Boy About Town by Tony Fletcher
|Boy About Town by Tony Fletcher|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: The childhood and early teenage memoirs of a music enthusiast, fanzine editor and rock journalist in the making.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 360||Date: July 2013|
My stepchildren, who were not even born at the time, would disagree with me fiercely. But for those of us who were growing up during the 1970s, it was a very exciting time to be a popular music fan. Tony Fletcher, who was born almost ten years after me, evidently agrees. In this memoir of his formative years, covering the years 1972 to 1980, he conveys the thrill of how it was to be a schoolkid who grew up loving and eventually becoming part of the scene. It all started with the purchase of a David Cassidy single and ended up with him becoming founder-editor of a fanzine and interviewing household names while taking his O-levels. In fact it didn’t exactly end up that way, for these days he is known best for his highly-respected biographies of The Who drummer Keith Moon and R.E.M.
His fascination with Cassidy and the Partridge Family was only a brief one – well, he was only eight at the time. Pop music was elbowed in favour of rock music, as he found the appeal of Alvin Stardust and Gary Glitter waning, and The Who and Led Zeppelin arrived on the turntable instead. For him, The Rolling Stones were not the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world, as they ‘ponced about with shows in arenas’. The Who were – they played gigs in football grounds. At the age of thirteen he started his own fanzine, ‘Jamming’, the first issues painstakingly run off on the school Roneo duplicator. Oh for the joys, or lack of them, of 1970s technology. How did he manage without state-of-the-art photocopiers, let alone computers and Microsoft Word? As badly as the rest of us did in those days, it seems, when we were all DIY amateurs who relied largely on cut-and-paste (literally – with scissors and cow gum, not by pressing a couple of keys). By sheer chance he got to meet his hero ‘Moon the Loon’, whom he found courteous, very down to earth and nothing at all like the hellraiser of popular legend. A few days later, the drummer’s sudden death was dominating the news headlines.
By this time, although his voice had still not broken and much to his embarrassment he still spoke in a high-pitched whine, Fletcher was forming his own band, and beginning to get interviews with the stars of the day for his fanzine. Punk rock had roared into centre stage, threatening to consign the rock dinosaurs to oblivion overnight. As we know, it didn’t happen – but in spite of that a few carefully-considered overtures to his heroes from the new wave, notably Paul Weller and The Jam, paid off handsomely.
You can’t read this book without admiring the nerve and the luck – sometimes good, sometimes bad – of this schoolboy who was risking his academic future, such as it was, to grab a piece of the action and rub shoulders with the music aristocracy. He interviewed some of the major names and saw them live, even though he could not stay too late if he had to be back at school in the morning. ‘Too Much Too Young’, as The Specials sang. It’s a rotten life – well, part of the time, anyway.
While music was the dominant passion, there were the usual teenage preoccupations, like lessons, O-levels, and the opposite sex, running in the background all the time. There were also other little things like trying to shoplift records at HMV like everybody else did but failing miserably and getting banned from the place, or getting a ticket to see Queen in concert at the Hammersmith Odeon and finding himself in the back row of the balcony. His mother had driven him there and agreed to wait for him until he came out, but a security guard took pity on her and let her in – where she found herself seeing the show free of charge yet getting a far better view of the stage than little Tony, who had scrimped and saved to get in.
There has to be a negative side. I had quite forgotten until I read this book what a disturbing undercurrent of violence was simmering throughout this time. It was also the age of Rock Against Racism, and the National Front with skinheads supporting their favourite bands and making clear their distaste for the rest somewhat aggressively. Since then, of course, some things have changed for the better.
Fletcher never made it with his own band. But he was there during the pre-punk, punk and post-punk scene, when the Clash, The Jam, the Tom Robinson Band, the now almost forgotten Sham 69 and a young hopeful called Adam Ant were all competing to be the next big thing. ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ was one of the hits of the era – and he certainly did. Talking of hits, he’s even divided it all into 50 chapters, all named after song titles. Appropriately it begins with No. 50, ‘Could It Be Forever’, and ends with No. 1, ‘Start!’ The latter was coincidentally the title of his heroes’ second chart-topping single in 1980 - but the relevant part of his narrative refers to a rather different rite of passage. I’ll leave you, dear reader, to discover that one for yourself. It’s very funny, fascinating, and at times quite moving, and you’ll be glad you did.
If this book appeals then we can also recommend The Man Who Sold The World: David Bowie And The 1970s by Peter Doggett.
You can read more book reviews or buy Boy About Town by Tony Fletcher at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Boy About Town by Tony Fletcher at Amazon.com.
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