Graham Reid | | 4 min read
And when it enters popular music – the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, the Soft Boys, Half Man Half Biscuit and so many others – the performers bring a curious humour which can be part satirical, part wry social observation and often droll and funny.
Who could resist Half Man Half Biscuit on the basis of these album titles: Achtung Bono, Trouble Over Bridgwater and No One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fucking Hedge Cut?
Or songs by the Soft Boys – helmed by Robyn Hitchcock – such as The Yodelling Hoover, School Dinner Blues and Sandra's Having Her Brain Out?
When punk cleared the decks and made the stage available to all-comers, any number of eccentric British acts clambered up to the microphone, among them the teenage Dan Treacy from London who was inspired by the Sex Pistols and fronted/wrote for the ever-changing line-ups of Television Personalities.
TVP were initially fuelled by a certain amount of punk cynicism and anger (the yobbo-minimalist pop of their early single Oxford St W1 and poke at the fakers on Part Time Punks) but even from the beginning there was wit on display: Where's Bill Grundy Now? about the Pistols notorious TV appearance opens with the melody of the soft-pop Sixties hit Windy.
I Still Believe in Magic is like a tribute to the sentiments of the Lovin' Spoonful's hit, but after a few years into the relationship when “sorry” needs to be said to the magical love.
They prodded middle-class lives (Fulfilling the Contractual Obligations) as well as weekend punks (Posing at the Roundhouse), and ridiculed many aspects of pop culture yet paid respect on the very Barrett-like I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives (they covered Barrett's Apples and Oranges.)
Treacy referenced the visual arts (Lichtenstein Girl, the noisy Salvador Dali's Garden Party, the dry Remember Bridget Riley) and of course political figures were in their sites as on She's Only the Grocer's Daughter (about Margaret Thatcher).
There can be a touch of Ray Davies' Englishness about Treacy's writing (King and Country which opens with a left-field nod to the Byrds' Eight Miles High and “you all polish your medals on a wet weekend . . . and tell romantic stories about the war”, and on drone snapshots of British life as on Paradise Estate).
They were signed to Creation early on and the label's owner Alan McGee says they were a huge influence of many of their peers, among them the young Smiths and the La's. You can certain hear Parklife-era Blur and Madness on 81's Geoffrey Ingram.
And damned if A Girl Called Charity doesn't anticipate late period Jam when Weller discovered the driving bass and neat of soul . . . although in TVP's hands it comes out rather skeewiff.
Always under-rehearsed – in fact it seems Treacy rarely bothered with such a thing – they had a wonderfully jangly, untutored pop sensibility early, as you can hear on the first disc of the two double CD reissues Some Kind of Happening, Singles 1978-1989.
But they were musically smart and stretched beyond folk-pop punk primitivism very quickly as the title of the second disc reveals, and more specifically on the second double set: Some Kind of Trip, Singles 1990-1994 (both sets through Fire Records in the UK, distributed by Southbound in New Zealand).
They went from elemental post-punk music to folkadelic and psychedelic rock (the Creations' Biff Bang Pow! and This Time There's No Happy Ending were pure power-pop), and Treacy's sensitivities emerged (Miracles Take Longer) alongside the humour.
Their third album was titled They Could Have Bigger Than the Beatles (it followed Mummy Your Not Watching Me [sic]).
And Kurt Cobain who invited Treacy to open for Nirvana in London in '91.
If you like the Smiths' album cover references you have hear Treacy's list on Favourite Films. (Wendy Craig inna house!)
Those who engaged with Flying Nun acts early on would find much to enjoy, respect and connect with in Treacy's music across these compilations.
At time he has a similar warm heart as Martin Phillipps (Strangely Beautiful which opens the terrific guitar-driven second double-set of much more wide-screen and churning pop in these retrospectives).
And the 12 inch remixes on the latter compilation are very cool, and when he sings “but that's okay” on the remix of She's Never Read My Poems it is heartbreaking (but also typically funny and self-deprecating if you listen what he says afterwards).
Those curious about what Dan Treacy is up to these days – there have been health issues – can search for themselves, but here all Elsewhere wants to do is acknowledge a great English eccentric who did things his own way without the expectation of fame, acclaim or whatever else attends making music of the kind you just want to.
One of his most moving and revealing songs – when the mask briefly dropped – is Christ Knows I've Tried.
And Christ knows, Dan Treacy damn well did.
These two double CD collections also come in various vinyl iterations (limited 12 inch doubles with singles). See Southbound Records in New Zealand for more information.