Boy About Town: Tony Fletcher – book review
Published by William Heinemann
In shops: 4th July 2013
Smiths, REM and Keith Moon biographer Tony Fletcher has written an essential account of his adolescence in Post-Punk London & focussing on the genesis of his legendary fanzine ‘Jamming’. Louder Than War’s Dave Jennings had an advance preview of the book & below is his review.
Tony Fletcher, one of the world’s leading music authors, is about to launch his memoir, one which gives a gripping account of the post-punk period as well as documenting a remarkable adolescence for the author. Familiar to thousands of fans for his books on Keith Moon, REM, The Smiths and a history of New York music, in this memoir Tony Fletcher has turned his attention to his own youth & in doing so has produced one of the most essential accounts of this tumultuous yet highly productive period of British music. It turns out that Tony Fletcher is an extraordinary character & of all the stories to emerge from the Punk and Post-Punk period it would appear his is one of the more remarkable.
Fletcher documents an emerging music scene from the perspective of a boy who is highly talented, yet “all flabby flesh and with a high pitched whine”. The evolution of his legendary fanzine ‘Jamming’ is set against the background of Crystal Palace FC, life at home with no father, a constantly shuffling cast of school friends, a desire to be a rock star and an obsession with losing his virginity. The book is written in the form of a countdown from fifty, all with a relevant song title, of seminal gigs, various encounters and landmarks in the development of youth culture at the time.
This is a story that on one page describes a brief encounter with a girl, on another the painfully familiar experience of the violent bully with the “you beat up my brother” line and on another still tells of literally bumping into Keith Moon who scribbles down his home address with a ‘come anytime’ invite. That is precisely the beauty of this book, on one level it is a book about a childhood (albeit a pretty extraordinary one), on another it contains razor sharp observations of some of the main players in what was a fairly chaotic music scene at the time. It’s quite possible that the perspective of a music-obsessed school kid is the best one through which to view what was a ferociously youth driven period of British music and a host of familiar names emerge in the narrative. It is the connection that Fletcher was able to make with some of the leading figures from this era when audience and band fed off the mutual energy created that is such a vital part of the book.
We read of Fletcher cutting his teeth with an early attempt at an interview with Tom Robinson and sitting in the studio while John Peel broadcasts. Pete Townshend grants an interview and then watches, presumably with some bewilderment, as the author and a gang of mates from school troop in an hour late in a passage that again demonstrates the joyful naïvety of youth alongside a sharp insight into the music scene of the time. However, developing throughout is Tony Fletcher’s love of The Jam and what turns into a privileged access into the bands inner circle. How many youngsters at the time would have dreamed of their home phone ringing in the midst of a domestic with their mum to find Paul Weller at the other end of the line?
Clearly, this level of closeness to The Jam provides many snippets that will be devoured by their still huge fan base, but it also offers another angle to observe the growth of music and youth culture and the vital connection between them. Those who were there will remember a period that at times saw live shows reduced to near riots, often due to activities of skinhead gangs with political influences. Sham 69 were one of the groups who, probably unwittingly, seemed to attract this type of following and Fletcher’s analysis of how effectively they dealt with this is striking. Equally so, is the description of the chaotic emergence of Scritti Politti that says so much of the DIY ethos of the time, while views on the Boomtown Rats strike a chord here. Maybe most memorable, is an account of an interview with The Damned in 1980 which is both hilarious and nerve-shredding, but captures perfectly the essence of those true outsiders.
You’ll have to read the book to see if Fletcher’s quest to get his leg over is successful but you’ll certainly be left waiting for the next instalment as at the end he is still only sixteen. This book will certainly bring back scores of vivid memories for those of us around Tony Fletcher’s age, and is required reading for anyone who wishes to know more about the late 1970’s music scene. More than that though, is the amazing human story and vivid characterisation that will have you hooked throughout as this period once again truly comes to life.
Boy About Town can be ordered via the Amazon widget on the right or via this link.
Tony will be doing readings from, and signing copies of, ‘Boy About Town’ starting at ‘Pretty Green’ on Carnaby Street on Thursday July 4th and then at various venues around the country. For further details follow this link: http://www.ijamming.net/boy-about-town-goes-on-tour/
All words by Dave Jennings. More of Dave’s writing on Louder Than War can be found in his author archive.