I am playing a show in London on Thursday, a benefit for Dan Treacy – the singer of Television Personalities. Dan is not well, has not been well for a long time.
I am feeling nervous about it. There are a lot of uncertainties involved. These days I prefer (wrong word) to sit in my house in Haywards Heath and mindlessly play basic computer games on my iPhone. I do not speak to people outside of my work, and my children. I do not go out to shows (although in recent months I have attempted to book myself into some speaking engagements and gigs, in an attempt to break this cycle). I do not go out to the cinema, to the pub, for meals. Sometimes I will watch old tv shows – Bewitched, The Simpsons, Sabrina The Teenage Witch – and the (very) occasional Jacques Tati film. Let the others who want to struggle, struggle. I would not say I am content or happy in my isolation, in my self-enforced loneliness – far from it – but I seem to be haunted by demons. Regret, perhaps. The state of not knowing. A near-suffocating sense of loss. Depression, if you want to call it that – although the past few months, teaching at BIMM London, have been both excellent and fun, if you can remove the ridiculous four hours daily travel. Tired, I cannot pity myself. I suffocate gently in my sleep.
I am feeling very nervous about it. Not because I feel I will be unable to perform…
That is not the reason. Far as that goes, I am performing as strongly as I have for years: crucially, I COULD NOT GIVE A FUCK whether anyone else thinks this music holds value or not. I know it does, and enough people I value (from Stephen Pastel and John Robb onwards) think that it does for me not to care. Indeed, I sometimes find myself humbled at the people who think my music holds value. Live, I understand the importance of space, of architecture, of the audience. I have been incorporating Television Personalities songs within my set for years, particularly ‘Happy All The Time’. Unpopular released a 7″ of two of my live renditions several years ago now. I contributed a song or two to Television Personalities tribute albums, one featuring my four-year-old son Isaac. I have enough confidence remaining as a performer (as The Legend!, as Everett True) to be able to fall back on silence, on spoken word, on old gospel or music hall songs, on improvised profanity, whatever it takes.
My performance is not the reason.
Here is the deal. I have – both deliberately and undeliberately (alcohol blackouts) – engaged in a process of wiping the past from my mind throughout my life. I do not know when this process started. Perhaps it was a result of being bullied relentlessly at Junior School for four years, turning my innocence and hope and happiness into fear. Maybe it was a result of too many asshole drunken outings, or an overload of information and stimulus and good times: betraying my own ideals before I even knew what they were. Two weeks ago, I broke one of my great taboos. I got back in touch with an old friend – someone I haven’t spoken to for at least 30 years. I did so, partly because I am so fed up of not having friends, or at least friends I can speak to – I did so partly because I am fed up of friends dying before I get back in touch. I did so, partly because I am lonely. I do so, mainly because… Dan sang it best, with Television Personalities.
I am still looking for a sense of belonging.
I have been aware for as long as I can recall that music has provided me with a sense of belonging, a sense of community and sharing, give and take. And if that no longer exists then surely that is my fault and no more and no less than I deserve. Music scorns me like a former lover. Back when I knew Alan McGee and Dan Treacy in the early 1980s the music provided a palpable sense of belonging, clubs like (Alan’s) Living Room at the Adams Arms and (Dan and Emily’s) Room At The Top (Chalk Farm Enterprise) providing a living community of outsiders, bloaters, the braggarts and the bullies, the shy and the emotional, the Sixties obsessed guitar freaks and the psychedelic losers. Alan gave me Dan, Dan gave me Marine Girls and so much inspiration in his own personal, heart-torn songs – no separation between performance and performer, much as Dan attempted to insert some. Amazing fucking pop songs.
Songs that you can play with just the bare rudiments of musical knowledge, songs you can sing without even any backing at all.
I’m not sure I have ever paid the due respect I should have to Dan. I think this is mostly because I have been in hiding from my past for – what – 30, 40, 50 years now? This failed retreat didn’t just start when Kurt killed himself. Dan was the primary inspiration for all of us back then – and by that I mean Alan primarily, but everyone else just followed what Alan did. (Obviously, we had our own individual influences and inspirations, but I am talking about the community here.) We recorded the first Creation single at the old TVPs’ studio in West London, quite deliberately. I recall feeling angry that we only managed to record and mix 10 song in four hours; it felt like we’d been slacking. Dan, so clumsy and shy and beautiful and funny, mixing in wry humour with painful awareness with always the gorgeous poptones. The last time I ever saw him perform – Brighton, mid 2000s – I had to walk out, it was too painful. Everyone was laughing at the funny drunk fucked-up man. It wasn’t funny. It really wasn’t funny.
I can’t speak for Charlotte, but I know who I named our second son Daniel Thackray after – Dan Treacy and Daniel Johnston, the two greatest male poets it has been my privilege to know.
Melody Maker 30th April 1994
SINGLE OF THE WEEK
Far Away & Lost In Joy (Vinyl Japan)
Television Personalities have been England’s great forgotten band for too long. The four songs’ concerns here are more of the usual : loss of friends, embarrassment, betrayal, lack of desire for life, fear, observation of a loved one from afar – sung with weary resignation over an endearingly clumsy, slightly numb, sweetly sad and slow backing. Pop music, I guess, but this music is truly magical.
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… and what does music come down to in the end, if it ain’t empathy?