There’s this old U2 bootleg out there somewhere, and on it is a one-of-a-kind version of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door from New Year’s Eve 1982. Trading verses on the song were Bono of U2, Stuart Adamson of Big Country and Mike Peters of The Alarm.
“‘The new breed,’ as Bono described us,” Peters says with a chuckle.
The fascinating thing is that at the time, any of the three could have broken through to superstardom. Big Country had had the biggest success, with the song In a Big Country. U2 had two fine albums under its belt but had yet to break through. (It was months away from its legendary Red Rocks appearance.) And The Alarm looked poised to take the world by storm.
With blustery, strident hits such as Marching On, 68 Guns, Blaze of Glory and The Stand, the Scottish band made an impact on both sides of the Atlantic. It continued to have worldwide hits with Rain in the Summertime and Sold Me Down the River, still standards on Denver radio. But the band never got the one huge break that would put it over the top.
“There were a lot of factors, a combination of all of them, really,” Peters says. “The one thing we didn’t have for us, when you look at it in the cold light of day, was that U2 was on a major, major record label and we were on an independent label. We were never going to get the same amount of investment as U2 did.
“(And) U2 was great at hanging in there. We sort of fell out. Things could have gone through the roof, but we were slowed down by internal band politics.”
He adds: “I think people weren’t quite sure if we were for real or not, for whatever reason. Maybe we were too nice. I don’t know. I think people realize now that we were for real.”
It’s great to have that vindication, even after the fact.
“That’s what made The Alarm a very colorful band,” he says. “There’s a great rock ‘n’ roll story in The Alarm. There’s a lot of dirt that goes with the glory.”
And some of the fighting continues. While Peters is touring the United States with a reconstituted version of the band, dubbed The Alarm 2000, his former band mates are objecting to his using the name. Peters will front the band and play Alarm songs at the Buffalo Rose in Golden tonight.
The Alarm 2000
When and where: 10:30 p.m. today, Buffalo Rose, 1119 Washington St., Golden (doors open at 8 p.m.)
Information: (303) 279-5190
“U2’s music took them a different route, but we’re still playing,” Peters says. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the music. It all comes down to that. The fame and the money and the size is a byproduct.”
To make sure the music survived, Peters has spent the past couple of years making it accessible. The Alarm 2000: Complete Collection is a nine-CD boxed set that became Peters’ labor of love after his 1994 battle with cancer.
He went around the world tracking down the band’s master tapes and in the process saved a cache of lost masters that were about to be thrown out.
“I have copies of everything, but not the first generation,” Peters says. His quest to track down the most perfect master tapes led him to a storage facility in London, where the now-defunct IRS Records (home of acts as diverse as R.E.M., General Public and The Go-Go’s in the ’80s) had a vault full of tapes.
The only problem was, the record company quit paying rent on the vault in ’94, when it went under.
“They were three days from throwing it all out” when Peters got to the vault a year ago, he says. “There was loads and loads of stuff of interest. It was all kinds of weird and wonderful things from The Fall and Lords of the New Church. There were a lot of 2-inchers (tapes) from R.E.M. I think it was Fables of the Reconstruction that they did in London. There was a lot of stuff there, some live things as well, that IRS London had compiled on the band. I’m sure R.E.M. management will be interested to pore through it.”
His own tapes were also in there. In e-mail from fans, “they were able to point out that some of our best music was not on albums but on B-sides or obscured on the far end of a 12-inch release that had only come out in Japan or something,” Peters says. “I took that all into account when I was remastering. My aim was to excite people about the music, not just Alarm fans but people who didn’t know about the Alarm,… people who didn’t like the band or didn’t get it the first time around.”
So it’s all here � every album track, all the B-sides, the IRS demos, alternate versions, everything.
If that weren’t enough, Peters decided to take it a step further. People who ordered the box through www.thealarm.com for 99 English pounds (about $168 U.S.) got to pick any Alarm song and Peters would record a solo acoustic version just for them � the ultimate personalization of the box.
He expected a couple of hundred responses. It’s now well into the thousands, with fans requesting every single song the band ever recorded, as well as a few it didn’t.
“They came in thick and fast. At first I thought it would be something for the real die-hard,” Peters says. “I thought I’d go the extra mile for them, but it has turned into a bit of an avalanche. At first I thought, ‘Oh God, this is going to be a hell of a job.’ But then I realized it was just another process of making music in a different way. It’s a one-on-one music experience, which you don’t really enter into that often when you’re playing for the masses. You’re hoping millions of people will like your songs and your albums, and that’s the frame of mind you’re in. With these dedications, I realized I was just doing it to be played in one person’s front room. It may be a recording that only that person is going to hear for the rest of all time.”