Tribute to Cult Heroes – Television Personalities. (Part 1)

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Television Personalities were a punk/post-punk, Mod, Neo-psychedelic, new wave, experimental, avant-guard band, formed in 1977, who incorporated the incendiary spirit of punk, to soap box frustrations of everyday life, angst, politics, peering  through a Looking Glass, parallel abstract world. Drawing upon inspiration from their musical idols, such as The Velvet Underground, The Who, Pink Floyd, Modern Lovers and Syd Barrett, Television Personalities created an ever evolving and intriguing musical template, which slid down into the kaleidoscopic  world of the 60s, to escape the harsh realities of the modern world.

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Led by singer-song writer, Dan Treacy, Television Personalities originally consisted of Ed Ball on guitar/backing vocals, Gerard Bennett on bass and John Bennett on drums, who recorded their first single “14th Floor” in August 1977, which was released in January 1978. With their second EP, “Where’s Bill Grundy Now”, released in 1978,  Television Personalities epitomised the DIY ethos of Punk, and whose track, “Part-Time Punks”, captured the raw, simplistic, primitive, authenticity of a time when Sex Pistols were making waves and the Bromley Contingent’s gave birth to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ debut album. It was an exciting time for British music , a culture explosion, where Television Personalities were both inspired observers and punk participators.

It wasn’t until the band started gigging, that Joe Foster joined Television Personalities on bass, replacing Gerard Bennett, and proving to be an instrumental asset to the band, despite leaving the band briefly to return again in May 1982. It was due to Fosters Maverick presence that Television Personalites expanded their post-punk, garage sound, and added a more neo-psychedelic, jangly, art-rock, dark wave quality. Along with Treacy’s vision, grit, fervent imagination, abstract consolidation of everyday life and passion for cultural idols, Television Personalities created music which was idiosyncratic, humorous, individual, wayward, eclectic , bonkers brilliant, and whose heartwarming, sentimental and poignant lyrics touched many souls and provided a surreal world, dipping in and out of conscious and subconscious realms.

Despite having made 11 albums, 3 EPs, 7 compilation albums and 27 singles, Television Personalities have remained an underground band, with limited commercial success. Although the band has had numerous line-ups over their 4 decade history, what has been consistent is the genius of Treacy, whose free-spirited, dark introspection, whimsical and child-like wonder has fuelled the fire of the band’s soul. An influential band, Television Personalities have inspired bands such as “The Libertines”, “Klaxons”, and “MGMT”, amongst many more.

However, due to Treacy’s much documented health problems, Television Personalities prolific creativity has ebbed and flowed, with an uncertainty as to whether the band will reform with the current line up of Dan Treacy on vocals/guitar, Texas Bob Juarez on bass, Mike Stone on guitar and Amau Obiols on drums.

With such a prolific catalogue of music, Television Personalities have had an exhaustible career, which has been like an open diary of a hedonistic, tortured soul’s diary. A man of great complexity, yet with a simplistic child-like wonder and direct honesty, Treacy has entertained, intrigued, alarmed and influenced an array of music lovers and artists over four decades.

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Eternally youthful, Treacy has stylistically  moved with the times, incorporating an array of musical genres, with the Television Personalities starting out writing out as punks protagonists, penning tunes such as “14th Floor” singing about the alienation, frustrations and angst of living, with lyrics such as “oh no, my face don’t fit, 14th floor, just a number on the council list”. Along with their EP, “Where’s Bill Grundy Now” and their debut album “And Don’t the Kids Just Love It”, debut album, Television Personalities captured the punk spirit of the late 70s and early 80s and set the bar high for their predecessors.

 

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What is remarkable about Television Personalities is the sheer diversity and raw talent of Treacy, not only as a songwriter, but as a musical visionary and his skill at creating an abstract palette for his angst, while collectively Television Personalities emitted a stream of visceral sounds to accompany their deepest emotions and mindset. Taking a leap from their post-punk origins, the album “Mummy You’re not Watching Me” (1982), is a fusion of paisley pop, new wave synths, tinny acoustics, aloof vocals and Mod-stomping in a Velvet Underground basement.

With its throwaway, staggered and up-tempo angular riffs, “David Hockney’s Diary” spins in metallic fuzz in a whirl of post-punk, jangly pandemonium. Along with the muffled vocals, “oooh” and  relaying “David” backup vocals, “David Hockney’s Diary” is a one take wonder, amplified through its raw and uncompromising sound.

