tHE lIFE tHE aLARM aND tHE rOCK aND rOLL
aN iNTERVIEW wITH mIKE pETERS bY sTEVE fULTON, sEPTEMBER 2002
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OK, the hard question first: Mike, with this album you have taken on the name 'The Alarm' again. What lead that decision?
"It's not a hard question really. It was inevitable. It was inevitable when in 1991, I was asked by Pauline and Michelle to run the Alarm fan club. Inevitable when... I then wrote (personally) to every remaining member of the Alarm fan club. It was inevitable when the first phone call from Graham Brazier came into the office and the first question was about The Alarm. Inevitable when I played 'Unsafe Building' and 'One Step Closer To Home' at Bath Moles in 1992. Inevitable at The Gathering One in December 1992 when we played 'Spirit Of '76 and Steve Varty asked about starting an 'internet' chat forum for Alarm fans. When we started started www.thealarm.com with Steve Fulton. When we started The Twenty First Century Recording Company and released 'Acoustic Works 1981-1991'. Inevitable when EMI released 'The Best Of The Alarm & Mike Peters'. Inevitable when Eddie Macdonald came to The Gathering Five and we worked together on Flesh & Blood'. When Twist came to the Fleadh Festival in San Jose, California and we performed 'We Are The Light'. When I went to the Kerry Bar in New Orleans to see Dave Sharp and then to Manchester Band On The Wall and joined him and his band on stage for 'Rockin In The Freeworld'. When everywhere I travelled around the world be it Rome, New York, Mexico City, London, Paris or wherever and despite the fact that I had a contract to the contrary I would still be billed as 'Mike Peters of The Alarm'. When almost every fan I know has to describe me as ""you know the guy from The Alarm"". It was inevitable when I started 'The Alarm Record Collectors Club' and secured the involvement of all original members. It was inevitable when Eddie Macdonald joined us for the Big Country Tour in 1999 and suggested we should keep it all going and call ourselves The Alarm A.D. When Dave Sharp came on stage with us at The Band On The Wall and effectively gave the whole thing his blessing. It was inevitable when I negotiated the re-release of all original Alarm albums and personally recorded and dedicated a song for every single Alarm fan. When I hosted Alarm 2000 Day in Wales and performed every single Alarm song in one long twelve hour sequence. It was inevitable when on the twentieth anniversary of The Alarm's first gig I took all the fans on buses to The Victoria Hotel in Prestatyn and performed 'Shout To the Devil' the first song ever played live by the band using the original guitar I had written and performed the song on 20 years earlier. It was inevitable that eleven years after I had been forced to leave the thing I loved most and Eddie, Dave and Nigel had never carried on without me as planned, that the legacy of the name of The Alarm would come back to me, whether I liked it or not. It was inevitable because after all these years and despite all that has happened for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, The Alarm still burns in me."
I think that over the last ten years or so I have chosen a creative path that has helped to redefine the way music is made in the modern era. Lots of bands and artists have tried copying the ways that I work. I think it's fairly obvious by now that most of the projects I am involved in are based around my songwriting. Throughout the eighties, I think most people viewed me as a singer not a songwriter despite the fact that it was my name on 99% of the songs that were performed by The Alarm. I think I have managed to prove a few things along the way and although I am very aware that you cannot go back to the past I do want to take it forward with me and by working as The Alarm, Mike Peters, Coloursound, Dead Men Walking or whatever title I choose to record, write or perform under I can make and foster connections with all the songs I have written.
" "I don't get that. Most songs I have ever written have an optimism written into them. In 'Close' there is '""someone somewhere"". The song is a celebration of the idea of 'close'. What is best: the travelling or the arriving? How many times have you been somewhere in life that you have always wanted to get to... only to find it dissappointing. I don't like endings."
