|Read the intro. Read the 1978 interview Read about the Sniffin' Glue book
(After settling in for some tea, I pull out a folder that had made it across the ocean with me, and show Mark the original typed interview transcript I still have from when I first interviewed him 22 years ago. ) I don't know how anal that makes me! It makes me totally and completely anal except for the fact that twenty years later when we can all put up web sites and archive our work, it's great to have this stuff.
Mark: Well that's something I haven't done. I think that in a lot of ways I could do a lot more if I had have kept all that stuff. With me, I do stuff, and then when I finish that project I move onto the next one, I leave it all behind.
When I did that interview with you all those years ago, I was just getting my own act together in terms of being a young kid going out to gigs and starting to go out and interview people. Whereas you were already at the point of being very frustrated with punk.
Yeah, and very quickly. When you think about it, we're talking about twenty years ago, and it seems incredible, even to me, that within almost a year and a half of it starting, as far as I was concerned I was finished with it. I couldn't relate to the new bands; I certainly couldn't relate to the audience. I always remember our bassist Dennis Burns, backstage after a gig. All through the set they were shouting for the old songs, and we were about not playing the old songs, we were going to move on, so we would play a song like 'Fellow Sufferer 'or 'Vibing Up The Senile Man,' or 'Nasty Little Lonely' even, and people were just calling for 'You Bastard.' I remember our bassist getting off the stage and saying "Mark, I don't think I can do this any more, I just hate our audience." And it's horrible for a band to feel that. Dennis was never really a punk anyway, he was a freak, so he fitted in well to my approach to music. But when you get to that stage that you despise the audience, it's not nice, you don't want to feel that, but you just feel that no one is really listening. In the old days I was very earnest about what I was doing, extremely so. And that's a quality of mine. Which is why Sniffin' Glue was so powerful, so definite in its approach. I wasn't scared, 1) to make a fool of myself, and, 2) to actually contradict myself. I used to admit when I was wrong, change my opinion. And I honestly felt, within that short amount of time, this great amazing gulf between myself and punk had appeared. I started growing my hair long, that was a physical sign of that.
I know in a way there's a burden about being the first to happen on to something. Because you can be really idealistic at the beginning. Whereas people who come in after a while join for the fun ride and they don't share the idealism.
I remember speaking to Mick Jones at a party very early in '77, him saying "God, what's it all about, what am I doing?" Because it happened so fast for these bands. Back in the '60s bands had to slog for a few years before they made it, so they got that professionalism, they had something to fall back on. When you think about how quickly these bands 'made it' - whatever that means - suddenly they were heroes or whatever. A lot of them were almost like, "Do I deserve it?" Someone like Jonesy was probably comparing himself to his heroes, the Keith Richards and Ian Hunters, and thinking "What am I doing here?" The pressure. . . you've got to come up with the goods. I'm sure Johnny Lydon was feeling that as well, because there was always two sides to him. You had the public face with the sneers, but there was a guy that was obviously a very thoughtful guy, a very sensitive guy in many ways. And the stuff that must have been going through his head. . .
I think he had it harder than anyone, because he was made out to be Public Enemy. To the point of being slashed in the street. So he quit, and you figure it was only January 78 when he left the Pistols. For a lot of us, that was one year we knew the band - even less.
It would be like for the Who, it would be like the end of '67 it all fell apart.
It's that quick. [In fact, it would have been like the Who splitting up in '65 - which they did do for a while.] So back in '78, '79 you were at the stage where you hated the audience because they only wanted to hear the old songs. Jump forward 20 years, and you seem happy to come out here and just be Alternative TV and play the old songs. For those people who remember Alternative TV as a band that had to give up because you were too far ahead of the audience, what's your own explanation for coming all the way back round so that you just get up and play the first album?
Again, it gets back to the time thing. When you look at Alternative TV's career, it's like looking at another band with a twelve-fifteen year period. We compressed that into a year! Our first single come out just after the summer of '77. 'How much Longer'/'You Bastard'. Punk tracks, fast, energetic, more melodic than a lot of punk, but still angry lyrics. By August '78 I was writing Vibing Up The Senile Man. Within a year I'd gone that far.
What happened afterwards was. . .There was a last hurrah. We made one album, a poppy punk album for A&M, on the IRS label, called Strange Kicks. We did that in '81. I wrote the lyrics, and Alex Ferguson joined me again and wrote the songs. It was my attempt to get Miles [Copeland, then running IRS] back on my side, because by that point I'd got so leftfield and weird, so out of it, Miles thought I'd gone mad, he thought I'd flipped.
Well, he was having success with the Police at that point.
He didn't need us any more. A year earlier, he pandered to my every need. "Mark's the guy, whatever Mark says goes on the label [Step Forward] is on the label." I was the punk guru to him. Let's face it, I helped him get off on his arse and back in the running. Of course by that point in the 80's, the Police were the biggest band in the world almost, he didn't need us any more. So we became a bit of a burden. He wasn't interested in us any more. We made this last album as if to say, "Here's a good album for you, a poppy album, maybe something you can sell." But our heart wasn't in it. I wrote the lyrics but I wasn't involved in the production.
