Thursday, August 23, 2007

Midget Submarines

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.


martijn said...

I can only agree with that.

I am a bit suspicious that a lot of people think Dan Treacy's behaviour is "cool" or something. I mean they keep booking him and, apparently, people keep getting excited just from seeing him be on a stage with a guitar. Even though he isn't even capable of playing a song from start to end.

Fire Escape said...

I saw him for the first time in years (for obvious reasons) about 18 months ago. I walked out. Comparing war stories with friends over the next few days revealed all of them left early, too.

There are some people who are indulging Treacy's selfish behaviour, as if his erratic, drunken buffoonery points to a wayward genius at work, when the opposite is true.

martijn said...

I saw him at the Chickfactor anniversary festival in 2004, which was his first post-jail gig, and that wasn't too bad, especially compared to all the stories of later shows.

But I too don't see how he can get away with ruining all of his shows - or just not turning up, for example because he spends his passport-money on booze. I would have hoped that the "(indie)pop scene" would have had a more normal attitude towards their heroes' behaviour.

Fire Escape said...

He needs these gigs because he needs the money and, of course, the free drink that comes with the gig.
Now, if promoters refused to give him a rider, would he still play? And if he will only play while out of his mind, punters have got to be out of their minds to pay for it.
Perhaps the way fowards with Treacy is for people to pay on the way out of the gig (or leave without paying if he's drunk and useless).
Oh, and I would've been at the Chickfactor gig, but I was in Australia then!

Anonymous said...

When Television Personalities played at Triptych in Glasgow the goodwill towards Dan was huge. Everyone was truly supportive and willing him on to be brilliant. He wasn't, of course, and people got increasingly exasperated and left in their droves. It was a real shame. Have you heard 'Are We Nearly There Yet'? Easily one of the worst cds I own ...

Fire Escape said...

Thanks for dropping by. I've added you to the links. I haven't heard AWNTY? I did hear All The Young Children Are On Crack, thought it crap, but bought it anyway as I wanted to take my total of TVPs records to 40. Childish, eh? Still, I didn't have to buy the albums after that...