Chelsea, London, in the mid-70s. Schoolmates Dan Treacy, Ed Ball, Joe Foster, John Bennett and his brother Gerrard rehearsed together in their spare time, playing covers by the likes of The Who and Pink Floyd.
Inspired by the punk movement, Dan, Ed and the Bennetts went into a recording studio in August 1977 and emerged with ’14th Floor’ and ‘Oxford Street’. Lack of money meant that only a handful of white label singles were initially pressed. Dan originally thought of calling the band Teen 78; whilst writing out a label to send a copy to the DJ John Peel, for a joke he listed the members of the band as famous television stars of the day, and the name TV Personalities was born. Peel played the single a number of times, and eventually Dan scraped together enough money to press 867 copies.
Dan returned to the studio with Ed Ball in the Summer of 1978 to record a follow-up single, the ‘Where’s Bill Grundy Now?’ EP. This was an instant hit with John Peel, who played the track ‘Part Time Punks’ many times. The success of the EP led to a deal with Rough Trade, who reissued the single and a follow-up, ‘Smashing Time’ (recorded again by Dan and Ed). Throughout these early years, Ed Ball had his own projects, O Level and then the Teenage Filmstars. Although Dan and Ed helped out with each other’s groups, they were always separate bands.
In the middle of 1980, the TVPs made their live debut following the recruitment of Joe Foster on bass and Mark Sheppard (known as Empire) on drums. This line-up was short-lived, reportedly due to differences in opinion between Foster and Sheppard, resulting in Joe’s departure. Prior to this, Dan and Mark helped out with Joe’s solo project, the Missing Scientists, which also included Mute Records boss Daniel Miller. The group’s ‘Big City Bright Lights’ 7″ was released by Rough Trade in September 1980.
In October 1980, Dan and Ed Ball returned to the recording studio with Empire to create the TVP’s debut album. Issued in January 1981 by Rough Trade, ‘And Don’t The Kids Just Love It’ was a considerable improvement over the early ramshackle recordings. The influence of Sixties pop culture was apparent from the LP’s sleeve, which featured supermodel Twiggy and Patrick McNee from the Avengers. The songs included Kinks-like social commentary (‘Geoffrey Ingram’), domestic drama (‘This Angry Silence’, ‘A Family Affair’) and one of their most famous (but not typical) songs, the rather whimsical ‘I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives’. Simultaneously, Rough Trade issued the latter as a single, albeit a different version.
In early 1981, Dan and Ed launched their own record label, Whaam! (named after the Roy Litchenstein painting). The first release was the debut single by Ed Ball’s new outfit The Times, followed by the Gifted Children’s ‘Painting By Numbers’. This was recorded during winter sessions by Dan and Empire, with Bernie Cooper on bass. It seems as if Dan toyed with the idea of breaking up the TVPs (not for the first, or last time) and continuing under this name. However, this single, and a track on the Whaam! compilation LP ‘All For Art’ were the only Gifted Children releases. Bernie Cooper apparently then disappeared, leaving Ed Ball to fill in on bass, notably during a joint Times / TVP UK tour in the Spring of 1981. The TVPs second LP was released in January 1982. ‘Mummy Your Not Watching Me’ combined tracks recorded during the ‘Gifted Children’ sessions with later material recorded with Ed Ball. Both Dan and Ed were leading figures in the contemporary psychedelia revival, and the influence is evident, particularly on the lo-fi pop psyche of ‘A Day in Heaven’ and ‘David Hockney’s Diaries’. Elsewhere, songs with Pop Art references, such as ‘Painting By Numbers’ and ‘Litchenstein Painting’ sat alongside the enduringly popular ‘If I Could Write Poetry’ and ‘Magnificent Dreams‘.
A third album followed shortly afterwards; ‘They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles’ compiled unreleased tracks, material recorded during the ‘Gifted Children’ sessions, alternate takes and another airing of ’14th Floor’. Despite this, the album was a surprisingly cohesive and entertaining collection of songs.
In early 1982, Ed Ball left the ranks to concentrate on his own band The Times. Mark Flunder was recruited to play bass and the trio of Treacy, Flunder and Sheppard gigged until the Spring of 1983, when Mark Sheppard departed. The TVPs expanded with the return of Joe Foster and the addition of Dave Musker (keyboards). This drummerless line-up recorded the TVPs next LP, ‘The Painted Word’, a dark masterpiece considered by many to be their best. The overall tone of the album was heavy, with some angry political songs such as ‘A Sense of Belonging’, ‘You’ll Have to Scream Louder’ and ‘Back to Vietnam’. In contrast to these were the melancholic beauty of ‘Stop and Smell the Roses’, which invited comparison with the Velvet Underground, and the touching ‘Someone to Share my Life With’.
