Television Personalities - A Sense of Belonging - 7"
Once upon a time I was accused of disappearing into my world of books and films where darkness came too soon. Total nonsense of course. There was music too. But the suggestion was that I was missing out. Total nonsense too. Products have so much to teach us. So many stories to tell …
It's not so much that I don't like the Television Personalities. It's just that I tend not to like people who like the Television Personalities. I think the wrong things have been emphasised, and this tragically wacky, goonish side has been played up rather than the things that really matter.
It's like the phrase jangling guitars has come to be used in a derogatory way, but it's easy to forget that the dictionary definition of jangle is something like to sound harshly, as a bell, which is a good thing not whimsy. And so often I've wanted to reclaim Dan Treacy and the TVPs from that world of whimsy. Maybe it was a London loyalty. Maybe it was Alan McGee's enthusiasm. Maybe it was madness. But I tried desperately to raise the standing of the TVPs.
I tried to do my bit at the end of '83 by making them part of the bill at a special 'happening' - a pop art extravaganza, mixing music and cinema. It was going to be an all-nighter at the Electric Cinema in the Portobello Road. It was going to be so special. Three groups. Three Joseph Losey films. I'd made all the right connections, involved all the right people. It seemed to be such a perfect concept. I knew people who knew people at the BFI who could help make it happen.
And the Rough Trade people were all for it, which was important as the Electric was at the heart of their territory. And this was around the time the TVPs were about to put out A Sense of Belonging, and it was going to be massive, and a turning point for the TVPs. They were going to be huge before long. It was like yeah the mainstream were going to have the Smiths and This Charming Man was going to open doors for others, and Sense of Belonging was about to become our Eve of Destruction.
And it started so well. The venue was sorted. No problem there. We'd got our three Losey prints sorted. No problem there either. We'd got the Go-Between lined up, along with Modesty Blaise and King and Country.
So my big plan had been to get the Go-Betweens to head up proceedings, playing live before a screening of the fabulous film of the same name with Alan Bates and the wonderful Julie Christie, who was our patron saint then. And that was my favourite Go-Betweens period in many ways. The angelic Robert Vickers had recently joined on bass, and they were just starting to play songs like The Old Way Out Is Now The New Way In which would later appear on Spring Hill Fair, and Man O'Sand was just about released I think, which was a brilliant single.
And then it seemed perfect to pair the Monochrome Set with Modesty Blaise. Bid as Bogarde? You can see the way I was thinking can't you? The camp charm. The exaggerated elegance. The polo necks and posh accents.
Then voila, the TVPs kicking things off with King and Country. Totally uncoincidentally them having a song of the same name. For me this connection was completely central to the whole thing. King and Country was and is such a great overlooked film from the '60s. The anti-war theme is so powerful, and the on screen performances by Tom Courtenay and Dirk Bogarde so vivid, and as a film it's such a great counter-balance to the received or perceived obsession with swinging '60s grooviness. And the song itself just happens to be the TVPs' greatest moment. A brilliant anti-war song. Like The Jam doing Private Hell, and the Byrds doing Draft Morning.
You've got to remember that at this time people were wetting themselves about Morrissey having read a few books and watched a few films, and throwing great chunks of Shelagh Delaney into his songs, when Dan had been throwing out references to British kitchen sink cinema, though I never understood how they never had a song called It Always Rains On Sundays. I loved that side of the TVPs, as much as I hated all the Syd Barrett/Smashing Time playfulness. My plan was to emphasise the serious side. The new TVPs recordings were meant to be pretty bleak. We know that now of course because those songs became The Painted Word, much later, and of course it's one of those records that have grown in significance and stature. But it took so long to appear. And that was part of the problem, because Rough Trade was teetering on the edge.
If you recall they'd lost Scritti Politti and Aztec Camera, and in many ways they were staking their all on the Smiths. As a result - and this was such a high price to pay - the Go-Betweens weren't provided with money to record, and that delay meant Springhill Fair was not the record it should have been, and the Painted Word was lost for far too long. Then Geoff Travis was getting involved with setting up Blanco y Negro, which the Monochrome Set were reputedly going to be involved with, which was something to do with the reason they decided against playing as part of our show. And somewhere along the way the Go-Betweens pulled out. I can't even remember why. Were they going on tour with Aztec Camera? I can't remember.
Dan wanted Hurrah! They were his favourite group. The Rough Trade people for some reason I never figured didn't like Hurrah! Instead they wanted the Pastels to play, which was a bit ironic as they'd started off on Dan's label. I really hated the Pastels because they were all the worst wacky parts of the TVPs and Swell Maps, but they were good people, and I could live with them being involved.
So we dropped the idea of showing the Go-Between, and went for The Servant instead. Maybe someone secretly thought the Pastels had the same sinister creepiness about them, but I couldn't possibly comment. I just dreaded people turning up like The Legend! All plastic bags and stupid dances.
And as ever when lots of people start chipping in with ideas, it got messy. Some of the Rough Trade people also wanted Microdisney to be part of it, which I struggled with. I mean, where's the Losey tie-in there? Unless you imagine Cathal and Sean looking like inmates from The Criminal. Anyway I really never got Microdisney. It was always a bit too AOR for me. I think I famously once compared them to the Eagles. Though I sort of liked some of the early songs like Hello Rascals and Pink Skinned Man. And they looked so awful.
Dan had the idea of asking the Direct Hits to play, which had a kind of elegance to it as their first single was a paean to the comic strip heroine Modesty, but generally the Direct Hits were a bit too much fab gear beat music for me, like the Rutles without the jokes and songs, though there are plenty of people that swear by the records they recorded for Dan's Whaam!
Anyway, yeah, it all turned sour, and the event got further and further away from what I'd envisaged. Which all sounds like an allegory for pop ... I gave up.
© 2007 John Carney