Interview: Mike Peters of The Alarm

Background information about The Alarm:

The Alarm are a rock band that formed in Rhyl, Wales in 1981. In the late 70s, the band’s founder and lead singer Mike Peters was in a punk band called The Toilets, which went through some name changes such as Quasimodo and Seventeen. With power pop and the mod subculture making a comeback in the late 70s and early 80s, they recorded their debut single “Don’t Let Go” b/w “Bank Holiday Weekend”, songs reminiscent of sounds of groups like The Jam, Blondie, The Knack, and The Cars. Early on in their career, the band that would become The Alarm toured with rockabilly band Stray Cats. In the early 80s, the band changed their name from Alarm Alarm to what we know them as today, The Alarm. After moving from Wales to London, they recorded their first single as The Alarm “Unsafe Building” b/w “Up For Murder”, with the former having an electric sound and the latter having an acoustic jangle-pop yet punk sounding sound. Was the electric/acoustic single thing a nod to Bob Dylan? Soon after that, they opened for punk rock band with a revolving cast of musicians The Fall. They capped off 1981 by opening for U2 after being introduced to their agent Ian Wilson, who started managing The Alarm. Getting a record deal can be tough and that was the case for The Alarm. After some rejections, they got signed to I.R.S Records, a record label founded by Miles Copeland III, The Police drummer Stewart Copeland’s older brother. In 1982 and 1983 they released a few singles: “Marching On”, “The Stand”, and “Sixty Eight Guns” that would be on their 1984 debut, Declaration. In 1983, they went on their first American tour, opening for U2, whose frontman Bono praised them as “the second greatest rock and roll band in the world”. They also performed “Sixty Eight Guns” on Top of the Pops in 1983 and toured with The Pretenders that year. In the mid-80s, they continued recording and touring, playing at various festivals in Europe and opening for Queen at their 1986 Wembley concert. In 1987, they opened for Bob Dylan and got another chart hit with “Rain in the Summertime”. A band proud of their roots, they released Change in 1989 as a tribute to their native Wales and released a Welsh language version of the album called Newid. In 1991, the band split up. A reformed version of The Alarm was formed at the end of the decade with the moniker The Alarm MM++ (the MM being the Roman numerals for 2000) and has been active ever since. They still continue to break the mould and do creative things with their music, one of the most interesting ones being in 2004, they released a hit single “45 RPM” as a fictitious teenage group called The Poppy Fields where he and his band made the music but a young band from Chester named The Wayriders lipsynced and claimed it was their own (don’t worry they were in on it). This hoax to make a point about the ageism in the music industry inspired the film Vinyl starring Phil Daniels of Quadrophenia fame.

A big part of Mike Peters’ story is surviving cancer three times. The first time he battled cancer was in the 90s when he was diagnosed with lymph cancer, the second time was in 2005 when he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) – which inspired him to establish the Love Hope Strength Foundation with a fellow leukaemia patient in the US James Chippendale. One of the things that the charity is known for is holding rock concerts in high up locations, including the highest rock concert ever at Mount Everest base camp, at the top of the Empire State Building, at Machu Picchu, and Mount Kilimanjaro. Now that’s a way to stand out! Every summer the Love Hope Strength Foundation holds a trek to the top of the highest mountain in Wales, Snowdon. They also host bone marrow donor drives at concerts, where they sign people up to the bone marrow registry, as simple as a cheek swab. The charity’s goal is “to save lives, one concert at a time”.

A documentary about his second battle with cancer was broadcast on BBC Wales. In 2022 his CLL came back and he had to undergo chemotherapy. While in hospital he worked on the band’s latest album Forwards, which comes out in June, so keep an eye out for it then! A few singles from the album have been released: “Next”, “Forwards”, and “Whatever”.

Besides being a rock star and a founder of a charity, Mike Peters also has other business ventures like the Dyserth Waterfalls holiday apartments. This spring he’s performing concerts around Wales, which are all sold out, but you can still get tickets for The Alarm acoustic shows across the UK this summer and he’s playing two shows in New York City with The Alarm at Gramercy Theatre.

