Television Personalities are back on the box

Once, indie pioneer Daniel Treacy of Television Personalities could count Kurt and Courtney among his fans. Gavin Martin talks to a cult hero returned from a nether world
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The Independent Culture

Daniel Treacy is apologetic. He is sitting on a North London park bench on a bitterly cold morning. Nursing an ear infection and cold, he's sniffling down a crackly mobile phone. "I'm making a short film about dogs and their owners," he explains. "It's called Twin Pekes."

Treacy is evidently making up for lost time; for much of the past 10 years he has been missing/presumed dead, a victim of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. In 1977, Treacy was 17 and living in a tower block on the Kings Road. Raised partly there and partly, for reasons he has never fully understood, with family in rural Ireland, he formed the Television Personalities with Chelsea school pals Jo Foster and Ed Ball.

Perfectly placed to watch punk's rise and fall, the group's early wry social commentaries "14th Floor", "Part Time Punks" and "Where's Bill Grundy Now?" became John Peel favourites and helped inaugurate the DIY British indie scene. Ball and Foster went on to pursue other projects but would return to help Treacy, the TVPs' major songwriter, to craft increasingly raw and emotionally-wracked albums.

A small but rabid American following bolstered the band's status as Brit indie pioneers. Creation Records boss (and Oasis discoverer) Alan McGee credited them as a key inspiration. Kurt and Courtney were fans and Debbie Harry came to see them when they played New York.

On the strength of the affectionate "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives", Pink Floyd's David Gilmour gave them a tour support slot, but hastily withdrew the offer when they announced the drug-damaged Floyd legend's actual address to the crowd on the opening date of the tour.

Treacy became a friend of uber-fan Evan Dando during the Lemonheads frontman's sojourn in London. "He knew everything about the band - I was amazed. He got me into ecstasy - a nice crazy guy."

But it was then, in the mid-90s, that Treacy, increasingly prone to depression, onstage crack-ups and drug abuse, began his slide in to a nether world of addiction, hostel-life and jail terms. Disconnected from friends and family, many presumed the worst.

The new Television Personalities single, "All The Young Children On Smack", is their first in 11 years and a taste of the forthcoming album My Dark Places. Like so much of Treacy's work, it is the product of personal experience. His heroin addiction started when a long-term relationship foundered and he sought emotional comfort in the drug. "If you start taking heroin often enough it, does for you. Pills and speed were never a problem," he says, not entirely convincingly.

"When we went on tour the driver would turn up with a bag of pills in one hand and a bag of coke in the other - enough for a 30-date tour. But I don't find that stuff's addictive. But when heroin gets its hooks in, you're fucked.

"Living in the hostels, there's no way out of the drug trap. Your payday becomes everyone else's payday and vice versa - its all there is to do, a cycle you can't get out of."

In between the hostel-living there were spells spent in prison for shoplifting. It was while serving a term - last year on the HMP Weare docked near Plymouth - that his comeback began. "There's been exposés about drugs in there but I never saw much of it," he says. "The people were really easy-going compared to Brixton where there's real psychos upstairs."

At Weare he started using computers for the first time and discovered a web community of Television Personalities fans speculating on his whereabouts. Treacy cleared up the mystery by writing a letter to Iain Baker, an old friend, now a DJ at XFM.

Encouraged by the reaction, Treacy began to write songs for the first time in a decade, using guitars and keyboards loaned to him by a kindly nun who visited the prison. "I wrote a lot of the stuff for the new album in prison," he says. "They are not prison songs but that's where the ideas came to me."

Discordant and abrasive yet oddly affecting, the blend of naked emotion and lo-fi approach on My Dark Places confirms Treacy's role as an underground icon. The album was financed by another old acquaintance Laurence Bell, now supremo of the hip and happening Domino Records - the home of Franz Ferdinand and The Arctic Monkeys.

He has no plans to take the album on the road, though. "I don't think we will tour but there will be one-off gigs. Part of me fears that on tour temptation would rear its head. I'm prepared for people to turn up and stare; I guess Pete Doherty gets that, but its stupid to pull us into the Babyshambles scene. Any scene we're meant to have started was purely inadvertent.

"I'm frustrated at how long it's taken the album to come out but that's the nature of the music business. I'm sure there'll be a follow-up but I've also been offered a book contract and my first art show. I'm leaning toward making movies, I've got a lot of good friends and a lot of ideas I want to explore," he smiles.

"All the Young Children on Smack" is out now on Domino Records