They Could Have Been Bigger Than Elvis
A Ten Year History Of The Times, The TV Personalities, The Teenage Filmstars and O Level
by Edward Ball from Spiral Scratch #11 - Dec 89
Dan Treacy (extract from Television Personalities Fan Club Feb 85)
TEN YEARS AGO TO GO
ZERO DE CONDUITE
I lived around the corner from Dan Treacy and even though we both went to the same God-fearing Catholic grammar school, London Oratory in Fulham, wed never really spoken to each other. That is until wed got put in the same classes at fourth form. Although we were quite different, we did discover that we had common interests in music and that we both had guitars. I introduced Dan to some of my pals, John and Gerrard Bennet, who Id known since primary school. They had a drum kit and various amps in their basement. Another was Joe Foster, proud owner of a Rickenbacker copy and a bloody-minded nature that endeared him to us all. The four of us would get together at weekends and play Who, Beatles and Pink Floyd numbers, or rather Dan would want to be Pete Townsend. I would teach them all Beatles songs and Joe would play a lot of rubbish and say it was Interstellar Overdrive!
But it didnt last. By 1976 Dan and Joe left school while John, Gerrard and myself stayed on to do our exams and to write a high school opera (well, it was a fuckin damn-sight better than doing a Shakespeare for the millionth year running!) called Carrie-Lou; a cross between the Cinderella script with early rocknroll style songs - but the project was all in vain, as the Youth Theatre director rejected it as unsuitable. I can tell you, there was no frightfulness these Catholic teachers wouldnt employ. What we had to do, therefore, was to show our enemy that when it came to frightfulness we could be pretty frightful ourselves. So we pissed in the old bastards tea !
THE FIRST FIVE YEAR PLAN
"Theyd like to buy the O Level single"
Theres this thing going on all over the land - Punk its called. It seems to be opening doors for more Pop opportunities and then again it just looks like an apprenticeship scheme for New Heroes. To my mind, Punk was unacceptable on two levels; on the one hand churning out the 'I wish I had my this in your that - Id like you to verb my noun until I verb mentality that the execrable protofascist junk heavy metal bands had been regurgitating for years. The other was guilt/political urge, Show us a petition and well sign it, show us a parade and well march sort of attitude. The Stranglers were runaway winners in the first category while The Clash will do for the second.
But for John, Gerrard and me, the idea that anyone could pick up an instrument and play in front of an audience was enough and together we formed a band whose names and deeds were, if not told throughout the English-speaking countries of the world, then at least throughout the classrooms of our school. Wed suddenly become Young Poets with Buzzsaw Drones and just to state our case we called ourselves O Level. I was still in contact with Dan, who was working now. Both of us were particularly inspired by the exploits of The Desperate Bicycles and their Xerox records and we vowed to make a single if it was the only thing we ever did. And after much anguishing counting our pennies, Dan booked three hours in a recording studio, asking me to join him on drums. Not sharing his confidence in my drumming abilities, I persuaded him to use John and Gerrard as well. That Saturday we walked out of the studio with 14th Floor and Oxford St. under Dans arm.
There was no turning back now, as John, Gerrard and Myself hired that same studio to record two songs straight off, East Sheen and Pseudo Punk. Unfortunately, Dan hadnt been able to press up 14th Floor yet and in a fit of depression, he sent a test pressing marked TV Personalities to John Peel. The first important step had been made, Peel played it and loved it. I sent him a copy of East Sheen which the BBC promptly banned for obscenity. We were dead proud. Rough Trade and Small Wonder record shop snapped up all the copies of both. Dan had made his record, wed become heroes of the sixth form, and that was that.
But there had to be more to it than that and, as we all know, of course, there was. By now, John and Gerrard had put together a band of their own called Reacta, leaving me with the name O Level.
