The iJamming! Chat: Mark Perry

AS THE FIRST sentence of my mission statement makes clear, Mark Perry was a major factor in my deciding to write about music – though, as the following discussion reveals, it turns out he never wrote the pivotal words I’ve associated him with! Such is the power of mythology – especially that which we create for ourselves. Regardless, by launching the fanzine Sniffin’ Glue in 1976, Mark P, as he was then known, provided the nascent British punk rock movement with its first print forum. By the time he packed it in, a year later, Sniffin’ Glue was selling 15,000 a month and had reached Bible status.

I never actually owned a copy of Sniffin’ Glue – the last of twelve issues was published just before I started getting involved in any kind of music “scene” – yet it was always a blueprint for my own ambitions; I don’t think there was a fanzine editor in the UK in the late ’70s who didn’t want to emulate Sniffin’ Glue‘s independence and influence.

Mark gave up writing about punk music to concentrate on performing it with his band Alternative TV. But a series of inspired singles and a monumental debut album only succeeded in propelling him beyond the understanding of his audience. Disillusioned, he embraced the same hippy prog-rock that punk had initially railed against, and by 1979 was playing free festivals at Stonehenge alongside Gong spin-offs the Here and Now. A contradiction? Most certainly, but Mark was never afraid to contradict himself; he admitted as much when I interviewed him for Jamming! back in 1978 and continued to do so, in my Brooklyn home office, in January 2001.

So what was Mark doing in Brooklyn? Good question. Though it passed below my radar, Mark has reformed Alternative TV over the years for occasional gigs and even more occasional releases, while softening his principles to the point of playing the old songs again. Offered the chance to bring the band to New York City for a few gigs, he simply said yes. Never mind that the shows were during the early January hibernation period, that there was little advance warning, minimal publicity and no release to promote, Mark just seemed happy to finally play New York twenty-plus years after becoming a fan of the city’s punk scene.

All very odd, I’ve got to say. And none of it odder than one of their gigs being on a Saturday afternoon at a semi-obscure record store just down the street from me. If you’d told the nervous 14-year old kid interviewing the rather recalcitrant 21-year old Mark Perry for a little-known fanzine called Jamming! back in 1978 that 22 years down the line, Alternative TV would be playing New York – for the first time – and that the kid would also be living there, in Brooklyn of all places, and they’d be having tea on a Saturday afternoon before ATV played the local record store…well it goes without saying I wouldn’t have believed it. Nor would I have wanted to.

Still, the prospect of interviewing Mark again prompted me to pull out my copy of his band’s debut album The Image Has Cracked. As is often said, Alternative TV were post-punk before there was such a thing as post-punk, which means that what sounded confrontational then sounds “merely” influential now. Certainly it was a brave album for its time, opening with a deliberately jarring prog-rock jam that quickly morphed into that section of the ATV live show where Mark passed the mike to the audience, all of whom shunned (on this recorded occasion) the opportunity to say anything of any consequence whatsoever. Mark and the band interpreted this punk ignorance as giving them carte blanche to play whatever they wanted, from their punk-pop theme song ‘Action Time Vision’ to the Zappa-like ‘Why Don’t You Do Me Right?’, the raucous ‘Good Times,’ the effects-ridden (and highly effective) guitar instrumental ‘Red’ and the dark, avant garde, live recordings of ‘Still Life’ and ‘Splitting In Two.’

The CD reissue (click on cover for more info) benefits enormously from inclusion of the early singles ‘Love Lies Limp’ (an ode to impotence released as a flexidisc with Sniffin’ Glue), ‘How Much Longer’/’You Bastard,’ my personal favorite ‘Life’ (with its classic line “life’s about as wonderful as a dole queue”), the offbeat ‘Life After Life’ and its flip side, ‘Life After Dub.’ Even the group’s farewell single, the completely mad ‘The Force is Blind’/’Lost In A Room’ stands the test of time. Throughout, Perry displays an abundance of wit, suss and foresight, a distinctive (if distinctly tuneless) voice, a willingness to experiment with musical forms (especially reggae), and yet an ability to pen rock anthems. Think of a Joe Strummer some ten years younger, and you have an idea of Mark’s potential at that point.

