Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rock N Roll Birthday: Mike Peters of The Alarm

Happy Birthday to Mike Peters of The Alarm , who turns 51 today.

Inspired by seeing The Sex Pistols live in 1976, the Welsh rockers started in ‘77 as a punk band, horrendously named The Toilets (!); they broke up and Peters formed Seventeen (after The Sex Pistols song) in ’78 and went Mod for a while, becoming Alarm Alarm (not a typo) and, eventually, The Alarm in 1981.

The group turned heads of some music journalists with an indie single, which brought them to the attention of U2’s agent, Ian Wilson, who would become the band’s manager – they even celebrated the signing by opening for U2 at London’s Lyceum Ballroom on December 22, 1981.

Signing to IRS Records, The Alarm released a single – “Marching On” - in the fall of ’82 and a five-track, self-titled EP in spring ‘83, coinciding with my arrival at college radio; I dug the band right away and played them often in those days (they were on the station’s charts, so were in rotation, anyway).

The Alarm gained more attention by touring America with U2 in ’83 and releasing their first album, “The Declaration,” in ‘84. For me, the pinnacle of the band’s work was 1985’s “Strength,” featuring killer tracks like “Knife Edge,” “Deeside,” “Absolute Reality,” and the epic “Spirit Of ’76.”

The Alarm – Spirit Of ‘76 (1985)

The Alarm - The Best of the Alarm - Spirit of '76The Alarm - The Best of the Alarm - Spirit of '76

The Alarm gained more fans with “Rain In The Summertime” from 87’s "Eye Of The Hurricane"; the record featured a more polished sound, very close to where U2 were at in The Joshua Tree-era. ‘89’s “Change” featured the band’s biggest US hit, “Sold Me Down The River” – the one and only time they had a top 50 single there.

The Alarm broke up in ‘91, with members heading out on solo ventures; when Peters left the group, he signed one-quarter of the rights to the band name over to the other three members. Things get tricky here: to support a box set of material, Peters used the band name but added MM+ to it in order to avoid legal issues, and he’s been doing it ever since. In April 2008, guitarist Dave Sharp launched his own version of the band, AOR - Spirit of The Alarm, to showcase the band's American setlists from the late 1980s.

Mike did something very creative in 2004: I can’t recount this any better than the’s description, so here it is...

"In February 2004, The Alarm MM+ pulled off a masterful hoax on the British music industry by issuing a garagey punk-pop single, "45 RPM," under the fictitious name the Poppy Fields. Peters, having gotten positive feedback on the song, decided to disassociate it from his veteran band to have it judged on its own merits, and recruited a young Welsh group called the Wayriders to lip-sync the song in the video. The so-called Poppy Fields took "45 RPM" into the U.K. Top 30 before the hoax was revealed, setting the stage for the new Alarm's first album together, In the Poppy Fields."

The original lineup of the group reunited for a one-off gig in 2005 for the MTV show, “Bands Reunited.” Peters went back to Alarm MM+ and continues to tour to this day.

Mike Peters was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, specifically Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia ; fortunately, the cancer was benign. "The good news is that although my illness is not curable, it is treatable," Peters wrote on the band's website at the time, relaying his doctor's optimistic prediction: "It is a disease I will probably die with, rather than of." This diagnosis came a decade after Mike was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, which was pressed into remission by his immune system.

Mike was inspired to start the Love Hope Strength Foundation, a music-based charity designed to provide financial support to purchase medical equipment and supplies, raise awareness through special events, documentaries and media, build cancer centers and find bone marrow donors.

Love Hope Strength Foundation

Closer to home, Mike was forced to reschedule the band’s 2009 fall UK tour to April 2010 so that he could focus his attention on his wife, Jules, who is also his manager. Last October, Jules Peters was diagnosed with a blood clot in her leg, while also suffering from the effects of a viral illness she picked up climbing Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro as part of Kilimanjaro Rocks, a Love Hope Strength trek there last fall. I’m glad to see that Jules is at home recovering from her health issues and posting about her status on December 10.

An inspiring couple, for sure, who are able to celebrate another of Mike’s birthdays together today.

Love Hope Strength, indeed.

The Alarm – Strength (1985)

The Alarm - The Best of the Alarm - StrengthThe Alarm - The Best of the Alarm - Strength