1. First off, how are you feeling these days?
I’m feeling as good as I could hope to be. I recently became very ill again during The Alarm ‘Vinyl’ tour but was able to keep going although I was only a few seconds away from having to cancel everything. I went to see my hematologist Dr. Edwards and if my blood count was one degree higher than it turned out to be, then I was looking at having some drastic measures presented to me. Instead, I came in just under the wire and so he decided to put me back on the maintenance treatment I have been receiving for the last few years. I’ve had two sessions on the Rituximab drug and everything is moving in the right direction again now.
2. You’re currently working with Big Country, how long have you known the band?
I first met the band on tour with U2 on the War tour in 1983. First when I was introduced to Stuart Adamson live on stage at Hammersmith Palais (when we sang Knocking On Heaven’s Door together), and then I met the rest of the band at Birmingham Odeon, myself, The Edge, Stuart Adamson and Bruce Watson had a jam in the dressing room which highlighted how different we were all as musicians. I was all open guitar chords and heavy strumming, The Edge could only play what he had invented and Stuart and Bruce Watson were like twins who played everything in harmony.
3. Back in 2000 a reformed Alarm (2000) with Eddie MacDonald and Mike Peters toured as the opening band for Big Country. Did you think that line-up would last longer than it did?
Eddie Macdonald actually only performed during the 1999 dates which were billed as ‘Mike Peters and Eddie Macdonald of The Alarm’. The second set of dates with Big Country had us billed as ‘The Alarm 2000’. Once the dates got announced, Eddie had a change of heart and decided to keep pursuing his career in photography. Mark Brzezicki of Big Country played drums at the first show as our then drummer Steve Grantley had to drop out at the last minute to play for SLF. Mark and I rehearsed on the Big Country soundchecks in Germany while I was opening for them solo acoustic.
4. You’ve now been in the 21st Century version of The Alarm longer than you were in the original band. For the original band, the defining moment might have been the UCLA show in 1986. What has been the defining moment for The Alarm in the 21st century?
To be honest I think it had to be the moment ‘45 RPM’ hit the charts (under the pseudonym The Poppy Fields), that changed everything.
Follow-up: Was that a change with yourself or the way you are perceived?
I think it was more in the way I / The Alarm was being perceived. It was sort of accepted that I could go out and recreate the ‘old’ hits but as soon as I started to ‘add’ to the history of The Alarm that started to make some people feel uncomfortable as the ‘new success’ of the band challenged the original perception that The Alarm could only ever be the original members. I think it’s kind of sad that there are people who only think I have a value as a songwriter / musician if I’m playing alongside the three other original members of the band. Luckily for me there are far more who appreciate what I do.
5. The Alarm 2000 was formed soon after Coloursound was put on hold so Billy Duffy could return to The Cult, Did that event inspire you to restart The Alarm in 2000?
Coloursound enabled us both to come to terms with who we were, are and always will be. It was inevitable that we would both end up back in the bands that we are most known for. Incidentally, Billy was at the Big Country show that was Eddie Macdonald’s last night with us in Manchester Academy 1999. Billy was a huge fan of BC and Stuart Adamson and they had both shared the same manager in Ian Grant. Coloursound gave us both a lot of confidence to not only go forward but to turn back too.
6. The Alarm 2000 boxed-set was a ground breaking release in 2000. Not only was it one of the first boxed-sets to feature an entire (released) catalogue from a band, but it was also one of the first to be sold on the internet, and one of the first to feature a dedication CD. Looking back, what are your thoughts on that project?
I’m still immensely proud of the work that went into the Boxed set. The sleeve notes alone took so much work to compile and trying to stay objective about the history of the band (as editor in chief if you like), gave me an insight that was unique. It allowed me to understand my own failings but also to realise my strengths. I think the fact that all the band had an opportunity to speak their mind in the sleevenotes was special. It will always be the definitive history of the band’s original era.
7. How many dedications did you record for it?
To be honest I don’t have a number although I can tell you that ‘Walk Forever By My Side’ has been the most popular song choice. The initial orders almost overwhelmed me and I spent days and days singing in a room – song after song, recording all sorts of dedications from births, to weddings, to funerals. The numbers would have drained my energy if I’d kept a record.