Yet Perry chose not to make the most of his musical merits or communicative skills, continuing so rapidly down the road of experimentation that he left his entire audience – and circle of friends – behind. The group’s second album Vibing Up The Senile Man was widely derided. Mark reacted by breaking up Alternative TV, forming the even weirder Good Missionaries – and the rest is obscurity.

Almost. If it turns out that Mark has not been as idle as I had imagined over the years, neither has he been willing to promote himself back into the spotlight. Is that a fault? Or a quality? It’s a little of both, and it makes Mark Perry who he is – as influential a figure as the first generation of punk had to offer, and yet someone who hardly suffers for being recognized in the street on a daily basis. Someone who passed up Clash-like career opportunities to make a step forward with his own music, but who can now be found trying to make something of a career out of his musical past.

That includes assembling a Sniffin’ Glue compendium which reprints all twelve issues alongside some great photographs from the era, a personal look back at his year-long stint in the eye of the storm, and a lengthy conversation between Mark and his former co-editor Danny Baker. Having never successfully sold anyone (including, if I’m honest, myself) the idea of Jamming! as a similar compendium, I’m stuck with archiving my magazine on the web. Beyond that, I hesitate to suggest our publications have too much in common. Sniffin’ Glue was a short-lived shot in the arm, 100% punk from start to finish; Jamming! was a long-lived evolving enterprise that compromised to survive, perhaps better befitting the term ‘new wave’. However, talking with Mark, reading other interviews with him, it seems we have far more in common in our outlooks to life and music than we have any differences. If nothing else, our experiences gave us a reason to spend part of a cold January Saturday afternoon talking about them

(After settling in for some tea, I pull out a folder that had made it across the ocean with me, and show Mark the original typed interview transcript I still have from when I first interviewed him 22 years ago. )

I don’t know how anal that makes me! It makes me totally and completely anal except for the fact that twenty years later when we can all put up web sites and archive our work, it’s great to have this stuff.

Mark: Well that’s something I haven’t done. I think that in a lot of ways I could do a lot more if I had have kept all that stuff. With me, I do stuff, and then when I finish that project I move onto the next one, I leave it all behind.

When I did that interview with you all those years ago, I was just getting my own act together in terms of being a young kid going out to gigs and starting to go out and interview people. Whereas you were already at the point of being very frustrated with punk.

Yeah, and very quickly. When you think about it, we’re talking about twenty years ago, and it seems incredible, even to me, that within almost a year and a half of it starting, as far as I was concerned I was finished with it. I couldn’t relate to the new bands; I certainly couldn’t relate to the audience. I always remember our bassist Dennis Burns, backstage after a gig. All through the set they were shouting for the old songs, and we were about not playing the old songs, we were going to move on, so we would play a song like ‘Fellow Sufferer ‘or ‘Vibing Up The Senile Man,’ or ‘Nasty Little Lonely’ even, and people were just calling for ‘You Bastard.’ I remember our bassist getting off the stage and saying “Mark, I don’t think I can do this any more, I just hate our audience.” And it’s horrible for a band to feel that. Dennis was never really a punk anyway, he was a freak, so he fitted in well to my approach to music. But when you get to that stage that you despise the audience, it’s not nice, you don’t want to feel that, but you just feel that no one is really listening. In the old days I was very earnest about what I was doing, extremely so. And that’s a quality of mine. Which is why Sniffin’ Glue was so powerful, so definite in its approach. I wasn’t scared, 1) to make a fool of myself, and, 2) to actually contradict myself. I used to admit when I was wrong, change my opinion. And I honestly felt, within that short amount of time, this great amazing gulf between myself and punk had appeared. I started growing my hair long, that was a physical sign of that.

I know in a way there’s a burden about being the first to happen on to something. Because you can be really idealistic at the beginning. Whereas people who come in after a while join for the fun ride and they don’t share the idealism.

I remember speaking to Mick Jones at a party very early in ’77, him saying “God, what’s it all about, what am I doing?” Because it happened so fast for these bands. Back in the ’60s bands had to slog for a few years before they made it, so they got that professionalism, they had something to fall back on. When you think about how quickly these bands ‘made it’ – whatever that means – suddenly they were heroes or whatever. A lot of them were almost like, “Do I deserve it?” Someone like Jonesy was probably comparing himself to his heroes, the Keith Richards and Ian Hunters, and thinking “What am I doing here?” The pressure. . . you’ve got to come up with the goods. I’m sure Johnny Lydon was feeling that as well, because there was always two sides to him. You had the public face with the sneers, but there was a guy that was obviously a very thoughtful guy, a very sensitive guy in many ways. And the stuff that must have been going through his head. . .

