info courtesy Jon Myer's excellent Pirate Radio Hall of Fame www.offshoreradio.co.uk
Oldham born Tony made his first public appearance in a Butlin's Talent Contest. He was 14 years old and his singing won him the second prize.
Tony also worked with a group called The Jasons.
He became a TV personality and while working in Bristol in 1964 was voted the West Country's Number One DJ.
Tony joined Radio Caroline North in December 1965 after appearing on TWW's "Discs A Go-Go".
Tony left Caroline with the passing of the MOA. He joined Radio Luxembourg and was with the station for 16 years.
He now owns the highly influential DMC (World DJ Championship etc.) website - www.dmcworld.com
Further adventures: Tony is now a founding shareholder and Programme Director of WEDDING TV on SKY, a 24/7 television channel dedicated to weddings, relationships and romance.
2006 - present: Programme Director and founding partner WEDDING TV (SKY & Freeview in the UK)on-line: JOOST and weddingtv.com.
Extracts from THE MAGIC RADIO by Tony Prince
‘Sweet Little 16' Chuck Berry.
I still have my five Butlins Pthwheli badges. I'd been there for Oldham Wakes five years in succession, first with Mum and Dad in 1957 and then with Jack Smith and various friends. It was during my third year that I bumped into my vocation. I'd finally got a ‘proper job' as an apprentice toolmaker having rebounded from Middleham straight into the radio department of the Oldham Co-op. I was 16. Hormone city.
I'd wandered into my favourite place on the entire camp, the Rock & Jive Ballroom. I sometimes think that this was my true birthplace where my bottom was really smacked and where I first gasped life's air, my ears opened and there was ‘Little Darlin'' by The Diamonds.
There wasn't much to interest me in the afternoons. A knobbly knees competition for the Dad's, Glamorous Gran, Bonny Baby, family stuff.
At night I'd drown in the tunes.
My holidays at Butlins can be traced through the hits I danced to.
In 59 it was Bobby Darin's ‘Dream Lover' and Cliff's ‘Mean Streak'. In 60 I bopped to Johnny Preston's ‘Cradle of love' and Jimmy Jones falsetto on ‘Good Timin''. 1960/61 gave me Jerry Lee Lewis ‘What'd I Say' and Billy Fury's ‘Halfway To Paradise'.
This year I preferred the resident group to the one last year.
Last year had been Rory Blackwell's band and this year it was Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
Rory was a popular stage name.
One afternoon I noticed the drummer who wore lots of rings and cowboy boots sitting alone at a table.
He was spitting and polishing the boots and I sat next to him with a milkshake.
‘I like the group', I offered.
‘I like yer boots'.
‘Do you know the best song Rory does?' I quizzed.
‘What would that be now?' He asked daubing white cream on the pointed toe.
‘‘Baby I Don't Care'!'
A fag hung from the corner of his lips burning his left eye, he still hadn't looked up from his preoccupation.
‘‘Whole Lotta Shakin's' good too!'
‘Specially when he starts shaking like a silly bugger!'
Then he looked at me.
We small talked. I told him I knew all the songs.
‘Well Tommy', he said straining to put his left boot on. ‘We've got a talent competition tomorrow night why don't you give it a crack?'
He made to walk away his cigarette ash falling to the floor.
‘I will', I said. ‘If you'll lend me your cowboy boots!'
‘Gonna Make You a Star' David Essex
Before the competition we fuelled up at the Pig and Whistle pub. By 9.30pm I stood confidently at the side of stage. Ringo eventually caught my eye between numbers and pointed his drumstick across the stage at a mangy pair of cowboy boots.
‘Thanks a lot', I yelled to all three of him. Ringo rinked at me.
‘What you singin'?' asked Rory leaning down his blonde locks almost touching my face.
‘Be Bop A Lula', I said.
And then he was on the microphone, a big silver thing.
‘Ladies and genlemen', he announced. ‘The next competitor is Tommy Whitehead from Oldham '.
The Oldham Wakes crowd drowned him out with their football chant of the time, ‘Zigga zagga, zigga zagga, Oui! Oui! Oui!'!!
‘And he's gonna sing the Gene Vincent classic, ‘Be bop a lula!'
‘What key?' Asked Johnny Guitar as I ambled towards him in the boots 4 sizes too big.
I searched my pockets and offered him my chalet key thinking you needed to show it for some reason. The band pissed themselves.
‘I've no idea. Any key you like, I'm not fussy'.
They chose ‘C'.
‘Weeeeeeeeeeee', I wailed, the group waiting patiently as I milked the moment. ‘eeeeeeeeeeeell'.
I tilted the mic stand back to a full 45 degrees cupping it with two hands like you do on a frosty night. Like Vincent did.
And then I let it go.
‘BeeeeeBopalula she's a mah baby.....'
Johnny Guitar wrenched a chord out of his Fender Stratocaster right on the ‘Beeeeee' and we were rockin!'
The first verse, chorus, verse, went fine until the guitar solo where I had a surprise lined up for them.
At this stage Gene Vincent kicks his leg across the angled mic stand finishing up with the stand behind his back rocking his body moody like. I'd practised with a brush in front of Mum's mirror many times.
‘My baby doll, my baby doll, my baby doll'.
The verse ended and I looked at Johnny Guitar taking one hand off the mic and pointing at him.
‘Go Johnny Go!' I yelled.
My leg went in the air and two things happened. The right boot flew off into the audience and landed on a tough looking teddy boy's head, my leg didn't make it over the chrome stand and I fell arse over tit off the stage.
The audience were confused for that moment. Some watched the boot like people at a tennis match as it travelled through the air, whilst others popped open their mouths watching me as I fell, the mic booming feedback.
The group couldn't play for laughing. Johnny Guitar sat on the stage crying, Ringo's head hit the snare drum whilst Rory hammered his fists against the wall.
They all loved it. I came second. A boot polish kit!
And that was my first taste of the drug called audience. I was a singer.
To qualify that, a bunch of lads came to me explaining that they were a group from Oldham looking for a singer.
This was the founding of ‘The Jasons' although they weren't called that yet, they were called ‘The Silver Dollars' which identifies the levels of creativity and originality which existed in the band at that time.
