Like for many, and until recently, Alternative TV was, for me, just a cult punk band from ‘77 which after a little success (‘Action Time Vision’) opened too early the way to post-punk with their second album. And after a failed attempt to mainstream (‘Strange Kicks’) history was made when finally guitarist Alex Fergusson joined Genesis P.Orridge to form Psychic TV. But that was not knowing that ATV’s leader (and former ‘Sniffin’ Glue’ editor), Mark Perry, was never going to give it up and became punk’s best kept secret… Indeed, over the two next decades, Mark developed the skills of a straight songwriter by releasing half-a-dozen albums. After a long discographic pause, Alternative TV released the excellent ‘Opposing Forces’ in 2015. Promoting the release of their latest EP, ‘Dark Places’, the band played a rare set, before, hopefully, recording a new album for next year.
Why the drama, why the tears?
Café OTO Friday afternoon. The place is turning from a large coffee shop into a rock venue. Drummer Dave Morgan (formerly of The Loft / Weather Prophets) helps to set up the stage, while guitarist Clive Giblin (Sol Invictus / Crisis) and bassist Lee McFadden tune up their instruments. They start a few chords and then Mark Perry join them to soundcheck one of their most extreme tracks ‘Scandal’: “Don’t stop now, you gotta keep the camera rolling. Don’t stop now, you gotta keep the violence flowing. Don’t stop now, you gotta keep the truth burning.” His lyrics share interesting and direct thoughts about life, death, sex.
“I think a general felling I got is self-analysis and all that. I mean most people blame the true life don’t they?!” explains Mark. “They react to stuff and not many people actually sit down and look at themselves in the mirror, it’s a corny old thing but… I suppose in my songs, I’m trying to put that across. We all have these fears that hold us back and I suppose that song [‘Her Dark Places’] is about stripping yourself, facing you fears, getting connected with sort of dark places. It’s like stripping away all the bullshit, all the trappings, and yeah… ‘coming in terms with our dark places, their dark places’. I suppose it is just like existentialism view. It’s a super reality, super awareness of one self. I think that if anybody is totally aware of their existence, what life is, it’s quite dark. And I suppose I try through the songs to sort of connect with that somehow.”
For example, “‘The Visitor’ [from the album ‘Opposing Forces’] that’s what is interesting in that song, it’s about that feeling in existence. But just as you snap your fingers you… it’s sort of… hum… There is a story by HP Lovecraft and it’s just some ones who don’t know they’re dead, and so they try to connect with people. And then they finally realize that they are dead; so that’s what ‘The Visitor’ is about… It’s not about morbid. I just hit an interesting subject… that sort of idea between life and death. I’m dealing with that, I quite enjoy it, I enjoy exploring those things. It’s what I’ve been doing for years; I’ve been doing it since ‘Another Coke’ and ‘Love Lies Limp’.”
So, to sum-up Mark tells: “I like through my lyrics to talk about the dark sides… but not in a silly goofy way! I don’t mean that life’s shit, because not all life is shit, I mean there’re a lot of wonderful things – I got children and all that. But I sort like embrace it, embrace that darkness. And if you go back to ‘Death Looks Down’ [from the solo album ‘Snappy Turns’] it’s the things like that. I do not face that through really: it’s not being scared of death, it’s more embracing it as a part of existence so whatever.”
Tonight, the set opens with two songs dealing with existentialism. First the title track from the 2015 album ‘Opposing Forces’, and then last year’s single ‘Negative Primitive’. The songs raise questions on the human condition, but seem to leak optimism:
“Perhaps I’ve got a very low opinion of people you know. (laugh). But it seems silly really because we aren’t perfect and we get obsessed with these things. You know all sorts of things, we’re getting worse, this is the thing. We’re getting more and more disconnected of what is to be human. You know it’s like in ‘Negative Primitive’. ‘We’re waiting at the gate’, what is it? what we’re waiting for? why we’re waiting? how long have we got to wait? mystery. It’s supposed to be happening in a trial in ‘Negative Primitive’. Well, look at them, look at them, you know what I mean: look at us. We are getting worse as human being, don’t we? You know we are getting more away from having a belief and sticking to it, it’s all this. No one believes in anything anymore.”
