Updated: Thursday, 13th August 2020 @ 11:08am

Pretty damn huge: The Smiths writer Tony Fletcher delves into unparalleled connection with Manchester

Pretty damn huge: The Smiths writer Tony Fletcher delves into unparalleled connection with Manchester

By Phil Jones

The Smiths are part of Manchester’s musical fabric, their music defined a generation and its influence is still felt more than 25 years after their break-up.

Their rise was almost as rapid as their demise though, with four albums in little more than three years, not giving much time for any back-story to emerge.

With 20 years passing since the last real Smiths biography, music journalist Tony Fletcher published his book, A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths, in September.

Ahead of a visit to Manchester’s Deansgate Waterstones on November 26, Fletcher spoke to MM from his home in New York.

“They had a pretty damn huge influence on Manchester,” said the Yorkshire-born music fanatic.

“When you travel internationally, people in America look at Manchester as being equal to London in terms of music – and that’s from someone who grew up in London.

“The Smiths had this real exuberance, on one hand they’re talking about Rusholme ruffians and the edge of violence that was everywhere in working class Britain in the 80s.

“But on the other hand there was this excitement to them that made a lot of people wonder ‘what is it about Manchester?’

“The city really seems to have pride in The Smiths, and they should have pride in them and their music scene as a whole.”

Fletcher began writing his Jamming! fanzine as a teenager and saw it transform from a bedroom project into a respected publication featuring interviews with his musical heroes.

But having written biographies for such musical luminaries as R.E.M. and Keith Moon, he was reticent to embark on a project about the band he grew up listening to.

“I had shied away from the idea of writing a biography on them probably for the same reason other people had,” said the 48-year-old.

“Johnny Rogan’s book in 1992 was a very good book and told a story a lot of people hadn’t heard.

“They didn’t have a lot of background information because The Smiths had been such a rapid fire group.”

The same age as band members Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke, Fletcher felt a sense of ownership over the band growing up in the mid-80s.

And from his perspective, having moved to New York in the late 80s, he saw an angle to the band’s that hadn’t yet been told.

“Everything that has been written about the band in book form had been written from the UK perspective,” Fletcher added.

“It seemed like there was a real calling for a book that would look at them internationally.

“There’s a big world outside and The Smiths were a very influential band in America as well as Britain.

“It’s very hard unless you’ve actually been here and lived here, to understand and believe just how popular The Smiths are with a certain generation.

“The songs are about Whalley Range, Rusholme and Manchester schools.

“But they resonated with Americans who could instantly insert their own little bedsit community to the name Whalley Range.

“If you talk to Americans who are under 50 and listened to alternative music in the 80s, the chances are they were massively influenced by The Smiths and that The Smiths spoke to them in their lives.”

So Fletcher set about putting the book together, researching for 18 months and then spending a year compiling the fruits of his labours.

Using his friends and contacts in the music business he spoke to producers, managers, road crew and label executives, immersing himself in the project.

Band members Morrissey and Mike Joyce didn’t contribute to the book but Marr and Rourke were happy to tell their story.

“Johnny and Andy gave an awful lot of themselves, they really opened up, more so than you might have expected – they were wonderful,” said the biographer.

“They put a lot of faith in me, it’s not a book that was put down on the understanding they would read it before publication.

“So I have to go on record to say how appreciative I am that they were as honest as they were, and they gave as much of their emotions as they did, without asking to see the finished book.

“Mike and Morrissey weren’t involved but I’m really happy with what I’ve got. I’m very happy I got so many other people relevant to The Smiths’ story.

“It felt like people were generally very willing to see, hopefully, a decent biography of The Smiths come out another 20 years after Johnny’s book.”

And Fletcher felt at ease taking on the project, with family connections in Manchester and loving the band so much.

“I’m big friends with a lot of the groups from Manchester and I’ve spent a lot of time there,” said the New York resident.

“I was very comfortable coming back over to do the research. I was over three of four times doing interviews and spending time at the libraries and meeting people.

“It can be a draining project but I seem to be able to enjoy and thrive in this type of thing.

“Going to bed thinking about it, going about your day and thinking how to capture something.

“It’s really tough but I’ve never written anything about anyone whose music I’m not really into, and I couldn’t do that.

“The point at which you do that is the point you become a ‘hack’.”

Fletcher will be in conversation with former Inspiral Carpets frontman Tom Hingley, at Waterstones, Deansgate, Manchester, from 7 to 8pm on Monday November 26.

The pair will be reading from their books and talking all things music and Manchester.

Tickets are priced at £3.00 and available in store or via @waterstonesMCR

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