It was a mixed bag of highs and lows at the Half Moon in Herne Hill, but there’s no denying that it was one of the most memorable Pennyblackmusic nights we’ve ever had. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always for the right reasons.

Headlining were the compelling, shambolic, sometimes brilliant and always unpredictable Television Personalities. Frontman Dan Treacy has a real gift for writing simple, catchy and often emotionally affecting songs, but has been troubled by both mental and physical health issues for many years, as well as issues with drugs. At his lowest point, he ended up in jail, after being homeless for some time. In many ways, he is the British equivalent of Daniel Johnston; troubled, not necessarily technically gifted, but writes songs that can affect people in strangely profound ways. Many of us at Pennyblack are big fans of the band, and there was a lot of anticipation for their set, despite the unpredictable nature of Treacy.

Kicking off the show was a solo set from the Rebel, who has been gradually making a name for himself on the antifolk circuit. The Rebel’s schtick is ramshackle songs with intentionally shocking lyrics. While initially mildly entertaining, it was hard not to question the messages being put out in his songs as the lyrics got more and more offensive. By the end, his songs ranged from the childishly puerile (“It’s cold outside/But it’s warm in your vagina”) to the downright questionable (his last song described lining up and shooting all the “queers” and “coons”). It is likely that the Rebel sees this kind of thing delivering some kind of message, or that it is supposed to be ironic. Judging by some of his fans – one of which had a swastika tattooed on his arm – if there is some kind of honourable message behind his songs, it isn’t getting through.

Thankfully, the night’s second act, Of Arrowe Hill, were much, much better, steaming through a head-swimmingly loud set. The band’s music is bluesy, punky, dark psychedelic rock, with plenty of groove and swagger. The band’s songs elevate them from the average punky blues band; frontman and songwriter Adam Easterbrook uses plenty of melodically exciting chords in his guitar playing and there is a slight hint of Guided By Voices-style indie and Syd Barrett’s leftfield pop in their sound, plus a smidgeon of 80's goth (which mainly manifests itself in the classic horror imagery of their lyrics).

Of Arrowe Hill primarily played songs from their new album, ‘A Few Minutes in the Absolute Elsewhere’, opening their set with the first two songs from the album, ‘Stevie Smith Blues’ and ‘The Bones Saying No to the Needle’. The pace rarely lets up from there, apart from occasional guitar swaps. ‘The House on Rue De La Chevre Noir’ is particularly excellent, but the quality remains high throughout the set. It was very much a rock performance, with the band eschewing their quieter and gentler numbers in favour of their noisiest moments. The band closed with the brilliant ‘Cursing the Seasons’, from their now sadly unavailable second album, ‘Hexadelica and the Speed of Darkness’. The audience is left smiling, if a little deaf; the first great band – and arguably the best overall performance – of the night.

The Pony Collaboration took it down a notch with their lush, summery indie pop, reminiscent of the quieter moments of the Delgados and the Wedding Present, Cinerama and Belle and Sebastian. The band released their second album, ‘If These are the Good Times’, last year, which got generally favourable reviews.

Their performance was solid and very enjoyable, with the quality of their songwriting really coming through. Their boy/girl vocal harmonies were understated but sweet, the music varying between folk and country-influenced strums to bouncy jangle pop. Many of their songs have a great atmospheric feel to them and all of them have a welcome warmth. Another great set over, the anticipation was growing for the headlining act; Television Personalities. We knew the band’s reputation for unpredictable sets, but everyone was optimistic that this would be a good one.

And indeed it was, initially, at least. After a slight technical hitch (the soundman turned the mics off and buggered off as the band were about to come onstage, and didn’t remerge for several minutes, leaving the band standing onstage, unable to do anything. The Television Personalities have been undergoing a resurgence of late, with high profile fans such as MGMT praising the band (the second track on MGMT’s new album is called ‘Song for Dan Treacy’) and a new album, ‘A Memory is Better Than Nothing’, is out in June.

Once the band got going, the sound was plagued with issues, often seeming imbalanced. As a result, some of the songs got lost a little in a muddy sound. The band are always solid, and Treacy was in high spirits, however, so the band made the best of the dodgy sound, storming through one song after another.

The band do not use set lists, and have to follow Treacy’s lead. Treacy would start playing and singing a song and the band would swiftly follow suit when they worked out the song. While Treacy is the mind behind the band’s great songs, the rest of the band deserve praise for the way in which they hold the live set together. All are solid musicians, and, considering that they have to borrow equipment at every gig they play, have a real talent for concentrating Treacy’s wandering mind into some compelling music – for the first 40 minutes of the set, if the levels had been right, it would have been absolutely brilliant.

It still was brilliant, for the most part, the real high point being a string of Treacy’s best songs, starting with early single ‘Part-time Punks’. Bassist Mike Stone and drummer Arau Orbiols (also of Spanish band San Leon) tied everything down, while guitarists Texas Bob Juarez and sometime member Lee McFadden took distinctive roles, with McFadden providing a solid musical backing to Treacy’s leaden strumming and Texas Bob creating a myriad of fantastic sounds, giving the set a more psychedelic feel.

Things started to go downhill, however, when Treacy suddenly walked off stage in the middle of a song. The band continued to play, with Stone taking over on vocals. In fairness to them, they did a pretty good job of it.

Treacy was not so sure, however, walking to the front of the stage and watching the band before dashing back onstage. Treacy stopped the band and launched into a rant, accusing the band of stealing the limelight. “I walk off to have a piss and you play my song!” he said “Those are MY songs. You lot are all taking the piss out of me behind my back!”

A woman shouted something out. “Shut up you fucking slut,” Treacy retorted, “You’re on the guest list.”

The atmosphere became incredibly tense as Treacy told the band to get offstage. McFadden stormed out of the venue, loudly declaring that he would never play with Treacy again. The mild-mannered Texas Bob disappeared. Stone did his best to talk Treacy round, sticking with him and accompanying him on a few songs. Orbiols came back out and made a spirited attempt to play along. What was left of the crowd (what was happening was too painful to watch for many people) did their best to encourage Treacy and get things going again. Unfortunately, the momentum was lost and the depleted band made it through a few half songs before calling it a night.

It was a strange and saddening end to a good night, but it was one that those present will remember for some time. As a fan of the Television Personalities, it is particularly difficult to see the band suffering in the way that they did. I was desperate for them to end on a high. With the Television Personalities, however, you have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth and for a moment there they were fabulous.

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