A lot of people surely would have said to you, "Come on the road. If you need some money, come out with us, we'll look after you." Or were you already at the point where you were saying, "I want nothing to do with music?"
At the time, I think, people would have thought "Well Mark wouldn't like that." Wouldn't they? 'Cos I'd done so much up until then. I've met people who were scared to talk to me, cos they said I was too serious, too earnest, a bit aloof. I didn't think I was. But I had this background, as a legend. "Oh, the legendary fanzine, Sniffing Glue, that was the guy that did it." I had said so much about being anti-music business, that the last thing that was going to happen was someone from a record company say to me "Do you want to be an A&R man? Do you want to be a press guy?" Actually the only person who offered me a job that was a solid offer, back to McGee again. Because he offered me a job through James Kyllo. James said, "I've been talking with Alan, Alan said do you want to do the press for the label?" This was 87-88. And I said no. I turned it down. I still then didn't want to deal with the business. I always had this thing that I never wanted to sell a band that I didn't like myself.
Well, I've done so many different things in the business, but the one thing I always felt I couldn't do was be a publicist. Just the thought of calling up people like me!
Well I did a bit of it, when I used to help Nick (Jones) at Step Forward. But people wanted your product then! In those days, you could sell a thousand just by putting out a punk single in a picture sleeve,
Yeah. And to me those were the great days when all those singles were coming out. Your peak of punk was probably before all these people made records. But for me, with our age difference, the peak was between 78 and 81, when everybody was pressing up 7" singles. On one hand, some of it was really good pop music, like I always loved the Undertones, and on the other hand you had people like the Pop group and Scritti Politti, the Raincoats...
Prag Vec. Yeah, all this weirdness. People would press up weird records, but they would be interesting.
One of several reasons - and hopefully you're proud of it - that I started doing a fanzine, was that in the autumn of '77, Sounds did a cover story on fanzines, around September, and it just looked so exciting. And a) I thought I could do it. But b) I'm sure it had the quote from you, "It was easy it was cheap go and do it."
Mark looks completely blank.
You didn't write that?
No. In about November 76, we did something called Anarchy in the Rags. "Don't just read what we write, go out and start your own fanzines, we want to flood the market with punk writing." We were trying to debunk ourselves. And literally within a couple of months, Geoff Travis at Rough Trade was saying he was flooded with fanzines. And Jon Savage, in his book, says he read that, he was still working as a trainee solicitor. But then the next day he stayed up pasting his own fanzine.
Maybe it was someone on a record who said, "It was easy it was cheap, go and do it." I know someone did!
There are these funny things that get missed over the years. There was a page in Strangled fanzine where they did the three chords. "Here's three chords, now go out and form a band." And people used to think it was Sniffin' Glue. It's gone into legend as Sniffing Glue. Though in Savage's book, he credits Strangled fanzine 'cos he at least researched it.
Well I understand about how that happens. But whatever, there was enough in that Sounds story to inspire me. To feel "This is what I can do." 'Cos it wasn't like I could be a real punk, I was too young, too middle class.
Where were you living?
I was on the border of Norwood and Dulwich, and I was going to a grammar school. But then the grammar school was in the heart of Kennington, and it went comprehensive in 77 - they all did if you remember the Labour Government at the time. So the whole punk thing was very conflicting. Even if you were just 13, you were thinking, "Well, am I street enough? And does it matter that I take music lessons? . . .But this is really exciting and I want to be part of it."
You were one of the kids we were talking about!
Yeah. Literally. Going out and buying the records. And that Sounds thing got me starting a fanzine. And it was always like Sniffin' Glue was this icon. But I think you did the last issue round the time I started. Your last one was in '77, wasn't it?
Yeah around August, with Sham on the front. We only did 12 issues. With the Glue, if I was asked why it 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? And the gesture of closing it when it was so successful. We had offers to turn it into a proper magazine. We said "No, we've said what we wanted to say, everyone else is writing about punk now, I'm going to move onto something else." And I think that established the legend.
You can keep things going too long. . .But you managed to hammer it out every month didn't you, while it was going?
Yeah, it looks quite organized when you look back on it! We had great photos too cos all the photographers wanted to be in the Glue to put it in their CV. Jill Furmanovsky, Sheila Rock, Harry Murlowski. It looked good.
Talking about what happened with you after the Glue. Danny Baker, your partner, went the opposite way, didn't he? He went from being part of Sniffin' Glue to being multi-media mogul. Do you stay in touch with Danny?