I think he had it harder than anyone, because he was made out to be Public Enemy. To the point of being slashed in the street. So he quit, and you figure it was only January 78 when he left the Pistols. For a lot of us, that was one year we knew the band – even less.

It would be like for the Who, it would be like the end of ’67 it all fell apart.

It’s that quick. [In fact, it would have been like the Who splitting up in ’65 – which they did do for a while.] So back in ’78, ’79 you were at the stage where you hated the audience because they only wanted to hear the old songs. Jump forward 20 years, and you seem happy to come out here and just be Alternative TV and play the old songs. For those people who remember Alternative TV as a band that had to give up because you were too far ahead of the audience, what’s your own explanation for coming all the way back round so that you just get up and play the first album?

Again, it gets back to the time thing. When you look at Alternative TV’s career, it’s like looking at another band with a twelve-fifteen year period. We compressed that into a year! Our first single come out just after the summer of ’77. ‘How much Longer’/’You Bastard’. Punk tracks, fast, energetic, more melodic than a lot of punk, but still angry lyrics. By August ’78 I was writing Vibing Up The Senile Man. Within a year I’d gone that far.

What happened afterwards was. . .There was a last hurrah. We made one album, a poppy punk album for A&M, on the IRS label, called Strange Kicks. We did that in ’81. I wrote the lyrics, and Alex Ferguson joined me again and wrote the songs. It was my attempt to get Miles [Copeland, then running IRS] back on my side, because by that point I’d got so leftfield and weird, so out of it, Miles thought I’d gone mad, he thought I’d flipped.

Well, he was having success with the Police at that point.

He didn’t need us any more. A year earlier, he pandered to my every need. “Mark’s the guy, whatever Mark says goes on the label [Step Forward] is on the label.” I was the punk guru to him. Let’s face it, I helped him get off on his arse and back in the running. Of course by that point in the 80’s, the Police were the biggest band in the world almost, he didn’t need us any more. So we became a bit of a burden. He wasn’t interested in us any more. We made this last album as if to say, “Here’s a good album for you, a poppy album, maybe something you can sell.” But our heart wasn’t in it. I wrote the lyrics but I wasn’t involved in the production.

I don’t remember that album at all.

Strange Kicks. It’s a good album actually. A lot of that album I used the lyrics to talk about a story. I had this thing called the ‘Ancient Rebels’, which was about Alternative TV’s story. Started out with a Wordsworth poem, angry singing, then we found ourselves in the mud at Stonehenge, we started singing the blues. And then it’s packaged in this really poppy music. . . bizarre really. Anyway, what happened really was that by ’81, I was finished. I thought I would never play music again. I was happy it was over. I was going to become a nurse. I got together with someone who wasn’t particularly interested in music. We bought a flat in Blackheath. I was doing an English Literature A Level at Night School. It’s mad! I was still talking to people about music, I still knew a lot of people, but what happened was some new people came into my Life: a guy called Lee Gorney who used to promote gigs at the Thames Polytechnic at Woolwich, and Alan McGee. Alan said “You’ve got to play my club.” So in 1984 we got together ATV and played his Living Room gigs at various venues, which used to move around from Great Portland Street to Kings Cross. That was good for me, because it was slightly younger blokes who had been into it, saying “Look, we like you, You’re a good band, come and play again.” I had distanced myself enough, got rid of the old, and there was these new people. And that kept happening.

So through the late ’80s, we started playing again, not to very big audiences, but enough to make us feel we were wanted. We started getting a lot of nods from American bands. We played with Fugazi later on, and Sonic Youth said “ATV, they’re cool.” That brought my confidence back. We were just playing new stuff, I still had that thing about “I don’t care about the past,” we used to play all new songs and then end on ‘Splitting In Two,’ one song from the old days. That went on through to the ’90s, on and off, playing records, working with James Kyllo, who works with Alan McGee. We had Dave Morgan on drums, from the Weather Prophets, so we had younger musicians playing with us.

