The frontman of Television Personalities – the little known band who released the first DIY punk single – talks shaking hands with Kurt Cobain
Taken from the February 2006 issue of Dazed:
Think of the Television Personalities as punk rock's baby brothers. Living opposite punk HQ – Kings Road's Beaufort Market – a wayward teenager Daniel Treacy could hardly help the swagger of the Sex Pistols rubbing off on him but, unlike other British kids, he was far from brain washed.
"I had no idea about it really," he says in his original Chelsea snarl. "I saw this glam rock band at Butlins who were selling their own vinyl and thought, 'Fuckin hell, I can do this'." So, he did. Borrowing an astronomical £18 from his dad, he booked some after-hours studio time in Hammersmith and recorded two tracks – "14th Floor" and "Oxford St". "I'd underestimated how much it would cost though," he says. "I had the masters but didn't realise that pressing up vinyl would be even more." With typical resourcefulness, Treacy sent one of his two precious copies to John Peel. "Peel loved it, but my mum was hassling me to pay back the money." Mrs Treacy ran the World's End launderette where everyone from Bob Marley to Led Zeppelin got their washing done. Holding Page and Plant's undies hostage, she managed to get her son a job at Zeppelin's label, Swan Song. "There was never anything to do there," the 42-year-old recalls." I ran errands carrying cocaine up and down the Fulham Palace Road, and cleaned up the sperm and blood after the bands' satanic rituals." While he was being kept busy with gopher duties, Treacy's record had taken on a life of its own. The Clash's Joe Strummer selected "14th Floor" each time he was invited onto Peel's show.
Encouraged, Treacy started over, calling best friend Edward Ball to a recording studio to record the as yet nameless band's first ER "Part Time Punks and Where's Bill Grundy Now?" "I couldn't believe the lyrics. Suddenly, my best friend was coming out with these amazing songs," Ball recalls. Treacy and Ball pressed up 500 copies, then, after photocopying and hand-folding each sleeve, sent them out to various record outlets and once again, Mr Peel." The band didn't have a name, so I put down the names Nicholas Parsons, Russell Harty, Bruce Forsyth and Hughie Green on the sleeve, along with instructions for how to put out a single. "When Peel played the track, he introduced the song as "Part Time Punks" from "west London's Television Personalities", christening Treacy's outfit in the process. Meanwhile at Swan Song, Treacy was beginning to get people's backs up. "These guys were stars and I was getting more press than them," he sniggers. The only person who took any interest in Treacy's talents was Jimmy Page. "He 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," Treacy pauses and smiles. "He was good, but he weren't as good as me." Though peddling punk singles by the dozen, TVPs were one of the only punk bands not to have joined the hyped World's End scene. In fact, the peculiar outfit, who had already been through more line-up changes than bears listing, had never even walked onstage. Their first gig was in 1979 at London's Central School of Art with the Swell Maps.
"At the time, everyone wanted to obliterate the peace and harmony of 60s love-ins," Treacy explains. "Our gig was going to be the first psychedelic happening that decade. All I know is that I got up onstage, played two songs, and then my face turned blue and I remember coming over all funny," he chuckles. "Someone had spiked my drink with acid." Psychedelia then took over and Treacy's Spontaneous Underground and later, Room at the Top club nights, featured live performances, film projections and "a girl rolling round a coffee trolley laden with drugs." Punters would sit on cardboard boxes, be given bubble blowers, yoghurt and a fistful of mind expanders. "But we never," Daniel swears, "gave out hard drugs." It was around this time that a punk called Alan McGee began travelling from Glasgow to London to see what the TVPs were about. "He would follow me around like a bloodhound," Treacy complains, grinning maniacally. McGee began recounting Treacy's exploits in his Communications Blurb fanzine and later in his Television Personalities Diaries, in which he recorded their influence on Creation Records and early C86 bands. "When I started my label, the people who influenced me most were Dan Treacy, Ed Ball and Joe Foster (one-time TVPs guitarist)," he wrote. "Dan, because he's a great songwriter, but also because I was intrigued about how he started Whaam! (and later Dreamworld, his label which put out TVP tracks and The Mighty Lemon Drops, Doctor & the Medics and Ball's side project The Times). He made it possible for someone like me to put out records." McGee wasn't the only member of Treacy's indie fan club. St Etienne, Jesus & Mary Chain and Pavement have all cited him as an influence, with plenty of TVPs covers popping up live and on record. Treacy continued, oblivious. In August 1980, the band did their only Peel Session in Maida Vale and flew on the back of it to play at Berlin's Excess Club. "Edward stayed in London," Treacy recalls.
"Which was lucky because I missed my plane home and we had a gig at London's Rock Garden the next night. I stayed in Berlin and Edward was with the TVPs back home. There aren't many bands who have played two cities in an hour." The TVPs returned to Berlin on the momental night of November 11, 1989, to play a gig just 500 yards from the wall." There was this amazing feeling," Treacy says, excitedly. "At around four in the morning, one of the soldiers told us it would still be a good few hours before anything really happened, but then he turned round and said 'Fuck this' and bent down and pulled out the first brick. "On his return to the UK, Treacy found a letter from Kurt Cobain, asking the TVPs to support the band in what would be their first UK show at the Astoria in 1991.
“I didn't know who they were but everyone around me said 'Nirvana, big band' so I thought, 'right, I'll take the piss'. I went onstage, played a few numbers and then finished with a cover of my favourite song, 'Seasons in the Sun'. When I came offstage, Kurt came up and shook my hand because it was his favourite song too” - Daniel Treacy
In 1994, Treacy recorded the album I Was a Mod Before You Was a Mod. Then, just as the record came out and the press machine started to rumble in his favour, Daniel Treacy disappeared. The first stirrings of his return were to be found online – ten years after his self-imposed exile. Treacy's inimitable musings were found posted on his diary blog, all written from HMP Weir.
"Prison drama, rock 'n' roll!" one entry starts. "That's more like it! Some punk busted one of my ribs! Muthafucka! He threw a TV at me and punched me out. I thought it was going too well. Very depressed for two days, better now." These rants go some way to explaining Treacy's state of mind at the time, and hint at the decade he lost to heroin addiction and illness. "I have never been a particularly happy person," the songwriter explained a few months after being released. "I've been sent to prison five times, never for very long, just a few weeks at a time and those are the times I have really straightened out." Laurence Bell recently welcomed the wayward Treacy back into the musical fold with an album deal for Domino Records." He is one of the great British songwriters, up there with Syd Barrett and Pete Doherty," Bell enthuses. "We're privileged to be making an album with him and hope to draw attention to a criminally neglected talent." Recently, Treacy asked London band Dustin's Bar Mitzvah to stand in for the TVPs on the video shoot for his next single. "I got a call at 8 am," says Dustin's singer Dave Lazer. "We'd been on tour until the night before and I hadn't slept or washed in a week so I locked myself in my shed with a bottle of vodka and refused to come out. Everyone was banging on the door until I ventured out. I was wearing the same clothes I'd slept in; we were all in a pretty bad way. We did the video but Treacy didn't even turn up. So we did it without the silly bastard." Some things will never change.