JERSEY BEAT
BACK TO
THE ALARM

INTERVIEW: Mike Peters of The Alarm

By Phil Rainone
If you’re one of those musicians who can receive music and act as conduit, letting yourself open up and let it flow through you, sharing it with others, you have a rare gift. Its also takes a combination of years of practice and skill. Since the 80's, Mike Peters, lead singer and voice of The Alarm, has been sharing that gift and more. The band's new album Guerilla Tactics is out now, and features a revamped line up. With two other albums under their belt, these seasoned musicians - including James Stevenson (Gen X) on guitar, bass guitarist Craig Adams (Sisters of Mercy) and Steve Grantley (Stiff Little Fingers) on drums - just finished a tour with The English Beat and The Fixx.

Besides talking about the new album and tour, Mike also shared his trials and tribulations with his battle with cancer, and how The Alarm got its start. E-mail interviews are always the toughest, because you can't interact as well as you can in person, but the interview that follows was a labor of love. Mike's love of life, his family and music, and how he was inspired to start the lovehopestrength.org charity were all inspirational for me, as well as being fun, and informative.


Q: When The Alarm started back in 1981, what were your and the band's impressions of America, when you came over for your first tour from Wales? What was the band originally trying to accomplish though their music?

Mike: We thought America was the promised land and to be playing on tour in 1983 was a dream come true... As a songwriter, I hoped a simple love of life would come across in The Alarm's music.

Q: The Alarm had done a few music videos for MTV back when the station first got started. In hindsight, do you think MTV had a positive or negative effect on the band, and your writing process?

Mike: It was positive in the sense that a lot of our fans first became aware of us through MTV, in particular the “Stand” video with the paint spray poppy sequence.

Q: I still have my cassette single of "Sold Me Down The River," which was one of The Alarm's many songs that fused rock 'n roll with politics. Has the change from vinyl albums and cassettes to CD's and MP3's affected the way you make a record?

Mike: No, but the internet has!!!!

Q: On your new album "Guerilla Tactics" many of the same themes are weaved into songs like "Rat Trap," "War Cry," and "Not Gonna Take It Anymore." But they’re not rehashed thoughts, they seem fresh and current. How does your creative process differ from when The Alarm first got started? What's your goal for the new album?

Mike: The goal was to make a record that made people sit up and listen again to The Alarm. It was important to me to make a record that would allow The Alarm to be talked about in the present tense.

Q: Does it seem strange to you that it's now been over two decades since you first started making albums? What has changed for you musically over those years?
Mike: I'm always surprised by how strong the influence of Punk Rock / New Wave still has over modern music styles. Most of today’s 'alternative' music is still drawn from the creative 'year zero' that was triggered by the Sex Pistols.

Q: Could you explain where "Three Sevens Clash" came from?

Mike: “Three Sevens Clash” is an extension of the 1977 'Two Sevens Clash' prophecy that was expressed by reggae band culture. In Rasta culture it was predicted that "Jah would return when the two sevens clash". I just took that idea ran with it in a modern / future context. A reaffirmation of where you come from and the values that define you as a person.

Q: What songs do you remember hearing around the time you started writing, and how did they influence you and the rest of the band?

Mike: It was after seeing the Sex Pistols in 1976. That was it for me, they lowered the entry point for young musicians to actually believe that you could start a band with limited ability. I started writing songs for the first time and then it was trying to convince the other musicians that I knew in North Wales that it was a good thing to be in a band with me even though I could barely play three chords. Drummer Nigel Twist was the first to come on board (although he was a hippie who had to be coaxed into straight trousers to play in my band The Toilets.....). Every member of The Alarm past and present will cite punk rock as the starting point.

Q: You were diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL), back in January of 2006, which has been in remission through a lot of hard work and chemotherapy on your part, with a lot of help and support from your family, friends, and fans, from what I've read. There was also a TV documentary about your illness, "The Road To Recovery," and you started a cancer charity, "Love Hope Strength Fund
(www.LoveHopeStrength.org). How has all this affected your life?

It's made me more aware of my surroundings and the beauty in the simplicity of life.


Q: When you decided to go public with your story and do the documentary, what did you want the person watching, to get out of it?

Hope.

Q: Did you see the documentary, and did it change your way of thinking in any way, after you say it?

I did see the documentary... but seeing yourself on TV is like watching someone else.... I was more interested in watching my sons Dylan and Evan and realizing how much I had to thank them for giving me a purpose and the will to stay alive.

Q: I had heard that you took a group of musicians to Mt. Everest, performing a concert, and breaking the record for the world's highest concert on land, which will make its debut on MTVHD in June. What was that experience like, who were the musicians, and what songs did you play?

It was an intense experience and an honour to share such an adventure with Glenn Tilbrook (Squeeze), Slim JIm Phantom (Stray Cats), Cy Curnin / Jamie West-Oram (The Fixx) and Nick Harper (son of Roy Harper).

Q: The Alarm recently toured with The Fixx and The English Beat. All three bands have their signature songs like The Alarm's "Strength," The Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another," and The English Beat's "Save it for Later." Are the live songs close to the original studio recordings or is there improvisation or any surprises on the tour?

The Alarm play a different set every night although we don't mess with the original arrangements.

Please visit www.thealarm.com and www.lovehopestrength.org for more info on The Alarm & Mike Peters.

The Alarm - Guerilla Tactics (Lovehopestrength.org)
Starting out in the 1983 with their self-titled EP through 1991's "Raw," The Alarm created catchy, anthemic songs ("Marching On," "Sixty Eight Guns," "Spirit of '76," to name a few) that were slices of roughed-up folk rock. Musically, they were the exception to the rule, as they were the square peg in the round hole playing a mix of punk, alternative, and 60's protest folk, when it came to MTV and the slick, polish band's that the music channel was shoving down the throats of their millions of views.

Then as now, The Alarm represents the bridge between bands like the Clash, U2, or John Hammond, and Old 97's or rising stars Motorama, respectively. In fact, on their new album "Guerilla Tactics," lead singer/ guitarist Mike Peter's penned a tribute to the Clash ("Three Sevens Clash") and the punk scene that was exploding in the late 70's. Producer Gilby Clarke (Gun's 'N Roses) gives The Alarm pretty much a free hand, balancing the album between studied intensity and an all out rocker. The focus is on Mike Peters' vocals, that open up the sound of the band with intense dynamics and a strong rhythm section that propels the songs with anarchic grace.

One of the center pieces (15 songs in all), is "Love, Hope, and Strength" which, besides having a heaping share of echoed guitars, sweeping vocals, and bluesy harmonica slices, is also the name of Mike Peter's own cancer charity, Lovehopestrength.org. (Mike was diagnosed with Chronic lymphonic Leukemia in
2006, and with chemotherapy has been in remission. They even captured Mike's battle with cancer with a TV documentary "The Road to Recovery, that came out in 2006).

“Alarm Calling" is an energetic dance-rocker with a catchy melody, and is one of the many album's standout cuts. Along with their raw, expressive, close to the heart catalog, this album would fit perfectly into The Alarm's live set (they're playing at Joey Harrison's Surf Club in Ortley Beach on July 9, and House of Blues in Atlantic City on July 11).

Lyrically subtle, shining with muscular finesse, and combining the band's past, present, and future, this is an impressive Alarm album. - Phil Rainone