Thirty years ago, as Europe was going through huge changes with the fall of the Berlin Wall and a new wave of optimism, Welsh band The Alarm were at their creative peak with a trilogy of albums – The Eye Of The Hurricane, Electric Folklore and Change. The Alarm’s lead singer, songwriter and guitarist, Mike Peters, is celebrating the anniversary of these classic albums with a solo acoustic tour, taking in a host of smaller venues, and believes there are parallels in the political climate then and now.
‘The Hurricane Of Change tour is just myself delving into the music we created between 1987 and 1989,’ Mike tells me. ‘I always thought these records came from the same creative spark and the parallels between 1989 and 2019 are uncanny, we are being swept away in this hurricane of change, not just in the UK and Europe, but also in America.
‘Everything is changing as it was in ’89. It was a different change then: the Berlin Wall was coming down and we were integrating more as Europe, there was an optimism in the air. But I think that the semblance of change is at the core of these records and they still carry a lot of weight today. Playing these songs on my acoustic guitar will bring out something fresh in them. That’s what I’m looking forward to, seeing which songs connect with today’s audience and are most reflective of the times we’re living in. I think the parallels are going to be pretty powerful.
‘You can go back and listen to the records and they sound like where they have come from – the 80s. They have a musical time-stamp built into them. But to take them out of that context and stripping them down to just songs – the words and the melody – that is going to be interesting because they come alive as brand new pieces of music that people are familiar with but don’t know them in this way. I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes.’
The 27-date tour will focus, primarily, on smaller, intimate venues including community halls, arts centres and a library. These small venues should be perfect setting for this tour.
A great song will always stand on its own merit. I recall seeing Midge Ure doing the same – just him and a guitar, singing songs that were known for lavish waves of synthesiser backing – and listening to them in a whole new light.
‘You’re talking about one of my heroes!’ Mike exclaims. ‘When I was starting out as a songwriter with The Alarm with Eddie [MacDonald], my next door neighbour, the band that we most wanted to be like was The Rich Kids: Midge Ure and Glen Matlock. We loved the idea of a band trying to liberate themselves from the vile-ism of punk and trying to become a pop group with great songs at the core of what they were doing. Midge Ure has always had great songs at the core of all his records, whether he’s doused them in synthesisers or made them as rock music or pop music.
‘That’s what I’ve always aspired to with our music, that you can strip it all away. In the smaller venues, it will all become one in that room. It’s so intimate and when you hear music in a silent atmosphere, that’s when it’s incredibly powerful.
‘When the band walks out on stage, it’s like having a massed choir all singing the words back to you, but I like the opposite as well. I’m proud to have a band that has that connection with its audience but looking forward to sharing the songs in that deep silence where it’s gripping for both the audience and me.’
The best known songs from these albums are Rain In The Summertime, Spirit of ‘76 and Sold Me Down The River, hits on both sides of the Atlantic. But a couple of years after this trilogy The Alarm split and the focus was on various solo projects. It was during this period that Mike was first diagnosed with leukaemia while his wife Jules has also battled with cancer.
In 2007 Mike founded Love Hope Strength, now the world’s leading rock and roll cancer foundation promoting innovative, music related, outreach and awareness programmes for leukaemia and cancer sufferers, survivors and their families. For this work Mike was awarded an MBE, presented by HRH The Prince of Wales in February of this year.
Mike has just returned from a hike in Iceland raising funds for his charity and taking the opportunity to rehearse along the way. ‘I played my songs on the mountain side, in a snow blizzard, in a rescue hut, a tent and the ballroom in a hotel, and all I had was my acoustic guitar and the voice. The music cut through all the challenges on that trek and I think that’s what I’m looking forward to experiencing on this tour, to see where the music is going to take us.’
In the last couple of years The Alarm’s current line up, including Jules on keyboards, have released the band’s first new albums for eight years, Equals and Sigma. Mike says much of the inspiration for these albums came from their dark days.
‘It’s undeniable that the life-challenging situation that we found ourselves in has definitely helped to create songs that… I don’t know where they came from. They seemed to arrive on my guitar ready formed from some deep emotional place. It’s really helped to create a music that still resonates with our own audience. In the early years we had a connection to our audience, trying to establish ourselves and individuals and find what we wanted to be. Now our connection with our original fans is trying to hang on to the things we love the most, that have defined us and made us who we are and the acceptance of all the changes that have happened to us.’
Whilst The Alarm have a very loyal fan-base they have also picked up, along the way, a new audience through the power of the internet and modern television programming.
‘We’ve been here for a long time and survived a lot of things, climate changes, different eras and musical styles, but we’re still going strong and our audience has stayed with us. We have a lot of new fans that have come along in the last few years because of streaming music and songs that have played in some big Netflix hits like 13 Reasons Why. So a song that wasn’t a hit in Britain like The Stand, has, in the last few years, become the biggest song we’ve ever had. It was on a TV show and we woke up one day and there were 2 million people listening to The Alarm on Spotify that weren’t there the day before!
‘There are a lot of blessings bestowed on The Alarm right now and, for that, I’m really grateful.’
Mike Peters presents The Alarm – Hurricane of Change 30th Anniversary Acoustic Tour tours to:
Edinburgh Caves, Thu 21 Nov 2019
Aberdeen Lemon Tree, Fri 22 Nov 2019
Perth Theatre, Sat 23 Nov 2019
For more details, see www.thealarm.com