There's something in the air in the city today. On the stretch between Golders Green station and the crematorium, people clock each other and smile as they cross paths, recognising a kindred spirit by the odd accessory (feather boa, leopard fur, stovepipe hat) on their way to leave flowers, photos or a china white swan.
Across the Thames, your stomach sinks when you approach Queen's Ride in Barnes and first catch sight of the arc of the humpback bridge, and cannot help but envision a Mini Cooper smashing into the trees. The tree, and the bronze memorial and granite headstone near it, are festooned with ribbons, trinkets and poems. Someone is playing "Cosmic Dancer" on a cassette machine. The cause of this curious combination of mourning and celebration is that 30 years ago, Marc Bolan – the pixie prince of glam rock – was killed in a car crash, a fortnight short of his 30th birthday.
As you get closer to the venue of tonight's tribute concert, the focus of this September's 30/60 remembrance, the buzz begins to intensify. A grey-haired gentleman wanders along Shepherd's Bush Green, looking slightly lost. This is Tony Visconti, the genius record producer responsible for Electric Warrior and the complete run of classic Bolan hits, unofficially considered "the fifth member of T. Rex".
The Empire is thronged tighter and earlier than usual. There's something about Bolan fans. They – or, I should admit, we – feel a certain sense of injustice. The legacies of, say, David Bowie, Bolan's friend and rival, or Elvis Presley, whose death overshadowed Marc's, are set in stone. But it often seems as though the world has forgotten that there was a period when T. Rex were, as Messrs McCartney and Starr said at the time, "bigger than the Beatles". The fact is that Marc Bolan was the saviour of pop, and nothing less. After the beardy seriousness of the hippie era, Marc sprinkled magic fairy dust on rock and, crucially, sexed it up again.
The concert is compered by Eric Hall, the football agent and tedious self-publicist who happened to be a childhood friend of Marc's, who delays proceedings with his pointless anecdotes about going to amusement arcades with Marc. One of Hall's stories, however, does hit home: on this very stage, Bolan once performed "New York City" on The Basil Brush Show, with Hall dressed as a frog. It's a reminder that in the second half of the 1970s, Marc's star status had slipped. However, just before his death, a leaner and revitalised Bolan was newly relevant, and acknowledged and adored by the children of the punk revolution.
And we're back to the sense of injustice, which I suspect is partly what fuels T. Rextasy, tonight's house band, the tribute act who break all the rules by being bloody brilliant. There's something messianic about lead singer Danielz, and his accuracy and attention to detail, puffing his cheeks in a Bolan pout and threshing his tousled tresses through "Jeepster", strutting the stage in ballet-shoed feet and a smock top that's an exact replica of Marc's. He's uncanny.
The calibre of celebrity on show isn't superstellar, but better to have guests who get Marc than lip service from a parade of fakers. First up is Andy Ellison, a man with tight white jeans and a Wilko Johnson stare, who played alongside Bolan in riotous R&B band John's Children. Spitting Volvic and scaling the speaker stack, he's the Iggy Pop you've never heard of.
Thereafter we get Clem Burke of Blondie, Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry, original T. Rex saxophonist Howie Casey, soul singer Linda Lewis, Shakin' Stevens wonderfully doing some actual Shaky dancing during "Laser Love", Tony Visconti conducting the Dirty Pretty Strings through an original arrangement which had lain untouched in a box for three decades, and Dr Robert, who wore a Bolanesque boa on TOTP in his Blow Monkeys days, reminiscing that "Being a Marc Bolan fan fucked you up, growing up on the Fens".
Similarly, the biggest star of all recalls that his hero "brought a little magic and glitter into a troubled northern teenage life". And a glance at Marc Almond tells you that it's stayed with him: glittering shirt, glittering eyes, glittering teeth, glittering soul. Almond's passionate rendition of "Teenage Dream" is simply extraordinary.
And then, a genuine moment. Gloria Jones was Marc Bolan's lover and the mother of his son Rolan (who would be here if he hadn't lost his passport). It would be a harsh person who would blame Gloria for Marc's death (she was at the wheel), when her loss is greater than anyone's. There's nothing but affection among the faithful for her tonight.
She's also the woman who sang the original of "Tainted Love", and when she duets with Almond, the man who made it famous, you don't know whether to pinch yourself or press "record" on your cameraphone. As a mass encore of "Get It On" and "Hot Love" draws to a close, Danielz entreats us to "Keep a little Marc in your hearts". It's a message that ought to resonate far beyond these four walls.Reuse content