I was on my own like Dan, so we pooled our resources by starting a label and a fanzine, both called Kings Road. In August 1978 we went into IPS Studios to record the TV Personalities EP Wheres Bill Grundy Now?. This time I did have the confidence to play drums as well as chipping in the spontaneous backing vocals. Dan did the rest. It was all first takes of songs the night before. How I marvelled at his lyrics on the way to the studio! One week later I recorded the second O Level record, The Malcolm McLaren Life Story EP, entirely on my own, playing all the instruments myself. Despite Mr. McLaren threatening me with injunction and Steve Jones belly, both EPs came out in November of that year, with mine getting a stunning Single of the Week review in NME and John Peel playing all four tracks on his show. But the real breakthrough was Part Time Punks on the Grundy EP. Peel went mad over it, the press went mad over it and so nearly did Dan, glueing the sleeves for 20,000 records. Soon after, Rough Trade released it on their own label and sold another 15,000 copies!
But apart from making friends with the likes of The Swell Maps, Scritti Politti and Thomas Leer, none of this turned out a success as Dan went into a depression and I went back to IPS again! I recorded two songs, Hes A Professional and The John Peel March, both of which I intended to be the third O Level single, but something happened and it got shelved.
PATRICK McGOOHAN ESCAPES AND SYD BARRETT LIVES
Suddenly, its April 1979 and the four of us, that is Dan Treacy, Joe Foster (yes, hes cropped up again), Paul Damien (another chum from school) and myself are in IPS trying to make non-sense of my songs. Ive asked Dan to play bass and thats fine, but Joes complaining that theres four songs, so why cant we sing one each and Paul keeps losing his trousers, Keith Moon-style. Theres a single in all this and its the first Teenage Filmstars one at that, on my very own Clockwork Records.
John Peel took (Theres A) Cloud Over Liverpool as a personal anthem and would often play it preceded by an account of the latest exploits of Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool FC! Stephen of The Pastels once described it as "a study of working class life in England" and as "quite beautiful". I think youre quite beautiful too, Stephen! (Interesting note. This single got a second lease of life twelve months later when US record shops ordered it by the crateload, believing it to be a tribute to John Lennon whod just been shot in New York. Stupid bastards!)
A year and a half in the doldrums artistically and Dan was now ready to come and play. Once again he asked me to come join him on the drums and despite having to play along with a rhythm box (the studio forgot to hire a kit for the first two days), it turned out well and provided the third TV Personalities single Smashing Time/King and Country on Rough Trade. Simultaneously, I was preparing the second Teenage Filmstar single, So Far. My train of thought went as though Id just brewed up a whole potful of espresso and injected it straight into a vein. "Weve made five singles between us and none of them has cost more than thirty pounds to record. Hmmm . . . working in the arts can be a frustrating as well as a fascinating business! . . . just doesnt seem to be enough time and money to get the job done . . . and you cant argue with a recording budget and a 2K advance. Thing is, it stinks of popular capitalism to me . . . Fuck it, lets sign to a major!" And thats exactly what happened. I booked a weekend in a 16-track studio outside London to record Odd Man Out and Apologise. Fully intending to record by myself again, Paul Damien convinced me the night before to take him as well. Armed with one of Edwin Starrs session men to play the brass parts, we made a ska-pop single that Pye Records released on a subsidiary called Blueprint in June 1980. After they paid us our advance they went bust. Ha, tough shit sucker!
Smashing Time and Joe Fosters truly brilliant first single as The Missing Scientists, a fab version of Dandy Livingstones Big City, were both released around the same time on Rough Trade.
So what could I do next? After a handful of indie hit singles, a one-off with a major where I laughed all the way to the bank, there was only one thing to do, and that was to come out of bedrooms and do some gigs. Gigs!? I hear you scream in disgust. Tarnishing our immortal work with motorway caff grease and stubborn biological stains. But as someone very arty once said, "A Thing Locked In A Cage, Puts All Heaven In Rage", and now was the time to come out of our bedrooms and organise some happenings. Paul Damien and I were getting on quite nicely really, so all that was needed was someone to hold a bass guitar. Enter John East, tall good-looking, general nice guy who knows how to hold a bass. He can even play pretty well too! Its all looking fairly serious now, what with real musicians and stuff. In fact, Dan has got together with Joe and a drummer boy, Mark Sheppard, who wants to be called Empire and The TV Personalities and The Teenage Filmstars are playing live together.