I don't remember that album at all.
Strange Kicks. It's a good album actually. A lot of that album I used the lyrics to talk about a story. I had this thing called the 'Ancient Rebels', which was about Alternative TV's story. Started out with a Wordsworth poem, angry singing, then we found ourselves in the mud at Stonehenge, we started singing the blues. And then it's packaged in this really poppy music. . . bizarre really. Anyway, what happened really was that by '81, I was finished. I thought I would never play music again. I was happy it was over. I was going to become a nurse. I got together with someone who wasn't particularly interested in music. We bought a flat in Blackheath. I was doing an English Literature A Level at Night School. It's mad! I was still talking to people about music, I still knew a lot of people, but what happened was some new people came into my Life: a guy called Lee Gorney who used to promote gigs at the Thames Polytechnic at Woolwich, and Alan McGee. Alan said "You've got to play my club." So in 1984 we got together ATV and played his Living Room gigs at various venues, which used to move around from Great Portland Street to Kings Cross. That was good for me, because it was slightly younger blokes who had been into it, saying "Look, we like you, You're a good band, come and play again." I had distanced myself enough, got rid of the old, and there was these new people. And that kept happening.
So through the late '80s, we started playing again, not to very big audiences, but enough to make us feel we were wanted. We started getting a lot of nods from American bands. We played with Fugazi later on, and Sonic Youth said "ATV, they're cool." That brought my confidence back. We were just playing new stuff, I still had that thing about "I don't care about the past," we used to play all new songs and then end on 'Splitting In Two,' one song from the old days. That went on through to the '90s, on and off, playing records, working with James Kyllo, who works with Alan McGee. We had Dave Morgan on drums, from the Weather Prophets, so we had younger musicians playing with us.
Then in 1995, we were invited to play a punk festival. At first we said no. But then they said "you've got to play, if they find out ATV are playing , believe us, you're going to go down a storm. Because you haven't played the punk set to these people who want to hear you." I looked back and realised we didn't play that set hardly at all. We'd done one tour, and then I chucked the drummer and that was it. So a song like 'Still Life,' we probably only played it 12 or 15 times live. So I thought "well let's see how it sounds." Most people who hear us think we're a contemporary band.
Because they don't know the history....
And of course a lot of the material sounds modern anyway, because we were ahead of our time, as you mentioned. Something like 'Still Life' is timeless. It's not the Lurkers! So in a way, that's what we've been doing. We sold ourselves on that for a while: "we're playing the 1978 set, come and see what it was like, feel what the energy was like." And also I realised that I still believe a lot in that material. I thought, "I don't mind singing this music, because it's still relevant to me." There's a few songs, I mean we do 'How Much Longer' and 'You Bastard,' I don't particularly like doing them, but Tony Barber [current ATV & Buzzcocks bassist and PopTones artist] wants to do them and he's a fan. I mean, it should be fun, doing music, shouldn't it?
|"If I was asked why Sniffin' Glue was so important, yeah there's a load of good writing in there, but it was the way we conducted ourselves, the style of it, just the attitude. It had attitude in abundance didn't it?"
Right: the original artwork of an ad for Sniffin Glue No. 6, Jan 1977.
You mentioned earlier that you do something and then leave it behind and burn your bridges, and I think some of us do do that but then we come back around. We say "I did that thing years ago, and at the time I wanted to remove myself from it, but you know what? It was alright..."
. . ."I'm proud of that." Yeah, and that's happened to me. What I will say to you is that the set we're playing in America is purely an old set. In London we do do a lot of new songs as well. We've done this set purely for the Americans because they've never heard us. In London we do put in new songs. But of course the other thing that I've come back around to is Sniffin' Glue, because for years, apart from the odd radio or TV interview I might do, I didn't really think about it. And then again the same thing, in the late 90s, when people started looking back at punk, thinking that was the last time it was exciting, that was a bloody good scene. You know when Brit Pop was such a failure, people started looking back, didn't they?
I was back in England researching the Moon book in '96, at the peak of Britpop, and it was the first time it felt that the UK had been exciting for quite a few years. But in the middle of that period, I went to a gig where someone handed me a flyer for Sniffing Glue, advertising a new issue, which took me totally aback. Did you start the magazine back up again?
No, that was a scam we did. Well it wasn't really a scam. We just put something out to see if there would be interest. Someone had an idea and I said "well you go with it" and we put the feelers out to see what the response would be.
So what was the response?
I can't remember. I don't think it was very good! But what I did do is. . . I met up with Vic Goddard, a person I didn't really know well in the early punk days, and we put together a band called the the Long Decline, we put out an album. We did this great gig at the Garage in 97, and it was almost like a classic Alternative TV/Subway Sect show. Bobby Gillespie was there, Edwin was there. And I did a special Sniffin' Glue as a programme. And Vic was up for that. And we did a punk festival at the 100 Club, and the Buzzcocks were on, and we did one for that.
