Alternative TV: The Roxy, London
FROM A MOVEMENT to a fashion. Johnny Rotten said in a recent interview that “the whole idea of our band was to have 30,000 different attitudes in music, not 30,000 imitations.”
Alternative TV have got notjust a different but, more importantly, a unique attitude. There may be others, but all I’ve seen so far have been twists on the same basic stereotype. ATV don’t look particularly like a punk band, or at least they don’t have the trappings: no safety pins, spray-painted graffiti and so forth. Nor do they sound much like a punk band. Comparison-wise they’re something between the Patti Smith band and The Velvet Underground. Fashionable and fairly predictable territory, but ATV also have a good quota of unplaceable and surprising ideas. At the moment, though, they’re just this side of a shambles, something a projected two months rehearsing before any more gigs should hopefully cure.
I missed the first few numbers in their set, but judging from the atmosphere I didn’t miss much. The half-full Roxy was divided between apathy and uncommited interest, with maybe a handful of the opinion that something different, therefore perhaps worth attention, was going on. ATV were having a bad night. The music was failing to gel, and Mark P looked decidedly laconic, barely moving and eyeing the crowd with an expression that seemed to say I’m-telling-you-something-but-just-don’t-care, with maybe a hint of disdain.
What he was telling us I don’t know, because I couldn’t hear him properly. It sounded like vague polemic (though I’m willing to believe it was specific) — half-sung, half spoken in a dry monotone over Alex Fergusson’s thrashing guitar and the slipshod rhythms of Tyrone Thomas (bass) and John Towe (drums) (the latter filling in until they find a permanent drummer).
Things began to pick up, however, and what was earlier little more than an achordant mess developed a bit of shape and attack. Then the band jerked into ‘Love Lies Limp’, almost reggae, but convoluted to the point of being unrecognisable as such. The guitar, rhythm and voice meshed in jagged inspiration and with a title like that I wish I could have heard the words.
As soon as it finished a tape started playing. Disjointed narratives mixed with formless bits of music and noise. The band remained still and the crowd looked visibly confused. Slowly Alex Fergusson geared in with some chords and the band set off into ‘Alternatives To NATO’ words based on a text in an anarchist magazine. It was formless by most definitions of a song, the guitars and drums playing almost at random while Mark P tersely delivered the words. An intense and compulsive number.
ATV’S position on any punk hierarchy is irrelevant, because they transcend the genre — or rather the fashion. They’re doing what Johnny Rotten meant when he said go out and form a band.
‘Alternatives To NATO’ finished and there was a tangible moment of stunned silence before the shouts for more. The others left the stage but Mark P stood quietly while a speeded-up tape of some new wave single or other filled the PA… When the tape finished he half smiled at the bewildered crowd and said:
“It still doesn’t mean anything.”
© Paul Rambali, New Musical Express, 9 July 1977