Throughout his time with Depeche Mode, Andy “Fletch” Fletcher became accustomed to one question more than others.
“What exactly is it that you do?”
It was a fair query. Fletcher — who passed away Thursday (May 26th) at the age of 60 — was an enigma amidst bandmates with clearly-defined roles. Dave Gahan holds forth as lead singer. Martin Gore is the band’s primary instrumentalist and prolific composer. Even former members Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder had delineated responsibilities in the group’s operation.
Fletcher, however, was content to be “the guy that stands in the back.” Tall. Unassuming. Genial, even. Onstage he stood behind a keyboard but could appear as if he’d just happened to wander onto the set. He was the only band member with no songwriting credits, and at a certain point his vocal mic disappeared. Rolling Stone once wrote that “Andy Fletcher shows up for photo shoots and cashes the checks.” Hell, in D.A. Pennebaker’s 1980 Depeche Mode documentary 101, Fletcher himself said that “Martin’s the songwriter, Alan’s the good musician, Dave’s the vocalist and I bum around.”
Clearly, however, one doesn’t spend 42 years in a world class, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band simply by bumming around.
“People who think Fletch doesn’t do anything are sorely mistaken,” Gore said some years ago. “We all have our roles; his just isn’t as obvious or as public as mine or Dave’s. But nobody should think that he doesn’t pull his weight. He absolutely does.”
Fletcher did stand up for himself a bit during a 2009 interview with Germany’s Die Welt, explaining to the publication that “the audience doesn’t really know which role which musician has within the group. But bands like Kraftwerk or Depeche Mode actually work as divisions of labor collectives. The contribution of each individual remains invisible. And because I don’t push myself to the fore, many mistake me for the fifth wheel.”
Fletcher was, in fact, instrumental in Depeche Mode’s formation. Growing up in Basildon, it was he and schoolmate Clarke who started bands called No Romance in China and Composition of Sound, with Fletcher playing bass. Together, influenced by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and others, they pivoted to electronic music, eventually recruiting Gore and, in 1980, Gahan.
But even in the early days, Fletcher downplayed his importance, telling Pulse! magazine in 1993, “It was accidental right from the beginning. I was actually forced to be in the band. I played guitar and I had a bass; it was a question of them roping me in.”
But there’s no question that Fletcher was an interested — and involved — party in Depeche Mode’s evolution, particularly able to articulate the group’s direction and approach. “We really don’t like doing conventional music,” he explained 1990, while the band was touring to promote its Violator album in 1990. “We just feel that a lot of it is regressive. That’s why we use electronics — that’s the way forward in the ’90s. It was a dirty word in the ’80s as a reaction to the early-’80s synth-pop thing. But we still feel that’s the way forward.”
That contention was certainly validated over the years. Depeche Mode has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, logging 54 entries on the U.K. Singles Chart. Six of its albums went platinum or better in the U.S., which also glommed onto hits such as “People Are People,” “Enjoy the Silence,” “Policy of Truth” and “Personal Jesus.”