THE TIMES OF CHESTER COUNTY

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On Stage: Keswick hosting music treasures of the 1980s tonight

Aug 31st, 2019 

By Denny DyroffEntertainment Editor, The Times

MTV had a major influence on rock music in the 1980. It was a springboard for hundreds of bands in a variety of genres – rock, metal, hair, pop, folk-rock and dance.

Not surprisingly, many of the bands were fluff and that resulted in a lot of “One Hit Wonders” such as Kajagoogoo, A-Ha, Toni Basil, A Flock of Seagulls and Right Said Fred.

While MTV’s musical meals may have been heavy on the desserts – songs without much substance – it also provided a lot of substantial menu items in the main meal – songs by bands that made good music then and continued to do so in the following decades.

Three of those substantial bands are out on the road now – touring America together with music that us both nostalgic and fresh. The tour touches down in this area on August 31.

On Saturday night, the Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) will host the “The Sigma LXXXV Tour #sigmatour2019” featuring The Alarm, Modern English, and Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel.

Two of the three band have roots in Wales while Modern English was a bunch of Brits from Colchester, Essex.  Fronted by Robbie Grey, Modern English is best-known for its hits “I Melt with You” (recently revived for a Burger King commercial), “Hands Across the Sea”, and “Ink and Paper.”

Formed in Wales in 1981 by lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Mike Peters, The Alarm came to be known for uplifting songs, idealistic values and a powerhouse live show.  With major hits such as “The Stand,” Sixty-Eight Guns,” “Strength” and more, The Alarm were staples on the radio worldwide in the 1980s.

“Give Me Love, Give Me Hope, Give Me Strength” were the opening words of The Alarm’s 1985 international Top 40 hit song “Strength,” which gave its name to the band’s career best-selling album.

The band toured extensively through the United States and Europe through the 1980s into 1991 and gained much popularity in 1983 when it was the opening act for U2. After the Alarm, Peters teamed up with a band of unknown musicians to form The Poets Of Justice (which included his wife Jules Peters on keyboards), and embark on a solo career which produced a number of singles and albums.

A few years ago, to mark the 30th anniversary of The Alarm’s “Strength” LP, the entire album was re-arranged and re-recorded by Peters to create a brand-new listening experience.

Then, Peters brought it on the road — by himself.  He did two ambitious tours of North America in this format. Now, he returns to America with The Alarm as the headliner of the Sigma LXXXV Tour #sigmatour2019.

“I’ve been playing music in North America since 1983,” said Peters, during a recent phone interview. “We’ve had a real presence on this continent. On this tour, Modern English, Jay’s band and The Alarm, have brought their audiences to each other. We’re all bands committed to making new music.”

These bands are not content to rest on their laurels.

According to Peters, “The Sigma Tour will bring out the best that The Alarm has to offer the 21st Century, and along with our friends Modern English and Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel, we look forward to taking part in an event that will hopefully, live long in the memory for all our fans.

“Our music, which still gets played on the radio every single day, gives us all a platform for creativity that will shine through every second of the Sigma Tour. Fans can expect collaboration, moments of reflection, camaraderie and also the unexpected. The tour will be alive on all the social media platforms allowing fans from around the world to see what it’s like for British bands to be on the road in the USA.

“Each show will be presented by an in-house MC/DJ and play host to intimate pre-show events that will connect fans to the musicians in a setting away from the spotlight. Up on the main stage every night, The Alarm will be celebrating the release of a new music album entitled ‘Sigma,’ and honoring the 1985 ‘Strength’ album reissue that has literally changed and saved lives through Love Hope Strength, the charity which sprang from the intention of the lyrics.

“The Sigma Tour will look, sound and feel like no other. It’s an opportunity for our generations of fans, to make themselves heard, and for us as artists to prove that we are still as relevant as when we first helped shape the musical landscape of America, and when it’s citizens looked to British bands for inspiration and alternatives.”

The Alarm released a new album last year called “Equals.” In June of this year, the band released an even newer album called “Sigma.”

“Sigma” acts as the sequel for 2018’s critically acclaimed “Equals” and features musical contributions from original Alarm guitarist Dave Sharp and Billy Duffy from The Cult.

According to Peters, “It’s an honor to have Dave Sharp performing on ‘Sigma,’ Dave was and always will be, part of The Alarm family, and to have him feature on this record is a thrill for all of us and I’m sure, for all the fans too. Billy Duffy of The Cult also makes his mark on guitar just as he did on ‘Equals.’ We have been fortunate to have such an incredible talent in the studio with us for a second time.”

“Sigma” has already gained a lot of notice on both sides of the Atlantic.

“The album is just out now,” said “Peters. “It went into thr U.K. chartys as the Number One album.

“We put out ‘Equals’ last year. It was originally going to be a double album, but we decided against it. When we released ‘Equals,’ we knew ‘Sigma’ was coming a year and a day later.”

The popularity of the music made by Peters and The Alarm years ago has never waned.

“I’ve been surprised at how well the new projects have been received by our audience — especially the core audience,” said Peters. “These songs have grown with my life. The line in the lyrics of the song ‘Strength’ — ‘Who will be the life blood coursing through my veins’ — that was even before I knew I had cancer.”

Peters, a two- time cancer survivor, has become one of the most visible advocates and activists for those living with and beating cancer around the world.

Over the last few years, his Love Hope Strength Foundation has found more than 2000 potentially life-saving bone marrow donor matches; built the first ever children’s cancer center in Tanzania; supported the Bhaktapur Cancer Center in Nepal with life-saving equipment and registered over 90,000 donors through it’s “Get On the List” program.

