Saturday, 22 June 2013

About Dan Treacy

There's a big gig in London today marking the release of Scared To Get Happy - A Story Of Indie-Pop 1980-1989, a view of Britain's 1980s indiepop scene.

The obvious - if understandable, for health reasons - omission from the gig is the Television Personalities. This is the band who by sheer force of power rather than design influenced the indiepop scene more than anyone or anything else in the 80s. Their influence continues to resonate across the world. I hear it in new records I buy every week.

A couple of years ago, an upmarket art magazine asked me to contribute something to their Syd Barrett-themed issue. The parallels between Barrett and Treacy, I thought, would make an interesting article. That article is below; and if you're not going to the gig today you could do worse than play some TVPs. Without them, some of the bands playing that gig wouldn't exist and many other bands would sound all the poorer.

If you’re asking who England’s greatest songwriter is, then the field’s wide open; if you’re asking who’s the greatest English songwriter, someone who captures the peculiarities and eccentricities of English suburbia and under-achievement, then it’s a much narrower field. Ray Davies would probably win, but he’d be chased by, among others, Elvis Costello, Jarvis Cocker, Robyn Hitchcock and Syd Barrett. There’d be a core of support, too, for Dan Treacy of the Television Personalities, whose work has close parallels to Barrett’s.

To Pink Floyd fans, the Television Personalities (TVPs) will be known for their 1981 single I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives, and subsequent booking by David Gilmour to support him on his About Face tour. Dan Treacy used the London gig as an opportunity to read out Barrett’s home address, causing the TVPs to be booted off the tour.

Fans of post-Barrett Pink Floyd, those who might prefer their music to be guided by the values of pomp and virtuosity, wouldn’t like anything by the TVPs. Fans of Barrett’s solo albums, which soundtrack the harrowing sound of mental descent next to childlike naivety, will notice a kinship with Treacy’s instinct for portraying loneliness and psychedelic silliness cheek-by-jowl.

The Painted Word, recorded after Treacy suffered two nervous breakdowns, is one of the great lost albums. Fear and paranoia (You’ll Have To Scream Louder) meet drug dependency (A Life Of Her Own) and an urge to escape to childhood (Happy All The Time). With its bleak outlook, shambolic tendencies and sad nostalgia, you could file The Painted Word (un)happily next to The Madcap Laughs and Barrett.

Much of the TVPs’ reputation rests on their frenzied mod-punk and unashamedly amateurish attitude to the recording studio. Alan McGee wrote in the Guardian that Treacy “provided the inspiration and motivation for me to start [Creation Records]... He captured British pop culture in a particularly unique and musical fashion, and where he went I followed”.

1980s indie would have sounded very different without Treacy. The international indie underground would sound very different today, too, had it not been for Treacy. His bare honesty, direct DIY approach and emotional fragility have made him one of the biggest influences on that scene in the past decade, revered by the latest generation of hip guitar bands as at least a touchtone and in many cases as their founding father.

McGee’s wish for Treacy to be made “legendary in his own time” will most likely remain unfulfilled. Had Pink Floyd disbanded after Barrett’s departure then their legacy would be, like Barrett’s solo adventure, not much more than a captivating entry in rock’s back pages. Pink Floyd’s later global success as a prog rock outfit could only come from a band with a totally different outlook to Barrett’s idiosyncratic mindset. It’s the serious, adult rock of the later Pink Floyd that’s offered rich commercial pickings for contemporary groups such as Radiohead and Coldplay; Treacy’s influence, pace Barrett, may be scored deeply on the hearts of thousands of bands outside of the mainstream, but you’d never hear their music in an elevator.

Like Barrett, Treacy has aggravated his mental health issues with drug use. The past twenty years have been creatively patchy for Treacy and included periods when he’s disappeared (and, in one case, imprisoned). Some fans have courted the idea that Treacy deliberately took himself down the path of drug addiction and vanishing from public to draw comparisons to Barrett.

Phil Wilson, a friend of Treacy’s and a contemporary on the 80s indie scene as lead singer of The June Brides, said: “There was always a bit of Syd about Dan. I thought at the time that Dan would not mind at all being his generation's Syd Barrett. Maybe he didn't have enough self-belief to think that he could be the next Ray Davies, but that being a cult figure would be pretty cool, instead.”

Some similarities between Barrett and Treacy may be coincidental; certainly, many connections could be attributed to Barrett’s influence on Treacy. Ultimately, though, both are musical outsiders, mentally troubled artists with drug problems, largely indifferent to public opinion and prevailing tastes.

Wilson suggests a link between these outsiders: “Maybe it's the very English eccentricity that many adore in both Syd and Dan. Nobody wrote lines like Treacy’s ‘We went to a Wimpy Bar, but it wasn't all that nice’ or ‘And we both felt slightly embarrassed in Soho’. You look at them and they look banal, but in the context of the songs they are spot on. Almost like a character in an Alan Bennett play. It's that attention to detail that lifted Dan above what others were doing at the time.”

That time for Treacy, like Barrett, has passed. Shine on you crazy diamonds.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Tyrannosaurus Dead

This kind of high velocity fuzz and seesaw melody doesn't need a second invitation. Buried In The Ground - the first track off Tyrannosaurus Dead's first record, out right now on OddBox - barges in like a faster, more brutal take on Dignan Porch's Picking Up Dust.

