“The first thing I remember about the ’80s was the music,” says Fat Tony. “That’s when I first got into it and really became aware of the scene.” It wasn’t just music he became aware of, though this was the man who screeched through the decade sounding a klaxon of camp and chaos, with more high jinks and knicker dropping than a slutty St. Trinian on speed.
To recap, Tony – real name Tony Marnach – or DJ Fat Tony, to use his moniker on Instagram (where he has a very respectable 61,200 followers), is the former wild child and 1980s “It-boy” who first found his feet on London’s social scene along with best mate Boy George, Leigh Bowery and Sue Tilley. More than thirty years on, after a messy affair with crystal meth, a stint in rehab and 13 years of sobriety, Tony has become something of an emergency service for many a party- ravaged boy and girl.
At 54, life has settled into a happy rhythm for him – he’s enjoying a career renaissance, playing for everyone from Elton John to Victoria Beckham and Donatella Versace, and has a new legion of fans, thanks to his hilarious and often ridiculous Instagram feed. Chatting about the era in the calm of the garden of his flat in Pimlico, central London, which he shares with his fiancé David, we’re surrounded by pots of flourishing ferns, orchids and other foliage; his dog Tailor is sleeping nearby. It’s a long, long way from the front page of The Sun in 1985. He graced it after getting into a nightclub brawl with George Michael, pushing him out of his DJ booth onto the dancefloor 6ft below, a story that the other George (Boy) happily leaked to the press. “I was only having fun,” Tony is quoted as saying in the accompanying picture caption. And that pretty much encapsulates his attitude to the entire decade.
His tales from the time are a nonstop riot. There’s the one about him sharing a bed with Freddie Mercury and six other men… What was he like in bed, I ask. “I don’t know – never touched him. You’d have to ask the other guys that.” And that’s just scratching the surface. There was an episode where Dusty Springfield tried to sue him after he created a drag character based on her for a Joseph show and campaign with the stylist Michael Roberts. “It went everywhere,” says Tony. “We did the campaign, we did a spread in The Face, we did 10 pages in Ritz Magazine. Dusty was broke at that stage and tried to sue us for defamation of character.”
Then there was a stint working on the reception of a brothel in drag, dressed as a cleaner in a blonde wig, big blue glasses, a slip dress with an apron buttoned over the top, slippers and yellow rubber gloves. “Can you imagine a door opening to that?!” asks Tony. Actually, I can’t.
By 1983, he was spreading his wings and flying to New York on Concorde for his 18th birthday, having begged and blackmailed Boy George – who was living there at the time – to buy him the flight as a birthday gift. How was the flight? “Very quick.” Was he a nightmare on the plane or was he still well behaved at that point? “I was never well behaved, I was a fucking party boy. I was loud and precocious and I guess pretty obnoxious on a bad day, but it wasn’t like I was off my head on the plane at that stage.”
It was on that trip to New York that Tony first got to know the artist Keith Haring. “When I met him I had no idea who he was, we just hit it off – he used to come and stay with me in London and at that time I was DJing in Paris once a week, so he’d come and see me there. We’d just hang out, bounce around clubs, have a lot of fun and be a bit slutty.”
Haring wasn’t the only player on the New York scene that Tony would meet, either. There was Andy Warhol and, erm, the Beastie Boys: “Oh my God, I loved those boys. They were so much trouble and they got away with murder. I loved them because they were straight and I fancied them. There I was, this London queen, trying to hang out with the hip-hop boys.”
He actually first met Warhol in London at a club night he did on a Tuesday called Fashion Victim. Obvs. “He came to the party for three minutes and I got a limp wrist and a ‘Hi’. It got much, much better when we were hanging out in New York – we’d go for dinner, but Jesus, he was fucking hard work.”
Who else was on that scene? “All the original club kids – Susanne Bartsch, Dianne Brill, who ran Danceteria. Everyone went to the same parties, and if you could get into those parties, then you were going to meet the in-crowd.”
They started infiltrating the scene, clubbing with Boy George. “He was kind of the biggest star on that scene then and they all wanted to be his friend.” Having originally intended to stay in town for only two weeks, he ended up staying for six months. “It was New York, man! I was living the complete fantasy,” says Tony. “At that point, everyone was on heroin and I was into cocaine. I was a snow queen. New York in the 1980s was very different to now – the energy was amazing, it was a really creative place. You had tranny hookers on street corners. It had bathhouses. It had everything we didn’t have in London, and if you were from London, you were a god.”