Then in 1995, we were invited to play a punk festival. At first we said no. But then they said “you’ve got to play, if they find out ATV are playing , believe us, you’re going to go down a storm. Because you haven’t played the punk set to these people who want to hear you.” I looked back and realised we didn’t play that set hardly at all. We’d done one tour, and then I chucked the drummer and that was it. So a song like ‘Still Life,’ we probably only played it 12 or 15 times live. So I thought “well let’s see how it sounds.” Most people who hear us think we’re a contemporary band.

Because they don’t know the history….

And of course a lot of the material sounds modern anyway, because we were ahead of our time, as you mentioned. Something like ‘Still Life’ is timeless. It’s not the Lurkers! So in a way, that’s what we’ve been doing. We sold ourselves on that for a while: “we’re playing the 1978 set, come and see what it was like, feel what the energy was like.” And also I realised that I still believe a lot in that material. I thought, “I don’t mind singing this music, because it’s still relevant to me.” There’s a few songs, I mean we do ‘How Much Longer’ and ‘You Bastard,’ I don’t particularly like doing them, but Tony Barber [current ATV & Buzzcocks bassist and PopTones artist] wants to do them and he’s a fan. I mean, it should be fun, doing music, shouldn’t it?

You mentioned earlier that you do something and then leave it behind and burn your bridges, and I think some of us do do that but then we come back around. We say “I did that thing years ago, and at the time I wanted to remove myself from it, but you know what? It was alright…”

. . .”I’m proud of that.” Yeah, and that’s happened to me. What I will say to you is that the set we’re playing in America is purely an old set. In London we do do a lot of new songs as well. We’ve done this set purely for the Americans because they’ve never heard us. In London we do put in new songs. But of course the other thing that I’ve come back around to is Sniffin’ Glue, because for years, apart from the odd radio or TV interview I might do, I didn’t really think about it. And then again the same thing, in the late 90s, when people started looking back at punk, thinking that was the last time it was exciting, that was a bloody good scene. You know when Brit Pop was such a failure, people started looking back, didn’t they?

I was back in England researching the Moon book in ’96, at the peak of Britpop, and it was the first time it felt that the UK had been exciting for quite a few years. But in the middle of that period, I went to a gig where someone handed me a flyer for Sniffing Glue, advertising a new issue, which took me totally aback. Did you start the magazine back up again?

No, that was a scam we did. Well it wasn’t really a scam. We just put something out to see if there would be interest. Someone had an idea and I said “well you go with it” and we put the feelers out to see what the response would be.

So what was the response?

I can’t remember. I don’t think it was very good! But what I did do is. . . I met up with Vic Goddard, a person I didn’t really know well in the early punk days, and we put together a band called the the Long Decline, we put out an album. We did this great gig at the Garage in 97, and it was almost like a classic Alternative TV/Subway Sect show. Bobby Gillespie was there, Edwin was there. And I did a special Sniffin’ Glue as a programme. And Vic was up for that. And we did a punk festival at the 100 Club, and the Buzzcocks were on, and we did one for that.

So what did you put in those?

Just about the bands that were playing. And then I’d do a big rant about what punk means now, compared to then. Particularly at the 100 Club, I had Vic talking about what it meant to play the 100 CLub. Vic told me there was a bloke at school who was like Mr Joe Public, whatever he got into you knew was going to get big, and Vic said the day he knew punk was going to get big was when he walked out of the soundcheck at the 100 Club in ’76 and saw this bloke in the queue!

Punk became new wave, and then new wave went off in a couple of different directions. At which point, punk came to mean people like GBH and the Exploited and UK Subs. When you play the punk festivals, do you run up against these bands who had nothing really to do with punk?

Oh yeah. I’ve shared a bill with people like GBH and Splodgeness. Back then, I’d have been like. “I’m not talking these people,” but now I’ve matured a lot, which helps with the sense of humor and all that. Because you can say “I don’t need to get involved with worrying about all this.” GBH come up and said “Alright Mark, I’m glad you’re playing.” What are you going to do? Say “Shove off, you’re in GBH?” I’m older now, I’m not going to get into these things. Basically, everyone does their own thing, but I think it’s good that, as far as I’m concerned, ATV are a punk band, Subway Sect are a punk band, and we were there at the start. To me, it’s good that bands like us play on those bills, because all those young mohicans and the dog-at-the-end-of-a-string brigade, can see the other side of it. To me, it’s “let’s show them.” If ATV say we won’t do it, then everyone thinks punk is like you said. Which to the majority of people is true. If there is a cause I’ve got, it’s to show that there’s more to punk than leather jackets and mohicans, and we’re it. You know what I mean? We get out there and show that there’s an alternative.

