From Elvis to Elton in 50 years and DJ Tony Prince is still making waves in music world
In a world where your friendly home installed artificial intelligence app can throw out a tune from your favourite artist in seconds - it is hard to imagine a time when the sounds of pop icons were seemingly ‘banned’ from British shores.
But in the mid-sixties- the era of the rock and roll revolution - for the youngsters to satisfy their musical appetite (over and above the six hours allowed by ‘Auntie’ a week) it was with the help of a merry band of ‘pirates.’
A group of rebellious, rock-loving disc jockeys strategically coasting on boats in international waters - and thus out of British authorities’ legal reach.
At their peak pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline - the first off the UK- hit audiences of 20 million listeners.
The boats kept fans happy with limitless playlists aplenty from Elvis to The Hollies to The Rolling Stones.
It was a returned favour from fellow pirate and friend Tony Blackburn that would land Lancashire lad Tony Prince his first DJ stint ‘offshore’ and the rest is history.
A history that was partially retold in the 2009 Richard Curtis film ‘The Boat That Rocked’ (later renamed Pirate Radio)
Tony, 76, who founded United DJs Radio station three years ago says: “I’d got Tony Blackburn a slot on Discs-a-Go-Go (a weekly pop music programme in the 1960s), in return he introduced me to the Radio Caroline programme boss.
“The movie pretty well showed what life was like at sea for the DJs although we never had all those girls on board they portrayed.
“The pirate days taught us how to be radio DJs, we worked with Americans, Canadians and Australians who showed us the ropes.
“When the Labour Government brought in the law to stop us, it was either the newly launched BBC Radio One or the long standing night-time favourite Radio Luxembourg.”
Radio Caroline, founded by Irish man Ronan O’Rahilly in 1964, was broadcast from the ship Mi Amigo. It would help launch the careers of a host of future radio stars. And despite the
Marine Broadcasting Offences Act passed in 1967 to shut pirate radio down, the music had made its mark, paving the way for modern commercial radio.
After two years with Radio Caroline Oldham-born Tony jumped ship to Radio Luxembourg, the birth place of the modern chart show.
He picks up the story, “I stayed 17 years with Luxy, eight as programme director.
“I flew to the Grand Duchy on April 1,1968 as part of a new team of live broadcasters including Paul Burnett, Noel Edmonds, Dave ’Kid’ Jensen and Mark Wesley.”
The radio station also welcomed the likes of Mike Read, Neil Fox and Peter Powell.
Tony recalls, “Luxembourg was very conservative until we arrived and of course the groups, singers and their record pluggers queued to get out there for interviews.
“The thing was they couldn’t leave until the following day’s flights so this led to some of the most outrageous nights imaginable.
“Queen brought their first album out and played it to hear our opinion. Elton John came clubbing with us and fell asleep in the club’s huge speakers.
“Two CBS record pluggers came out one time and hijacked Kid Jensen and I, as we returned to the radio station, which was situated in a dark park. We were chased around the park by two gorillas.
“Then there was the time when, out of monotony, Noel Edmonds decided to create a murder set in the apartment he shared with Kid.
“My wife Christine was the dead body covered in ketchup. Kid finished his show at midnight and it was already a bit hairy walking home passing a cemetery. He nearly had a heart attack.”
The DJs at that time were as famous as the music acts themselves and Tony says the fame of that era was surreal but moreso the opportunity for a rock and roll die-hard like himself to be in the company of some of music history’s biggest legends.
He says, “During my time at 208 I became the first DJ to interview Elvis one-to-one in his Vegas dressing room - twice! Colonel Parker even allowed me to go on stage in 1973 and introduce him.
“I toured with The Osmonds, David Essex, The Hollies and even worked for Paul McCartney every year when he staged Buddy Holly Week (Paul published Buddy’s tunes).
“But my greatest adventure was when I toured Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic).
“Christine came with me, it was like Beatlemania, that’s how important Luxembourg was to the kids in the East under their Communist regimes.”
But it was on Lancashire soil, in his childhood, his love for rock and roll was first planted and which set the scene for an extraordinary music career.
“I was an only child, we came from Oldham and Blackpool was on the holiday agenda at least twice a year.
“I have carried one memory with me throughout my life from the summer of 1956 so I’d be 12. My parents loved pub life, getting to Blackpool in my dad’s Vauxhall Velox was a trial for me.
“The journey took us via Rochdale, Bury and Preston and I think they stopped at every pub until they closed at 2.30pm
“They smoked and the sulphur smell from matches mixed with the numerous packets of crisps and bottles of fizz, guaranteed I’d have two or three sick-stops.
“But the memory is of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers song ‘I’m not a Juvenile Delinquent’.
“The Seaview Hotel was across the road from an arcade with a jukebox, I heard the tune constantly during our two week Oldham Wakes.
“There is no doubt it seeded my love for rock n roll as I read my Dandy, Beano and played with my cowboys and Indians whilst my parents were doing a pub crawl down the prom.”
Tony, who would launch the remix label Disco Mix Club in the 1980s, began as a singer and musician in his teens - his DJing job soon eclipsed his singing career and earned him more money.
He says, “I went to Oldham Art School, mixing with other Elvis fans and my fate was sealed when my main Christmas gift was a guitar. 1956 - 58 were incredibly influential years for me and so was Butlins Pwllheli - one year I sang with the resident band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
“The drummer had encouraged me to enter the weekly talent contest, I came second but more importantly I met some lads from Oldham who were forming a group.
“ I sang with The Jasons for two years which led to a job fronting a Top Rank big band.
“And that led to me being offered the DJ job which was when I turned pro. I started playing DJ mixes in 1981 long before clubs in Britain and European clubs stopped DJs talking after every record.
“This led to my idea for a DJ subscription club where DJs could buy the pre-recorded mixes and remixes.”
Disco Mix Club (DMC) began in February 1983 and is still going today staging the World DJ Championships, which this year will feature 11 DJ contests across 2021.
“Our Radio Station United DJ Radio is three-years-old on April 2 - I felt traditional radio in the UK and Europe had become predictable and many of my colleagues had been side-lined by tight playlists and charts which reflected today’s kids music.
“In other words the 40+ demographic had been pushed away from radio’s music policy.
“The station has an incredible following - the artists who are ignored on the national Download Charts now have a new lease of life and actually mingle with our listeners on our Facebook pages, it’s such a thrill to see this happening.
And his thoughts of the music dominating those charts today?
“It’s simple, kids buy what they like. We bought rock n roll, they buy Ariana Grande and good luck to them.
“We were the first teenage generation to be free to enjoy ourselves by parents who had lived through the horrors of world wars.
“The kids of today have had to endure Covid so I admire how they are adapting to the new world in which they are consumers.
“DMC still attends to young hip-hop and DJ fans, there’s plenty room for everyone and anyone can make music these days if they so wish.”
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