On this momentous night two things happened for the very first time that would repeat themselves like a genetic commandment throughout our two lives, I got drunk and Jack Smith got laid.
At dawn the next morning I awoke to the sound of Welsh birds singing intermingled with loud Lancashire laughter. Someone, it seemed, had opened the chalet curtains and the sun was streaming in blinding my drunken eyes.
I squeezed them tightly to close down the pain caused by direct sighting of the sun, my face grimaced and etched in pain.
Somewhere within my first major hang-over came a message that it was imperative I open my eyes if I was to continue to live.
Then Butlin's Tannoy public address system spoke like God to Moses,
‘Good morning campers....'.
I forced my eyes to squint open listening to the morning's planned activities whilst the cackle of mirthful tee-hees persisted around the head that had once been mine.
I opened my eyes to a squint. The chalet ceiling was blue, the lamp yellow but nothing clicked yet.
As my eyelids strengthened to expand their squint, I noticed how exceptionally high the ceiling was.
Maybe I wasn't alive? Maybe God runs his place like a holiday camp a thought seeded itself?
Then I heard my second applause within 12 hours and I sat bolt upright remembering last nights victorious rock ‘n' roll performance and the subsequent celebration at the Pig & Whistle. Then memory collapsed and I was staring at a tree where the sink had been and, as I threw my feet out of bed, I tried to come to terms with the grass where I had anticipated carpet.
And then it dawned.
I was surrounded by campers who had ignored their hunger pangs and halted to view the spectacle that was I on their way to the second sitting of breakfast.
It was a joke, like one of those where your friends make you walk across the road nude and then lock you out!
My friends had pulled my mattress out of the chalet and left me to sleep between rows 14A and 14B!
‘My Name Is Jack' Manfred Mann
Later, I salivated as Jack told me about the much more memorable night he'd had. I'd been getting legless while he'd been getting his leg over. Whilst I was getting drunk he was in the bunk.
Here was my life-long friend, a boy who I'd tried to out-masturbate in our early development as sexual animals, confiding that he'd just beat me at becoming a man.
‘I took that girl from Leeds back to her chalet', he began. I was niggled that he assumed I recalled any girl from anywhere last night but let him continue with his bawdy tale.
‘I'm just about to ‘do it' when the door opens and in walks her mate with....guess who?'
He wanted a guessing game.
‘Give in', I said after going through Elvis, Sgt.Bilko and Ros McManus the wrestler.
‘No', he said lighting a Park Drive .
‘Give fucking in!' I cried for the third time. ‘Who was it?'
‘Rory Storm!' he said rolling the Rory bit like Jackie Wilson rolls
‘Reet Petite' and knowing I'd be well impressed.
‘I was fucking with Rory Storm!'
I wanted to hear more about Jack on the bottom bunk, I wanted to know how quickly she let him undo her bra and detail such as what it was like, but he was far more keen to tell me about the action on the top bunk.
‘He fucks like a rabbit, all bloody night, and guess what….guess what ?'
‘Not again please...'
It was true. Whilst bleached blonde Rory had the most profound stutter, it never effected his singing.
But it effected his confidence. A vicous circle created from lack of confidence.
When Ringo Starr left Rory Storm and the Hurricanes to join the Beatles a couple of years later, it just about finished the singer off.
He had a quite good record out called ‘Dr.Feelgood' but he became infamous as ‘the singer who lost the drummer to the most successful group in history'. A shit claim to fame.
Iris his sister is a good pal of mine these many years later. She married another chum, Shane Fenton who became Alvin Stardust.
Iris went home to her Mum's one day to find her brother dead in one bedroom and her mother in another. When their Mum found him she was so overwhelmed by grief that she too took her life.
Iris is a class act who's risen above the worst the world and the music industry has to offer.
Her son Adam is now a major player on the club DJ circuit and known as Adam F perhaps taking the Fenton in prefernce to his vast selection of surnames?
Uncle Rory would have been very proud.
Rory, I wonder if you're listening up there?
I wonder if you know how much we care?
Although you felt defeated,
Your rock and roll was treated,
With a magic that I was once around to share.
I know what was going through your mind,
You thought you'd blown it, thought you'd passed your prime,
The Beatles, Billy J and even little Gerry,
Had made it big and didn't have a worry,
You were the star who Epstein left behind.
You agonised you'd never be a King,
The world's stage would never have you sing,
Billboard magazine would never print your name,
The singer whose drummers won the fame,
How could you come to terms with such a thing?
One day the burden became too much,
Mother wasn't there to be your crutch,
With no wish to live, no will to fight,
You reached out and just turned off the light,
Never realising how many of us you would touch?
If heaven's like I hope you'll be a king,
The angels flying in to hear you sing,
Belting out your hits from off your cloud,
Your Mum is smiling proudly from the crowd,
And Elvis' in a tribute flaps his wings.
‘Baby Now That I've Found You' The Foundations.
Prior to this fateful holiday and meeting ‘The Jasons', I had established a social life in Oldham which, unbeknownst to me, found me at the foot of my career ladder and playing records at The Princess dancehall. This was a venue run by orchestra leader Harry Robinson who did a lot of TV work at the time with vocalist Janie Marden. Managing the Princess and leading his orchestra there was his day job. Well, a nightime day job.
He paid me Gerald Armstrong's equivalent of two weeks wages to play the records on Saturday night when his orchestra had a break. This was performed from a corridor out of sight of the audience as if Harry was ashamed of my activity, which he was because my job substituted three members of a live trio at Union rate.
Harry and his band were non-union affiliated.
Generously he also gave me free admission which, as he pointed out, on a Saturday night, was worth a half a crown.
I conned him really. I'd have gladly paid him .
The Log Cabin was another quantum leap for Oldham 's burgeoning teenage society.
Cona Coffee had arrived, frothy coffee, together with a feed station for the juke box at every table which to this wee tiny Oldhamer was space age wizardry sponsored by heaven!
It was here I first fell in love with Ray Charles' original version of ‘What's I say' and.....Christine Hall.
The first time I plucked up courage to speak with her was at a ‘beatnik' club called ‘Flintstone's Cave', a paper maché joint that looked like Barney Rubble's living room.
She had the most fabulous eyes, and hair, and body and smell and voice and ears and ankles and legs and finger nails and….. slap!