8. After The Alarm 2000 Collection was released, subsequent releases have included demos and rare songs from the Seventeen era, Strength, and Change. There are also tons of demos from the Eye Of The Hurricane era that have never been released, and there must be stuff from Declaration and the other albums as well. Is it time for another all-encompassing boxed set?
Maybe, we put out Alt-Strength which is an amazing record. Even better than ‘Strength’ itself if you ask me. I’ve often thought about a ‘Secret History of The Alarm – The Complete Demo Tapes’ but the thought of all the work that went into the Box Set puts me off. The trouble is I get obsessed with the detail and I’m not sure I want to go back there and immerse myself as much as I had to for the Box Set.
Follow-up: Is it tougher to delve back into records recorded when the band
was not quite such a harmonious unit?
Probably, although I think the reissue of ‘Raw’ from the box set collection is a better record for having ‘The Road’ on it, especially as it was recorded in the same sessions.
9. In 2001 you finished a collection of demos that was supposed to be your next album. It featured Close as the lead off track, a rip-roaring version of Innocent Party, Kaleidoscope, The Normal Rules Do Not Apply among other tracks. Why did you decided to shelve those versions and move on?
The Alarm 2000 touring took over and we were playing only Alarm songs of the 1980’s period, the more I sang them the more I unlocked parts of my mind that needed reconciling. I’d given up a huge part of my life to the original Alarm as mediator and instigator and when I stopped being that person to the band around the time of ‘Raw’ that’s when things fell apart. I knew that those new songs alone could not convey what was going on in my mind and so I decided to carry on writing before committing to releasing any songs at that point.
10. Was there a decision at this time to shelve the “solo” Mike Peters and just go with a single band/artist persona (i.e. The Alarm 2000)?
To be honest, when I first got permission to use the words ‘The Alarm’ from the other members it was like I had got my identity back. It was liberating to not have to be ‘ex’ this or ‘former’ that, or to have to explain who I was (or in most cases who I was not), I may still make a record again as a’solo’ artist but ever since 2000 I’ve been writing ‘Alarm’ songs and I’m sure that will continue and I’m going to quote from Spirit Of ’76 here, “until the day that I die”.
11. It’s been 10 years since you first released the ‘In The Poppy Fields Bond’ (ITPF). Those 56 (or so) songs kicked off The Alarm in the 21st Century. When you started it, was it planned as an “Alarm” or solo collection?
It was always planned as an ‘Alarm’ record right from the first demo taping of ‘Close’ although some of the songs had been written right at the end of the ‘Rise’ solo album sessions. I wrote ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Festival Of Light’ but they felt part of something else. My instinct told me to wait and so I held them back until ‘The Poppy Fields’ sessions.
12. The first ITPF release, “Close” included “All Seeing”, which you re-visited for the 21 album a couple years back. Are there any other songs on the record you would like to revisit from that record?
Yes, The sessions were fast and furious and very spontaneous. The demands of the release schedule meant some things were rushed (in a good way). My life became consumed by the project. You should read the sleeve notes (or listen to the audio sleeve notes) on the reissued / remixed version to know the full story of what was going on behind the scenes. It was a very complex time and my life was at a major crossroads. It would have been easy to turn back and play safe but I decided to stay ‘unsafe’ and keep moving forward. I’m very proud of both the original and the reissued version. The mixes and new arrangements of the reissue are all improvements as far as I am concerned.
13. “Swansong” is pretty angry song. The words echo early lyrics for “Moments In Time” from Raw. Where you going through a similar period when you wrote that song?
I was looking back while writing that song it has to be said. Some people think it’s about a member of the band, it’s not. A lot of people turned their backs on me when I wasn’t in ‘The Alarm’ any more after Brixton. It was hard to take at times, it still is, but I know what my contribution to the band was and still is. I know that those kind of people aren’t there for the music or the experience, they exist for other things that have nothing to do with rock and roll.
14. The 2nd ITPF album features ‘The Normal Rules Do Not Apply’, arguably the best song from the entire collection. It has never appeared on any release since that time. Do you have any plans for it?
I always thought ‘The Normal Rules’ should have been on the ‘In The Poppy Fields’ twelve track album released in 2004 but it never made the vote.
Follow-up: What would have been your track listing if the fans had not voted?
Not sure now…. That’s a tough one as any single one of those songs has a right to be there and you could make a case for every song to be singled out for inclusion. Maybe we should have a new vote now that every one has had time to spend with the collection.
