The Boy In The Paisley Shirt
Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the TV Personalities
Naturally all notions of Truth are subjective and
flimsy at best, but they are even more so in the realm of Pop. We all invent
our own Truths because if we didn’t then some bugger would only do it for/to us. And I don’t know about you, but fuck that for a game of soldiers. So one of the greatest things about the whole Pop deal is that it provides space to dream, gives us all the potential for reinvention. We’ve all done it: projected so many versions of our Truths that it all becomes blurred in some glorious psychedelic pattern in our minds. It’s one of the greatest delights of growing older. I mean, we need some kind of pleasure now we’ve given up all the traditional vices, don’t
I’ve said all kinds of things in the past about my past, made allusions to this group and that record. I’ve made out that when I was twelve I was digging Suicide and Albert Ayler, that by the time I was sixteen I was a jangle pop terrorist with a penchant for hardcore and hip hop. Naturally, it was all lies.
In truth I didn’t have a clue. My teenage years were spent geeking out over the pages of Autosport rather than the NME; were passed listening to live US Forces radio sports broadcasts from Long Beach under the covers instead of John Peel playing ‘Teenage Kicks’. That’s just the way it was.
Even by the time the world rolled around to 1985 and I was all but out of my teenage years I remained largely clueless. Sure, I had my Smiths and Jesus And Mary Chain records, but then who didn’t? In fact, in 1985 I was still hung over on the whole Glasgow White Boy Soul scene rather than the Splash One deal. That’s just the way it was. My world was filled with the dual delights of Love and Money and Hipsway. It sounds more than sad in hindsight, but that’s what personal history is like, and anyway, lest we forget we can draw back the lines to Postcard from there anyways; from Graeme Skinner to the Jazzateers, and from Love and Money to Bothwell’s finest bunch of Postcard wanabee’s, the almighty Friends Again. I’ll stand by Friends Again until the ends of the earth, incidentally, although Love and Money are another matter entirely, even though they had that great ‘50s r’n’r look, and James Grant had a great quaff. Also, Hipsway’s ‘The Broken Years’ can still raise a smile, can still make me shuffle my feet, can still arouse for a moment. It might just be nostalgia at work of course, but that’s fine too.
There was a record store in Ayr called Trash. It was run by a bloke whose name I forget, but who was notoriously cool. Certainly cooler than I could ever dream of being: he wore black turtlenecks and Chelsea boots, a leather jacket with a Byrds badge. He ran away to Edinburgh to see Fire Engines when he was 14. Clearly this was coolness I could never hope to compete with nor attain.
In it’s first incarnation Trash was situated in the depths of the town, a ten second dash from the Bus Station and five seconds from the puggies, into which Scot and I would descend on our Saturday morning forays for endless video game contests. I recall one February weekend in particular: half a million high score on Buck Rogers, a glimpse of Claire in the sewing store and two records plucked from the shelves of Trash. Hipsway’s ‘Ask The Lord’ and the Dreamworld 12” of The TV Personalities ‘How I Learned To Love The Bomb’.
Despite having their Communication Blur / Creation flexi in my possession, and having read about them and The Times in the pages of Juniper Beri Beri, I still had only the vaguest of notions of who the TV Personalities were and knew next to nothing of their punk foundations or of their psych references. I just knew the name, thought that it was kind of cool, had no real idea of the chasm between Dan Treacy and the white soul boys. I mean, I had seen photos of them, and they both wore Raybans, didn’t they? (Or plastic copies thereof…)
Thinking back now, it seems strangely magical that is there a time where you can have such parallel influences touching on your life and how you can flit between each of them naturally… when you are blind to the years to come where notions of ‘propriety’ will condemn those flights of fanciful connection to the trashcan and replace them with the blinkered rut following of What The NME Says. And not only that, but also sadly ignorant of the bliss of emerging eventually into the light of Couldn’t Give A Fuck What Anyone Else Thinks Anyway, when once again one can explore a myriad of disparate things without having to worry if it’s ‘cool’.
All of that’s just padding though, isn’t it? Because as I’ve said, the truth is that really I simply didn’t have a clue. I do know, however, that the ‘Bomb’ EP span on my record player endlessly for weeks, leaving the Hipsway record gathering dust in the corner.
I’d like to say that I immediately started earnestly collecting other TV Personalities records, but since this is all about honesty, the truth is that the only one I picked up was the reissued Mummy You’re Not Watching Me set on Dreamworld, the one with the green cover. It was exceptional of course, and no-one could ever better songs like ‘Where The Rainbow Ends’, ‘Three Wishes’ or the heartbreaking ‘If I Could Write Poetry’, but for some reason I started frothing over other distractions like The Rosehips. Looking back, it’s all rather baffling, but then that tends to be the way of it, doesn’t it?
The Television Personalities then over the subsequent years became the group I knew about but did not really know at all. I became aware of all the records both old and new, knew that the legacy of Dan Treacy and his bands of vagabonds was one of those rather criminally ignored stories of the Pop world that are so often ignored in favour of the same old easily marketable rubbish. Which meant that Dan Treacy and the Television Personalities paid the price of being strange survivors, eternally overlooked in favour of some other younger, newer distraction. I guess too that I was as guilty of that as anyone.
All of which means I’m not the one to tell you that story, although I do look forward to its telling. I know enough however to know it is a tale of sadness and delight, is a tale of how the greatest songwriters can be forgotten and cast aside, is a tale of warning that tells how the music industry is a filthy hinterland peopled with precious few diamonds. But you knew that part already, didn’t you?
From a purely personal perspective (is there any other more valid in the realm of Pop?) The Television Personalities shone a light at an important point in my life that illuminated the path I was probably destined always to take: a path to the underground, to a place peopled by the naturally strange and magical, the divine and the damned, searching like characters in a Dexys song for ‘something special perhaps.’ And for that I’m eternally grateful.
© 2004 Alistair Fitchett