I remember running my hand up her leg and her smacking me across the left ear like it was yesterday.
Christine was my total teenage love but she was as popular as she was beautiful and the competition was extreme.
So I worked hard on her and once I started doing gigs with the Jasons at the ‘Savoy', Oldham's premier venue, I would seek her out in the audience and sing to her Jack Scott's ‘What in the world's come over you' which always drew the audience to the stage as everyone waited to see if I could reach the high note at the end of the song.
‘Onleeeeeee......onleee true love!'
‘I'm Just A Singer In A Rock ‘n' roll Band' The Moody Blues
We rehearsed mainly in Alan Maudsley's living room in their terraced house on Chadderton Road .
Alan was our lead guitarist. I couldn't help noticing how much in love his parents were.
His Dad was a bus driver whose bus route ran straight passed their house.
Mr. Maudsley would always stop the bus at his door and sound its throaty horn whereupon the extremely diminutive Mrs. M. would go bounding out of the house, climb up the double-decker's mud flaps and purse her lips as her husband, leaning down from his cab and holding her tightly around her waist in case she fell, kissed her passionately.
I watched in amazement as the rush hour traffic built up behind the number 6 bus as Mr & Mrs M. had their smooch!
Alan was our Hank B. Marvin, he studied the Shadows and taught the rest of the group how to walk the routine around their winkle picker shoes without tripping up in true Shads style. He could play a chord of ‘F' with a full index finger barré.
As we progressed he bought not only a Fender guitar like Hank's but an identical pair of black rimmed glasses!
He played ‘Apache', ‘Kon Tiki', ‘The Frightened City' and ‘FBI' note perfect. Duane Eddy's ‘Pepe' was no problem and The Venture's ‘Walk don't run' he perfected in one afternoon.
Alan was an accountant.
Trevor played rhythm guitar and sang straight songs better than me although I was the lead singer and nobody in Greater Manchester rocked like I did.
Thankfully Trevor mainly sang Pat Boone songs which left me free to handle ‘Tell Laura I Love Her', ‘Dreamin'' and ‘I'm Just A Lonely Boy' and all the great rock n' roll songs covered by the chords C, F & G, including ‘Mean Woman Blues'; ‘Whole Lotta Shakin' and Eddie Cochran's ‘20 Flight Rock' which we'd string into a medley.
I sang the long chorus of ‘What'd I Say' stood on my head and only climbed back on my feet when my face was blood red and snot was running down my throat.
Trevor, our Pat Boone sound-alike and rhythm guitarist, was a fireman. He sang ‘Speedy Gonzalez' climbing ladders and saving lives.
The drummer I hated.
Malc Yates would stand at the bar after the gig with the girl I'd been giving the eye to all night.
I was still a virgin. Malc wasn't. There was obvious conflict.
But he was a great drummer and I loved it when we reached the point in the show where I would let each of the instrumentalists loose in the group's decathlon of solos and stretch Malc to his limit.
We always left the drum solo till last because the audience always went wild.
Malc needed me to come back on stage before his drum solo was completed.
If I didn't show he'd just have to continue.
When I really hated him I stayed off stage as long as possible.
The sweat would drip from his long nose and he'd look at me gratefully as I returned to the microphone.
He couldn't maintain timing. His solos would start at 140 beats per minute and would be a ballad tempo when I returned.
It was my unsubtle ‘fuck you Malc'.
Malc was a plumber.
We had various bass players.
Alan and Trev judged them on merit. Malc and I judged them on how competitive they were with the birds. The uglier they were the better we liked them.
I changed my name about this time. Tommy Whitehead didn't quite work in the rock ‘n' roll garden of Edens , Dions, Jets and Fabians.
But I thought Tommy was OK and the band became known as Tommy Prince and The Jasons.
Or as Tommy Smith, the owner of the Savoy used to advertise in the Oldham Chronicle, ‘Little Tommy, everybody loves him!'
I found our road manager on a lathe at Vertoma Jig and Tool engineering factory where I had managed to get a proper job as an apprentice toolmaker.
Cyril Salt had a small Thames van and once talked us out of buying a new Vox amplifier because it wouldn't fit in.
Things were so tight in that small tour-vehicle that had we introduced so much as a tambourine to augment our sound, he'd have had to invest in a roof rack!
Cyril was a 40 year old with a house full of kids and scabs on his bald head. I think his wife was glad to get him out of the house at night and, subsequently he worked for The Jasons for Gerald Armstrong type wages.
When the group visited Jacksons the Tailor for our new Italian style blue-check stage suits, we took Cyril and bought him one as well.
Cyril wore it to all gigs but we had to ask him to stop wearing it in the venues after we saw him signing autographs one night.
At the end of each performance I asked the audience for a round of applause for each member of the band. The next day at work he was moody. By lunch-time, as we ate our pudding and chips, I discovered why he was sullen.
‘I think you should include me in the name checks', he said. ‘After all, I am almost a member of the group!'
The suit had gone to his bald head.
We were resident at The Savoy on Monday and Thursday nights. Thursday featured guest groups such as Manchester 's Freddie and The Dreamers, The Playboys, Pete McLean and The Dakotas, Deke Arlon & the Tremors, Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders and The Hollies.
Sometimes the owner Tommy Smith would splash out on a bigger name from far afield, Shane Fenton and the Fentones, The Barron Knights and Sounds Incorporated.
‘Ain't That Funny' Jimmy Justice
Bernard Manning owned two major cabaret clubs in Manchester . The Embassy and The Palladium.
The Jasons were doing well, we had a double booking at both clubs. At the second club, The Embassy, we ran into Bernard Manning for the first time. Bernard compered the whole evening telling his dirty jokes between each act.
Thirty years later and nothing has changed. He does exactly the same, spending his off-stage time at the bar with a pint and the punters.
Back in 1962 we all knew he was good but no one could ever have envisaged him as a TV star, he was too, too, bloo.
We were readying ourselves for the second gig when the rotund legend himself walked into our dressing room, shook hands with each of us then, striding over our guitar cases and belongings proceeded to take out his willy and pee in the sink.
We went down well. We had to.
We were topping the bill and Jerry Dorsey, soon to become Engelbert Humperdink, was second on the bill and had just brought the house down with his tariff of Sinatra, Bennet and Davies.
