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Baker's Dozen

Chance-Taking: Stephen McRobbie Of The Pastels' Favourite Albums
John Freeman , June 3rd, 2013 08:53

With The Pastels releasing their first album in 16 years last week, original member Stephen McRobbie reveals the 13 albums that “defined his taste” and inspired his band


TV Personalities - Mummy Your Not Watching Me
TV Personalities was a group I instinctively loved and had a kind of naïve quality and charm to them. It seemed ultra basic but there was definitely something there - the songs were quite good and had a sense of social observation. It was a compelling world. They had a degree of anonymity; there were never any photographs of them. Occasionally you would see a picture but it was hard to know if it was them or their friends.

I had some of their records but when Mummy Your Not Watching Me came out they really took me by surprise, because it was such a leap forward for them. To an extent it was influenced by PiL's Metal Box and it had all this space around the music. It was a nice use of basic elements; the bass playing is fantastic on it - I think Ed Ball plays on some of it, but, it was mostly just three people with Dan [Treacy] on guitar. However, there is so much on this record; Dan had assumed all these characters and some of it is spoken and then he starts singing and it has this really nice, deep melodica sound on it. There aren't many records that feature a melodica in a strong way. There are a couple of masterpiece songs on it - 'If It Could Write Poetry' and 'Magnificent Dream' - and when the record came out I just thought it was the best and I have come back to it over the past few years and really started to enjoy it again.

We had a connection with Dan. When The Pastels started I could think of nothing better than being on Whaam!, which was the TV Personalities' label. We also loved Rough Trade so we sent tapes off to Rough Trade and Whaam! and they both really liked our group even though we were incredibly raw and basic and almost childlike in some ways. Dan wrote back saying he would put out a single and 'Songs For Children' became our first release. I went to London and met Dan and he was such a sweet kid at the time. He had such pale, beautiful skin and I was freaked out that he was so young, yet had been part of that first wave of punk. Dan was probably only two or three years older than me but he had already done all this stuff.

I really like the subsequent records they made but I think this is the perfect TV Personalities record. It was sad tracking Dan as he seemed to have this self-destructiveness, which was hard to explain. He became resentful that things hadn't happened - not against The Pastels - but he was envious of bands who were on Creation and had a bit more money. It was a slow downward cycle over many years but he got into drugs and was sleeping rough or in unsafe places. Eventually he went to prison and when he came out he seemed more together for a while. I don't know his family but they seem great, and he'd good friends too, people who took him in and tried to support him. But I also saw this horrible vulturism around him, people just wanting to buy him drugs and drink. I think there's always someone who wants to be the last person to give Pete Doherty or Johnny Thunders or Dan Treacy a drink or a drug. There's a complete air of sadness around it all. I don't exactly know what happened but about a year ago he was badly beaten up and amongst other injuries, suffered a blood clot on his brain. He's been in and out of hospital since. I keep thinking back to meeting him for the first time, I just thought he was amazing. I still do.

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