15. ‘How Long And How Much Longer?’ was one of the most ‘Alarm’ sounding tracks you recorded at the time. Bruce Watson played on that song. It seemed like shoe-in for an album, but never made it. What do you think of the song now?
I think in some ways it was the beginning of ‘The Journey’ I’m on with Big Country now. ‘Howling Wind’ from ‘Declaration’ owed a lot to the love we had for Big Country in The Alarm at the time and the eBow section was directly influenced after we heard ‘The Crossing’. I still think ‘How Long and How Much Longer’ is a great song and Bruce Watson’s guitar work from that session opened my eyes to his own particular genius but unfortunately we live in an age where people rarely listen to whole albums anymore let alone ones that contain 50 tracks!!!!
16. ITPF #3 included some of the best known 20th Century Alarm tracks (’45 RPM’, ‘Drunk And Disorderly’, ‘Be Still’). By the 3rd record in the series, do you feel you and the new band hard started clicking together in a way that you had not done previously?
I think it’s fair to say I was getting into my stride as an ‘Alarm’ song-writer again and starting to take risks that were paying off (‘45 RPM’ being a prime example). Apart from the very first sessions we rarely played as a band. Most sessions started with a list of ten songs that I had pre-written. Steve Grantley would come up and record the drums with only myself to guide him through the musical arrangements. Craig would record bass next (at his house in Yorkshire more often than not), James would then arrive to record some guitars and then I would be left alone to add all extra guitars and vocals / BV’s. I think by the third release, everyone was starting to think like a member of The Alarm. It’s an interesting fact, but in the five months it took to record the ‘In The Poppy Fields’ sessions, the modern day Alarm recorded almost as many studio tracks as the original era band cut in a decade!
17. ITPF #3 contains two great songs that never received much attention (and also happen to be a couple of my own persona favorites): ‘When Everything Was Perfect’ and ‘Terms And Conditions’. Can you tell us a little bit about those songs?
They are all songs born from my own personal experiences of being in The Alarm and when I say The Alarm, I mean everyone who was part of it in the early days. Redeye, Gaz, Mod, Tony Evans, Legs, Davey Boy, Paul Goltz, Simon Shaw, Scratch, Rob Bevis. It’s all in the lyrics.
18. ITPF #4 is a mini rock opera named ‘Edward Henry Street’ that begs to be revisited. Any plans?
Funny that you should ask that…….. I really enjoyed putting the music to the film on the Poppy Fields Reissue…. I think it really captures a sense of place and time especially with the film running in the background.
Follow-up: That film appears so simple, yet so affecting. You seem very protective of Edward Henry Street…
It’s the place where I grew up. I will always be grateful for the memories.
Watch this space………..
20. After basically self-producing for 5 years, you handed the ‘In The Poppyfields’ album off to a 3rd party? How did that come about?
I felt that I had put my heart and soul into the 5 album version and that an outside perspective was needed to take it further for general release. Steve Brown who had produced ‘Love’ by The Cult and the first album by Manic Street Preachers heard the tracks and was really into it. He did an amazing job re-recording the ’45 RPM’ single and so we went back into the same studio to re-cut all the other 11 tracks that had been voted for inclusion. The recordings were great but something didn’t quite happen with the mix and unfortunately circumstances dictated that I had no input into that part of the process whatsoever. I was actually and still am really disappointed with the sound of that album personally and in hindsight wish I had mixed it myself but I know there are people who love that album as it is so I have to let that go. It’s all about opinions and not being dragged down to deeply when things don’t turn out the way you want. Life is always a work in progress as it is.
21. Did the album ‘In The Poppyfields’ turn out the way it was intended? Would you have changed anything?
I would personally have chosen some different songs but that was taken out of my hands by the voting process.
22. You reformed with the original Alarm for one night in 2003 for ‘Bands Reunited’. Can you explain a bit about how that event affected your work as the new Alarm?
