|Melody Maker February 1982|
Steve Sutherland trips back in time with the TV PERSONALITIES.|
Pic by Tom Sheehan.
"BIFF! Bang! Pow!" No, this ain't quite Batman... or Robin... but close. "Whaam!" This strip's particular dynamic duo are two bands... well, two blokes... well, three if you include Melody... but she's a girl... if you get my meaning. Three friends, see? Well, foes actually... well, minds in creative conflict to be painfully precise. Start again!
Lichtenstein probably conjures up late night visions of clog-dancing innkeepers, lederhosened burgomeisters and their big-bristolled daughters; plus one more range of mountains and a frail garlic wreath from the fangs of some frightfully upper-middle-class Hammer Horror fiend. No? Then it must mean that damn clever Yankie chap who pre-empted Warhol in turning trash comic art into ART as in MONEY.
Pastel dots, pilots' hats, cardboard kisses, one-dimensional clouds and plastic explosions shattered by jumbles of letters and words like... well, yes... "Biff! Bang! Pow!" Oh, and "Whaam!"
Pop Art - the art of replacing Rembrandt with Ringo. The art of forcing the old folks to buy young and think and feel young in the process. The art of anything goes.
The art of putting one over on THEM until they wised up real fast, manufactured it mass and flogged it all back as cheap, tacky fashion. Art as commerce. Commerce as art.
Cynics will tell you that's all over now, dead and buried a good decade ago. Malcolm Mclaren would, no doubt, disagree and for Ed Ball, Dan Treacy and their mysterious female friend Melody (she wants to kiss Charles Manson) the question is academic anyway.
"Biff! Bang! Pow!" and "Whaam!" mean records to them, and a label and a laugh and a mode of expression.
"The Sixties was when people started to use their imaginations and what's happening now is exactly the same." Dan's painfully shy but insistent.
"People are looking to the Sixties but they're not looking back, they're just taking the ideas of the Sixties - being open to influences and self-expression - and then doing exactly the same.
"It's not escapism.
"I mean, obviously there isn't the money now there was then, but there's always a way of being able to dress the way you wanna dress and do the things you wanna do".
Dan Treacy lives down South Ken way, has embarrassing mould on his walls, and looks as if he's lost the launderette. His hair, shoes and jacket have all seen better days and, quite possibly, so have his nerves.
Since the "same time as The Buzzcocks and the Human League", he's been composing and recording minor pop classics. You won't know his name, won't spot him in a crowd and won't see him play live.
But Dan and his big brutish pal Ed - who has the most terrible dress sense I've ever seen - have contrived, by some chemical, hereditary or accidental means, to come up with a formidable back catalogue of garbage psychedelia that shows up most of their paisleyed contemporaries as the mere plastic pansies they are.
Something's unsettlingly odd about these two - so normal they're weird. Like Ed just sacked Dan from his band the Times at a practice late last Wednesday night. But it's Friday now, and here they are chatting.
"Myself and Ed write so much and are open to so many influences that we thought it was a poor idea to be stuck in a band together so we decided to do separate projects"... And they're forever deciding just that.
Dan's bunch, the Television (or TV) Personalities, first evolved from a London Oratory Grammar School band in Jan '78 and released a single "14th Floor / Oxford Street" on his own Teen 78/GLC label.
A month later virtually the same outfit went in and backed Ed under the name of O Level and put out "East Sheen / Pseudo Punks" on Ed's own Psycho Records.
Not a lot happened, frankly. Peel, as usual, went a bit wacky but the rest of the world fell asleep.
Then, a full year later, the TVP's released their "Part Time Punks EP" including an intriguing little ditty called "Where's Bill Grundy Now?" and the world, for this strange reason, awoke.
With "Punks" topping the independent charts for the odd week or three, Ed wasn't about to be outdone and unleashed 0 Level's "We Love Malcolm" on Dan's King's Road Records.
It died an ignominious death but by that time Rough Trade had sniffed the sound of success, picked up "Punks", polished it up and effectively rejuvenated it.
While Ed tried again with the Teenage Filmstars and a single called "Cloud Over Liverpool", Dan's "PTP" sold 18,000 copies and propelled him into a studio with a thousand quid, few ideas and deep depression.
