The Alarm Strength – An Oral History [Part Six – Strength Unleashed]
IRS Records had signed a new distribution deal with MCA while The Alarm were recording Strength and just before the release dates, manager – Ian Wilson and IRS Records CEO Jay Boberg went to MCA’s headquarters in Los Angeles and made a presentation of the ‘Strength’ single to the head of the MCA Record Division – Irvine Azoff and the head of MCA’s radio promotions division.
“The response was not great and certainly not what Ian Wilson and Jay Boberg hoped for, as both Azoff and the head of radio promotion did not think that the song could be a hit and decided to put their resources into other bands / artists signed directly to MCA. It meant that we only had the in-house IRS team working the record to radio and press. It meant we faced another uphill battle with limited resources.” – Mike Peters
‘Eddie Macdonald came up with the idea of using the big church like organ intro for the 12″ extended ‘power’ mix and album version of ‘Strength’ (Ironically, using the Fairlight synthesiser machine as used on ‘The Chant’ sessions), but because we had rushed the first mix to get the 7″ out quickly, the video and single (that initially went to radio in the UK), featured the lone guitar chord / vocal beginning. I think things might have turned out a little different if we had been able to use the big organ intro all the way through the campaign, as it sounded great on American radio when they were playing the album mix and the big organ sound came bursting out of the speakers.” – Mike Peters
“Strength single was an absolutely perfect song – heartfelt lyrics, delivered with an anguish with with which you could completely empathize, a high tempo thumping backbeat and an insistent, masterful riff. The absolute definition of a classic song in my book. Pure genius – and one of the few songs I never think to turn down out of consideration for others when sitting at traffic lights – I WANT people to know I have such good taste! .”
– Gary Overtington, TheAlarm.com Co-Web Master 1996-2002
“Fast paced, with echoing guitars, organ, and a pounding rhythm, “Strength” shot The Alarm back into the limelight, reaching #40 on the UK singles chart, but more importantly, #61 in the USA, the highest they had ever reached. The UK and USA 7″ of “Strength” was b/w “Majority,” a song pointing the Alarm’s “finger of guilt” back at themselves asking just who they thought they were. Another version of this single, with a poster cover was released in the UK. The UK 12″ single included the “Strength(Power Mix),” “Majority” and an acoustic version of “Absolute Reality.” In the USA, only a couple 12″ promotional singles were distributed. -Steve Fulton, Goldmine 1995
The “Strength” single was backed with “Majority”, re titled from “We Are Majority” , with different lyrics than version performed earlier in the year.
22nd September 1985 – Saturday Superstore BBC Television Show.
“The title song from The Alarm’s new I.R.S. album, Strength, is a trifle disarming, really. At first the tune sounds positively restrained compared with previous Alarm songs — which perhaps explains its considerable radio and MTV play. Eventually, however, you realize the song possesses the British band’s usual melodic pound and vigor, as well as its ability, like U2, to focus on societal ills while at the same time gamely seeking a way out: “I don’t know if I’m living or dying . . . Give me love, give me hope/Give me strength/Give me someone to live for.'” – Lennox Samuels, The Dallas Morning News – Sunday, November 17, 1985
Oct 01, 1985 The Alarm “Strength” album released around the world.
The Strength album was released in October of 1985. Embracing the “poppy” symbol once more, it appears several times on the album cover and sleeve. Beyond symbolism the album contained a batch of great songs. Two of the best were later released as singles, “Knife Edge” and “Spirit Of ’76,” but other gems were not. “Deeside,” “Father To Son,” a newly recorded version of “Absolute Reality” and Mike Peters’ “Only The Thunder” shine with crisp guitar and driving rhythms. Eddie Macdonald shows his own song-writing talents on “The Day The Ravens Left The Tower,” inspired by a flu-induced stupor he found himself in one night. The album also included The Alarm’s first self-proclaimed love song, “Dawn Chorus.” The UK version of Strength deleted the new version of “Absolute Reality.” A limited edition picture disc of the album was simultaneously released in the UK. The album reached #40 on the UK album charts, but was bested by it’s showing in the USA where it hit #39. -Steve Fulton, Goldmine 1995
In this audio clip, Mike Peters describes the process of making the Strength album, the Absolute tour, and how they decided on the songs for the album. This interview was recorded just as the album was released.
