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:
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)
ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK Shame (Virgin VS938)
The SMITHS (Morrissey) Sheila Take A Bow (Rough Trade RT196)