Back in the UK, Tony started running nights at the Wag Club and Limelight. “The first time I met Neneh Cherry was when she was in the DJ box with me at Wag,” he says, and it wasn’t long before Steve Rubell, the co-owner of Studio 54, was flying him back out to New York to DJ. Typically, he’d land, get picked up from the airport by a friend, do a load of E and then go on to do his set, or at least try. “Once I took so much E, bent down to get a record and came back up and was so high that I was like, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’ My eyes were like the fucking Cookie Monster. I played one record and left. The next day they called me and [told me they] loved it.” On another occasion, they built a stage into a tower and Tony fell backwards onto the floor: “I couldn’t get up for about 20 minutes.” Ouch.
At this point the partying was intense – some might call it impressive – but nothing more. “I could still go home at that point,” says Tony. “The drugs hadn’t really taken hold.” But he was well en route to addiction. Running the Limelight, Tony was in the VIP room every night, doing coke with anyone who came to town. “That’s how I first met Nile Rodgers – he came to the club and we went on a two-day coke bender.”
And there are more stories where that came from. Such as tales of The Pink Panther, the after-hours club on Soho’s Wardour Street: “The Wag was the first club to get a 6am licence – before that, everywhere closed at 3am, so there were six illegal after-hours.” The Pink Panther was the gay one, and it was raided every night. Didn’t that kill the fun? “Nah, we’d go there to buy shit drugs – after-hours coke, you know the sort. You knew what you were getting and when it was raided, everyone would leave and walk around the block a few times and then go back.”
It was the same club he ram-raided with Bowery one Christmas Day after they had run out of booze, while Tilley waited as the getaway driver. I mean, it’s kind of genius. Another tale is of a house party where – off his nut – Tony pretended to console a girl, giving her a hug while his friend Paul cut her hair off from behind. Vicious.
Then there was the time he and Boy George set a well-known shoe designer on fire. The same designer used to smuggle MDMA into London from New York in his Jean Paul Gaultier shoulder pads. “Oh yeah, that’s how she got to know everyone,” he says. And when he says “she”, he means “he”, of course. “They were in little black and red capsules and he was our dealer.”
Ecstasy was the game-changer on the scene. “I think I did it for the first time at the Wag Club in ’86,” says Tony. “I remember taking it and thinking, ‘Oh my God, I love this drug.’ It went on for about four days.” The designer in question was (and still is) “actually really sweet” says Tony, “but we were vile, vile cunts, we didn’t need an excuse to set someone on fire.”
Vicious and vile, yes, but it’s still a brilliant story (the shirt the designer was wearing was Westwood and went up a treat, thanks to the bottle of poppers they had poured over the back of it beforehand). As the story goes, he bumped into the designer years later, with Tony well into the apology stage of recovery. “I wanted him to know I really was sorry for setting him alight.” But as it turns out, the designer was more upset about Tony having had his love letters to Boy George printed on T-shirts that he then wore around town, telling everyone where the text came from. “I’d completely forgotten about that if I’m honest,” admits Tony. “Be fucking careful when you’re apologising, that’s all I’m saying.”
Aids hit London just after that. “We all knew about it. It was like this huge batch of deaths in that first wave. And it wasn’t gradual – you would go out one week and see someone and then they would just disappear and you’d hear that they had died. I had a boyfriend at the time who was a little older than me and, one by one, all of his group passed away. I think he was one of the last.” It was around that time that Tony’s drug-taking started to get out of hand, too. “I was a mess,” he confesses, but it took more than another decade of fuckery before he finally made it to rehab.
Looking forward, Tony has a book in the pipeline – a mixed bag of balls, recovery, redemption and page after page of fabulous naughtiness. He’s heavily involved in the sobriety scene and has recently been signed to be represented by Defected Records, plus there’s the night job of playing the best parties around the globe. Not too shabby for an old snow queen.
Fat Tony’s DJ Tips
1. Don’t take requests.
2. Pretend you don’t speak English. It saves a lot of small talk.
3. Tell people to fuck off.
4. Make sure you know how to read a dancefloor. It’s your job to make people dance regardless of their age or gender. If the music you’re playing isn’t working, then change it. If they’re leaving the dancefloor, you’re doing a bad job.
5. Never compile a set at home. Because what’s in your head isn’t necessarily on the dancefloor.
6. Love what you do.
7. Never accept drugs from strangers. Especially if they’re hot.
8. Never turn the music off and say, “No K, no play,” because people will remember it for years and years and bring it up at dinner parties. Even Donatella Versace brought it up when I last saw her and walked across the room and said it. I first said it at Trade in fucking 1988. More than 30 years ago.
9. Never get sucked off in the DJ box. It really gets in the way of mixing records.
10. Remember you’re only ever as good as your last set. So do your job or go home.
Taken from Issue 14 of 10 Men Australia, on newsstands now.