-Mike Peters, Backstage Pass interview, 91X San Diego, CA
“One song after another, “Strength” rocks, pleads and dares with fresh, edgy playing and swirling arrangements. Vocalist Mike Peters goes over the top in places. In a world of so many bogus “bands” and manicured recorded product, “Strength” is the best and most important rock album I’ve heard in a long time.” – MARTY RACINE Houston Chronicle – Sunday, December 8, 1985
“If the title song is a relatively slow build, the rest of the album for the most part is the sprawling, raw Alarm sound fans remember from earlier anthems such as 68 Guns. During Knife Edge and Dawn Chorus the emphasis is on the powerdrive, with David Sharp’s incisive guitar adding bite throughout” – Lennox Samuels: The Dallas Morning News – Sunday, November 17, 1985
“The band’s influences, predominantly the Who, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, are still obvious. But this time, those songs are the exception rather than the rule. In its music and lyrics, the Alarm is finally developing a voice of its own.” – Divina Infusino San Diego Union, Wednesday, November 27, 1985
“The sheer size of the sound and the sweep of the music is evidence of the maturity and sureness Peters and Macdonald have acquired. And guitarist Sharp is a revelation. His work shows all the visceralness, if not yet the lyricism, of the Edge’s efforts. The Alarm will be in concert Nov. 23 at the Bronco Bowl, with Beat Rodeo.” – Lennox Samuels: The Dallas Morning News – Sunday, November 17, 1985
“As Rupert Black (who had played piano on the Strength album sessions), was committed to The Pretenders, we needed to find a new keyboard player to come out on the road with us starting with a secret gig at the Marquee in London. I was at IRS Records UK Headquarters in Notting Hill Gate one day, and Steve Tannett (Alarm A&R Man), was playing ‘Strength’ really loud in his office. The keyboard player from IRS Recording Artists The Lords Of The New Church came up to me in reception, and said that he would “love to play on the new Alarm tracks one day”. I said, “As luck would have it we need a new keyboard player for the Strength tour”. It turned out to be Mark Taylor who has been with the band ever since. He was just a little older than us and a bit more worldly wise and was very much a calming influence on all of us in The Alarm. He turned out to be the most amazing pianist and organ player you could wish for.” – Mike Peters
– Photo Mark Taylor from 1985 Strength Tour Programme
– 1985 Strength Tour Programme
Oct 16, 1985 The Alarm The Marquee, London
“This was supposed to be a secret gig. In fact it was so secret, that hardly anyone turned up! The one person who did was DJ Mike Reid from the BBC who loved the show and announced on his Radio One Breakfast show the next morning that he had been to see us play. The next night the Marquee was full to bursting point.” – Mike Peters
Oct 17, 1985 The Alarm The Marquee, London
“When it came time to release the follow-up single to the LP’s title track, the Alarm held a vote. After a performance at the Marquee Club in London, group members handed out slips of paper and asked fans for their choice. ‘Spirit of ’76’ was voted No. 1 and thus became the new single. ‘Deeside’, which came in second, was the B-side.” – Barbara Jaeger , The Record – Sunday, March 9, 1986
October 26th 1986 Mike Peters runs in the New York Marathon.
November 1st 1985 The Alarm JB’s Theatre, Albany, NY
November 2nd 1985 The Alarm Key Largo in West Islip, NY
“I was underage and the ticket stub said “PROPER NEAT ATTIRE REQUIRED” I had caught a ride from Rochester (350 miles) but all I had for footwear was sneakers! They weren’t gonna let me in. I saw Mike Peters and told him and he got the “dress code” lifted, the band were also letting in “under-age” fans through the back door so they wouldn’t miss the show even though they weren’t old enough to be legally admitted to a drinking establishment.” – Tim Nafus (Alarm Archive Website)
November 3rd 1985 The Alarm Premier Music Hall in Norfolk, VA
November 4th 1985 The Alarm Nassau Community College, NY
November 5th 1985 The Alarm Beacon Theatre, NY
November 8th 1985 The Alarm Tower Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
November 9th 1985 The Alarm Orpheum Theater, Boston,MA
November 10th 1985 The Alarm The Agora, Hartford, CN
November 11th 1985 The Alarm Carlton University, Ottawa
November 12th 1985 The Alarm The Spectrum, Montreal
November 13th 1985The Alarm Concert Hall in Toronto
November 16th 1985 The Alarm State Theatre in Detroit, MI
“Four of us at college in Ann Arbor drove to Detroit and The Alarm did not disappoint. Loud, inspiring show that flat out rocked. What a great band. ” -Bill Gratsch via TheAlarm.com
Nov 17, 1985 The Alarm Cabaret Metro in Chicago, IL
Nov 18, 1985 The Alarm First Avenue, Minneapolis, Minn.