A brilliant album, “Mummy You’re not Watching Me” (1982), still sounds fresh today and whose abstract, cinematic inserts in songs such “Lichtenstein Painting” (1982), illustrate the quirky creativity and versatility of the band. Through the dub-bass, angular stomps and telephone ringing affects and Trumpet wahs, Televison Personalities ingeniously manage to parody Lichtenstein’s comic book art through music, whilst creating a fantastic song.

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Again with third  album, “They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles” (Third Album, released in 1982), Television Personalities maintained a post-punk motif, whilst embracing new wave synths and fusing Mod-stomps, stagger, rolling, jangly riffs and a bobbing bass. Along with the descriptive and observational lyrics, the album created a refreshing template, whose  fluidity was captured in songs such as “Three Wishes”, which edged towards a more eerie sound. Through the crashing riffs and whistle synths, (which Mark Snow would be proud off), “Three Wishes” prowled  through the woods, aside the crashing percussion, amongst the silhouettes, casting shadows, through the wistful introspection.

With its Pistol-esque and Clash-esque intro, “The Boy In The Paisley Shirt”, spins his post-punk motif aside the groovy narrative. It’s an upbeat track, filled with youthful idealism and adrenaline infused riffs. Along with space-hopping  synths and pogo-jumping stomps, “The Boy in the Paisley Shirt”, is a trippy track, which elevates high on the back-drop of Astral synths.

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By 1984, Television Personalities modified their sound, incorporating a more Neo-psychedelic, Post-Punk neo-classical, ethereal, goth, dark wave, distorted dream-pop sound for the album, “The Painted Word”.  An exemplary album, “The Painted Word” is an album which was immaculately produced, raised the bar and reaffirmed the band’s passion for politics, profound musings and thrilling suspense.

“Stop and Smell the Roses” is a pensively poetic track, whose cinematic intro enhances its exquisite beauty and wounded soul. Through its metallic clatter, its Eastern curves and neo-psychedelic Hammond drones, “Stop and Smell the Roses” rattles and backtracks in a Velvet Underground-esque vortex. It’s a captivating track, whose oscillating bass, harmonica swirls, disjointed piano clangs and rattle-snake percussion captures a quintessential 60s vibe, whilst creating a distinctive and individualistic sound. Along with Treacy’s wistful vocals, “Stop and Smell the Roses” is tinged with dark romanticism, whilst remaining a pristine and profound production.

“The Painted Word” is like being held hostage in a J H Lynch painting, amongst the sultry maidens, Woodland Nymphs, Goddess in a 60s Beat generation dream world. It’s a mesmerising, surreal track, that hangs out with the Bohemian hedonists, grinding its staccato riffs against the exotic trumpet, nomadic bass, tribal beats and beatnik bongos. Along with the garage fuzz, xylophonic tinkles and farfisa slides, “The Painted Word” slithers in suspense, chasing utopian fantasies, whilst dismantling its  abstract illusions. It’s a song steeped in sorrow, and whose jangly riffs rotate round the smudgey trumpet and backtrack on a neo-psychedelic trip, whilst side-saddling on the clickety clack beats.

Through the harmonica slams and accordion-esqe riffs, acoustic and piano slams, “A Sense of Belonging” welds a fusion of folk-psychedelia, that opens up its starry-eyed idealism around an open fire. It’s a song whose embers burn with passion and wonder, with a political agenda to genuinely make the world a better place to live. Lyrically fierce and reflective, “A sense of Belonging” draws upon our primitive, anthropological, tribal, spiritual and cultural need to belong, not just amongst our peers but as the human race. It’s a remarkable song, whose fervent piano, crashing riffs and clickety beats, enliven its premise, while the wave of distorted, spinning riffs, create a dark dream-pop ambience, in keeping with the sentiments of the song. Along with the interlude of soapbox rant and missile riffs, “A Sense of Belonging”  is sardonically sharp, whilst fighting for the Underdog, with a gritty grandeur.

 

PriveledealbumBy the fifth album, “Privilege”, Televison Personalities were now operating as a trio, with former Swell Maps Jowe Head now on guitar and Jeffrey Head on drums. A jangly, cutting, new-wave, neo-psychedelic, eclectic album, “Privilege”, (1990) was immaculately produced, whose brooding monolithic, synths synchronised with the digital beats resonating against Treacy’s lost boy vocals and dark-wave ambience.

However, it was with the Neo-psychedelic “Salvador Dali’s Garden Party” that Television Personalities maintained their zany, idiosyncratic edge. Through the muffled conversions, scatty and trippy “Greeeeeeeeting” and the gobble-back-tracking and jangly mesh, Salvador Dali invites you to a mad-cap, eccentric Garden party, amongst the hedonistic hens, coked up crickets,  Alice’s Playing cards, various film stars and the Metro- Goldwyn Lion, drinking tea out of China cups, eating scones and enjoying a general chitter-chatter.

