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ALTERNATIVE TV – ‘Viva La Rock ‘n’ Roll’ Review

alternative-tvWow, this set of 4 CDs from seminal punk pioneers, Alternative TV and their stuff from the 1970’s is as comprehensive and varied as you would expect 68 tracks to be. ATV were lead by Mark Perry who was also the founder of the fanzine Sniffin’ Glue. Mark hailed from Deptford in South East London and was turned onto punk when he heard the Ramones in 1976. By 1977 he had teamed up with Scottish guitarist Alex Fergusson (no, not the manager of Aberdeen) and they formed Alternative TV.

After a brief tenure by Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P-Orridge on bass the band added Mark Smith on bass and John Towe on drums and played their first gig in Nottingham in 1977. They never conformed to the straight 3 chord early punk mantra and the guitar was often out of tune and live performances included tapes and art sensibilities. Mark fired Alex before the first single was released and there were numerous line up changes throughout the band’s history. The first album did not conform to the Sex Pistols, Clash or The Damned as it flirted with Reggae, metal and avant-garde pop.

These experiments with different forms of music, noise, spoken word were not always well received and Mark was bottled off stage at gigs. Managed by Miles Copeland who became increasingly frustrated with Mark’s lack of commercial instincts and trips into different bands and genres.

Mark then reunited with Alex to release a reformed Alternative TV album, the melodic (in comparison) Strange Kicks. The Deptford Fun City recordings are made up of four albums from the period. The highlights for me are:-

The opener to album 1 – Alternatives – a live recording where Mark invites members of the crowd to come up the microphone and say something meaningful and then argues with a rowdy crowd in his South Landen accent whilst the band play along in the background…it’s funny and about as ‘punk rock’ a song you’ll listen to…

Action Time Vision – is more of a standard 1977 punk track reminiscent of early Generation X, 999 and the like. It holds up well and sounds as vibrant today as I’m sure it did then. The first album is not just 3 chord punk thrashes and you can pick up on some of the experimentation that will come to the fore on the other 3 albums including a cool Jools Holland piano riff and some ambient electronica as well as some slower tempo efforts. On the whole though, album one is a great trip down memory lane of early British punk.

Album 2 begins with Release the Natives with the words “what’s happening” being asked over ambient sounds such as running water and what sounds like an out of tune Hawaiian guitar…it’s a stark contrast to the earlier tracks and Mark P goes spoken word and poetic. It’s dissonant and massively different – you can imagine how punk crowds reacted to this kind of stuff live!

The album follows this type of structure and it’s best described as free form Jazz I think…reminds me a little of Penny Rimbaud’s work post Crass. Every now and again there is a power chord or two or a cool guitar lick such as the one on “Going round in a circle” which comes across as an early day Sleaford Mods!

So, onto Disc 3 of the four and by now, you just don’t know what to expect! Another Coke…The Body which is the first of 15 tracks is a reggae bass and beat overlayed by the aforementioned out of tune guitars and Mark’s spoken/shouted vocals about how he is “fed up”…Other tracks combine some female vocalist screams, xylophones (or something like that), trumpets and Captain Beefheart style songs. It isn’t predictable and often isn’t easy listening and 4 live songs at the end of the disc give you a feel for how this all sounded in a venue – Mark P. had a confrontational style questioning the audience and their participation and he was challenging the “punk police” nature of crowds who rejected stuff that didn’t fit their version the genre…”Splitting in Two” rounds out the third disc and it’s pretty descriptive of Alternative TV’s punkier sounding stuff and more experimental stuff – both of which appear on the song.

The final 4th disc covers some of Mark Perry’s more solo stuff. It’s opens up a bit ‘poppier’ including some electronic keyboards on Snappy Turns. Again, other tracks combine poems spoken over saxophone, tambourine and discordant instruments.

If your view of punk is anything that challenges the status-quo, has a strong DIY ethic and attempts to be different, then, this is for you…As a trip to the seventies and what the Sex Pistols, Ramones and the New York Dolls influenced, it’s a box set of discs that give you one view of the creativity that resulted.

Stumpy – Punk Online


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