I Would Write a Thousand Words: A Tribute to Television Personalities, Volume Two
The Beautiful Music
enuflect before the ever-ambitious Indie Endeavor: Sufjan Stevens’ muzzled guilt over failing American geography, the Wedding Present’s menstrual cycle punctuality in 1992 (a single ovulated every four weeks), and Lawrence Hayward’s rather barmy pledge to release 10 LPs in a decade with his band Felt. The critics piss: “Ambition is the last refuge of failure.” Well, maybe just Oscar Wilde, but I’m willing to cut the velvet-swathed aesthete a little slack since he did dress like Nikki Sudden.
All this segues to the next ever-ambitious Indie Endeavor (which, yes, does feature the legendary Sudden): the Beautiful Music’s ongoing 10-volume tribute to Television Personalities, one of England’s most influential, yet enigmatic, indie pop acts. Wally Salem, founder of the Beautiful Music, has likely typed out enough I-shit-you-not-it’s-really-10-volumes! missives to cap his Gmail storage capacity, but the motivation for such a prodigious project is pretty clear: “Ambition is the last refuge of failure.” In this case, it’s a recognition that past endeavors have flopped (i.e., Kurt Cobain having TVPs open for Nirvana in 1991) in dilating the rather minimal appreciation this band has garnered since its inception in 1977. So, why not a 10-volume tribute?
Salem’s smartest decision was to corral artists who once hobnobbed with our artful dodgers. Sure, it’s swell to hear San Diego’s the Shambles reframe the disconsolate “If I Could Write Poetry I Would” with surf-crashing cymbal hits and a glistening opening melody lifted straight from a Lita Ford / Ozzy Osbourne ballad, but the tracks by those artists with a connection to the TVPs are the real gems. Hearing renditions by Sudden, and brother Epic Soundtracks, Phil Wilson, and The Legend!, one discerns an intense, personal investment in their covers. These were gig cohorts, fellow lager-eaters – chums who wanted TVPs to achieve Wembley-playing success as much as Dan Treacy, Edward Ball, Jowe Head, et al., did themselves. (Quick aside: My favorite anecdote from that time period involves a concerned Sudden noticing the master tapes to the TVPs’ first two albums lying against a record player speaker in Treacy’s flat and informing him this would ruin the tapes; six months later Sudden returned to find the tapes still resting there.)
Swell Maps (Sudden and Soundtracks) deliver a hissing, one-take version of the slapdash, bluesy “14th Floor” (salvaged from a 1978 recording session). Sudden then returns for a stirring-slash-shambling performance of “If I Could Write Poetry” (cut back in 1986 at John Rivers’ legendary Woodbine Street Recording Studios), his voice pure street-corner Dylan. Wilson, who once performed with the TVPs at Alan McGee’s Living Room club in the early Eighties, polishes “God Snaps His Fingers” with lounge-act textures and scabrous guitar, before giving way to The Legend! (another Living Room regular and the pseudonym of journalist Everett True), who drops one of his customary tuneless performances: a 2003 live cut of “Look Back in Anger.”
Jonathan Caws-Elwitt tackles another track from the seminal ...And Don’t the Kids Just Love It, the synthetic constructs in his “Geoffrey Ingram” a slight nod to TVPs dipping their beaks in electronica on their last two albums. Sweden’s the Airwaves and the Mandervilles vivify a pair of classics—“Part Time Punks” and “Where’s Bill Grundy Now?” respectively—with garage rock aplomb. And “Girl at the Bus Stop” is pepped up considerably by BMX Bandits, an act that built a career on Treacy’s self-deprecation and waggish airs.
Their lo-fi brittle and dilettante chord play pressed TVPs’ with an undeniable human gleam, but what made the band’s catalogue truly singular was its capacity to make you comfortable with your humanity. You were bound to the 14th floor of your tower block, you couldn’t dance like Bobby Gillespie, you were only the grocer’s daughter—so fucking what. Your personal boundaries were made evident—always done with a dash of Treacy wit, however, to take away the sting—and then you quickly learned to slog and love and bloom within them.
Handled by lesser gods, though never guilty of being prosaic, the cover songs on I Would Write a Thousand Words forces you to recognize those qualities all over again.
Reviewed by: Ryan Foley
Reviewed on: 2007-08-28