I WAS AT ONE of Steve Mick’s bi-annual parties, (baffling, rambling affairs – you want to find your long-lost aunt? Come in and prowl around, you can find someone just as good…), when Mark told me to keep it down but he was forming a band.
Unlike the New Beatles, his first venture, this band was actually gonna play and perform. He had met this mad Scot, he told me, who played guitar how Mark had always wanted to and who always carried a knife. Together they had etched a first song, but more important had thrown up ideas which excited him to the point of a speed rap. The song was ‘Never Saw the Blitzkreig’ (soon to be ditched), about the IRA bomber campaign. The band was to be Alternative t’TV.
ALEX: “It looks like I will have to justify my dismissal, what a fuckin’ joke. Keith you’ve got the boot/Sorry Mr Lennon, I don’t care if you have written some good tunes – Bernie Taupin wants to go solo, the ungrateful dog. Hello Herzog, hello Franza Capra…”
In Dryden Chambers, off Oxford Street, ATV, (they dropped the t’ bit when it kept being pronounced as ‘tee TV instead of ‘to TV’, geddit?), were all set up in the end room of the Glue office. They had recruited Micky Smith on bass, and ex-Gen X now of Rage man John Towe on drums. The songs were still wet on the paper and Mick was having a bit of trouble handling them. Mark held the lyrics in his hand and John looked a bit embarassed…”it’s not my kind of music an’ all that, but I’ll help ya out.”
‘British Kids are Streetfighters’, ‘Love Lies Limp’, ‘How Much Longer’, ‘Alternatives to Nato’. I think that last song sort of summed up the future of ATV. Mark loved it and Alex…well. ‘ATN’ is a repetitive riff which occasionally bursts into chaos overwhich is read a speech Mark found in an anarchists mag.
“If the Russians came at ten, by twelve thirty you’d have people clapping them in the streets, and on television some well-known personality, oozing assurance, would be saying it’s all for the best… always carry a set of ladders to make it look like you’re going somewhere.”
I remember when they first did it I thought how punk audiences would kill him for this twenty-minute slow tirade. Then I realised that that was exactly the reaction Mark was after.
MARK: “I stand by what Zappa said. The worst audience is one that mildly claps and shows nothing each way. I’d have to walk off then. If they boo it’s the same as a cheer…they’re listening and feeling.”
The debut was at the Nottingham Punk Fest. They went up in Chelsea’s van and there was no room for me. Later I saw him and asked. “Yeah, it was OK. Some good kids up there. It was alright…”
ALEX: “I managed to persuade Mark to go my route for a few short months. He felt it disorientating to go from a heavy social theme to rock ‘n’ roll and also felt the message getting watered down. He no longer wanted to compromise and, I feel, decided to play safe by settling to be a cult hand. It was easy cos the early gigs set the standard of how the reviews have been ever since, which is artsy-fartsy. It didn’t satisfy me getting reviews for a bad gig – that masked the fact. It was no compensation to know we were different. But that was alright because gettin’ respect can possibly be the right steppin’ stone to mass acceptance if you play your cards right. However Mark stuck rigidly to his original concept by playing to a minority/cult following.”
Micky Smith had to go after failing to show several times for band meeting/rehearsals. Enter the man with the long corkscrew hair and wine flares, Tyrone Thomas. Tyrone, an ex-New Beatle settled quick and pleased all around on his first gig at Brighton.
At this period, for me, ATV were the most exciting prospect in the country. They were booked to support the Models at the Marquee – the Models pulled out and it was decided to let ATV headline. Their third gig. It wasn’t a full house but near enough. Kids danced, kids heckled, kids left, kids stared. The press were there and it was joyously obvious that ATV were not gonna fall into anyone’s wunoofreefore stereotype.
“Right now, along with the Pistols and Clash, ATV are the most important band in the land….this is Velvet Underground on a social security level.” Sounds.
“Is There Life After Punk?” headline in NME (along with photo!)
‘You Bastard’ (Stones/Pistols), ‘Life’ (Beach Boys/Popunk), ‘Sleep in Bed’ (Beatles/Heavy Metal), ‘Action, Time, Vision’ (Ramones/Patti Smith), all the songs were beginning to get on the right side of a shambles and speed towards being vinyl necessity.
ALEX: “My judgement on the matter now is that I just had to disagree with Mark’s ideas dabbling solely in the avant garde, discordant rythms, Shakespearian theatrics, continually selling himself short. It is much less obvious and more sellable to combine all that with a real beat and and listenable melodies, it makes the whole projection memorable. In taking all those risks, breaking down those ‘rules’, he is in fact playing it far too safe. I hate the elitists trap of playing to your friends or the so-called clever ones. I’m sorry, I hate things that try to sell purely on aesthetics – like European cinema f’rinstance. I know it’s valid but this Polish realism just does not stick. Give me Hitchcock or Capra or any of the American hamburger flicks.”
