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The Alarm and Modern English are on tour together, probably where they belong
By ALLISON STEWART
CHICAGO TRIBUNE |
AUG 14, 2019
Veteran British bands the Alarm and Modern English didn’t exactly come up together, but their career trajectories were similar. Both bands found success in America during the Reagan-Thatcher years, and by 1991, both had broken up.
In between, the Essex-based Modern English landed one of the most enduring hits in modern pop history, “I Melt With You.” The Welsh-based Alarm had smaller hits (“Strength,” “Sixty Eight Guns”) but more of them.
Both bands have since regrouped in various formations, their lead singers intact, and both are still releasing new material (Modern English released “Take Me to the Trees” in 2016; The Alarm dropped “Sigma” earlier this summer).
Their catalogs still resonate. “I Melt With You” is an enduring presence in ads and TV shows. Several Alarm songs appeared in the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” and the Killers recently performed a signal-boosting live cover of their 1987 hit “Rain in the Summertime.”
Alarm frontman Mike Peters is a three-time cancer survivor who co-founded the Love Hope Strength foundation, which hosts bone marrow registry signups at shows. In separate phone interviews, he and Modern English frontman Robbie Grey talked about fame, Bono, and what they’ve learned about life.
The following are excerpts from that conversation:
Package tours make for strange bedfellows
Grey: We know each other from the old days. We played with the Alarm back in the ‘80s. They’re all good people. It seems to be the way it’s done these days, three bands on a bill. We’re all very different to each other, but it seems to work.
Peters: We met in 1985 when we came over here to America. We were sort of caught up in the same landscape of bands that were trying to break things down over here. America was a different country back then, musically, anyway. Radio played a lot of British bands. America really discovered its voice in the beginning of the ‘90s with Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. It has its own voice now, but at that time in America, British bands were the voice of youth. We were lumped into that together.
Each band handled fame differently
Grey: We loved to party. We’d be out every night. We had a lot of fun, lots of girls, lots of drugs, lots of booze.
Peters: We first came to America with U2 in 1983. We learned a lot from them, specifically Bono. He’s a great artist. When the show finished for him, it was less parties and more, ‘Where are we playing tomorrow? What are we going to do tomorrow to make U2 better?” And that rubbed off on me.
But similar intra-band struggles led to similar fates
Peters: Towards the end of the ‘80s, I think the enjoyment went out of it. ... I probably just wanted to, in my own way, shake it all up, so that we could come alive again for the future. It was a very instinctive thing. Sometimes you have to give in to your instinct. The lifeblood of the band needed stirring again, and we needed to have a challenge to bring us back together. Life played its part, fate played its part.
Grey: It’s just too much work, really. The workload was too high. We did 80 concerts in 100 days, we just never stopped working and traveling and touring, and that can get on top of anybody, especially a bunch of young guys from England. It was just too much pressure.
Still, your band is your family no matter what
Grey: We’ve been friends from the same town since we were teenagers. We’ve never not known each other. Maybe a year here, a year there we haven’t spoken to each other, but we’ve always been in contact, really.
Peters: We’re still friends. We’re still family. You can’t go through the kind of experiences we did in the ‘80s and not have a bond that cannot be broken. We can laugh about the times that we had our fall outs and our bust-ups. There was a lot of pressure being a successful band. When you’re in the charts it becomes a competition, and that’s not what you really get into it for.
Even during their fallow periods, their music has been omnipresent
Peters: When “13 Reasons Why” aired, we were waking up the next day and there were two million people listening to the band on Spotify. It’s been an incredible journey to see how life unfolds, and takes you with it.
Grey: “Valley Girl,” in the early days was massive for that. It’s been in so many things. I mean, God, a Burger King advert, Hershey bars, you name it. We never turn much down. We turned down a wind-up bunny rabbit singing “I Melt With You,” I think. But generally we say, “Yeah, go on. Give us the money.” ... You can’t help but be happy about (a ubiquitous song). You’re not going to moan about that, are you? Unless you’re an idiot.
What they’ve learned about life
Grey: We just did what we wanted to do, thanks to “I Melt With You” and the finances it gives us.... There’s definitely a little bit of, ‘Why doesn’t everybody react the same way to everything else?’ But that’s just not the way the world works.
Peters: You can’t really write the script, can you? You lay down foundations in life, they’ll stand you in good stead, even if the spotlight is turned away, or life takes you on a downward spiral for a while, there’s always a way back, and the Alarm’s music has always played a part in finding that way back. ... The darkness of life, it’s not the whole of life.