Fred Dellar 1931-2021
FELLOW FREELANCES, we should be so lucky... or rather we should be so Fred Dellar. As one of the great music journalist's many editors recalled on hearing of his demise: "If you heard cheering coming from Mojo you knew it was because Fred had walked in." (That's Ted Kessler, Q magazine's final editor.)
Yup, cheering - a man unprecedentedly and unrepeatably brilliant and beloved by music writers and fans of all ages and stages.
As Patrick Humphries, author and mag writer, recalled: "Before the internet, if you wanted to find out anything about music, you asked Fred Dellar". So, a walking database. But also, and more important, "a gentle soul and a gentleman".
A "Fred Fact" from the moment he joined NME in 1972 - at 41 already - he helped any young hopeful who wandered by. Four years later, when legendary "hip young gunslingers" Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill hit the office and strung (apocryphal? metaphorical? real?!) barbed wire around their desks, it could have been the end of Fred and the end of the history he curated.
But instead he relished being "a bit of an oddity... I was very friendly with Julie and Tony. They'd bring me in cakes, I was a sort of old age project for them."
He did. Here's Lois Wilson, 20 years on, a Mojo generation freelance: "He'd take me and [reviews ed] Jenny Bulley for lunch, for pasta in Soho or as a special treat to the British Museum restaurant. We'd have a quick look in HMV and Virgin on Oxford Street before going back to work... and when Mojo wanted a feature on Dusty [Springfield] and he'd been down to do it, he put me forward in his place because he knew how much she meant to me."
Greater love hath no freelance than that he lay down his commission for a friend.
But... the Fred Facts. A Northamptonian, from the cradle he reckoned music and life one entity even when occasionally distracted - by National Service in the RAF (running a jazz club the while, mind) or crust-earning in a factory machine-shop and a warehouse...
In his teens and twenties he club-crawled to see Billie Holiday, Hoagy Carmichael, the tapsational Nicholas Brothers, Josh White, Lena Horne. He DJed a bit, wrote for a Sinatra fanzine and played in a skiffle group... which provided his favourite memory-man boast: into great age he could still recite all the verses of When The War Breaks Out In Mexico (I'm Gonna Go To Montreal).
By the late Sixties he wrote reviews for Hi-Fi News and launched into a sub-career as Stakhanovite album-sleevenote maestro. Then warehouse redundancy propelled him towards the NME gig and a half-century all-but of constant demand for his services as peerless expert, compiler of skullcrushing muso crosswords, and writer of affably erudite features. More than 100 of the latter can be found in the rocksbackpages archive - not for free, Fred believed in getting paid on the whole.
He left NME in 1996 and thereafter worked his magic for Mojo (where he fashioned the Time Machine, Enlightenment and Ask Fred pages), Up Country, The Stage, Smash Hits, Vox, Loaded and Q. Over the years he also wrote/co-wrote many books, from genre encyclopaedias and crossword compilations to works of love such as The Hip: Hipsters, Jazz And The Beat Generation and Sinatra: The Man And His Music, and quirkier fascinations Where Did You Go To My Lovely? - The Lost Sounds And Stars Of The Sixties and Excess All Areas - A Who's Who Of Rock Depravity.
Not to mention, he was an NUJ member for 37 years, with attendant views on freelance solidarity, which many of us came to appreciate when, in the Nineties and Noughties, he joined and supported the Q/Mojo Freelance Group campaigns to defend our copyright and improve our pay.
Mould broken. But there'll never be a fonder memory in the music journo world...