40 years ago, punk exploded in the UK, viciously spitting life into a rock scene that had slowed right down. Paving the way for two wildly anarchic years that would continue to beat life into fashion, art, music and counterculture decades on, at the forefront of the scene was DIY punk zine, Sniffin’ Glue…
If you don’t know who Mark Perry is, you’ve been doing life wrong. Lead singer of snot-rock quintet Alternative TV, Perry founded Sniffin’ Glue in 1976 — a punk zine that became the scene’s definitive compendium. Despite only existing for 12 hell-raising issues, Sniffin’ Glue’s ferocious features, new band exclusives, spunky cartoons and iconic, phlegm-soaked live band shoots made for cult reading.
At the frontline was legendary rock photographer Jill Furmanovsky, who captured some of the mag’s spine-tingling signature shots — of everyone from Joe Strummer to the Pistols. I stole some time with Perry at the opening of Furmanovsky’s exhibition Chunk of Punk at the Barbican, to chat Sniffin’ Glue and all things punk rock. Oi! Oi! Oi!
Wonderland: Hi Mark.What do I do — flob in your face? Anyway, tell me how 3 came to be.
Mark Perry: It was reaction against the music, really. I’d never had any aspirations to be a writer, but I was a big music fan.We used to follow particular writers, the cool ones. I remember Nick Kent wrote an album review about the first Ramones album in the NME and it sounded so exciting! So new! I wanted to be involved somehow. I bought the album on import in Soho and it was like: “Wow! This is the way rock should be!” It was so immediate. It was so different from anything else. It was back to basics, you know. Back to the way you thought The Who sounded like in 1965, the Rolling Stones , Small Faces, you know, back to the streets sort of thing. I just wanted to be involved. I discovered no-one was writing about punk over here, so I thought I’d do my own magazine.
W: From there, things took off pretty quickly. Sniffin’ Glue was circulating 15,000 copies in its peak, you were fronting a record label…
M: When punk came about, the entire rule book had been ripped up.You had bands that had only been together a month or so, suddenly putting records out and they could only play a couple chords on the guitar? When I did the first Sniffin’ Glue, I was still working as a bank clerk. Within a year, I was editing probably the best rock ’n’ roll magazine in the UK… bar none. I was A&R at Step Forward Records and I had my own band! Within a year. I mean, that could only happen in punk. There’s no way you could make Dark Side of the Moon working in a fucking bank.
W: Haha! “David Gilmour steps into a Barclays Bank…” Sounds like the start of joke. Tell me about some of the mag’s early features, interviews…
M: One of the first was The Damned for issue three. We were interviewing them in Wimpy in London Bridge station, of all places. Right before the interview, Stu West said to me that we were gonna do a runner. So I remember the whole time trying to concentrate, but I kept thinking: “Fuck, we’re gonna have to do a runner any second!“ At the end he just got up and paid the bill! All that worrying for nothing.
W: What was is it like watching bands like the Sex Pistols play?
M: The Sex Pistols, they were like us, it was like you and your mates up onstage. It was immediate, it was aggressive. Before the Pistols, you went out to gigs to have a good time and to be entertained, you didn’t go out to be rallied against and called a bunch of cunts! Suddenly you had this band going: “Up yours, you bunch of wankers.” It was like: “Jesus Christ!” That was exciting! There was something engaging about that! They were different. I mean even Dr. Feelgood, you know? I went to see them at Hammersmith Odeon and we were up on the seats, the lot! But they were still saying at the end of each song: “Thank you for that”. With the Pistols, you didn’t have any of that! It wasn’t entertainment. It was a happening. The first time I saw them was at one of their gigs at the 100 Club. There wasn’t even that many of us, but I wound up in a bit of a scrum at the front of the stage. I’d never done that at a gig before. All of a sudden I’m in this scrum, and I had the arm ripped off my jacket. It was like: “Wow, I’m a punk now.” Within a week or so, I’d bought these cheap clippers from Woolworths and shortened my hair, that was sort of it. I was a punk.
W: Do you ever wish you’d done a few more issues of Sniffin’ Glue?
M: I’m really glad Sniffin’ Glue ended, but it didn’t have to end. I’ve always done things for what I call the right reason, and so there was no way I was gonna cash in on the magazine, or anything in that kind of way. It’s one of the things that’s been built in me, that I don’t like it when things get diluted. I’d rather go out on a high than stick around too long. I mean the reason it’s a legend, and the reason Sniffin’ Glue is the #1 punk fanzine, is because it was only 12 issues! If it had gone on until issue 30 or 40, and into the early 80s, someone probably would’ve tapped us on the shoulder and said: “Hey, you’re not saying anything anymore. Look, it’s rubbish now!”
W: Zines today — can they still have the same kind of impact Sniffin’ Glue did?
M: Zines today can’t possibly have the same impact, because it’s not one voice out there anymore.When there’s one or even a couple of rebellious voices, it’s louder, you know? When you have newspapers telling you something and you’re in a city where the establishment rules everything and all that, suddenly you have someone shouting out on the street: “Look at me, Sniffin’ Glue, up yours!“ You’re gonna go: “Wait a minute, what’s that? Hold on!” But when you’ve got two thousand or more people saying: “Look at me! Up yours!”, you end up with this big garble of something that doesn’t mean anything anymore, and you might as well just keep listening to Radio 4, for fuck’s sake.
W: Last year, a tonne of first and second wave punk bands reformed — everyone from Subway Sect and The Damned to Wire. What are your thoughts on that?
M: People like The Damned, it’s their job! I get why they do it, but they might as well be fucking bricklayers, or something. Once you’re a musician and you’re out there doing it like that, and playing like that, you can’t just suddenly turn around and say: “I just don’t fancy it this year! I just find you end up being a cabaret band, really. It’s a job for them. They go out on tour after tour, gig after gig and, to me, that’s not what punk was about.
W: You’ve put out 10 albums with Alternative TV, including the fiercely infectious punk classic, The Image is Cracked. You’ve got a new single coming out this spring.Tell us about it.
M: [It’s called] “This Little Girl”. We’ve just finished pressing the vinyl, and it should be coming sometime next week. Funnily enough, I started writing it back in 1987, but we didn’t really do anything with it. So we sort of revisited it, and it has come out sounding fucking amazing! The main riff is on synthesiser, it’s really powerful, relentless. It’s got a great hook. It’s a real collaboration of everyone in the band, I reckon it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I keep banging on about it to people! I’ve probably built it up too much, and when it comes out people will be like: “Yeah, it’s not bad.” Ha ha. But honestly, I’m just so pleased and surprised by it, it’s turned out sounding absolutely brilliant.
W: What do you think it is about punk rock, 40 years on, that fascinates people so much?
M: I don’t know really, ha! People get so caught up in nostalgia. People are always trying to grab onto all these iconic symbols from their youth… You know, they’re earnest about looking for whether punk’s still relevant and all this. Anyone can see that, throughout the history of music, you had all these high points — and of course, punk is one of those. But I mean, for a lot of people out there, punk will mean fucking Green Day or some shit like that. People get mixed up with punk. You’ll get people labeled as punk musicians, who play slightly aggressive music and wear leather jackets and bullet belts. That’s rock music. If you look back, punk is probably less interesting than the other high points in music history. In the late 60s and Woodstock you had the Vietnam War and all that shit going on, and the music could really mean something. The Clash might have been singing “1977” during the punk period, but no one was ever killed in Knightsbridge because of anarchists! Bands like The Doors scared the shit out of people long before punk came about.