That reminds me of a comment that Paul Weller made once, which was “You can bury me a mod.” In that sense, can you be buried a punk?

Definitely. I considered Vibing Up The Senile Man to be a punk album. Because it was made by a punk band. It didn’t matter that we were playing violins. The attitude was still there, and I always believed that. I’ve never thought that punk was like British psychedelia, which the Who dabbled with, and the Stones. I think of punk as a little bit more of a decision that you made at the time.

An attitude.

Yeah. For me, it was such a life changing time. I would actually feel bad for denying it. And I’m never going to deny it any more. I’m proud of what I’ve done, both with Sniffin’ Glue and the band, and I’ve reconciled now, I’ve come full circle on both those things. We get out with the band and play the songs I still believe in. Plus, the Sniffin Glue is out again, in a big book and people can see how great it was.

Is there any bitterness or regret that you didn’t seize on your moment? You had a moment where, if you had decided to make the most of your name, you could have been, I guess, a rock star. You could have gone the route of a lot of bands that got big. Do you ever think, “God, I was so headstrong, I turned away the chance to be bigger at this?”

Probably the only time I felt that, was. . . you know I said that in 81, I split from Miles? I’ve never been very good with money, I split from Miles Copeland and had a big fight with him when I found out he hadn’t paid my tax and insurance. Well I went from being quite a well known person on the rock scene – even in ’81 – and this was a comedown for me. . . within a couple of months I was selling newspapers in WH Smiths on Waterloo Station. I needed a job, a part time job. And that was gutting. I’ve always been quite a strong character, I’m an only child, I’ve been through some self-examination. I can look after myself and I know what I am. I know why I was doing it, to pay the rent. But I was very upset, because at the time, it was a little thing but it did hurt me, John Tobler (a music journalist) came through and saw me there. Two weeks later, it’s in the NME. “How the mighty have fallen…Mark P seen at WH Smiths.” I was so disgusted; I thought “just because someone is doing a regular job, ” I thought it was fucking disgraceful. Tobler blamed Danny Baker [Perry’s former Sniffin’ Glue partner who was then at the NME], he said he’d said, “Look who I saw, your old mate.” But to put it in the fucking Teasers in NME.

What did Danny Baker say about that?

I don’t know. I never really found out how it got in there.

A lot of people would have held onto their pride, and rather than take a crap job, called all their old mates and said “you”re doing well in the music business, give us a job.” Or at least say “Listen, I’ve got to pay the rent, I need some work.”

I would never do that, I’ll sort myself out. I went and worked for Lewisham Council too. But selling papers at Waterloo Station was pretty poxy. One time I clocked Jimmy Pursey [from Sham 69, who Perry signed to his label Step Forward and put on the cover of the final Sniffin’ Glue]. I thought “I hope he doesn’t see me,” cos the manager of the store was in there and I’ve got the old WH Smiths tie on. And Pursey is putting all the papers down, ‘Cos he’s on his uppers at this point, isn’t he? Puts em down, NME, Melody Maker…. “How much is that mate?” I start adding up, keeping me head down, then he sees me. “Fucking Mark! What the fuck are you doing ‘ere?” Shouting out real loud. I’m like, “Jim, I just need some money.” “Need some money? That’s fucking disgraceful. Let’s go for a beer.” “I’m working, I can’t go for a beer.” “But it’s a fucking disgrace.” He’s doing his nut and I’m saying, “Jim, I’ll ring you, I’ll ring you!” (Laughs)

A lot of people surely would have said to you, “Come on the road. If you need some money, come out with us, we’ll look after you.” Or were you already at the point where you were saying, “I want nothing to do with music?”

At the time, I think, people would have thought “Well Mark wouldn’t like that.” Wouldn’t they? ‘Cos I’d done so much up until then. I’ve met people who were scared to talk to me, cos they said I was too serious, too earnest, a bit aloof. I didn’t think I was. But I had this background, as a legend. “Oh, the legendary fanzine, Sniffing Glue, that was the guy that did it.” I had said so much about being anti-music business, that the last thing that was going to happen was someone from a record company say to me “Do you want to be an A&R man? Do you want to be a press guy?” Actually the only person who offered me a job that was a solid offer, back to McGee again. Because he offered me a job through James Kyllo. James said, “I’ve been talking with Alan, Alan said do you want to do the press for the label?” This was 87-88. And I said no. I turned it down. I still then didn’t want to deal with the business. I always had this thing that I never wanted to sell a band that I didn’t like myself.

