Obituary: Mickey Finn

Exotic percussionist in at the start of glam rock

During the early 1970s, T Rex was one of Britain's pop music sensations, inspiring "T Rexstacy" in teenage audiences. The group was led by the diminutive singer and guitarist Marc Bolan, but the percussionist Mickey Finn, who has died aged 55, was an essential part of the line-up. According to one journalist, he "presented a wonderful contrast to Marc Bolan. Tall, bearded and quietly spoken, he loomed comfortingly behind Marc, who was small and increasingly noisy."

Before Finn linked up with Bolan, the band was the duo Tyrannosaurus Rex, with conga drummer Steve "Peregrine" Took. Supported by DJ John Peel, and the underground press, it built up a cult following. After Took was dismissed by Bolan in late 1969, an advertisement for a replacement in the Melody Maker drew 300 replies.

Finn, however, was recommended by a friend to Bolan's partner June Child, who said that he "couldn't play congas particularly well, but he was beautiful". Marc and Mickey met in Seed, a macrobiotic restaurant in Notting Hill, and discovered a mutual admiration for the films of Federico Fellini.

Originally from Coulsdon, in suburban south London, Finn had been on the fringes of Notting Hill's hippie music and design worlds for the previous couple of years. He was said to have worked on murals for the Beatles' short-lived Apple boutique, and was briefly a member of Hapshash And The Coloured Coat, a psychedelic band led by Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, designers of the Aubrey Beardsley-influenced posters for concerts at the UFO club and the Savile theatre.

Soon the Bolan-Finn duo were rehearsing together in a rented cottage in rural Wales. They re-emerged to finish the recording of the Tyrannosaurus Rex album A Beard Of Stars, with Mickey replacing the percussion parts already created by Took.

Finn's arrival proved to be a catalyst for the heavier sound that Bolan wished to adopt. Marc now played electric guitar more frequently in concert, and soon the group was augmented by bass player Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend. On stage and on record, Finn played a wide variety of percussion instruments, from Moroccan clay drums, tabla and finger cymbals to pixiephone and bongo drums.

The evolution from acoustic to electric band was marked by a shortening of the group's name to T Rex. Crucially, the lyrics composed by Bolan replaced hippie musings with crisp pop sentiments, and Bolan's stage outfits of satin trousers and eye makeup heralded the dawn of what the media soon called glam rock. T Rex tours attracted sell-out audiences of young girls: at one concert in Boston, Lincolnshire, 33 fans fainted.

Between 1970 and 1973, there were ten top-10 hits, including Ride A White Swan, Hot Love, Get It On, Metal Guru, and Children Of The Revolution. In 1972, Born To Boogie, a semi-documentary film about the band - also featuring Ringo Starr - was widely shown in cinemas.

By 1973, however, newer glam rock acts, such as Slade and Gary Glitter, were outselling T Rex. Bolan's dictatorial approach was also causing dissension within the group. He was less than generous financially, and tried to cut record producer Tony Visconti's royalty from 2% to 1%.

Currie and Finn left T Rex the following year. Currie was to die in a car accident in Spain in 1981, while Bolan himself was killed in a similar fashion in London in 1977. Finn took a while to recover from the excesses of life on the road with a teenybop idol. For the next 15 years, he sporadically performed and recorded with such musicians as the former Small Faces singer Steve Marriott. In the late 1980s, he returned to live with his mother in Brixton, south London.

His career revived unexpectedly in 1997 when he attended a concert to mark the 25th anniversary of Marc Bolan's death. The positive reception he received led to the formation of Mickey Finn's T-Rex, a group dedicated to performing and recording the group's repertoire.

The new band played throughout northern Europe and, in July last year, were joined onstage in Bradford by Rolan Bolan, Marc's son. The Finn group issued Renaissance, a CD of T Rex hits, and a DVD of a performance at Sevenoaks in 2000. Despite Finn's death, the band has announced it will continue to perform as T-Rex.

· Michael 'Mickey' Norman Finn, percussionist and songwriter, born June 3 1947; died January 11 2003


Dave Laing

The GuardianTramp

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