The great thing about Treacy is he is an artist in the truest sense, a burst of youthful idealism, wearing clown shoes at the back of the school music lesson, spontaneously making music with elastic bands and biro pens, whilst scribbling down his poetry about things which may have pissed him off that day.

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By 1991, Television Personalities integrated a more urban, baggy trip-hop pop sound, with their four tracked  EP, whose title track “She Never Read My Poems”, is a bittersweet whirl of effervescent-synths, bubble-pop, celestial synths and bongo beats, space-travelled to an Eastern moon.

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By 1992, Treacy was sinking into darker days, which reflected in Television Personalities’ sixth album, “Closer to God”.  Yet another brilliant album, Treacy sings from the soul and strains from the heart. Stepped in jangly, rockabilly and menacing, choppy and Neo-psychedelic riffs, “Closer To God” is brutally black and waltz’s with Treacy’s  demons, with an unhinged dandy darkness, self destructing whilst gazing at the stars.

Taking an Eastern excursion to the Moon, Treacy said, “Goodnight Mr Spaceman”, whilst dancing with the zany aliens, space-puppets, amongst the jangly gallops, crashing meteorites, happy go lucky whistles and clanger synths.

Again with “We Will Be Your Gurus”, Television Personalities enlightened us with their diversity, taking us on a Shiva dance beside the sun, soaking up the rays and becoming entranced by the “ooo oo” mantra and enlivened by the Sitar strumming, flicker riffs, incisive drones and pulsated by the Tabla beats.

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By 1995, Television Personalities had literally bypassed Brit-pop and their album, “I Was A Mod Before You Was A Mod”, literally strips away any textured tone, sounding like a Velvet Underground One Man Band. With moments of haunting beauty and cavernous clatter, “I Was A Mod Before You Was A Mod” throbs with reverberating, distorted riffs and is enlivened by the choppy riffs, tribal beats whilst sedated by the 60s xylophonic tingles.

It’s an album whose self-titled track, “I Was A Mod Before You Was A Mod”, stomps at an amphetamine-fulled all-nighter, showing us all its Motown moves, whilst tip-toeing on the xylophonic tingles, gyrating to the Rhubarb and Custard riffs through the adrenaline beats, whilst getting lost in the piano dry ice.

Through the farfisa discord and jangly riffs, “I Can See My Whole World Crashing Down” rattles and shakes in a clatter of neo-psychedelia. It’s a poignant track, whose rocket synths waywardly crash and nosedive, encapsulating and representing the darkest sentiments of Treacy’s soul.

Through the melancholic synths and wailing riffs, “As John Belushi Said”, aches in agony, whilst trapped in its wounded soul.  It’s a night terror, that rudely awakes, and whose shuddering vocals send shockwaves to the nebulous corners of its mind. Along with the spectral backing vocals, “As John Belushi Said” emits a haunting beauty that lingers and torments during its darkest hour, whilst remaining a polished and impeccable production.

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ith their 8th album, “Don’t Cry Baby It’s Only A Movie”, released in 1998, Television Personalities covered various songs, from Modern Lovers “Picasso” to George Harrison’s “Isn’t it a Pity”. Although the cover versions prove musically accomplished, it’s an album which is etched in sadness and whose melancholic pianos, discord keyboards, wayward whistle synths and acoustic riffs lay bare the darkness with tiny prisms of light gleaming and clinging on from the dreams and fantasies of Treacy.

MydarkplacesThrough beating bass and the raucous  and Spanish-esque riffs, “My Very First Nervous Breakdown” self-destructs, dismantles and cross-wires, its circuit boards, flicker synths and amps deep underwater while gasping for air. It’s a poignant track, whose stream of fuzzy, muffled voices, menacing drones and quivering riffs is an electric exorcism, whose soul is electrocuted and sinks into an abyss.

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By 2006, Television Personalities had entered yet another incarnation, due to Treacy continuing fighting his demons. With the album “My Dark Places”, Treacy revisits past, present and future, whose melancholic pianos and acoustic strums lays bare his deepest emotions. Along with the space–synths, trumpets, robotic beats, boogie woogie pianos, fleeting harmonica, farfisa fuzz, xylophonic tinkles, Bubble synths, stompy and sliding riffs, distorted drones, orchestral sweeps and cinematic inserts, “My Dark Places” travels back and forth through a mix of sub-genres. Sparsely eclectic, “My Dark Places”, is capriciously crafted while remaining consistently sombre. Maintaining his raw narratives, Treacy is the original urban punk poet, and vocal collaborations with  band member Victoria Yeulet creates a gritty and mournful catharsis.