It soon gets unbelievably groovy for Dan, Joe and Empire, who do the only TVPs Peel session and a residency in Germany. As for me, my waking hours were becoming one long colourized post-dubbed movie, all my dreams had sub-titles and my ears were ringing with the crunching of popcorn! So I bought some jodhpurs, a clapperboard, re-christened myself Lindsay Anderson and stayed at home making my super-8 films. One evening while I was doing a spot of celluloid editing, Empire phoned. It transpired that Dan and Joe were stranded in Berlin and he begged John and I to stand in for them, to masquerade as The TV Personalities at the Rock Garden that very same night. It was a great gig - we got two encores. The funny thing was, the promoter never knew the difference and neither did many of the audience!
In October we began work in our new medium, the Long-Play record. Dan was having Personality disorders with Joe and Empire and in the end, Joe had to sit this one out. Dan and Mark recorded fourteen songs and I played bass on five of them. The sum of this amounted to the first TV Personalities album And Dont The Kids Just Love It released on Rough Trade.
Meanwhile, John East, Paul Damien and myself released the third and final Teenage Filmstars single I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape in November 1980 on another new label, Fab Listening. This tied in neatly with the TVPs companion single I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives on Rough Trade. Both these Artyfacts became fashionable anthems for the Rent-An-Incrowd that was about to drop out of the sky like a huge lump of blackcurrant jelly.
Hamlet, the Choral Symphony, The Theory of Relativity, Gaui, Schoenberg, Picasso, Gilbert and George, Treacy and Ball, the list is endless. One fanzine somewhere in Scotland even compared us to Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, though I think we owed more to Laurel and Hardy, to be honest.
In the same month The Teenage Filmstars rang down the curtain and joined the choir invisible, John, Paul and I recorded an albums worth of material - Go! With The Times!, my winter collection of 1980 plus a few cover versions. This twelve-song set was recorded in just 48 hours, during which we metamorphosised into The Times. Dan, with the aid of Empire and a bassist called Bernie, decided to start afresh with The Gifted Children. To go with our new identities we created Whaam! records, our first joint label since Kings Road, and our original roster was going to include The Dolly Mixtures and Nikki Suden but both fell through. Instead, our first releases were The Times Red With Purple Flashes and The Gifted Childrens Painting By Numbers in March 1981, to reasonable reviews, considering that we played down our past ventures.
There was now the serious business of a TVPs UK tour to attend to, and with Bernie disappearing nearly as soon as hed arrived, we took to the road with arguably the TVPs finest line-up ever; Dan on guitar, me on bass and Empire on drums. Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Brighton, Hertford (where we discovered The Marine Girls), Salisbury Plain, Coventry, Hitchen, Crewe, the London Venue twice (once with The Monochrome Set, the other with Robyn Hitchcock) . . . up and down the motorway. When we returned to London it was straight back into the studio to capture what wed learnt. At this time I was writing songs that, translated into visual terms, had strong horizontal and vertical lines with boxes in red and blue . . . by God, my mind was painting me a gallery-full of Mondrians in words and music! During the months of June and July, John, Paul and I, with Dan, recorded Pop Goes Art!, while Dan, Mark and I committed Mummy Youre Not Watching Me to tape. By August, both albums were put into production while this same TVPs line-up took the Word of Whaam! on tour again, this time to Holland. The highlight of this trip had to be the Milky Way, a hippy haven of drugs and things across the road from the local Police station!
Upon our arrival home, Pop Goes Art!, Mummy Youre Not Watching Me and the Marine Girls LP Beach Party were released as a Whaam! triple broadside to thunderous applause from the press. By this time, the Psychedelic Revival along with self-appointed figureheads Mood Six was holding the music papers to ransom, but it was fun going to the notorious Groovy Cellar making pals with bands like The Silence, Miles Over Matter and spilling our pints over Boy George and Paul Weller.
