Article: SHARP TALKING

The persistent rumours were true, after all: the
Alarm’s frontman, Mike Peters, source of much of
their passionate, crusading musical style, is no
longer a member of the band. The news was
confirmed to us just before we went to press by
Alarm guitarist Dave Sharp, who was taking time
out from preparing for gigs to launch his
excellent new solo album, “Hard Travellin’ “.

“Mike has definitely left the Alarm,” Dave told
us, “but I’ve been having some meetings with
Eddie (McDonald) and Nigel (Twist), and we want
to carry the band on. I don’t think by any means
that we’re achieved what we set out to achieve
as a group. I felt we were just beginning to tap
back into the energy that we had back in 1981 ,
and as far as the three of us are concerned,
we’ve started, so we’ll finish. The Alarm goes
on.

“Eddie and I will be sharing the singing between
us, and v~e might bring in some other musicians
as well. It’s too early to talk about an album or
a tour, but I am keen to get it across that the
Alarm are still relevant, and there’s a lot left
for us to achieve.

“I’m very saddened to think that, certainly for
the forseeable future. I won’t be working with
Mike; it was a great experience, the four of us
playing together. We were a close-knit band,
friends before we were ever musicians.”

Ironically, and perhaps fortunately as well, the
Alarm split comes at the moment when Sharp has
proved himself a more than capable
singer/songwriter, with a telling eye for detail
and a burning desire to report on what he sees in
the world around him. His solo album, issued on
IRS early in September, is the result of a long,
restless period spent travelling alone across
the U.S.A., in stark contrast to the cushioned,
air-conditioned passage usually taken by visiting
rock stars. “We did an album with TonyVisconti a
while back called `Change’,” Sharp explains, “and
afterthat, Mike said to me that he didn’t wantto
tour, or record, for an unspecified time in the
future. I packed a bag and a guitar and decided
to go to New York.

“I landed in Greenwich Village, and began to get a
totally different perspective on things, without
being responsible to these three other people in the
band. I was exposed to a number of things you don’t
see from a tour bus. I met people who were trying to
stay alive on the streets: as soon as I arrived, a
12-year-old kid tried to peddle me some crack. A
young lad got shot on the streets of Teeneck, down
the road in New Jersey. And I started to write songs
about what I was seeing.

“At the same time I noticed a real resurgence in the
singer-songwriter scene, among people who were
reflecting concerns about the environment, political
problems, human relations. I found myself writing
about civil rights, homelessness, pollution,
politics-something I hadn’t done in a long time.

“After playing clubs and bars in New York, usually
to just a few dozen people, t got in a car and d rove
off across America. Wherever I could, I played
fundraisers or benefit shows, and I found a real
social consciousness in the people across the country
that just isn’t there in Britain.”

Along the way, Sharp stumbled across a backing band:
“I met up with some hillbillies in New Jersey – there
are hillbillies in New Jersey, believe it or not-when
I walked into a bar one night. There was this
rockabilly trio playing, called the Barnstormers,
and I thought they were just fantastic. I climbed
onstage with them, playing some of the songs I’d
written very simple songs – and it felt great. The
record company got to hear about it, and asked me if
I wanted to make an album of the songs I’d written
while I was in the States. And I wanted the
Barnstormers on the record.”

To produce the album, Sharp approached the legendary
Bob Johnston, the man behind the controls on albums
like “Blonde On Blonde” by Bob Dylan, “Johnny Cash
At San O~aentin”, the early Leonard Cohen LPs and
more recent work by Willie Nelson. “He was supposed
to have done some work with the Alarm, but it didn’t
work out,” Sharp explains, “and he was excited by the
songs I played him. We went into the Hit Factory
studios in New York, and cut about twelve electric
songs in twelve hours. I also wanted to record some
acoustic stuff, so we flew down to Nashville and did
it there. We taped and mixed the whole album in six days.

“As a producer, Bob liberated me in the studio. With the
Alarm, we’d gradually been getting closerand closerto
recording live, and this was the natural extension of
that. Bob left it all up to me. I kept asking him what
he thought, and he’d say, what the hell are you asking me
for? What do you think?

“AI Kooper came in for the Nashville sessions, and put
some wicked keyboards down on some of the tracks. And Mac
Gayden too, he’s a great guitar player. All I knew about
him before the sessions was that people said he can
levitate, three feet oft the ground. If you meet him, you
can believe it!”

The “Hard Travellin’ ” album has a refreshingly raw, live
sound, as befits a record made in less than a week.
Arranged defiantly in two ‘sides’ as if CD had never
been invented, it kicks off with a blast of Dylanesque
rockabilly which recounts Sharp’s initial impressions of
life “In The City”. The Dylan influence, perhaps
cultivated during the 1988 American tour on which the
Alarm supported the erratic genius, pervades the whole
album, either directly (as on AI Kooper’s keyboard
interjections on several tracks) or obliquely, through
the influence of Dytan’s own hero, Woody Guthrie.

The title of the album also links the two men: it’s a
phrase that cropped up in one of Guthrie’s Dustbowl
Ballads, and was then borrowed by Dylan in “Song For
Woody”. Sharp explains that “Woody has always been a
massive source of inspiration for me. I’ve always
been very involved in folk music-my mother was a
flamenco player, and I grew up hearing traditional
European music, and was then knocked oft my feet
when I heard American folk. What Woody taught me was
that you have to give when you play music, rather
than just taking.”

The Guthrie/early Dylan tradition of social commentary
through the folk ballad is best exemplified by the
most direct of the acoustic songs on the album, “Joey
The Jone”.

“He was a 14-year-old Mexican kid shot by a policeman
in New Jersey”, Sharp recalls. “He went out in a racial
riot with something that looked like a gun. There was a
cop who reacted the only way he knew how, and Joey
died. I got a lot of stick when I sang that song at New
York Town Hall. But I wanted to highlight both sides of
the story, and bring the issues of violence and racism
to the forefront.”

It’s that spirit of idealism – a quality for which the
Alarm have suffered heavily at the hands of the press
over the years – which permeates the whole of “Hard
Travellin’ “. The record will appal anyone who believes
that modern rock has to reflect modern technology, but
as a hint of where the Alarm may be headed with Sharp
as their vanguard, it’s an encouraging shot in the arm
for the cause of what the guitarist-turned-social
commentatordescribes as “real music”. (PD)

Publication::Publication:Record Coll
Author::PD

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