We’re lucky to have Mike Peters here with us on The Diversity of Classic Rock for a Q&A to talk about his music and his inspiring story:

Interview: Mike Peters of The Alarm

Angie Moon: How would you describe The Alarm in a nutshell? 

Mike Peters: There’s more to The Alarm than people know; there’s a lot more on the inside than you can see from the outside. 

Angie: Who are your biggest music inspirations? 

Mike: My influences are mainly concerned with reflecting the life I aspire to. Musically, I love artists from all walks of life, but the mainstays have always been the first people I fell in love with: David Bowie, The Clash, and Bob Dylan. I take a lot of inspiration from other independent artists who, like myself, have carved out lives for themselves by thinking outside of the box and the mainstream music industry – long standing artists like The Stranglers, The Levellers, John Otway, Glen Tilbrook, Marillion and others who only rely on themselves and their own industry to remain creative. 

Angie: How did Welsh culture influence and shape your music? 

Mike: It influenced me to become resilient and to make a stand for my own identity. In the eighties there was a wall between English speaking Wales (where people like me lived), and the Welsh speaking parts of the culture. The Alarm played it’s part in breaking down the barriers and bringing people together from all sides of the culture by recording bilingually and making the first ever Welsh/English album, Newid / Change. I think it allowed us to understand the outsider in ourselves and – through an appreciation of Welsh language artists like Daffydd Iwan and Meic Stephens – helped us to understand artists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. 

Angie: What was it like growing up in Wales in the 60s and 70s? 

Mike: It was a great place to be as a child, especially in Rhyl where I grew up. Rhyl is a seaside town (a Welsh version of Asbury Park you could say), and especially in the summer months became a melting pot for all the styles of emerging ‘60s / ‘70s youth culture – mod, rocker, skinhead, suedehead and punk. In the fairgrounds and clubs, you could hear all the music you wanted from disco to glam and loads of northern soul. In the winter you had the place to yourself and so your imagination could run wild and big dreams could form. 

Angie: Who are your favourite musicians and bands from Wales? 

Mike: No one you would have heard of I’m guessing as they never got far out of the town…. Mercenary Skank were my favourite band…. Amazing, but they never got the breaks they deserved. There was another band called The Resistance who broke a lot of ground by playing in Germany, but they never got any recognition to speak of, although they did make the front pages of the Sunday Newspapers by having to strip off to play shows, as the venues got too hot!

Angie: What was writing and recording Forwards like?

Mike: Cathartic. I got to write myself out of a great big health dilemma and find another way to survive. 

Angie: What are your favourite tracks on the album? 

Mike: I think they are all worthy of being favourites, but if I had to pick one it would be “Love and Forgiveness.” 

Angie: What kept you motivated as a musician while in hospital? 

Mike: Trying to stay alive long enough to record the songs I was writing and to get home to my wife and children. 

Angie: Tell me the story of founding the Love Hope Strength Foundation. What does the charity mean to you? 

Mike: I saw Mt Snowdon (highest Mountain in Wales and England), from my hospital window (where I was having chemotherapy), and thought to myself, “When I get well, and I will, I’m going to climb that mountain with as many Alarm fans as I can muster and give the proceeds to the nurses and staff on the medical frontline who were caring for me in that moment.” That’s been the mission of Love Hope Strength ever since: to support people affected by cancer and to help the frontline nursing staff and hospital teams in Wales and the world.

Angie: How do you think the music industry has changed from when you started in the the 70s to today? 

Mike: It’s a lot smaller now, back in the day if a door closed on you, there were plenty of other avenues to pursue. The Alarm have never been directly signed to a major label, we have always been a part of the independent music environment. It certainly taught me how to fend for myself and find ways to be creative through my own means.

Angie: What is your proudest accomplishment as a musician?

Mike: Being able to write my own songs and to record and release my own music – all independently.

Angie: What advice would you give to those dealing with chronic illness and those who have loved ones dealing with it? 

Mike: Stay positive. Life is a gift, and if by being positive you get to have one more day, one more kiss or just one more word between you, then it will all make sense in the end. 

You can follow The Alarm on their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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