CHORDS AND NOTES DON'T MEAN A THING
Formed: London, England, UK
Intro / Band Bio Part 1 (1977-1978) / Part 2 (1979-1982) / Part 3 (1984-Present) / Lineups / Discography / MARK PERRY INTERVIEW
The original awkward bastard punk band.
ATV (as in Alternative to TV) was formed by Mark Perry, editor of the famous Sniffin' Glue fanzine and managing director of Step-Forward Records. (He also worked for Deptford Fun City and Illegal Records, all three labels operating under the Faulty Products banner). From early 1977 to the present day, with short break-ups in between, ATV has been at the outer reaches of punk. Veering from pop-punk to avant-garde bollocks, clearly uninterested in pandering to the fans (what few now remain!), Perry has been following his own wayward muse instead, in the true punk spirit of non-conformity. Naturally (and ironically), this has alienated the more conservative punks who prefer their music to adhere to a formula. However, even for these people, their early singles and debut album The Image Has Cracked - The First Album By Alternative TV are absolute must-haves, offering some of the most vital and interesting music of the period.
Like T.V. Smith and so many others, Perry discovered punk through the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, and it was a life-changing experience. But although sufficiently inspired to quit his bank clerk job, write Sniffin' Glue, form a band and run a record company, he was well aware of its limitations and knew punk was not going to change anything unless it gave itself a hefty kick up the arse. How Much Longer - ATV's first proper single - spelt it out, and even compared punks unfavourably with hippies and straights.
How much longer will people wear
Nazi armbands and dye their hair?
Safety pins and spray your clothes
Talk about anarchy, fascism and boredom?
Well you don't know nuthin'
but you don't really care
How much longer will apathy rule?
They have their hair done and they wear Oxford bags
Take their birds to the pictures and spray your Ford Cortinas
Talk about football, birds and the tele
Well you don't know nuthin'
but you don't really care do ya?
How much longer will joss sticks rule?
They grow their hair and wear Jesus Boots
Afghan coats and you're make your peace signs maaan
Talk about the festivals, Morcock and Floyd
Well you don't know nuthin'
And you don't really care do ya, you just don't care
I said you all don't know nuthin' and you all don't care
I said the punks don't know nuthin'
I said the straights don't know nuthin'
I said the hippies don't know nuthin'
I said the rockers don't know nuthin'
I said the posh don't know nuthin'
I said YOU don't know nuthin'
I said we all don't know nuthin'
And we all don't bloody care
The core of ATV was Perry and Scottish guitarist/co-writer Alex Fergusson. Perry, as we all know, had no musical background. Fergusson, however, had been in a band called The New Bucks, whose main claim to fame is that Stiff Records turned them down. He subsequently formed The Nobodies with Sandy Robertson after attending a Patti Smith show at the Hammersmith Odeon.
The pair came together in early '77 when they met at the Rough Trade record shop in London, and initially hooked up with Throbbing Gristle's Genesis P. Orridge, who played drums and bass for a rehearsal session that April. This practice can be heard on The Industrial Sessions, which features embryonic versions of songs later perfected, such as 'Life', 'Love Lies Limp' and 'Guardian, Times and Observer', as well as songs that may never have even been performed before another living soul ('British Kids', 'Never Saw the Blitzkrieg' and 'Street Fighter').
Mark Perry - vocals, guitar
Alex Fergusson - guitar
Tyrone Thomas - bass
John Towe - drums
Towe had already played in three legendary London punk bands, London SS, Chelsea and Generation X, as well as Strategem. Amazingly, given Perry's famous remark that "Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS", their first proper recordings were the results of demos for EMI in July '77. Perry has claimed that in a moment of weakness he gave in to other band members and considered going with enemy, but any road up EMI weren't even remotely interested in ATV but let them keep the masters. Towe left soon after the recordings, going on to join The Rage, and was replaced by Chris Bennett.
