Ten albums in ten years – ring any bells, people? With Felt it was an accident (Melody Maker, 1989: “What was the best idea you had all year?”; Lawrence: “Break up the band after ten albums and ten singles and pretend it had all been a plan”). With Canadian label The Beautiful Music, however, there is a plan: release ten Television Personalities tribute albums in ten years, featuring 200 songs.
In the liner notes to the first volume, Nikki Sudden writes succinctly about If I Could Write Poetry and cover versions in general:
“I loved this song above all Dan Treacy’s others. I like the Phil Spector wall of sound effect Dan achieved on the original. Even though I changed them slightly I like the original lyrics. When I record a cover I always change one or two sentiments to make the words sound as if I wrote them. There’s no point in recording someone else’s song unless you make it into something of your own.
"Covers rarely capture the grace of the original but Epic and I gave the song a different lilt…”
It’s one of my two or three favourites on the album; the release of the second volume sees The Shambles respond with an equally fine version of If I Could Write Poetry. There are plenty of songs on these volumes that capture what made the TVPs one of the greatest bands the UK’s ever produced: pain, bitterness and stricken emotional outpourings mixed with an acute understanding of punk’s venom, inspired interpretations of simplistic 60s pop with psychedelic flourishes and Dan’s faux-naiveté.
There are some songs I like far more than others, but I’m not going to point the finger at versions I find less favour with, simply because it might just be that I’m too close to the original to properly engage with the new take. And because there are plenty of good songs to paper over any cracks.
It’s an ambitious project and I look forward to seeing what bands come up with in the future. I was particularly pleased, for instance, to hear Phil Wilson cover God Snaps His Fingers on the latest compilation.
Naturally, I would like even more for Dan Treacy to get over the drugs, stop shambling on stage completely drunk and hopeless, and for one of the greatest musical talents this country’s ever produced to be as big as The Beatles (ok, I’ll settle for the Arctic Monkeys’ fame level, then). Because, as things stand, he’s not even got what he set out for, which was to be as infamous and legendary as Syd Barrett.
The man who recorded I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives as a young man in 1980 has spent the subsequent years making brilliant music – and some infuriatingly terrible efforts – and screwing up his life with drugs. The path he’s chosen appears to be one of wilful destruction in the belief that by creating a bewilderingly high number of classics, then making some crap records and disappearing he would be feted as the new Syd Barrett.
It didn’t work like that, of course. Treacy made far too many good records for far too long to be another Barrett. As we know, history repeats itself first as tragedy (Brian Wilson) and second as farce (Dan Treacy). I don’t see a rehabilitation on the cards, but give these tributes a listen.