Eventually Dan and I practically took it over, turning it into Whaam! events with spray paintings, slides and films. Times gigs had become similar events, as one night playing at The Clinic I indulged in some body painting, wearing a white jump-suit, while Dan sawed his guitar in half before setting it on fire! Glen Matlock was in the front row on this particular occasion and as I was playing bass (John deciding that psychedelia wasnt his cup of vomit), I phoned him up the next day offering him the job of Times bass player. Hes obviously a mental retard, as he turned down this rather golden opportunity to rectify his thus-far Not Credible career.
Another memorable Times gig from this period was the Rock Garden, where we came on dressed in full Jam regalia, to a stoned paisley audience reeking of patchouli. We scared the shit out of them with a brilliant impersonation of the Working Three, complete with angry scowls and gruff voices. Suddenly, Hugh Scully on Nationwide At Six is telling the country that the Psychedelic Movement is A-OK BABY! No Grundy versus the Pistols here, just Auntie Beeb putting a reassuring arm around a favourite nephews shoulders. Its Time! gets played on the same feature and my PRS airplay cheque says thats A-OK too. In fact, you can stick on another couple of merit stars on our credibility chart as our version of Dangerman gets played at closedown!
But going the same way all fashions and trends in this intensely fashionable and trendy decade have gone, the harmless revival was bastardised by the cold, calculating hand of the Music Biz. Warner Brothers, who were putting together a compilation of all the bands involved, requested I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape and for a laugh we agreed. The whole candy-flavoured affair turned sour when they failed to release our track as a single (despite Mike Read playing it constantly on his Radio One Breakfast Show) and so for copyright reasons a third recording had to be made. Dear Warner, may you and your spazzy brothers rot in Hell!
It had its compensations though, as we got to make a marvellous video for it, directed by young film-maker Nick Morris, who went on to make promos for the likes of Boy George, XTC and Iron Maiden on the strength of it. Made on location in Portmeirion, North Wales, this Prisoner pastiche was complete with Mini Mokes, a Lotus Super Seven and human chess board, all supplied by the wonderful Six of One. The video was also the opening sequence for the Groovy Movie documenting the revival and Pop Goes Art! was practically the soundtrack.
But alas, its early 1982 and weve reached the end of our First Five Year Plan - Dan and I must go our separate ways. There are two main reasons why we parted company. Firstly, the direction Dan wanted to take Whaam! - with bands I had no interest in; I wanted to concentrate my efforts on The Times, so I left him to it. Secondly, it used to tire me that some people thought he paid for everything we did . . . I paid the costs on everything O Level, The Teenage Filmstars and The Times did from start to finish and played on TV Personality records for no fee or royalty, which was reciprocated when he played on mine.
Whaam! eventually folded under pressure and after a pay-off from the pop duo of the same name, returning with Dreamworld, an altogether better collection of artists and the best TVP single in a long time How I Learnt To Love The Bomb.
We still keep in contact and sometimes go to gigs together. I saw it happen.
THE SECOND FIVE YEAR PLAN
Hello Europe, This Is London
It had to happen! Im getting this strong urge for realism, kitchen sink in the latter-score years of the Twentieth Century and all that. Also, its summertime in London, so wed better go and record quick.
But let me back-track for a moment . . .
The latest trend has fizzled out and all the bands have fallen apart. John East now feels its safe to rejoin the team again and his excursions into pop stardom make for good reading as he joined a band full of top session musicians, including Julian Copes drummer, Chris Whitton. They were backing this model who specialised in Page Threes and skin rags but was better known as the girl in the Schweppes telly ads. Theres no time to introduce her though, as she was off without a bye or leave. Our hero got pushed to the front and its Johns voice that was on the demos that got sent out with the Jackie-pose stills of this young Adonis to salivating A&R scum who just couldnt say no. But it all went wrong for them as John turned his back on fame, fortune and Wogan ("hes mad!", cried the nation as of one) to rejoin The Times in a new plan that says no to music paper interviews and yes to complete artistic control.