Mark Perry: "We'd been invited by EMI into their studio at Manchester Square to do a demo. I was dead against it. Miles Copeland wanted me to do it. I thought it would look bad if we went there with EMI. He convinced me to just go and use the time and the studio. We went in there and recorded four tracks: 'Love Lies Limp', 'Life', 'How Much Longer' and 'You Bastard'. EMI said that they weren't interested 'cause all the songs had so much swearing. It was too political or something. But they told us that we could have the tapes as freebies". - as told to Perfect Sound Forever
Throughout Summer and Autumn 197 ATV were a mysterious presence on the punk circuit, frequently rehearsing and constantly writing but rarely gigging. One of their few shows from this period was captured on Live At The Rat Club '77, a bootleg-sounding record that marked the live debut of Bennett. This particular show started with a screening of a US-made documentary about drag queens, and demonstrated how off-the-wall ATV were on the interesting-boring (interboring?) 'Alternatives To NATO', a lengthy jam over which Perry recited from an anarchist pamphlet. Elsewhere, they recycled the riff to 'You Really Got Me' for a terse-sounding rendition of 'Memphis Tennessee', covered Frank Zappa ('Why Don't You Do Me Right?'), dabbled in tape effects, and played great punk songs like 'My Hand Is Still Wet', 'Sleep In Bed' and 'You Bastard'.
Come October, ATV were finally in a position to start releasing records, and thanks to EMI's generosity they had four professionally recorded numbers to choose from. First off the bat was the bizarre reggae/jazz/punk hybrid Love Lies Limp, an ode to impotence which was given away as a one-sided flexidisc with Sniffin' Glue in October. Although musically it was a long way from the three chord bash that anybody would have expected, its risque subject matter, endearingly yobby vocals and liberal use of expletives ensured it fit in with current punk trends.
By the time they were ready to release the follow-up single in November, Fergusson was either quit or sacked, over arguments about Perry's experimental leanings and lack of gigs. He went on to form Cash Pussies and then Psychic TV, so Thomas switched to guitar briefly before he too left.
Two more songs from the sessions formed the brilliant debut single proper, How Much Longer, which came out in December on Deptford Fun City, the label set up by Squeeze. 'How Much Longer' and 'You Bastard' were much more in the '77 punk vein, two short, fast songs with storming, memorable choruses and spiky lyrics. As if the single wasn't strong enough as it was, later pressings came with a second disc which featured rougher versions of the two tracks.
The fourth song from the session was the remarkable 'Life', another punky tune that eventually got released in 1978, as the flipside of a hard-vinyl reissue of 'Love Lies Limp'.
After a period of lineup instability, Perry and Bennett teamed up with new drummer Dennis Burns to soldier on as a trio. The weakest of their early singles, May 1978's Life After Life was an insipid stab at reggae recorded with Jools Holland on piano and, as an unofficial fourth band member, Kim Turner guesting on rhythm guitar. This line-up also recorded The Image Has Cracked - The First Album By Alternative TV, although Holland played on just two songs.
Mark Paytress, The Image Has Cracked liner notes, written November 1993: "The idea that Alternative TV was merely a punk band fulfilling 'punk' expectation was the image that really cracked after the release of this June 1978 debut album. Perry had a name, a voice that was pure Cockney Rott'n'Roll, and all the goodwill in the world going his way. Yet, instead of kicking off with one of the band's more recognisably 'punk' anthems, a Moog-assisted progressive rock overture segued into 'Alternatives', the part of the band's concerts where audience members were invited on stage to "say something" over a cabaret-style version of the Kinks' 'You Really Got Me' riff. Alternative TV was, it turned out, less a punk group than a concept".
Nonetheless, the band still knew a good tune, even if it was an old one: Action Time Vision (b/w 'Another Coke') was a Fergusson composition that was lifted off the LP and issued as a single as the same time. It was the last time they sounded like a normal punk band.
