The band began in the early 70s as The Neon Boys. Although they were never to play in public, they recorded a tape of a couple of Verlaine/Hell compositions – That’s All I Know (Right Now) and Love Comes In Spurts – which, crude and basic though they were, revealed Verlaine’s distinctive and imaginative guitar style.
Ficca left for Boston to join another band and The Neon Boys split up. The drummer returned in 1973, however, to team up with Verlaine and Hell once more.
A second guitarist, Richard Lloyd (who had been introduced to Verlaine by mutual friend Terry Ork) was added to the line-up, and on 2 March 1974, the band – now called Television – played their first gig at the tiny 88-seat Townhouse Theatre and began to build up an underground following.
Soon, their fan base was large enough that Verlaine was able to persuade CBGB‘s to begin featuring live bands on a regular basis. The club would become an important venue for punk and new wave bands.
Richard Hell, the man who famously patented the punk look years before Sid and Johnny ripped it up in London, was the band’s bassist during 1973 and 1974 (he was ousted in 1975).
And frontman Tom Verlaine (T.V. hence “Television”) wrote poetry with his then lover Patti Smith, and adored The Velvet Underground as much as he admired the French symbolist poet whose surname he swiped (he was born Tom Miller in New Jersey in 1950 and was raised in Wilmington, Delaware).
Their credentials were perfect. Trouble was, Television didn’t play punk rock. With its angular rhythms and fluid leads, Television’s music always went in unconventional directions, laying the groundwork for many of the guitar-based post-punk pop groups of the late ’70s and ’80s.
With Hell departing the band (his primitive bass-playing no longer fitted Television’s music, which was becoming increasingly complex and intricate) Blondie‘s Fred Smith was brought in to replace him.
Then, in August, Television’s first single, Little Johnny Jewel, was released on their own label Ork (named after Terry Ork who subsequently took over the label and released further local product).
Little Johnny Jewel became an underground hit, attracting the attention of major record labels, and in 1976, the band released a British EP on Stiff Records, which also expanded their reputation. They then signed with Elektra Records and began recording their debut album, Marquee Moon.
Marquee Moon was a guitar album like no other and served as an astonishing debut. Every song was compulsive listening, from the buzzing, driving See No Evil, through the sensuous Guiding Light and the chilling Torn Curtain to the title track, with its loose, sinister rhythms.
But the LP had more in common with the 60s West Coast than it did the sound-alike punk rock bellowing out of London at the time, and throughout 1977 Marquee Moon practically had the field to itself. No other act straddled art rock and rebel rock so successfully.
But America failed to understand Television, and while in Britain they played to sell-out New Wave crowds who posed and pogoed to every song, back home in the US the band happily quit CBGB‘s and toured sit-down venues with Peter Gabriel.
And after returning in April 1978 with the much-anticipated second album Adventure, the crowds were no longer merely sedentary – they were sleeping. Instead of massive sheets of guitar, the textures on the second album were delicate and folky, and the songs’ rhythms more relaxed. It became a Top Ten hit in Britain.
The album suffered from such terrible reviews in the US, however, that Television simply gave up for 14 years, embarking instead on hopeless solo careers, with Fred Smith rejoining Blondie.
Verlaine’s first solo album, Tom Verlaine (1979), would have made an ideal third Television LP – much of Marquee Moon‘s power and intensity was there – but subsequent efforts, Dreamtime (1981) and Words From The Front (1982), were disappointing.
Guitarist Richard Lloyd was hospitalised in 1978 for an abscess caused by injecting heroin. He used the time profitably by selling cannabis to fellow patients. Lloyd released a fine solo album of Sixties-sounding power pop in Alchemy (1979), but failed to follow it up.
Television re-formed in late 1991, recording a new album for Capitol Records. The reunited band began their comeback with a performance at the Glastonbury summer festival in 1992, releasing Television a couple of months later.
The album received good reviews, as did the tour that followed, yet the reunion was short-lived and the group disbanded again in early 1993.