Yes, I have worked on songs with James, Craig and Steve. All of them are brilliant musicians and great to work with and very understanding of the writing process. I still find it amusing that after all the years of touring we have put in they are still referred to as 'the new guys'. We are actually all brilliant friends. We might not have grown up together on the same streets, but we have so much in common because we are all rock and roll survivors. We actually have a fantastic relationship outside of the music which is very rare. James Stevenson is obsessed with guitars and amplifiers and actually has a phenomenal collection of guitar effects pedals, and is very passionate about living and playing. James actually has a relationship with Dave Sharp which goes back to the very early days of The Alarm's life in London. One night in 1982, James drove a very drunken Dave Sharp back to his flat in Battersea. Dave doesn't remember that much about it, but they both used to frequent the same drinking establishments around Wardour Street. Not many people know this but James wrote to Dave before taking up his current position in the band and only agreed to commit fully after hearing back from Dave. James and Dave are both left-handed right hand guitar players and both have similar traits on stage and in the studio... although if anyone asks I didn't say that..... Craig Adams is the funniest guy I know, very down to earth and we are so glad to have him back in the camp after his recent exploits with The Mission. He is a great 'rock' bass player who has also been asked to rejoin The Cult which is great for him and for me as it helps to keep all the Coloursound members together. Steve Grantley and I go way back to 1984 when he supported The Alarm on some UK dates while he was playing with Jake Burns and The Big Wheel. Steve is a serious drummer, he really gets into what he is doing, he puts all that he has into his performance. He gets very wound up in the studio and gets angry with himself if something is not going right. I love this about him, he will not stop or give in until he has got what he is trying to do right. He is always pushing himself, and us further. He has a deeper reflective side to him and comes from a very strong family background.
I actually think it is a very 'Alarm' style song. I hear a bit of 'Absolute Reality' in it especially in the bridge and chorus. I can understand where you're coming from though as it uses a chord structure that is fairly unique. I do write songs all the time and can go off in all sorts of directions. The hard part is bringing the songs together under one roof so to speak. From 'Declaration' onwards there has always been some eclecticism on any album I have been involved in writing.
"I do feel 'alone' sometimes, but being 'alone' with someone you love can be a great feeling. Being 'alone' against the world is a powerful emotion. Being 'alone together' is even more powerful again and this is what helps me get through life. There have been times recently, especially during the re-birthing process of 'The Alarm' when my integrity as a person and as a human being has been called into question by certain individuals. I was made aware about what certain people were saying about me and it hurt. So much so that It lead me to give serious thought to giving up on all things Alarm, Mike Peters and music altogether but for every doubter there were thousands more who offered encouragement and understanding. I've never been one to give in and I am not going to stop now just because of a small minority who want things to be as they were in 1985 or some such era. The songs I write have always been about moving on, of overcoming doubt, of having the strength to overcome doubt. Of having the courage of your own convictions and that by continuing to do the right thing the good will out. I always refer back to the first song I ever wrote for The Alarm and the lyrics ""declare yourself an unsafe building, suffer the indignation of your world"". I wrote those words - no one else, I have lived them and I will continue to live them. I have declared myself UNSAFE."
Most of the frontline work I have done over the last few years has been of a retrospective nature. Immersing myself for three years in the creation of The Alarm box set. 'Alt-Strength' etc. and going on the road again playing only songs from The Alarm 1981-1991 era was bound to have an effect on my writing. I was definitely inspired by performing the songs again night after night.
"Actually, I never spent four years on 'In The Poppy Fields'. It was just that some of the songs were heard during the 'Rise' tour of 1998. I first played the 'In The Poppy Fields' songs live at Gathering 9 in 2001. With all the touring etc. I was unable to begin physical work on recording the album until last October 2001 when the main body of the album was cut in a two week period. We then played eight of the new tracks at The Gathering 10 in 2002 and went back to the recordings in February. It was while I was walking in Snowdon that month that the idea of the 5 album release schedule came into being. I went into the mountains to find some peace and quiet and was chatting through the release process with Jules. Because of all the back catalogue output of the last few years there had not been that much new material and I felt under pressure to put the album out even though I wanted to record some more tracks to make it better. Jules told me not to worry about pressure or release schedules but to concentrate on getting the album right. I was telling her about all these other songs I had in mind and she said ""why not record them all"". I don't think she realised I was talking about 40 - 50 songs though! It was on this walk in the high altitude that the idea of releasing the singles came about and then was further added to while I was completing the writing and talking through communicating the scale of the project to the fans. By the time we were recording 'Release One' the idea had grown into the 'In The Poppy Fields Bond'. It is a massive challenge, and certainly the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken, but because of the way it is laid out it gives me greater freedom of expression and that is having a great effect on my writing. History will show that in one 6 month period the 'new' Alarm of 2002 will have equalled the original band's recorded studio album output of ten years!"
I think the song speaks for itself. Everything comes in circles. Fashion, music, friendships. The song is about going in the opposite direction to get to where you need to go.
