The Royal Ruler: Tony Prince
"I used to get the DJs in Luxembourg free drinks at the Chez Nous nightclub, because they had a trio there and I used to sing What Did I Say, Mean Woman Blues, and Twenty Flight Rock. One night I had Jimi Hendrix play guitar."
Tony Prince’s career reads like a list of the music industry’s best possible anecdotes.
After being kicked out of the Musicians’ Union in 1964 for the offence of playing records (rather than “keeping music live”), Prince joined renowned pirate radio station Radio Caroline as a presenter and DJ at the age of 21. Prince then progressed onto the internationally famous Radio Luxembourg, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Freddie Mercury. He later launched Mixmag and the record subscription club (and later, DJ mixing contest) DMC. Here, OX Magazine’s Jack Rayner talks to the ‘Royal Ruler’ about technology, strip clubs and Elton John…
Hi Tony – if your famous and ill-fated meeting with the Musicians’ Union hadn’t have happened, how do you think your career would have changed?
It’s the million dollar question. You know, whenever there’s a band in town, like the Joe Loss Orchestra at the Grosvenor House, I’ve many times broken the MU rules and sung with them. I can’t resist it. To be quite honest, I get very frustrated when I go to live concerts because I want to be on that stage.
It is one of the great regrets of my life that I never followed that through. Our group broke up before The Beatles happened, and the minute The Beatles happened every A&R man in the industry was up in Lancashire looking for talent, and I’m sure our group would have made records. But there you go. I can’t complain – I turned left instead of right, and I’ve had a fantastic life. It would be churlish to have regrets after having so much fun.
Do you still create music yourself?
No, I don’t. I’ve got a mate in Oldham who has a studio, and he keeps inviting me up there to make an album just for fun. He was around when I was singing with The Jasons, back in the early sixties, and he knows all the tracks that I used to sing with the band. It would be interesting to see how I sound these days, but I don’t have the oomph inside my heart to truly want to do that. I used to get the DJs in Luxembourg free drinks at the Chez Nous nightclub, because they had a trio there and I used to sing What Did I Say, Mean Woman Blues, and Twenty Flight Rock. One night I had Jimi Hendrix play guitar.
Is there anyone you haven’t met?
There is a few! I never met Michael Jackson, although I tried my damndest to get him to come to the Albert Hall to the DMC World Championships. Not many others, though.
So how did most of these meetings come about? Simply through your place at Radio Luxembourg?
Yes – the thing about Luxembourg was that when a band or artist came to do an interview, they couldn’t get back that night because there were no night-time flights back to London, so we partied with a lot of people. We took them to, essentially, what Luxembourg offered at the time, which was strip clubs. They all loved it! Marc Bolan, Phil Lynott...
Out of all the characters you’ve partied with over the years, who touched your heart personally the most?
Can I exclude Elvis Presley?
Then it’s got to be Freddie Mercury. I’d like to say Elton John, but we took him to a club and he fell asleep in a bass bin. He was that tired. He’d done his interview on Luxembourg, we took him to the discotheque and they had these enormous bass bins. All the DJs are there, Elton’s manager, and Elton’s gone to sleep in the bass bin! How he slept in there I’ll never know for as long as I’ll live.
Excellent. So what was Freddie like? I assume he didn’t fall asleep in any bass bins.
He was just such a sweetheart. He came to Luxembourg with the first Queen album, and we went over to Mark Wesley’s apartment to listen to it, but before we put it on I told them that I had the new Sweet album – they were just starting to write songs like Blockbuster and Teenage Rampage. I played the album to Freddie, and they were very polite, but then they played their album to us...I was so embarrassed that I’d even dared to play the Sweet album after I’d heard what Queen were doing.
If we can move forward a little in time, I’ve heard a story about Paul Oakenfold’s birthday in which you essentially created the idea of DJ culture in Ibiza.
Paul and the DJs there that night had touched base with one or two club owners, and they agreed to start coming over to Ibiza – there had never been any British DJs play Ibiza, only BCM Empire in Mallorca. I had a friend who worked for a holiday company, and told him about the idea. The deal was that the DJs would have a free trip, he’ll play free for the club owner, and the club owner will let the punters in free. Win-win-win. We only made a year of it, but we’d kickstarted Ibiza with that company. By that time, we’d taken a load of DJs over and it was going well.
Do you still keep up to speed with DJ culture and dance music?
Well, I have to. I don’t do any gigs any more, but DMC employs DJs and we do it exclusively for the culture. We’re online now, we do an online version of the DMC World Championship, we have a magazine and, interestingly, we still have exclusive rights to the name ‘Technics’ for merchandise.
Yeah. Technics were our sponsors in the early days of the DMC Championships. I used to go over to Osaka every year to tell them our plans for the following year. We were building huge stages at the Wembley Arena – Panasonic [manufacturers of Technics turntables] were behind us then. They’re back again now, but they’ve now got a very high price point.
Indeed. It’s a shame they didn’t aim it properly at the DJs.
They should’ve done. I was over there only last year cementing our ongoing relationship, but they’re now producing turntables aimed at the hi-fi buff, rather than the forward-thinking DJs. I don’t necessarily agree with it.
DJs still have to buy old 1200 decks and keep getting them serviced and repaired.
Tell me about it. When we do the DMC Championships every year, and three months before we go out on the road, Cutmaster Swift will be repairing all of last year’s turntables or buying more from eBay.
In the early stages, did you have any big ideas for where the development of DJ sets was heading?
I guess it’s because of my musical background, but my big ambition was always to see DJs augment their sets with live musicians playing traditional instruments. That now happens. C2C, who were a group of French DJs that won our DMC Team Championship, started going out on the road accompanied by live musicians, and became a huge act in France.
From the establishment of Mixmag up until the point where you sold the title, how did you see its influence shape the culture?
You’ve only got to read my editorials in the early editions to know that I was completely aware of the movement that was taking place.
When did you stop writing the features?
I only did it for a couple of years. At the time, I called them Christine’s Scene because I was still with Radio Luxembourg and I didn’t want them to know that I was hands-on with DMC. But when I left Luxembourg, I came out into the open as the editor. At that point I knew that I needed new blood, and a young kid called Dave Seaman won a competition to come to the New Music Seminar with us in New York, and we loved him. When it was time for us to head back, I said to him, “I don’t care what you’re going to do, I want you to come and work at DMC.” He came down from Leeds, and we let him meander from studio to office, and eventually he settled down and asked to be editor of the magazine. I knew at that point that my time was up. He was right on the cusp of what was happening, and I needed that.
Thanks a lot Tony.
The Royal Ruler & the Railway DJ: The Autobiographies of Tony Prince and Jan Sestak is available from Amazon.
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