ONE SOMETIMES wonders what ever happened to the original punk rock generation of 1976? Obviously those who have managed to hold onto the limelight we know about – some died, some became superstars. While for the bulk of the spectators and performers at the 100 Club, Notre Dame and Roxy – the bulb flickered briefly and then blew out.
It was a surprise to say the least when I read in the music papers a few months back that Mark Perry had kicked into action a third incarnation of ATV. Y’know, Mark P – founder of the world’s first punk fanzine, originator of the Step Forward new-wave label, vocalist/musician with two previous versions of his band Alternatives To Television, charismatic spokesman and general personality for a movement. I thought that he’d settled down into contented obscurity as a nurse. Apparently not.
The Union Tavern in Kings Cross was fairly packed with a gathering of old faithfuls, curiosity seekers and new punx. Seemingly an uncomfortable audience for the person who’d rejected the whys and whereofs of rock schemery for the free fall, avant-guarde music that accompanied his previous three or four outings. Danny Baker’s comment at the time was, “The day the music dies, ATV will be called in for questioning.” Indeed. At best, the atmosphere created bristled with an emotionally liberating tension but more often than not self-indulgence would be an understatement. A brief comeback with ATV 2, which featured a reunion with the original, populist, guitar player Alex Fergusson proved futile. Strange Kicks, the resulting LP had its moments but all too few of them, the majority of tracks were pop fillers aiming for a market which just wasn’t there. Half-hearted experiments with other musicians followed, all coming to not much at all. Mark Perry, like many others, simply disappeared.
The Union Tavern gig proved that unpredictability is indeed Perry’s watchword. ATV were back in rock-action form, playing powerful punk music that had the crowd pogoing. Wildness. To sum up, the gig was magical – one of those rare events that leaves a glow which burns for days after. I had to interview him. After arrangements were made I told Mark that I hoped he’d carry on this time. The puzzled look he gave me suggested that this just wasn’t on. It was no surprise therefore to hear a few weeks later that ATV 3 had split up. Mark Perry – elusive, uncompromising – he has never delivered anything on a plate and never will.
THERE IS no such mystery or mystique around Mark Perry as a person. A quick mouthed, intelligent, and cheerful South Londoner – bouncy vitality fills the room. We talk for hours about a past that spans nine years of creative activity and a present that includes working for the Lewisham Council, plotting a holiday in Italy with his girlfriend and reactivating his musical career.
By the time this interview took place, three months after the aforementioned gig, a new band had already been formed and LP demos made, ready for a record company to pick on.
What’s been happening?
“The band that you saw, it wasn’t happening and it wasn’t going to happen. We were doing music that we didn’t want to do. Heavy, loud, raucous, punk music. Y’know, ‘Mark Perry’s still a punk.’ Groan.
“The songs now are basically the same although the execution isn’t as wild. It’s still up-tempo rock music but we’re trying other things like acoustics. I’m into lyrics at the moment with nice sounding backings, not boring backings, but nice Velvet’s type ones. With no guitars screaming away.
“They’re quite straight. I want through a ‘strange’ period before ’cause the way I saw it was that it was no use doing something different if you used the same instruments that Thin Lizzy did. I don’t believe that so much now – it’s the way you do things that’s ultimately important.”
The lyrics seem as pessimistic as ever.
“If I ever did a cover version it’d be Hank William’s ‘Lost Highway’ about a guy who’s lost his job, lost his wife and is just wandering down his lost highway. Thatcher’s Britain summed up.
“I like country writers like Gram Parsons and Hank Williams. I like that view of life that they’ve got – a realistic view. They don’t lie.
“It’s not important to write about what a great time you had last night. When I sit down and write music, write words, I want to expose my darker thoughts really. The happy things just happen and they’ve gone. The darker things you can’t really explain to anyone so you write ’em down.”
Is there an idealism there? Are you still idealistic?
“Yeah, on several different levels. I’m totally anti-fashion. Right from the Sniffin’ Glue days – we wrote that the Sex Pistols had written ‘Anarchy’ just to sell Malcolm’s T-shirts. That’s what we believed, that it was a con.
“I always thought Sniffin’ Glue was punk, caring about the important things and not just worrying about the music.
