|PLAYBACK ST LOUIS|
Peters | Sounding The Alarm
Written by Laura Hamlett
Thursday, 10 July 2008
Rock 'n' roll kept me going; it gave me something to focus on.
Anyone of a certain age remembers the heyday of The Alarm. They were rebellious and honest, a strain of punk rock with clear-cut melodies and near-folk sensibilities. Their debut self-titled EP (IRS Records), dropped in 1981, included the ever-classic "The Stand," a quick cult hit on the then-new video channel MTV. With the band's tall, spiked hair, a blank wall and cans of red and black spraypaint, they were instant icons, both musically and visually.
Seven follow-up albums on IRS Records spawned such hits as "Sixty Eight Guns," "Strength," "Absolute Reality," "Spirit of '76," "Rain in the Summertime" and "Sold Me Down the River." As with all long-lasting bands, there comes a time when it just isn't fun anymore; in 1991, frontman and founder Mike Peters decided to leave the band. He embarked on a solo career for a bit; shortly thereafter, he was found to have leukemia, a battle which he fought and won.
Fast-forward to 2005: as none of the other original members was interested in reuniting, Peters reinvents The Alarm, this time with an all-star lineup of punk/wave classics: guitarist James Stevenson (Generation X), bassist Craig Adams (Sisters of Mercy) and drummer Steve Grantley (Stiff Little Fingers). Just as new album Under Attack is about to drop, he is delivered what seems like a cruel joke: a diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
"When I was diagnosed [with leukemia] in 2005, it was almost 10 years to the day of my lymphoma diagnoses," Peters recalls. "My white blood count was off the radar; I had immediate treatment. I was allowed to go home from the consultation and get my stuff, then I was taken straight down for some heavy treatment to save my life. But if I'd been diagnosed five years earlier, which I probably should have been, I'd have been hit with a really heavy hammer; in the three years just before I was diagnosed, a new drug came along, a wonder drug that saved my life."
Throughout the ordeal, Peters never gave up his music—and his music never gave up on him. "All this time I was playing gigs with the band. Rock 'n' roll kept me going; it gave me something to focus on. I was in hospital with guys around me having chemo; their hair was falling out and my hair stayed in. They're all asking, ‘How come your hair stayed in?' and I said ‘I don't know, I play guitar in a band. I'm getting well for next week, and I'm gonna play a gig.' One of the things I wanted to do was just live a normal life; I didn't want my life to become dominated by cancer. I wanted cancer to be something I had to deal with in my life.
Thankful for his own recovery, Peters created the foundation Love Hope Strength (remember the refrain to "Strength" anyone? "Give me love/ give me hope/ give me strength/ give me someone to live for") to raise funds for other cancer victims less fortunate than himself. Through this initiative, Peters initiated a concert on Mt. Everest, "the highest concert in the world. I started the Love Hope Strength Foundation to help support the cancer center that gave me my life back, and because I'm aware I'm very lucky to have the sort of treatments that I have. Through being inspired by the other survivors out there, I thought we should take the fight, do the part in the world with poorer countries than where we come from. So we did Everest last year, and we did the same thing in Peru, climbing Machu Picchu; we were the first westerners to play some music there, and that was an incredibly honor."
Through it all, Peters never lost sight of the music. Brand-new CD Guerilla Tactics—the third with the new lineup, but the first of those releases to come out in the United States—is an infectious, hard-hitting, commendable release. Unlike all too many reunited bands' offerings (Hello, Journey. Nobody can tell me their new stuff is at all relevant, never mind up to the standards of the old classics), Guerrila Tactics is a solid, skilled offering, sure to find its way into the listening habits of Alarm fans old and new.
The disc promises a rock 'n' roll ride from the first few seconds of "The Opening," a feedback-laden call to arms. Rumbling guitars and hard-hitting drums kick in alongside Peters' voice and the sounds of the old Alarm are reborn, that punk-rock ethos mixed with a contemporary sound.
"I actually did two demos for this record with two young guys, two nineteen-year-olds, really young musicians," Peters says in explanation of the unabashed rock nature of the new disc. "t was a bit more about sharing these songs, 'cause it was very personal about what happened to me in hospital. There's a lot of real naked emotions in these songs, and it was really exciting 'cause these young guys brought a 19-year-old energy about how to play. I went back to some very basic rudiments of guitar playing for this album. I play with young guys to keep the tempos really fast and put a lot of energy into the music.
"That's one of the challenges that excited me about being The Alarm again," he continues. "I could reclaim part of my life which I'd gone into denial about. When you start a band and you've sort of been forced out of it, you've gotta fight back to take control of the thing that you were out to create. A challenge and a drive to make great music in the name of The Alarm again. And I think we've done that. I think there's certain songs now from the last three albums, that it wouldn't be an Alarm gig without those songs. If people got together to see the original lineup, you'd miss things like "45RPM" and certain songs from the new album that are made to be in an Alarm gig forever." | Laura Hamlett
The Alarm is currently on a U.S. tour with fellow '80s stalwarts The English Beat and The Fixx. Their "Rockin' the Colonies" tour hits St. Louis July 17 at Harrah's. More info: www.thealarm.com or www.lovehopestrength.org.
Rockin' the Colonies tour