Pete Tong MBE, English Disc Jockey, chats with Kevin Cooper about his fond memories of Nottingham, what makes a great House tune, the latest Ibiza Classics album and his forthcoming Ibiza Classics tour of the UK with Jules Buckley and The Heritage Orchestra.

Pete Tong MBE, is an English Disc Jockey who works for BBC Radio 1. He is the host of programmes such as Essential Mix and Essential Selection on the radio service, which can be heard through Internet radio streams, for his record label FFRR Records, and for his own performances at nightclubs and music festivals. Tong has also worked as a record producer.

Tong’s first appearance on radio was in the late 1970s on Radio Invicta 92.4fm, Europe’s first soul music station. He joined a rotation of nightclub DJs to present monthly guest shows. In 1981, Tong made his first appearance on Radio 1 as the host of a 15-minute feature on Peter Powell’s show, when he played new tracks, and covered the latest gossip and news from the dance music industry.

In 1991 Tong began his Friday evening show, branded as the Essential Selection for its first fifteen years, on BBC Radio 1, and he is the second-longest serving living DJ (after Annie Nightingale) on the station. From 1993 Tong over saw the production of the Essential Mix show, which was the first BBC production to broadcast live from Ibiza, Spain.

He is now one of Britain’s most recognised DJs, having gained a large following of fans from his Essential Selection programme. He was appointed a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to Broadcasting and Music.

From 2003 to 2007 Tong was the resident DJ at Pacha nightclub in Ibiza, where he oversaw the Pure Pacha events. In 2008 Tong left Pacha and signed with Eden nightclub in Sant Antoni de Portmany to host his own Wonderland night. In 2011 he returned to Pacha on Friday nights with a new event named ‘All Gone Pete Tong’.

Now firmly part of the live music scene, the voice of Radio 1’s prestigious dance programming and one of Britain’s most influential figures in electronic dance music, Tong along with conductor Jules Buckley and the 65 piece Heritage Orchestra have since 2015 been taking their Ibiza Classics show around the country.

Whilst busy preparing to bring his Ibiza Classics tour to the UK, Pete Tong took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good morning Pete, how is the weather treating you in Los Angeles today?

It’s all good this morning thanks Kevin. How are things with you?

Everything is fine thanks, and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s not a problem, it’s my pleasure.

And just how is life treating Pete Tong at this moment in time?

It’s alright to be honest with you. I have just this minute walked into one of my offices here in Los Angeles and I am ready to go at nine in the morning (laughter). We get up early here in LA; I’ve been awake since six (laughter).

It’s a hard life (laughter). You will be performing your Pete Tong Presents Ibiza Classics with Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra here in Nottingham on Thursday 6th December at the Motorpoint Arena. For those of us who have yet to see the show, just what can we expect?

Well, what can I say except that I hope that all of the people who will be attending the show will have a damn good time. We started this thing back in 2015 and every time that we have taken the show around the country, we try to change it up a bit in terms of the routine but unfortunately, we haven’t managed to bring the show to Nottingham before now, so I really do hope that it is going to be something rather special.

Am I correct in thinking that Nottingham holds some fond memories for you?

(Laughter) just who have you been talking to? Yes, you are right, and I have to tell you that I have got a great affinity with the city of Nottingham. When I first started to break out as a DJ, outside of the South-East of England, I got offered a job on Radio One back in 1991, and one of the places that I started to play regularly was Venus in Nottingham back in the day, so I really do have fond memories of playing in Nottingham. Nottingham has always had an affinity with dance music and played a major part in the evolution of dance music here in the UK. So, for me, it is exciting to come back there and play some of these tunes.

I’m surprised that you and I never actually bumped into one another back in the day. I would regularly be DJ’ing in and around Nottingham, but at that time I was concentrating on Motown and Northern Soul.

Well, there you go. At that time I was aware of the attraction and interest that the Midlands had in both Motown and Northern Soul as I was working at Blues & Soul Magazine back in the early 80s, and believe it or not, part of my brief was to write about Northern Soul clubs up and down the length and breadth of the UK.

It’s shocked me today as I have been looking at some of you guys and what you are currently worth, and when I saw that you are personally worth some thirty three million pounds it actually made me drop my record box (laughter). Back in the day I was working fifty hours per week earning a paltry £10 per week whilst if I DJ’d at the weekend, I would earn £25 per night.

(Laughter) you should never drop your record box Kevin. I kind of remember those days, starting out playing in village halls and pubs. The thing that I always told people back then if they wanted to get into DJ’ing back in the late 70s early 80s, was that it wasn’t even considered to be a job, unless you were a wedding DJ and even then, that was normally someone’s second job. It simply wasn’t conceivable that you could consider DJ’ing for a living. It had to be a hobby (laughter).

(Laughter) swiftly moving on and hoping that the UK tax man isn’t reading this, without spoiling it for anyone, what format will the show take?

Well it is a ninety-minute show, and me and the amazing sixty-five-piece Heritage Orchestra who are conducted by Jules Buckley are on the stage throughout the show. We will be playing our orchestral interpretations of House and Techno Classics stretching back and working our way through the whole scene from the late 80s up to the present day.

We try to change it up pretty much almost every show but, most definitely every year. So, this year is most probably the biggest freshen up that we have had in some time in terms of exactly what people will see on stage. There will be lots of guest vocalists; it is an amazing production, it’s like our Rolls Royce machine that we take around the country (laughter). So, it really will be ninety minutes of great memories, hopefully great emotions, and everyone having a great time. There is something about doing this in front of a load of people; the audience becomes a massive part of the show.

