The hipness and success of London punk-explosion photocopy fanzine Sniffin’ Glue was almost entirely due to the irreverent, pugnacious sincerity of its founder/sparkplug Mark P(erry). That Perry should form a band seemed a natural progression; that it was any good at all a surprise; that it maintained a stance utterly disdainful of compromise a small miracle. Unfortunately, this musical Diogenes had neither adequate vision nor foresight to avoid the pitfalls of Striving for Artistic Expression.
Live at the Rat Club ’77 (an authorized bootleg) consists of messy-sounding live material taped before co-founder/guitarist Alex Fergusson split. (Temporarily replaced by the Police’s then-road manager Kim Turner, Fergusson rejoined in time for Strange Kicks.) By The Image Has Cracked, Perry’s urge to experiment was taking intriguing turns (e.g., a half-studio, half-live attempt at meaningful audience participation). Although the abstract stuff doesn’t hold up so well, it’s still an amazing document of a time and place. The straighter efforts are better: an early Buzzcocks/Clash sock is well-exercised on the band’s rousing manifesto, “Action Time Vision.” It’s also why the compilation of the same name, including non-LP singles sides (through ’79) on which Perry’s righteously vented spleen is effectively displayed, works better than Image as entertainment if not artifact.
What You See…Is What You Are is also live (from the summer of ’78), but shared half-and-half with tour partners Here &Now, a horrid hippie offshoot of Gong. Worse (even discounting the tinny sound) still, such disillusion had set in that Perry remade his song as “Action Time Lemon” in sheer disgust. While a move towards edge music could be seen coming — further spurred by Mick Linehan (later in the Lines) replacing Kim Turner — ATV here sounds aimless and desperate. Vibing Up the Senile Man was made by Perry and stalwart bassist Dennis Burns; while some of the lyrics are eloquently impassioned, Perry’s tuneless vocals ride atop music that’s up the pseudo-avant creek without a paddle.
Come 1981, Perry, Burns and the more pop-minded Fergusson reunited (adding a drummer and a keyboard player) for Strange Kicks, an album that’s a different proposition altogether. The one-time quasi-nihilist says, “What the hey!” and rattles off smart, vernacular humor, easygoing if still reasonably cynical, thereby unifying ATV’s snappy romp through an assortment of styles (ska, pop-punk, even electro-dance), produced by Richard Mazda. Still, “There must be more to life than a heading in a record store.”
Perry launched the Good Missionaries — who were, unfortunately, nothing special — during one period of ATV’s dissolution. This band recalls Frank Zappa at his most pointless; the music meanders without form or reason. Creating this chaos may have been enjoyable for the people involved (including Henry Badowski), but that doesn’t justify its release. Perry’s subsequent solo outing belies its title by dishing up more of his semi-tortured recitation of what-a-bloody-world-it-is to the tune of…well, no recognizable tune at all.
What a surprise that, come 1987, a new lineup of ATV should rise up again with Peep Show. From the back cover: “It’s happening again/The angels and demons have dragged me out.” Yes, folks, it’s back to the bile and the same old semi-anarchic self-indulgence that characterized much of ATV’s non-Fergusson work. Yet if you can bear with him, Perry still strikes a few chords and touches a few nerves; his increased knowledge of musical forms and formats enables him to vary the tempo and style, adding horns and keyboards to good effect. Fans of the first ATV LP will probably enjoy this one, too.
By Sol, ATV had changed again (just Perry and one James Kyllo), so forget musical progress or even continuity. Plus, the sound stinks. “Every Day” is a decent enough number rendered nearly unlistenable by strange guitar distortion (like an uncorrectable technical glitch); a similar problem mars “The Word.” The most succinct and catchy track, “Pain Barrier,” is undercut by cymbal echo. The sound of “Affecting People” is merely mediocre but, as with the other three, the all-important words just aren’t clear. For fans only.
Offering five tracks from the first LP plus eight sides from non-LP singles, Splitting in 2 is an excellent collection. (But it should have included “Life After Life.”)