Alternative TV — Live at Rat Club ’77 (1979, Crystal; 1993 reissue, Obsession Records)
ATV’s Live at Rat Club ’77 is as rough and tumble as they come, with a disclaimer on the jewel case professing: “this recording was made on a portable mono cassette player, and therefore is not of conventional sound quality.” Sounds like shit, which means it sounds like gold. Brilliant snap shot of London, 1977. Banter is readily heard and is as much a part of the document’s appeal as the band’s set. An audio snippet from Frank Simon’s 1968 documentary on drag, The Queen, finds its way into the recording. “Memphis Tennessee” features the group playing the tune which would become “Alternatives” on their debut, but features Mark Perry reciting Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.” When Perry brings up the dole before “Life,” in the grand punk tradition of caustic, spontaneous dialogue, his friends yell “you’re not on the dole, Mark.” Unfazed, the group canter through the tune, make mistakes, and then gripe to the sound person about the microphone is falling to pieces. The polemical, yet introspective “How Much Longer” is a crown jewel of the set. The band revisits the “Alternatives” groove on “Alternatives to NATO” while Perry monologues what sounds like cut-up political poetry. Meanwhile someone near the tape deck (who sounds like Genesis P-Orridge, the producer of this record [!!!]) claims: “you can tell they can play really well if they want to, but they’re not pushing themselves enough […] they could be much more interesting…” And they got more interesting, but more on that in a moment. The final three tunes are the rousing “You Bastard,” followed by fairly status quo renditions of “Why Don’t You Do Me Right,” and “Total Switch Off.” A fun record replete with heckling and lo-fidelity. Although Wire receives all the platitudes for Pink Flag being the crème de la crème of 1977 punk, truth is, Flag, good as it is, is met blow for blow by The Image Has Cracked. In a year of that spawned nonconformist uniformity—sonically and sartorially—Alternative TV are a breath of fresh air. And this live recording catches the pot just as the steam starts to hover above.