This is an EP that knows the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart were at their best and most exciting before they got a producer (This Love Is Fucking Right!) and the only records Ride made that really matter were their first two EPs.

Tyrannosaurus Dead add to the new British bands' buzz - they've got Playlounge's thrash aesthetic and Joanna Gruesome's frenzied pop - with their own controlled chaos. They even got me pulling out those old This Poison! records, so thanks for that as well.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

East Village: Drop Out reissued

East Village stood out in Britain's late 80s post-indiepop wasteland (back then, there were a lot of bands who were pretty ordinary, who celebrated their ordinariness, who thought that just because they could do it meant that they should). East Village wrote classic songs that, 25 years on, have lasted. Not many bands have done that.

Just their two EPs in 1988, Back Between Places and Cubans In The Bluefields, would have been enough to secure their place in whatever personal music pantheon I’ve created since then. I know they inspired similar devotion in others.

There was no other British band doing anything like this then - mod’s second-wave immediacy (The Jam, say, but Paul and Martin Kelly insist they were only influenced by their own obsession, Slough’s The Onlookers) by way of Aztec Camera’s High Land, Hard Rain's dramatic intimacy, the menacing beauty of Dylan’s Highway 61 and The Byrds’ ringing guitars. Remember, this was the year of The Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane and that’s the closest contemporary reference point.

You should’ve seen them live. Like their records, they burned with an intensity found only in a band with three songwriters. I saw some great gigs when I was 15 (My Bloody Valentine weren’t too shabby then, you know) but East Village trumps them all. When anyone asks me what my favourite-ever gig was, that night when they blew McCarthy off stage comes to mind.

Whether you bought East Village’s one album, Drop Out, in 1993 or when it was reissued in Japan a decade later, I’m certain that you hold it to close to your heart. Dear friends, if you’re reading this and you don’t love Drop Out then I’ll be unable to look at you in quite the same way again.

And here’s the press release, written by Bob Stanley (who financed Drop Out’s original release and wrote the sleeve notes for it):

East Village

Announce re-release of debut album – August 19th 2013. Heavenly Recordings.

East Village were perfectly named, reminiscent of both New York's sixties boho scene and somewhere secluded, somewhere down a b-road in Bucks. Twenty years ago they released their sole album, Drop Out, a nest of chest-high guitars and chiming melancholia. By the time it came out, the four-piece had broken up and moved on. Listening to it now, it feels like an elegy for a particular brand of eighties guitar music, sweet minor chords and Dylanesque lyrics, the kind practised by the Go Betweens, the Weather Prophets, the kind that was caught between stools then and is much missed now.

Guitarist Paul Kelly was a trained pilot. He was also a trained carpenter. This doesn't seem that surprising - East Village's guitar lines sounded wood-carved. Their most mysterious member, and primary songwriter, was called John Wood, like the architect behind Bath. There is classicism at work here too.

East Village's output was small but faultless. Four singles, the first as Episode Four, a flexidisc, the posthumous Drop Out, and a compilation of odds and ends called Hotrod Hotel. All of the original records go for silly money; the Episode Four EP will set you back at least £200. Their last single, Circles, was arguably their best with its two chord organ underpinning autumnal guitar lines that build and build, not unlike of New Order's Ceremony. It may be cold outside, but here's something decidedly warm.

Paul Kelly has gone on to become a respected film-maker, with screenings at the BFI, the London Film Festival and, this year, a retrospective in New York. Bassist Martin Kelly set up Heavenly Recordings with Jeff Barrett, managed Saint Etienne, and now runs Heavenly Films. Drummer Spencer Smith set his heart on becoming the Jason King of Dorset, and is often to be found at his local club. John Wood was rumoured to be living in Japan, where East Village are talked about with great seriousness.

A reunion toured of the far east was recently offered but rejected. This was a place, and a point in time; East Village found somewhere of their own, a neglected spot on the map between the scratchiness of eighties indie and the rise of house. If you ever passed through it, you wouldn't forget it.

Bob Stanley 2013

Monday, 10 June 2013

Nacho Business: I Wanna Talk To You

This is peppy pop with punk bite that could turn autumn to spring. They've got the thrash throwdown of fellow Californians Sourpatch and the punchy hooks of neighbours Sweater Girls (now there's a gig that should happen) and this, just their second 7" in 2 years, reveals that the Ramones' template is the gift that keeps on giving. What's that? Yes, there's some Aislers Set in there, too. It's a knockout pop hit, three times over.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Alex Bleeker and the Freaks: How Far Away

Alex Bleeker's debut ep three years ago, These Days, showed that the Real Estate bassist's moonlighting project was at least on terms with his main band. The subsequent album let that promise slide into a pick-up band of mates with no greater aim than jamming after listening to Neil Young's Zuma.

How Far Away, though, takes up These Days' suggestions - Bob Dylan, Teenage Fanclub, The Byrds - and widens the AM radio vibe. Imagine if The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian had taken up the offer to join Crosby, Stills and Nash. Or if Jerry Yester had produced Stephen Stills' solo albums.

The only two contemporary albums from the American underground that have succeeded in carving their own niche out of the 60's US leftfield pop canon and still sounding vital are The Grand Archives' debut and The Mountain Movers' We've Walked in Hell and There Is Life After Death. How Far Away joins them.