With the album recorded, the band reunited with Rough Trade in 1983 for the acerbic protest single ‘A Sense of Belonging’. Controversy over the sleeve, which depicted a battered child, probably influenced the label’s decision not to release ‘The Painted Word’. A legal dispute with a pressing plant prohibited Dan from putting out the record on his own Whaam! label. Delayed by 18 months, the album was finally granted a limited release on Illuminated in mid-1984, a label that promptly folded. Further line-up changes occurred. Drummer Jeff Bloom joined the band and Mark Flunder was replaced by ex-Swell Maps bassist Jowe Head. After a tour of Europe in early 1984, the five-man TVP line-up came to an end with the departure of Joe Foster and Dave Musker.
Television Personalities then enjoyed their longest period with a settled line-up, comprising Dan Treacy, Jowe Head and Jeff Bloom. Although short of money and lacking a recording contract, the band concentrated on live work, especially in Europe where they enjoyed greater popularity than in the UK. Dan set up the Dreamworld label as the successor to Whaam!, initially to reissue the early TVP albums. He soon began releasing recordings by other bands, including the Mighty Lemon Drops and Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. This label also issued a new TVP single, the psychedelic protest song ‘How I Learned To Love The Bomb’ in 1986. Aside from that, TVP output was limited to occasional tracks on compilation albums. During this period, Dan also promoted gigs at the Room at the Top club.
A new album, ‘Privilege’, was pencilled in for a Dreamworld release, but instead the band signed a contract with Fire Records, who released their first album for 6 years in 1990. ‘Privilege’ finally gave a release to material that had been honed in the live environment over the previous five years. The LP featured a strong collection of songs that included the playful single ‘Salvador Dali’s Garden Party’. Two EPs followed before another album, ‘Closer to God’ in 1992. This was a double album which contained much to admire, including a return to a more personal style of song writing, as seen on the tracks ‘Very Dark Today’ and ‘My Very First Nervous Breakdown’.
The next couple of years were to see further line-up changes. Jeff Bloom departed the band in the Spring of 1993, following a successful debut tour of the US the previous year. He was replaced by Lenny Helsing of The Thanes, for a second tour of America in July 1993, plus a memorable trip to Japan in mid-1994. Shortly after returning from the trip, Jowe Head and Dan parted company.
The period 1994 – 95 saw Dan embark on a flurry of mostly solo recording sessions at Toe Rag studios. With assistance from Liam Watson, he recorded two albums worth of material plus numerous tracks that subsequently appeared on singles. The tone of these recordings is often bleak, with stripped down backing and confessional lyrics. Following two singles recorded for Vinyl Japan in 1994, a new LP ‘I Was A Mod Before You Was A Mod’ was released by Overground in 1995. Essentially a solo album recorded with contributions from Sexton Ming and Liam Watson, it contained some of Dan’s most nakedly personal and moving lyrics. The band toured Germany in the summer of 1995 with a line-up of Dan Treacy, Sexton Ming (drums) and Liam Watson (bass). A similar tour was undertaken the following year, with Graeme replacing Liam. The last known TVP live appearance took place when the trio returned to the UK in June 1996.
The last TVP album of new material to date is ‘Don’t Cry Baby, It’s Only A Movie’. Issued by Damaged Goods in October 1998 after a couple of years delay, this collection of covers and some originals was mostly recorded at Toe Rag studios in 1994/95. The LP is perhaps of interest only to fans. The same label issued a new TVP single, ‘When I Grow Up I Want to Be…’ in 1999, but the recording dated from several years previously.
Following the summer of 1996, Dan Treacy appeared to retire from actively recording and touring. Apart from occasional meetings with record labels for reissues and compilation albums, he kept a low profile. Rumours of depression, heroin addiction and homelessness surfaced from time to time.
However, in the summer of 2004, Dan Treacy made a surprise return to the delight of his many fans. Read about it here. Television Personalities have returned! With assistance from Ed Ball and others, a new album has been recorded. In December 2004, the TVPs made their first live appearance in 8 years, with the promise of more to come in 2005.
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