It may have taken a while, but the Alarm have finally deciphered their
message and it’s begun to ring true.
With the release of CHANGE, the Alarm have found direction with a
of powerful songs that rebel against the whitewashing of their Welsh
homeland and culture by a teetering, elitist British Empire and a
media more concerned with Madonna’s makeup than that of an individual
Drawn together in the “eye of the punk hurricane”, these four Welsh guys
stormed onto the music scene in 1981 with their fists in the air,
brandishing messages of strength and action.
The music was always powerful enough to mobilize a global audience. The
problem was, nobody knew what the heck everybody was so fighting mad
Face it, people knew they weren’t exactly Peter, Paul and Mary when the
Alarm belted out tunes like 68 GUNS and THE DECEIVER. But those songs
so vague, nobody knew exactly what they WERE dealing with.
“We used to make these sweeping statements in the past without really
thinking, and that probably led us to a lot of criticism,” says Mike
the Alarm’s frontman and primary propagandist, who’s willing to take
the blame for the confusion. “I used to feel a responsibility to write
about what the rest of the band thought and what I thought our audience
thinking. That led to me getting confused because I was writing about
much. The subjects and ideas became too big to contain, and I ended up
writing all these anthemic kinds of songs.”
But through all the confusion, Alarm fans remained firmly behind the
Despite the critical barrage, the band developed a reputation as a
multimegaton musical force. Hell, Dylan asked them to tour with him.
Records like the debut, ALARM, DECLARATION, and STRENGTH, while muddled
message, were clear and ringing in hard rock musical form. Reassured by
loyal support, Peters found consolation and a few answers in his
“I asked the fans to write us and tell us what they thought of our songs
what they expected of the Alarm,” Peters says. “We learned that a lot
people have got a lot of faith in this group and that made us want to do
Peters also found plenty of support in the band itself. Having played
together since 1976, drummer Nigel Twist, bassist Eddie MacDonald, and
guitarist Dave Sharp weren’t about to hold back any suggestions to
when the future of the group was at stake.
“Dave told me not to worry about writing for anyone else,” he recalls.
“I’ve taken a more personal approach to my songs and I think that opens
up to a lot more people.”
So, for Peters, CHANGE is in the air. He embarked on his own personal
The Wales” campaign. The group are playing better than ever. The songs
longer need expert analysis. And, in the end, he’s proved there’s
cause for Alarm.
Q: WHAT’S THE BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHANGE AND EARLIER ALARM ALBUMS?
MIKE: We couldn’t have made this record without having made the previous
ones. We felt that they laid the foundation for the Alarm to come of
the studio. We’ve always felt comfortable in concerts, but a little
in the studio. The hardest record we’d ever made was EYE OF THE
where we became increasingly uncomfortable with the producer. We
renogotiated with our record company and gained a whole new autonomy in
Q: DID YOU FEEL YOU HAD BEEN TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF IN THE PAST?
MIKE: Well, we were certainly innocent to the recording process. We
witnessed an increasingly dehumanizing element in recording as the 80’s
on, which is in complete opposition to what the Alarm’s all about. We
decided we needed to go in our own direction. When we got that power,
took our time about finding the right producer and studio. We had been
victim to guys who picked studios because they could get a deal there on
their next project. There were other guys who played with technology
the sake of using it and at the expense of the sound of the Alarm.
Q: SO, IN RETROSPECT, DO THE FIRST THREE RECORDS DISTURB YOU BECAUSE OF
LACK OF INPUT YOU APPARENTLY HAD IN THEIR PRODUCTION?
MIKE: No, we’re proud of them, at least from a songwriting point of
But we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in today without having gone
through that learning process. We might have been luckier in finding
producers from day one, but the fact that we’ve had a different producer
each record shows our constant effort to perfect our studio sound. We’d
have no hesitation about working with Tony Visconti (CHANGE’s producer)
Q: DID YOU KNOW GOING IN TO THE SESSIONS FOR “CHANGE” THAT WORKING WITH
VISCONTI WOULD BE A BETTER EXPERIENCE?