Weve also extended our ranks to accommodate the immensely talented Ray Kent on keyboards. Ray had been a member of the Sound Office, a four track recording studio and meeting place in Covent Garden for the likes of Paul Kendall (co-producer on Enjoy LP), Rob Vasey (guitarist on Boys About Town EP and Enjoy LP) and Joni Dee Sackett (backing vocals on Hello Europe LP) where they carried out their experimentations in the sound of muzak.
After the Warner Brothers escapade, weve re-recorded I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape for the second time and coupled it with a version of the Dangerman theme, a sixties British ITV series starring Patrick McGoohan. This, the second Times single, comes out on our newly-formed Artpop! records, of which the first release was Here Come The Holidays. Written by myself and John Bennett (remember him?) with musical backing by The Times and sung by the very lovely Joni Dee Sackett, who went on to better things with Fad Gadget.
Note. Just to make our label more interesting, albums were categorised works of art in a series of twenty. Hence, Pop Goes Art!, which was transferred from the Whaam! catalogue to Artpop! is ART 20, This Is London is ART 19 - and so it goes. In the same way, the singles are works of Pop in series of fifty so Here Come The Holidays is POP 50, I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape is POP 49 . . . Im sure you get the picture.
So, as I was saying, its London in the summer and Ive got a boxful of songs, an opera for clock-watchers and card punchers. My leading light, Frank Summitt is fancied by the shop girls and admired by the sweatshop boys in this tale of Stripes, Hearts and Targets. We broadened our spectrum of sound to include the Rhinoceros Horns brass section (who go on to much better things - The Style Council, The Waterboys etc). But the biggest thrill of my life to date was Julie Burchill, essayist, critic, writer extraordinaire, rating This Is London as her favourite album of the year in The Face magazine.
I soon took my first step into another field of expression as the World of Theatre beckoned with an ambitious amateur production of A Clockwork Orange at the Chelsea Drama Centre, with a small acting part and a soundtrack, the LOrange Mechanik EP Ludovicos Technik.
After three albums-worth with The Times and an offer from Gene October to join Chelsea (Chelsea as in Right To Work and not Blue Is The Colour), Paul Damien gets the urge for some jazz long before a certain Weller (Weller as in In The City and not Leicester City!) can even spell Thelonius. And while were kicking around the old football metaphors, Cloud over Liverpool, which got a replay on This Is London was getting played up at Anfield before kick-offs. Frankly, Mister Shankly, I was impressed! So, with no Paul Damien and one or two All-Dayers of the Parka/Scooter variety to play, who better to play the drums than Simon Smith, ex-Merton Parkas (bright-eyed boys of the class of 79) hot from his first stint with Mood Six.
Noticing our European sales were flourishing, we released the I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape mini-LP in November 1983, primarily for export purposes. It also coincided with British televisions fourth re-screening of Patrick McGoohans enigmatic series The Prisoner on Channel Four.
But after some monumental arguments and major musical differences with Cutler, we didnt sign with Prophet and took up our complete independent status again, Like I always say in times like these, if Art can be intimidated it aint art.
Anyway, I was currently building a fruitful rapport with German touring agency Pastel and on one particular trip to Cologne for discussions, I was lucky enough to meet one of my heroines, Bridget Riley, who seemed quite fascinated by the Pop Goes Art! sleeve concept.
