The Best of Jamming! - Tony Fletcher Interview
One of Britain’s best-loved and most successful fanzines, Jamming! documented the musical landscape between 1977 and 1986. As Editor, Tony Fletcher guided Jamming! from a 6-page school publication to a nationally distributed monthly.
In The Best of Jamming! Tony Fletcher provides behind-the-scenes insights, while musicians and former contributors reflect on their interviews and Jamming!’s long-lasting influence.
To learn more, we asked Tony a few questions:
Tell us a bit about making the book…
I have never put together a purely visual book and very naively, which seems to be a recurring theme in my life, I thought it might be a straightforward process. It is actually really complicated. The moment we decided on doing some fresh copy, and I had the ‘bright idea’ of getting in touch with contributors and musicians, it took on this additional life of its own. I found it hilarious, because honestly it felt like editing one enormous bumper issue of Jamming!, right down to chasing the same former contributors!
The publishing process has changed almost lock-stock-and-barrel in the last 35-40 years. Certain parts are remarkably easier. You don’t call people on the phone anymore and leave messages with their dad or girlfriend. You don’t have to get on the bus and hand-deliver copy. For some of this project, I managed to line up Zoom conversations with people I hadn’t spoken to in years which was really nice. The book was not meant to be a lockdown project, but it became a really good lockdown project. It’s weird how that stuff works out. I think it looks great and I’m so excited about it.
Did you make any re-discoveries during the process?
An article that I reconnected with and hadn’t re-read for years was my piece on the miners’ strike [Issue 24]. From a totally personal perspective, I thought that was the closest I came to some really decent journalism. Jamming! contained lots of exciting journalism but most of it was still fanzine journalism. It reads like it was written by teenagers and think there was a charm to that, because we probably had a very young readership and because people liked that our writing was not filtered through the editors of NME and Melody Maker.
You were very young when you created Jamming!, were you confident?
I felt like I was this outsider at school and I could not physically stand up for myself. The music world was a kind of safety net for me. Even if my heart was in my mouth, I would be willing to knock on a door or go into a dressing room, because that was the world I wanted to be in. People say I would come into a record shop looking really confident, but to be honest I would often stand by the records for 5 minutes working up the courage to approach people. There were real battles to be fought but I think there were more doors opened to me than were closed. Having written about a lot of bands and musicians, there are so many frontmen who are introspective in society, like Michael Stipe, but put them in the musical scenario and they feel perfectly confident of playing their part. Almost every single musician had to come up from somewhere and they generally started young, so they all had that similar experience. When I interviewed Paul Weller and Adam Ant on my own they made comments on my age and were very supportive. I was always welcomed. It is a kind of cycle; you have to remember where you started. It is only right that you pass it on.
Did you always know that you wanted to write about music?
There were no preconceptions. I had done so many ridiculous little entrepreneurial kind of things growing up, I just thought: ‘Fanzine, sounds like a good idea’. I was always totally obsessed by the art and culture surrounding music. I think it was instilled in me by my parents, by genetics and the culture I grew up in. The great days of Top of the Pops and Glam rock… There wasn’t too much of a dark period before punk for a kid like me, it was almost a transition with a brief detour to Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin for a year or so. But I truly, honestly thought I was going to be a full-time musician (read ‘Rock Star’). I worked as hard on my band as I ever did on the fanzine, all the way up to signing with EMI when we were 18 or 19.
I recognise that there was a period where my life kind of levelled out - my band broke up and Jamming! ceased. The long and the short of it was, I didn’t have the heart to go through a band again. I didn’t have the urge to get up in the morning to write songs, but I found that I did have the urge to write about music. After Jamming! finished I very quickly got a commission to write a book, but no one was commissioning me to write a rock opera! If you take the really, really long-term view, writing about music is something I was meant to do.
Thank you Tony!
The Best of Jamming! Selections and Stories from the Fanzine That Grew Up, 1977–86 is out now!