Why it's God above glam rock

BILL Legend always was a reluctant glam-rock superstar. He might have drummed with T. Rex during the halcyon days of Telegram Sam and Metal Guru, but he never mistook that pantomime world of glitter and black eye-liner for real life.

BILL Legend always was a reluctant glam-rock superstar. He might have drummed with T. Rex during the halcyon days of Telegram Sam and Metal Guru, but he never mistook that pantomime world of glitter and black eye-liner for real life.

Fame brought its temptations - drugs, drink and groupies - but Bill was never interested. Looking back, he reckons the Christian faith he'd had since the age of 12 helped him avoid many of the potential pitfalls.

He was with the band between 1970 and 1974 - the oldest member of the line-up, and by then a father of two. Then he walked away. After some breathing space, he went back to his former trade and also started gigging again with bands. But there would never be a return to the heady days of seventies' pop.

In the years that followed he actually earned more money as an illustrator than from T. Rex - even creating the artwork for the cover inlay of a Rupert The Bear video!

You may also want to watch:

A year ago - slightly apprehensively, for at heart he's shy and wary of the spotlight - Bill and a band of Christian friends started going out on the road on a limited scale. They play some of the old T. Rex hits, contemporary Christian music - much of it with a rocky edge - and Bill talks about his experiences and the role God has played in his life.

There are precious few T. Rex souvenirs to be found in his Chelmsford home: no T-shirts; no scarves; just a few photographs.

Most Read

Bill's aware, however, that his connection with the iconic band opens doors. “I'm very realistic. The only reason people want to hear what I've got to say is because of my involvement for that three years with T. Rex, on a secular scale, and now all these years later God is using that in a positive way.”

Bill was born in the early summer of 1944, in East London. He was quietish at school and admits he couldn't get his head around music lessons. “Crotchets and quavers didn't mean a thing to me.” He's proud of his children - he's got six sons, a daughter, and four grandchildren, with another on the way - and the fact many of them are more au fait with the principles of music than their self-taught drummer dad. “They know more about music than I do,” he chuckles.

Music was a passion, though: blues, gospel, rock and roll, Radio Luxembourg, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, Elvis - they all captured his soul.

He remembers family gatherings when he was 13 or 14. He'd set up camp in the corner of the living room and happily spin his favourite 45s on the Dansette.

At about that time he sat next to a boy at school who played the guitar. Bill tapped out a rhythm on the desk with rulers.

He'd walk across the fields of Ilford to friend Stuart's house about three or four nights a week to play early rock and roll and skiffle in the kitchen, using brushes and an old Boys Brigade drum.

Bill's first proper band was The 4 Zodiacs, which played in and around East London as The Zodiacs and which later changed its name to The Epics. They even made some recordings. The lead guitarist went on to play for Christie, whose song Yellow River topped the charts in the summer of 1970.

Bill went into commercial art when he left school in 1960, as an illustrator and designer, but music was still his passion.

In the late 1960s he and a group of friends formed The Romford Golden Sunshine Band, producing a one-off vinyl album of instrumental tracks. Bill also played in backing bands for Billy Fury, and even for Freddie Starr.

Then came the band Legend, produced by Tony Visconti. It broke on to the gig circuit around Southend and in London - including Ronnie Scott's. Legend the band made two albums, released five singles, and developed a loyal following.

Bill, with two sons to support, was generally the only member in regular work. He remembers making an album: “I used to meet the guys in town after work, because we used to work through the night, and they used to drop me off at the firm on the way home!”

Tony Visconti was also producing David Bowie and T. Rex. Marc Bolan had just had a hit with Ride A White Swan, a slow-burner that eventually reached number two in the charts in early 1971. On the verge of the big time, he needed a drummer and Tony suggested Bill Legend.

Knowing precious little about the band, Bill went out and bought some T. Rex records. “When I listened to them, I thought 'What's this?!” he laughs. “Some stuff you could play along to, some you couldn't.”

There was little preamble, and no audition - his first encounter with the band was on the day of recording at Air Studios. But all was fine. “I went into the studio and just played it, and we recorded Hot Love and Woodland Rock.”

And then life went whoosh! Bill became a fully-fledged member of T. Rex - his first gig was in Detroit on the band's inaugural American tour. No pressure, then.

It signalled the start of a whirlwind period defined by travelling, recording and promotional work. In the following three years T. Rex did five tours in the United States, three in Canada, and two in the Far East and Australia. On top of that were dates in the UK, mainland Europe and Scandinavia.

A string of chart-topping hits followed; but Bill kept his feet on the ground.

“I never thought 'Oh yeah, man, this is what I wanted and I'm going to go for it, do this and pull as many women as I can and smoke a load of dope and get drunk.' I didn't do that. I'd never been in a plane before. I loved travelling, and it was interesting to meet people, but I never thought 'Yeah, I'm going to really lap this up. This is my life now, for ever.'

“The adulation was basically aimed at Marc anyway. I could never get to grips with the thought I was part of it. As far as I was concerned, yeah, I was there, doing what I was doing, but it was about the music - being able to come up with ideas and doing that on stage. All I wanted to do was to do a good job and get a good reaction. Apart from that, I was pretty laid-back and quiet - and waiting for it all to end!” he laughs.