We went on and gave them Presley, Holly and Richard. Thankfully it was a good gig.
The Jasons were on their way!
After our gig we were getting changed and the sink turned out to be the only back-stage plumbed facility. The toilet was out front through the audience. Accordingly we unhydrated in the sink following Bernard Manning's example.
Bernard walked in and caught our drummer Malc Yates mid-pee.
‘Well done lads'. he said. ‘Now what was the damage?'.
‘Eighty quid to you Bernard', I said towelling myself down.
‘Hold on', said Alan Maudsley, our lead guitarist and accountant. ‘There's only 75 here'.
‘That's right', said Bernard. ‘There's a five pound fine for peeing in the sink!'
‘But', we all chimed. ‘YOU peed in the sink!'!!!
He was halfway out the door and peered back at us. ‘It's my bloody sink lads!'
He winked, beamed at us and returned to centre stage to deliver more blue repertoire.
On the way home that night we heard on the radio that Marilyn Monroe had died of an accidental overdose of barbiturates.
We argued about which had been her best movie. I voted for ‘Some like it hot', Alan suggested ‘Gentlemen prefer blondes' and Cyril liked ‘There's no business like show business'.
We all agreed we would miss her.
I had tossed off over Marilyn many times.
‘At The Club' The Drifters
I still wasn't a drinker. Orange cordial with lots of ice was my main tipple at gigs.
Scotch and coke was soon to secure my affection. The Beatle's popularised the mix and I followed the fashion.
I'd never even heard of the other coke. Kids were doing purple hearts but I didn't need substances, Elvis was enough drug.
The police used to raid clubs for under age drinkers and purple heart consumers. One copper, on a raid at Manchester 's Bodega club slipped on a dance floor full of discarded pills and broke his elbow!
I eventually followed all the other Mop Top fashions such as the haircut, those obnoxious rounded collared jackets and, their greatest idea, Beatle boots. These put me up to 5'7', I was eternally grateful to J,P,G&R and continued wearing them long after they'd gone out of fashion.
As I was standing on my head around Manchester the Beatles were in their Hamburg phase. Brian Epstein, running his family NEMS record shop in Liverpool , had yet to meet his fate.
When The Beatles were playing The Cavern, Litherland Town Hall , New Brighton Pier, The Jasons were performing at The Twisted Wheel, Lee Road Social Club and, every group's target gig, The Oasis.
Irlam, a village near Warrington , was a fair hike for us all cramped in Cyril's van. Trev had advanced to his first wheels, three of them, a red Bond that opened like a clam from the front and had an engine about the size of my first Hornby train. He, his girlfriend Dorothy and his guitar case would follow the van, behind them our cavalcade would be completed with Malc who drove a Lambretta.
So, although Malc in particular didn't like the long hike on his scooter, we were about as popular as you can get at The Black Swan, Irlam and were given residency each Sunday night.
It was here that I first experienced the look of lust. Unfortunately though it was on the face of Fran Matulko who was on the arm of the toughest ted in Irlam. But it was there all right, an eyeball laser zapping me from across the pub.
As her dark, mascaraed eyes devoured me my loins responded. Blood gushed. Testosterone was released.
One Sunday, when her beau was in the urinals, she slipped her telephone number in my hand. I took it home savouring it like a penny black.
And the two electric words she whispered in my ear were, ‘Anytime, anywhere!'
‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do' Neil Sedaka
Shortly after this The Jasons bust up.
We'd been offered a season at Butlins but the boys didn't want to resign their careers. And good for them. Alan's still an accountant, Trev a fireman and Malc a plumber.
I was outa there fast. A solo artist.
I entered a talent competition in a Manchester theatre and found myself up against a ten year old pianist who played a classical interpretation of ‘Three Blind Mice'. He was followed by a fellow who sang ‘Mardi Gras' and did a percussive solo with a pair of ivory rickers held between his arthritic fingers.
Two competitors sang Bing Crosby's/Ronnie Hilton's/Gracie Fields/Mantovani's ‘Around the world I searched for you' and no less than three women duplicated their selection which was Peggy Lee's ‘Mr. Wonderful'.
I was also challenged for position in the event by a man who wanted to keep fourteen plates spinning at the same time, but the theatre props couldn't find a table big enough so he had to settle on spinning six, which he seemed to find quite easy. His act under-ran by two minutes.
I won. I was made.
First prize £10 cash.
The judge, purported to be Adam Faith's manager, came up to me in the wings. I thought he was going to suggest he manage me but, instead, he gave me sound advice to help my career.
‘Don't get big headed', he cautioned and walked away forgetting to give me my contract.
I was catching up with Elvis and Ray Charles fast. This was how their careers began winning talent competitions. Ray won in Georgia in 1945, Elvis came only second the same year at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show and I came first in Manchester .
‘The Great Pretender' The Platters
The big night, when my star took up its most influential position in my life to that time.
Two things of major ecological and physiological proportion were about to happen. The Top Rank Astoria was opening in Oldham . And so too was Fran Matulko!
Fran had caught three buses from Irlam to Egerton Street where I met her off the Number 59.
Timed like a military manoeuvre so that I could be sure my mother and father were secure in their respective positions in the Egerton Arms, Fran held my perspiring hand as we walked up my street, through the door of number 8, onto the settee and, at lifetime last, up the creaking stairs where I had sat shivering as a child.
I was still shivering.
She wore a corset with hooks and eyes. Suspenders clung to her white thighs.
Her breasts were spectacular and I marvelled and toyed with them for at least an hour before the main show began.
Penetration was difficult. There were no sex-guides in those days. You learned fornication from fable and fabrication. Jack Smith was my Doctor Ruth.
My foreskin hurt. It had never been back so far.
She thought I was in ecstasy but I was in agony.
After three minutes I could bare it no longer and made out I had….made out. I was relieved she didn't ask me where the sperm was because there wasn't any.
Technically therefore I was still a virgin. Full sex had still to come! But, even though John Thomas pained me, in my mind I was, at 18 going on 19, six foot tall at last!
The fatefulness of that evening continued unabated.
I had tickets to the opening night of the Astoria Ballroom, formerly the Gaumont cinema. With Fran on my arm I walked in like a King.