Nov 19, 1985 The Alarm Easy Street, Des Moines, Idaho
Nov 20, 1985 The Alarm Mississippi Nights in St. Louis, MO
Nov 22, 1985 The Alarm Fools Gold, Houston, TX
“Pollution, revolution – evolution. Seven years older since the day they formed, the Alarm, who appear at Fool’s Gold tonight with Beat Rodeo, have amassed a backlog of personal experiences and have grown to see the world through their own eyes rather than through media reports – as reflected in their new album, ‘Strength’.’We have matured as musicians and people and in attitude,’ asserts bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Eddie MacDonald in a phone interview from Toronto. ‘All the things we’ve said, the naivete we’ve had, we’ve learned from. And I wouldn’t trade it. I look back at it fondly.” – MARTY RACINE, Houston Chronicle – Friday, November 22, 1985
“Today the torrent issues from the Alarm , the North Wales quartet who after seven years of raising the flag for a variety of creeds and causes, have learned how to communicate person-to-person with, according to the eternal idealist, compassion, hope, integrity.Fine enough, but, like the old Clash, the Alarm is a powerful rock ‘n’ roll band, too. Their third and recent Houston performance at Fool’s Gold showed a band having come into its own – it does take time, you know – displaying a leap of songwriting, musicianship and showmanship.” – MARTY RACINE Houston Chronicle – Sunday, December 8, 1985
Nov 23, 1985 The Alarm Bronco Bowl, Dallas, TX
Nov 25, 1985 The Alarm Ben Lewis Hall in Riverside, CA
Nov 26, 1985 The Alarm After The Gold Rush, Phoenix, AZ
Nov 27, 1985 The Alarm California Theatre in San Diego, CA
“Although sometimes idealistic to the point of naivete, The Alarm ‘s music is stirring on almost all levels. It can project the majesty of the Who, the commitment of The Clash, and a songwriting savvy as good if not better than U2. When all of it clicked, the song, Peters, the band, the audience, the effect was inspiring as it was on ‘Strength,’ and ‘Spirit Of ’76.’ On ‘Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke,’ the audience members were moved to sing along and clap, without anyone urging them.” –Divina Infusino San Diego Union, The (CA) – Thursday, November 28, 1985
Nov 28, 1985 The Alarm Raincross Square, San Bernadino, CA
Nov 29, 1985 The Alarm Palladium, Los Angeles, CA
– Final Photo taken by Mike Peters from the stage of the Hollywood Palladium
“It was definitely the wildest Alarm concert I’ve ever attended . The concert and the energy were incredible. People were jumping everywhere and people stuck up front started getting hurt. (a little too wild) I remember one girl tried to get out and kind of collapsed right next to me. All I could do was pick her up and send her on her way because I could barely move myself. Mike actually stopped the concert and said people were gettinghurt and said something like “”where I come from people jump just straight up and down”” to get us to settle down a bit. Him stopping the show like that showed me that he really did care about the fansPeople were loosing shoes everywhere including my friend with me, I luckily was wearing my hightops which helped them to stay on, but after the concert there were shoes all over the place.” – Kevin J R via TheAlarm.com
Nov 30, 1985 The Alarm Cal State Univ, Fullerton, CA
“My first Alarm show. My older sister told my brother and I, then 15 years old, that she would only take us if ‘dressed appropriately’. She convinced us to electro-shock our hair, like the band, because ‘everyone else would look that way’. She was not correct. It was a bunch of regular college kids in jeans and t-shirts, plus my brother and I looking like rejects from a hair-spray factory. The concert was amazing though. To me, The Alarm astood on-stage like gods and played he best music I had ever heard. It was the start of an unstoppable fandom train that still goes on to this day.” –Steve Fulton, Alarm Fan
Dec 01, 1985 The Alarm Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA
Dec 03, 1985 The Alarm Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA
Dec 05, 1985 The Alarm Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, CA
“Strength (the single), had been received warmly at radio especially at the new ‘modern’ rock stations like WLIR (Ling Island), WBCN (Boston), Live 105 (San Francisco), 91X (San Diego) and the world famous KROQ (Los Angeles). The Strength video also garnered a lot of play on MTV and as the presence of the band out on tour in the US started to make waves the record began to creep up the Billboard charts taking MCA completely by surprise. In December MCA tried to make up for their mistake but it was too late as we headed back to the UK for the British tour and in our absence, the radio stations that had been supporting ‘Strength’ from early September began to turn their attention to other tracks from the album itself”. – Mike Peters
