The Riddle of Marc Bolan’s Missing Millions.
Marc Bolan with Ringo Starr, looking for his Royalties.
Given the unusual importance Law has to my Punk and New Wave Memoir, Bombed Out!, I thought I’d feature some unfortunate legal problems faced by musicians and bands mentioned in the book.
The below is based on a piece that first appeared in the UK Observer a couple of years ago. Marc Bolan’s untimely death in September 1977, aged 29, was doubly unfortunate for his close family. At the time he died, Bolan had a young son, Rolan, by his American girlfriend, Gloria Jones, but he was still legally married to June Child.
Bolan had planned to marry Jones as soon as his divorce from Child was finalized. A decree nisi had already had been granted, and they were just waiting for the decree absolute to make the divorce official so Bolan could remarry. In the weeks before his death, Bolan had met with a new lawyer in London to discuss the changes in his personal life. This was part of larger effort to get his finances back in order after a long period of mismanagement.
A new will had been discussed but it had not yet been made. “Marc died very prematurely,” his new lawyer James Ware said. “In hindsight it would have been sensible for a will to have been made in contemplation of his divorce”. But it wasn’t, and what followed was a financial disaster for his family, former band members and other beneficiaries.
Bolan’s original will had been made in 1973 before the birth of Rolan, so there was no provision for him, and overnight Gloria Jones went from living a rock star lifestyle to financial hardship with no income or child support, and she returned with Rolan to live in the United States.
Ironically, the financial problems all lay in T. Rex’s stunning 1970s musical success. In the early 1970s when T. Rex enjoyed 10 top five singles in the British charts, including “Hot Love,” “Get It On” and “Telegram Sam,” Bolan and his financial advisers had set up a string of supposedly ‘tax-efficient’ offshore companies, to avoid high tax rates in the UK on his royalties and income.
In his 1973 will, Bolan – real name Mark Feld – left it up to his trustees to do as they saw fit with his estate and to select charities to benefit. One of these offshore companies, the secretive Wizard Bahamas, still survives and owns the copyright to Bolan’s post-1972 recordings.
“Wizard was Marc’s company. Now it’s just money people,” says Harry Feld, Bolan’s brother, a bus inspector from Portsmouth, on the south coast. “In 1973, when Marc was starting to travel abroad a lot, his management said, ‘You’ve got to make a will,’ but Marc was interested in music, not wills.
So I believe the will was made up and Marc signed it. At the time of his death, Marc wasn’t even on speaking terms with some of the people who benefited from the will.” Whilst a small, separate Jersey-based trust fund eventually allowed Rolan to receive some income, the bulk of Bolan’s fortune, variously estimated at around £30 million to £50 million remains in trust. Among those left money were Bolan’s wife June, Gloria Jones, whom the will describes as his secretary; and Bolan’s parents.
Harry Feld said: “As soon as Marc was dead, the business people talked as if he’d never existed. That’s the way it has been for 20 years. We’ve never had the money to get it sorted out. The royalties would be phenomenal, but we can’t even find out where the money is going. We’ve tried, but we’ve just been told that it’s none of our business. Once, my mum even wrote to the Lord Chancellor’s office but didn’t get anywhere. There’s no way you can get through brick walls.”
By 1977, Bolan had begun to suspect all was not well with the management of his finances and decided to act, but Fate intervened. At 5 a.m. on Sept. 16, his purple Mini, driven by Jones, hit a tree on Barnes Common, south London, killing him and badly injuring Jones. He was two weeks short of his thirtieth birthday.
Within hours of the crash, Bolan’s flat was broken into and his papers, letters and receipts stolen. None has been recovered. At 9:30 that morning, four and a half hours after Bolan died, somber taxmen turned up at his office and demanded $5.2 million in unpaid tax.
In February 1979, a court in Jersey made a judgment against two trustees of the Bolan estate over the misuse of $700,000 of the star’s money. The court heard the cash had been used to buy works of art which subsequently fetched only $277,000 at auction. A different group of trustees is now running the estate.
Some of Bolan’s money does go to charity. His original trustees nominated two beneficiaries, one being the Performing Rights Society’s Members’ Fund (PRS), which receives around $97,800 a year from the Bolan estate to support impoverished musicians and songwriters. The other beneficiary is the London-based Ravenswood Foundation, which cares for people with learning disabilities. Ravenswood would not reveal how much it receives from Bolan’s estate.
Some of those who might have been able to shed light on Bolan’s business arrangements are dead. In 1980, Steve Peregrine Took, Bolan’s bongo player in the original Tyrannosaurus Rex, blew the proceeds of a belated royalty check on morphine and magic mushrooms, knocked back a cocktail and choked to death on the cherry stone.
Six months later T. Rex bassist Steve Currie was killed in a road accident in Portugal. In August 1994 Marc’s former wife, June, died of a heart attack aged 48 while on holiday in Turkey, a trip she funded by selling some of Bolan’s unreleased recordings.
Two of the original T. Rex line-up are alive, impoverished and wondering who’s getting the money from record sales. Drummer Bill Legend, unemployed and living in Essex, southeast England, says: “Money would be a great help to me. It’s unfair. I’d love to do something for my kids. The T.Rex phenomenon has expanded. It’s a megabucks industry now. Marc’s made more money since his death than when alive.”
Percussionist Mickey Finn was left a small amount of money in the will, but even that took years to come through. A chronic asthmatic and, like Legend, unemployed, Finn says: “I never got any performing royalties. It’s a mystery. A bloody mystery.”
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