Tuesday 14 November 2023

This extravagant journey: Steve Peregrin Took (1949-1980) Kensal Green Cemetery

I'm taking this extravagant journey
Or so it seems to me
I just came from nowhere
And I'm going straight back there

The Buzzcocks - Boredom 

Failure is often more interesting than success.  When Steve Took achieved a fleeting form of fame in the early 1970’s he was already a has been, a man whose moment had passed, who would spend what little time he had left to live watching his friends and acquaintances become household names whilst he slipped into obscurity. He was born Stephen Ross Porter in Eltham in 1949 and in 1967 answered an ad in the International Times for a drummer. The advertiser was Marc Bolan and the group he was planning to form was called Tyrannosaurus Rex. Adopting the name of a hobbit from Lord of the Rings Bolan and Took became a duo recording three folk inspired albums that met with limited success. Took moved to Ladbroke Broke and began to make the acquaintance of the hipsters, druggies and drop outs that formed the W10 scene in the late 60’s and early 70’s including Syd Barrett. Playing second fiddle to Bolan in Tyrannosaurus Rex rankled Took and after the recording of their third album, Unicorn, he began to pester Bolan to sing and perform some of his own material. The two fell out and Took was sacked from the band just before their 1969 tour of the US. 

With Took out of the band and a new partner, Mickey Finn, Bolan shortened the name of the group to T. Rex and within a year became a seventies rock legend. Took suddenly found himself well known, his part in the founding legend of T. Rex was widely reported, but unable to capitalise on his new semi celebrity status. He formed and broke up a succession of bands including Shagrat and Steve Took’s Horns or performed with nascent versions of acts that were to become better known like the Pink Fairies. He worked with Rob Calvert and Nik Turner from Hawkwind, formed shortlived bands with Larry Wallis from the Pink Fairies and Mick Farren from the Deviants, recorded demos and talked to record companies but failed to sign a deal or release any music. When punk exploded in 1976 his Ladbroke Grove hippy friends somehow survived being washed away to oblivion, his friend Lemmy from Hawkwind forming Motorhead and Larry Wallis becoming a performer and producer for Stiff Records, but Took was well and truly finished. By 1980 he was living in his girlfriend’s council flat in Westbourne Park Road.  On Sunday 26 October he bought morphine and magic mushrooms for himself and his girlfriend and the pair injected the morphine that evening. Took died next day, choking to death on a cocktail cherry. His death certificate records the cause of death as asphyxiation.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s some of Took’s unreleased demo tapes were cleaned up and released on CD. They didn’t sell well, a few die hard Bolan fans probably indulging their curiosity. It isn’t surprising, they aren’t musical masterpieces. Spotify cruelly exposes the utter indifference met by Took’s music; Shagrat, his venture with Larry Wallis, has a mere 186 monthly listeners. His album ‘Crazy Diamond’ released as Steve Peregrin Took, 60 monthly listeners. And Steve Took’s Horns, just 11. T. Rex currently has 3.6 million monthly listeners. 

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