– Mike Peters 1985
Dec 08, 1985 The Alarm Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool
“While we were in the dressing room, we became aware that Gary Glitter was in the royal box of the venue lording it over the crowd who were in turn giving him plenty of stick. He had been due to play at Liverpool University the next night and had obviously turned up to create some publicity for himself. Even then there was a seedy side to him that you couldn’t take seriously so we just left him to it although he did manage to build a new career for himself not long after. During the encore I was singing ‘The Stand’ completely unaware that Gary Glitter had walked out on to the stage behind me, I remember thinking “Why is Twist playing the Glitter Band beat? Before I could turn around, Gary Glitter was on the microphone exhorting the audience to chant along with the infamous ‘Come On Come On’ from his Glam Rock hit ‘Leader Of The Gang’. It was over almost before it had begun and as soon as he left the stage he disappeared back to from where he came…. very surreal”. – Mike Peters
Dec 09, 1985 The Alarm De Montfort Hall, Leicester
Dec 10, 1985 The Alarm City Hall, Sheffield
Dec 12, 1985 The Alarm Birmingham Odeon
Dec 13, 1985 The Alarm The City Hall, Newcastle
“This night coincided with the launch of the comedy fundraising ‘Red Nose Day’ which was founded by Richard Curtis in 1985 and now an annual British institution. We had a fundraising option for fans on the way in to the show that involved making a donation and then putting song suggestions into a bucket that The Alarm would draw from during the encore and play whatever song was suggested. We thought it would be all ‘Alarm’ songs….. When it came time to make the draw on stage, the ticket pulled out said ‘Like A Virgin’ by Madonna but we lost our nerve (as we had no idea how to play it), and so, said it read ‘My Generation’ by The Who (which we knew how to play).” – Mike Peters
Dec 15, 1985 The Alarm Hammersmith Odeon, London
“Time is approaching for The Alarm to go on stage and I start to realise that it’s going to be a re-run of the previous show The Alarm played here (Hammersmith Odeoan), in May 1985 when the security would have been better suited to a P.O.W. camp. My fears are confirmed as the group hit the stage. I’m in the second row, next to the aisle, and was I going to be allowed to move 6 inches from my seat? No chance at all. A slovenly security guard from the dubiously named ‘Seemore Security,’ sits with his foot across the aisle watching for the slightest movement – so much for ‘For Freedom’, when you can’t move two feet forward to the barrier without endangering your face! It fortunately doesn’t take long for Mike to suss that a lot of people have paid over £5 to come out and enjoy themselves tonight, and before Absolute Reality, he requests the security to stand aside and let people stand up the front, Needing no second bidding I dive forward….
With all the feelings of anger frustration blown out of the window, I begin to enjoy what is an excellent show, not outstanding but rivalling any of the bets shows by any other band. ‘Sixty Eight Guns’, ends the first part of the set and I await the encores with high expectations, but nearly find myself in a fight and worse than that actually ‘wanting’ to be involved in it. Yes of course, Seemore Security have to make a futile gesture of their power and as the group leave the stage the security try to push everybody back into their seats. I despairingly get pushed back just ion time to see Frank literally thrown by two bouncers into the aisle and other being manhandled back from the stage. No surprise perhaps that just to my left, a fight begins and as an oversized bouncer begins to hit teenage Alarm fans, adrenalin starts to flow at a alarming rate and the general out cry goes up. the group returns and remaining oblivious to the events below them, start the encores with ‘Father To Son’. As the fight continues, many of us stand on seats, yelling and indicating to the group what is happening until Redeye and Simon spot something is up and come rushing across the stage and into the crowd, pulling the bouncers off the fans being attacked. Mike spots something seriously has gone wrong and screams for the group to stop, then comes straight over to the edge of the stage and demands to know what has happened?
