Alternative TV were a band who created punk rock in its true spirit in 1977. 37 years later they sound more urgent than ever as John Robb discovers…
Mark Perry is one of the key figures in punk. He may not be part of the official iconography, the redacted punk history which seems to have shrunk to about two bands. His face is not on the punk tat that the Blackpool gift shops have curiously got in their windows hoping that hungover Rebellion Festival punters buy in a moment of madness.
Nope- he is none of these but without him the story of punk would have been quite different. ATV were post punk before punk itself had even started and their tearing of the fabric is the perfect distillation of what punk rock was about. There is something quite perfect and something perfectly punk rock about a fanzine editor being part of the punk rock explosion and Perry’s Sniffing Glue fanzine, with its cut and paste graphics, cut and paste prose and cut and paste attitude was as thrilling as the seven inch single salvos that told the story of punk with an opinionated assault. When he folded the fanzine in August 1977 to do the band his moment had arrived- a moment that he replicates with a fierce and timeless brilliance tonight.
Years ago when he put a group together it seemed like a totally natural extension of his machine gun prose. But when the group was as good as Alternative TV it was perfect. He really had put his money where his mouth was and the first album was a brilliant slice of punk rock- with great songs, cutting lyrics and twists and turns of the punk template whilst dotted with little flakes of experimentation that showed that this was no band resting on the spuzz dusted laurels of the movement.
Of course this kind of wilful punk purism does not make a career and when the band veered off into free jazz experimental it was a step too far for all the young punks and instead of settling into some kind of southern Mark Smith role with a band like the Fall who could balance the experimental with a wonk pop aesthetic.
It didn’t take long but Perry was cut adrift.Admired as a maverick and living the twilight life of one as well.
These days ATV reappear out of the mists from time to time at festivals, still defiant and, remarkably these days, in peak form. Their set at Rebellion is stunning- they sound razor sharp and the entwining guitar and bass lines are like steel wire. Songs that are decades old sound band new and vibrant and like long lost punk anthems. Their ‘anthem’ Action Time Vision sounds like a huge punk hit that never was and Love Lies Limp is pure seventies street poetry whilst How Much Longer sounds so urgent that it makes the past dissolveS in three chords.
In the form of their lives ATV may have done everything in their power to prevent themselves from following the career path of many of their contemporary punk bands who sang of revolution but opted for rock’s rich lineage instead. It’s a difficult path to follow but if it makes your band sound like this- the perfect distillation of what punk rock was really like with all its attitude and rule breaking left intact but, somehow, with really great songs delivered with a charismatic sneer from Mark Perry ATV are far more than just another bunch of high decibel vets treading water but a band that is sounding razor sharp and on the form of it’s career.