When it comes to London’s musical history my manor, Stoke Newington, really merits little more than a footnote. Sure us N16ers can claim Marc Bolan and a quite a few of the original 60s Mods. Also Malcolm McLaren allegedly hatched his great idea for punk in the library and in Animals That Swim we boasted perhaps the most underrated band of the late 90s. But that’s fairly slim pickings compared with say Camden or Islington.
Nevertheless in my own parallel pop universe N16 does boast one massive musical landmark, and that is it was the birthplace of an album from one of my favourite bands of the 80s – the Television Personalities.
Never issued at the time, to be honest it was perhaps little more than a series of demos, Beautiful Despair has finally secured a release on CD and lovely white marbled vinyl via Fire Records.
The tracks that comprise the album were recorded in 1990/91just the other (east) side of the High Street in 1990. N16 was a very different place then. Long before the coffee shops, and investor types rocked up, you could still find somewhere to squat. In fact the Glading Terrace flat where the album was recorded was demolished not so long after. I like to think too that the Jowe Head’s abode was almost as ramshackle as this music, for this is the TVPs as their most stripped back – just Dan, Jowe and a four track machine.
The album marked a return to the studio after a two year hiatus. The previous TVPs album Privilege, was recorded a couple of years before but only sneaked out in 1990. With that masterpiece (it is their Queen Is Dead) in the bag Dan began to explore some new musical avenues
Clearly in a fragile state of mind Tracey had written a suite of songs that would ultimately comprise the band’s 1992 album – and the record some fans claims is their masterpiece – Closer to God. Personally I never quite connected with that album in the way that perhaps I should do and in many ways I prefer the sketchier version of the tunes laid down here.
The shambolic take on what would become a key track on Closer to God, Hard Luck Story Number 39, opens the proceedings in style. It is a much lighter and fluffier version than the ‘realised’ take that is on Closer to God. The later take has a unwelcome whiff of grunge (the TVPs supported Nirvana and Kurt Cobain was a huge fan of the band) about it which undermines what I think is a classic tune. Conversely track three How Does It Feel To Be Loved is much more sinister and dark take on a song that would be a later release.
Other highlights include Love Is A Four Letter Word, a slice of indie bubblegum that apparently was a live favourite, and the title track, one of those bleak melancholic melodies that Dan has always been amazing at. Flip to side two and you get a version of Goodnight Mr Spaceman that’s a lot less cheesy than the version on Closer To God, and a stripped down take of one of that album’s finest tunes Honey For The Bears. Its seems a tad slower and to the ears recalls The Pastels or an early incarnation of The BMX Bandits – bands who were very clearly influenced by the TVPs.
My favourite track might just be I Like That In Girl, a short song with comedy vocals that could easily have graced Privilege.
If Closer to God not never been issued and the band had split after these recordings, then I reckon that Beautiful Despair would have been hailed as a minor classic, a last rattly gasp from one of the seminal British post punk bands. Given the lightness of the melodies and the painful lyrics I am not sure an album has ever been more aptly named.
Get it here.