The band got better by the gig/rehearsal and played two nights supporting Wayne County at the Roxy which both exhilerated and scared the crap out of me. I mean, things had come together. They created tension and excitement in the air that could have been cut with a lino knife. If the band had played solid for another month like that, there would have been no stopping. As it was they didn’t play again properly for another seven weeks during which John Towe finally bowed out and Chris Bennett bowed in. The inner tension took root in that Mark would want gigs that Alex didn’t and vice-versa.
MARK: “I wasn’t gonna fuckin’ take that circuit of the same stamping ground all them other dreary soundalikes take. Y’know, Red Cow, Vortex, Nashville. They are all sudden death and make ya sterile as shit.”
In all its seven month history ATV have only played about twenty gigs. And true to his word Mark turned down every offer of the accepted ‘training’ ground’, even the return to the Marquee. “We done it. What do we wanna get like Val Doonican with the residency bit for?”
ALEX: “I think eighteen gigs in six months is farcical. But we always disagreed on the venues.”
However they accepted the tour of Scotland supporting Chelsea, and strung consecutive nights together for the first time. Some awful (Hey Paisley!) but all adding to the way the two individuals up front saw it setting up.
ALEX: “I witnessed the new-look ATV at their Other Cinema offering. Mark was good but not great. He was much better at the Manchester/Scotland tour/Duke gigs…” (as one of the few witnesses to the Duke gig, I think it best described as a party. I’m sure Mark and Tyrone can’t remember the actual set too well. There was this pub see…) “At the Other Cinema I took into account Tyrone’s amplification problems, but I can’t see around the fact that it’s someone else’s interpretation of MY music. I mean, I co-wrote them all, even the publishing name, (boy eats girl), and still know it as MY band. Mark’s approach isn’t concerned with youth acceptance anymore, it’s impossible for ATV now anyway, since they don’t cater for their visions I.E. no accepted punk visual stance in any way and now don’t have the musical sensibilities to hack it up even if they did. The new bass player has a fucking beard and they work on the theory of dressing any way you please. So teenage kids are gonna find it hard to take in any case without that kind of output. I find it strange that someone who’s twenty should want to play to an older audience before his time.”
The crunch comes down to being satisfied. Mark hates to be satisfied but with a passion. If he hears that his band is the greatest it doesn’t do half to him than if he’d been told they were incomprehensible and weird. At the moment ATV don’t play one of their old numbers, largely unheard though they are. They do play ‘Love Lies Limp’ in a strange way, it always gives Mark a bizarre satisfaction to fuck his audience about, even if he don’t care to admit it. And it can’t be easy to dismiss songs like ‘Life’, ‘How Much Longer’ and ‘You Crucify Me’, in favour of the trying ‘Still Life’ and ‘Alternatives’.
MARK: “I saw us going to be just a ‘nice’ band. Well, I don’t want to be cosy and have singalongs. I hate singing. All that lalala (mimes a Roller).”
ALEX: “When I outlived my usefullness the other two oafs in the group conspired with Mark to oust me. The bass player (Tyrone) couldn’t wait to take over lead, not that he’s much cop. If I’d have stayed we could have operated on the basis of putting out singles to kids, and aiming our albums at an older buyer with one side pop/me and the other given to Mark’s avant-garde Zappa bit. An ideal marriage to put into action.”
As it is ATV as was have only seen vinyl twice. One in the Glue giveaway flexi-disc (‘Love Lies Limp’), and in the shape of a first real release in ‘How Much Longer’/’You Bastard!’ All were cut with Alex, but the ‘real’ single pales, in comparison with the version cut in the same session as ‘LLL’. That session, produced by Nick Mobbs at EMI, has just two other tracks, (‘You Bastard’ and ‘Life’) and is only a cassette available to the few, (even Alex don’t have it), but is real testament to what ATV were Summer ’77. If they can bootleg an entire Pistols LP they must be able to get that quartet out on a white label EP, cos it really should be heard, and not just flaunted in some Sounds writer’s weekly choice, (they do love to show they know the stars with all that personal tape bit each week, I mean what good is that to us to know they possess some highly unlikely reel to reel that nobody has ever heard of), anyrate it would be criminal for at least some of that period to go unnoticed.
By the time of the Rat Club gig ATV were a pennance to watch, which is not to say dull or bad. It just wasn’t the stuff riots are made of, and the audience were confused on how exactly to respond, again frustrating Alex but fuelling Mark. So after Liverpool Mark told the band he was leaving.
In a bizarre split Tyrone and Chris went with him and Alex was shunned cold. The new band got together with a bassist Dennis Burns and were playing the Speakeasy within nine days totally reshuffled in personnel and set. Alternative TV are still impossible to pin down.
ALEX: “Finally, I still think Mark Perry is worth a lot, but I’m afraid he’s gonna lose so many shareholders.”
I saw Mark the other day as the band came back from a French tour. How did it go Mark?
“Well, y’know… funny audiences the French…”
I think ATV are gonna get ‘funny audiences’ till they jack it in, because they always leave you wondering if it’s you or them that’s got it wrong. At the recent 100 Club gig I saw him after and told him that the day the music dies they’re gonna hold ATV for questioning.
“What’d’ya mean?” he said, “Is that good or bad?”
Do you know I really don’t know.
© Danny Baker, ZigZag, December 1977