The head of security is summoned up tot he stage and with one fan stood alongside with a broken nose, dripping blood, he fails to convince a single person in the house that the men under his control have acted in anybody’s interests except their own. Mike demands that the security leave the crowd alone and in an impassioned speech that nearly brings him to tears, struggles to find suitable words to describe the way he feels about the entire situation. With the atmosphere in the theatre purely electric and everybody returning down the front, the group have a quick discussion and decide to play ‘The Stand’. There will never be a more committed, powerful and poignant rendition of that song ever again for me – every single person in the entire audience gave their unrestrained and goal support to what came down to a stand against the callous way the security had acted. After leaving the stage to a complete standing ovation, the group return and Mike informs us that the management is going to cut the power and can tomorrow’s show. Enraged, he says quite simply that he’s going to be here and ask how many others will be to? The answer is deafening and it’s quite apparent that a cancelled show will result in about 3000 Alarm fans converging at the venue whether the band plays or not. ‘We Are The Light’ brings things to a conclusion and we start to file out, all discussing the possibilities for tomorrow. The rather exaggerated police presence makes me realise how badly managed the Hammersmith Odeon is if they think we are going to cause any kind of trouble; obviously they have over reacted again.” – Andy Gritton – Alarm Fanzine Number 4 1986
December 16th, 1985 Hammersmith Odeon
“Arriving in London around 4:30 we find that the show is gong ahead – much to everyone’s relief. Someone comes up with some new lyrics to ‘Father To Son’ retitled ‘Bouncer To Son.” – Andy Gritton – Alarm Fanzine Number 4 1986
Dec 17, 1985 The Alarm BBC2 TV: “Whistle Test”
“We arrived at BBC Studios early ready to perform ‘Deeside’ and ‘Spirit Of ’76’ ‘live’ to promote the new ‘Strength’ album on the BBC’s flagship music show ‘Whistle Test’ (which was literally going out live at 7:30 in the evening). It had been a very intense few days leading up to the TV show and I could really have done with a break to get my voice back up to speed after the two Hammersmith shows. After the soundcheck, Ian Wilson (our manager), suggested I go back to the hotel to take a rest and freshen up for the show and so he drove me back to Lancaster Gate (The Averard Hotel). We set off back to the studios with plenty of time to spare but had not factored in that Queens Park Rangers had a home game (just around the corner from the BBC Shepherds Bush Studios on Wood Lane), that was kicking off at 7:30 also. The traffic was horrendous and so at 7:15 I jumped out of the car and ran towards the BBC. The Alarm were due on first with ‘Deeside’ and we were to be playing live to the nation, the pressure to get there was horrific. I had to run a couple of miles through the traffic at top speed and didn’t even stop at the security gate as I knew where I was going. I jumped the barrier and ran into the studios with the security guards chasing behind me. I could hear the intro music for the ‘Whistle Test’ and saw the presenters and band in position and just made it on to the sound stage where the crew had my guitar all ready to go. I slung it over my shoulder and counted off the acoustic intro. It was absolutely touch and go and I literally made it with only seconds to spare. The BBC were not best pleased and made it known. I got a right telling off from the producer too.” – Mike Peters
Dec 18, 1985 The Alarm The Gaumont in Southampton
Dec 19, 1985 The Alarm St. David’s Hall in Cardiff
Dec 20, 1985 The Alarm Manchester Apollo, Manchester
– Photo Mike Peters and his mother Marjorie Peters at Manchester Apollo
Dec 22, 1985 The Alarm The Playhouse in Edinburgh
Dec 23, 1985 The Alarm Barrowlands, Glasgow
Come back to the alarm.com tomorrow for Strength – An Oral History…. As the new year dawns the band embark on a freezing cold tour of Scandinavia and Mainland Europe hoping that ‘Strength’ and forthcoming single ‘Spirit Of ’76’ will take them back into the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Strength – An Oral History. Created by Steve Fulton and Mike Peters ©2015 www.thealarm.com
Thanks to Lee Aherne for Newspaper Cuttings and Paul ‘Barney Rubble ‘ Robinson for concert poster images.
Memories come flooding back…… If you have attended any of the shows or incidents mentioned in Strength – An Oral History and have recollections and photos of your own then please share them with us at www.facebook.com/theofficialalarm
Only 6 days to go until Mike Peters and The Alarm appear at Wales Millennium Centre with The Welsh Pops Symphony Orchestra and the Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir. Get your tickets here.