Beyond the dance floor the stage featured the 15 piece Johnny Francis Orchestra. Johnny used to play alto sax in Tommy Smith's band when I had been resident with The Jasons at the Savoy. During the band break a prattish looking chap played records.
Chubby Checker's ‘Let's Twist Again' and Little Eva's ‘Locomotion' filled the venue.
‘How you doin' Tommy?' Asked the bandleader waiting for his pint of lager. And so it was that with a glass of orange cordial in one hand and Fran on my arm, I followed the yellow brick road.
‘I'm desperate for a male singer, how do you fancy it?' he asked.
‘Sorry Johnny', I answered. ‘I prefer girls!'
And then he told me how much I'd earn.
The next day I handed in my notice at Vertoma Jig & Tool giving my micrometer to my old road manager Cyril.
‘Are you sure thas' doin't right thing Tommy?', asked Harry who'd been putting keyways in propeller shafts all his life whilst singing either Shirley Bassey or Harry Secombe songs.
‘I hope what I have taught you will come in handy one day', said Des the chief toolmaker. I assured him that I would never forget to use aluminium vice clamps when filing soft metals!
‘Get me 20 Capstan full strength and a cheese and onion pie', shouted Joe Knox from his lathe.
For six month I'd been their lunch-runner slave. After today I would never ever run an errand again.
‘Fuck off Joe!' I offered cordially.
I then descended into the factory cellar and burned my overalls, leaving with n'er a tear in my eye. I was a full time pro. Nothing I would ever achieve was greater than this.
A PROPER JOB
‘Get a proper job urged my gran',
Although later she became a real big fan.
‘Get a job in't mill, Your Uncle Tom's there still,
And he's become a very wealthy man!'
‘Tom earns twenty pounds a week,
He's 55 and nowhere near his peak.
Your uncle Tom and Auntie Ettie,
And their little mongrel Betty,
Are set up for their life so to speak'.
Dad knew a man with swing at Pak-a-Mac,
‘He'll get you in when someone gets the sack'.
The job was stamping button holes,
In plastic macs that came in rolls,
But sadly Dad was talking to my back.
Uncle John offered butchering as a trade.
‘Join me kid, you'll surely have it made',
Carving cows and lambs,
Polloney, ham and spams,
Pig's trotters once I'd made the grade.
‘Singing's for the choir', said Auntie Fran,
‘What happens when you become a man?
Your friends will all be rich,
And you won't have a stitch,
Thez best get a good job right now while you can!'
It broke my heart causing them such sorrow,
But I knew they'd comprehend tomorrow.
When I came on TV,
They'd clap because you see,
Not one of them would ever have to borrow!
Mum would have a new house and a mink,
No more washing dishes in the sink.
Dad would have his Jags,
Cigars instead of fags,
A bedroom each coz Mum can't stand the stink.
So look out Cliff and Elvis here I come,
I'm gonna be a star just for my Mum.
Make room there on the charts,
I'm going to steal some hearts,
I've just turned pro so come on roll the drum!
‘Guitar Man' Duane Eddy
I slipped easily into my new time cycle. No more getting up at 7 a.m. and hiding on the bus from fans who might recognise the kid in scruffy overalls as ‘Little Tommy' who they normally only saw in a gold lame jacket at the Savoy.
But Dad didn't slip into my new way of life as easily as I.
‘Sun's burning the house down!' he'd shout from the bottom of the stairs by noon.
Johnny Francis wanted me to play guitar when I wasn't singing.
If it was a difficult chord sequence he'd stop conducting the band and saunter over to me cocking his hand to his mouth confidentially and advising me to turn my amplifier off!
Now I was wearing a tuxedo on strict tempo ballroom dancing nights, a white jacket on Saturdays, the gold lame for my Elvis medley and, a wig and dress for my Christine Keeler impersonation!
After my fourth night the strange looking middle aged man who'd played the records in the band break didn't show. Perhaps, I felt, he had been kept late at his day job shelf packing at Pay Less?
The manager asked me if I'd play the records for an extra £2 a night. Three decades later, I'm still standing in for the guy. He doesn't know what he missed!
Soon the band got laid off on Tuesdays which became a total record night. The band was earning £16 a week Union rate whilst I was pocketing £24. I was Rockerfellow, King of Oldham.
At Vertoma Jig and Tool I took home £6/2s/6d if I worked overtime on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings!
‘Hard Day's Night', The Beatles
Early in 1963 the Top Rank Astoria's manager, Dick Salem, (who years later ran a club in Manchester for George Best), called me into his office. He wanted my opinion on a group who had just tickled the charts with their first single. They were available shortly after their next single was released and Salem wondered if they would be worth £75?
‘If they chart by mid-March they'll be going out for anything up to £500', he predicted.
Dick delegated such decisions to me ever since I advised him to book Susan Maughan on the strength of her ‘Bobby's Girl' just before it charted when she was booking for £50. He filled the place, 1000 punters at £2 admission when she was top ten.
I'd seen the group in question on Granada TV introduced by Bill Grundy the same guy who the Sex Pistols told to ‘Fuck off you old wanker' on their first TV appearance twenty years later. I advised Dick to book The Beatles.
I looked forward to meeting Ringo again and wondered if he would remember the kid who borrowed his cowboy boots back at Butlins when he played with Rory Storm? But I never got near to a conversation with him. It was pandemonium, chaos, as I witnessed close-hand the very night of the birth of Beatlemania.
The night they charted NUMBER ONE for the first time! The queue around the Rank was the biggest Union Street had ever seen. By 6pm the police were outside in force. By 7pm the drunks at the Star Inn pub across the road had vacated the bar to oggle at the spectacle of thousands of mini skirted, screaming teenagers blocking the road.
The Beatles arrived quite late, I put on an LP and visited their dressing room which was also mine.
I hung around for as long as I could enjoying their banter, the press interviews and the autograph hunters and I was in time to witness the mop tops taking on board the news in a telegram which they had received from Morris Kinn, editor of the New Musical Express.
Paul asked for quiet and read it to the ensemble.
‘Congratulations, The Beatles ‘Please please me' is Number One on the NME charts!'
They were ecstatic. They all hugged each other. Dick Salem hugged me!