Christianity helped him stay well-balanced. Bill admits he simply couldn't behave the way he saw some guys did.

“I can look back now and see there were people strutting about, not bothering to talk to people, and acting like a star, and I'm thinking 'You don't need to do that.' Even then, I can see how I would like to make time to be kind to somebody, and not leave them with an impression that I was trying to be . . . you know . . . 'Hey, we don't need this' and 'Out of my way; 'We're hot news at the moment' sort of thing.

“I always used to think 'This isn't going to last forever, this purple patch. I could never be nasty to anybody. That spirit of God that's in you transforms you. I mean, I've done a lot of things, stupid things - basically in my relationships. I've had two failed marriages, a failed partnership, and now I'm on my own. I say I'm on my own in that sense, but I've got lots of friends and lots of reconciliation that's gone on in my life.”

Bill sensed the beginning of the end of his involvement with T. Rex, and in 1974 he left.

“It wasn't the same band any more. Tony Visconti left, basically at the same time. Did my last tour in Brisbane and flew home on my own. I just walked away and had nothing more to do with it, really.”

He was, he adds, also going through a tricky time personally.

Bill went back to his roots and got digs in Barking. Through the window he could see the hospital where he was born. “Talk about coming full circle!”

He took time out to draw breath. It never occurred to him to join another major group.

After about a year he literally went back to the drawing board as an illustrator, and also started gigging with bands. One, Zooky, recorded two singles.

During his second marriage he became deeply involved with a church near Southend. Bill says that in the past he'd never quite committed himself fully to God's direction. “That's what I've learned this last seven, eight, nine years - total submission to your creator.”

Those years have been deeply rewarding, he says, and it's down to his faith. He's involved virtually full-time on the worship side with Elim Christian Centre in Chelmsford, where he's lived for 19 years.

“When I am playing drums at church it's as if I have come home. It seems to me as though everything I have done before has brought me to this point where I am giving myself to God.”

In the past he got himself “into some stupid situations and made some stupid decisions, really. I was still doing what I wanted to do and making silly mistakes. I got remarried, and that finished. I look back - I'm 62 now - and think 'Oh dear.'

“On a spiritual level, it was like God was waiting for me. He's been so good to me since I was a kid. And although you can look back and think about what I've wasted, it's not wasted in a sense, because he takes you on from where you are today. Lots of things have come out of the past - fantastic things - but that's all the more reason why now I don't want to lose another day. I want to be involved; so obedient.”

He laughs. “How can I put it without sounding like Billy Graham? It really does work in your life. You still get the aggro, but you handle it in a different way. You get a deeper peace.”

Three decades on, he's also got a deeper enjoyment of the music of T. Rex - music that continues to give pleasure to folk of all ages.

“I had an email from an 11-year-old guy the other day who had just passed his grade two drumming, and he's got this Premier so-and-so kit, and his dad's T. Rex CDs, and he tells me his favourite track is Solid Gold Easy Action. 'Did you base your drumming round the rhythm or did the rhythm base itself around your drumming?'

“I'm thinking 'If he's got a grade two, he can come and teach me!'”

THE face of T. Rex was, of course, the made-up dandy Marc Bolan. Addicted to the limelight, his personality seemed at odds with his drummer's desire to keep to the shadows.

But they shared a musical heritage. Both loved Chuck Berry, for instance, and Jimi Hendrix. In fact, Marc Bolan bought Bill Legend a copy of the Cry of Love album, which he reckoned featured some of Hendrix's best guitar-playing.

Bolan seemed a strange mix of sensitivity and overblown ego . . .

“Aren't there different sides to all of us?” asks Bill. “And Marc was no exception. When I first joined the band, we were really pally for the first year, 18 months. And then he became kind of disassociated because of the success.

“But he came up with so many ideas. He was instrumental in the band, obviously. He was the songwriter. He was very - how can I say? - he wasn't the most patient of persons. Because he had so much going on, he felt everybody else had to stay with him, sort of thing.”

Bolan was killed in the autumn of 1977, two weeks shy of his 30th birthday, when a Mini driven by his girlfriend hit a tree in Barnes, London.

Bill went to the funeral. “Even then, I just stood against the wall and watched the whole charade in front of me. There were a lot of stars there, and a lot of people Marc had been involved with since I'd left. I actually sat at the back, next to Alvin Stardust.”

Funnily enough, he appreciates T. Rex's songs much more now than he did at the time.

“I used to get very frustrated in the studio with Marc. He used to say 'That'll be great, that'll be fine.' And it worked - what he said was right. But I used to think afterwards 'I could have done this; I could have done that.' But since I've been distanced from it, and just listen to it for what it is now, I love it.”

T. Rex tracks on which Bill Legend drummed include:

Hot Love (reached number 1 in 1971)

Get It On (number 1, 1971)

Jeepster (number 2, 1971)

Telegram Sam (number 1, 1972)

Metal Guru (number 1, 1972)

Solid Gold Easy Action (number 2, 1972)

Children of The Revolution (number 2, 1972)

Twentieth Century Boy (number 3, 1973)

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus