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Six months ago I couldn't've told you a thing about The Television Personalities. I hadn't heard of them since the days of the 'Bill Grundy' and 'Syd Barrett' singles, and didn't even know if they still existed.
Then I started to read some great new (and not so new) fanzines which all referred to the T.V.P.s as some sort of seminal influence, heard the 'Sense Of Belonging' single, and slowly got hooked. The clincher was
when I got my mitts on a fanzine from East Kilbride called 'Bombs Away Batman' which suggested that life wasn't worth living until you'd heard an L.P. by the Personalities called ' They Could Have Been Bigger Than
The Beatles'. A title like that, and a review written with such passion and enthusiasm sent me rushing down to Rhythmic Records to order it, and 3 days later I too was drooling over this masterpiece. I had to hear
more, so it wasn't long before I'd tracked down the 2nd L.P. 'Mummy You're Not Watching Me' and the latest one 'The Painted Word', both of which are equally brilliant. Out of the blue I'd found my new 'favourite group
in the whole world' (for this month at least!) so you could imagine the elation I felt when co-incidentally their first ever tour of Northern Britain was announced. Newcastle and Dundee were cancelled (as a result of a
fire at the club in Dundee) and I eventually caught up with them at the Heathery Bar in Wishaw. I'd expected to see four or five people on stage and wondered at first if only three (Dan Treacy - guru, writer, singer,
guitar / Jeff Bloom - toy drums / Jowe Head, née Steven Bird, ex Swell Maps - bass, hilarity general mania) could re-create the recorded works. Of course they could. To say that they were magnificent would be an
understatement. "Hello, we're The T.V. Personalities, and this is 'Three Wishes'" was the introduction to a mesmerising set of songs, mostly familiar, climaxing with an extended version of 'David Hockney's Diary'
into which was thrown snippets of everything: from Frankie Goes To Mothercare, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Velvets, Human League, Smiths, Thompson Twins, Troggs, Jonathan Richman, ? And The Mysterians, Sixouxsie, Divine,
Evelyn Thomas, The Who, in fact anything which came into Dan's vivid inspiration. Off then went to Aberdeen, and two days later I met up with them again at Janey's in Gourock. This time I wasn't so impressed with the
performance - don't ask me why, I just expect too much - but they seemed to please everyone else enormously and played a completely different set from Wishaw. Before and after they played I spoke to Dan at length and
the following conversation ensued. (The order of questions might seem a bit mixed up, but it should all make sense towards the end - I hope!). Before you start reading just let me tell you that The T.V.P.s really are
a brilliant group, shamefully ignored and neglected by most people. Don't waste your money on the new Public Image L.P. - take a risk and buy one of Dan's!|
S.D. When and why did Edward Ball (co-founder of the T.V.P.s) leave?
DAN: We did a tour of Holland and when we came back he left. The trouble is we're both pretty prolific when it comes to songwriting and there wasn't enough outlet for the two of us, plus the fact that my stuff was getting a long way from what he was writing. There was no animosity or anything like that.
S.D. Do you like The Times? (E.B.'s band)
DAN: Oh yeah, well I was in The Times for a while. When he left I didn't want to carry on with the T.V.P.s 'cos I thought the band was great when it was me and him. So it was a bit bizarre when a couple of months later he asked me to come on a Times album... He'd recorded half of 'Pop Goes Art' and he asked me to go and finish it, so I played on about 8 tracks and did about 7 gigs. And then a guy from Germany phoned up and asked the T.V.P.s to go over there for an extortionate amount of money and I couldn't very well say to him "We've split up" so I said "Yeah, sure, we'll be over next week!"
S.D.How did you get your own record label (WHAAM!)
DAN: We had problems at R.T. over the Dutch tour. They put it together at the last minute just to keep us happy, and it was an absolute disaster. They didn't book hotels or anything and I got ill and came home and they took £600 out of my royalties for gigs that we didn't do which was totally wrong so I just went "Oh, I've had enough". So me and Edward set up Whaam! We didn't have any money we just went and recorded a single each. We didn't make anything on those first two records, then the Marine Girls record that we put out ('Beach Party' L.P.) sold so many and made so much money it funded the label.
S.D. How did you get the Marine Girls?
DAN: Well they played their second ever gig with us in Hertford and they were so bad they were brilliant, so I said let's do an album, thinking 'God, if we sell a thousand of this we'll sell a thousand of anything!' And it sold about 19,000.
S.D. It's always amazed me how independent labels can keep churning out records with no apparent success, or large sales. How do you manage it?
DAN: Yeah, and you'd be amazed how much money they lose doing it as well! Like I said, we made money from The Marine Girls, then we had our own albums ('Mummy' / 'Beatles') so that made money and kept it going. Every single we put out lost us money, but if you want to do an album with a band you've got to do a single first just to try and establish them, and you know I'm not one for going off on sort of Bermuda holidays, I'd rather put it into something else. It cost a lot of money doing it, but it's alright now 'cos R.T. are doing the manufacturing again and we got one or two deals which have helped.
S.D. Why did you not join the Creation label?
DAN: Well that would be a bit silly really. The whole Creation label was based on Whaam! and the T.V.P.s, and Alan McGee (who has his own group - Biff Bang Pow! and fanzine 'Communication Blur') set up the label after meeting us. It wouldn't make sense.
S.D. What do you think of the bands on the label, (Biff Bang Pow!, Revolving Paint Dream, Jasmine Minks, Pastels, X-Men)?
DAN: Originally I was all for it, but now it strikes me as just a bit trivial. I mean I'm glad he can put out records by people like The Pastels who I like but one or two of the things I'm not really struck on. I don't mind, I mean we know each other pretty well, me and Alan, but recently he seems to have become ridiculously business orientated... and I'm in a few people's bad books and stuff like that. It all sounds very good when you read about it, like 'Wow, all these bands!' but it's not, it's like a little clique of 5 of 6 people under different names. The Jasmine Minks are the only sort of serious band. They're the only ones who'll make it.
S.D. And the X-Men, they've got a brilliant new single, they don't sound like 'a Creation band'.
DAN: Yeah, they're pretty good but they're not really part of that scene.
S.D. What about all the fanzines - Communication Blur, The Legend, Bombs Away Batman, Juniper Beri Beri, Groovy Shades - it all seems to be building up into something big?
DAN: Yeah, but it's lost the sort of freshness it had, 'cos all those people unfortunately have all met each other, they all know each other, and now instead of being in different places spreading it around they're all trying to not do the same things as the others are doing, and it's all become a bit, y'know - Rupert Bear Fan Club, and they've all got these naïve ideals that died about 6 years ago like 'Independence Is The Big Thing', but it's not. The indie record thing is ten times worse than the major labels. If you think some of the things major labels do are bad, independents are worse, especially people like R.T. and Cherry Red, they're just cutting everyone's throats all the time.
S.D. Communication Blur seems to have it in for Cherry Red.
DAN: Well, that's Alan McGee as well!! That's trivial, I mean why knock Cherry Red, they're not worth knocking... go and blow up C.B.S. or something as far as I'm concerned.
S.D. What about the labels 'art pop' and 'psychedelic' attached to the T.V.P.s. Would you agree with these tags?
DAN: I don't mind, I mean we've been called everything. It just amuses me. I can hardly be accused of jumping on the bandwagon though, can I? A couple of years ago people were saying "What the hell are they doing?"
S.D. Do you know where Syd Barrett lives?
DAN: He lives in Cambridge with his mother.
S.D. You gave his address when you sang the song at Wishaw.
DAN: Well yeah, but no one writes it down, no one believes it for a minute!
S.D. Have you visited him?
DAN: Oh no... I've got a couple of friends who know him.
S.D. What did you think of the N.M.E. article on him a while back?
DAN: Don't mention it. That was total rubbish, it was made up from start to finish, totally fabricated. He never spoke to him at all. It was a French guy who was over here and spoke to all these people who'd like stood behind Syd Barrett in a grocer's shop queue 9 years ago, that sort of crap, an' I said to him well why don't you go and see him, and he said 'Oh, if only I knew where he lived', so I told him. And the photographer phoned me up and said it was a farce, that he had to stand on the other side of the road for two days waiting on Syd to come out to go to the butcher's shop for some sausages!
S.D. They tried to make out he was buttoning up his shirt to have his photo taken.
DAN: It was taken from about 50 yards away with a tele-photo lens.
S.D. Do you only like psychedelic music?
DAN: Oh Christ no, bloody 80% of it is total rubbish. I can just appreciate anything that doesn't make me want to spew up. I mean, what the hell is psychedelic music? Psychedelia means 'consciousness expansion' and I don't think the bands who are called psychedelic expand my mind.
S.D. Were you involved with the Living Room?
DAN: Oh no. We played there, Alan McGee again. We did a couple of gigs to get it started, but I think we played there once too many times, just to help him. It was fairly nice, but after hearing that live album I just don't want to ever know about the people involved ever again. Don't buy it - it's rubbish, absolute rubbish. It's just their idea of the legendary Velvet Underground 'Live at Max's' recorded on a cassette on a coffee table.
S.D. 'The Painted Word' seems to be a lot less frivolous than the earlier L.P.s, a lot more serious. Would you agree?
DAN: Yeah, I mean our records are just dictated by what sort of mood we're in at the time. We never go in the studio with 12 songs and say 'right this is how we're gonna do 'em'. If you go in with 12 summer-happy songs, and you have a nervous breakdown the day before you've got to go in there and put up a ridiculous front for the sake of commercialism.
S.D. So it wasn't an intentional change?
DAN: No, no. We only went in with 4 songs anyway. The rest of it was... well not spontaneous, that makes it sound jazz, but... y'know.
S.D. This new psychedelic scene, do you think it will catch on this time?
DAN: There's a psychedelic scene in America, but there isn't one in England. Just 'cos it's on the front page of Sounds an' that... I mean, I can tell you all the people in the psychedelic scene... there's 14 of them! The same 14 that were there in 1981 at the Groovy Cellar.
S.D.: Yeah they tried to build it up 3 years ago, and it never happened...
DAN: Well it was different then - 3 years ago the bands rode on the back of the clubs, only this time it's actually bands. It's mostly emanated from America, though I think the bands in Britain are much better, but they won't get the same publicity, simply because there's that mystique about being American. The bands might become big but it won't be a movement. You've got obvious bands like The Cure an' Siousxie And The Banshees and Psychedelic Furs who can quite easily be termed 'Psychedelia', or Echo & The Bunnymen who wanna be The Doors, and you'll get bands like R.E.M., Dream Syndicate, the Violent Femmes... but they'll all branch out do their own thing. And you've got all these bands like Playn Jane who are god-awful. They're the ones on the bandwagon.
S.D. What made those funny whoosing noises on 'Brian's Magic Car'?
(Dan creases up laughing!) Oh, that was my guitar. I had this really cheap wah-wah pedal that didn't work. Everyone says 'oh wow, a 2 thousand quid synthesiser!' It was just an accident really. We wrote the song round that probably.
S.D. What happened to the names you used to have as T.V. Personalities - Nicholas Parsons, Russell Harty, Hughie Green and Bruce Forsyth?
DAN: Well, I did the 1st single '14th Floor' and we got the money back. I was a bit naïve when I did it - I paid too much money to get it done. I mean, like I was 16 an' just didn't know the first thing about it. I got the money back, and my parents were pleased to see me doing something, so they helped me do 'Part Time Punks', they offered to lend me the money, and what happened was I got as far as the test pressing of 'Part Time Punks' and I didn't realise how much it would cost to put a record out, so I couldn't do it. So I had 2 copies and I sent one to John Peel and he was really sympathetic, and played it. The T.V. names were just an afterthought as I was putting the record in the envelope. And Peel loved it, and after playing it and saying 'oh, it's a shame they can't get the record out' about half a dozen people phoned up and R.T. said they'd press it and lend me the money to do it, and then it became ridiculous. I got 1,000 then R.T. phoned up 2 days later saying we want another 2.5 thousand, and at that time that was like getting told you're getting a gold disc! And then it just went on and on and on... I sold 14,000 on the King's Road label and 6 months later R.T. were still asking for copies. I needed the money, but I was really tired of it, so they said they'd re-release it, that they could sell another 1,000. So they put it out on R.T. and sold another 13,000! It was bizarre. It's one of those records like 'Spiral Scratch' by The Buzzcocks, it still sells about 250 copies a month.
S.D. Many of your lyrics appear to be very anti-military. What's the basis for this?
DAN: It's just some personal things really, like a friend who was killed in Ireland and an uncle who had his brains a bit scrambled in Vietnam. I don't want to stand up and say 'I protest' or hold a banner, but when something is personal you can use that to get your meaning across.
S.D. Are you popular outside Britain?
DAN: Well, we haven't been to America, but in Germany and Holland we're pretty big. It's really strange, we went over there in '79 or something, and it was nice audiences of like 150 kids who'd heard 'Part Time Punks', then we went back 2 years after and got invited to play with Nico and Theatre of Hate in front of 5,000 people and that went really well. Then we went back last January and it was just bizarre, 'cos there was 600 people at every gig, it was really odd. It's a bit strange to be popular over there - I just come to the conclusion that we're going to pretend to be a German band! We sell more records abroad than we do here, we always have done.
S.D. That's something we tend not to think about here in Britain, we seem to be very insular and think nothing happens beyond our own shores.
DAN: Well that's it, people here say 'oh yeah, you did 'Part Time Punks' didn't you'. There's no point in us going around saying 'yeah man, but we're really big in Germany now'. They'd have to come and see it. We don't believe it. We're going back in September and we've got 29 dates in Europe, and people think you're playing in pubs or something...
S.D. We tend to sneer at that a bit here, like 'Big in Germany, so what?'
DAN: Yeah, I think if English or Scottish people go to Germany they should feel ashamed of themselves, 'cos young people there are just completely different, there's a total lack of cynicism. If they want to dress up to go to a gig they're not going to hide their Paisley shirts under a Parka! They're just gonna go out and enjoy it.
S.D. How old are you?
DAN: 24 - just!
S.D. Do you think you'll get to an age where you'll give up?
DAN: Well there's a couple of times when I have given it up already, but that's not because we've not had a hit single or anything, it's nothing as petty as that. After 'Part Time Punks' I got ill for a while and gave it up 'cos that just attracted so many hangers-on. It still happens now, you get so many people patronising you and being condescending.
S.D. Even more so with the new psychedelic boom...
DAN: Yeah, but the people who're sort of in there, people like yourself, it's different 'cos you're all sort of fans of it, but you sense it when you've got journalists sitting down and saying 'Come on, explain it, let me in on it.'
S.D. Do the likes of Matt Johnson, Captain Sensible and Julian Cope fit into your idea of psychedelic?
DAN: Oh yeah, it's more so people like Captain Sensible. I know him really well.
S.D. He's always been into psychedelia, and yet it's being portrayed in the press as if he's jumping on a bandwagon...
DAN: I know, that's nonsense. I mean the guy's... if you want to call him a 60's freak, that;s what he is. He's the nicest bloke you could meet. Cope's obviously an L.S.D. freak. People might dismiss that now, but if he was that in the 60's no-one would have suggested he was anything other than a psychedelic. Matt Johnson's the same, I know he's been through a few funny stages in his life. You can't flirt with psychedelia, like I said it was based on the drug thing, and I don't know if it's what the audience get from it or what the artist is doing. I don't think someone who takes some acid and writes a song is psychedelic, that's a bit trivial.
S.D. What about The Cramps etc?
DAN: I don't know. I've always been on the outside of that thing. I'm sure they're good, but I can't see the humour in it. The same with bands like The Meteors - I mean they just scare the shit out of me. I'm a bit dubious about it, I don't know what the audiences get from it really.
S.D. Why did you do two completely different versions of 'David Hockney's Diary' on the 'Mummy' and 'Beatles' L.P.'s, and two versions of the title track from 'The Painted Word'?
DAN: I just hate the idea of you do a song and that's it. I like going back to songs and changing them. You can always have afterthoughts.
S.D. Do you ever listen to your past work, and what do you think of it now?
DAN: Yeah, sometimes, but it's a bit perverse really, I like listening to it, but I'd rather it was someone else so I could say 'oh I listen to this, this is good'. I don't listen to the first one even though people say it's our definitive album. I like the songs, but I wish it could have been more musical and I can't listen to 'The Painted Word' at all - a lot of it is a but insecure and too personal.
S.D. I think that's one of its good points.
DAN: I'm sure it's good for other people to listen to. I have to have a good day when it's on!
S.D. The music's great on it...
DAN: Well the way it was done, it's a really sort of stripped bare album. The more personal things are to me... I couldn't load it up with synthesisers and stuff. I just wanted to get the emotions across.
S.D. Why are the track listings on 'Painted Word' so confusing?
DAN: We did the sleeve, and when we went to cut it in the studio it turned out to be something like 71 minutes long, and you can't have 71 minutes on an album, so we had to edit it and juggle the tracks around. It wasn't deliberate.
S.D. How many records do you actually sell?
DAN: After '81 everyone's record sales went down. Where The Fall used to sell 15,000, they were down to 7 or 8. Our first L.P. did about 10 or 11 thousand and then the two on Whaam! did 6 or 7 and 'The Painted Word' about 4.5 - 5 so far, and that might not sound a lot but you can be sure it is really. Only people like Cabaret Voltaire and New Order sell records, although Cabaret Voltaire now sell half as many as they did on R.T. since they signed to Virgin, because they're caught in no-man's land - people look at the indie charts and think, 'oh I haven't heard that one', and they'll probably go out and buy it out of curiosity, and if you're stuck somewhere between the independent and proper chart you get lost - it's a bit of a dull area, cos you won't appear in any, indie or mainstream, so no one knows anything about it. It's nice to be in charts, whatever they are - it's still a measure of people buying your record and appreciating it.
S.D. Which of the Whaam! bands do you like?
DAN: I was glad we did the Marine Girls L.P., and the 1000 Mexican's single. The Direct Hits, and The Pastels of course, but it's a shame about The Pastels. If they were given time in a good studio I'm sure they'd make some really good records, but to see them selling 900 or 1000 singles, it's sad. Doctor And The Medics will become big, every major label's trying to sign them.
S.D. Are all the covers of 'Bigger Than The Beatles' different?
DAN: Yes, they're all individually spray painted - you should see the mess of my bath!
S.D. There was more but I forgot to turn the tape over, so you'll be glad to know that's it!
UNUSED INTERVIEW MATERIAL
S.D. Do you have any strong political beliefs?
DAN: At the moment I couldn't align myself with one particular party. I'm obviously not sort of Tory, but at the same time... the Labour Party... the trouble is that in the last 10 or 15 years nobody's been voting for anyone, they've been voting against, and that's ridiculous. People seemed resigned to saying 'give her a chance', 'give him a chance', 'give a woman a chance'. I think it's really naïve of people to say 'Thatcher this, Thatcher that' - she's a puppet, she's got her strings pulled by people behind her. A Prime Minister or a President, they're just the public figure, the face of it. It's naïve to think that she sits up every night thinking 'I'm going to abolish that law, I'm going to do this' - course she doesn't, she's advised to do it. I think it's ridiculous to have rigid views - like the coal strike, I couldn't honestly say 'Good old Arthur Scargill' or 'Good old Labour' - there's a lot more to it. My family from Yorkshire are a coalmining family and I know a bit more of the truth about it, but it's never just cut and dried.
S.D. Why was 'A Sense Of Belonging' on Rough Trade yet the L.P. 'Painted Word' was on Illuminated?
DAN: Because one person at R.T. didn't want it on R.T.... everyone else did. Unfortunately the person who didn't want it was Geoff Travis, the overlord. I don't know, the guy's a bit bizarre. He said to me it was a really insecure album. I mean I could take that as a criticism, but not as a reason for not putting it out. I had no intention of putting anything out on R.T. again after past experiences, but Geoff said he wanted to put the single out as it was the nearest thing to a hit single we'd done. So we thought, well this time if they're really going to get behind us and not treat us like the Barron Knights then OK, we'd do it. Everyone at R.T. was saying 'When's the L.P. coming out?' A lot of people were really annoyed that he hummed and hah-ed at the album 'cos R.T. were going through a sticky patch, and any album was guaranteed to sell a few thousand and make them some money.
S.D. So how did Illuminated get it?
DAN: They just phoned us up and made a sensible offer for it, so I thought well it's either that or putting it out on Whaam! but the trouble with putting it out on our own label is simply that we tend to get tagged as some sort of gurus for other bands.
S.D. What about the N.M.E.'s scathingly cynical review of 'The Painted Word'?
DAN: I never saw it. (I just happen to have it with me, so Dan pauses for a few minutes to read it).. This compares us to The Dream Syndicate! You get to the point where you sell so many records every time, and an N.M.E. review isn't going to suddenly crack it overnight for you - it makes no odds at all.
S.D. But it won't exactly encourage the unconverted to go out and buy it.
DAN: Actually, that sort of review works the opposite way - you'll get people buying the record just because of that.
S.D. Have you had good reviews in the past?
DAN: We've never had any bad reviews, no-one ever slagged us off apart from that.
S.D. You never heard your records played on Peel, or read many articles on the band in the music press. Why do you think that is?
DAN: Peel doesn't like us any more. He was the one who sort of cracked it in the first place by playing 'Part Time Punks' 25 nights in a row, and then he got Jensen and Powell to play it, then after that he got the first album and probably thought 'God, this is a bit heavy'. He was actually quoted as saying 'What a pity they've grown up'. Steve Sutherland of Melody Maker has done so much for us. A few months ago we did interviews for Sounds and N.M.E. and the journalists who did it were so much behind us that they didn't want half a page or anything like that, they wanted 2 pages. They were giving 4 page pull-outs to all these crappy psychedelic bands, and the editors are saying 'Oh well, OK we'll put it in in a week or so', but they don't and someone else comes along, Bourgie Bourgie or something and we're forgotten.
S.D Would I be right in saying that The Mekons and Swell Maps were big influences?
DAN: It's hard to remember now. We were all going at the same time really. It was different 'cos they were actually out playing gigs and the T.V.P.s were just an idea really, we weren't really a gigging band till after the first album. We were all pen pals. I don't know about influence - we all sort of swapped information. Like Scritti Politti - they used to do their sleeves pretty cheap and they'd help us out with information. It just worked like that really.
S.D. Are you happy with the band as it is now i.e. a three-piece?
DAN: Well, not beating about the bush there was a lot of problems recently, like there were 5 in the band, and there were some ridiculous misunderstandings. I got accused of getting money for the album and not telling anyone which was absolute rubbish, and it soon got round that Dan had got 2.5 thousand or something and not told anyone and it built up and up, so Joe (Foster) left, and then Dave (Musker) and I expected the other two to go with them. But of course they didn't, 'cos they've got more sense! But now I'm quite happy, to be honest. We'll stick with 3 for playing live, 'cos like with 5 of us - it's alright if you've got a good P.A., but the last few gigs we did I really hated, it was almost a sort of parody of a parody - it was too much sort of effect rather than... I don't want that - anyone can go on a stage, turn up the feedback and kill half the audience. I've done it.
DAN TREACY'S PLAYLIST
The Creation - Makin Time
Nico & The Velvet Underground - All Tomorrow's Parties
The Kinks - Waterloo Sunset
The Who - Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
The Tams - Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy
Roxy Music - Love Is The Drug
Lovin' Spoonful - Do You Believe In Magic
Miss Luba - Sanctus
David Bowie - There Is A Happy Land
Wire - Outdoor Miner
(Plus anything by The Cocteau Twins)
The interview took place on Sunday 22nd July 1984 before the TVP's gig at Janey's Bar in the Bay Hotel, Gourock, Scotland.
Many thanks to Chris Davidson for supplying the original materials.
The photographs featured in the fanzine were taken on the night of the gig. The full set can be viewed in the gallery section. Thanks to snapper Pat McErlane for locating them and sending them in.
Grateful thanks also to Michael Conway, whose original email set me on the trail which led me to the fanzine's author. You can read Michael's recollections of seeing the TVPs on their trips to Scotland in the memories section of this site.
|Dan's hand-written playlist|
|Dan's hand-written lineup / contact details|