‘Fuck me!' said John Lennon, ‘Anyone got a Prelly?' The white Preludine tablets were passed round. John took two dropping them with a scotch and coke and then offered me one. I didn't know what they were and declined explaining that I didn't have a headache! Lennon thought it was very funny.
Back on stage there was a carnival atmosphere in the place. Fred Lowe, a bouncer who ran a junk store in the market during the day, had just turned away 2000 fans posting the 'full-house' sign up. Kids had come from all over the place, we'd never witnessed anything like it in Oldham. Not even Eden Kane, Roy Orbison, Billy Fury, Jimmy Justice, Del Shannon or Marty Wilde had ever pulled such a massive out of town crowd.
The Astoria was brimming with strangers all eyes on stage as I played the latest hits. No one danced, there wasn't room.
There was no backstage entrance from the stage where I played. Once I'd introduced them, the Beatles appeared from stage-left running heads bent through a corridor of flailing arms and forked fingernails and shrieking fans held back by Astoria's mesmerised bouncers.
Noise? You've never heard anything like it!
Within days the word 'Beatlemania' was uttered for the first time on planet earth.
I was stuck, if that is the word, on stage with them for the duration of their 30 minute set, perched at the side of Paul's amplifier, eyeballing Lennon who stuck his chin out as he belted out the rock.
‘Tricky Dicky', John yelled stroking six strings for a B flat and then the group struck up and the whole fucking world was wonderful.
Sitting close to the amplifiers, where my eardrums were threatened, I was the last person to ever hear the Beatles live.
The noise, the screams, the fainting girls dragged onto stage to save them being crushed by the human avalanche, a wave of bodies surging towards the stage. The fear on George's face as a girl broke rank and threw herself around his neck and Paul's sweat dripping like a tap onto his left handed bass as he nodded approval to John whose eyeballs distended as they harmonised, ‘Last night I said these words to my girl.....'
It was the ultimate musical experience. Only one event ever eclipsed it for me but that would come in 1972.
As wily girls witnessed what happened to the ones who genuinely fainted, so they too feigned fainting to be carried to the foot of their Lords on stage.
Then they recovered and sat goggle eyed, closer than fans would ever again be to the Fab Four.
It's all documented in the Oldham Chronicle and in one shot where Fred Lowe is seen reaching for a girl and accidentally stripping her of her blouse, you may, if you look closely see Tommy Whitehead, white suit, black dicky!
There's another Chron pic where I'm seen to be helping the bouncers keep the kids off stage.
And then came the end.
How the fuck does a DJ follow that? ‘Bobby's Girl?' I think not!
Nothing in my collection of hits seemed appropriate. Joe Brown's ‘Picture of you?' nagh! The Tornadoes ‘Telstar?' tripe!
Subsequently I played ‘Please Please Me' three times, the ‘b' side ‘Ask Me Why' twice, ‘Love Me Do' and its flip side ‘PS I Love You' and then Dick Salem came on stage and told me to call it a night.
Salem along with every member of staff had become security staff for the night. Everyone was utterly exhausted from the catering staff to the manager. We had all experienced something peerless in our memories.
Back stage, bodies were strewn everywhere with a couple of Red Cross chappies in their vocational element.
I made it to our shared dressing room which was bedlam.
Half undressed and still sweating, the group were on a high of highs.
John Lennon disappeared with a fan into the adjoining toilet whilst the others took on the Oldham Chronicle, Manchester Evening Post, Melody Maker, and....a chap from Shaw just outside Oldham who Paul introduced to everyone as ‘an old mucker of me dad's'.
In the light of hind-sight and the historic measure of that evening something quite astounding in its normality happened.
Paul's dad's friend invited them to go to his house in Shaw for a cup of tea.
‘What do you think John?' asked Paul as this future peacemaker zipped up his flies leaving the girl in the loo.
‘Why not', slurred Lennon. ‘Do yer ‘av any cheese sarnies?'
It now seems like such a profound anti-climax, of the night the Beatles went to Number One for the first time. As their lives as normal people finally came to an end and we felt the first tremors of a youth-quake that would echo down the corridors of time, the Beatles went to Shaw, home of Blubber, to celebrate with a cuppa tea!
It doesn't get more British than that.
I came to know Paul and Linda quite well in the year's ahead and tea remained their favourite tipple.
‘The Bristol Stomp' The Dovells
In late 1963 Rank moved me and the band lock stock and barrel organ to their latest showpiece venue, The Top Rank Suite in Bristol.
A new tunnel.
‘You should change your name to Tony Tommy', said Gary Brown Top Rank's entertainment guru who had selected us for Bristol.
‘Tony Tommy', sounds daft', I said.
‘No, Tony Prince! leave Tommy in Oldham', he beseeched.
I lived in digs with Johnny Francis and Pat the bands female crooner. I used to hide under her bed watching her disrobe, it became my hobby.
Pat hated me because I sang all the songs people wanted to hear and she sang stuff that the band wanted to hear like ‘Love for sale' and other classics from an almost extinct era.
Me, ‘She Loves You'; ‘Just Like Eddy'; ‘Glad All Over'.
Johnny Francis loved to introduce me singing the latter.
‘And now folks here's Tony again who's feeling Glad all over, lucky lad!'
He also liked to give silly prizes.
‘The first girl up here with a pair of green knickers', he'd announce between tunes before being inundated with underwear, whilst the prize went to the girl who proffered a pair of one pound notes!
The band liked it.
I'd heard little good about the Musician's Union but my first meeting with them looked like being a profitable affair.
In those days, when a band opened in a new venue, the local MU secretary came to see them to check that they were all members and that their terms were MU standard.
Ken Lewis, was his name. You remember certain names, especially when they change your life.
‘You play the records as well as sing and play guitar', he observed. MU rate for the band was £18 a week. I was on £24 plus £6 for Tuesday's record night.
‘You should be on more than that son for the hours you're working', said Ken.
He fed me avarice.
Two weeks went by before I received an official looking MU envelope. I opened it to see if I could now buy my first car.
It's been brought to my attention that you are breaking Union rules. The Musician's Union is opposed to records being played in dancehalls as they are putting trios out of work.
I have to ask you to refrain from playing records or resign from the Musician's Union',
(Secretary, Musicians Union, Bristol).'
