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Alternative TV

+ {The Good Missionaries} + {Mark Perry} + {The Door And The Window} + {The Reflections}

The brainchild of Deptford punk Mark Perry (born 13 March 1957), observer/editor of London fanzine, Sniffin Glue, ALTERNATIVE TV were formed in 1976 after the vocalist/guitarist was witness to a RAMONES gig. Seeing that London was centralising its own breed of punk wannabes (The SEX PISTOLS, The CLASH, The DAMNED, et al), Perry and cohorts Alex Fergusson (guitar), Tyrone Thomas (bass) and ex-GENERATION X drummer John Towe played their first gig in Nottingham as support to The ADVERTS.
One of ALTERNATIVE TV’s first recordings, the reggae-fied `Love Lies Limp’, was given away with an issue of the aforesaid rag in the form of a flexi-disc (it later became a B-side); Chris Bennett would supersede Towe. Their first bona fide 7”, `How Much Longer’, arrived on the scene in the fall of ’77, via the local Deptford Fun City indie imprint. A humorously cynical cockney rant against all and sundry (especially a “Sex” shop selling overpriced Nazi armbands to dyed-hair punks), the track was one of the genre’s rawest missives to date and, with its equally confrontational flipside, `You Bastard’, set the tone for what was to come. But that would be without Fergusson and Thomas, who’d moved on to respective pastures new through The Cash Pussies and The Convent Nuns – not surprisingly, short-lived ventures.
In the spring of ‘78, Perry, Bennett and their new songwriting sidekick Dennis Burns (guitar, bass, etc.), surprised many commentators by taking another diversion into reggae/dub with the less offensive `Life After Life’. This line-up recorded the seminal, THE IMAGE HAS CRACKED (1978) {*9}, a commercially overlooked masterpiece containing such powerhouse gems as `Action Time Vision’ (alike `Alternatives’ and `Still-Life’, penned by Perry and the departing Fergusson), and fresh dirges `Viva La Rock N’ Roll’ (highlighting JOOLS HOLLAND on piano), `Nasty Little Lonely’ (rhythm guitar by Kim Turner) and `Splitting In 2’. ATV even tackled a FRANK ZAPPA number, `Why Don’t You Do Me Right?’ with characteristic sarcasm.
On the back of a belated single release of `Action Time Vision’ and probably to coincide with a split live set, WHAT YOU SEE… IS WHAT YOU ARE (1978) {*6}, shared with commune-dwelling hippies HERE & NOW, Perry moved even further left of centre as he attempted to distance himself from the increasingly homogenised punk/new wave industry.
Contrary to the last, Perry and Burns (the remaining duo) sparked up an uneasy furore in March 1979, with a defiantly experimental and commercially suicidal follow-up, VIBING UP THE SENILE MAN (PART 1) {*5}, a record as difficult, intense and paranoid, that nonetheless yielded up minimalist treats, `Facing Up To The Facts’ and the “do-not-adjust-your-dials” `The Radio Story’; THROBBING GRISTLE’s enigmatic Genesis P. Orridge would guest on three tracks: `Release The Natives’, `Serpentine Gallery’ and `Gardens Of Deluxe Green’.
A final single, `The Force Is Blind’, saw out the 70s as both Perry and Burns were angling between the experimental and the avant-garde; taking no prisoners when they morphed into The GOOD MISSIONARIES (after ATV’s most recent `The Good Missionary’ track), adding Perry’s then wife Gillian Hanna (vocals/recorder), Henry Badowski (drums/sax) and Dave George (multi), for the live 1979 release, FIRE FROM HEAVEN {*6}.
Ever industrious, MARK PERRY subsequently juggled a solo venture (one album, SNAPPY TURNS (1980) {*6}) with yet more avant-garde knob-twiddling in the form of The DOOR AND THE WINDOW; although not as an original member. Borrowing Nag and Bendle from this act, plus usual suspect Dennis Burns (Anno Graver from PLANET GONG also appeared on a few singles), the album was mostly overlooked by people outside the capital.
However, early in ‘81, Perry and Burns – plus drummer Ray Weston, keyboardist Alan Gruner and a place on guitar for Fergusson – decided to switch their ATV back on, signing as they were signed to Miles Copeland’s burgeoning I.R.S. label. But for the bouncy `Communicate’, the ska-esque `My Hand Is Still Wet’ and the technoid title track, their “pop” album, STRANGE KICKS (1981) {*5} was a shock for long-time acolytes.
Splitting in two once more when Fergusson went off to join PSYCHIC TV, Perry and Burns (with Nag and The LEMON KITTENS’ Karl Blake) got together as one-off Cherry Red Records act, The REFLECTIONS, for the classy DIY single `Tightrope Walker’, from the album SLUGS AND TOADS (1981) {*5}.
Perry took to producing the odd act for a spell until he inevitably re-formed his beloved ATV project and continued to sporadically release the odd experimental set from the mid-80s onwards. Taking in refugees from wherever, arty-farty albums such as PEEP SHOW (1987) {*6}, DRAGON LOVE (1990) {*4}, MY LIFE AS A CHILD STAR (1994) {*5}, PUNK LIFE (1998) {*5} – featuring a 15-minute THROBBING GRISTLE medley – and APOLLO (1999) {*5}, had elements of a time lost, but through several compilations, the ATV name was more important to fans of old; example some worthy live sets switching back to songs from Perry’s past when he was a poet prince among punks. ALTERNATIVE TV were last seen in public in 2008 when Perry was joined by Lee McFadden (guitar/vocals), Steve Carter (bass, vocals) and Kevin Mann (drums); The GOOD MISSIONARIES also re-formed around the same time for the self-released PYLONS (2009) {*5}, backed by Dennis Burns, David George, Hank Leafe and Keith Rodway.
When many pundits had thought they’d heard the last of the resilient Mark Perry and ALTERNATIVE TV, up popped the man himself alongside the aforesaid McFadden, Carter, plus new arrivals drummer Dave Morgan (ex-WEATHER PROPHETS/ex-LOFT) and the returning guitarist Clive Giblin on 2015’s “Image/Cracked”-styled 10th set, OPPOSING FORCES {*8}. A step back in time some 37 years or Mark’s ditzy narrative of the times, the band recaptured the fist-pumping chants of old by way of the starter-pack title track and the concentric `Bubble’ and `French Girls’ – easily the most accessible pieces on board. Projecting the minimalist “Nasty Little Lonely”-esque perspective, `Dream’, `The Visitor’ and `Winterlied’ expose barren wastelands never to be entered, while spiky guitar distortion and the greatest Cockney rebel Perry, dug up the ATV corpse in the head-swirling `The Ramblings Of Madmen’ and `The Tension Between Order And Chaos’ – “punk is dead” – ya think!?
© MC Strong 1994-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2013-Jul2015

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