Alternative TV – in session for John Peel – recorded December 5, 1977 – broadcast December 12 – BBC Radio 1 –
Alternative TV in session for John Peel tonight. Sometimes known as ATV, Alternative TV formed in London in 1977. Author Steve Taylor writes: “Alternative TV pioneered reggae rhythms in punk and then moved on to redefine the musical rules”.
They were formed by Mark Perry, the founding editor of Sniffin’ Glue, a punk fanzine, with Alex Fergusson. The name is a play on the name of Associated Television, a British broadcaster also known as ATV. Early rehearsals took place at Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial Records studio with Genesis P-Orridge on drums (recordings from this period appeared, long afterwards, on the Industrial Sessions CD). The band’s first live appearance was in Nottingham supporting The Adverts.
The band’s debut on record was “Love Lies Limp”, a free flexi disc issued with the final edition of Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue fanzine. For their first two singles Perry and Fergusson were accompanied by drummer John Towe (ex-Generation X) and Tyrone Thomas on bass; Towe later left to join The Rage and was replaced by Chris Bennett. This line-up was the most straightforwardly ‘punk’ version of ATV, although they combined short, fast songs with extended pieces such as “Alternatives to NATO”, in which Perry read an anarchist political text and envisaged the possibility of a Soviet invasion of Britain. Shortly afterwards they released the “How Much Longer”/”You Bastard” 7″ in December 1977. The A-side was a pointed critique of punk style: “How much longer will people wear/Nazi armbands and dye their hair?”
At the end of 1977, Perry sacked his chief collaborator and co-writer Fergusson. The latter went on to form the short-lived Cash Pussies and, a few years later, Psychic TV along with Genesis P-Orridge. Tyrone Thomas switched to guitar, later replaced by Kim Turner, while Dennis Burns joined on bass. A dub-influenced single, “Life After Life”, was released, followed by the band’s debut album, The Image Has Cracked, both featuring Jools Holland guesting on piano.
By the end of 1978, only Perry and Burns remained from the previous line-up, although ATV used additional musicians live and in the studio. The band’s second album, Vibing Up the Senile Man (Part One), saw the band take a more explicitly experimental direction, which alienated both the music press and audiences. A recording of one gig which ended in a violent stage invasion can be heard on the cassette-only release Scars on Sunday. A live LP was released, documenting their tour with commune-dwelling progressive band Here & Now, marking the band’s further movement away from the punk/new wave scene. A final single “The Force Is Blind” featured Anno from Here and Now on additional vocals.
Here’s their first session for John Peel as it was broadcast on December 12, 1977.
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