Gary Brown, Mr.Fancourt and Mr.Whittle, the extreme hierarchy at Top Rank's head office in London, were down the A4 like Stirling Moss.
The three wise men sat me in the General Manager's office and outbid the MU.
‘Tony', said Gary Brown, a former bandleader at Butlins and, the last I heard, Entertainment Consultant for the QE2, ‘We need you to go to an MU meeting to fight for your rights as a musician to play records'.
‘What if I loose?'
‘We'll still pay you your present salary as a Disc Jockey', chimed Whittle the Chairman of the whole fucking company.
‘So my career as a vocalist and musician will be terminated if I fail to win?' I asked the trio of executives.
‘Tony, I don't know how to put this', said Gary Brown. ‘You're a good singer but you're the best fucking live DJ I've ever seen!'
Gary had been to the College of Diplomacy.
The night before their visit I'd discussed the possible reasons for this unexpected meeting with Johnny, whose family I now lived with, over tea and toast with raw tomatoes, our favourite supper. Johnny and his wife Sheila, made me aware of the star now hovering above me and indeed the leisure industry.
The economics of records versus Musician's Union trio rates, taken across the Top Rank network of some one hundred ballrooms, was phenomenal.
If the MU shut down my vocalising, Rank's Princely scapegoat would pave the way for incalculable corporate savings, let alone the fact that kids preferred records to bands or trios. The M.U. had already blocked records on radio, what little radio we had in those days, now they were muscling in on the disc-starved generation in clubs and dance halls!
Band leaders like Bob Miller & The Millermen, the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra, Joe Los, Edmundo Ross and Victor Sylvester with his satanic smile and his fucking ‘Slow, slow, quick, quick slow' were absolutely coining it! All at the price of our sanity!
We worked it out in Johnny's kitchen that I was all that stood in the way of Top Rank saving in excess of £500,000 a year in musician's wages!
Of course Mecca Leisure and the countless other independent venue owners around the country would also reap the rewards.
I currently earned £26.00 a week.
I was a big chip.
I faced the friendly trio of head office Directors.
‘So you will continue to pay me around £26 a week to play records but I have to be prepared to change my career?' I probed.
‘Yes' - ‘Yes' - ‘Yes' the trio harmonised along the lines of ‘She loves you'.
‘But my career as a singer would be over?' ‘Yes', they muttered averting their eyes.
‘How about £100 a week then if they expell me?'
They looked like three side-show Sambos where you put a table tennis ball in their gaping mouth as the head moves side to side aiming for the channel that gives the best score for the top prizes.
I got the prize. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah', they harmonised.
‘Part Of The Union' The Strawbs
Six weeks later I was called to a Bristol Musician's Union meeting at the Spa Hotel, handy for the competitive Mecca Band who played the Glen Ballroom and who would surely shoot the fuck out of me with their votes.
100 Musician Union members arrived including my only allies, the 15 members of the soon to be 10, soon to be a quintet, Johnny Francis Orchestra.
Ken Lewis put his case forward.
The same MU secretary who had suggested I should be paid more had, inadvertently made it happen.
I made him look like a cunt by addressing the meeting with the fact that, the last time I saw him, he'd promised me a pay rise. I wasn't taking any prisoners.
Lewis shrunk with embarrassment hiding behind a pitcher of water that he drunk rapaciously throughout the thirty minute hearing. I think I lost his vote.
Rank's bosses, up once again from London, presented their observations to the meeting.
Johnny Francis stood up, a towering six foot two of a man, a life-long MU member and superb bandleader, sax player and knickers collector.
‘If you throw Tony out of the Union, I promise you we will be down to a four day week within a few months, down to a six piece within the year! Keep Tony in the Union and you have some control, kick him out and you leave musicians to unfavourable trends which see us being booed when we come on stage and Tony cheered when he starts playing his records!'
He had a point. They voted 85 for me to fuck right off and 15 to keep me in the Union.
I was strangely elated. They'd just voted me a massive pay rise!
And tolled the bell for big bands.
I inherited not only a 330% salary increase but a 100% loathing for the Musicians Union.
Years ahead, what goes around would finally come around for the MU. I would eventually inspire club DJs around the world to become musicians and not one of them would become a member of any union.
Back in 1964, by default, I became the world's first full time, wage earning, club DJ. Jimmy Savile was a Mecca manager in Manchester at the time and had somehow won his way onto Radio Luxembourg but, apart from Jim, according to Top Rank, I was the first person ever to be on their payroll as a pure DJ.
Pure is the wrong word of course. I was having a ball!
Rank had kindly given me my own private undressing room! And in a city called Bristol well......
The MU members of Bristol took it all very personally.
Two weeks after my expulsion, on a balmy Tuesday night, I was departing by the rear exit of the Top Rank enjoying the gradual abatement of my high from four hours constant adrenaline flow. The Tuesday night record sessions were packed every week with 1200 record-mad punters.
It was so easy pulling a girl that I decided what nights I didn't want one rather than when I would like one.
I was going home alone. Shagged out.
Out of the shadows three guys with short back and sides blocked my path.
‘Keep music live you little bastard!' These were the last words I heard before hitting the pavement. They took turns putting in the boot inventing new names for me with every kick.
I managed to pull one of them down to the ground with me and clamped my teeth around his thigh. He was lucky, I was aiming for his balls. The floored music lover hit a high 'C'. I think he was an alto sax player.
The other two concentrated on pulling me off him. I left my one tooth denture in his nether region and ran like fuck out of the shadows legging it fifty yards towards the Broadmead Police Station literally straight across the street from the Rank.
Minutes later I returned with two on duty cops but the only sign of the attack was my denture which I wiped on my shirt and popped back in my mouth, whereupon I smiled at the cops and went home.
‘Fuck 'live'!' I cursed.
The following Tuesday night we had 1750 capacity and so it remained until I left in 1966.
Jasons: 1961 – 1962.
Top Rank Oldham – 1963
Discs a Gogo TV show (Bristol) 1964/65
Radio Caroline (1966/7).
Radio Luxembourg (1968 – 1984).
DMC (World DJ Championship etc. owner - 1983 – to date.
Tony taught me to DJ, I was the kitchen porter, he forgot to mention when they were about to open the Top Rank Suite in Bristol he was arrested for bringing teaffic to a standstill.