Where did the original idea for the show come from?

I knew that you were going to ask me that (Laughter). I have to be totally honest with you and tell you that it all started with The Proms reaching out to Radio One and seeing if we would be interested in curating something that was going to give them a little bit of a refresh in terms of the image of The Proms. They thought that maybe we could come up with something that would attract a younger demographic, and awaken a new and younger audience to just what The Proms and what orchestral performances are all about. The seed of it was that, and then the guy who was running Radio One at that time spoke to me about it as it just so happened to be the twentieth anniversary of me being involved in taking Radio One over to Ibiza. He wanted us to do something special in order to celebrate the occasion.

I suggested that we kick-off the whole extended weekend of Radio One’s activity in Ibiza with this amazing tribute to the music and the island from The Royal Albert Hall. So, in a nutshell, that is how it all came about. At that time, I was aware of Jules Buckley and The Heritage Orchestra through their work with Basement Jaxx and Goldie, so they really did come highly recommended (laughter). I didn’t know them, and I had never worked with them before. I had never worked with an orchestra before, certainly never on anything of this scale. More to the point, I had never curated a concert with an orchestra, so as you can imagine it was a massive learning curve for me. But let me tell you, it really was a hell of a lot of fun (laughter).

We had a total of six months to plan it, so we had from the January of that year to the July, when we did the show, and after that my life totally changed. I have to say that I never saw this coming. Here I am talking to you some four years later and we are about to set off on a nine date arena tour here in the UK. We are doing two sold-out shows at the O2 in London; we have taken the show to America, Australia and Ibiza and we are just about to release the third album so, someone, somewhere has for the time being managed to get everything right (laughter).

The songs which you perform on the night, was their selection purely down to yourself?

Yes, they were, that is my role in all this madness (laughter). I come up with the tunes that I want to do, together with ideas as to how we want to adapt them. On that point I really do have to say that the adaptations have become more radical over the years. We perform up tempo tunes as down tempo tunes and we perform down tempo tunes as up tempo tunes (laughter). We love to turn things on their head. If the original song was sung by a female, then maybe it will be sung by a male when we perform it live. We are constantly changing up the approach to freshen things up. Obviously, I talk to Jules at length to see what he thinks, in terms of just how we can adapt these tunes, and I have to say that occasionally he will knock me back (laughter).

However, in general it all kind of works together. The other exciting thing for me is that I get to work with this level of musicians, and these levels of virtuosity, together with the talent that Jools has as an arranger, the temptation was always there for us to perform new material. And now, finally, after doing it in the background, and never putting it out, we have put four brand-new songs on this album which are very much in the spirit of the whole project, and not covers (laughter). They are all original songs, hence the collaborations with Boy George and Todd Edwards.

Did any of the tracks that you wanted to perform miss out because they simply didn’t work with the orchestra?

Yes, I have to say that a few did simply because there are certain things which don’t necessarily lend themselves to being performed with an orchestra. If you look at the first album, tracks like Right Here Right Now, Strings Of Life and Café Del Mar, all of those tracks had fake strings in the original songs, if you know what I mean. So, they were the sort of tracks that we tended to do first. We have subsequently performed a lot of tracks which never had string parts on, but which we have added to, tracks like Running by Disclosure is a good example of adding an orchestra to something that never had a string part in the original.

So, I have to say that there are loads of tunes, particularly from the Rave era that were very synth dominated, drum and bass dominated, which don’t necessarily adapt as easily, but you would be amazed at just how many do (laughter).

Putting you firmly on the spot, what would you say makes a great House tune?

Wow, what a great question. I would have to say that would be emotion, soulfulness, and you must remember the classic phrase is that ‘House music is a feeling’ and it is about just getting that feeling. It is euphoric and melancholic in the same sentence. It is all about generating a spiritual feeling and it takes on a whole new level when you are on a dance floor with a thousand other people and they have all got that same feeling. I personally think that is the magic of House music. That’s why this show works so well when we perform it to ten thousand people, or eighteen thousand people at the O2. It is that communal thing that is the magic of this show.

It’s not just a DJ playing a record; it is an orchestra playing the music, as I always say to people and to underline it, the orchestra are not just playing along to me playing a record; we do generate everything live on stage and I am playing along with them. I think that the huge community on the stage performing these songs to a huge community out there in the audience is the X Factor about this whole experience. You can watch it on YouTube, you can buy the album, and I really do hope that people enjoy those, but the real magic happens when you come to see the show.

In your opinion, has anyone come close to recording the perfect House track?

Oh god (laughter). I would have to say that all the classic tracks from back in the day were perfect, that’s why we are all still infatuated by them. You only have to listen to tracks such as Move Your Body by Marshall Jefferson, a track that has just been re-made by Solardo, Promised Land by Joe Smooth, Love Can’t Turn Around by Farley Jackmaster Funk ft. Darryl Pandy; there are simply so many. We actually thought about covering Some Day by Ce Ce Rogers, but there are some tracks that I really am too scared to do. Unless we can come up with a really good angle, then I didn’t want to go anywhere near some of them. Music Sounds Better With You by Stardust which we are actually performing on the forthcoming tour, but we have never recorded the track. You also have to remember Finally by CeCe Peniston; there are simply so many.

On that note Pete let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been eye-opening. You take care and good luck with the forthcoming tour.

Thanks Kevin, you take care and I hope to see you up there in Nottingham.