MIKE: We knew it would be good from the start because he was the only
producer who sent us a demo tape. Other producers we met were really
interested in making their own record. His tape had David Bowie’s
and T-Rex and Thin Lizzy tracks that we all loved. Then he asked us
kind of record WE wanted to make. And he then knew we wanted to make
simple, honest records that reflected our live performances and didn’t
behind elaborate arrangements or technology. We worked in an
converted warehouse on the River Thames, and we recorded everything
Q: IN PAST YEARS, DID YOU THEN FEEL YOU HAD TO REASSERT YOURSELF IN
TO MAKE UP FOR THE SHORTCOMINGS OF ALARM RECORDS?
MIKE: Not as strong as that. But we’ve always felt the need to go out
be better than our albums; that our albums are only a small aspect of
the band can do. That was a problem we tried to address for years. We
Tony we wanted to make a record which sounded like what we do live.
was the first step in that direction. We think it’s a good one.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE LIVE “ELECTRIC FOLKLORE” RECORD OF LAST YEAR? WHERE
THIS FIT IN?
MIKE: We wanted to put something out that showed the live feel to the
which had been sterilized somewhat on earlier records. When we went
Tony, we gave him a copy of the EYE OF THE HURRICANE album and the
FOLKLORE EP and said we wanted something in between.
Q: YOU’VE SAID YOU’VE MADE AN ATTEMPT IN RECENT YEARS TO WRITE MORE FOR
YOURSELF THAN TO PLEASE THE OTHER MEMBERS OF THE BAND OR YOUR AUDIENCE –
MIKE: When we started I felt a need to write from a collective point of
view. And whenever I attempted to write something personal, I would
it out with imagery that would hide it from the first person. Over the
years, we’ve grown in confidence with each other and at one point, Eddie
Dave told me I didn’t need to feel responsible to write about the unity
the band. They gave me the lyrical freedom I needed at that time to
Q: HOW HAS THE ALARM GROWN AS A BAND OVER THE YEARS?
MIKE: We’ve all gained a bit of freedom of expression on an individual
level. Dave has freedom to express himself on the guitar without Eddie
I intruding. We bring songs to the studio which are fairly unfinished
that each member can express himself on that song the he feels he
They grow in rehearsal from the band working on them.
Q: IT’S INTERESTING THAT YOU SAY YOU’VE SHROUDED YOUR OWN FEELINGS IN
IMAGERY. THE VIDEO FOR “SOLD ME DOWN THE RIVER” SEEMS TO PORTRAY A
OF LABORERS SOLD OUT BY AN UNFEELING GOVERNMENT. IS THAT AN IMAGE WHICH
REPRESENTS A SELLOUT ON A MORE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP KIND OF LEVEL?
MIKE: The song really came from the frustrations, not really of a
government, but a changing world which is becoming increasingly very
centralized around major metropolitan areas. Coming from a very
part of the world, I’ve noticed a strong disaffection in those areas for
direction the world is moving in. Rather than writing an overt
statement, I tried to capture this feeling of being sold down the river,
only emotionally, but politically.
Q: ARE YOU GUILTY OF BEING A LITTLE TOO SHY OF MAKING OVERT STATEMENTS,
THE POINT OF CONFUSING YOUR MESSAGE?
MIKE: That is a problem we’ve dealt with and put behind us, partly
the evolution process. We’ve come to terms with our position where the
things that we write are taken very seriously. I am quiet and shy.
a song on the record which deals with that called “The Rock”. “I’m a
who bites hard on the bullet of silence/If only you could feel the pain
hide/Know me like I know you.” Yes, that’s something I’ve wanted to
address. I feel I have learned to deal with things specifically and
them in a way that people can relate to.
Q: SINCE YOU’VE SAID YOU’VE BECOME MORE PERSONAL IN YOUR WRITING STYLE,
YOU MORE ATTACHED TO THE SONGS ON THIS ALBUM?
