Alternative TV - Biography

Formed in the London punk scene of 1977, Alternative TV played in a variety of musical styles and quickly abandoned the formal restrictions of punk rock. Mark Perry, from Deptford, London, started the influential UK punk zine Sniffin’ Glue in July 1976, identifying himself as “Mark P.” so as not to jeopardize his unemployment benefits. In Glasgow, Alex Fergusson was so determined to start a punk band that, in January 1977, he boarded a London-bound bus with his guitar and amplifier. Perry and Fergusson met at London punk club the Roxy and formed Alternative TV, rehearsing in Throbbing Gristle’s space in Hackney. The initial lineup included bassist Micky Smith and Generation X drummer John Towe, but ATV’s membership has never been stable, and Perry was the only original member remaining at the end of ’77.

ATV’s first release was the flexidisc “Love Lies Limp,” included in Sniffin’ Glue #12 (1977). A series of singles followed on Miles Copeland’s Deptford Fun City label: “How Much Longer” b/w “You Bastard” (1977), “Life After Life” b/w “Life After Dub” (1978), “Action Time Vision” b/w “Another Coke” (1978), and “Life” b/w “Love Lies Limp” (1978). Fergusson left before the end of 1977 and formed the Cash Pussies. ATV’s debut LP The Image Has Cracked (1978 Deptford Fun City) was nothing like a generic punk album: it opened with the ten-minute tape collage “Alternatives,” which cuts from a Zappaesque orchestral studio arrangement of a theme to different live versions of the same tune, over which Mark P. argues with audiences. Image is not the only punk album of the period to include reggae numbers, but it is probably the only UK punk album that includes a Frank Zappa composition, in this case the Mothers of Invention’s 1967 single “Why Don’t You Do Me Right.”

That summer, ATV and the Gong-related band Here and Now gave a free tour that included the Stonehenge festival. The two bands released a split live album recorded on the tour, What You See… Is What You Are (1978 Deptford Fun City). ATV’s membership was in a constant state of flux, and was more or less down to the core of Perry and bassist Dennis Burns when the band returned to the studio. ATV made further use of collage techniques on the second album, mostly recorded without a drummer: Vibing Up The Senile Man [Part One] (1978 Deptford Fun City). Vibing is a daring collection of synth noises, tape noises, radio play, found sound and other non-rock instrumentation that seems to show Here and Now’s influence as well as that of P-Orridge, who plays percussion on three tracks.

For the Pop Group’s May-June 1979 Animal Instincts tour, Alternative TV transformed into the Good Missionaries, adding drummer and saxophonist Henry Badowski, multi-instrumentalist Dave George and vocalist Gillian Hanna. The Good Missionaries released Fire from Heaven (1979 Deptford Fun City), a live album recorded during the tour. Meanwhile, ATV approached Throbbing Gristle-like terror on the A-side of their farewell single, “The Force Is Blind” b/w “Lost In Room,” (1979 Deptford Fun City), credited on the label and sleeve as an ATV “memorial release.” Perry recorded a solo album, Snappy Turns (1980 Deptford Fun City), and joined The Door And The Window for Detailed Twang (1980 NB).

Perry, Fergusson and Burns reunited ATV with drummer Ray Weston and keyboardist Alan Gruner to record the new album Strange Kicks (1981 IRS) for another of Miles Copeland’s labels, after which the band broke up again. Fergusson formed Psychic TV with Genesis P-Orridge and Perry formed the Reflections with The Door And The Window’s bassist, Nag. The Reflections split after two singles, and Perry quit playing music until 1984, when he formed a new lineup of Alternative TV. ATV released two 12-inch singles on the Noiseville label, followed by the new album Peep Show (1987 Anagram).

ATV split up again following Dragon Love (1990 Chapter 22). Then a new album, My Life As A Child Star (1994 Feel Good All Over), appeared, and Perry, Fergusson and ’77 bassist Tyrone Thomas reunited for ATV gigs in 1994 and ’95. Though Fergusson didn’t stick around long, the band continued to tour and recorded a series of new albums: Punk Life (1998 Overground), Apollo (1999 Overground) and Revolution (2001 Public Domain). Alternative TV continues to perform and has announced a new album in the works.

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