NME 11th February 1984|
PERSONALITY PEOPLE REVEAL THE PAINTED WORD TO DAVID QUANTICK
The Television Personalities. We used to think they were the wacky ones. Songs like 'Part-Time Punks' and 'I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives', wit, satire, jangly guitars - seriously unserious.
So it comes as a shock, to some, when these zany funsters bring out a single like 'A Sense Of Belonging'. With a garage-band Phil Spector backing, 'A Sense Of Belonging' deals with the death of optimism and idealism, the growing feeling of despair in today's bright world, nuclear war, and the CND movement.
It's a brilliant record - and it deserves more than the petty controversy its sleeve has produced. A photograph of a battered child; John Peel described it as "harrowing", there were problems with the distributors, and even certain persons at Rough Trade subjected individual Personalities to interrogations about their motives for using it - after all, these were the guys who did 'Part-Time Punks', y'know, they must be doing something dodgy.
This attitude has dogged the TV Personalities for years. Joe (guitars and singing): "I remember when I used to suggest to them (Rough Trade) that we were a serious group and played proper music, they used to phone the asylum - they thought I was crazy". This despite the fact that Dan Foster (sic), the singer and writing Personality, has been responsible for more than a few serious songs. From the gloomy 'Diary Of A Young Man' on the first LP, through 'King And Country' - one side of their second single - and up to 'A Sense Of Belonging', The Television Personalities have been an intelligent and interesting group regarded by Rough Trade as their "pet band".
They recorded their first John Peel session in a flash BBC studio - which meant that for once, the Personalities got a decent, quality sound. They deliberately left out 'Part-Time Punks' - and Peel's reaction, according to Dan, was "Oh, it's such a shame that children have to grow up".
Anyway, back to 'A Sense Of Belonging'; after Rough Trade had allegedly messed up a tour for the band, they decided to bring out the single on their own Whaam! label. However, Geoff Travis heard about the new songs, expressed much interest, and 'A Sense Of Belonging' came out on Rough Trade.
Dan: "The record itself, you get the impression it's about Ban The Bomb, but the idea of a sense of belonging - you can attach that to a lot of things. It's just certain days where I think everyone sits around and thinks, Christ! If I had a magic button to change things, you'd do it. It's just some days you feel so totally helpless. You can't really do anything; you can go on CND marches, you can do your bit, but you can't really see what it's leading to".
The reason for the sleeve photo: "We could have done something really predictable like have a burnt baby after a nuclear war on the front," says Dan, and David (farfisa organist) interrupts to point out, "It's close to home". Joe expands:" The song is more generally about violence, and people not caring about it when it happens. Whatever sort of violence you're talking about, however you justify it or complain about it, this is it".
I remark on the blunt writing-style Dan uses, and the difference between it and the in-vogue approach of your Costellos and your Wellers. Compare the directness of 'A Sense Of Belonging' to something like 'Pills And Soap'. Dan says "I don't want to write a clever song with clever words about something. Like, if no-one had told me what 'Pills And Soap' was about, I wouldn't have had a clue. You can't win - now Ian Dury's done one called 'Ban The Bomb', and people are saying it doesn't make the point, it's too blatant. I mean, the guy's probably singing it from the heart, knowing Ian Dury, and they're accusing him of not being able to write good lyrics! It's crazy".
The TV Personalities will be releasing their next album on February 24th. It's on Illuminated Records and it's called 'The Painted Word'. They're not exactly naïve - I mentioned the "freedom" one might enjoy on an indie label to Dan, and he replied "What freedom?". But they're still remarkably idealistic, talking about encouraging other people to play and record without going through the usual biz channels (Joe: "The awesome thing is you can").
They also apologised for starting the psychedelic revival, informed me that the most successful act they've been connected with is The Mini-Pops (Dan's niece and nephew have the gold discs to prove it), and they make wonderful records. Buy them.