“That’s my argument against the way punks become so cabaret. It’s almost patronising [when bands play all their hits]. Oh, we’d better play ‘How Much Longer’ because people want that. To me, that’s just patronising to the audience. I’d like to feel, and I always have done, that an Alternative TV audience wants us to experiment or to try new things out through that sense of exploration, or that childlike sense of wonder about making music.
That’s why I’ve always wanted to retain that. I haven’t always got it right, but that continuing journey to explore new areas of expression has got value, and that’s why I think it’s worth proceeding in that way. I’m doing that with the new band. I’m trying to instil that with them. This is what ATV is about.”
“People have suggested to me that touring with The Pop Group must have been so arty and that we must have all been talking about Kafka at night. Bollocks were we! We were out of our minds most nights on fucking booze!” “I was really full of myself. I thought back then that I’ve got something to say and must be listened to. You only need to hear some of my stuff to know I was like that at the time, like on ‘Alternatives’, when I was having a go at people and telling them what to do and all that. Looking back, it’s a bit embarrassing, but at the time it was sort of vital. Some people liked that and liked joining in.
So, ‘Fellow Sufferer’ was part of that. I did feel that because I was saying stuff and was playing music [away from] that punk template I was putting my reputation on the line. You know, [my being the] Sniffin’ Glue editor and all that. I was going into what I thought was new ground and, let’s face it, a lot of people didn’t like it, and because of the way I was that spurred me on to make it even more extreme.
So, when we got on to the Vibing Up the Senile Man material, I decided quite early on that we didn’t want to have a drummer and wanted to get back to making a space by getting rid of all the rhythm. I just thought if we get rid of all the rhythm it’ll be more experimental [because] we wouldn’t be tied to a strict beat. That’s why there are no drums, really, on the Vibing Up the Senile Man songs. I played drums on the second Peel session, because we’d got rid of Chris Bennett, though. We’d chucked him out the band.”
Mark Perry is a familiar name from the early punk scene in London due to his having published Sniffin’ Glue fanzine between July 1976 and August 1977. As he became increasingly disillusioned with punk, however, he at least still remained driven by its impetus and started his group, Alternative TV. With their first release, ‘Love Lies Limp’, issued as a 7” flexi single with Sniffin’ Glue 12, itself the final edition of the fanzine, it was clear that Alternative TV were not going to readily sit comfortably alongside the countless hordes of identikit punk groups forming around the same time.
Sharper yet wrought with frustration, Mark Perry took the group through a more personal space that pre-empted what a short while later became known as post-punk. Whilst sometimes charged with the same energy and anger, the music was more opened out and embraced all manner of different and often disparate areas, from reggae to industrial, improvisation and even brazen pop. Offset by subject matter that likewise often smashed down those borders of expectation, Mark always took his music wherever he felt it should go.
Not given to compromise or always taking the easiest route, even when sometimes handed to him, his approach to songwriting or making records has rarely strayed from an artistic vision which sets him apart from his contemporaries. Lost in Room focusses on the first four years of his musical path, beginning with ‘Love Lies Limp’ and ending as the first version of the group collapsed soon after 1981’s Strange Kicks album and Mark’s joining The Reflections.
Along the way are tours with Chelsea, Here & Now and The Pop Group, a huge love of Frank Zappa, a meeting of minds with the late Genesis P-Orridge, the running of Step-Forward Records and working for Miles Copeland’s Faulty Products network of labels, plenty of anecdotes about the world he was embroiled in, and the story behind the records themselves.
Broken into two main parts, one concerning the historical development of Alternative TV and Mark’s occasional releases outside the group, and the other dedicated to the ideas that informed many of the songs themselves, this book is centred around a conversational approach to a series of weekly interviews conducted via Zoom with Mark between late 2021 and summer 2022.
Deliberately retaining the organic nature of the conversations, replete with tangents that sometimes refer to later work or creep elsewhere completely, Lost in Room is the first book to explore the early years of Mark Perry’s having become one of the most interesting and honest voices to have arrived from the cultural shift of the late 1970s.
Including a foreword by Graham Duff, discography, selected lyrics and many previously unseen or hard-to-find photos and images, this book is an absolute must for all of those interested in this period of music and, indeed, those seeking some snapshots of its importance on one of the best groups to have emerged from it that are still active.