I hadn't seen him for a few years, but we connected again for the book. Because I wanted him involved - and the publishers did as well. I met up with Danny and that was great because it was the first time we've really talked about those years. A lot of which is in the book. We just rapped about the old days. I always felt that Danny was a much better writer than me, he's better at putting words together. A lot of his stuff was very exciting to read again. He's got stuff about when he was down the Vortex and they said Elvis was dead and he had a ruck with the audience. Danny's personality comes through. Because Danny always seems to be a very centered person. He was never really a punk was he? He refused to cut his hair. But as far as I was concerned, that was a quality. He did his own thing. Even when he moved on to the NME, he did it on his own terms. Because from day one, when he did those classic interviews with the likes of Michael Jackson, it was Danny, It wasn't some hack saying "oh this is my meal ticket." It was Danny saying "What are you really about? I'm not going to suck up to you, but you're interesting, what are you about?" Everyone Danny interviewed, they loved him.
He was always a very gregarious person. But he also represented a move away from punk because he was like a soul boy who became a punk who moved back to being a soul boy. And a lot of that was confusing, a lot of people treated punk as a rite of passage. They were a punk for a couple of years and then they got on with their lives. And then there were other people for whom it was like, life would never be the same again. . .What always amazes me about a lot of the punk singles, it's amazing how normal a lot of the bands looked. All they had was the occasional skinny tie, regular jeans.
The odd zip on the trousers...(laughs). And the hair as well, when you think of what is the punk uniform, a lot of 'em just do have the regular hair.
And when you see footage of the old bands, you realise most of the people who were with it image-wise, were in the bands. When you see documentaries, you see amazing footage of people like the Clash in 1977 at Newcastle, and you look and the audience have all got hair down to here, beards and moustaches.
It's probably the day after the gig that they got to cut their hair! I was the same, when I first saw the Pistols, I had long hair. After the first issue [of Sniffin' Glue], I had long hair. I met Caroline Coon at an Eddie and the Hot Rods show, she said come and see the Pistols. So I turned up in a brown satin jacket! I still had my long hair, cos the Ramones had long hair and so I didn't worry about that. But seeing the Pistols, I had this brown satin jacket literally ripped off my back, it was in tatters. But I didn't care, 'cos the next day I got the old Woolworths clippers and the hair came off! Caroline introduced me to the Pistols and Sid, Nils and Vivienne and there's me standing in a satin jacket. Can you imagine? I remember Sid looking at Sniffin' Glue and chucking it on the floor. I was scared of these people. Sid scared the shit out of me!
||"I was quite passionate about dance. I used to do the Es, go out and get out of my head and try and get the vibe. I was up at Strawberry Sunday, hard house and techno, 'aving it large! At 40 years old!"
MARK PERRY, 40-plus, Brooklyn, January 2001.
Talking about punk being an attitude, a lot of 1st/2nd generation punks got bored of music - and then resurfaced when the whole acid house/dance thing happened. A lot of people I know got hit almost as hard by that. To the extent that if you asked, Has there been another punk since punk, the only thing I could point at is the dance explosion. So I was interested in what your take was on that. Because there was a lot of DIY ethics there, a lot of punk attitude.
I could see the appeal for a lot of people, there was certainly an appeal for myself. I got not so much into the acid (house) but I did get into the drum and bass scene. I went to Metalheadz a lot, also cos my wife is really into it. And also, the way the records are being distributed - or not as the case may be - I liked the idea of that. I like the idea that there's no personality, no stars, it's just music, and all the people who were making it were just these faceless people in their bedroom. So yeah, I thought it was cool, but what it lacked for me was a reason. I still see dance, acid whatever, it's an escapism. I suppose the main thing about punk for me is the words, the message. I wanted to get it from something else. I was quite passionate about dance. I used to do the Es, go out and get out of my head and try and get the vibe. I was up at Strawberry Sunday, hard house and techno, 'aving it large! At 40 years old! I took me daughter down there once, and she was 17. She's like "Dad, you're embarrassing me." I was busy saying to her, "no drugs, no drugs," and meantime I'm like "yay." So I was there, but the two reasons I stopped, one was I'm forty, this is silly - and you don't know what you're taking half the time. And the other thing was, "This is escapism, we might as well be sitting in a muddy field, getting off our faces. No." I just got bored with it. And everything started sounding the same very quickly. And that's not an old person saying "oh it all sounds the same" that's a measured response, cos I know me music. And after a while, the same licks get used, the same break beats get used. I love drum and bass when it's hard, but some of this jazzy, ineffectual lightweight stuff - Alex Reese and the like - you might as well have it in the background, in a lift.