So what is your belief?! Has it something to do with religion? “Not at all, I’ve never been [religious] because my parents weren’t into Church at all; they weren’t religious at all. I’ve always been a confirmed atheist, always. So I never had any personal dilemma about that, you know like some people question their faith and all that. So, when I sang ‘I lost my faith’ [in ‘Let’s Sleep Now’ from the 1987 album ‘Peep Show’], what was the faith in? I don’t know. Certainly it has not been [in religion], I’ve never believed in God or anything like that.
“So, I don’t know [about my belief], I just think I have a certain clarity about things. You know I don’t think people have that. I think people are weak; I think they don’t really stand for what they believe, they shift.
“And I was trying to be very honest. I don’t think I’ve never written a song that I felt was dishonest. Apart from the early punk ones maybe. But even if you take a song like – early ones – right from ‘Splitting In Two’, it’s such a personal song, but again it didn’t take me wrong to write ‘cause it’s about me. You know it’s still relevant. It’s all this, the dilemma what am I and all that. So I’ve never written a song in a dishonest way. When you think of things like ‘Another Coke’, you know the B-side, I’m totally honest. I just improvise. I’ve always never been scared to do that. I think the nearest I’ve ever came to a standard punk song, the one I’ve written about a theme to say punk, may be ‘Life’, ‘cause it’s about the dole queue but even that is so original. In ‘How Much Longer’ for example it’s sort of a criticism of the scene, so straight away I’m putting ourselves outside of it. You know there is the punk scene that I’m part of, but for a first single we’re saying we’re actually not part of that because we’re outside so we’re criticising it.
“I’d like to think we [ATV] have been original. You know we’ve been original creative forces. I’d never do a song, if I never really believe in it. I know that sounds a bit conceit of me but some of the songs we did, like on ‘Peep Show’, are fair ones. I wish more people could hear that. ‘Cause you’re you hear about, you read about someone “has written great songs and all that”, I know that sound really conceit but I think “oh dear, my songs are better than that”, you know lyrics more interesting than somebody’s…”
This is indeed the felling that I gathered when I heard for the first time Alternative TV’s amazing back catalogue. A fine and talented songwriter, but that got scarce recognition for his works. Unlike most of his pairs, we can’t find his lyrics being analysed on sites such as songmeanings, and Alternative TV is mainly known just for being a ’77 punk act. “I don’t blame people in a way, ‘cause you can’t listen to everything. There’s a lot of bands out there, you’re not expected to… A lot of people just don’t know. They don’t know ‘Peep Show’, they don’t know ‘Punk Life’, they don’t know ‘Dragon Love’ and all those. People only know: ‘The Image Has Cracked’, they think we went a bit weird on ‘Vibing Up The Senile Man’, then ‘Strange Kicks’ that’s funny poppy album and then that’s it. Since ‘Opposing Forces’ we got a bit of interest ‘cause it got reviewed and that you know. So, we’ve been neglected really, neglected, well haven’t we? ATV have been neglected… (laugh)”
Shall I be human?
Indeed, the carrier of the band has been quite complicated over the years, splitting many times and reforming with more or less confidentiality. This would explain how Mark Perry, editor of ‘Sniffin’ Glue’ the first ever punk fanzine, has evolved to a spiritual songwriter in the shadow of all spotlights. Alternative TV originally formed in early ’77 when Mark needed another vector to express himself than his fanzine. After a failed attempt as the New Beatles, meeting Alex Fergusson was the proper starting point. The pair started to rehearse at Throbbing Gristle’s studio with Genesis P-Orridge giving a hand, and quickly were part of the punk scene, releasing a few singles with punk/rock and reggae/dub influences, but Mark and Alex parted away in late ’77.