Well, I’ve done so many different things in the business, but the one thing I always felt I couldn’t do was be a publicist. Just the thought of calling up people like me!

Well I did a bit of it, when I used to help Nick (Jones) at Step Forward. But people wanted your product then! In those days, you could sell a thousand just by putting out a punk single in a picture sleeve,

Yeah. And to me those were the great days when all those singles were coming out. Your peak of punk was probably before all these people made records. But for me, with our age difference, the peak was between 78 and 81, when everybody was pressing up 7″ singles. On one hand, some of it was really good pop music, like I always loved the Undertones, and on the other hand you had people like the Pop group and Scritti Politti, the Raincoats…

Prag Vec…

Prag Vec. Yeah, all this weirdness. People would press up weird records, but they would be interesting.

Exciting times.

One of several reasons – and hopefully you’re proud of it – that I started doing a fanzine, was that in the autumn of ’77, Sounds did a cover story on fanzines, around September, and it just looked so exciting. And a) I thought I could do it. But b) I’m sure it had the quote from you, “It was easy it was cheap go and do it.”

Mark looks completely blank.

You didn’t write that?

No. In about November 76, we did something called Anarchy in the Rags. “Don’t just read what we write, go out and start your own fanzines, we want to flood the market with punk writing.” We were trying to debunk ourselves. And literally within a couple of months, Geoff Travis at Rough Trade was saying he was flooded with fanzines. And Jon Savage, in his book, says he read that, he was still working as a trainee solicitor. But then the next day he stayed up pasting his own fanzine.

Maybe it was someone on a record who said, “It was easy it was cheap, go and do it.” I know someone did!

There are these funny things that get missed over the years. There was a page in Strangled fanzine where they did the three chords. “Here’s three chords, now go out and form a band.” And people used to think it was Sniffin’ Glue. It’s gone into legend as Sniffing Glue. Though in Savage’s book, he credits Strangled fanzine ‘cos he at least researched it.

Well I understand about how that happens. But whatever, there was enough in that Sounds story to inspire me. To feel “This is what I can do.” ‘Cos it wasn’t like I could be a real punk, I was too young, too middle class.

Where were you living?

I was on the border of Norwood and Dulwich, and I was going to a grammar school. But then the grammar school was in the heart of Kennington, and it went comprehensive in 77 – they all did if you remember the Labour Government at the time. So the whole punk thing was very conflicting. Even if you were just 13, you were thinking, “Well, am I street enough? And does it matter that I take music lessons? . . .But this is really exciting and I want to be part of it.”

You were one of the kids we were talking about!

Yeah. Literally. Going out and buying the records. And that Sounds thing got me starting a fanzine. And it was always like Sniffin’ Glue was this icon. But I think you did the last issue round the time I started. Your last one was in ’77, wasn’t it?

Yeah around August, with Sham on the front. We only did 12 issues. With the Glue, if I was asked why it was so important, yeah there’s a load of good writing in there, but it was the way we conducted ourselves, the style of It, just the attitude. It had attitude in abundance didn’t it? And the gesture of closing it when it was so successful. We had offers to turn it into a proper magazine. We said “No, we’ve said what we wanted to say, everyone else is writing about punk now, I’m going to move onto something else.” And I think that established the legend.

You can keep things going too long. . .But you managed to hammer it out every month didn’t you, while it was going?

Yeah, it looks quite organized when you look back on it! We had great photos too cos all the photographers wanted to be in the Glue to put it in their CV. Jill Furmanovsky, Sheila Rock, Harry Murlowski. It looked good.

Talking about what happened with you after the Glue. Danny Baker, your partner, went the opposite way, didn’t he? He went from being part of Sniffin’ Glue to being multi-media mogul. Do you stay in touch with Danny?