It was really good to be a part of but in all honesty, I never really felt a part of it like I thought I might or perhaps more importantly how Dave, Eddie and Nigel might have hoped. On the day in question, they wanted to rehearse as a three piece without me hanging around and so for a long time, it left me with a lot of time on my hands. I felt a little isolated hearing them run through ‘Strength’ time after time and then when we did finally play together as a unit, it never once felt like the beginning of something, for me personally it felt more like a closure. It was great to see everyone again and share a truly special moment with the fans who had dreamt of a moment like this, but as soon as it was over deep down in my heart of hearts, I knew that it was as the event had already been named ‘For One Night Only’.
Follow-up: Do you think they wanted a chance to practice to “prove” something to you?
No. I think they just wanted to be as good as they could be for the fans and for the reputation they had as musicians. They knew I had been playing the songs with the modern era Alarm for a long time and that I knew them inside out and didn’t need me to be there so much that’s all. I think they wanted to get as much playing time in as they could which was essential to make the show work as well as it did. I thought they did a great job given the circumstances and the time that had passed since 1991 when we had last played together.
23. ’45 RPM’ was the song that re-launched The Alarm and still appears to be the spiritual backbone on which you hung the songs of the new band throughout the last decade. However, I’ve heard that it was once considered a “one off” and kind of a joke. Is that true?
It’s true to say that when I first came up with the main elements of the song I was a little embarrassed to play it to anyone because I thought it sounded like something I would have written for ‘The Toilets’ in 1977. It might never have seen the light of day if Steve Grantley hadn’t heard me messing about with the riff and asked “What’s that?”. The rest as they say is history.
24. Was there any “backlash” from the ’45 RPM’ stunt? Was it worth it?
There was backlash from the British media because the international story that broke made them feel embarrassed. Was it worth it? Damn right it was!
25. What was the genesis of the ’45 RPM movie’, ‘Vinyl’?
Jim Cooper from Los Angeles (who is an Alarm fan) got the idea for the movie plotline when he saw the news report on Dan Rather’s CBS News feature about The Alarm / Poppy Fields that ran nationwide across America in February 2004.
26. What is the status of the movie?
The movie has just been released in the UK and at Film festivals around the world and has gone way beyond anyone’s expectation. It is about to be released on DVD. I think it’s destined to become some sort of cult classic!
27. Does it ever surprise you which songs become standouts? Did you ever think that, perhaps songs like ‘Deeside’ or ‘Shelter’ would be the hits, and were surprised when other songs took precedence?
It never ceases to amaze me which songs become the hits. I still get excited about writing songs full stop, no matter how big or small, fast or slow. I remember a time when having a ‘hit’ was like the kiss of death. I remember the time when ‘68’ happened and we got accused of ‘selling out’. Nowadays if a song ‘isn’t a hit’ it’s like you have no value as an artist. Some old skool Alarm fans think the music I make today can’t be as good as the past because it doesn’t make the charts and so they don’t even bother to listen to the new albums I’ve put out since. I just have to disassociate myself from all of that or I wouldn’t write another song ever again. I will always be the judge of my own success.
28. The lyrics to ‘Close’ made the song sound like you were lamenting being on the cusp of huge success, but never quite getting there. However, you have said that the song is not a lament, but actually celebrates being “Close” but not “Close Enough”. Can you explain?
That quote is from a long time ago…. I think it’s more in the “travelling not arriving” line. It is better to travel than to arrive. The anticipation of something is often better than the reality. Once the journey has been made the adventure is over. I’ll stay with ‘Close’ as a celebration.
Follow-up: Oh yeah, so ‘The Journey’ as you say is the most important part?
The Journey is everything….. taking the first step is always the hardest part!
29. In 2006 you released ‘Under Attack’. This was right after you were diagnosed with cancer for the 2nd time. How did that diagnosis and treatment affect the recording process?
The album was actually written and recorded in it’s entirety before I was discovered to be suffering from Leukaemia. The album was written largely on instinct and I remember being surprised by my own choice of album title ‘Under Attack’. I still don’t know why I was drawn to the title other than the fact that I was so ill but didn’t know it consciously at the time. It only really dawned on me when I heard ‘Without A Fight’ on my iPod while I was having treatment for the first time.
30. Did the ‘Superchannel’ ever save us? I always thought that song was about The Internet, In 2006 it sure felt like The Internet would “save us” but these days I personally have other thoughts. How about you?
‘Superchannel’ was a reference to the internet but also to other forms of intelligence that people ‘believe’ in, such as religion and politics. I think you can only save yourself in this world by asking the questions and searching for the right answers.