Then Mark took control of the music direction of the band which released in ‘78 the album ‘The Image Has Cracked’ that showed influences beyond punk. On the back cover, a photo of Mark posing with his fav. classic rock albums including a Frank Zappa record. But his love for avant-garde music went even further when the band did a free tour with psychedelic band Here & Now (an UK band connected to Gong); and then released ‘Vibing Up The Senile Man’ (1979) which was influenced by the hippy sound and would be a keystone in the anarcho-punk movement. The album features violin, saxophone, trumpet, flutes and a naïve relationship between the player and the instruments. This musical turn would be very badly received by the punk scene and lead ATV to change its stage name to The Good Missionaries…
“We had this time we were playing lot of gigs, so we used to swap instruments, recorders, toy piano and all this stuff going on. And it was very much of the time. We’ve been through different phases you know. But I’m not interested in that at all now. All I’m interested in now is: you have an idea of lyrics, and it’s the best way to put that across, and that’s the way I focused on now. That’s basically my aim, if I got an aim. My main thing now is you start off with your lyrics, you wanna know what you wanna say, ‘cause the lyrics always come first.
“You know that song called ‘The Good Missionary’? I was sitting in a restaurant and people were talking, everyone was chatting and I was getting a bit bored, and I had the idea for the song. I’ve got a napkin… I wrote the whole song out as I was sitting there. That’s why in the song it says “waiter I need something on toast”. There wasn’t much thought put into it, it was more a stream of consciousness… and a lot of stuff I’ve done is very much like that. I may go back to a song and just change the odd words or intonation. But a lot of these things they’re coming out in a big blur you know…”
But bored, Mark would leave The Good Missionaries and look for playing as a drummer. He joined The Door And The Window, a typical D.I.Y band. This led him to step away from the traditional rock sound, and then record the solo album ‘Snappy Turns’ (1980).
“You see, I’ve got no interest at all now [in the instrumentations]. I can’t see me playing violin again on stage… We basically stuck to the rock formula you know, I did made a few ones where I play but we mostly just stuck. Because back then, The Good Missionaries, The Door & The Window, we were part of this group of players… The Bedford crowd, part of that crowd is, Gillian Hannah, who sings on The Good Missionaries. Someone else from Bedford is Tony Stubbs, he was quite a funny character Tony.”
Tony Stubbs is a reoccurring character in Mark Perry’s songs who has been an influence, ‘a man of many stories’: ‘Going ‘round In Circles’, ‘Reflection On A Strange Existence’ or ‘Dear, Dear’ and a few other songs were written with him in mind. “I met through a friend of a friend, we needed a driver while we were touring when back in ’78. We got introduced to Tony, and he fascinated me ‘cause he was sort of middle-class – English are obsessed with classes and that –, very different to me ‘cause I got working class background. And he was like, he’d read all the right books, he went to sort of like posh school – I can’t stand the posh school and all that. None of my friends liked him, ‘cause when they saw Tony and he was like, talking with a very posh accent and all that. I really liked Tony, but they hated him ‘cause they thought he was snob. But he didn’t have any creative bone in his body, he could never write songs and never do anything like that. But he used to come up with such fascinating things you know. Somehow he became a bit of a muse to me – quite an odd one because it wasn’t anything sexual, anything like that. But it was just the way he was about life. One of my thing back to Tony was: “he was unhappy because he felt he was too intelligent” and I thought that was marvellous. You know, most people were unhappy, but most people around us, they use not much of their brain. And he felt he was this sort of… intelligent, sort of creative artistic guy, among this sort of plebs, amongst this sort of apes. And it always amused me that, because he never actually did anything, he never made music, he didn’t write poetry, he didn’t write. I was the one that was making music. But he was my companion for… like he appears in quite a few songs, like he’s in ‘Viva La Rock’n’Roll’ ‘cause when we were in Paris he said “oh, I’m gonna find a prostitute” and he went out and he couldn’t… he came back I said “how did it get on?” and he said “I couldn’t find anybody” (laugh). So that was Tony, he walked the streets you know and all that. He’s on The Door And The Window album: ‘Some Girls Don’t Wash Properly’ [titled ‘In The Car’ and credited to him as a writer]. Actually I wrote, ‘cause he was talking about that, I heard him in the van, I thought “oh!” – so I wrote the song after hearing what he said “Some girls don’t wash properly” and all that. But he was there, that’s Tony yeah. And I got an idea for him about… It was ‘Mirror Boy’, ‘cause he moved to Greece and I imagined him out there: typical English man abroad you know what I mean, so poking around. Just drinking too much wine and all that.”
