The first Television Personalities song I ever heard was a live version of ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ on a Creation label flexi disc. The year was 1984. In a strange kind of circularity, twenty years on it’s the last song in their ‘comeback’ set at the Chickfactor Festival in Bush Hall.
They open with the Velvet’s ‘Rock and Roll’ and it’s almost impossibly painful and poignant to hear Daniel Treacy sing ‘my life was saved by Rock and Roll’. If you don’t know why, then may I suggest you go and do some homework. The things you remember most, after all, are the things you discover for yourself. Me? I remember how the Subway Sect made the very same song theirs before The Velvet Underground did, which just goes to show you how the idea of linear time dissolves to irrelevance when talking about Pop. I suspect Daniel Treacy would understand.
The word is that Dan and his new group are recording new material at the Clientele’s studio in London. The word is that it sounds wonderful, on a par with The Painted Word at least. The word is that people from Rough Trade and Domino are here tonight to check Daniel out. Certainly there are many old familiar faces from the indiepop mafia in attendance. Certainly there is a buzz of eager and awkward anticipation in the air.
For the most part the anticipation is rewarded with some startlingly emotional and edgy, if understandably rough-edged, performances. Old songs and new rub shoulders, and whilst there is a set list of sorts, Daniel frequently tosses it aside, preferring instead to lead his new troupe in a wild eyed journey into the land of improvised Pop. And whilst that ain’t always pretty, it is certainly pretty powerful. And don’t the kids just love it.
Actually, that’s partly a lie of course, because certainly down the front there are precious few you could call kids. Only Swedish Viktor, impressively singing along and punching the air, and a handful of others could be described thus. No, for the most part it’s old codgers like me, many of whom call out requests for their own favourite TVPs songs. It’s a pleasure to see most of these met with a fierce ‘fuck off’ and a finger raised in rejection. For this is at the core of what makes Daniel Treacy so magnificently special and naturally strange: he is the embodiment of all the beautiful contradictions inherent in Pop. He will switch from impossibly pure and heartbreakingly tender to biting and vitriolic in the blink of an eye. And if you don’t understand how utterly essential that is, then once again, go and do some homework.
He has a sweet sense of humour too. In the midst of a glorious ‘Salvador Dali’s Garden Party’ (a madcap tale of, uh, Salvador Dali’s garden party attended by ‘Pop Art poets, Hollywood film stars’ etc) he tells us that The White Strips weren’t there. He tells us that the Strokes weren’t there. ‘I’ll tell you who was there though’ he continues. And to cheers and applause (Duglas Bandit was particularly vocal, I noticed) he concludes that ‘The PASTELS were there…’ and then with a nod and a wink ‘I was there. WE were there.’ It’s a knowing in-joke, for sure, but that’s surely that’s part of the nature of Pop? Knowing you get the jokes. Knowing you spot the importance of the references.
And just when you think it’s all poised on the edge of peculiar perfection, he manages to short circuit himself. Like when he infamously (and GLEEFULLY) slowed his songs to a dirge when presented with a support slot to Nirvana (at Kurt’s request… and how many fucking teenage Kurt idolators have ever even heard the name Daniel Treacy? And why do I care? And am I alone? Jerry?). Tonight he saunters on for an encore that unleashes a deranged medley of songs, including a rampantly discordant and wilfully wild ‘I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives’ and climaxing in a rambling, improvised, fractured cover of ‘My Generation’ which itself culminates in Dan singing the ghostly refrain of ‘see me, feel me’ from Quadrophenia.
People start to look confused. They wander away. They look more than a little baffled.
For me though Dan Treacy ending this set singing ‘I’m not trying to cause a big sensation. I’m just talking about my generation…’ is the key. It goes back to what Kevin Pearce was saying recently about having the nerve to not compete. There are arguments to be made that say that, post-punk, subsequent generations of (indie) Pop protagonists never understood that impulse, an impulse that is seemingly hardwired into Daniel Treacy’s very soul. And whilst you suspect that may not make life very easy, it certainly makes for one of the most perfect Pop mythologies you could care to imagine (not to mention some of the most perfectly poised and naturally off-centre Pop songs ever penned).
In one of the songs tonight Dan and his female chanteuse intone ‘you don’t deserve us’. It’s a mesmeric and oddly wildly emotional moment. I swear I feel tears well in my eyes, and I swear I’m not alone. ‘You don’t deserve us, you don’t deserve us.’ And we don’t.
Welcome back Daniel Treacy.