Tony Fletcher is the author of a dozen books, including several best-selling music biographies, a memoir, a novel and more. Born in the UK in 1964, he started the fanzine Jamming! during the punk rock explosion of 1977, which led him into further areas of the music and media worlds, and eventually into writing books. Fletcher moved to New York City in the late 1980s, and to the Hudson Valley in the mid-2000s. Throughout, Fletcher has written for a multitude of publications, and appeared on and/or produced various TV, radio and podcast shows. He enjoys weekend work as a Show Director at the Woodstock Rock Academy, running the local Catskill mountains (and roads) and hosting his own outdoor lifestyle podcast, One Step Beyond.
With a Music Professor/author for a father, and an English teacher/chorister for a mother, it was perhaps Tony Fletcher’s destiny to write books about music. That thought was far from his mind however when, inspired by the punk rock revolution and because it seemed like fun, he started a fanzine, aged 13, at his South London school. By the time Jamming! ceased publication in 1986, it was selling 30,000 copies a month, and Fletcher had interviewed Pete Townshend, Paul McCartney, and U2, as well as dozens of then up-and-coming acts. He had also received a crash course in cash flow, accelerated by an 18-month period running an independent record label alongside The Jam’s Paul Weller. Meantime, Jamming!’s perceived success launched Fletcher into radio and TV work, including a year co-presenting The Tube, which went out live nationally on Channel 4 every Friday evening. None of this helped his original intention to be a musician, however, although he looks back on the seven years spent in his band Apocalypse with a mixture of fondness and PTSD.
In 1986, on a press junket, Fletcher walked the streets of New York City for the first time and fell in love (though not for the first time). Determined to relocate from what was then an especially dismal and not-so-great Britain to the City That Never Sleeps, Fletcher finally bought a one-way ticket in 1988, after a kindly Immigration Officer informed him that he held a working visa (the one he got for the 1986 press junket) and didn’t need to keep using his tourist stamp. Over subsequent years he has contributed to publications as varied as the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, Elle, Details, New York Newsday, New York Press, the Wall Street Journal, Salon and Revolver in the US and The Observer, NME, Sky, and Record Mirror in the UK. His favorite ever job, however, was as American producer for the Paris-based television shows Rapido, Rock Reports, Eurotrash, and Passengers, for which which he traversed America conducting interviews with many of the major names in rock, rap, pop, and politics, from James Brown to Keith Richards, Spike Lee to Allen Ginsberg, Public Enemy to the Ramones, and Geraldine Ferraro to Roger Ailes.
Given that New York City never slept, neither did Fletcher, who juggled this freelance work with an unexpected alter ego as the resident DJ and co-promoter for Communion, a successful weekly club night at Manhattan’s notorious Limelight, which went on the road in late 1992 hosting America’s first ever electronic music tour. Later in the 1990s, when the record industry could still afford such luxuries, he worked as a major label A&R consultant, a job that consisted of being paid very good money to have his recommendations roundly ignored.
Throughout this disparate and distracted life (the word ‘career’ suggests intention), Fletcher remained committed to the written word. Lots of them. His 600-page biography of The Who’s legendary drummer, Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend (US) and Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon (UK), was a runaway best-seller in the UK upon publication in 1998 and has remained in print on both sides of the Atlantic ever since; it has also spent two decades under option for a movie to be produced by Roger Daltrey. He is especially proud of the titles from its translations into German (Das Explosive Leben de Keith Moon) and French (La Bombe Humaine du Rock).
Fletcher’s biography of R.E.M., the only such book fully sanctioned by the group, has also been published in multiple languages (including Japanese, Polish and, so he was informed, Israeli), though not with such colorful alternate titles as Dear Boy. Initially entitled Remarks, and later updated in the mid-1990s as Remarks Remade, it was rewritten one last time (he hopes) to include the group’s break-up, as Perfect Circle.
Fletcher almost equaled the size of his Moon biography with A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths, published in 2012/13 by William Heinemann in the UK and Crown Archetype in the USA. Two presumably unrelated reviewers, reflecting on the size of this tome, suggested Fletcher would be a good candidate for the next biography of Churchill.
The author resisted that temptation, instead penning a memoir comprised of 50 short stories, in the form of a chart rundown, about his South London schooldays amidst glam- and then punk rock. Boy About Town was published in the UK by William Heinemann in July 2013, with a mass-market edition the following year named Paperback of the Week by the Guardian. Fletcher is happy to report that this latter edition, with a day-glo yellow jacket, fits in a side pocket and can be devoured in one long beach day - although, not being the type to sit still on a beach, he only has his readers’ word for this.
Fletcher’s other books have ranged from a 2003 novel, Hedonism, set in the crime-filled world of New York’s nightclub scene, to a much more scholarly book about The Big Apple, All Hopped Up and Ready To Go: Music from The Streets of New York 1927-77. Published by WW Norton in 2009, it explored the social conditions that inspired, and connected the dots between, such vital musical forms as Afro-Cuban Jazz, the Mambo, Rhythm & Blues, folk rock, punk, hip-hop and disco.
The positive reception to this book gave Fletcher the confidence to pursue his love of R&B and soul music by penning a much-needed first biography of the genre’s greatest screamer and one of its most conflicted individuals. In The Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017 to excellent reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. He followed this up with a co-write alongside one of the great survivors of this era, Eddie Floyd: Knock! Knock! Knock! On Wood: My Life In Soul, published by BMG Books in the summer of 2020. Somewhere in this catalogue there sits also the official biography of post-punk originals Echo & The Bunnymen, Never Stop, and a song-by-song discography of The Clash: The Music That Matters.
In 2005, Fletcher moved from New York City to the Woodstock area in the Catskill Mountains, where he discovered trail running, served two terms on his local school board, and resumed his musical performing non-career by featuring annually in the concept covers group the Catskill 45s. In 2016, with his then-wife and 11-year old younger son, he spent a year backpacking around the world, a journey that inspired him to re-evaluate his personal and professional life. In an attempt to combine his love of travel with his commitment to fitness (Fletcher is a dedicated runner of roads and trails alike, and a committed vegan), and in the hope that it might be fun, in 2020 he launched the podcast One Step Beyond. This follows on the heels of writing, producing and co-hosting 2019’s It’s A Pixies Podcast, which broke new ground by unveiling the recording process of a major act’s new album before the finished songs themselves were ever heard.
A resident of Kingston, New York since 2019, Fletcher was recently let loose back into a classroom of sorts, in his role as Show Director with the Woodstock area’s celebrated (former Paul Green) Rock Academy. There he tries to impart some of what he has learned about listening to and playing music over the decades, and thrives on seeing that eternal love of music reflected in the current generation of under-18s.