‘Mirror Boy’ is a song from the ‘Strange Kicks’ album (1981), a more affordable record for which Alex Fergusson’s band rejoined Alternative TV to produce more commercial songs after the release of 3 records that were un-chartable. Mark was not involved in any way in the music, but did all the lyrics (“some good lyrics on there on ‘Strange Kicks’”). Unfortunately that wasn’t enough for Mark and his label-boss, Miles Copeland, to keep confidence and working together; and so Alternative TV split up again. However, Mark and his pals from The Door And The Window and The Lemon Kittens, had another project entitled The Reflections which released an album the same year. But in 1982 Mark would find a proper job, a partner, and leave the music busines.
“Punk had finished and I think you heard it from a lot of people; have you read Viv’ Albertine books, the Slits? “When punk had finished we thought that was it”. Lot of us thought we would not be in a band anymore; we go and get a normal job which is what I did. I’ve had got a normal job. And then Leight Goormey came along, what Leight did was: he gave me a kick up the arse. Because I met him after he interviewed me for a fanzine, and while we were talking “oh, there is lot of interest out there, you shall form ATV again”. He was very much in touch with Alan McGee, Creation, The Living Room and all that; and without being an indie band, we connected with that scene. We did a brief thing in ‘84 but it wasn’t very satisfying (just some old mates). He’d put on these gigs at Thames Polytechnics at the time. We got some musicians together and I did this solo gig which is on an album called ‘Live At Thames Poly’. And then I met drummer Allison Phillips through him, and that was it, within a few months I had the band again. So we played with people of The Nightingales, Marc Riley’s Creepers, June Brides, all that sudden, that indie thing going on: Jasmine Minks, and Dave’s old band The Loft.”
But did Leight had an influence on getting you back to songwriting? “Leight was instrumental in getting that together, ‘cause it was only later on that he actually started writing lyrics, ‘cause then Leight became The Long Decline…
“I wasn’t conscious of wanting to write songs, because when I looked back, I think the first record we did when the band was reformed, it’s not very good, it’s ‘Welcome To The End Of Fun’ (1986)… I quite like ‘Anti’ ‘cause I wrote a song, it’s sort of about Allison, ‘cause I was trying to get off Allison at the time. So I wrote ‘Anti’ as a little bit of a message song for her you know, a bit like, you know, ‘take a chance’ (laugh) And then on the next EP (Sex/Love, 1986) I wrote two more songs for her: ‘You Never Know’, and ‘Victory’ was about me and Allison as well, trying to get off with Allison. Well, it’s a good motivation! (laugh). We were a couple for a little while. We went out 4/5 years on and off. Yeah, ‘cause when I did ‘Child Star’ we’re still, you know, we were not totally, but we were seeing each other.”
You cry your tears
“Clive joined the band when it was me and Allison, and Steve Cannel on bass and it was quite emotionally charged that band. It was really… ‘cause we were in a relationship, there was lot of, it was edging. Good band actually. Full of quite good lyrics in that time. Things like ‘Let’s Sleep Now’, ‘Scandal’, ‘Animal’ and all that.”
One song from the ‘Peep Show’ album (1987) is the quite tense ‘Boy Eats Girl’ which has a dark view on the relationship between the two sexes. Actually the name was already present in all ATV releases on the 70’s since the publishing company was called Boys Eat Girls Music: “that reason for the publishing name: we thought it was cheeky giving that sort of cheeky title, because you’ve got eating cannibalism and then you’ve got eating you know… sexual eating (laugh). [With the song] ‘Boy Eats Girl’, I wanted to write this sort of ultimate … sex song if you like. Because you know when I write about sex, I’m quite bold. I try to be direct about it. It’s part of me you know. I mean if you listen to the songs, they can be a bit rude. Just being rude basically. (laugh) Well you can be a bit, for the sake of it! A bit lascivious you know what I mean, part of me can be like that. It’s a bit childish, it’s immature.