“We have a booth at concerts where we do a cheek swab to see if we can find bone marrow donors,” said Peters. “We got 27 matches just from tables we had set up during a tour by Linkin Park.”

Although Peters, is constantly fighting the illness himself, he refuses to stop performing. Instead, he mixes his role as cancer advocate and musician by leading fundraising treks around the Globe.

Peters’ inspirational story and musical exploits to perform awareness raising concerts at altitude on mountains such as Everest and Kilimanjaro (all while undergoing bi-monthly chemotherapy sessions), will be the focus of a new documentary film “One Guitar.”

“I was forced out of rock-and-roll at times because of the cancer and the treatments,” said Peters. “It’s an ongoing illness that I’ll have for the rest of my life. I might need a stem cell treatment later in my life.

“But I’ve been able to step outside — to fight through cancer and come through as a better person. My health is good. I’ll always have treatments but I’m feeling good. I take my chemo with me wherever I go and administer it twice a day. It might be with me for the rest of my life but that’s fine with me. Where there is a will, there is a way.”

As headliner, The Alarm will have a set that runs around 90 minutes. As opening act, Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel will have about half as long.

“It’s a 40-minute set, which is a bit short,” said Aston, during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Portland, Maine. “When I was a kid, I saw The Who and they only had a short set.

“They did five or six songs and it was bang, bang, bang. So, we do the same thing. We’re a very high-energy band and we play 10 songs in 40 minutes.”

Like The Alarm, Gene Loves Jezebel is also a band with a lot of history.

Gene Loves Jezebel was formed in 1980 with the Jay Aston, his twin brother Michael, guitarist Ian Hudson, bassist Stephen Davis, and drummer Snowy White. The Astons grew up in Cornelly, and later Porthcawl Wales, and moved to London in 1981.Gene Loves Jezebel underwent numerous line-up changes between 1981–1985.

For a band to stay relevant across decades is unusual — but to do so with much of the same line-up for most of that time is exceptional. Such is the case with Gene Loves Jezebel, which indicates that these musicians come together not only out of an appreciation for the memorable music they create, but also because they truly like and respect each other.

Jay Aston (vocals), James Stevenson (guitars), Pete Rizzo (bass) and Chris Bell (drums) — with Peter Walsh producing — have created extraordinary GLJ songs for 30 years now. With their new album, they honor that legacy by expanding it.

Jay Aston founded GLJ in England at the start of the ’80s and the band quickly gained a fervent following. “Promise,” the band’s trailblazing debut, appeared in 1983. Though he shared vocals with his brother Michael, Jay was the primary songwriter. Jay’s songs, spotlighting his uninhibited and highly distinctive singing style, made GLJ instantly memorable and identifiable.

“Immigrant” followed in 1985, marking Pete Rizzo’s first recordings with the band. His inventive and complex bass lines instantly became an essential part of the GLJ sound. The band matured even further on “Discover” (1986), when James Stevenson joined and demonstrated his talent for delivering guitar work that is both melodic and powerful.

Then, on “The House of Dolls” (1987), drummer Chris Bell joined the band full-time. Michael was largely absent from recording that album, resulting in the four-piece incarnation of Jay, Pete, James and Chris that is still going strong to this day.

It is noteworthy that while GLJ grew increasingly successful with each release, “The House of Dolls” led to a big jump in their U.K. and U.S. popular chart success, as well as substantial MTV exposure. The trend continued when this same line-up released “Kiss of Life” (1990) with the single “Jealous” reaching the top spot on the U.S. alternative rock chart.

The band had clearly hit its stride, and the artistic achievements continued unabated with the following studio albums: “Heavenly Bodies” in 1992, and “VII” in 1999.

Eventually, an irreparable split between the Aston twins drove the band apart and created two bands named Gene Loves Jezebel.

Michael Aston leads the US version of the band and has toured both the US and the UK supporting releases such as “Love Lies Bleeding” (1999), “Giving Up the Ghost” (2001) and “Exploding Girls” (2003). Jay Aston leads the UK version of the band, also featuring James Stevenson and Pete Rizzo, and has toured both the US and the UK extensively as well to support releases such as “Accept No Substitute” (2002), “The Thornfield Sessions” (2003), “The Anthology, Vols. 1-2 “(2006) and “Dance Underwater” (2017).

 “We’ve gotten energized with the new album,” said Jay Aston. “It’s the same line-up that was established in 1975 – Pete Rizzo, Jim Stevenson and me.”

In December 2016, Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel announced that it was recording a new album via a Pledge Music campaign. The album, entitled “Dance Underwater,” was completed in April 2017 and released in June 2017 via Westworld Recordings/Plastichead.

“We recorded the album in the six months prior to its release,” said Aston. “We recorded it in Henley-on-Thames at the Doghouse Studio. It’s a really nice studio owned by Barrie Barlow, Jethro Tull’s drummer.

“We used Pledge Music to get the funds we need to make the record. We were lucky to use Pledge Music then rather than now.”

With a band history that spans decades, it’s hard for Aston to choose a set list for this tour.

“You get really close to the old songs,” said Aston. “I just love it. But it’s really difficult to pick just 10 songs. I like to change it around. We do sings from all our albums – ‘Heartache,’ ‘Desire,’ ‘The Motion of Love,’ – the very poppy songs.

“We even do one song from the new album called ‘How Do You Say Goodbye (To Someone You Love).’ We do try to vary our set list to keep it interesting for the fans.” Video link for Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel – https://youtu.be/Sx1mLs2PoCk.

Video link for The Alarm — https://youtu.be/5yruTHcZ6Js.

The show at the Keswick Theater on August 31 will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $29-$49.