Marc grew up in post-war Hackney, east London, the son of Phyllis Winifred (née Atkins) and Simeon Feld, a lorry driver. His father was of Polish-Russian Jewish descent. Later moving to Wimbledon, south-west London, he fell in love with the rock and roll of Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Arthur Crudup and Chuck Berry and became a mod, hanging around coffee bars such as the 2 I’s in Soho. He appeared as an extra in an episode of the television show Orlando, dressed as a mod. At the age of nine, Bolan was given his first guitar and began a skiffle band. While at school, he played guitar in “Susie and the Hoops,” a trio whose vocalist was a 12-year old Helen Shapiro. At 15, he left school “by mutual consent”.
He briefly joined a modelling agency and became a “John Temple Boy”, appearing in a clothing catalogue for the menswear store. He was a model for the suits in their catalogues as well as for cardboard cut-outs to be displayed in shop windows. “TOWN” magazine featured him as an early example of the mod movement in a photo spread with two other models. Mark Feld had changed his stage-name to Toby Tyler when he met and moved in with child actor Allan Warren, who was to become his first manager. This fortuitous encounter afforded Bolan a lifeline to the heart of show-business, as Warren saw Toby Tyler’s potential whilst the latter spent hours sitting cross-legged on Warren’s floor playing his acoustic guitar. A series of photographs was to be commissioned with photographer Michael McGrath, who later recalls that Bolan “left no impression” on him. Warren also hired a recording studio and had Bolan’s first acetates cut. One track was the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind”. A version of Betty Everett’s “You’re No Good” was later submitted to EMI for a test screening but was turned down. Warren later sold Bolan’s contract and recordings for £200 to his landlord, property mogul David Kirch, in lieu of three months’ back rent. Kirch was too busy with his property empire to do anything for him. A year or so later, Bolan’s mother pushed into Kirch’s office and shouted at him that he had done nothing for her son. She demanded he tear up the contract and willingly he complied. The tapes produced during the Toby Tyler recording session vanished for over 25 years before resurfacing in 1991 and selling for nearly $8,000. Their eventual release on CD in 1993 made available the earliest of Marc’s known recordings.
According to Danny Baker speaking on QI Series G, episode 15 on BBC television, Bolan is a contraction of Bob Dylan. After changing his name again to Marc Bolan (via Mark Bowland) while with Decca Records he released his first single “The Wizard”. In early 1967, manager Simon Napier-Bell added him to the pop art/mod band John’s Children, which achieved some success as a live band but sold few records. A John’s Children single written by Marc Bolan called “Desdemona” was banned by the BBC for its line “lift up your skirt and fly.” His tenure with the band was brief. Bolan claimed to have spent time with a wizard in Paris who gave him secret knowledge and could levitate. The time spent with him was often alluded to but remained “mythical”; in reality the wizard was probably U.S. actor Riggs O’Hara with whom Bolan made a trip to Paris in 1965. His song-writing took off and he began writing many of the neo-romantic songs that would appear on his first albums with Tyrannosaurus Rex.