Some Kind Of Happiness? Singles 1994-1999
After 16 years of retooling pop culture via rotating line ups, inspirational live shows and witty 45s, in 1995, The Television Personalities were stripped back to just Dan Treacy, his eclectic, detailed worldview now overshadowed by a bleak introverted wonderment. By now the rose coloured glasses were long gone. The press response to the TVP’s fatalistic ‘Far Away And Lost In Joy’ EP from a year earlier – which featured on volume two of this series ‘Some Kind Of Trip’ – was minimal. The media had moved on; grunge, Coolio, The Beastie Boys and Dan’s descendants in Britpop took the front pages. Commercialism and a new found enthusiasm for Britain, of all things, had swept away irony and being clever. It was almost as if the world had given up waiting for The Television Personalities’ ramshackle charm to evolve into something more palatable. The kings of indie seemed to be just an obscure oddity that only a few revered.
Here was a genius songwriter who was slipping through the chasmic cracks as people watched the latest tiresome parade on Top Of The Pops. Nice shoes.
Everett True’s review of the ‘…Joy’ EP had concluded: “I love the way everything Dan does sounds so unfinished, so human. I empathise directly with his voice, his phrasing, the way he stumbles when he should run…”
A year on and the ‘Not Like Everybody Else’ EP for Little Teddy was the last TVP release of 1994, a collection of cover versions the selection of which underlined Dan’s increased fragility. It featured The Kinks’ ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ – a paean to individualism from the legendary Ray Davies; Joe Meek’s haunting ‘I Hear A New World’ from his long lost solo project about planetary oddballs; Lee Hazlewood And Nancy Sinatra’s ‘I’ve Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me’ that does exactly what it says on the tin; and John Lennon and Elton John’s ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’, a suitably tongue-in-cheek homage to “substance” abuse. It was a playlist that ticked all the boxes. There was the mod “face”, alien worshippers, latter day blues and an indie take on mainstream pop.
It was to be one of the last recordings that he did with the touring combo of long serving bass foil and former Swell Map Jowe Head and, in TVP terms, veteran drummer Jeff Bloom.
“I’d first met him when he came to the studio with Jowe and Jeff, Toe Rag proprietor Liam Watson recalled, “Dan was very easy going and liked the place.
“He later started coming in on his own, I didn’t really know what was going on with Jowe and Jeff and it wasn’t talked about. When he got into the studio, Dan let me know what he wanted to do and we did it, Dan was always very enthusiastic and appreciative when we worked together.
“It was spontaneous, Dan was up for trying anything and was very encouraging about everything. When it came to the mixing I did it on my own with his instruction to do whatever I wanted! Which was great, just what I needed at that point in time. The songs were all Dan though.”
Dan Treacy was now, to all intent and purpose, a solo singer songwriter who recruited Liam (producer of The White Stripes, Datsuns, Supergrass and more recently Wolf Alice) to play bass and brought in stuckism artist, Medway poet and Billy Childish collaborator Sexton Ming on drums.
“I never really officially joined the TVP’s, I sort of drifted into it when Dan started showing up at the studio on his own, and I ended up playing on some of the recordings. I was then asked to play bass on a tour of Germany. Dan didn’t directly ask me to join, he just asked if I could do the tour. However, when we were some way into the tour Dan explained that, as far as he was concerned, not everyone in the various official line-ups had really been a TVP, but I was.
“I worked on the ‘I Was A Mod’ album and many other things around this period. I can’t remember exactly how all the recordings got released, as for about a year or so we regularly did sessions and the recordings were given to different labels as they were finished.”
“I wanted to get back to basics and recapture the spirit of the first two albums that were low budget and recorded quickly, that’s how all our best records were made,” Dan commented in the sleeve notes for ‘I Was A Mod’ which was released at the end of 1995. “If you’re a Mod, you’re a Mod 24 hours a day, even working with other people, you’re still a Mod. Some of them just can’t understand older men with homes and families, it’s just a different world, but I’m past it now, I’m too old. You’ve got to be 16 to be a Mod, to be able to wear high-heeled boots and have long hair and not care what anyone thinks.”