I hadn’t seen him for a few years, but we connected again for the book. Because I wanted him involved – and the publishers did as well. I met up with Danny and that was great because it was the first time we’ve really talked about those years. A lot of which is in the book. We just rapped about the old days. I always felt that Danny was a much better writer than me, he’s better at putting words together. A lot of his stuff was very exciting to read again. He’s got stuff about when he was down the Vortex and they said Elvis was dead and he had a ruck with the audience. Danny’s personality comes through. Because Danny always seems to be a very centered person. He was never really a punk was he? He refused to cut his hair. But as far as I was concerned, that was a quality. He did his own thing. Even when he moved on to the NME, he did it on his own terms. Because from day one, when he did those classic interviews with the likes of Michael Jackson, it was Danny, It wasn’t some hack saying,”Oh this is my meal ticket.” It was Danny saying “What are you really about? I’m not going to suck up to you, but you’re interesting, what are you about?” Everyone Danny interviewed, they loved him.

He was always a very gregarious person. But he also represented a move away from punk because he was like a soul boy who became a punk who moved back to being a soul boy. And a lot of that was confusing, a lot of people treated punk as a rite of passage. They were a punk for a couple of years and then they got on with their lives. And then there were other people for whom it was like, life would never be the same again. . .What always amazes me about a lot of the punk singles, it’s amazing how normal a lot of the bands looked. All they had was the occasional skinny tie, regular jeans.

The odd zip on the trousers…(laughs). And the hair as well, when you think of what is the punk uniform, a lot of ’em just do have the regular hair.

And when you see footage of the old bands, you realise most of the people who were with it image-wise, were in the bands. When you see documentaries, you see amazing footage of people like the Clash in 1977 at Newcastle, and you look and the audience have all got hair down to here, beards and moustaches.

It’s probably the day after the gig that they got to cut their hair! I was the same, when I first saw the Pistols, I had long hair. After the first issue [of Sniffin’ Glue], I had long hair. I met Caroline Coon at an Eddie and the Hot Rods show, she said come and see the Pistols. So I turned up in a brown satin jacket! I still had my long hair, cos the Ramones had long hair and so I didn’t worry about that. But seeing the Pistols, I had this brown satin jacket literally ripped off my back, it was in tatters. But I didn’t care, ‘cos the next day I got the old Woolworths clippers and the hair came off! Caroline introduced me to the Pistols and Sid, Nils and Vivienne and there’s me standing in a satin jacket. Can you imagine? I remember Sid looking at Sniffin’ Glue and chucking it on the floor. I was scared of these people. Sid scared the shit out of me!

Talking about punk being an attitude, a lot of 1st/2nd generation punks got bored of music – and then resurfaced when the whole acid house/dance thing happened. A lot of people I know got hit almost as hard by that. To the extent that if you asked, Has there been another punk since punk, the only thing I could point at is the dance explosion. So I was interested in what your take was on that. Because there was a lot of DIY ethics there, a lot of punk attitude.

I could see the appeal for a lot of people, there was certainly an appeal for myself. I got not so much into the acid (house) but I did get into the drum and bass scene. I went to Metalheadz a lot, also cos my wife is really into it. And also, the way the records are being distributed – or not as the case may be – I liked the idea of that. I like the idea that there’s no personality, no stars, it’s just music, and all the people who were making it were just these faceless people in their bedroom. So yeah, I thought it was cool, but what it lacked for me was a reason. I still see dance, acid whatever, it’s an escapism. I suppose the main thing about punk for me is the words, the message. I wanted to get it from something else. I was quite passionate about dance. I used to do the Es, go out and get out of my head and try and get the vibe. I was up at Strawberry Sunday, hard house and techno, ‘aving it large! At 40 years old! I took me daughter down there once, and she was 17. She’s like “Dad, you’re embarrassing me.” I was busy saying to her, “no drugs, no drugs,” and meantime I’m like “yay.” So I was there, but the two reasons I stopped, one was I’m forty, this is silly – and you don’t know what you’re taking half the time. And the other thing was, “This is escapism, we might as well be sitting in a muddy field, getting off our faces. No.” I just got bored with it. And everything started sounding the same very quickly. And that’s not an old person saying “oh it all sounds the same” that’s a measured response, cos I know me music. And after a while, the same licks get used, the same break beats get used. I love drum and bass when it’s hard, but some of this jazzy, ineffectual lightweight stuff – Alex Reese and the like – you might as well have it in the background, in a lift.

The escapist thing you can argue about a lot. The acid house scene came out of ten years of Thatcher saying a) there’s no jobs for you, and b) get off your bike and do something, be a businessman, be an entrepreneur. So people basically said “right, you want us to do something with our lives and then you won’t give us jobs, so alright – alternative culture. Escapism.” So it is escapism – in the sense that yeah, we don’t want to handle your world.

