THE SPOKESMAN REVIEW
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Sounding the Alarm: Mike Peters and band continue to bring urgency and optimism to audiences
UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 1, 2019, 4:09 p.m.
On March 29, 1986, Mike Peters and his band, the Alarm, took the stage at the old Spokane Coliseum as the opening act for Pat Benatar.
The Welch rockers played a blistering set of songs plucked from their first two albums, “Declaration” and “Strength,” and included songs such as “Spirit of ’76” and “Sixty-Eight Guns,” both of which got airplay on MTV. The Spokane Chronicle reviewer wrote that the Alarm, following “in the rousing tradition” of other British groups such as U2 and Big Country, “demonstrated both technical virtuosity and emotional intensity.”
As someone who was in the audience that night, I can concur: It was a memorable performance. And, unexpectedly, after more than 30 years and hundreds of concerts, Peters seems to remember it, too.
OK, maybe he just makes the effort to look things up before an interview. Still, the singer-songwriter said he’s looking forward to his return to the Lilac City next week as part of a tour with fellow ’80s acts Modern English and Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel.
“We loved it,” he said of that mid-’80s date with Benatar. “I really can remember Spokane being a beautiful part of the world. … My kids are coming this time, and I’m looking forward to showing them that part of the world. The northwest of America, it’s beautiful.”
He won’t even be upset if the weather is less than ideal.
“We can’t really complain, with the Alarm having a song called ‘I Love to Feel the Rain in the Summertime.’ We can’t complain if it does rain.”
Initially formed as a punk band called the Toilets in 1977, the Alarm gained a following opening for an array of artists that includes U2 and Bob Dylan. Their highest-charting single, “Sixty Eight Guns,” cracked the Top 20 in the U.K., and the album that featured it, “Strength,” went Top 10. The group recorded three more albums before Peters left in 1991.
A decade later, a career retrospective release sparked new interest in the Alarm, and Peters reformed the band. With a catch. The band released a series of albums in the early 2000s under the name the Poppy Fields and since then has maintained a busy touring and recording schedule.
The band now includes Peters, the only original member, his wife Jules on keyboards, guitarist James Stevenson, bassist Craig Adams and drummer Steve “Smiley” Barnard.
They’re out on tour in support of “Sigma,” an album rooted in personal struggle. Peters wrote many of the songs for it and its predecessor, “Equals,” as his wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer three years ago. Peters himself is a cancer survivor, as well, having battled lymphoma and leukemia over the past 20 years.
“I said to Jules when she was diagnosed, ‘We’ve got to trust the doctors and the National Health Service here in Britain. And we’ve got to pray and assume we’re going to have a positive outcome. When you’ve had the surgery and the chemo and the radio, you’re coming on tour to play in the band,’ ” Peters said.
“That’s the best way to stay alive is to not let cancer rob you of any time or any experiences you might aspire to in life. And that’s really our message out there, and that’s what has driven the recording of the records. A lot of the lyrics were written into my phone as my wife was having some intimate experiences in the radiotherapy sessions or breast cancer surgery.
“I felt very exposed in those moments. I thought I was going to be the one to take the cancer bullet.”
That sense of urgent optimism has been what’s driven the Alarm from its early days. Still, it’s remarkable that “Sigma” and the other recent entries of the Alarms’ discography really sound like Alarm albums. Yes, Peters’ voice has aged, but sonically there’s little to differentiate “Sigma” from, say, 1984’s “Declaration.” Yet the music is not stale. Peters and crew bring passion and emotion to bear in these anthemic songs that are affirming and poignant.
“I always want Alarm gigs to be celebratory. I don’t want them to be festivals of cancer, all doom and gloom,” he said. “It’s about celebrating the victories and the people who come through some intense times to still live, who want to live. Our music is there to try to bring out the will to survive, the will to find the positivity in the world, the will to get on with your neighbor. That’s what we’re all about.”
The work and optimism have paid off. “Sigma” hit No. 1 on the U.K. Rock Chart in July.
“The Alarm, we’ve never had the best press in the world, we’ve never been lauded in those sort of terms, and we’ve never been the most successful band in the world. We’re not used to having No. 1’s,” Peters said. “When we first started the band, the first interviews I did people would ask me what was the aim of the band? I said to make music for the the rest of our lives.
“There were certain judgments made of the Alarm when we put our first record out, and we had the haircuts and the look. But that was only the foundation. I’ve always aspired for the Alarm, let’s be judged when the whole house is up, when the roof is going on. That’s when you can see that it’s a great piece of architecture.”
The album’s success, coupled with a slot on the 2017 Vans Warped Tour, helped the Alarm bring in younger audiences. Also helping in that regard? A huge shout out from Brandon Flowers and the Killers, who played “Rain the Summertime” during a festival in Wales this summer.
“All their fans are were going ‘What’s the song and who’s that band?’ ” Peters said.
Touring as part of a triple bill means fans will have a full night of music ahead of them, Peters said of Wednesday’s show at the Bing Crosby Theater. The Alarm, Modern English and Gene Loves Jezebel all have a long history together.
“We saw this as an opportunity to highlight that we’re three bands from the same generation but we still have a lot to offer through of our music and the way we conduct ourselves in our bands,” Peters said. “We’re really proud of our generation, and we have a lot to contribute to the world right now and the conversations that are taking place.”