On my return to Britain I was invited as guest speaker to the annual Six of One convention in Portmeirion (the previous years guest speaker had been Patrick Cargill, one of the more notable adversaries in the series). I spoke for an hour solidly on the making of The Times Patrick McGoohan video, the profound effect the TV series had on me personally and on larger scale how it had been a prophesy on mankind as a whole. Then we all went out and got pissed. Already Hello Europe was beginning to take shape and was allowed two pre-emptive strikes, Boys Brigade June 1984 and Blue Fire in August. The album came out a month later and because of its experimental/funk nature, confused a lot of people but achieved us a Radio One session. As always, we had adopted a style, this time Eurobeat, to re-count the diaries of Frank Summitt, now a young European. Our document of Romance, Fire and Poetry expanded on a theme that politicians had failed on so many times before, a United States of Europe. Consequently, a challenge was issued to The Times of a tour taking in Germany, Italy, Holland and Switzerland. And what a jolly good tour it was! The highlight? Oh, I dont know, there were so many, though I suppose playing Boys Brigade on German national TV supported by some all-girl group called The Bangles was as good as any. Hmm, what a night to remember!
The final stage of the Europe project was the Blue Period mini-LP, my saddest words of tongue or pen. It contains my most treasured song Tears On A Rainy Sunday written about a girl stronger than Britannia, braver than Jeanne dArc, fairer than Lady Liberty. Is there such a girl? I certainly thought so!
UP AGAINST IT
"Anything worth doing is worth doing in public", exclaimed Joe Orton through his Mop Top/Antagonist Ian McTurk in the screenplay he wrote just before his death for the Four Boys from Liverpool who shook the World. Orton, ultra-hip sixties playwright, homosexual visionary, the Oscar Wilde of the Welfare State was . . . oh, what can I possibly say about this young man with a positive talent to annoy that hasnt been better said elsewhere. So instead, let me paint the latest scenario for you. Summer 85 is with us and since returning from Europe weve each undertaken separate projects for the short term; John is doing loads of session work and Ray has commenced in earnest on a life-long ambition, designing an electronic musical instrument of the likes the world has never seen before.
As for me, Im co-directing Ortons Up Against It, written in 1967. My partner is Tony Conway, the guitarist/songwriter of Psychedelic revival scapegoats Mood Six, whod suffered the indignation of being dumped on the Sounds front cover scrapheap. Aware of my interests in this minor masterpiece (it wasnt for nothing that Id included my song of the same name on the McGoohan mini-LP), he approached me about staging it at a youth theatre in Fulham called LOST. Ironically, LOST stood for London Oratory School Theatre and was made up of ex/current pupils, one or two failed actors and the Youth Theatre director who had rejected the Opera I had written eight years before (you will recall we exacted the revenge by urinating in his hot beverage). Well, I must take this opportunity to point out that the Oratory class of 77 had produced a few entertainers, not just dangerous young men with guitars but also actors and playwrights. Alas, none of them were around at this time and LOST was like a school reunion nightmare from my O Level days. Still, always nothing less than the professional, what Tony and I lacked in theatrical ability we more than made up with enthusiasm, advertising, pure business sense, and one or two rocknroll clichés. It went like your favourite dream propelled further than the realms of the fantastic with full houses every night after great reviews in the national papers. At short notice we took our production to the Edinburgh Festival, but by now it was all too clear that some people at LOST were becoming downright jealous and when we got back it was time to take the show the next step-up and away from the vermin.
Concurrently, I launched into a series of projects with another new chum Paul Bevoir who, with ex-Secret Affair/Mari Wilson band drummer Paul Bultitude, had manufactured to perfection bubble gum in the eighties with his pop group The Jetset. Our first collaboration was the Dee Walker mini-LP which we composed and Bultitude produced. And it was Bevoir and I who produced The Work Gets Done, an LP by champions of the new Mod breed of the moment.
As for The Times on vinyl, we licensed our 1980 recordings Go! With The Times! to Pastel in Germany (their second release after the TV Personalities live album Chocolate Art), Whatever Happened To Thamesbeat from This Is London to Stiff Records for the Go! 54321 compilation, and in September our Pink Period EP Boys About Town with songs about Bowie, Orton and Bogarde was released on Artpop! We also began recording the final part of the Frank Summitt trilogy, Enjoy, with a view to immediate release, though this was shelved til late the following year because of more important business to hand. Which brings us tidily to the next phase of the Up Against It saga.