All Rough Trade gained from Dan's projected first LP was a less than successful swinging London piss-take "Smashing Time".
Deathly downhearted, Dan locked himself away with his embarrassing mould and Syd Barrett albums and was only coaxed back into agonised action by the temptation of a German tour accompanied by his old pal Ed, whose latest single, "Odd Man Out", had just sunk without trace, on Pye's small subsidiary Blueprint.
The label, unceremoniously, followed soon after.
Jan '81 found our Dan back on form and his intriguing no-holds-barred slice of Sixties sarcasm, "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives" (he doesn't) was swiftly followed by a magnificent album, "And Don't The Kids Just Love It".
An awkward mixture of early Floyd and ugly Pistols, it was sometimes dotty - "I telephoned God today but all I got was the answering machine" - sometimes damaged - "I can hear my father shouting at my mother in the room next door" - and occasionally even deranged in a sad psycho Syd sort of way.
Ed, meanwhile, was also pulling his masterstroke, writing and releasing "I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape" on the Teenage Filmstars' own label. A snappy, silly little song about the notorious follow-up to the "Danger Man" series, Ed's only excuse is frank infatuation!
"Personally, the 'Prisoner' series always influenced me a lot and played a large part in my life at school. I used to think I was Number Six and I'd walk round the building trying to find my way out and thinking THEY were trying to lock me in."
Would you buy a record off this fruitcake? WEA did. When casting around for suitable fodder for the "Splash Of Colour" compilation, "McGoohan" was one of the first to be bagged - complete with the half writing credit to Jackie Edwards for the Spencer Davis "Keep On Runnin'" rip-off just to keep Island Records reasonably quiet.
By this time Ed's band had undergone a deed-poll job and re-emerged as the Times with a brisk follow-up on the boys' brand new Whaam! label.
"Red With Purple Flashes" / "Biff! Bang! Pow!" complimented Dan's "Painting By Numbers" / "Lichtenstein Girl" (released by a one-off outfit called Gifted Children) and baptised the label with flops.
Whaam!, however, is now three albums strong, recently fostering the Times amusing if inessential "Pop Goes Art", the Marine Girls' magnificent debut and TVP's second extraordinary outing.
Even stranger than the first, "TV Personalities" was supposed to be a sinqle but just got a bit out of hand.
"I like listening to it actually," Dan beams with pride. "There was so much improvisation going on, I'm not sure of everything that's in there myself!"
Considerably more light-hearted, one of Whaam's next projects is the Day Trippers' debut a song called "Boy In The Paisley Shirt" sung by Melody and her good friend Tin Tin and written by the prolific Dan.
"It might sound light-hearted but it's not really at all. Last year when the Groovy Cellar - where we'd been going for years - completely went for media overkill with the Nationwide cameras there every week, it got to me a bit and I suddenly saw it all as a big, ugly business venture."
So the wheel seems to be turning full-circle again and the days when the TVP's used to go on stage as a trio one night and a ten-piece the next, playing hour-long songs about "David Hockney's Diaries" while they painted the stage and insulted the headliners are being tamed and tutored for money. Trivialised for mass consumption?
"I'm not worried about being taken seriously," Dan cracks a smile through a world-weary frown.
"I'm worried about NOT being taken seriously which is a different thing really. Records, to me, are the only way I've got to express what I do. I don't do anything else.
"I mean, in a musical sense, I doubt I will have a great deal of effect but the great thing about being influenced by the Sixties is that it means you're open to a hell of a lot of influences.
"Today, you've got 25 Joy Divisions in every street but it's so narrow you can't work within it.
"The Sixties were about music, literature, television, ways of thinking - everything broke out then! Suddenly you were free to say what you wanted to say and free to express yourself. Free to BE yourself!
"You shouldn't criticise people for being influenced by the Sixties. I mean, you don't criticise people for liking Shakespeare do you? There's no such thing as the Shakespeare revival...
Forsooth sire, these Whaamy chaps are verily media junkies. Their label's even younger than younger than yesterday. And tomorrow? Well, tomorrow never knows... Or does it?
|Click on image to view larger pic.|
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|Thanks to Mark Flunder for providing the source material.|