31. By the way, did the bastards that you wanted to ‘Cease And Desist’ actually cease and desist?
One day the true story behind ‘Cease and Desist’ will be told but not today.
32. ‘Under Attack’ sounds very “heavy” in parts. You started to add the sound of Les Paul guitars to your songs to go along with your Fender Stratocasters about the time of your collaboration with Billy Duffy. Was that due to his influence?
‘Under Attack’ was partly borne out of the Poppy Fields sessions, in fact when EMI picked up the album it was originally going to feature 12 more songs from the Poppy Fields sessions but we turned in a different album than the one they were expecting. The label was very happy when they heard it though.
33. The song ‘My Defenses’ from ITPF #2 was combined with ‘Few And Far Between’ on the ‘Under Attack’ album to form one awesome track. I recall a time you said that Billy Duffy told you that you needed to “Zep up” your songs and “De-Jovi-ize” them and this song appears to follow that suggestion. It was a funny thing to say, but also kind of an undermining statement for what it meant to be in ‘The Alarm’ originally, Do you still follow that advice?
It’s true that I learnt a lot from Billy as a guitarist. Billy is a purist by taste and the times I have spent with him as a guitarist have always been special and informative. He’s still the best “rock” guitarist I have ever played with in terms of being able to deliver raw excitement from the stage.
34. Related to the above, has Bon Jovi ever apologized to you for ripping you off??
No…. he owes The Alarm for ‘Going ‘Down’ In A Blaze Of Glory’ though.
35. Ditto the above but for Bono Vox?
Ha ha…… Bono and U2 sent me a box of champagne when I was with Big Country in Dublin last year if that counts for anything. I owe that band a lot and so does The Alarm and Big Country. We all got breaks through opening for them and I for one, will always be grateful for that.
36. Alarm fans can be very protective of The band, especially when it comes to topics like Bon Jovi or U2. How does that make you feel?
I don’t know.
Follow-up: Do you feel some Alarm, fans have not embraced Big Country as much as you like, or do you think some Alarm fans are too critical of your work with The Alarm or something else?
Again, I don’t know. I don’t expect everyone to like everything I do. It was important to me to make a record with Big Country that sounded like a Big Country record and I think we succeeded on that level. Not all Alarm fans liked Big Country before I became involved and I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to like it just because of my involvement, which is why I try and keep both bands separate. I always hope my audience will like everything I do but I don’t ever expect it.
37. There were some amazing b-sides from Under Attack including Over And Over, No Way Out, and Thought Police. Have you ever considered a rarities collection for The Alarm in 21st Century.
Not sure about that yet… not enough time has passed. Not yet anyway.
38. You helped start the Love, Hope, Strength foundation in 2007. Can you explain a bit about the genesis of it?
James Chippendale helped me out immensely when I was first diagnosed with Leukaemia. We were introduced by a mutual friend Richard Rees over the internet and James helped me get second opinions from two of the best Leukaemia specialists in the world in Dr. Joseph Fay and Dr. Bob Collins in Dallas. I had been told by a specialist in London that I should have a stem cell transplant in London if I “wanted to be able to see my kids in two years time”. The team in Dallas concurred with my own Dr. Edwards from North Wales that a transplant was too drastic a measure and so they formulated my treatment plan which I still follow. James helped me so much at that time and as someone who had already ‘been there’, he was a person myself and Jules could talk to and openly express our fears and concerns. James came to visit me in Wales and at the ‘Acoustic Festival of Britain’ that year together James, Jules and I hatched the idea for the ‘Love Hope Strength Foundation’.
39. Do you feel Love, Hope Strength has accomplished its’ original goal?
The goal is and always will be to keep fighting cancer. Unfortunately, it’s like trying to hit a moving target at all times. The disease keeps changing and is as human as you and I. It also has a survival instinct all of it’s own and so we will probably never reach the ultimate goal of eradicating it, but if LHSF can help one person to win and get back to health then that shall be our goal. Through the mountain climb events, we’ve helped to build cancer centres in Tanzania, Nepal and closer to home in North Wales. In the last three years (and with the help of a lot of people), we have signed up over 35,000 people to the marrow registry and found over 500 potentially lifesaving matches in the USA for people with blood cancer who have reached the point where they need a transplant. We have just formed a partnership with Delete Blood Cancer that allows us to do that sort of work in the UK. It’s amazing to think that when we set up the charity originally, it was just to help my own treatment centre in North Wales.
