The news came via a band statement from Depeche Mode late last week: “We are shocked and filled with overwhelming sadness with the untimely passing of our dear friend, family member, and bandmate Andy ‘Fletch’ Fletcher. Fletch had a true heart of gold and was always there when you needed support, a lively conversation, a good laugh, or a cold pint.”
Soon after the responses from fans, journalists and fellow musicians were strong and personal. From writer Dorian Lynskey: “Somebody said that Ringo was the biggest Beatles fan in the Beatles — the one who seemed to be as amazed by them as the listeners were. Well Fletch was the biggest Depeche Mode fan in Depeche Mode: our on-stage representative.”
And from contemporary and friend, Alison Moyet: “I have just heard the news. Since we were 10. Same estate. Class mates to label mates. He who kept faith with all the old gang and they with him. It doesn’t compute. Fletch. I have no words.”
Wind Back Wednesday walks back to 2013 and a Texas afternoon of delayed gratification with Andy Fletcher.
ANDY FLETCHER, THE “QUIET” member of Depeche Mode alongside the darkly brooding singer Dave Gahan and the blondly frowning pianist/guitarist Martin Gore, is a little twitchy as he realises that his cigarette break has been delayed for another interview.
The three members are scattered in different parts of this hotel in Austin, Texas, and with a world tour announcement today, to come soon after the release of their 13th album, Delta Machine, there’s barely any time for indulgence ahead of this evening’s stomping, rapturously received show. So how long could the man seemingly universally known as Fletch go without a smoke?
“I could go forever if I had to but I might have palpitations,” he says ruefully.
Right then, we better get down to core Depeche Mode territory, which to judge by Delta Machine is rocking like the mid ‘90s but with a fair bit of redemption and pain, guilt and recovery and unexpected happiness.
“That’s our usual stuff," Fletcher agrees with a laugh.
And the usual stuff of the blues too. It often comes as a surprise to people when that side of the band – who began as synth pop kids but took on rock and doom as comfortably as they took on hair dye and heroin - comes back into focus. It's strange that people still would be surprised that this band is quite comfortable working in the blues idiom, even if it is covered with electronica.
"It comes from our past really," is Fletcher's explanation for the double-take by the general public. “In some ways from the town we come from [the commuter belt centre, Basildon] and our early albums, which were whiter than white you could say. We were lucky as a band that we were able to mature. We were on a small record label and were allowed to go in the direction we wanted to go."
Are there any parts of the past that he is less comfortable with these days?
"Not really. There are certain songs we don't like playing. People Are People, one of our biggest hits, it gets on our nerves a bit now. Martin, who wrote it, doesn't particularly like it as a song.”
Actually, he will admit to some regrets, confessing that “lots of things in the early ‘80s” are somewhat embarrassing, in particular the videos. But there are some excuses.
(Andy Fletcher, Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Alan Wilder)
“That's when video first started and we were like guinea pigs,” Fletch says. "But you know, we were only kids then. We were literally straight out of school. We never went to stage school or had singing lessons or guitar lessons or keyboard lessons; we did what felt natural. But as I said we were lucky to be allowed to mature in a natural way rather than in a forced way."
Getting a little wistful, he goes on. “It was a great period for English pop, or British pop music. There was a time in 82/83 when eight of the top 10 in the US was British: it was a glorious period. And it was a glorious period because all the bands sounded different and looked different. Today that's not the case anymore.”
It's been a long while since anyone could comfortably describe Depeche Mode as British sounding.
"We'll certainly not now. Perhaps never,” Fletch admits. “We always considered ourselves European [and] we recorded a lot of our albums in Europe and North America.
"It's a weird thing but one of the countries where we are least popular, apart from Australia, is Britain. That's not to say we don't have a lot of fans in Britain, because we do, but we are much bigger in Europe and America than we are in our own country."
In a sense, although they came from different ends of that country, there is something Depeche Mode have in common a band like Simple Minds who took a lot of their electronic inspiration, as well as their open highway vistas, from Europe first, before discovering America and its own grand scale. Not to mention its blues and rock 'n' roll and the massive audiences that come with that.
Which brings to mind something Martin Gore recently said, that "when we are performing we become a reflection of our audience”. What does he think Gore meant by that?
"I don't know," Fletch says after a long pause. "In some ways, with Depeche Mode we are everyone's little secret and when you get 10,000 people coming together with us been everyone's little secret you get this weird reaction. It makes every concert a sort of celebration."
Secrets, celebrations and now, thankfully, a cigarette.