MIKE: I haven’t really thought about that yet. I do feel stronger about
work than I have in the past, just at this initial stage. Some of our
will grow in the light of what we achieve in the future. I feel the EYE
THE HURRICANE record is definitely our most important to date. Whether
was our most successful remains open for debate. We wouldn’t have been
to get to this stage without having made it. I feel very personally
attached to CHANGE since it deals with a number of things happening on
doorstep that I couldn’t ignore any longer. The changing scene in Wales
Europe in general helped me to write a song like “No Frontiers”. When I
what’s happening in Berlin it’s almost frightening that we can get that
close to something and write it down before it happens.
Q: YOU’VE INTIMATED THAT THE MEDIA HAS REDUCED THE INDIVIDUAL
OF CERTAIN AREAS OF THE WORLD. IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE WRITING ABOUT ON
MIKE: In Wales there is a dramatic loss of cultural identity. The
is being spoken less and less. And in the communities where is is
heavily, it is being diluted by the relocation of the work force being
thrust on the working man of the UK. The emergence of the New Europe
give Wales a chance to step forward because of the lessening emphasis of
London as the hub. The political forces of Wales can leapfrog over
and deal directly with Europe. We did some benefits with the Welsh
Society to put pressure on the UK to recognize Welsh as the national
language of our people. With this age of communication and easy travel
the intermingling of many cultures, it encourages people to become more
interested in their own culture.
Q: THERE SEEMS TO BE A RISING TIDE OF INDEPENDENCE ON THE BRITISH ISLES,
ESPECIALLY IN SCOTLAND, AND ALWAYS IN NORTHERN IRELAND. WHAT’S THE
TOWARDS A UNITED KINGDOM IN WALES?
MIKE: In the Celtic countries of the United Kingdom, there is a growing
feeling of nationalism. Minority countries don’t have the powers of
in government and that translates into a lack of voice and a feeling of
disaffection. Scotland is probably the strongest country moving toward
nationalism because it is the most united and it does use the English
language. It doesn’t have the same division as Ireland and Wales.
is divided politically and religiously and Wales is divided by language.
Welsh leaders are divided over whether they should use English so they
be more effective in Parliament. And when it comes down to a vote, it
usually ends up in a 50-50 split among the people. What we’ve tried to
as a band is to speak to both groups by recording a bilingual album to
our message across to everyone.
Q: WAS IT DIFFICULT TO RECORD IN BOTH LANGUAGES AND STILL MAINTAIN THE
MESSAGES IN THE SONGS?
MIKE: I had the record translated by four different people. Some
on a word-by-word basis very differently, but still put off the same
message. But some songs were done almost very literally. I wanted to
sound of my Welsh to be a struggling sound which is the true sound
I’m not really fluent. The singing actually came quite easily to me. I
think this will have a big impact. We’ve opened a door for Welsh music
has previously been confined to Wales. We’ve shown it can be opened up.
least it’s got people talking.
Q: HOW IMPORTANT IS TRADITIONAL WELSH MUSIC IN THE MUSIC OF THE ALARM?
MIKE: When I was a kid, I felt trapped by the traditions and customs of
Wales. It was only when I traveled the world that I realized the value
them. That’s when I became interested in Welsh music. We’ve always
band that’s been attracted to mixing opposites like acoustic and
This time, we went a step further with CHANGE and the song “A New South
Wales” which employs the Male Voice Choir which is the traditional voice
Wales. It mixes the modern with the traditional, which, I guess is what
Alarm is about these days.
Q: THE ALARM AND ITS ANTHEMIC QUALITIES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN EASY FOR YOUTH
RALLY AROUND IN A FERVENT MANNER, NOT UNLIKE THE WHO AND LATER THE CLASH
THEIR TIMES. ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH THOSE KINDS OF COMPARISONS?
MIKE: Sometimes they can work for you and sometimes against. One
in particular has been hung around our neck for years (ed. The band have
often been labeled as a U2 clone.) But we like to write out of those
comparisons and show that the Alarm is a multilayered group with its own
distinctive music and message. We feel we’re still only finding our
a band. The anthemic label came from us writing about ourselves as a
collective and the road we’ve traveled. That can be distracting and I
we’ve learned how to control our energy and use it sparingly. Sometimes
less can be more. I think we’re more now.
Publication:: Publication:unknown Author::Mike Hammer