Sniffin' Glue was almost entirely due to the irreverent, pugnacious sincerity of its founder/sparkplug Mark P(erry). That Perry should form a band seemed a natural progression; that it was any good at all a surprise; that it maintained a stance utterly disdainful of compromise a small miracle. Unfortunately, this musical Diogenes had neither adequate vision nor foresight to avoid the pitfalls of Striving for Artistic Expression." - TrouserPress.com (source)
In that single paragraph TrouserPress.com does a damn good job of explaining the lifespan of the band that Mark Perry formed, Alternative TV. Perry and Alex Fergusson co-founded the band in 1976; their first recording was the reggae-punk goof "Love Lies Limp," issued as a flexi-single (remember those, kids?) with the final issue of Sniffin' Glue. Perry's Cockney ramblings about his *ahem* shortcomings and failures are more spoken than sung, purposefully rude, and juvenile, but backed by a lazy, loping groove, the single works and is actually damn good.
Two proper singles followed in the remainder of 1977. "How Much Longer" mocked the conformity of the various social cliques in late-70s England, punks included; the utterly brilliant "Life" may just be the finest expression of the futility of it all ever written: "Life's about as wonderful as a cold." By the time the full-length LP The Image Has Cracked was ready for release, Fergusson had left and Perry had become disillusioned with punk's self-imposed musical limitations. The album, then, was a bit adrift. The more straightforward tracks are quite good: "Action Time Vision" is one of the all-time great forgotten punk singles. But opening the album with the interminable "Alternatives" meant a lot of people never got to the good stuff before yanking the record off the turntable. (Punk kids in 1977 weren't about to sit through ten minutes of whooping and screeching.)
If you didn't know better, you'd think the second ATV album, Vibing Up The Senile Man, was either a poorly executed joke or the ramblings of an asylum escapee. Song structure is all but forgotten in many places, with seemingly random plinking of instruments and Perry screaming poetry at ya in its place. There are moments where it all seems to almost coalesce into something worthwhile, but most of the album is simply a difficult listen that never rewards the effort. Avoid this one.
Alex Fergusson returned in 1981 for a brand new Alternative TV LP, which sounds nothing like either of the first two albums. Strange Kicks is neither punk nor experimental, but rather surprisingly upbeat new wave pop. Taken on its own merits it's a good album, so long as you don't find Perry's strong-as-ever accent particularly unpleasant. "There Goes My Date With Doug" (with guest vocalist Dee Dee Thorn) could have been a hit for Kirsty MacColl or Tracey Ullman; "Fun City" is a fun romp; "Communicate" is solid early synthpop. Just don't go into the album expecting "Action Time Vision," or you'll be very disappointed.
Cherry Red's 1999 compilation Action Time Vision does a surprisingly good job collecting the best from ATV's catalog as well as some assorted Mark Perry side projects, despite containing none of the material from Strange Kicks. Nonetheless, it's a good primer to the odd musical world of a former fanzine editor turned musician.
Not a lot of video of Alternative TV is out there, so this week we feature two audio-only clips. First up, the excellent "Life," and then, of course, "Action Time Vision." Enjoy!