So what did you put in those?
Just about the bands that were playing. And then I'd do a big rant about what punk means now, compared to then. Particularly at the 100 Club, I had Vic talking about what it meant to play the 100 CLub. Vic told me there was a bloke at school who was like Mr Joe Public, whatever he got into you knew was going to get big, and Vic said the day he knew punk was going to get big was when he walked out of the soundcheck at the 100 Club in '76 and saw this bloke in the queue!
Punk became new wave, and then new wave went off in a couple of different directions. At which point, punk came to mean people like GBH and the Exploited and UK Subs. When you play the punk festivals, do you run up against these bands who had nothing really to do with punk?
Oh yeah. I've shared a bill with people like GBH and Splodgeness. Back then, I'd have been like. "I'm not talking these people," but now I've matured a lot, which helps with the sense of humor and all that. Because you can say "I don't need to get involved with worrying about all this." GBH come up and said "Alright Mark, I'm glad you're playing." What are you going to do? Say "Shove off, you're in GBH?" I'm older now, I'm not going to get into these things. Basically, everyone does their own thing, but I think it's good that, as far as I'm concerned, ATV are a punk band, Subway Sect are a punk band, and we were there at the start. To me, it's good that bands like us play on those bills, because all those young mohicans and the dog-at-the-end-of-a-string brigade, can see the other side of it. To me, it's "let's show them." If ATV say we won't do it, then everyone thinks punk is like you said. Which to the majority of people is true. If there is a cause I've got, it's to show that there's more to punk than leather jackets and mohicans, and we're it. You know what I mean? We get out there and show that there's an alternative.
That reminds me of a comment that Paul Weller made once, which was "You can bury me a mod." In that sense, can you be buried a punk?
Definitely. I considered Vibing Up The Senile Man to be a punk album. Because it was made by a punk band. It didn't matter that we were playing violins. The attitude was still there, and I always believed that. I've never thought that punk was like British psychedelia, which the Who dabbled with, and the Stones. I think of punk as a little bit more of a decision that you made at the time.
Yeah. For me, it was such a life changing time. I would actually feel bad for denying it. And I'm never going to deny it any more. I'm proud of what I've done, both with Sniffin' Glue and the band, and I've reconciled now, I've come full circle on both those things. We get out with the band and play the songs I still believe in. Plus, the Sniffin Glue is out again, in a big book and people can see how great it was.
Is there any bitterness or regret that you didn't seize on your moment? You had a moment where, if you had decided to make the most of your name, you could have been, I guess, a rock star. You could have gone the route of a lot of bands that got big. Do you ever think, "God, I was so headstrong, I turned away the chance to be bigger at this?"
Probably the only time I felt that, was. . . you know I said that in 81, I split from Miles? I've never been very good with money, I split from Miles Copeland and had a big fight with him when I found out he hadn't paid my tax and insurance. Well I went from being quite a well known person on the rock scene - even in '81 - and this was a comedown for me. . . within a couple of months I was selling newspapers in WH Smiths on Waterloo Station. I needed a job, a part time job. And that was gutting. I've always been quite a strong character, I'm an only child, I've been through some self-examination. I can look after myself and I know what I am. I know why I was doing it, to pay the rent. But I was very upset, because at the time, it was a little thing but it did hurt me, John Tobler (a music journalist) came through and saw me there. Two weeks later, it's in the NME. "How the mighty have fallen...Mark P seen at WH Smiths." I was so disgusted; I thought "just because someone is doing a regular job, " I thought it was fucking disgraceful. Tobler blamed Danny Baker [Perry's former Sniffin' Glue partner who was then at the NME], he said he'd said, "Look who I saw, your old mate." But to put it in the fucking Teasers in NME.
What did Danny Baker say about that?
I don't know. I never really found out how it got in there.
A lot of people would have held onto their pride, and rather than take a crap job, called all their old mates and said "you"re doing well in the music business, give us a job." Or at least say "Listen, I've got to pay the rent, I need some work."
I would never do that, I'll sort myself out. I went and worked for Lewisham Council too. But selling papers at Waterloo Station was pretty poxy. One time I clocked Jimmy Pursey [from Sham 69, who Perry signed to his label Step Forward and put on the cover of the final Sniffin' Glue]. I thought "I hope he doesn't see me," cos the manager of the store was in there and I've got the old WH Smiths tie on. And Pursey is putting all the papers down, 'Cos he's on his uppers at this point, isn't he? Puts em down, NME, Melody Maker.... "How much is that mate?" I start adding up, keeping me head down, then he sees me. "Fucking Mark! What the fuck are you doing 'ere?" Shouting out real loud. I'm like, "Jim, I just need some money." "Need some money? That's fucking disgraceful. Let's go for a beer." "I'm working, I can't go for a beer." "But it's a fucking disgrace." He's doing his nut and I'm saying, "Jim, I'll ring you, I'll ring you!" (Laughs)
CONTINUE to Part 2