Released today in 1984: It’s All Over (Don’t Say You’re In Love)

Chrysalis MATT3

Chrysalis MATT3

Matt Fretton’s appearance on the cover of Smash Hits came in the week his debut single, It’s So High became a hit, entering the Top 75 at #62. It was a bold show of support from the magazine, similar to that made by his record company, Chrysalis, who went to the trouble of giving the single the vanity catalogue number of MATT1. Everyone had good reason to expect big things of him: at 18, he already had several years’ experience behind him and the song was a catchy tune coupled with lyrics demonstrating a social conscience that he had written himself. Interviews of the time indicate a remarkably assured and mature attitude to his burgeoning career, a playful wit, and an intelligence and cultural awareness rare in someone so young. In Smash Hits alone he mentioned an interest in legendary singers Billie Holliday and Frank Sinatra, that he was listening to Miles Davis’s classic album Sketches Of Spain and that his single was inspired by gospel music. He also threw in that he was reading Les Enfants Terribles. Not the sort of influences usually at work on an 1980s teenager. He even mentioned an ambition to maybe write an opera one day.

At school in Hillingdon, Fretton had studied classical guitar and violin. Inspired by attending punk gigs in the late 70s, aged 14 he decided to play guitar in a band of his own, The Desks. “We had a 12 year old drummer, a girl in green lurex dresses playing a pink bass guitar, and a singer who looked like Elvis Presley in ‘Jailhouse Rock’,” he told Smash Hits. No wonder they couldn’t get any gigs. Helped by his father, Fretton set up his own venue, called Unit 1, where The Desks and other amateur bands could play. This wasn’t sustainable: the cost of maintaining the building alone was far more than they were taking in receipts. The band also seemed to be a waste of his efforts: in addition to writing the songs and arranging the keyboard, he found he was teaching some of the members how to play their instruments too. Following the acquisition of a multi-track tape recorder he found he could dispense with the others altogether and do pretty much everything himself. By 1981, his shows consisted of live vocals and synths performed against pre-recorded backing tapes. He needed minimal help setting up on stage, and took up little storage room backstage, and he claimed this is what convinced Dave Stewart to offer him a gig opening for his band Eurythmics, Fretton’s first big break.

Work with other Smash Hits cover stars followed, including Tears For Fears, Thompson Twins and, from 1982, tours with Depeche Mode (his showy dress sense was originally intended as a kitsch joke, but at Depeche Mode gigs audiences saw it as fairly conservative and so the white bow ties and salmon suit jackets became a permanent part of his image). Moving in these circles meant a record deal of his own wouldn’t be far behind and he joined Chrysalis. Disappointingly, 1983’s It’s So High peaked at #50, and a follow-up, Dance It Up, released later in the year, only just made the Top 100. When It’s All Over (Don’t Say You’re In Love) flopped in 1984, plans for an album were abandoned and Chrysalis dropped him. Ever-ambitious, with his manager Rick Rogers he set up his own recording studio and record label, IDK, and self-released his next recordings. These attracted scant notice, but he remained active in the music industry after giving up his interest in being a pop star, becoming an agent and promoter for classical musicians.

Fretton died in 2013, distraught about the accidental death of photographer Sussie Ahlburg who had drowned in the Ladies’ Bathing Ponds on Hampstead Heath earlier that year. He is one of 17 Smash Hits cover stars of the 1980s to have passed away to date:

  • 11 May 1981: Bob Marley (cancer, aged 36)
  • 16 Jun 1982: James Honeyman-Scott (heart failure, aged 25); and
  • 14 Apr 1983: Pete Farndon (drowned, aged 30) – both of Pretenders and both deaths related to drug use
  • 18 Jan 1990: Melanie Appleby of Mel & Kim (cancer, aged 23)
  • 08 Aug 1991: Vaughn Toulouse of Department S (AIDS-related illness, aged 32)
  • 22 Jan 1997: Billy Mackenzie of The Associates (suicide, aged 39)
  • 22 Jan 1997: Michael Hutchence (suicide, aged 37)
  • 25 Aug 1999: Rob Fisher of Climie Fisher (cancer, aged 42)
  • 27 Mar 2000: Ian Dury (cancer, aged 57)
  • 18 Dec 2000: Kirsty MacColl (hit by a speedboat while swimming, aged 41)
  • 16 Dec 2001: Stuart Adamson (suicide, aged 43)
  • 22 Dec 2002: Joe Strummer (heart condition, aged 50)
  • 15 Nov 2009: Derek B (heart attack, aged 44)
  • 08 Apr 2010: Malcolm McLaren (cancer, aged 64)
  • 04 May 2012: Adam Yauch of Beastie Boys (cancer, aged 47)
  • 29 Oct 2013: Matt Fretton (suicide, aged 49)
  • 12 Feb 2015: Steve Strange (heart attack, aged 55)
  • NEW SINGLES on sale from Apr. 13
    ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN Silver (Korova KOW34)
    MARILYN You Don’t Love Me (Love MAZ3)
    Matt FRETTON It’s All Over (Don’t Say You’re In Love) (Chrysalis MATT3)
    DURAN DURAN Meet El Presidente (EMI TOUR1)
    The SMITHS (Morrissey) Sheila Take A Bow (Rough Trade RT196)


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