The scooter rallies across the UK that still rev up every May Day might beg to differ, but plainly Dan was studying his mirror carefully and noticing as the ageing process took hold. The ‘Mod’ album was the band’s first new material released on Little Teddy who had issued a couple of live albums and re-issued some of the band’s past singles. Before it arrived, the ‘Do You Think If You Were Beautiful You’d Be Happy?’ EP cemented the enveloping mood of Dan. Released on Vinyl Japan, it was another feast of introspection, a bedsit lullaby of self-doubt including the remorseful ‘He Used To Paint In Colours’, the ambient instrumental ‘Who Will Be Your Prince?’, the title track with its simple lyric in search of love, and the haunting ‘I Suppose You Think It’s Funny’…
“I know sometimes my clothes are odd
But what do you expect from an aging mod
I used to think life was all worthwhile
The strongest one have a certain sense of style.”
These were the words of a man on the edge delivered in a feast of minor chords and mournful sub-melodies. If that level of melancholy wasn’t enough, it was followed by the aching ‘Time Goes Slowly When You’re Drowning’, a deep and personal cry for help which featured Jeff and Jowe with Liam in the production chair.
Liam: “A lot of the tracks where like that, I was pleased Dan was comfortable to deliver some of these more personal songs with me as they were obviously from the heart and sometimes quite sad. We recorded very quickly and never really had time to dwell on the darker songs as we would probably move on to a lighter track pretty quickly, I liked the way Dan delivered these difficult songs, it felt genuine.”
“Treacy’s eye for detail brings a painful Ken Loach-like honesty to the music,” Alan McGee opined in his Guardian column some time later, and who could argue on this evidence?
Interspersed with the ad hoc and seemingly endless sessions, the TVPs were in demand on the European, American and Japanese live circuit.
Liam: “For me the live thing was strange. Dan asked me to do the tour at fairly short notice, I was up for it but, apart from the tracks we’d recorded together, I didn’t know any of the TVP stuff after the ‘Bill Grundy’ EP, so we would need to rehearse. Dan gave me a cassette with a selection of songs and I think we had just one rehearsal before starting the tour!
“I really didn’t know any of the songs properly and had to wing it, I thought it was a bit of a mess most of the time, but Dan didn’t seem to mind. I remember one gig near the end of the tour in a weird industrial town in East Germany, the atmosphere was strange, quite unfriendly. We played and it wasn’t going down very well. At the end of one song we started jamming a bit and it went into a sort of freak-out which became really intense and quite tight for about ten minutes. It was the best we ever played together and it went down really well. People were coming up to us afterwards asking why we didn’t play like that all the time.”
The B side of ‘Time Goes Slowly When You’re Drowning’ was ‘Meanwhile In A Luxury Docklands Home’, which sounds just like that kind of loose freak out jam. A reworking of the earlier song ‘Me And My Desire’ it takes its tribal tub-thumping and off key melody lines to a new place as Dan dissects the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty observing council estates next to Tower Bridge and the fat cats cruising the slums. It’s another slice of ironic wit about the haves and have nots that’s, if anything, a lighter, fluffier moment in what was becoming troubled times.
“After we got back to the UK I continued to work with Dan but slowly it started to change. Dan didn’t seem to care so much anymore. He didn’t ask me to go on the second German tour and I didn’t see him much on his return At some point shortly after he got himself into some sort of trouble and that was that. Much later on he got back in contact about doing another record, I can’t remember why but the record got made with someone else and sadly I’ve not seen Dan since.”
Another EP of covers followed and the selection was similarly telling. Terry Jacks’ 1974 global hit ‘Seasons In The Sun’ was an interpretation of Jacques Brel’s ‘Le Moribund’ (The Dying Man); Pink Floyd’s exceptional ‘Bike’ is choc-full of eccentric one-liners and offbeat phrasing; it’s a song that sounds like it has too many words in it but somehow the singer catches breath to unload every nuance – it had been a TVP live favourite usually unleashed after the Dan-penned classic ‘I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives’; and the set was completed by The Raincoats’ ‘No-One’s Little Girl’, another rudimentary story about not belonging.
