From The Desk Of Steve Kilbey: “A Beard Of Stars” By Tyrannosaurus Rex

Steve Kilbey is best known as the frontman of Australian legends the Church, whose “Under The Milky Way” was one of the defining alt-rock singles of the late ’80s. He has also released records with the likes of Grant McLennan, Martin Kennedy and Donnette Thayer, as well as a number of solo albums. Aside from being a member of the Australian Songwriters Hall Of Fame, Kilbey pens poetry and is an accomplished painter. His latest CD is Life Somewhere Else (Communicating Vessels) by Isidore, a collaboration with Jeffrey Cain (Remy Zero). Kilbey will also be guest editing all week.

Kilbey: Things in transition always excite me. Here we find Marc Bolan morphing before our eyes from hippy-minstrel changeling to the bopping elf, as he would later come to be known. But two very interesting records separated these two extremely different Bolans as he moved from one thing to another, and the first transition album is A Beard Of Stars. It features the result of a few guitar lessons from Eric Clapton himself. Bolan must have learned something because he suddenly knew how to make his Fender Strat talk and sing. The wah-wah solo in “Lofty Skies” is achingly and unbearably poignant. It is the very voice of love. “Oh this time of love moves me,” sings Bolan softly at the end of it.

Elsewhere there is some true weirdness that has been fueling my imagination for a long time. We don’t know really what Phoenician or Babylonian music sounded like, but I reckon it might have sounded like “Wind Cheetah,” a bizarre song that is like nothing you’ve ever heard … even I can’t handle listening to it every time! There’s “Great Horse,” a strange song as if from Old European tradition or something. Although these songs are played on guitar, bass and percussion instruments, almost all of them are strikingly medieval or Biblical or Eastern Orthodox or a strange mixture of all of that. But at the same time Bolan has finally figured out how he may rock, and on “Elemental Child” he delivers a big noisy and dumbly wonderful guitar solo, one that even Neil Young might have been proud of. (I guess?!)

His words are part Middle Earth, part hipster-romantic-poet jive. All sung in that strange accent, which was becoming more understandable. You see, on the first three Tyrannosaurus Rex albums, Bolan had warbled and bleated almost unintelligently, but now for the first time you could understand large chunks of the lyrics. (No lyric sheet with my copy, good!)

On the next record he would abbreviate the name to T.Rex. (The first time anyone anywhere used that term by the way, now everyone calls the dinosaur T. Rex, but they didn’t before Bolan.) A friend of mine upon hearing this record in 1970 for the first time exclaimed, “He’s singing in old English!”

A Beard Of Stars: I think you might grow to adore this record after a few plays; it’s quite special!

Video after the jump.

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  1. Posted November 27, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Thank you for expressing your enjoyment of Beard of Stars. It is one of my favorite Tyrannosaurus Rex albums. All of Marc’s albums were transitional. By the time we made this he had a little home rig and was well into guitar pedals. All the bass on the album was played by Marc on my P Bass (he also played bass on Ride A White Swan). All the songs on this album are exquisite, but Dove will always be my favorite. It is magical. If you haven’t heard Catherine Lambert’s version, you should, she sings it like an Elven Princess.
    — Tony Visconti

  2. Adam Franklin
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Great album! Great Horse has some beautiful sounds lurking in the background, and you’re right Steve, Wind Cheetah is even weirder than Juniper Suction from two albums before. I’m pretty fond of Woodland Bop too which I always associate with The Seal of Seasons and One Inch Rock as all three were on the (same!) b-side of the 1972 reissue of Debora on Fly Records, which was probably the first time the T.Rex teenyboppers got to hear Tyrannosaurus Rex.

  3. Melanie
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    There’s some really haunting stuff on his early records, also Unicorns and My People Were Fair…
    As a child in the 70s I grew up with his more popular glam rock, but in my teens I stumbled across his earlier albums and they really captured my imagination. I believe I even wrote a not-very-good poem based on a bunch of lines and song titles from this era.
    Sea Beasts and Chateau in Virginia Waters <3

  4. Michael Toland
    Posted November 30, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    I know the glam rock records are more celebrated (and justifiably so, I admit), but I love the pre-“Ride a White Swan” stuff like this record. Many have tried to recaptured the sense of mystical innocence and psychedelic wonder of this and the other Tyrannosaurus Rex LPs, and all have failed. Thanks for shining a spotlight on a segment of Bolan’s career that’s often overlooked.