Bands could not function without a member designated the quiet standard bearer, and in Depeche Mode that was Andy Fletcher, who has died suddenly aged 60. Constitutionally modest, he was lucky inasmuch as the group had two members – singer Dave Gahan and guitarist Martin Gore – who were comfortable with being Depeche Mode’s public face. That allowed Fletcher, universally known as Fletch, to get on with being their backbone.
He was crucial to their makeup, pushing the band to achieve, chivvying them to get into the studio or on the road. Without his tenacity, exercised over 42 years, Depeche Mode would have splintered long before they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020.
Fletcher was a keyboardist and passionate proponent of electronics, glorying in the synthesiser’s role in overturning the convention of music being made with guitars and drums. “Obviously, it’s sad to see the demise of the traditional rock group,” he said drily in 1993. “But there’s always going to be a place for it in cabaret.” But his musicianly interests were rivalled by a head for business. He enjoyed keeping tabs on receipts and merchandising, and for Depeche Mode, who became one of the world’s biggest touring groups in the 1990s, that was win-win: Fletcher was onstage behind his keyboard every night, but offstage performed dusty managerial duties. He estimated that he spent 17 years as player-manager; even after the band acquired heavyweight management he kept his hand in.
His knowledge of the industry was renowned. When his death was announced, the Pet Shop Boys, old confreres from the hit-making 80s, tweeted: “Fletch was a warm, friendly and funny person who loved electronic music and could also give sensible advice about the music business.” During the Hall of Fame induction, Gahan characterised the early Depeche Mode as “outsider, eyeliner-wearing weirdos from Essex”, but Fletcher was never as unconventional as Gahan and Gore. Rather, he viewed himself as “the tall guy in the background, without whom this international corporation called Depeche Mode would never work”.
He was the eldest of two sons and two daughters born in Nottingham to Joy and John Fletcher. In the early 60s, his father, an engineer, was offered a job at a cigarette factory in Basildon, and they became one of the first families to settle in the Essex new town. Andy joined the Christian organisation the Boys’ Brigade and remained a member until he was 18, during which he became actively religious. He attended church seven days a week, and with fellow member Vince Clarke, preached in the Brigade coffee bar. That period, he said, “shaped my moral beliefs and attitudes”. His church activities also sparked an interest in music, and it was there that he picked up his first instrument, a guitar. He retained his faith after he left the Brigade; in the 80s, as Depeche Mode charted with taut electropop singles that would influence rap, EDM and metal, he felt guilty about not going to church.
He took politics at A-level and planned to go to university, but instead, he and Clarke formed a band with a classmate from Nicholas comprehensive school in Laindon, Gore. Joined by Gahan, a friend from Southend, the new group had a ready-made audience on Southend’s busy social circuit. The band’s musical direction was shaped by Gore, who had bought a then-revolutionary synthesiser, while their image, according to Fletcher, was “post-Blitz kids with frilly shirts”. He got a job as a clerk at SunLife Insurance, and stuck with it until he was fairly sure he could make a living from music. By that point, Depeche Mode’s second single, New Life, had reached No 11 in the charts and they had been on Top of the Pops.
They maintained a considerable chart presence throughout the 1980s and 90s, with the music evolving in an ornate and gothic direction from the late 80s. Substance abuse, notably on Gahan’s part, marred their gargantuan 90s shows – the 14-month Devotional tour was described as “the most debauched rock’n’roll tour ever” by Q magazine. Fletcher, who had once viewed touring as “so much fun”, was now depressed. Moreover, he was used as a mediator by the brooding Gahan and the flamboyant Gore during their regular creative disputes.
Gahan became sober in the late 90s and the group resumed recording and playing live. Gore and Gahan launched solo careers, but Fletcher, who once said he had no great interest in writing songs, started his own record company, Toast Hawaii. He signed the band Client, which released several albums, but the label was always secondary to his Depeche Mode commitments and little was heard of it after Client departed in 2006. His involvement with the group did instil an interest in DJing – he learned the techniques at their gigs, and thereafter played occasional solo sets at clubs and festivals.
From the mid-90s, Fletcher and his wife, Gráinne Mullan, ran a restaurant in St John’s Wood, north London. He sold it after a decade, blaming “all the little things that went wrong”. He was game enough to re-enter the hospitality trade in 2021, investing in the relaunch of a Hampstead pub, the Duke of Hamilton.
Gráinne, whom he married in 1993, survives him, as do their children, Megan and Joe.