40. What is the future of Love, Hope Strength?
To save lives through the ‘Get On The List’ campaign.
41. In 2007 you embarked on a new “bond” like series of records named the ‘Counter Attack Collective’. Can you explain what inspired you to stop defending and to go on the offensive with our music?
Firstly, in 2007 I got my health back in check. I started to think I was in control of my own destiny again and after ‘Under Attack’, I needed to strike back. The songs were all written during a period of major uncertainty for me and my family. Finding out that I had leukaemia was a like a personal 9/11 and so subconsciously I was writing songs to give me fortitude. I was in and out of hospital (still am really), and my music started to reflect the effect my personal struggle to live was having on myself and those around me.
42. The ‘Counterattack Collective’, was top-to-bottom, a punk inspired masterpiece. In fact it was more “punk” than the original Alarm ever ventured. Was this a sudden change in direction, or something you have been moving towards since you recorded the first version of ’45 RPM’?
I don’t know. It just felt instinctive. The time maybe. Green Day was happening with ‘American Idiot’ which was compared to The Alarm. It was also 30 years since the original punk / new wave explosion and I found myself listening to The Skids, Wire and The Ruts on my stereo and just found myself in a place where I was writing a soundtrack that reflected a period of intense personal struggle.
43. Many of the Counterattack Collective tracks formed the basis for ‘Guerilla Tactics’ in 2008, and ‘Direct Action’ in 2010. However, still others like ‘1983/84’ and ‘War Song’ never made the cut. At the same time, some of those songs appeared to continue the “story” of ‘Edward Henry Street’ from ITPF bond #4. Do you have any plans for those songs?
‘1983 / 84’ has made it’s way into the set of late and at the most recent Gathering formed the basis for an extended medley that, in it’s own way, told the story of The Alarm’s original era in a way that words cannot. We played ten Alarm songs (one from each year) within the middle of the song. It was pretty amazing and was the high point of what I think was one of the best ‘Alarm’ gigs in living memory. Luckily, it was recorded so it will come out at some point.
44. ‘Guerilla Tactics’ might be the most consistent “sounding” album you have produced since ‘Rise’, and it was at least as aggressive if not more so than ‘Under Attack’. Did you set out to make a point with that record?
Not really, but it was meant to be a record that housed the songs together as a collective unit. It’s a powerful album and has some great moments on it. I’m proud of that record it sounds contemporary and in keeping with the spirit of the times.
45. From reading online reviews, it seems that ‘Guerilla Tactics’ was your most consistent and well received album as the 21st Century Alarm. Did that inspire you to continue down the “punk” route for the rest of the decade?
It’s certainly given The Alarm a contemporary edge that has earned the band a lot of respect. Like it or loathe it, The Alarm of today is not a band that is just about nostalgia. The new albums allow the older songs to remain fresh and to be heard in different contexts. Having new records allows me to rediscover the past and not drown in it. It’s important to make records that can challenge. I’m sure the next decade will be completely different from the one we have just experienced. I think it’s fairly obvious now that my decades usually begin with a three as the final digit so it now means that my fourth decade of music making is just beginning.
46. Sometimes albums with tons of tracks are not as interesting or successful as ones that edit the track-listing down to something that sounds great when listened all the way through…and then repeated. When putting together albums like ‘Guerilla Tactics’ and ‘Direct Action’, how did you strike a balance between length and consistency?
It’s an instinctive thing. When you are making a record you have to live inside it for a while and then when it’s done, walk away. Nothing is ever really finished completely, everything is a work in progress.
47. ‘Direct Action’ in both title and content seemed to foretell the Arab Spring and Occupy movements of 2011. Were you seeing parallels to the 80’s when The Alarm wrote songs like ‘Marching On’ and ’68 Guns’?
Definitely, ‘Direct Action’, ‘Plastic Carrier Bags’, it was all protest music just like ‘Declaration’. I was hearing Woody Guthrie again. I suppose starting LHS and becoming an advocate for the charity in places like Westminster started to have an effect. I was working hard to make changes in the UK that I could see were simple and potentially life saving for a lot of people. I could not believe some of the resistance that was put up by other sectors in the cancer charity world and the politics that go on in high places. When I heard Willie Nile singing ‘One Guitar’ for the first time I totally identified with it and had to put it on the album and link it back to Woody Guthrie and the one voice, one guitar power of the best protest songs.