In particular, with the track “All the Young Children on Crack”, Treacy adopts an idiosyncratic, urban-poetic style to convey his message on drug addiction. Along with the robotic beats and the cartoon mocks, gentle strumming and collective “claps”, “All the Young Children On Crack”  is hauntingly hollow, whilst illustrating how Television Personalities moved with the times, producing a minimalist, contemporary song without sounding dull or unoriginal.

Through the crunchy riffs, “Dreams the Sweetest Dreams”,  lumbers lethargically, then slumbers and slides on the swirly neo-psychedelic riffs. It’s a dream-pop swirl of cascading riffs, plucking its ethereal strings aside the dual vocal narrative.

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“Are We Nearly There Yet” (2007), is yet another fragmented, eclectic, strangely dark album from Television Personalities. It’s a place under the bed where all the bogey men hang out, whilst doing the odd spot of Karaoke of The Killers. Where some acts remain a One Trick Pony, Treacy remains the Dan of all Trades. As a musician, artist, performer and Punk Poet, Treacy has a resplendent resume, who, despite all his troubles, has always had his finger on the pulse on the current music scene, whilst injecting humour from his dark, tortured soul. As an album, “Are We Nearly There Yet”, is an interesting mix of neo Jazz, cover versions, new wave synths, guitar laden distortions, fuzzy drone, abstract synths, childhood nostalgia, up-beat trumpets, piano melancholy, rumbling beats, all marching on an off beat road, under a black cloud.

Songs such as “The Eminem Song”, captures Treacy’s darkness and ingenious skill at making his own self-destruction into an art-form, creating a parody of artists relevant at the time. Musically diverse, “The Eminem Song” is like a Circus trip, amongst the menacing clowns, laughing insanely in juxtaposition of the Quasi-Jazz, new wave and baroque-pop soundscape.

“If I could write Poetry” slams and rattles its tinny riffs in the depths of its post-punk heart. It’s a rickety, crestfallen love song whose rainbow synths trail and stream aside the rumbling beats. It’s a heartwarming song, whose vulnerability and sentiments are captured in Treacy’s sombre vocals.

 

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By 2010, Television Personalities had produced their final album to date, “A Memory is Better Than Nothing”, which was testament that Treacy still had fire in his belly and a creative vision to share. Now with Texas Bob Juarez on guitar, Mike Stone on bass, Armau Obiols on drums and vocal contributions from Johanna Lundstrom, “A Memory is Better Than Nothing” is a brilliant album and the best album of recent years that the Television Personalities has produced.

Whereas previous albums had been very much a solo outlet for Treacy’s demons and tortured soul, “A Memory is Better Than Nothing” is a more cohesive work of art, a team effort, with Television Personalities going back to their post-punk, psychedelic and Mod roots. Although forever the confessional, mouthpiece for melancholy, endearingly honest about his dark soul, it’s through Treacy’s co-writing with Texas Bob Juarez that Television Personalities returned to a less insular, introspective format, whilst returning a more virtuoso, extended guitar-laden sound.

For example, “My New Tattoo” is a jubilant and heartwarming guitar masterpiece, whose lyrics and scatty synths resonate and get lost in the choppy, crashing, cutting, shrieking, chipping, angle-grinding, brooding, droning, ascending, descending, crunching, scribbling, quivering riffs in juxtaposition against the Siren synths and militant beats. It’s a superb song, which preens and jams like a burst of spontaneity and an infinite, unhinged display of rocket riffs, Catherine wheels and firecrackers, exploding and dazzling in the sky.

Again with the song “A Memory is Better Than Nothing”, Television Personalities sprinkles its cosmic dust amongst the jangly, clatter riffs and xylophonic twinkles. It’s a brilliant song, whose sentiments are crystallised in the lyrics and whose uptempo beats and dual vocals create a celebratory, experimental psychedelic rock ambience likened to The Flaming Lips and The Polyphonic Spree.  Along with the melting out-tro, “A Memory is Better Than Nothing” curves, drones and catapults its  shimmy synths, amongst the shooting stars and strums like a distant star, dwelling in its Hammond Haven lit up by the xylophonic twinkles, glistening in all its glory, a million light years away.

Despite their versatility and sometimes wayward paths, Television Personalities, throughout their journey, have consistently managed to transmute alchemical elements from their heroes The Velvet Underground, creating musical gold. With songs like “A Girl from Nowhere”, Television Personalities march their Velvet neo-psychedelic sitar-esque riffs in a vortex of discord, spinning its jangly clatter, bearing its wounds,whilst  soldiering on through enlightened euphoria amongst the militant beats aside the melancholic piano.