So you feel that’s where the illegal raves come from?

I thought a lot of it was that. I know that people were getting so sick of the UK. I moved, a lot of people I know moved. But a lot of people went off and traveled and went round Europe, went to Ibiza and places, came back and went “the Europeans have got it great, what is our problem? They dance, they stay up all nights, they have fun, they have a positive attitude and then we come back to this grey wet country with Thatcher saying, ‘Get a job,’ and then there’s no jobs. Sod it, Throw parties. Alternative society. “

There is a reasoning in that.

So that kind of escapism IS the politics…. But I wasn’t sure if you were going to say you hadn’t touched any of it. When in fact you did put yourself into it.

Oh yeah.

Cos a lot of people got involved in it. Grant Showbiz. Grant Fleming. Andy Weatherall.

Kris Needs.

That’s why I was asking you.

Oh yeah, I tested the water. I still like it a lot. I tell you what appealed to me in an obvious way, I’ve always been into that hard European techno. So obviously Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle even and some of that Chicago stuff. But to me, it’s still background music. I like people singing about things. And to me, you can’t beat that. That’s why I was into the Who in the old days. The Clash. I love a great rock song. . . .

I see you’ve got the [Technics] decks here. I did some Djing. I can’t do beat Djing, but I used to do trip hop Djing. I’ve done maybe 20/30 gigs. I used to DJ drum and bass, as Mark P! And actually I quite like that, cos you’re doing it, you can put in your bit of creativity, I’d play a bit of trip hop, DJ Shadow and DJ Krust, then I’d slip in a bit of Kraftwerk, and Bowie, ‘Young Americans,’ then even some Throbbing Gristle. But then I got bored with that in the end. You think “People aren’t even listening to me.” They’re just there for the beer and you feel like a lemon, you’re there trying to get your cues right and it don’t even matter if you fuck them up. They don’t notice!

And so we ended our conversation more or less where we started out – complaining about audiences not listening for the new or the innovative or the experimental, just wanting to hear what they’re already familiar with and being out for a good time. And how, for some of us, that lack of a challenge is sufficient provocation to quit what we’re doing and move onto the next thing. And yet these days, Mark is willing to give people at least some of what they want, as evidenced when we journeyed half a mile down the road to the Something Else store on 5th Avenue, where a surprisingly large crowd (for such a small record store) of 30 odd people were milling around. With original bass guitarist Tyrone Thomas now on lead guitar, Tony Barber on bass, and a part-time drummer called Kevin who looks exactly like half the amiable ‘geezers’ I know from south London, the group powered their way through half a dozen of ATV’s better-known songs playing, from a little alcove, through a surprisingly good sound system. As with when I’d seen a ‘proper’ show at Siné in Williamsburg two nights earlier, the songs sounded strong as one would hope them to be, Mark’s distinctive voice offset in turn by Tony’s punk bass and Tyrone’s more psychedelic, elaborate guitar work. And above all, as Mark says above about the point of it all, it was fun.

There’s a big part of me that thinks returning to an only marginally successful band some twenty-plus years later – especially for such minor gigs – is totally redundant, but like Mark, I’m older now and a little less precious about the past. And yet you can’t help but think that it’s those who were never precious to begin with who have continually reaped the biggest rewards out of punk, and that Mark, rather than split his band because the audience only wanted to hear the “hits”, would have been a more successful – and even more influential – musician had he met the fans halfway, changing his sound a little more gradually perhaps. It must have been frustrating to see punk become so narrow-minded so quickly, but a bit more patience might have proven more rewarding, given how adventurous music DID become. Hindsight, of course, remains 20/20, and Mark Perry remains influential through whatever glasses we view the past. The nicest thing about meeting him again after all these years was to see how content he is with his lot, happy tinkering away in the underground, acknowledging his role as a punk guru without bemoaning that it didn’t bring him greater rewards, not unafraid to embrace new music (he’s continued putting out albums in recent years – good luck finding them) and yet equally keen to have fun occasionally playing the old songs. I’m not sure how much of this qualifies as ‘punk,’ but it does qualify as ‘life’ – in a far more optimistic manner than the Alternative TV song of that name.

© Tony Fletcher, January 2001

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