“But also, funnily enough, on ‘Peep Show’, ‘Boy Eats Girl’ Anno sing on it, she was the singer with Here & Now, French girl, she sings on that song. So it’s hum…” Actually, Anno actually got to play with Alternative TV first in ’79, being the vocalist on the iconic single ‘The Force Is Blind’. Then, Mark and she would later get together. “We’ve got a son together actually”.
French girls seem to be recurrent in your songs, from ‘Animals’ (in ‘Peep Show’), to the catchy ‘French Girls’ (in ‘Opposing Forces’), what it’s all about? “I’ve had this thing about French girls, but the actual song ‘French Girls’ it’s two part strip really. ‘cause one side is about this film I saw, you know ‘who killed the blind man, who killed the blind man, who stole the dream’, all that is from this film I saw where this French girl was up in court for that murder about killing this blind fellow. The other bit of the rest of the song is about this is French girl I knew, Catherine, we had this sort of flirt, we did not have a relationship, but we flirted each other. We used to fun about French girls tempting English boys and all that. It’s quite a fun song that one really. It’s a bit of a dull song that but yeah French girls always interested me. They got something you know what I mean, they’ve got something. Definitely.
“The song ‘Animal’ is really interesting ‘cause that was a complete one-off. That’s one of the songs I just wrote in one go. I think we only played it twice live. Everyone was very disturbed by it, even the people in the band. ‘cause you know, Clive plays guitar, that was the first song he played with us in the in the band. He came to the studio with only rehearsal once and I say, I plugged in this is the song. And he heard it, he was like… ‘cause Clive used to be a bit funny about things like that… and he heard the lyrics of the song “oh my God; I shouldn’t be doing this you know”, ‘cause it pushes, it pushes, it’s one of my ‘push it, push it’ you know. The end of ‘Animal’ is all of despair. It’s utterly a despair really it is. It’s like: where are we? what we’re doing? It’s awful you know. It’s quite a powerful song in that way…
“I don’t know how I got this idea, but that idea there is sort of sex is close to death. ‘cause it’s like that isn’t it? It can so easily be despair, it can be like self-disgust. That disgust thing is about the human urges. It’s like disgust about it. It’d be more to us to overcome all that with like your intellect or whatever, your imagination, creativity. You get that disgust, self-disgust. It’s like in the song ‘Her Dark Places’ you know: we attempt to regain our relationship by making love but it ends up wrong. It’s not right, it doesn’t fit. And so she stands sweat in cum on her body; it’s not a nice thing. Again, it’s wrong. That always interested me that, but this is the thing in my character: I quite like the despair of it. No, I do like the despair because again it’s about what I said before: if you don’t know your dark places, then you sort of… If you push them apart, then you hide from them, then you’re always gonna be living in this sort out of reality. You’ve got to face your dark places; you’ve got to face your demons in a way. You know what I mean, deal with those; life is not about unicorns and puffy things: it’s dark; it smells, it’s sticky, it’s all those things.
“But it has always appeal to me like reading… I’m reading Albert Camus I mean not all of it, but there is part of it when…you know they make love, and it’s the despair of that you know: the wall’s paint is peeling, you know everything… I sort of quite like that idea of that. You know it’s smelly, it sticks and you know that’s part of that. And I’m still doing that like in the song ‘Her Dark Places’, ‘Verlust’ as well you know.”
Who owns the dream?
“Also the other thing I’m interested in, I mean it’s in quite a lot of songs, it’s like living a life in your head. For example ‘Verlust’, one of the songs on the latest EP, it’s about an affair that I’m having in my imagination. It’s never really happened but it’s about a real person and it’s my imagination this affair happening. I quite like that, the idea of that, we’ve got reality but we also live your life in this sort of… almost… We got reality but there is, there is not quite dream but there is… it’s hard to explain, it’s better right in the song. All that stuff in there, they sort of live there in my imagination, that affair, which started in ‘Opposing Forces’ but it has never really happened, right you know. It’s like I’m in a play, I’ve got in my imagination and I just, I work it through in a song. So the feelings in there actually become real for me like I actually lived them, with that person whatever but entirely in my imagination, this is the thing: it’s as real as if it really happened to me, in terms of relevance to me. I suppose what I try to say is people can live their life in their head.
