began. With Tyrannosaurus Rex often on the same bill as various heavy rock groups, the gentle acoustic duo was often overshadowed, and to counter this, Steve introduced his own solution, drawn from the shock-rocker style of Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper: "I took my shirt off in the Sunset Strip where we were playing and whipped myself til everybody shut up. With a belt, y'know, a bit of blood and the whole of Los Angeles shuts up. 'What's going on, man, there's some nutter attacking himself on stage' I mean, Iggy Stooge had the same basic approach, but all they were getting through was the violence." Steve's attempts to liven up the US gigs with antics such as this and occasional Who-esque instrument-smashing didn't go down well with Marc's camp, perhaps not least because it marked the beginning of Steve establishing his own style of onstage performance, in itself as much a declaration of independence from Marc as Steve writing his own material. "We would get to the end of the set and we would do 'The Wizard' which was my licence to freak out. I'd scream such things as 'I want a woman', throw my bottle up in the air and then I used to smash up my maracas and the occasional drum if I didn't like it. I'd sling things across the stage and then I'd pick up my chair and, oh yeah, I used to throw my gong up in the air, kick it and bite it and dribble all over it, ya know. Which I found great fun in, bit like a 1970's Wee Willie Harris, y'know." Things were not helped by one occasion when Steve managed to injure his hands while trying to demolish a chair. "It was a collapsible metal chair, which I was entirely unaware of at the time and it went craaaack, craack, ooh ahh ...... and broke two hands. I wasn't best pleased about that, we had to do two gigs a night for a week or something, which in this age of modern medicine isn't too difficult."
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, the band's crew and promotional company were not amused, attributing it all to the admittedly large amount of drugs Steve was consuming during his visit and word of Steve's behaviour soon reached the management company, Enthoven Gaydon, back home. After the final gig, when Marc headed home to England, Steve stayed behind with a girl he had met on tour (or in June Bolan's words "We abandoned him".) For about three weeks, Steve hung out with the Los Angeles counterculture scene, until one night he was found wandering around in the middle of a motorway by the LAPD, tripping on acid and having bad hallucinations about the vehicles on the freeway. The traffic cop's first words to Steve were, reportedly, "Boo!....I said FREEZE!!!" (actually more likely to have been 'You! ... I said Freeze' although perceived by Steve as 'Boo'). Steve was arrested and, not having a visa to stay in the US, he was deported back to England forthwith. Upon arrival back in Ladbroke Grove, the first thing he found on his doormat was a letter from Enthoven -Gaydon telling him that firstly, he had been formally dismissed from Tyrannosaurus Rex and secondly, that for breach of contract, he was being charged a bill for £2000! (a curiously large sum, given that this was five times the recording budget for Tyrannosaurus Rex's debut LP). Steve finally had his independence, but in the process he had very much been thrown into the deep end.