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.


  1. With your permission, may I quote you on our next volume of the TVP tributes. Have I sent you copies of the first few volumes yet?


  2. Permission granted. Look forward to the next volume (you have sent me the previous volumes).

  3. Hello. I came across your website when googling 'dan treacy'. I was wondering how he is-do you know? It's proved difficult to find information. I discovered the TVP a few years ago when a group called 'MGMT' took them on tour with them (obviously it should have been the other way around). TVP were brilliant (I didn't know who they were before the gig). Shambollically brilliant actually.. Shambolic in a very very good way. The young crowd hated them (at least, a voluminous selection anyway). This was mainly due to the brilliantly snider and sneering attitude of dan treacy, including asking the crowd 'why the fuck do you live in Norwich (that's where the gig was, obviously), why don't you move to London?'..which seemed a fair point. However, the crowd tool extreme umbrage with this. The angry crowd added to the caustic vibe of the show, it was great. The music was great. The headliners sounded rather polished and dull after TVP. The singer of MGMT was really flying the TVP flag during their set, they kept telling the crowd what an important group TVP were. The singer seemed rather pissed off by the disrespectful crowd (his every mention of TVP was met with loud boos). Anyway, I have heard very little about TVP since that gig. I hope dan treacy is not too bad. Thanks, Chris

  4. I share a mutual friend with Dan, who told me last year that Dan is much improved but he's suffered permanent damage so is unlikely to ever be fully recovered.

  5. Any word on Treacy in 2015? There is zero info out there about how he is doing.

    Hope you're well, Dan x

  6. I haven't seen any of his friends recently, so don't have an update. I hope he's well, too.

  7. Hi. Anon number 2 here. Any Daniel Treacy updates? There is still zero info available online as far as I can tell... quite sad and strange.

    1. Dan is in residential care and will remain there. If anyone's going to make a public announcement it would be his family or friends, but I'm not sure that's going to happen.

    2. Oh man, I am so sorry to hear that. Devastating news.

      Thank you for your response.

      All the beast,