“A lot of the songs come from that idea of things, that you can have this you know. Well, there’s ‘Death Looks Down’, ‘French Girls’, all this sort of things. These little stories, it’s sort of they really happen to me. I think that’s why the songs come across as very real? You know they’re right…”
Having an affair through a song has also been present in songs over the years. In ’78 Mark wrote one of his best songs, ‘Fellow Sufferer’ having his then-partner Gillian Hannah in mind, but also as a reflection on the dying punk movement: “yeah, that’s a good song. There’re a few songs of mine that I really like, that I think are genius. And I’d say ‘Fellow Sufferer’ is one of the best things ever, and it’s absolutely wonderful. I say so myself (laugh). And the other one I really like, it’s ‘The Big Ugly One’, it’s a bloody good song. I’m really proud of that song.”
‘The Big Ugly One’ is catchy-tune from the underrated album ‘Dragon Love’. In 1990, after another split-up, Alternative TV re-formed as a partnership between Mark Perry and James Kyllo. The pair wrote and recorded songs together, sometime with James even doing the lead vocals. The recorded LP went out on an indie label, but lacked good distribution and a CD release. So, it remains a lost treasure, however a couple of songs would be re-recorded later. “If you’re taking ‘Dragon Love’, the music was an adventure. I was singing just like an indie band, a lot of the lyrics are still very light. But a lot of it… I don’t feel it’s really me, and I couldn’t think of doing any of those songs now from that album particularly. But when it’s good, it’s really good like on ‘Company of Lies’”.
Those lies you told, they won’t go away
‘The Company of Lies’, “that song was written ‘cause I was particularly angry. I don’t usually write any songs about people, literally, but I wrote that song ‘cause I was very angry about someone. Some people angered me, they didn’t wanna talk to me, and I thought that was being hypocritical. So that’s the company of lies, they were keeping the company of lies. They were sort of self-lying, really self –deceiving themselves. And that song was an answer to that. I can’t remember the lyrics. What is good in that song about the cross is tipping over me, it’s very good. It’s burring down on me and it’s… what it’s doing? Oh yeah, its splinter like little darts drawing blood from old wounds. Oh, it’s a bloody good song there. See I forgotten.”
Getting Mark explaining of his old songs went sometimes quite difficult. Luckily it was easier to discuss the songs from the last album. “A lot of the songs on ‘Opposing Forces’, they were written quite a number of years, and I was snatching ideas… I think the idea of ‘Winterlied’ was actually influenced by reading something about the Waffen SS. I don’t read many military books, but I was reading something about the Waffen SS, the German army on the eastern front out of this sort of, you know the winter, they settle down, they didn’t have the right cloth. It was so deeply in that situation, comrades, whatever…; then obviously through the song, I took it more into a terms of young men putting themselves into that situation and face with that seeing their own innocence disappears through the experience it gone through. So this is why I gave it a German name, it’s not a celebration of Waffen SS but that was the key to people being put in that situation… You see the blood, the blood on the snow that bit in the lyrics…”
Once again, the ideas of innocence loss, and self-disgust, remains palpable through Mark’s lyrics. However, we don’t really find out why those themes are so recurrent. When I point him out that, to me, ATV would not be defined by ‘Action Time Vision’, but by those 3 words: ‘Dream, Lies, Tears’ which are quite a lot reoccurring in the lyrics, Mark is rather confused: “oh… that’s brilliant! Marvellous research! (laugh). That’s interesting; I suppose it makes sense, those themes. I’m not in much help… I don’t know these things; you bring new information to me.
