Claire Mahoney talks to the late Marc Bolan’s partner Gloria Jones about a very special project that will see his musical legacy live on a in small corner of West Africa.
For fans of Marc Bolan, the night of September 16th 1977 will be etched forever in their minds. It was the day that the hugely influential glam-rock singer was killed instantly in a devastating car accident on his journey home to Richmond after an evening out in London.
That night we lost one of the most influential performers of the 1970s. But at the wheel of the car was someone else with an extraordinary music career – Gloria Jones, Marc’s partner and mother to their two-year old son, Rolan.
Gloria was badly injured following the accident and spent weeks in hospital. That night she lost her ‘soul-mate’ and sustained significant damage to her vocal chords, all of which had a huge impact on her career.
Gloria is perhaps best known for the song: ‘Tainted Love,’ which was a huge hit for Soft Cell in 1981. The single was originally recorded as a b-side in 1965 and later revived by Northern Soul DJs in the 70’s.
However, less well known, is Gloria’s hugely successful writing and producing career which in the 60’s and early 70’s saw her become one of the first female in-house producers at Motown. Here Gloria worked alongside fellow writer, and Essex girl, Pam Sawyer under the stewardship of Motown founder Berry Gordy.
During her time at Motown she helped to write and produce many of the Motown classics that we know and love. She wrote for artists including Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5, The Supremes, Junior Walker and The Four Tops. And in 1971 her song: “If I Was Your Woman’, which was recorded for Gladys Night and the Pips and was nominated for a Grammy.
She says of her time at the label: “Berry Gordy was always a visionary who encouraged women to pursue their dreams and goals. You felt that nothing was ever that far from you. Just imagine an English girl from Romford Essex and a black American woman from Ohio working with some of the most gifted musicians in the world!”
Today Gloria, 70, lives in the small town of Makeni in Sierra Leone, West Africa. There she dedicates her time to raising funds for the Marc Bolan School of Music. Her aim is to create a living legacy for Marc that will enable children who are under-privileged and disadvantaged and have suffered the horrors of civil war to experience the joys of music.
Gloria knew from an early age that she would eventually come to Africa after seeing images of the plight of children there on the TV. “At the age of 10, I remember I was watching the news with my father Elder Richard Baby Jones in our small one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. I will never forget seeing images of children suffering there and knew that one day I would come to Africa and help the people to have a purpose in life”.
She first had the idea for the school when she visited the country with her son Rolan. “Our dream for the school was very natural. Once you arrive in Freetown (the capital city) you immediately hear music. Musicians playing in the streets, marching bands, children dancing. It was electrifying. When these children shared their experiences of the civil war with us we knew we would have to help them and that was when my son Rolan asked me to come to Makeni and build a school in honour of his father.”
Initially the project was able to support the hire of two rooms where two local teachers would teach around 60 children for a couple of hours on the weekend. In 2014 land was acquired to build the school and local architects – the aptly-named Bolans Architects offered to design the school for free.
Last year the project set up the Light of Love Foundation Charitable organisation in the UK to channel funds to the school. Its record label – the Light of Love Wax Co Label, released a limited edition single of Gloria’s hit ‘Tainted Love.’ It sold out within 12 hours. Another single from Gloria is set to be released this June which will be a re-recording of the Rita and the Tiaras classic, ‘Gone with the Wind is my Love.’
But there is still much work to be done with the total cost of building the school thought to be in the region of £40,000. Fans of Marc Bolan have been fully supportive of the campaign, donating prized memorabilia to the charity, including a guitar and a T-shirt worn by Marc. Land has also been set aside for another school in Ghana. Funds raised will also be shared with the British Red Cross to continue to combat the Ebola crisis in the region.
“We are well on our way to raising the funds that we need to continue to build our school in Marc’s name. We will bring music and dance to the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalised people, in a place that I hold so fondly in my heart,” says Gloria.
You can follow the campaign on: facebook.com/marcbolanschool/and Twitter page which is @MBSchoolofMusic
For more information about the school, visit: marcbolanschool.com