“New and re-issued singles on a variety of labels from around the world seem to crop up at the rate of about three a week,” reported the Melody Maker on the EP’s release. “’Bike’ is a picture disc, featuring three covers – Syd Barrett’s ‘Bike’, The Raincoats’ ‘No One’s Little Girl’ and the cringeworthy ‘Seasons In The Sun’ – which sounds as if they were recorded in the time it took to play them. It oughtn’t to work, but somehow does. Particularly moving is their version of ‘Seasons In The Sun’, which is as warped and f***ed-up as you’d want.”
Indeed, it is. Terry Jacks’ sorrowful ballad is turned into a queasy post-acid trip, all echo and reverb, it’s almost like the studio walls are closing in, ever so slowly.
The reviewer concluded: “And while I’m here, could I point out that TVPs’ last record, the often tortuous and sometimes darkly funny, introverted ‘I Was A Mod Before You Were A Mod’ LP, features some of singer Dan Treacy’s most affecting work this decade. That’s assuming you can get past the deliberately obscuring production and semi-whispered vocals.”
There was still love in the room for the TVPs and Dan, but such prose had mostly dried up in the inkies and was even evaporating in the once-blossoming world of fanzines.
Amid Dan’s downbeat soul searching there are invariably wisps of humour on the band’s final single proper: ‘The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming’ examines lost love and monotony and he offers an escape from school bullying, a love of poetry and the vision of your name in lights on the wonderful ‘When I Grow Up I Want To Be…’. It’s all innocence and idealism, a nod to the future, sketched in the past, and observed through Treacy’s typical wry eye. In many ways, this was a boy who never wanted to grow up, steeped in a love for pop iconography. Dan Treacy and his band had already achieved cult status but his following struggle with ill-health, a brief stint in prison and homelessness extended the myth around which re-issues, compilations, live albums and rumours circulated.
“In another life Treacy and his band might have become very famous but, in this life, they have always remained the underdogs of British rock music,” Harry Prenger of Far Out magazine reasoned in 2019, “Maybe because Treacy sang like someone who never wanted to grow up or, perhaps, it was because he was more into the craft of songwriting than into selling records.”
If a measure of their popularity were needed, during Dan’s intermittent disappearances, praise abounded: A planned 10-volume bow at the feet of Television Personalities was mooted by the Beautiful Music website in 2002.
“The gorgeous folly of bringing together so many different artists covering Dan Treacy’s songs is matched only by the passionate grace of the approach.” Joe Shooman at Record Collector reported. Four volumes have been amassed so far, their website hunkering down under the one liner from Alan McGee that explained that Treacy is “the UK’s version of Jonathan Richman, as re-imagined by Ray Davies.”
By 2004, our elusive pimpernel, Dan Treacy was to be found in HMP The Weare, Rotherham Road, Castletown, Portland, Dorset. On May 31, after an altercation with a cell mate, he blogged via Windlessairmusic.com in the States (check out their site for all things TVP-centric):
May 31, 2004
So who’s gonna play the TVPs when Tarantino makes the film?
Need a title?: “DRUGS ‘R’ US – THE TVPs STORY”
I want GARY OLDMAN to play me!
CHRISTOPHER WALKEN as JOWE HEAD
JOHNNY DEPP as THE DEALER
MIKE MYERS as LITTLE WOODY ALLEN
EVAN DANDO as THE SPACEMAN
HUGH GRANT as GEOFFREY INGRAM (Dan’s private doctor)
ANTHONY HOPKINS as THE ELDERLY SYD BARRETT
I suppose Lee Ronaldo will do the soundtrack – God Help Us!!
and COURTNEY LOVE as COURTNEY LOVE!!
“It’s 1976 and a shy young mod is trapped in a punk’s body, in search of his own personal grail… his grandfather’s Parka! But this parka has magic powers!! Dan has 3 Wishes but he faces many enemies. Will he get to the Adventure Playground where he will find many clues… But! Some of the clues are not what they seem! Dan knows he first has to find David Hockney’s Diaries… But will they give him the next clue? Can he get Evan Dando’s mobile phone number before Evan returns to space? Will Dan find the Glittering Prizes before the evil ghost of Bill Grundy? Stay tuned!”