He lifted a manhole cover and started fishing so bring the city centre to a standstill and I believe was either let off with a warning or a small fine. Its interesting that 40 years after he was at Butlins I became a director
Bryan Leaker MBE 14/9/10
I was walking down Broadmead with Johnny Francis and Gary Brown Top Rank's Entertainment Director (himself a former Butlins Redcoat) when Gary spotted the manhole. We went into a fish shop and bought a fish, Gary blagged a fishing rod from a sports shop and we staged the photo of me arising from the manhole with a fish supposedly caught in a river than ran below us. I remember the Western Daily Press ran a full page photo, I was famous at last!!!!
Don't recall being arrested, the cops were all pals of ours because they'd pop in to the Top Rank Suite for a free pint!!!
Congrats on the MBE and thanks for the memories.
Tony Prince 10/12/10
Hi Tony do you remember playing at my wedding in oldham in 1961 at the Bulls Head pub?
Your dad Frank and my dad Fred worked together, also your mam and dad were my godparents.
My husband and i left oldham in 1969 for Australia and live in Brisbane. By chance I googled your name because I was telling my friend how you were filmed with Elvis (who is still the greatest) and up popped all the info on you - I never knew you were so well known.
I still have the photo of Elvis and you that your mam gave me. Glad to see you have done so well good on you mate x
Carol Adams ps I'm Carol Tipler now but still think of Oldham - 28/5/11
I roomed in Longfield Road in Bristol with Tony Pat Johnny and the band.
They were a blast. We got free passes to Top Rank, and our friends were mightily impressed that we "knew" the Band.
John Burgess 12/8/12
I remember Tony Prince and Johnny Francis. I was female singer with Johnny Francis band from 1966 to 1968.
What an amazing place to work - all the top singers and bands would play there. I was just seventeen years old and it was my first professional job. They had a good male singer, called Gary Landis not his real name of Peter Tucker.
Johnny Francis was a really good musician and wrote all his own arrangements. After leaving him to go to Leicester where they were just about to open a brand new ballroom. Right in the town centre. Johnny after a couple of years then transferred to Leicester with his band and I came back to Bristol Top Rank. There were really good days.
Fay, Bristol 5/9/12
Hard Days Night
The Beatles didn't go to Shaw for sandwiches after the gig they went to Windsor Rd on the Coppice and the home of John McCann.
Bernie Allen 18/1/13
I remember Tony djing at Flinstones Cave in Oldham mid 1963 /1964, when I was road managing The Nashvile Men/Tony D and the Shakeouts, and the Country Gents were playing that night. And I spoke to tony when he was in his dj box for some time. And some years later he came to the Broadway on Oldham Road where I was working, and he ignored me completely.
Harry Proctor 25/2/13
When Dave Lee Travis finally departed the Cavern Club [Manchester] in his ex-army jeep and his ex-army surplus gear for Radio Caroline he was-if I'm not mistaken-replaced by Tony Prince.
Kieran Farrell 14/5/13
Flintstones Cave was where I met and fell in love with Christine Hall who has now been lumbered with me for 44 years!
Carol Adams: how's your brother Freddy?
I corrected The Beatle destination after the Astoria gig, thank you.
Still hoping to have my book published which is now a fabulous double autobiography titled TWO LIVES, running from my life to that of Jan's, a Czechoslovakian DJ who suffered hell and was a compulsive pirate radio and Radio Luxembourg listener. His story is as frightening as mine is fun, I wanted to bring the Eastern bloc kids situation to the people and if we don't land a publishing deal next year, we'll publish as a Kindle book.
Thanks for all the great memories Manchester Beat.
PS. Look out for an extensive film documentary I'm currently producing called THE HISTORY OF DJ which should appear early in 2014 on our web site dmcworld.com
Tony Prince 11/12/13
Update February 2015
My story timeline has changed somewhat for Manchester Beat.
I left Wedding TV after five years but brought my programme making experience back to DMC forming DMCWORLD.TV where the HISTORY OF DJ is progressing nicely with four episodes already viewable on http://www.dmcworld.tv/historyofdj/.
I’m just editing the Oldham Savoy & Top Rank Astoria episode.
The book I mentioned looks like being published in the autumn under the title MAKING WAVES and will be a proper book which I’m chuffed about. As I mentioned, it’s a double autobiography with a Czechoslovakian DJ I worked with in Brno, Karlovy Vary and Prague two weeks after the Russian Invasion (the new Communist regime had to honour the gigs as the contract was signed before the Russians invasion there ending Prague Spring).
The story is a marriage between my DJ adventures in the west and Jan Sestak’s nightmares in the east.
I’m very excited about finally getting this published having first started writing this in 1998 when I lived in New York.
When I left Oldham Art School I’d been sent to a Career’s Guidance Officer with all the other kids. When he asked me what I wanted to be and I answered “A writer for the Oldham Chronicle”, he took one look at my writing and spelling and told me to see if I could get an engineering apprenticeship at Moorside Components or Ferranti!!!
I heard from a really great pal, Ian Fenn one of the greatest rock n roll pianists Oldham ever produced. Ian and I used to holiday at Butlins together and he played at our wedding at the Egerton Arms. Ian has a recording studio in Oldham and has recently produced a backing track for me to sing 20 Flight Rock which I’ll do in the next couple of weeks. I still cling to my days in The Jasons as my happiest and most exciting and made contact with our great lead guitarist Alan Maudsley, (how excited we were when he managed to take out hp on a new Fender Stratocaster in 1961).
I saw here that Trevor Schofield now Tony Fields (Rhythm guitar and vocals) moved down under and has had a great career, how I would like to see him and Dorothy again. When I first joined the band Harold Jones played bass guitar on a six string (couldn’t afford a proper bass). We had a wonderful lunch reunion in Zurich a couple of years back which, as he has revealed on Manchester Beat, is where he settled.
Then someone said they’d run into Vinnie Lord who was also in the band I met at Butlins after I’d fallen off stage during the talent contest (pre Jasons they were known as the Silver Dollars).
So thank you Paul for all you do to keep that period alive and bright in our hearts.
If anyone has a photo of The Savoy or the Tommy Smith Orchestra I’d love to use them in the documentary.
Regards to all who cherish our northern memories.
Tony Prince 18/2/15