“But am I obsessed with despair and lost dreams and all that? I know that sounds a bit silly because the way I am, ‘cause you know we’ve been depressed and all that. Life is challenging, in a psychological way, you know anyone with any feelings, or sensitivity, is gonna be challenged by the world around, by relationship with your partners, or your children or your parents. And in a way I think, once you’ve got that out of the way, you’ve got an understanding of that thing then you can get on with your life. I think if you sort of push back …so now “I’m happy, I’m happy” that doesn’t exist, and then you gonna be, you’re always gonna be, back against it. But I think for quite a few years I’ve had an acceptance of that…”
Probably written when Mark’s life was being challenged, a couple songs recorded in a studio session in 1991, are to my opinion the more sensitive works he has ever done. The songs were released as 7” singles by Chicago label Feel Good All Over: ‘Best Wishes’ and ‘Purpose In My Life’. Then, Mark would spend three years to get another album finished, ‘My Life As A Child Star’ (1994) that would finally be released in the UK and the US. The album closes a trilogy that began with ‘Peep Show’ on which Mark focused and developed his songwriting skills.
“I forgot all about ‘Best Wishes’ that’s… we did a single yeah, I forgot all about that song.”
After all, this is not really surprising that Mark forgot about these songs, once they were recorded, they almost never been played live. And, tonight, during the concert, Mark apologises for having a music stand with the lyrics. Perhaps a way to take some distance with his own dangerous creations?
“In a way, doing the song, doing the art, if you like, it sort of exorcises it. If I lived what’s happening in the songs, I’d probably be dead. So in a way it exorcises the demons because I lived quite a normal life, I mean when I’m in Cornwall, I’m most of a house husband, so I look after my children: I’ve got eleven year old son and a thirteen year old daughter, get ready for school, do the diner, look after the cats, feed the cats. I do what is normal; I’m quite good at that. I’m not like some rock’n’roll wreck. I met so many people in music that sort of lived this life; it’s just a bloody mess you know. They could never look after a child, let alone a bloody cat. But I’m quite normal in that way and I figure out with my work, my songs, you’re getting away this stuff out of my chest. I’m still an emotional person in real life; I’ve a good relationship with my wife. It’s our relationship but it’s not like I’m falling. It’s the songs, I suppose it’s an outlet for those feelings you know. I mean if I had never that I’d probably killed myself. I’d commit suicide, if I didn’t have this outlet you know. ‘Cause something like, even like in ‘Splitting In Two’, I mean someone who suffers what that song told about, it’s very real; it’s the story of a person who is suffering from depression, face up all these things. In a way getting it in that song is a way of, you know what I mean… and then you move on, and then… but that’s it for me. And it continues, you know, it continues.”
Mark Perry has indeed remained a normal man… Alternative TV has always been for him, a band without pretence; and seeing him joking with his musicians, before and during the concert, let suggest that he is still the same as in ’77. So the mystery remains… has his audacity gone beyond him? Would Mark never really figure out the profoundness of the observations on life that he shared through his songs? “I’m not really good in explaining my songs, explaining my lyrics. You know stuff comes out, but it’s hard to explain. The way you’ve looked to them is very difficult to answer your questions with regards to what I mean by these phrases and these lines. I’m not being awkward, I don’t really know.”. After all, it is possible that Mark has always been a writer finding his inspiration in observations, of his own life as well as other characters such as Tony Stubbs. And so, never really took a chance to analyse and looks back on his writings, never figured out the shape that his whole works had taken.
The image has cracked
The image would finally crack when I’d ask Mark about his demons to exorcise, and the barriers he may have encountered in life, which isn’t as simple as a song: “In many ways I’ve been facing my pain barrier, you know, I’m a coward. I don’t face the truth sometimes or face up to go through the pain barrier. It’s some ways of putting off, compromise. We compromise ‘til we somehow aren’t scared to really push through that supposed pain barrier, face your demons or whatever. I’m not sure I ever done it really. I mean I do it in songs. I’m not sure about in real life. There is still plenty of things in my life that I don’t think I’ve been honest about. I mean we lie to ourselves almost all the time, don’t we? I think I do, don’t know about you, but you know it’s manoeuvre through relationships and whatever. I think we just try to get as close as possible, to some sort of again truth, like we said before, about some whatever reality.”
