…And Don’t The Kids Just Love Television Personalities

Read an excerpt from author Benjamin Berton’s Dreamworld: The Fabulous Life of Daniel Treacy and his Band Television Personalities

Benjamin Berton Dreamworld: The Fabulous Life of Daniel Treacy and his Band Television Personalities, Ventil Verlag 2022
Benjamin Berton Dreamworld: The Fabulous Life of Daniel Treacy and his Band Television Personalities, Ventil Verlag 2022

The following is an excerpt from author Benjamin Berton’s Dreamworld: The Fabulous Life of Daniel Treacy and his Band Television Personalities, which comes out on July 29th via Ventil Verlag (280 Pages – ISBN 978-3-95575-154).

This particular chapter you are about to read concerns the Personalities’ classic 1981 debut LP …And Don’t The Kids Just Love It.

For more information on the book, visit https://www.ventil-verlag.de/

Translated by David Marshall.

 

…AND DON’T THE KIDS JUST LOVE IT

The record is the band’s heartbeat. It’s the band’s reason for living and what fixes its place in history.

The record is the alpha and the omega: it’s what unifies and captures the moment. In the Television Personalities’ history, the record will have served many purposes: first to come into being, then to bear fruit. Later on, the record is also a means of keeping the band together and continuing to exist,  before becoming simply an odd way of  paying off debts, buying drugs and repaying friends. The record is the real owner of the songs. It has the power to be immense and to change people’s lives, but also to make a laughing stock out of you, and go unnoticed. The record is hope and disappointment. It’s the instant and the moment rolled into one. The record is the singer’s rival. It robs and annihilates him.

It’s possible that towards the middle of 1980, the idea of recording an album for Rough Trade represented something important for Daniel Treacy. In all likelihood, Daniel prepared himself for it in his own  way, by accumulating enough items so as  not to be lacking in raw materials and by  practising the songs enough times on his own for them not to have any secrets for him once in the studios. Many think that the Television Personalities’ first album …And  Don’t The Kids Just Love It is their best and  most significant one. It’s probably the one for which they are still best known and  technically, the one which brings together the greatest number of their iconic songs.    From an artistic point of view, it is a total  success, starting from the jacket down to  the  last  note of  the  record’s  fourteen  songs. Daniel Treacy shows that the whole of Britain can fit into a nutshell, as the saying goes, of some 37 minutes or so.

The success of the record relies on a mix of several things which we have already mentioned: the punk dynamics, a pop benchmark  substrate”  which is  tremendous and largely borrowed from the  60’s, but also a production technique which was new at the time and which can be deemed to be a precursor of the lo-fi movement and more widely of all that would become the intimistic and electrified pop music of the decades to come. It’s always quite simple to underline everything that is good in a record with the benefit  of hindsight, but the originality of …And Don’t The Kids Just Love it speaks for itself.   

Let’s just remember the age of the protagonists playing on this record and the perfect compatibility between the music and what it says about the period to which it belongs. Daniel Treacy is only 20 when  most of these songs are written. Mark  Sheppard is barely 17. These are kids from West London who have almost no experience and have hardly ventured beyond their own back yard.  They have been fed on memories and witnessed the Fall of the British Empire over a span of just a few short years. Margaret Thatcher now occupies 10 Downing Street. The steel  works are closing down and the first  strikes are hitting the headlines. Month after month, unemployment reaches unprecedented levels since the post-war days, whilst monetarist policies drain the country’s consumer economy. Charles and Diana aren’t yet married and John Lennon has been assassinated the previous December.

