Diplomacy, discretion and discernment were the key skills required by Tony King in his role as artistic advisor and PA to assorted Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elton John, among others. Blessed with abundant charm and film stars looks, he was his convivial self when I bumped into him during the last week of October, 1973, in the Rainbow Bar & Grill in Los Angeles. 

        “Is Elton here?” I asked, assuming he was among Elton’s entourage, as he was the last time I saw him. 

“I’m working for John now,” he replied.


“Lennon. He’s over there. Would you like to meet him?”

According to Tony’s book The Tastemaker, just published, one of the duties he’d assumed on John’s behalf was to make the most outspoken Beatle more palatable to the American public after his flirtation with left-winger Jerry Rubin and the sloganeering unevenness of his 1972 LP Some Time In New York City. To this end he was doing a bit of PR as well as minding John, so my arrival in the Rainbow, where John was carousing with May Pang that night, was a welcome happenstance for both of them, though I didn’t know this at the time. 

This unexpected introduction to John paved the way for a lengthy interview with him the following week and a familiarity that lasted about three years. Now, almost 50 years later, I cherish my brief acquaintanceship with John Lennon as a highlight of my life, and I will forever be grateful to Tony King for his role in setting it in motion. 

Tony was one of those music industry insiders with undefined but crucial roles, charming, well-travelled, well-tailored individuals who never lost their cool, and seemed to know everyone, to know where the action was and how to get there. They were indispensable to the smooth running of the industry yet at the same time slightly shadowy and, like Tony, often gay. Always, but always, they were fun to be around.

Now turned 80, Tony has decided there’s nothing much to lose by revealing all, probably because much of what he knows has leaked out elsewhere anyway. Still, The Tastemaker is a fine read, breezy, chatty and enlightening, a bit like those old showbiz memoirs wherein almost everyone is wonderful and, dead or alive, he wants them to stay that way. 

The book opens with the inside details of John’s appearance during Elton John’s concert on November 28, 1974, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. To my utmost regret, I was in London at the time, on a break from my job as Melody Maker’s man in America. Tony was instrumental in setting up what was John’s last appearance before a live audience and it’s nice to know precisely how it came about. Thereafter Tony’s book follows his story from working in a record shop in Eastbourne, where he was raised, to becoming an office boy at Decca Records in London, the launch pad for everything else. He worked for the Stones, for George Martin, for The Beatles, for Elton, and in all these roles encountered and befriended other major stars. Principally, he fixes things for these stars, like recording sessions, album artwork and concert staging, but more importantly he acts as a sounding board on artistic matters and is seemingly unafraid to speak his mind, even if his opinion doesn’t necessarily chime with that of his employer at the time. 

        In choosing to arrange his chapters largely by subject, as opposed to chronologically, the book skips around confusingly at times but Tony tells gossipy tales galore, almost all of which show the participants in a good light, even Phil Spector and others who are no longer with us. Indeed, barring a few awkward moments when John Lennon became troublesome, Tony doesn’t seem to have had many unpleasant experiences at all, at least within the rock world, but he writes movingly about losing friends, prominent among them Freddie Mercury, to AIDS. 

        After the hedonism Tony describes during his early eighties stint as Disco Promotions man at RCA Records in New York, it comes as no surprise when he decides to join AA but his conversion to Catholicism was certainly unexpected, especially for someone who spent many of the following 20 years on the road with the Stones and, later, becoming Artistic Director for Elton’s Vegas stint and ongoing farewell tour. Among his adventures with Mick & Co was a spat with Donald Trump in which the future occupant of the White House was declined a photo opportunity with them. In the light of this, playing ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ against their wishes at his rallies was probably petty retaliation, not untypical for this repellent man.

        To have worked for all these acts requires a good deal of warmth and understanding, gifts that come across well in Tony’s book, and he doesn’t flinch at revealing personal tragedies, not least being diagnosed with AIDS himself, now contained with drugs. More heart-warming, though, is his close friendship with Charlie Watts who, as ever, comes across as a truly honourable gentleman, and how he’s managed to retain the friendship and respect of all those for whom he has worked. In an industry not known for loyalty towards old retainers, this is unquestionably Tony King’s greatest achievement. 

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