It’s almost patronising [when bands play all their hits]. Oh, we’d better play ‘How Much Longer’ because people want that. To me, that’s just patronising to the audience. I’d like to feel, and I always have done, that an Alternative TV audience wants us to experiment or to try new things out through that sense of exploration, or that childlike sense of wonder about making music. That’s why I’ve always wanted to retain that. I haven’t always got it right, but that continuing journey to explore new areas of expression has got value, and that’s why I think it’s worth proceeding in that way. I’m doing that with the new band. I’m trying to instil that with them. This is what ATV is about.
Very noble, very post punk and very subversive.
So why is it that, with the amount of words typed up over the last twenty years in regards to post punk, this is the first tome dedicated to Alternative TV? A band who bridged the gap between 77 punk rock and post punk, they are often relegated to a footnote in music history or, in most cases, overlooked altogether. Surely they should be regarded as highly as Magazine or Siouxsie and the Banshees?
In steps Richard Johnson to correct this. His book on Ramleh did a great job in not only celebrating the work of an influential (if obscure by mainstream standards) act, but also examining the milieu that they came from in order to better understand their work. So, it’s clear that we’re in safe hands on this one.
Instead of being a standard rock n roll memoir, the book is a series of conversations with Johnson and ATV main man Mark Perry. As noted in the press release:
Mark Perry is a familiar name from the early punk scene in London due to his having published Sniffin’ Glue fanzine between July 1976 and August 1977. As he became increasingly disillusioned with punk, however, he at least still remained driven by its impetus and started his group, Alternative TV. With their first release, ‘Love Lies Limp’, issued as a 7” flexi single with Sniffin’ Glue 12, itself the final edition of the fanzine, it was clear that Alternative TV were not going to readily sit comfortably alongside the countless hordes of identikit punk groups forming around the same time.
Thankfully, Perry’s role in the nascent English punk scene isn’t dwelt upon (as it has been discussed endlessly elsewhere) and the reader can enjoy a thorough examination of the early ATV releases as well as anecdotes about the live music scene at that time. Both Johnson and Perry have a great rapport, allowing for a free-flowing nature which leads into some brilliantly entertaining segue ways on Killing Joke, Brexit and the state of music today. However, some editing to remove repeated material in places would have helped at times (Perry mentions his love for Throbbing Gristle quite a bit).
What comes through is Perry’s determination to follow his own path, regardless of how far it takes him. Correctly identifying the differing approaches (cabaret and curation) that have tamed music for many, Perry’s continued existence outside the ‘accepted’ list of ‘classic’ acts may not be a bad thing. Forever the outsider, bending the world to his will.
Excellent work all round. Hopefully a second volume covering the later years is impending.
Richard Johnson, 2023, Lost in Room: Mark Perry, Alternative TV and Related, 1977 – 1981. Fourth Dimension Publishing. ISBN-13: 978-8396474018
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.