Now, that’s a screenplay. Amid the celluloid creativity, the blog is littered with would-be lyrics and bits of received fan mail. Rants and thoughts, ideas and theories, a direct line into Dan’s thinking that was central to his songwriting.
By the end of June, Dan was back in society, homeless, sofa surfing… and the blog goes on. And, in November, Dan is in love with music again and recording.
November 31, 2004
Just a thought
I really love music so much at the minute… I didn’t listen for years because it upset me. Still have my issues but want to say continued thanks to all of you who wish me well… I will tell you about the soundtrack tvps are doing later… murder psychological thriller… be seeing you!..daniel
In 2006, Dan re-emerged with a solo album. ‘Mr Dark Places’ was typically mercurial, 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.”
But during the excitement of it all, the Dazed And Confused, Guardian and Independent features, he reports on his blog:
May 12, 2006
I HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH EARLY STAGE MS…(LOOK IT UP)
PLUS FLUID ON BRAIN… BEEN WARNED NOT T9O TRAVEL.
WE HAVE DATES IN PARIS ON MAY 27TH, SPAIN BIG FESTIVAL PRIMAVERA… JUNE 1,2,3, WE PLAY LAST DAY, IGGY POP, BABYSHAMBLES, ETC. THEN TOULOUSE IN FRANCE…
The entries are like a rollercoaster of emotions, just like the songs that filled all those seven-inch singles. He’s still writing songs (he can’t stop), he’s pissed off with record labels, he’s ill, he’s up for producing bands, he’s selling his guitar and amps. He’s in Sweden. Something’s happening in Japan. He’s super productive, he wants to play live…
July 14, 2007
Komm nach Berlin
You arrange a gig tvps will come……
Meanwhile, The Television Personalities’ legacy remains pristine as it is polished up for the new post Brit Pop generation.
March 8, 2008
1980 Peel Session repeat on 6 Music this Thu
Typical I’m the last to know about this… I do actually sing as well on ‘Dorian’… just preferred Jowe’s camp voice… BBC charge the earth to release stuff. One day maybe will bootleg it… fuck ‘em, I say. It’s also the session where Joe argued with Empire on drums and nearly decapitated him with a cymbal. The producer locked the door on them in fear… Dale Griffin, ex Mott The Hoople.
Pop groups, eh? And, the ups and downs continue.
October 7, 2009
Without making dramas, I am quitting music, may or may not do last show on October 16th… It will, if I play, be the last, nothing to show for anything, constant sadness, sorry, thanks for everyone’s support, bye
These were desperate times and a further air of mystery descended around Dan and the TVPs as the blog entries become less and less detailed.
June 9, 2010
Thank you everyone… Uncut, Q, Record Collector, most of Europe, Japan, USA are in agreement… working on songs with MGMT and Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, well at least you can all buy me a nice headstone.. SEE! TOLD YOU HE WAS A ……X
“While the sincerity and directness that Treacy employs manages to skilfully transport you into his world,” Drowned In Sound reasoned, “his world is in no way a constantly enjoyable place to be.”
Dan’s health issues escalated and the NME reported that he was in intensive care in an induced coma after suffering a blood clot on the brain in 2011, his slow recovery removing him completely from public view. In 2018, Jowe Head organised A Celebration Of The Genius Of Daniel Treacy, a happening at the 100 Club in London featuring special guests and indie royalty including Evan Dando, Gina Davidson from Marine Girls, Fat White Family, Rose McDowall from Strawberry Switchblade and many more.
“Listening to Treacy’s signature puppy/schoolboy voice,” Pitchfork commented, “the most vulnerable voice in the world – and clocking the humour and whimsy scattered across those records, you’d hardly expect the guy to turn out a rock-star casualty; he’s a twee-pop touchstone, not a sweaty romantic.”
Call him what you will, Dan Treacy is a legendary songwriter, a gifted story teller who places the world in his own hazy shade of focus, that invariably has a pin prick sharp accuracy that’s just too much.
“Seen through this half empty glass, darkly,” Pop Matters concludes, “Dan Treacy is not Pete Doherty. He’s Elliott Smith, or Ian Curtis, but honestly, genuinely better and more gifted than either.”