“The first Glue was very naive, ‘kill the hippies’, that type of thing. But after a while we started to wonder what it was all about. And after about four or five, with all the acclaim, we had to say that Sniffin’ Glue doesn’t matter, what you do is important. I’ve carried on saying that ever since.
“But of course I do care about music. Music’s a thing, it sounds like religious preaching now but, music is given to us and people use it and take it and sell it and then they discard it like all those 60’s people have done – they haven’t given anything back to it. I believe that part of the punk thing was not doing that to music, but always appreciating it as the source, which just doesn’t happen anymore ’cause everyone’s into their ego. Sure, I’ve got an ego like everybody else but I don’t do what I do to gain adulation – I’d never do that, I’d feel…embarrassed.
“On a different level I’ve always thought that working class kids…I’ve always had the ideal that somehow they could get out of that. Not into being middle class but into being something that’s classless That’d be perfect. I haven’t seen it much, I suppose I’ve only met ten people in my life who I can say were ‘classless’. They just didn’t think like that and I really admire those people.
“The thing that held punk back as well as the fashion was the working class snobbery, being proud of being ‘working class’ – like Arfur Mullard, y’know? Later, the Oi movement was ‘that’, totally destructive.”
I mention that Sniffin’ Glue has to have its share of the blame, the early Sham 69 interview for instance
“That was Danny Baker, he’s still really into being ‘working class’. He said something on TV a few mouths back that really got to me – they were showing some old photo’s of London and he said. ‘This is an exhibition for da working class rather than those arty exhibitions that they usually have in these galleries an’ that.’ It was so thick, I thought, ‘Oh God you’ve killed the whole working class there’.”
“I’ve never been that interested in politics really. ‘Anarchy’ fascinated me for a while but I like comfort too much, I like to come home to a nice bed and good food. I like things to be tidy and then I can do things. I mean, anarchy, you’ve got to lose that and say, ‘this time is me, these are my clothes, there’s the door and out I go.’ I’m into possessions too much – my little record collection – how can you be an anarchist with all your records in order?
“I believe in a central government with, hopefully, ideals that help people who need helping. I believe that people should be made to do things, like the Conservatives, the businessmen and the rich should be made to give money to those who need it. Redistribution of wealth. It’s obviously wrong that someone could spend £8 million on a racehorse while some people elswhere are suffering. That type of mentality must be changed. But to me that’s beyond politics – that’s just something that is fundamentaly wrong.”
Will you use your music to amplify these thoughts?
“Look, the most political of Bob Dylan’s songs haven’t changed a thing in the States. Forget it. Music is like poetry and art – it can say a lot, abbreviate a lot but that’s not where the real world is. That’s out there in politics and revolution – actually doing it, shooting people – that’s reality. Sadly, it’d be great if poets could change the world, but they can’t.”
If this album took off would you, I wonder, be prepared to give up your job again and go for it?
“Go for what?”
“Nah, I can have the spirit and keep my job. The question that you’ve got – form a group, chuck in your job, play a load of gigs – it’s the wrong equation. In the Glue ’76/’77 I had the idea that you’ve got to get out, be free, so I left the bank. Now I realize that people can be free and still work at a normal job. They can still pack their lives with things and be more free than you or I.
“Being in a group is one of the most restrictive things that I can think of. It’s so boring. It’s all set out, the rock scene, all ordered, all the gigs are there, everyone’s done it before and we’re doing it again. There’s nothing big about that, you may as well go and work in a bank or something. It’s just as dull, you wear different clothes and stay up later – so what. Big deal, it’s really gonna change the world y’know.
“I’m a lot freer now than I ever was then. I was restricted, prejudiced…against hippies, against people in suits. I thought they were all boring straights, which is just not true. Now some people I admire wear suits so where’s that at? Those things just don’t matter.
“I don’t think that dropping out’s the answer. I know where I am, I know what I am – I don’t need to prove it to anybody else.”
How many others in the ‘creative’ world could say that, truthfully? Obviously Mark P has ‘grown up’, in music and attitude His ‘voice’ and honesty, however, have not been tempered with by the years. He still tells it like it should be told – from the heart. Whether his new music ‘does’ anything or not remains to be seen. For me, it’s simply a pleasure to have him back in operation.
Do you sometimes feel old, too old?
“At 25 I felt old and fat. Now, at 27, I’m OK, I’ve got a new lease of life.”
© Richard Kick, ZigZag, October 1984