48. Do you think things in the world are better or worse than they were in 2010?
That depends on whether you are still alive in 2013.
49. You recorded Willie Nile’s ‘One Guitar’ for ‘Direct Action’ not too long after he recorded it himself. Did he know about it? What was his reaction?
Willie new about it, he was really cool. He sent me the lyrics and I also did a vocal for one of his versions. The version on ‘Direct Action’ isn’t exactly how Willie wrote it, I made up the lyrics from memory after hearing Willie play it once at the Light Of Day Benefit concert held in North Wales. By the time Willie sent me the proper words, the CD was at he pressing plant!
50. There is a huge section of “Direct Action” that melds electric and electro-acoustic guitars with harmonicas and sounds like an updated, modern energetic Alarm of the 80’s. This continues with throughout almost all of the “Sound And The Fury” album from 2011. Is this the future sound of The Alarm?
I really enjoyed making ‘The Sound And The Fury’, stripping everything back to the acoustic guitar and the song, keeping it simple. Andy Labrow’s film of the recording sessions captures the vibe really well. As for the future who knows, I wanted to mark the band’s 30th anniversary year by doing something forward facing.
51. You recorded a ton of new tracks for the Vinyl movie sound track. How did the songs get chosen for the film?
I gave the movie director Sara Sugarman a massive set of modern era Alarm CD’s and she chose pretty much all of the songs to go with the scenes. Because the songs spanned a recording period that encompassed an entire decade I decided to re-record them all so that the soundtrack would sound like it had been made at the same session. Sara also insisted that I recorded the original ‘Toilets’ era songs that she had heard us play with the Buzzcocks in 1977. It was quite a task to make it all work and flow as an album and the process was really helped when I got permission to use the film’s movie dialogue to link the tracks and help the flow.
52. Do you have another solo album brewing inside you?
53. What is the status of Dead Men Walking? Did that rumored album ever get recorded?
Yes there is a Dead Men Walking album in the can and it’s made up of all original material. It’s a great record comprising of about 14-15 songs written by Kirk Brandon, Captain Sensible, Slim Jim Phantom and myself. Unfortunately, we haven’t had time to regroup the performers but hopefully the day will come when we can play together and release the tracks.
54. In 2010 you toured with Los Mondo Bongo as a tribute to Joe Strummer. How did that come about, and are there any future plans for the band?
I got a call from a guy called Anthony Davie who was one of Joe Strummers best friends and they wanted to put together a line up featuring some of the old Mescaleros with me singing. It was pretty daunting but a great set of people to be with. All of Joe’s stage crew worked the tour and I heard loads of great stories and got to play some great music. I don’t think it will happen again it was just a great one off and I got to meet and work with Derek Forbes and Smiley who are a massive part of my musical life now.
55. It seems that every four years you sequester yourself in a studio for months and pump out dozens of new songs. It seems like the timer is up, any new plans for another bond/collective?
That’s the sort of thing that happens without me knowing about it!! You can’t plan for that…. The moment just arrives and when it does you try and stay within it for as long as possible.
56. What is the current line-up of The Alarm?
Myself, James Stevenson, Craig Adams, Mark Taylor and Smiley.
57. Of course the other artists who have been in The Alarm were all amazing, but what makes the current line-up the best one ever?
Follow-up: So the chemistry among band-members is paramount to making rock and roll work?
I think so…. without it what is there? You have to enjoy each other’s company or you might as well do something different. Life is far too short to put up with anything else. In life, you can have a divorce and move on but in rock and roll it seems that you can’t… even though being in a band is virtually the same relationship.
58. Tell us a bit about your history with Big Country.
That’s a long, long story. I have a set of photos from all the times we met and worked together at various times and I suppose I should write the story down one day. It’s quite fascinating how fate has brought us all together. I just wish I had a shot of myself with Stuart Adamson on stage with U2 at Hammersmith Palais in 1983. Someone must have a photo somewhere….