…And Don’t The Kids Just Love It is released against the backdrop of a heap of rubble in the making. The album is the assertion of the British stiff upper lip and a collapsing soufflé. You discover it, like entering a secret passage, through the expression of harsh and brutal  latent  anger,  The  Angry  Silence. The genial band of the early days  has disappeared, and only peeks its nose at you again on the B side. In the meantime, the father shouts at the mother and threatens to pack his bags and leave; the brother is anorexic, the sister is a barmaid in a club. The teenager is afraid to leave his room and wallows in poetic love for a girl who doesn’t share his feelings. For Daniel Treacy, the family circle is psychotic and doomed. “It’s hard to disagree in today’s society” Daniel sings. “Can you hear this  angry silence?” The Television Personalities’ music maintains a certain  rhythm and dynamism which lighten the pessimism of the lyrics. The bass is buoyant and the percussion as light as a drum roll.  The production is deliberately slapdash and clipped. Drowned out by the sound effects, the vocals are distant and often scarcely in tune. Glittering Prizes talks about starting out in working life and the boredom which quickly besets everyday existence. Anyone who has listened to The Smiths will be surprised to see that the TVPs chart the same seas as Morrissey, but several years ahead of time. Here, the expression is more direct, less glorious and incarnate. Daniel  Treacy embodies the youth of the day who  are devastated and sacrificed, before even having started to live. All resistance is futile. You can see it in the tragic fate of Pauline Lewis, an unknown teenager with such a  British name, found dead on her bed, curled  up alongside her dreams. The song is like a fairy tale gone wrong, where nobody can wake up the princess. Lost in her imaginary world, the young girl dies, like an inverted Narcissus, drowned in her own reflection after  looking  at  the  photo of a  sophisticated model in a fashion magazine.

Television Personalities …And Don’t The Kids Just Love It, Fire Records 1981

The World Of Pauline Lewis is the first of a series of portraits of drifting young women, seductive and fragile like pre-Raphaelite spectres. These Lolitas run away (Silly Girl, La Grande Illusion) or flee from a dull  husband (Girl On A Motorcycle),  but rarely  find happiness. In such escapades, it’s rather the feeling of  liberty and risk-taking which is expressed, be it at the cost of an unfortunate outcome. In A Family Affair, Daniel Treacy keeps up the festivities with a deceased husband, a mother whose children have been taken into care and  another young woman ditched by her  boyfriend because she is pregnant. The conclusion is summed up magnificently: “I telephoned God today. But all I got was the answering machine. Please help me.”  This one verse summarises the band’s whole  story. God’s answering machine, of course.   A gigantic telephone call during which  humanity records its miserable existence in one aesthetic and transcending act which scoffs at itself.

Daniel Treacy’s irony and the determination of the musicians prevent  this  first  album  by  the Television  Personalities  from  being  weighed  down  and  despairing. Its  impeccable jacket serves to remind us that it’s only a game, a pop-art smokescreen and a reconstruction  of  reality  through  the  prism  of  the  author’s  artistic  sensitivity. For the illustration showing Patrick McNee, star of The Avengers series, and the top-model Twiggy, Daniel delves into the archives of a famous photo session of the 5th of January 1967. Directed by the renowned photographer Terry O’Neill, the session with Twiggy aims not only to promote the 5th season of the well-known show which would be screened a few days later, but also to promote the collection of clothes by Alun Hughes and Pierre Cardin,  worn by John Steed and Emma Peel  throughout the series. Twiggy’s skinniness is perhaps no longer the fashion today, but the photo session (filmed by British Pathé for a documentary) is a moment of infinite grace. Other celebrities such as the racing-driver Graham Hill (Damon’s father), the weight-lifter George Manners and the boxer  Billy  Walker are also brought in to broaden  the  cast. We can’t say whether,  when  choosing the  album’s cover, Daniel had access to other photos, or, as is likely, the photo simply appealed to him as being patently pop, while leafing through a  magazine some 10 years later. By her  second  notable appearance on a record sleeve, after having adorned David Bowie’s  Pin-Ups in 1973, Twiggy acquires a kind of iconic trendiness which would stand her in good stead during her comeback in the 90’s. It’s effectively hard to imagine anything more glamorous and truly British than this standard-bearing cover, which instantly gives a lighter touch to the content of the album.

