Tony Fletcher is the author of numerous books including the definitive Keith Moon biography Dear Boy and an exhaustive account of The Smiths, A Light That Never Goes Out. In the 1980s he wrote for The Face, was a presenter on Channel 4’s The Tube and his Jamming! magazine sat on the shelves of WH Smiths (described to me the other day as Smash Hits’ cool older brother).
Yet for many Fletcher is synonymous, even now, with the late 70s fanzine culture that saw the likes of Sniffin’ Glue, Maximum Speed and his own Jamming! give a platform for enthusiastic young kids to write about their music.
Boy About Town is Fletcher’s memoir of that period and whilst his coming of age story is fairly unremarkable in regard to friendships, football matches, school trips, being bullied, forming a band, dabbling with drugs, milking the lizard and a desperate need to lose his cherry, his activities and associations which stemmed from producing his own fanzine are anything but ordinary.
Inspired by Jon Savage’s fanzine article in Sounds in 1977, thirteen year old Fletcher was soon knocking out his own (fanzine, that is) and within a year and six issues it was fast on its way to becoming one of the most celebrated of the era, boasting interviews with upcoming Adam and the Ants, Scritti Politti and Alternative TV next to big names The Jam and, incredibly, Pete Townshend. Soon after, as told in the book, there are memorable encounters with The Damned, The Fall, The Undertones and many others as Fletcher immersed himself the DIY post-punk and, for a brief time, mod scenes.
A central presence in the book is The Jam and particularly Paul Weller. Of course The Jam were well known for their accessibility: allowing fans to watch their sound checks; letting them in the studio; and removing as many barriers between band and fan as possible. Therefore it’s not surprising Weller was more than happy to give an interview to a thirteen young old but what is striking is how Weller didn’t leave it there but followed it up with invites to gigs, supportive letters and an open invitation to drop by the studio whenever they were recording; not once does he come across as patronising or anything but genuinely supportive of Tony’s endeavours. Fletcher doesn’t say it but it’s hard not to think Weller didn’t see something of himself in his young fan’s quiet ambition, determination and entrepreneurial flair. Boy About Town is recommended for plentiful Jam anecdotes and insights alone, including a few details worthy of quiz questions.
How much The Jam were the people’s band (and the band for the most discerning school kids) is best illustrated by the Tony’s discovery “Going Underground” had gone straight in at number one as he was out of school one Tuesday lunchtime. He rushes back to tell his classmates the news before afternoon registration. “A massive roar went up. We found ourselves jumping up and down together, like we all supported the same football team and they’d just won the Cup”. It’s my favourite moment in the book but a bittersweet memory “And with that, it sank in. They were no longer our band.”
Fletcher was also a big fan of The Who, discovering them via the Quadrophenia and Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy LPs and going to see their massive gig (on his own, aged 12) at Charlton. His brief encounter with Keith Moon later is very sweet and shows a lovely side to Keith, so much so that when Moonie dies Fletcher promised himself that one day he will “put the record straight”. Most of the book is written from the viewpoint his teenage self (the only excuse for using terms “modette” and “punkette”) but on occasion elements of a grown up perceptive creep in. I can’t quite believe all the observations took place whilst growing up, even for an observer as astute as Fletcher.
And it’s as an observer where Fletcher shines. Although he witnessed (or not witnessed, as he missed the infamous Bill Grundy appearance) punk hit its peak and then again as the mod revival briefly took hold, Tony never threw his lot in with any cult or fad. Only last week I saw Jamming! referred to as mod fanzine, something it definitely wasn’t although it was supportive of some of the bands (notably Southend’s Speedball who feature heavily) and he did see it develop from queues of young mods outside The Who’s Rainbow gig in ’78 to gigs at The Wellington pub in Waterloo and burn out at a rapidly once it appeared on Janet Street Porter’s London Weekend Show.
Fletcher had a healthy scepticism about the mod revival and was furious at being labelled a mod but it’s interesting to read his more dispassionate account of it from the view of an onlooker. Secret Affair in particular are accused cynically manoeuvring themselves at the vanguard of the movement and denying their recent past. “Even if looking good was the answer, looking backwards most certainly was not.”
Looking over one’s shoulder was a good idea back in the late 70s, as violent skinheads (the right-wing moron kind) were omnipresent at gigs. It’s hard to imagine fights at gigs these days but back then it was difficult to imagine going to a gig without that thought becoming a reality. I’ve mainly focused above on the mod element but Boy About Town is about much more than that. Fletcher paints a vivid picture of the time – both through the eyes of a boy dealing with growing up and into the underground music scene of bands, fanzines, small record labels, and a staunchly independent spirit.
The book ends with Tony taking his O Levels and receiving an amazing proposition from Paul Weller. It’s a great read and one which potentially invites the difficult second album syndrome.
Boy About Town by Tony Fletcher is published by William Heinemann, out now.
For more info check Tony's ijamming.net