The escapist thing you can argue about a lot. The acid house scene came out of ten years of Thatcher saying a) there's no jobs for you, and b) get off your bike and do something, be a businessman, be an entrepreneur. So people basically said "right, you want us to do something with our lives and then you won't give us jobs, so alright - alternative culture. Escapism." So it is escapism - in the sense that yeah, we don't want to handle your world.
So you feel that's where the illegal raves come from?
I thought a lot of it was that. I know that people were getting so sick of the UK. I moved, a lot of people I know moved. But a lot of people went off and traveled and went round Europe, went to Ibiza and places, came back and went "the Europeans have got it great, what is our problem? They dance, they stay up all nights, they have fun, they have a positive attitude and then we come back to this grey wet country with Thatcher saying, 'Get a job,' and then there's no jobs. Sod it, Throw parties. Alternative society. "
There is a reasoning in that.
So that kind of escapism IS the politics.... But I wasn't sure if you were going to say you hadn't touched any of it. When in fact you did put yourself into it.
Cos a lot of people got involved in it. Grant Showbiz. Grant Fleming. Andy Weatherall.
That's why I was asking you.
Oh yeah, I tested the water. I still like it a lot. I tell you what appealed to me in an obvious way, I've always been into that hard European techno. So obviously Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle even and some of that Chicago stuff. But to me, it's still background music. I like people singing about things. And to me, you can't beat that. That's why I was into the Who in the old days. The Clash. I love a great rock song. . . .
I see you've got the [Technics] decks here. I did some Djing. I can't do beat Djing, but I used to do trip hop Djing. I've done maybe 20/30 gigs. I used to DJ drum and bass, as Mark P! And actually I quite like that, cos you're doing it, you can put in your bit of creativity, I'd play a bit of trip hop, DJ Shadow and DJ Krust, then I'd slip in a bit of Kraftwerk, and Bowie, 'Young Americans,' then even some Throbbing Gristle. But then I got bored with that in the end. You think "People aren't even listening to me." They're just there for the beer and you feel like a lemon, you're there trying to get your cues right and it don't even matter if you fuck them up. They don't notice!
And so we ended our conversation more or less where we started out - complaining about audiences not listening for the new or the innovative or the experimental, just wanting to hear what they're already familiar with and being out for a good time. And how, for some of us, that lack of a challenge is sufficient provocation to quit what we're doing and move onto the next thing. And yet these days, Mark is willing to give people at least some of what they want, as evidenced when we journeyed half a mile down the road to the Something Else store on 5th Avenue, where a surprisingly large crowd (for such a small record store) of 30 odd people were milling around. With original bass guitarist Tyrone Thomas now on lead guitar, Tony Barber on bass, and a part-time drummer called Kevin who looks exactly like half the amiable 'geezers' I know from south London, the group powered their way through half a dozen of ATV's better-known songs playing, from a little alcove, through a surprisingly good sound system. As with when I'd seen a 'proper' show at Siné in Williamsburg two nights earlier, the songs sounded strong as one would hope them to be, Mark's distinctive voice offset in turn by Tony's punk bass and Tyrone's more psychedelic, elaborate guitar work. And above all, as Mark says above about the point of it all, it was fun.
There's a big part of me that thinks returning to an only marginally successful band some twenty-plus years later - especially for such minor gigs - is totally redundant, but like Mark, I'm older now and a little less precious about the past. And yet you can't help but think that it's those who were never precious to begin with who have continually reaped the biggest rewards out of punk, and that Mark, rather than split his band because the audience only wanted to hear the "hits", would have been a more successful - and even more influential - musician had he met the fans halfway, changing his sound a little more gradually perhaps. It must have been frustrating to see punk become so narrow-minded so quickly, but a bit more patience might have proven more rewarding, given how adventurous music DID become. Hindsight, of course, remains 20/20, and Mark Perry remains influential through whatever glasses we view the past. The nicest thing about meeting him again after all these years was to see how content he is with his lot, happy tinkering away in the underground, acknowledging his role as a punk guru without bemoaning that it didn't bring him greater rewards, not unafraid to embrace new music (he's continued putting out albums in recent years - good luck finding them) and yet equally keen to have fun occasionally playing the old songs. I'm not sure how much of this qualifies as 'punk,' but it does qualify as 'life' - in a far more optimistic manner than the Alternative TV song of that name.