This time Tony and I had become The Producers (not so much Sam Goldwyn and Louis B Mayer as Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) but, more importantly, we had written six songs each to make up a soundtrack to go with the show. We called in independent theatre director Richard Hansom (aka Dick Hansom Acme comix press), to assemble a professional cast thats full of faces that keep cropping up on the telly! More great reviews and famous people from all walks of life were desperate to be seen in the audience, as the show runs for weeks. In between, The Times take a promotional trip to sunny California USA in a programme of gigs, radio sessions and of course research for Americana for Enjoy. But these sunny faces return to tales of woe as Tony has disowned the production, apparently due to incompatibilities with Richard the director. However, on closer inspection, the truth of the matter was the success of the show wed directed had possibly gone to his head and he now felt at this late stage that too much had been given away. The singularly most important factor Tony conveniently overlooked was that this second production was made up of a professional cast who were not about to take directions to the nearest bus stop, let alone how to act from a pair of inexperienced upstarts like us!
Furthermore, Mood six were on the verge of signing a five-album deal with Cherry Red Records, which would effectively rule out any releases on another label. As half the soundtrack was the work of Tony and Mood Six and deciding that Up Against It on Cherry Red was not for me, I spent the whole of that Christmas re-writing the score and rush-released it the following year on Artpop! Despite the criticism I suffered for this apparently unaccountable action, it soon became clear that both parties had got what they deserved; Mood Six, their crummy recording deal, and for me a soundtrack I was happier with.
But of course the story doesnt finish here. During our second run, a group from the Joseph Papp Shakespeare Company in New York dropped by to see our show while they had a production on at the Royal Court. It was much to our annoyance that nine months later we discovered the self-same American company were staging it Off Broadway in New York as a musical with songs written by Todd Rundgren. Suddenly Ortonmania seemed to be reaching feverpitch with the releases of the Orton Diaries and the biopic Prick Up Your Ears. Still I was confident as I had put it in the hands of a financial backer who had persuaded Kenneth Williams, the Carry On genius and close friend of Ortons, to direct it, Adam Ant (pop star whose performance of Mr Sloane at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, was acceptable) to star, Gilbert and George, the Morecambe and Wise of modern Art to do the stage design and The Times to perform the soundtrack - it was to run at the Liverpool Playhouse starting September 1987.
This date was constantly re-scheduled to accommodate everyone for rehearsals, which had now been set for March 88. It was two devastating blows which rendered our plans useless with the untimely and sad death of the late great Kenneth Williams. Its a shitty cliché, I know, but the show must go on and a short-list of possible directors was drawn up with Lindsay Anderson top of the pile. However, the Orton Estate had granted the Joe Papp Shakespeare Company exclusive world rights to the script. Once again, the dollar had outweighed the pound and another piece of British heritage had gone to the highest bidder and this second blow laid the show to rest.
But I shall return.
Its a sunny afternoon with a gentle breeze blowing in the air. Two old men are sitting in a bus shelter on Penny Lane, Liverpool, recalling old times.
"So what are you going to tell them, or shall I?"
"About my story. How I grew up in Dingle near the case iron -"
"Dont you mean we, Frank?"
"Alright, that we grew up together and that I left Liverpool in search of something like the truth and I went to Europe and found out all that stuff about love and rockets and things and then I went to the USA to speak with the President, especially about the rockets, and all the while your cousin is saving the world and more, you stay in rotten old Pool writing yer poxy words and singing yer daft tunes."
"So basically you want people to know what a naïve, impetuous, bloody fool you were, is that it?"
"Now do watch that oh Lionheart, if on live thou dost wish to remain . . . youre sposed to be telling them about me, if you did but know it. So just get on and tell the story like it was."
"Well, way back in Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Six, following the assassination of the Prime Minster of Britain live on stage every night in Up Against It, Modern Age storytellers The Times told of the attempted murder of U.S. John F Makepeace in Enjoy. This study in glamour, glory and gold was the final chapter of Frank Summitts adventures, which had begun with This Is London and continued with Hello Europe.
