|Genres||Post-punk, Mod revival, Psychedelia, Indie pop|
|Years active||1977–1998, 2004–today|
|Labels||Little Teddy Recordings
Rough Trade Records
Fire Records (UK)
The Television Personalities are an English post-punk band formed in 1977 by London singer-songwriter Dan Treacy. Their varied, volatile and long career encompasses post punk, neo-psychedelia and indie pop; the only constant being Treacy's deadpan lyrics and deliberately amateurish musical style. Present and former members include Chelsea childhood mates Joe Foster, one time best friend Ed Ball (early line-up, later briefly) and Jowe Head (ex-Swell Maps, with TVP from 1983-94). Although prolific, the Television Personalities are best known for their early single "Part Time Punks", second and fourth albums, as well as the critically acclaimed 2006 "My Dark Places".
Despite their relatively minor commercial success (their third album was sardonically titled "They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles"), the Television Personalities are highly regarded by critics and have been widely influential, especially on the C86 generation, on many of the bands signed to Creation Records in the 1990s, and on American artists such as Pavement and MGMT. Treacy's unconventional but dryly witty and culture infused lyrics, have lead to his reputation as a seminal and iconic figure within the independent music scene.
In 2006 music critic Cam Lindsay described Tracey as having "recorded some of the most bizarre, unlistenable and brilliant pop songs in the last three decades".
Treacy was inspired to form the Television Personalities after hearing the Sex Pistols and Jonathan Richman. Ever unconventional, Tracey said he was not that much interested in music and the band rarely rehearsed. Treacy was adverse to preparing set-lists for live performances, preferring to keep the band on their toes. Head remembers "us rehearsing once in late 1983. We did another one five years later, and that was about it." The band struggled to find a name, and early suggestions included the names of mainstream and often ridiculed television hosts such as Nicholas Parsons, Russell Harty, Bruce Forsyth and Hughie Green, before they decided on the more generic and pointed "Television Personalities".
Their first single "14th Floor" was release in January 1977 to critical acclaim. It was followed by the 1978 EP Where's Bill Grundy Now? which brought them to popular attention. The EP features their lone chart hit, the seminal "Part Time Punks", written while Treacy was 17 years and living in a high-rise building on King's Road. [Edward] Ball was amazed at the quality of Tracey's writing, and admitted that he "couldn't believe the lyrics. Suddenly, my best friend was coming out with these amazing songs." With the financial backing of his mother, Tracey hand-pressed 500 copies of "'Where's Bill Grundy Now?", each with a photocopied sleeve, which he sent to various record companies and radio DJs. The track was picked up by BBC's John Peel. Treacy said "Peel loved it, but my mum was hassling me to pay back the money."
The song title and resulting media attention brought the band to the notice of the music press and rock establishment royalty they were parodying. Treacy said: "Jimmy Page came in one day when I was reading an interview I'd done, and I told him I had a record out. So then, he walks me upstairs to a wardrobe brimming with guitars, hands me one and five minutes later, I was jamming with Jimmy Page. He was good, but he weren't as good as me." Later the promotion of the "14th Floor" single was supported by Joe Strummer, and they became a foundational band for Alan McGee when he began to form Creation Records.
In the middle of 1980, the Television Personalities made their live debut following the recruitment of Joe Foster on bass and Mark Sheppard (known as Empire) on drums. This line-up was short-lived, reportedly due to differences in opinion between Foster and Sheppard, leading to Joe's departure. Prior to this, Dan and Mark helped out with Joe's solo project, the Missing Scientists, which also included Mute Records head Daniel Miller.
The Television Personalities' first album ...And Don't The Kids Just Love It was released in 1981. It set the template for their subsequent career: neo-psychedelia married to an obsession with youth culture of the 1960s. Their second album Mummy Your Not Watching Me [sic] demonstrated increased psychedelic influences. Their third album, entitled They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles showed Treacy's sense of humour; the TVPs were never to have any major commercial success in the UK – although their albums sold respectably in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. The first three albums featured Treacy and schoolmate Ed Ball; Ball left the band in 1982 to found The Times, but rejoined in 2004.
According to critic Ira Robbins, with their their 1984 album The Painted Word the TVPs "have drifted off into spare, droning psychedelia and ultra-restrained rock that's hauntingly beautiful, like the most delicate moments of The Velvet Underground."
Later years and revival
Tracey has struggled with mental health issues and drug addiction, and from 1998 to June 2004 was incarcerated for theft. He spent time on HM Prison ship Weare in Portland Harbour, Dorset, England. Various lineup changes and circumstances prevented the recordings for Privilege from being released until 1990. Their subsequent album Closer to God was a combination of sixties style pop and darker material, and was similar in tone to The Painted Word.
His 2006 comeback album My Dark Places received widespread critical acclaim, including for the single "Velvet Underground". The NME described it as a "stunningly original record-harrowing and hilarious in equal amounts", while the BBC wrote that the album "captures the offbeat brilliance that made the TVPs indie legends in the 70s, characterised by Treacy’s endearingly slapdash attitude towards singing in tune and playing in time." He was reportedly seriously ill in October 2011 following brain surgery to remove a blood clot. He regained consciousness in December, but remained hospitalised. By 2016 he was recovering from the surgery and said that he intended to return to music.
In January 2018, Fire Records released the long lost Beautiful Despair as the band's twelfth album. It had been recorded in 1990 on a 4-track, between 1989's "Privilege" and 1992's "Closer to God", but was not released at that time.
Television Personalities have been widely influential, and were acclaimed from their beginnings. Bands that have cited them as formative influences include Jesus and Mary Chain, Half Man Half Biscuit, The Pastels, Beat Happening, Pavement and MGMT (who recorded the track "Song for Dan Treacy").
Treacy is known for the numerous popular culture references and in-jokes scattered throughout the TVPs' lyrics, album titles and record artwork. Most of the references are to (mostly British) cult films, 1960s culture and forgotten or under appreciated musicians and celebrities.
The following is a complete list of the Television Personalities albums.
- ...And Don't the Kids Just Love It (1981, Rough Trade)
- Mummy Your Not Watching Me (1982, Whaam! Records)
- They Could Have Been Bigger than the Beatles (1982, Whaam! Records)
- The Painted Word (1984, Illuminated Records)
- Privilege (1989, Fire Records)
- Closer to God (1992, Fire Records)
- I Was a Mod Before You Was a Mod (1995, Overground Records)
- Don't Cry Baby, It's Only a Movie (1998, Damaged Goods Records)
- My Dark Places (2006, Domino)
- Are We Nearly There Yet? (2007, Overground Records)
- A Memory Is Better Than Nothing (2010, Rocket Girl)
- Beautiful Despair (2018, Fire Records)
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- Buckley (2003), 106
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- Morse, Erik. Spacemen 3 And The Birth Of Spiritualized. Omnibus Press, 2009. ASIN: B0030V0PEC
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- My Dark Places". Metacritic. Retrieved 12 May 2018
- Lanigan, Michael. "Lost Television Personalities album to be released in January". Hot Press, 14 November 2017. Retrieved 12 May 2018
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- "Television Personalities' Lost Album Beautiful Despair Announced | Pitchfork". pitchfork.com. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
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- Buckley, Peter. The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides, 2003. ISBN 978-1-8435-3105-0
- Cavanagh, David. The Creation Records Story: My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry for the Prize. London: Virgin Books, 2000. ISBN 0-7535-0645-9