I do go through a selection process when recording an album although I never try to 'not' write any kind of song. I am always grateful for any melodies that come my way. I am constantly 'editing' myself however and when recording 'Right Back' there was a thought in my mind to evoke the sonics of 'The Deceiver'. Also, I have always been interested in the fact that a lot of my friends think that Richard Ashcroft of 'The Verve' sings like me. I know that they used to like The Alarm because all of our road crew worked for them after 1991. In fact Rob Storm, who engineered the 'Raw' album worked on a lot of their studio recordings. I loved the 'A Northern Soul' album and when I was playing the main guitar parts I was maybe subconciously trying to take something back from 'The Verve'.
I was maybe thinking of another 'Walk Forever By My Side'. I was certainly influenced by Neil Young's 'After The Goldrush' and 'The Cross' by Prince.
Originally, the song was called 'No Return' and I had even included it on the mail out advertising release one. I played the song to Steve Grantley at the tail end of the recording sessions and Steve felt that the song didn't seem to fit alongside all the others that he had heard and I had to agree with him. Originally, it was played on acoustic and had a very downbeat lyric. I hate it when a song doesn't work and so I decided to try something different. I remember saying to Steve that it might work with a different lyric. I was thinking about this on a long car journey one day and came up with an opening line. The lyrics just came pouring out. I was scribbling them down whilst driving. I recorded the song right at the last minute. Jules came down to record the piano part and we got it in the first take. We tried a couple of others but take one had the 'vibe'. Because noone else was around, I also played the drums, bass and picking electric guitar. Martin Wilding added the infinite guitar part which sounds like strings and I then added a subtle backing vocal and harmonica. The whole track was recorded in a couple of hours.
I was using the song as a reaffirmation of faith and a re-committal to the things I believe in. I was trying to reiterate what The Alarm has always stood for.
As I said, 'The Rock And Roll' is a recommittal of the vows that made The Alarm special. The band was always supposed to be about believing in roots, the preservation of culture. The belief in where you came from. Of doing the right thing and not taking the easy way out. To come home you have to go away. I still live in the land I was born, I make music in the land I was born. I still speak in the same voice I was given as a child. I have overcome many things to arrive at this point. I have survived cancer, I have survived the break up of the band, I have negotiated a new peace between the original members and found a new group of musicians to help me further the cause. I believe all the questions anyone could ever ask of me have been answered by my music and by my actions.
The first proper record I ever bought was 'Aladdin Sane' by David Bowie. I saw Bowie on Top Of The Pops singing 'Starman' as a child and it was a defining moment in my life. I suppose the Bowie echo on 'Contenders' comes from using the E-bow which is a black hand held unit which is held over the strings of an electric guitar creating an endless sustain. It was a sound made famous by Robert Fripp who used it to great effect on David Bowie's 'Heroes'. The e-bow was used a lot on 'Declaration' especially on 'Howling Wind' and 'Where Were You Hiding?' but for some reason we never used it again in The Alarm after that. I have made a conscious effort on these recordings to go back to some of the instrumentation that was used on those early records, mainly because I think they sound fresh and exciting again.
'All Seeing' is sonically similar to 'Close' with it's ringing guitars and e-bow. Did you make a conscious effort to include a couple of songs that sounded sonically similar to the lead-track?
There is definitely a conscious effort to create sonic connections across the tracks. 'All Seeing' was actually built on top of drums that were originally recorded for a different song from the main Kinmel Hall sessions of last October. I had decided not to continue with the song as somthing didn't feel right about it. The other thing that happened was that I couldn't quite get the lyrics right for a song originally intended for release on part one so I decided to hold it over for part two. That meant I was a track short. Some instinct lead me to trying 'All Seeing' out over the drums of the discarded track and it just felt right straight away. I then took the track up to Craig Adams in Leeds to record his bass part.It was at this time that Craig came up with the bass riff that drives the song.
I'm sure that there are/will be lots of lyrical connections going on between all the songs. At the moment I am too wrapped up in the emotion of the creative process to be able to see too far into the relationship between one song and another.
Everywhere I go these days I see people rushing around chasing a life that does not exist. Every magazine I read, every TV show portrays a life that the normal person cannot possibly aspire to. It might look great and cool but all it does is breed discontent and unhappiness. We live in a world of hyper-advertising and all of us are targets of global advertising. It's almost unescapable. Sometimes, I feel that the only place I can hide is within music. Music is still the only art form that truly liberates, excites and uplifts me.