"Tellem about the pirate TV station, go on willya!"
"All in good time. Put back twelve months because of the unexpected circumstances involving the Up Against It soundtrack, the Enjoy campaign began with two singles made in conjunction with other labels. The first London Boys released June 86 on Unicorn records was a cover of the early Bowie classic which served as a timely reminder of This Is Londons sentiments. Two months later they released Times TV on Fire Records in 7" and 12" formats, both featuring a trailer from Enjoy, while the 12" contained theme tunes from Times Television programmes. In that same month they set off on a mini-tour of Germany, joined by Rob Vasey on guitar and a stand-in drummer."
"Oh, give over, tell em what the press thought about it."
"Ah yes, the press, may God bless their spiteful pens. Well, in November this story in World Coca Colization was finally released and the first edition went abroad. It was decided that it would be officially released in the UK the following year. This Pop parody of the soft drink with a little sugar rush and a caffeine hit made good with the British press: "60s, 70s and 80s iconography overload" said City Limits."
"The final part of the Frank Summitt trilogy . . . "drawn a multitude of multi-coloured threads to a single, beautifully embroidered conclusion", Sounds, ". . . quote directly from leading pop icons, like Bowie, Weller and Strummer, to underline their own rather better observed points", NME. The next step was to write the musical."
"Is that is, then?"
"No, thats not it by any means. In the last fifth of their second Five Year Plan, The Times recorded Dada Europe (Im So Cut Up About You) for the Unicord compilation LP Beyond Tomorrow. This was instrumental in clarifying the European phase of the Working-Class Super-Heroes story. Edward of The Times also took advantage of a Julian Cope support slot at Westminster City Hall to ready the whole Summit affair from start to finish in poem form. As for the other two in the band, John turned down the lead role of Steven Berkoffs West while going through a period of self-analysis, while Ray had covered much ground with his musical invention now called The Dactyl. Artpop! Records released their 1985 mini-LP Blue Period and the pink Boys About Town in one package called The Picasso Forgeries . . . (Freeze frame. The camera pulls out slowly to reveal that the previous scenario was on a monitor screen. We are actually in the Newlett Gallery, New York. Sitting on a soapbox is a man who looks like Alan Whicker. A microphone hangs from above in front of him. All around him are New Arrangist works or art. The Alan Whicker look-alike speaks into the microphone).
"Neo Dada, New Realism, Op, Pop, Kinetic, Tachism, Hard Edge, Colour Field, Minimalist, Aleatory, Conceptual, Event, Earth . . . Its about time we had one of our own. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, mods and rockers, a big hand for the Golden Age of New Arrangism."
CAPTION: - New Arrangist - the first manifesto.
New Arrangism is not: an Art Fusion pot-pourri of psychic TV themes playing live by satellite from Las Vegas.
- evidence that suicide on the London Underground is a conceptual performance
- object dart made from old tyres and soapboxes collected from a walk around the block
- based on a Gilbert and George coffee table publication about a couple of comedians who dont know when not to take themselves seriously
- a vision of Armageddon as it might be, between the National Front of Bakuninians versus the happy Catholics democratic Dream company
- a steamy sex saga featuring all my favourite Hetero/Homo/Bi/Tri-sexual friends
- a vision of the second coming of Charles Manson, to bless the Cut Out and Keep generation of America
- a Marketing Biz Term with a Fistful of Dollars behind it.
(Cut back to the Alan Whicker look-alike)
"Yes, now there is an art form that says NO to politics, religion and other man-invented institutions designed for mans enslavement. Founded by Thelonius Funk and Jo Public A3 magazine was . . . I cant be bothered to describe it to you. If you couldnt see what we were trying to do, then you dont deserve to be told."
Well, thats about the size of it. The successes, the failures, the victories, the defeats, the ups, the downs . . .
There, all there, for you all to see.
Hope to read your story soon.
All the material is (c) the author and / or the publisher.