After the LP's release the band fell apart at the seams, with just Perry and Burns left flying the ATV freak flag. Their (some would say pretentious) fondness for abstraction and experimentation led them into a "free tour" with Gong offshoot Here & Now, spawning a live album, What You See Is What You Are, and taking them down a dark alleyway that was as fearless as often as it was unlistenable...Vibing Up The Senile Man. Brave and foolhardy, this LP saw Perry rejecting punk's constraints completely, ditching the four-chord bashing and charging headlong into utterly personal, bafflingly weird territory. Which is all very well - punk had become a straightjacket with a sound and mind set that many would call predictable and narrow-minded - but the record is so crappy-sounding that it beggars belief. When it was released in early 1979, reviewers were baffled and/or enraged. Paul Morley called parts of it 'clumsy, often moving and continually embarrassing", while Sounds didn't muck around, giving it 0 out of 10.
In Spring 1979, Perry and Burns decided it was time to lay ATV to rest. Aided with guest musicians Dave George, Anno and Wally Brill, they released a so-called "memorial" single The Force Is Blind. Side one was industrial/prog/avant-garde weirdness; side two was a tense, slow-burning rock song of considerable merit.
Thus unencumbered, ATV changed its name to The Good Missionaries and carried on making the same sort of shit, over the course of a couple of singles and a badly recorded live LP. (Two split cassettes documenting 1979 gigs were later issued in 1981.)
Burns continued collaborating with Perry on the former's wanky 'Snappy Turns' album, aided by free tour stalwarts Grant Showbiz and Nag. Although credited solely to Perry, it sounds like another leftfield ATV album, and a dreadful one at that.
1981 saw the first ATV reformation - with Perry, Fergusson, Burns, and a couple of members of Fergusson's 1979 band Cash Pussies, Ray Weston and Alex Gruner. Strange Kicks (their first international release) signaled a sudden, baffling move towards pure new wave pop, and was one of their most welcome surprises.
Alex Fergusson (edited from 'Strange Kicks' CD reissue liner notes): "The seeds for the 'Strange Kicks' album were already planted in 1979 when Mark and I wrote the song 'The TV Operator', which I recorded as solo project. We also had a couple of unrecorded songs from our 1977 live set - 'Sleep In Bed'' and 'My Hand Is Still Wet' - which would appear on the album in a new musical wrapping. Initially, we recorded a demo of 'Communicate', 'There Goes My Date With Doug' and 'Cold Rain'. We presented the demo to Miles Copeland who liked the results and was enthusiastic enough to ask us to write more songs for an album for his IRS label". [These demos can be heard on The Radio Sessions.]
Mark Perry ('Strange Kicks' CD reissue liner notes): 'Strange Kicks' has got to be the weirdest album that I ever made. Not because of the way it sounds but because of its position in the Alternative TV/Mark Perry discography. Incredibly, it followed my 4 most experimental album projects - Alternative TV's 'Vibing Up The Senile Man', the Good Missionaries' 'Fire From Heaven', my solo album 'Snappy Turns' and the Door and the Window's 'Detailed Twang'. After that lot, it seemed more of a change of style than than 'Vibing' did after 'The Image Has Cracked'! By 1980, my manager, Miles Copeland was fed up with financing my indulgences and suggested that I get together with my old song writing partner from the "punk years" - Alex Fergusson. Miles was having some success with one of his other acts - The Police - and had set up the IRS label through A&M Records. He wanted the "new" Alternative TV to be part of this new set up. Miles chose Richard Mazda from the Cosmetics, as producer and following some demos we knocked out the record in 2 weeks. It sounded OK but totally different to the other stuff I was doing at the time".
Alex Fergusson (edited from 'Strange Kicks' CD reissue liner notes): "We had advertising posters for the album all over London and to promote it we did a small tour. Mark and I also did a BBC Radio Session with John Tobler, that was transmitted on a Saturday afternoon".
Mark Perry ('Strange Kicks' CD reissue liner notes): "The new ATV played a few gigs to promote the album but after a while I lost interest and it fizzled out, Alex even dropping out a few gigs before me. Looking back, it was a worthwhile project which sounds a lot better than I realised at the time. My lyrics tell the story of what we were all going through post punk and Alex's tunes brilliantly capture that return to the pop ethic which so dominated the first half of the 80s".
