In terms of learning how to play a musical instrument Gary Fletcher was a late starter. Inspired by Cream’s version of the Willie Dixon song ‘Spoonful’ (as recorded on the Wheels of Fire double album), the 17 year-old lad picked up his sister’s six-string acoustic and started to pick out that distinctive bass riff. It was not straightforward. Gary is left-handed and the guitar was strung for his sister to play who is right-handed.
“At that time,” said Gary, “I was unaware of handed guitars. I just turned it upside down with the bass strings at the bottom and went from there.
“My first bass guitar was ‘borrowed’ from Terry Walsh and Bobby Kevin who owned a music shop close to where I lived Tooting. I think they took pity on me and gave me a Hofner short scale and told me to pay them back when I could.
“I’ve been playing bass ever since but I now also play the acoustic six-string, especially in my own bands or when I play either solo or in a duo as I do in Fletcher Leary with Tom Leary on fiddle.”
Tom has been playing fiddle for many years and currently plays in the new Lindisfarne line-up as well as being a core member of Feast Of Fiddles, member of The Gary Fletcher Band and was for many years performing with the John B Spencer Trio. Gary first linked up with Tom some years ago in Andy Billup’s short lived outfit ‘The Afton Satellites’.
Gary said: “I kept in touch with Tom and we have hooked up many times since then. He plays in both my electric and acoustic line-ups. Tom is a very easy man to play along with and we work well together.”
“Our set tends to comprise of my own songs, some of which I have never yet recorded. I am surprised and flattered that people like what I do and come to support us. There are a couple of instrumentals in the set, Tom doesn’t sing and though I admit I am not a vocalist with a ‘big’ voice, I write to my capabilities. When I first started writing years I needed a Rod Stewart or an opera singer to sing what I had written the range was so extreme!
“This line-up allows me to use material which is not always blues-based. I never want to bite the hand that feeds me and am proud to be the bass player and member of The Blues Band with Paul (Jones) Dave (Kelly) and the others but with Fletcher Leary, or my other bands, I can do what I like. It allows me to veer a bit away from the strict blues format and I find it a joy to get to play other kinds of material on a six-string.”
Many of Gary’s first songs were written on the road, in the back of his trusty camper van where he found peace and quiet. The endless touring, and his love of racing cars, meant he was away from home for long periods of time and later, when marital problems arose “we weren’t at each other’s throats all the time!” it became a source of refuge and a place to recompose himself. Now remarried for just one year Gary’s new home, in North Hampshire, has everything he needs to continue his musical career.
He said: “Although there was a small basement in my house in Twickenham it had no garage. Selling that property for a reasonable sum I was able to move to a house to build me a garage and a dream kitchen for my lovely lady.
“I am very happy now. I do around 50 gigs a year with The Blues Band plus another 25 or so solo/duo/GFB etc gigs and also spend some time either driving clients around a race track for Jaguar or getting scared by letting them take the wheel.”
(In addition to being a musician Gary is a motorsport enthusiast and apart from having raced in saloon cars and single seaters he is an ARDS-approved race instructor licensed by Thruxton).
A member of The Blues Band since its inception has allowed Gary to lead the life of a professional musician forming his own bands with either family members or friends made along the way. The Blues Band is still going strong after almost 40 years and Gary puts the success of the band down to the era in which it started.
He said: “The band has its own ID, to some extent cemented by the people who first came to the gigs in the late ‘70’s. At some point, no matter how much music you listen to, the music you grew up with in your teenage years stays with you. Back then we were playing an Anglicised version of the blues which had, at its core, the sounds of Chicago and Mississippi, which we then developed into our own style. We were not what you call a ‘cool’ band but were lucky enough to establish a good following in our first year. Those people are still with us and while we are under no illusion that we will attract the 2,000-3,000 punters we did back in the day we can still fill the town halls holding 300-400 people that we tend to play now.”
Whether it is in The Blues Band, The Gary Fletcher Band or as Fletcher Leary who will be performing at Kettering Arts Centre on October 17 at the Autumn Potbelly Festival, the joy of playing live still gives Gary a buzz.
“It’s the immediacy of it,” he explained, “especially playing as a duo. It allows more freedom of expression than when playing in a tightly formed group like The Blues Band which has to follow a set structure. Even with my own band there is flexibility and I find it magical to hear other people’s interpretation of my music. I am very lucky other people want to come and hear us, I am under no illusion that by grace and good fortune I have been able to follow this path.”
It is a path that continues to wind its way through the world of music. For Gary the journey has been filled with the sounds of Steely Dan, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, the music from those old TV shows such as Colour Me Pop and latterly Later…with Jools Holland.
He said: “I still try to listen to a fair amount of recent stuff. I rely on my nephew and niece to point me in the right direction there. But I also listen to jazz, some classical music and have been catching up with the music of the big bands. Listening to a big band live, all that energy, but they must be doing it for the love of it, I can’t see how it can be financially viable for the players.”
Big bands aside, Gary likes nothing more than playing his guitar. He may only be doing 75 or so gigs a year but very rarely does a day pass by without him picking up one of his guitars and start to strum – as they say – you can’t put a good musician down and Gary is up there with the best of them.
Current member of:
The Gary Fletcher Band, Fletcher Leary, The Blues Band, The British Blues All Stars (with Zoot Money, Pick Withers and Dave Kelly)
Some of his former groups:
The Relatives, The Wildcats, Sam Apple Pie / The Vipers, Panama Scandal, Garfield Row, The Breath of Life.
Tickets for this event are available from Waterstones, High Street, Kettering, by post from Becky at St Andrew’s Church (cheques made payable to “PCC of St Andrew’s Kettering”) to St Andrew’s Vicarage, Lindsay Street, Kettering NN16 8RG