Farewell Fletch

“Martin’s the songwriter, Alan [Wilder]’s the good musician, Dave’s the vocalist and I bum around,” Andy Fletcher on his role in the band, taken from the Depeche Mode concert film 101.

“Depeche Mode’s unique division of labor has been long established, with each of the three remaining members having a distinct role: Martin Gore writes the songs, Dave Gahan sings them and Andy Fletcher shows up for photo shoots and cashes the checks,” Gavin Edwards, wrote in Rolling Stone in 2005. 

That wasn’t entirely true.

On Thursday, Depeche Mode made the shocking announcement that Fletch had died at the age 60.

“We are shocked and filled with overwhelming sadness with the untimely passing of our dear friend, family member, and bandmate Andy ‘Fletch’ Fletcher,” the band said in a statement posted to Instagram and Twitter Thursday. “Fletch had a true heart of gold and was always there when you needed support, a lively conversation, a good laugh, or a cold pint.”

The band’s nominal bassist (he also played flute — albeit for like one song) Fletch was never the most prolific musician or songwriter. Onstage, especially during more recent tours, he barely played keyboards and didn’t bother trying to sing, instead serving as backup dancer and hype man (while making sure to avoid cramping). In fact, his exact role in the band has long been a source of bemusement, comic relief, and even envy. For many, he was the synth pop version of Andrew Ridgeley, a guy who played the least conspicuous parts on his band’s songs and rode the coattails of his more talented bandmates.

His most famous quote (the one that’s in most of his obituaries) was probably the one he made to Rolling Stone in 1990: “The beauty of using electronics is that music can now be made in your bedroom. You don’t need to get four people together in some warehouse to practice. You don’t have to have four excellent musicians fighting among themselves. You can do it in your bedroom, and it’s all down to ideas.”

He definitely seemed like the embodiment of that quote. How many DM fans thought they could stand on stage, press a few keys and buttons, do the air traffic controller-air cello-shadow boxer dance, and eat a snack while watching the rest of the band do their thing?

But as it turns out, that wasn’t the case at all. Like the traffic cop who makes sure everyone does what they’re supposed to and gets where they need to, Fletch had a role in Depeche Mode that was every bit as important as Martin’s or Dave’s. Looking more like a lawyer or business executive, the bespectacled, perpetually serious-looking Fletch always came off like the team dad — the adult in the room who did all of the things the kids didn’t want to, thereby providing the necessary structure for them to succeed.

He was the band’s manager at a time when they didn’t have one, handling business deals to the point where Dave once joked: “Maybe we should set a fax machine up for him onstage.” He was the band’s spokesperson, dealing with the press and announcing tours, album releases, and whatnot. He was the referee who kept Gore and Gahan in line and mediated their disputes (he was widely credited with smoothing things over when Gahan and Gore feuded over songwriting responsibilities in the run-up to 2005’s Playing the Angel, although in this Pitchfork interview, he predictably downplayed his role).

Put simply, he was the unsung hero of Depeche Mode. He was the glue that held the band together, doing whatever he had to do to keep things going. That he did it with such humility and humor, no doubt, contributed to the band’s longevity. To borrow another metaphor, if Gore was the brains and Gahan was the face of the band, then Fletch was the heart.

As such, it’s fair to wonder if Fletch’s death might also mean the end of Depeche Mode. While it’s too early to speculate, it’s worth noting that the band has survived losing important members before. Original songwriter Vince Clarke left after only one album and multi-instrumentalist and quasi-producer Alan Wilder left after the Devotional Tour in 1995.

But this one feels different. It’s easy to forget that, before they were Depeche Mode, they were kids who grew up together. Martin, Fletch and Vince went to school together and Dave’s joined shortly after school ended. They’ve been friends for the better part of four decades. That’s not something you can easily move forward from.

Additionally, while Clarke and Wilder were more important artistically, Fletch’s role was more central to the actual functioning of the band. Simply put, Depeche Mode very well could have imploded years ago had it not been for Fletch, and it’s possible that with the team dad gone, the kids might just decide to call it a day. In a 2013 interview with Electronic Beats, he described himself as “the tall guy in the background, without whom this international corporation called Depeche Mode would never work.”

Truer words were never spoken. Unfortunately, the bond has been broken. Enjoy the Silence, Fletch.