Two songs the band played live 'Pick It Up' and 'Can You Feel The Heat?', were the last Perry and Fergusson wrote together, and were considered for a follow-up single. But of course that was scuppered when the band split up.
Burns and Perry, however, continued working together as The Reflections, along with Nag, issuing an album in 1982.
Perry resurrected the ATV name in 1984 with a track on the 'Alive In The Living Room' compilation - unfortunately the album sounds awful and 'Lonely Lenny' is a dirge. [Click on the image on the right, taken from a ZigZag article in 1984, and grabbed from the Cactus Mouth Informer blog,for more on this period.]
This lineup - Perry, Karl Blake, Steve Cannell, Allison Philips -was, quelle surprise, not very stable, and over the next year or so Martin 'Protag' Neish and then Clive Giblin played with the band. The years between 1985 to 1987 did, however, mark a fully-fledged ATV renaissance, resulting in a couple of 12" EPs - Welcome To The End Of Fun and Sex / Love - and a reasonably high profile new album, Peep Show (1987). Edgy and interesting as it was, it didn't even make it into the indie charts, and ATV retreated into a half-existence.
Mark Perry: "For years, I got out of punk 'cause I wasn't really interested in it. Throughout the '80's, nobody wanted to know about an ex-punk band really. Like a lot of people at the time, I was very influenced by some of the American bands. Like Sonic Youth, they almost out-punked punk. And Mudhoney, I was really into that. ATV actually reformed in about '86, '87, influenced by Sonic Youth and Jesus and Mary Chain. We played a totally new set without any old songs at all. We had small audiences but we had a little scene going. We used to play Alan McGee's Living Room club. We actually got a track on the first Creation album and it's not punk at all. We were trying to recreate ourselves in a way" - as told to Perfect Sound Forever
The subsequent life of the band had Perry dragging the name out every few years or so for gigs, singles and new albums. I wouldn't recommend any of these subsequent works without hearing 'em first: although Punk Life has some straight-forward lo-fi punk moments, it still has a 15-minute Throbbing Gristle medley and some arty rubbish. ATV's latest studio album, Revolution, was released in 2001, and featured a load of re-recordings of songs obscure and semi-famous from the whole of the band's history. It even featured old ATV member Tyrone Thomas on guitar.
In 2003, the official bootleg album Viva La Rock 'n' Roll! came out, featuring live performances recorded in the UK, France, Germany and the US. In 2004, Perry recorded the Ramones song Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue for a single and an Argentinean Ramones tribute album.
In 1996, Perry got back into writing by providing the text for Erica Echenberg's photo book, 'And God Created Punk', which was published by Virgin. In 2000, Sanctuary Books published 'Sniffin' Glue: The Essential Punk Accessory', which compiles all the issues of Perry's fanzine along with lots of new writing and photos.
Singles / Albums
Far from complete at the moment
English Waves! Italy LP 1978 (RCA): Life After Life
Weird Sampler UK Tape 1980 (Weird Noise Tapes): Release The Natives
TZine #2 Fuck Off Wreckords (Fuck Off): Cold Rain (Demo Version) + Interview
Illegal Greatest Hits UK LP 1981 (Illegal): Action Time Vision
I.R.S. Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3 US 2xLP 1981 (IRS): Action Time Vision
Alive In The Living Room UK LP 1984 (Creation): Lonely Lenny (live)
Pogo A Gogo! UK Tape 1986 (New Musical Express): Love Lies Limp
1-2-3-4 Punk & New Wave 1976-1979 UK 5xCD 1999 (Universal): How Much Longer
Sniffin' Glue: The Essential Punk Accessory UK CD 2003 (Castle Music): Love Lies Limp
No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion US 4xCD 2003 (Rhino): Action Time Vision
Mark Perry - The official homepage for Mark P and ATV etc. - now defunct, sorry!
Street Level - An informative site on this budget recording studio in West London - now defunct, sorry!
ATV page on Punk 77 - Great article from one of the best punksites on the net
Perfect Sound Forever - excellent Mark Perry interview (extracts from which are reprinted here)