Dialogue With Tony Prince
DJ industry pioneer Tony Prince has enjoyed a successful and wide-ranging career since he got his start as a DJ back in 1963. Working on now-legendary pirate radio stations, founding the famous DMC and rubbing shoulders with stars such as Elvis and Paul McCartney, the journey has been non-stop to say the least. Pro Mobile’s Greg Cartwright caught up with him to talk about History of DJ – his detailed (and still on-going) documentary series.
Q: While most of our readers will be aware of DMC and its history, for people that don’t know – and younger upcoming DJs – could you tell us briefly about DMC and what the premise for the History of DJ documentary series was?
A: I'm a DJ through and through. First a club DJ, then a radio DJ. And if I'd been a DJ today I would have loved the challenges and the environment the modern DJ works in. I was thrown out of the Musician’s Union for playing records when the band I sang and played guitar with had their break in the Bristol Top Rank. At the Union meeting, faced with 100 aggressive, DJ-hating musicians, I made the comment that they should embrace DJs because they were musicians in their heart. I was expelled and I suppose that drove me; my life path from that point was decided by those out of touch musicians. A member of the band Deep Purple once said to me, “DJs are parasites of our music,” which inspired me even more. In 1964 I was forced to be a record player instead of a record maker and my entire life since then has been about trying to give the DJ industry focus and credibility.
After the movie The Boat That Rocked came out, fuelled by the disappointment I felt over how poorly it represented the reality of 60s pirate radio, I knew I had to balance the scales with my own documentary. This idea headed towards the top of my ‘must do’ list and when I met a friend’s daughter in LA who said she and her friends no longer listened to radio, I knew there was an important story that had to be told and investigated.
And so I learned how to edit film, bought a couple of cameras and set off with Cutmaster Swift [DMC World Champion 1989] to create something which would show today’s kids and tomorrow’s DJs where their art form came from and how things have developed over the past 100 years. History of DJ had to cover both the club DJ and the radio DJ – it’s a huge project.
Q: Was the concept for the series one that developed over a long period of time or was it a ‘eureka’ moment of spontaneity when you decided to start it?
A: I've partly answered this already, but let me add: I owned Wedding TV – a Sky TV channel – for five years and as Programme Director I learned the fundamentals of film making. When I came back to DMC in 2010 the first thing we decided to do was launch DMC TV for all our World Championship films. It soon became obvious that this was the perfect home for the documentary I wanted to produce.
Q: To what extent did your own experiences inform the making of History of DJ, rather than research?
A: Well, I was a DJ from 1963: I fronted a TV show, joined the pirate [radio] ship Radio Caroline for three years and then spent 16 years with the world’s biggest commercial radio station, Radio Luxembourg. After nine years living in the country of Luxembourg I accepted the offer of a job as Programme and Promotions Director, which took me up to 1983, when I conceived the idea for DMC.
So, my own trail covered a lot of the story I wanted to tell. I just had to dig into history and learn about Marconi's invention of the wireless and explain how the UK got saddled with one boring national radio station, the BBC. The clubbing side of DJing was a story I knew pretty well.
Q: There are 10 episodes so far – how long does each one take to put together? What are the challenges involved in trying to whittle down so much history into a coherent, concise story?
A: We're living in a new age for media. The internet allows you to side-step so many traditions. It's another part of the revolution that we're all participating in. I decided we weren’t ITV or BBC; we have no need to create programmes of exactly 30-minute durations. If an episode is worthy of 20 or 40 minutes, that’s what we deliver.
YouTube is best for short clips, so we can’t and don’t expect massive viewing figures for ten episodes running to a total of six hours. Some DMC six-minute performances have attracted over a million views but this series is for people who are genuinely interested in the DJ industry.
Episode 1 is now heading towards 50,000 views, which is very pleasing. We’re now up to Episode 10 covering the Radio Luxembourg story, which runs to 43 minutes. The next two episodes are also about Luxembourg, covering reunions and the DJs recounting their amazing stories and experiences. There never was – and nor will there ever be – a radio station quite like 208, as it was known. Here you had a handful of DJs living in the centre of Europe with record pluggers queuing up with their artists to come out and be interviewed. What made it unique was that there was no boss at the radio station telling you exactly what to do; you could get away with a great deal of fun using a playlist that wasn’t restricted to Top 40 only.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 75, Pages 64 - 68.