 

VIDEO: The Avengers TV Theme 

The flip side opens up a new landscape of hope, where happiness can be obtained by recourse to imagination or good fortune.  One or two magical reminiscences take us  back to the innocence of childhood and an escape from an unduly grim reality.  Geoffrey Ingram’s luck is proverbial. The emblematic figure of Syd Barrett, half  bewildered father, half Peter Pan,  hiding  out on his mountain, his whereabouts known only to us, seems to want to redeem men’s sins.  With Jackanory Stories, Daniel conjures up the world of Lewis Carroll in which the stories we make up are the fabric of real life. Only imagination and art can redeem the world and propel daily routine into a sort of alternative reality. The mansion-cum-art-gallery of the Picture of Dorian Gray, with its paintings and cucumber sandwiches, is like the Grand Meaulnes’ enchanted house. In the course of its adaptations, Daniel would embellish it with various traits each more marvellous than the others.  …And Don’t The Kids Just Love it ends as it begins in raised voices.  In place of anger, you now find a sort of regret and repentance, the notion that a purge has taken place and you can move on and go back to the real world and have a good time (Parties in Chelsea).  Look Back In Anger is a gentle song, devoid of all animosity.  It is the perfect conclusion of an album which is more of a hatch-out than a blow- out.

…And Don’t The Kids Just Love It receives a few mostly lukewarm reviews which criticise the poor quality of the recording, the out-of-tune  vocals,  but  recognise  the  quality  of  certain  songs. The  critics recognise the pertinence of the lyrics and certain brilliant bits of repartee, but consider the slow or mid-tempo songs to be more or less botched. Several years would go by before what was considered to be a fatal flaw would come to be seen as a quality. Little  by little, the album is re-evaluated and  deemed to be an essential landmark in the  evolution of post-punk music by the future  idolaters of so-called anorak pop. This  term  generally  refers  to  people  literally  obsessed  with  a  single  subject  and  for  whom each detail gives rise to an in-depth study. The train spotters, the first examples of such nerds, would hang about on British station platforms spending hours peering at their surroundings, like cows watching the trains go by, dressed in … anoraks.  The anorak became an analogy for a fan of independent music, capable of mobilising all his energy into dissecting the work of some obscure band, or snubbing public radio to pick up pirate offshore broadcasts on some makeshift device. The anorak is as much the symbol of fans of indie rock music as it is of a sort of avant-garde geek or Otaku. The movement would be particularly widespread in Scotland and the North of England from the middle 80’s until the emergence of Brit pop. In this very ritualised world, Treacy’s obsession with pop culture  personalities becomes a testimony filled with unsuspected riches, giving rise to the systematic detection of all the references to be found in his work. In this respect, ..And  Don’t The Kids Just Love It is an album  which offers an almost unlimited playing  field stretching from its jacket to the literary or cinematographic origin of almost all the tracks.  What with Renoir (La Grande Illusion), Geoffrey Ingram, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Syd Barrett, but also Look Back In Anger, the title of a work by gay playwright John Osborne, or Diary Of A Young Man,  the  title  of  a  TV  film  directed  by  Ken  Loach  in  1964,  and  The Glittering Prizes, a novel by Frederic Raphael about the lives of Cambridge students,  Treacy turns his songs into a treasure hunt  strewn with Easter eggs  (Mary Quant,  designer and creator of the mini-skirt is mentioned in Pauline Lewis) and a form of name-dropping which would delight both diggers and fans of intertextual references.

The album sells moderately well, but its critical and economic performance is way below the enormous hopes raised by the surprising success of Part Time Punks.  As often, and not without cause, Daniel Treacy blames Rough Trade for not having promoted the album enough. One or two adverts, a few inserts and that’s it. The desire for independence does the rest. The  Television Personalities pack their bags and set up their own label, called Whaam!, borrowed  from  the  name  of  one  of Roy  Liechtenstein’s most famous pictures, painted in 1963 and inspired by the comic book American Men Of War. Like a slamming  door, Daniel Treacy leaves Rough Trade and turns his back for good on the early days and the carefree time of the first singles.

 

 

 

 

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