Confession: I’ve never really bothered with Television Personalities. I’ve been aware of them for as long as I can recall, but have never knowingly listened to them or purposefully sought to explore their work. And there is a lot of it.
John Peel’s approval of their 1978 debut ‘14th Floor’ obviously didn’t harm their early careers, which saw the release of their best-known singles, notably ‘Where’s Bill Grundy Now?’ (which was culturally relevant on release in 1978). It’s ‘14th Floor’ and its B-side, ‘Oxford St., W1’ that opens disc one. Listening to the 21 cuts on the first disc one of ‘Some Kind of Happening’, those three don’t necessarily stand out. Shifting between jangly but jarring post-punk with a proto-indie edge and whimsical Syd Barrett-esque psychedelic folksiness (the Barrett references abound, not least of all with their third single, 1981’s ‘I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives’, and the Barrett cover ‘Apples and Oranges’ which was shelved as a single release),what’s perhaps most remarkable listening with the distance of time and without attachment is just how ordinary a lot of it sounds. It’s not hard to appreciate how ground-breaking it all was back then, and how much of a separation from the luddite tubthumping of punk the jangly and articulate songs were on their day. But since the C86 explosion and, simply, 40 years of musical water under the bridge, most of what Television Personalities is having been there first.
Disc two picks up with 1983’s ‘A Sense of Belonging’, followed by B-Side ‘Paradise Estate’.
There is an unquestionable charm to their ramshackle, underproduced material, that’s half-representative of the period it was made and half-representative of the band’s not giving a crap attitude.
Obviously for fans, it’s a different story; Television Personalities broke that ground and are the band who will forever remain in their hearts. This makes sense. Timing accounts for a lot. There’s also something quintessentially English about them, and their quirky song titles and subject matter (‘Lichtenstein Girl’, ‘Salvador Dali’s Garden Party’ and ‘I Remember Bridget Riley’ all reflect their interest in art) place them as much in a lineage that connects The Kinks and the Bonzo Dog Band.
‘Some Kind of Trip’, which spans the years 1990 to 1994, shows the band as having evolved: with its shuffling rhythm, there’s a slightly baggy indie tinge to ‘Strangely Beautiful,’ and the Pulp-like ‘She’s Never Read My Poems’, and the 7” and 12” or other alternative mixes of lead single tracks reminds us of how multi-format releases were de rigueur during this period. It was bloody annoying then as a collector – regardless of which band you were into, there were always different B-sides and mixes on at least three different formats – and it’s bloody annoying now sifting through
The songs on ‘Some Kind of Trip’ are both less distinctive and less varied, and in the main, the B-sides are actually stronger than the singles themselves. The tracks from the ‘Favourite Films’ release sees the band revisit the psychedelic side of their earlier work, but broadly speaking they sound rooted in the era.
Nevertheless, these two albums plug the gaps in the numerous compilations and collections released previously, going beyond completism with shelved single releases and other bits and bobs like flexi tracks. This does likely make the absence of ‘Your Class’ from 1991’s split single with BMX Bandits more frustrating, but I guess you can’t have everything.