59. How did the new Big Country album ‘The Journey’ come about?
It happened very organically and began at a soundcheck in Sheffield O2 Academy. I was in the dressing room and heard Bruce out on the stage playing a riff that I didn’t recognize but sounded like classic Big Country to me. I heard Mark Brzezicki playing along and realized it was something they were working on. I heard the words ‘Another Country’ in my head and jumped up on the stage and joined in. We changed the beat to a shuffle and all of a sudden it was happening. It was one on those moments when everyone in the venue stops doing what they are doing and listens. It was a great moment. The next day at Nottingham Rock City, Bruce announced (just before we went on stage), that we were going to play the song in the encore… I had to write the lyrics fast and so we played it and it got out on YouTube and the vibe started….. everything else on ‘The Journey’ happened in a similar sort of way. Not one second of it was forced.
60. The Alarm have not toured In the USA since 2010. Any plans forming for the near future?
I would love to bring The Alarm back to the USA and I’m sure it will happen at some point. It’s Big Country at the moment and then who knows…..
61. For your first new ‘Alarm’ album in 2004, you used a record company and tried to do things the way you did in the past, with mixed results. The song “EMI-tunes” was the result. What has your experience been with record companies since then?
It’s changed so much that I prefer to do everything on 21st Century now. The internet has changed everything and you are as good as the ideas you can dream up. I’m very lucky to have an audience that still wants to hear my new music.
62. You are now a full member of Big Country. How does it feel?
Liberating because it’s not my band like most of the other things I’m currently involved or have been involved in.
63. The album ‘The Journey’ sounds like The Alarm+Big Country+Coloursound+The Skids. Am I missing any influences?
I think it sounds like Big Country but I guess it’s going to have all of those ingredients in there because of who I am and what Big Country is. I suppose you could add Simple Minds into the mix to complete the set… ha ha! I think it’s like a classic debut album. I’m in Germany and we play a set that’s 50% classic era material and the rest is ‘The Journey’ and we usually play no less than eight songs a night from the album. There’s not that many albums made in this day and age that can make that sort of contribution to a legacy band’s set list and still engage the fans attention from beginning to end.
64. The lyrics from “The Journey” were written mostly by yourself. Can you explain the genesis of them?
They were all written at the same point in the creative process that Stuart Adamson wrote his lyrics for Big Country. Stuart always wrote his words after the music had been created (by the band together), and so that’s how I worked (which is very different to how I usually work in The Alarm). I’d spend a lot of time outside the rehearsal room, listening to what Bruce and Mark were creating with the rest of the band and wait for words to be suggested by the riffs and rhythms. It was like listening to a soundtrack being created. Once I had something tangible to go on then I would burst through the door and start to sing and flesh out the melodies and the lyrics. It all happened quite naturally.
65. The Journey is an album in three parts. Can you describe what the sections represent?
That was Bruce Watson’s observation, he read all of my lyrics and saw something of a story in them and the three acts element was something he felt quite strongly about. Looking at it now, I think he saw something I did not. Now I’ve lived with the album and performed it live and witnessed the reaction it’s having amongst Big Country’s fans I can see that the lyrics do represent a Journey of sorts… a journey through loss, healing and redemption which is a mirror of what has actually happened to Big Country itself.
66. Bruce Watson plays with his son Jamie in Big Country. Do you envision playing in band with your sons one day?
I hope so. Dylan (who is now 9), has just passed his grade 1 piano exam and is learning guitar at school and drums at home. Evan (6), is a natural for the stage and is a good little drummer already and desperate to learn guitar. He’s already a roadie on the Big Country tour and brings my acoustic out onto the stage to give to me in some of the changeovers. He has no fear of going on the stage whatsoever…. I love observing the father to son dynamic between Bruce and Jamie when they play guitar, it is so instinctive and beautiful to watch.
67. Can you tell us a little bit about The Alarm playing in the Philippines?
The audience went crazy when we played ‘Absolute Reality’ and ‘Superchannel’. They hardly knew ‘Sixty Eight Guns’ which was weird. We all had a brilliant time, and the fans down there are superb and all had Vinyl copies of Alarm records old and new to sign. Everyone was so happy to see us and to hear the band play. The promoter already wants us to go back and play an even bigger Arena!!!
68. What makes Mike Peters tick these days?
The same things that made me tick when I first picked up a guitar only now I have more of them!!!!
Interview with Mike Peters conducted by Steve Fulton 2013.