Boy About Town is autobiographical account of Tony Fletcher’s life growing up in London during the 1970s and focuses in on teenage tales centered around the quick changing musical environment of the capital. As a teenager Tony started a fanzine called Jamming which went on to be one of the most respected punk inspired publications during those times. I must confess to have owned quite a few issues in those times. One of the central characters of the book John Matthews has written a review of the book. For those that have read the book you may know John as the kid that used to take toilet paper to school.
Its very strange reading a book where you’re included as one of the characters. I’d been into music from the age of eight via glam rock, Bowie and Bolan so, thirty five plus years ago when I started secondary school at The Oval in south east London, I counted myself lucky that the 13 year old classmates who I hung around with were into the same bands as me. But never would I have believed that one of them was going to be a best selling music biographer who would write a book about the events that were unfolding in front of me. Tony Fletcher was that school friend and Boy About Town is the story of his growing up in south east London at a time when punk rock was about take the UK by storm. The book is unique because it not only hilariously tells the tale of a bullied teenage adolescent mummy’s boy, who regularly masturbates and is determined to lose his virginity before leaving secondary school but it also recounts how he (along with my other close school friend who was a heavy metal fan) started Jamming fanzine which went from having a run of 50 copies printed on the school Xerox copier to a nationwide distribution of 30,000.
Along the way Tony recalls an obsession with the Who that led a number of his school friends to covering for him when he went missing from class to join the queue for tickets for Who gigs or to interview Pete Townsend and an infatuation with The Jam which amounted to payback time for those of us who had told the odd white lie on his behalf (I accompanied Tony to a number of Jam sound checks, Paul Weller bought me half a lager in the pub even though I was still a good four years shy of the legal drinking age and a group of us got to listen to a preview cassette of Setting Sons way ahead of its release date during a specially arranged lunch hour in our form classroom.)
And even if you weren’t there when all this happened the fast paced narrative ( the chapters follow the format of a chart countdown from number fifty to number one) will make you feel as if you were.
The down side for is that most of my memories of being in school are far from good and I’m given a painful reminder of this when Tony recounts being bullied by some of the idiots whose gang I chose to join for a short while. I regret not having done more to help my friend when he was the target of the bully boy’s aggression.
One of the funniest stories in Boy About Town is when Tony recalls the time he was caught stealing records from the HMV store in Oxford Street. And points the finger at me for putting him up to it!!! And whilst Tony’s implication that I may not have been completely truthful about seeing Eddie and the Hot Rods record their live E.P. is true, his comment that I may have exaggerated stealing records from HMV most certainly isn’t. In fact nicking records from HMV was a major hobby for me and many of my friends at the time. At one point it seemed as if most male youth of south London were spending a large amount of their time liberating HMV of their stock (well at least their stock of 7″ singles by up and coming punk bands.) There was no way of keeping my precious record collection up to date with the small amount of pocket money my parents gave me so an alternative method had to be found although I would never have dreamed of stealing anything other than records and even then I would never had lifted anything from an independent record shop. That would have amounted to nothing short of treachery and therefore the act of stealing vinyl was reserved exclusively for HMV. The pocket money I did have was spent mainly on football matches, going to gigs, parties and buying records from one of the many independent record shops that had sprung up across London. Come to think of it I still spend my cash in much the same way and Boy About Town will certainly appeal to anyone who does likewise.
The Jam were a huge band for me and my school friends (including Tony) and not just because they were fast to becoming the biggest band in the UK. Paul Weller was the coolest man on the planet to most of Britain’s youth and a complete idol to me and my friends. We followed the Jam incessantly and I was fortunate to get see to them live many times, mostly at The Rainbow Theatre, whilst I was still at school. They were a great live band and in the book Tony also recounts the story of how we saw them at he old Marquee Club in Wardour Street where we witnessed scenes of terrifying violence when skinheads tried to fight their way into the venue at the end of the gig. Because of the tribalism that was prevalent in the late seventies, London was a scary place for young kids our age and I still can’t believe that we were going to clubs and gigs in the West End whilst still at school. Unbelievable to think that our parents didn’t seem to mind as long as our home work was done. And that’s one of the most remarkable things about Boy About Town . One minute you’re reading of how the author is running around interviewing the rock stars of the day, producing a best well respected magazine or hanging out with cool indie bands. The next you’re reminded that he’s actually a 14 year old single parent school kid with a squeaky voice who has the curtains in his Mums house set on fire by bullies.
My part in the story tails off towards the end of the book (although I do manage to make late reappearance to ruin Tonys chances of getting his end away). Soon after I gave Tony’s band the awful name The Apocalypse (which he’s never forgiven me for )I broke away from the gang who followed the Jam and started to get into the PIL, Cabaret Voltaire and then even more into The Clash. Tony shunned The Clash due to the influence Paul Weller (he hated them and didn’t take kindly to any of his circle of friends admitting an allegiance to the band) had over him at the time and still regrets never seeing The Clash live even when he had the opportunity to join me and another school friend when saw them at The Lyceum on the Give ‘Em Enough Rope tour. I did however manage to persuade Tony to get me Bill Nelson’s autograph when he interviewed Bill when the Red Noise album was released and Tony and I went to see The Human League, also at the Marquee ( I remember having a bottle thrown at me that night by punks on the other side of Wardour Street because I was wearing a mod style suit.)
The book ends as Tony leaves school but there’s a ready made follow up story to be told as Jamming went from strength to strength, Tony’s journalistic career took off
and The Apocalypse managed to get to get signed (and quickly dropped) by EMI and blag a support slot to the Jam at Wembley Arena.
I’m obviously totally biased in recommending this book as an excellent read and I really would urge anyone with even a passing interest in punk, The Jam, The Who or what it was like being a music mad teenager in London in the late seventies to check it out. And it’s unbelievable to think it all happened to someone so young. Maybe Paul Weller should have called the song “School Boy About Town”.