And these compromises seem to have been happening sometimes during his career: “An album I don’t like of mine, it’s the ‘Revolution’ album. That’s the only album I’ve done of mine I didn’t really like. I did it just to fulfil a contract with Steve really. There’s only three songs that I like. One is ‘In Control’, it’s not bad ‘cause that’s about something that happened, so that’s pretty cool; ‘It’s Raining’ [a song about his break-up with Anno]; the other good song on that album, actually really good song, is ‘On Your Knees’. But yes I mean… it can’t be perfect!”
Actually, during the mid-90’s, arrived a renewed interest for punk which would encourage several bands to reform (the Sex Pistols would get their fame from it), and while ATV was almost dissolved, Mark took the chance to play some big festivals with some original members. Alternative TV would, for the next few years, be a two-sided entity, with a live line-up to play old songs from the 70’s (which he stopped to play since the early 80’s), and, on the other hand, Mark released a couple of audacious albums conceived almost as solo albums: ‘Punk Life’ (1997) which is a compilation of various works; and ‘Apollo’ (1999) his most ‘pop’ album since ‘Strange Kicks’, with many influences and instrumentations from funk bass lines, trumpet, violin, to the use of samples.
While those two records would have given a certain disappointment to any punks who would have come to the shows and bought them; the next album, ‘Revolution’ (2001) was produced to capture in the studio the live sound of the band. Half of the record were new songs, while some almost-forgotten tunes were also re-recorded. The album would help the band to pursue their tour life, getting even to play at the CBGB Club for the first time. During 10 years ATV would continue playing regularly in various clubs in England: London, Brighton, Portsmouth, Blackpool’s Rebellion festival, etc. and release live albums or re-issues.
Finally the release in 2015 of a totally new album, ‘Opposing Forces’’ was unexpected, and the band finally got their creative forces back on the rails. Since then, ATV has managed to release something new, single or EP, each year for Record Store Day. But it’s their tour life which shrunk to playing only one show a year.
“At the moment we don’t rehearse very much. ‘cause I live down in Cornwall, which is quite a long way in terms of British to Britain… it’s about the furthest we can get in Britain. So we don’t rehearse much. I think if we’d play more, and we’d doing more gigs, I’d certainly introduce more synthesisers, electronic samples, maybe different instruments. If we’d play more, I think we’d be more adventurous with our choices of instrumentation. But then again there’s something in happy-restricted to what we’ve got, it’s sort of more a powerful statement. For example, we haven’t got a second guitar, I can’t play guitar anymore. What that does, it focuses more on Clive as the main guitar in the band.”
When I finally say my last goodbye, my children will be all that’s left of me
So, when I ask him if there’d be any chance for ATV to play in France in the future, Mark says it seems unlikely: “Last time we played Paris was in ’78 supporting John Cale. We played in Cannes in 2003. I don’t like travelling; I don’t like getting on planes. My oldest son lives in France with his family and I never see them.”
And your sons and daughters, how does your music reflect on them? “Funny. They’ve never been interested; maybe it’s their age or something. My oldest, ‘cause I’ve got on older daughter, they’re not really interested. It’s hard to explain for an adult to their children, and I think the children they see only in black and white. Like if you’re a singer or if you’re in a band, if you’re not on youtube (well we are on youtube, but you know what I mean), they find it hard… I mean even to an adult, find an answer to “what music do you do?” and it’s all this. But yeah, so they’ve no interest at all. (laugh)”
A strange and sad answer, and it seems that Mark still has a long way to get through his dark places. It remains a mystery that such a brilliant songwriter with such a clever outlook on life got so little recognition, and maybe an invitation to reconsider some of his songs, as ‘Purpose In My Life’ which relates to his relationships with his family:
“When I saw them both together
It was the most beautiful sight
To know that they came from me
Even though they’re now apart from me.
And when I look at my life
It’s as if the time is over
‘cause loneliness it rules around here
And I give in ‘cause I’m alone again.
Well maybe it’s just a passing feeling,
I’ll soon find a purpose to my life
‘cause I don’t think that I can’t stand it
To watch life and know that love pass me by.
Well, this is that has defined me
This self-destructive urge that moves my life
Please go away and leave me to find some love now
So I can live a better life
‘cause I got to find a purpose in my life
I say, I got to find a purpose in my life
I got to find now a purpose in my life”