Television Personalities - Biography
One of the original lo-fi indie bands, the Television Personalities revolved around the British Invasion/Swinging ‘60s London obsessions of their lead singer and guitarist, Daniel Treacy. At a time when punk rock was quickly become a matter of faster/louder doctrinaire, the TVP’s “Part Time Punks” sounded more like out of tune skiffle than the roar of The Clash. Musically, Treacy wore his British Invasion influences on his sleeve while lyrically, he veered from Kinks-like observations of characters and youth culture to stark confessions of unrequited love — all sung in a fey, pitch-challenged voice.
Four years before The Smiths, Treacy salted both his songs and album cover art (not forgetting the actual band name) with endless references to ‘60s British TV and movie stars, Pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and David Hockney, as well as his fellow musical artists both past (The Who) and present (The Jam). The TVP’s best-known song is the faux-pastoral “I Know Where Syd Barrett lives.” “Part Time Punks” name-checks both The Clash and Siouxie & the Banshees while “Posing at the Roundhouse” skewers punk pretenders.
The Television Personalities’ first LP, And Don’t the Kids Just Love it (1981 Rough Trade) was a surprisingly mature and professionally-played pleasure, one of the strongest debut albums of the British punk rock scene. The record could almost be a great lost Kinks album of the mid-sixties. Treacy manages a more than passable Dave Davies vocal impression on “A Family Affair” while “The Crying Room” is a gorgeous instrumental reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross.”
The follow-up, Mummy Your Not Watching Me (1982 Whaam!) leaned towards a more psychedelic sound for the band, with Syd Barrett’s English garden acid-trip songs a distinct influence. They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles (1982 Whaam!) was equal parts British Invasion and English psychedelia. The anti-war “King and Country” (with its lifting of Roger McGuinn’s solo from the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”) is a powerful, guitar-driven rocker while “Mysterious Ways” is a masterpiece of echoed guitar and tremblingly lonely lyrics.
The Painted Word (1985 Illuminated) takes its name from the Tom Wolfe book about modern art. The material was darker in lyrical content, with Treacy’s lyrics at times resembling the bare naivety of Daniel Johnston. 1990’s Privilege (Fire) showed Treacy to be revisiting his usual themes of loneliness and depression. Apart from the nihilist anthem “All My Dreams Are Dead,” the material is unimpressive. Treacy continued to issue Television Personality CDs intermittently during the ‘90s. During this period he also suffered from both clinical depression and addiction to heroin and alcohol. He spent periods of time either homeless or in prison for drug offenses. At the turn of the millennium, the release of Part Time Punks — The Very Best of the Television Personalities (1999 Cherry Red) was an excellent overview and introduction to the band. Still battling drug addiction, Treacy was unfortunately in no shape to take advantage of the release to revive his career.
Released from prison in 2004, Treacy reunited the TVP, including original member David Ball, for My Dark Places (2006 Domino Records). The CD was something of a return to form lyrically, with the music showing a wider range of influences, from the drum-machine hip hop of “All the Young Children on Crack” to the jazzy cinematic narration of “Ex-Girlfriend Club.” Treacy has toured with the TVP in recent years in the UK and Europe. The TVP never came close to charting in the US and to date have only played perhaps a half-dozen live performances there, none later than 1993. Their musical influence can be easily seen in numerous bands, from the lo-fi British-invasion pastiches of Guided by Voices, to the bed-sit folk of Let’s Wrestle. Treacy’s lyrical influence can be found in the work of both The Smiths and the solo work of Morrissey.