A Full-Time Punk Again
In the late 1970's, the Television Personalities, Daniel Treacy's ramshackle do-it-yourself band, built a sizable cult following by tweaking their London peers with songs like "Part Time Punks." In the 80's, as Mr. Treacy became a darkly powerful songwriter, exploring his fascinations with childhood, Roman Catholicism and the mod movement, one of his best-loved songs was another joke: "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives," about the Pink Floyd founder who "was very famous once upon a time/ And no one knows even if he's alive."
Mr. Treacy himself effectively vanished in the mid-90's after a string of increasingly despondent Television Personalities records, leading to speculation that he was lost to drugs or, worse, was dead. A new generation of shambolic pop bands venerated him or his memory: the second Television Personalities tribute album, "Someone to Share My Life With," has just appeared, and the punk band Mr. T Experience even recorded a song about him, "I Don't Know Where Dan Treacy Lives." In May 2004, though, he surfaced with an e-mail communiqué: he was alive and well and on a prison boat off the south of England, and he was eager to record again.
"I had a bad time: mental illness, drug addiction, homelessness," Mr. Treacy, 45, said recently. "I gave up on music. I was in prison five times — it was all shoplifting to get money to buy drugs, basically." He didn't realize listeners still cared about him, he said, and had been surprised to learn that there were Television Personalities fan sites on the Internet.
Nuns who visited Mr. Treacy in prison gave him a guitar and a keyboard. After his release in June 2004, he formed a new version of the band with his childhood friend Edward Ball, who had played in its earliest lineups, and a group of fans organized a benefit concert to buy studio time. The resulting album, "My Dark Places," is being released this month on the independent label Domino, whose owner, Laurence Bell, has been a Television Personalities buff since he was a 13-year-old part-time punk listening to the radio in 1978.
"My Dark Places" is the band's saddest, most chaotic album. Much of it was improvised in the studio; at times, it recalls Mr. Barrett's edge-of-madness songs. Mr. Treacy's wobbly, desperate vocals suggest that he's on the verge of collapsing into sobs. In fact, he said, he did break down a few times during the recording, overwhelmed by making music for the first time in 11 years. "It's the way I like to work," he added. "I like to hurt when I'm working."
Mr. Treacy remains a contrarian and an acid-tongued critic of pop music. Asked if the new song "All the Young Children on Crack" intentionally echoed his old mod favorite the Creation, he snapped, "I don't do anything intentional!" He paused. "Which is why I was sleeping on the street for years. Maybe if I'd been more intentional I'd be Franz Ferdinand or something. God forbid."