AMERICAN SONGWRITER

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Mike Peters Sounds The Alarm: A Musical Mastermind Gleans the Past to Move Forward Towards the Future

June 17, 2020

It’s not unusual for the sole survivor of a legendary band to dedicate his or her career to maintaining its legacy and push it forward towards the future. Any number of musicians have done just that over the years, whether its Paul McCartney with the Beatles, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey continuing the Who, the remnants of the Dead and the Allman Brothers sustaining those bands’ legendary stature, or, in fact, anyone else who’s had the good fortune to play a crucial role in an essential outfit that made its mark on the popular culture and inscribed its place in the musical firmament in general.

Mike Peters is no different. His role in The Alarm, one of the most insurgent and aggressive English bands to emerge from the post-punk era, helped propel the group to popularity on both sides of the Atlantic and he still makes it his mission to sustain their imprint even today. Last year, his solo “Hurricane of Change” tour attracted sold-out audiences in the U.K., and a new album, Stream: Hurricane of Change (review), parallels those performances by replaying many of The Alarm’s classics borne from their prime period in the late ‘80s.

“We were very lucky,” Peters says in retrospect. “We weren’t the biggest band around — we never attained arena-sized success — but we did find a following. We weren’t trying to be this huge beast of a band, but there was a purpose to everything that we would do.”

Peters’ persistence in ensuring that The Alarm gets the attention he feels that the band’s due sometimes seems to border on pure nostalgia. Yet he’s not alone. Every January, the faithful gather for a festival in the northern part of Wales, the group’s native environs, and take an opportunity to dig deep into the group’s proverbial past and present. This year’s event took place virtually on the weekend of June 6 and 7, which provided a timely opportunity to mark the band’s 40th anniversary.

“It’s an opportunity to be creative and present the music on our terms,” Peters says of that weekend. “We not only play a number of deep tracks people don’t ordinarily hear from us in concert, but also get to preview several new songs as well. It’s a great canvas to paint on before we go into the studio. Plus it gives fans the chance to get below the surface and delve into our history at the same time.”

Peters was inspired to draw on fan’s fanaticism after attending a Beatles conventions in Liverpool. “I decided that we have an audience for all things Alarm. That allows me to take more chances… and invite lots of guests, including former band members, to join us. We aspire to maintain a stamp of quality.”

Not surprisingly then, the “Hurricane of Change” tour rebooted Peters’ enthusiasm for bringing the band’s music to the masses. “I didn’t personally address the audience for two hours because the show was all scripted,” Peters explains. “It’s a great story, a monologue with music. We tossed in a few sound effects as well. The audiences were captivated. We were getting standing ovations every night. We’d vary things maybe two or three times during the show, but only with the slightest nuances. We were playing to absolute silence because the audience was listening so attentively. They were literally clinging to every word. Every note was hanging in the air. That’s a rare commodity. Usually people are just dancing and screaming.”

The performances affected Peters personally as well. “It was a different version of me, me in a moment, totally lost in it,” he explains. “I wasn’t just being an entertainer. I was doing a full show exactly as intended. I’d do the show night after night, but it was always a different dynamic.”

Indeed, it’s clear that Peters’ enthusiasm for the band he joined and later helped nurture has never waned, even over the course of four decades. The group got its start in earnest after going through a number of name changes early on — “The Toilets,” “Quiasimodo,” “Seventeen,” and “Alarm Alarm,” among them — before coalescing as The Alarm in June 1981. The group, which also included guitarist Dave Sharp, bassist Eddie MacDonald and Nigel Twist on drums, then went on to produce a number of seminal classics, among them Declaration (1984), Strength (1985), Eye of the Hurricane (1987), Change (1989), and Raw (1991), producing several bonafide anthems in the process — “The Stand,” “Sixty Eight Guns,” “Absolute Reality,” and “Sold Me Down the River.” When Peters surprised both his audience and his bandmates by announcing on stage that he was leaving the group, the original Alarm came to a screeching halt.

Peters rekindled The Alarm under a different handle in the early 2000s by recruiting a new group of musicians and dubbing that current configuration The Alarm MM. Surprisingly, that incarnation of the band has become even more prolific than the original ensemble, having produced a dozen albums between 2002 and 2019. And while Peters has faced some health issues in the past couple of decades, it’s clear now that The Alarm remains a major motivating force both personally and professionally. “I’ve still got ideas and ambitions,” he reflects. “I’m an Alarm fan too. All of those songs are a part of my life. I won’t let any song go out into the world unless I’m sure it can do me proud. Everything the band does now informs the future. After all, if you can’t look back and see what you’ve accomplished in the past, you can’t hope to move ahead.”