Thirty years ago, on September 21 1983, The Alarm performed for the very first time on UK television show Top Of The Pops. ‘Sixty Eight Guns’ was in the UK charts at number 54 and the band’s performance on the BBC was beamed into the households of the UK and watched by millions.
Watch The Alarm’s performance again here and read this report with the band that was conducted in the BBC studios on the day.
YOUNG GUNS GO FOR IT.
The Alarm were touring America when the Highway Patrol stopped the,. Was it a driving offence or had they dropped their hairspray on the freeway? No, they were on Top Of The Pops, the show that can make or break a band.Tony Fletcher talked to them while they got ready for their all important first appearance.
Imagine the scene.
You’re a British band, nearing the end of a first headlining tour of the states. You’re travelling in a hired bus, desperate for sleep. The bus breaks down between Buffalo and Boston and then the highway patrol pull up alongside and ask if you’re The Alarm…. You nod nervously and the boys in blue tell you to phone home immediately. You bundle into a call box and the news you’ve been awaiting almost all your life is delivered over a crackly trans-atlantic line, “Your new single is in the Top 50 and you’d better hurry – you’re on Top Of The Pops tomorrow night!”
Twenty four hours later and The Alarm are nervously pacing a BBC dressing room.
Guitarist Dave Sharp has bags under his eyes that threaten to obliterate his face while drummer Twist hides horrors behind his shades.
As lead singer Mike Peters observes, “I think it’s three days since we last slept. Our minds have clued into English time, but our bodies are still living in America.” Mike’s not complaining. ’68 Guns’ has fulfilled The Alarm’s childhood wish. “It must be the ambition of every record -buying kid in Britain to be on Top Of The Pops!”
In Rhyl, North Wales, The Alarm grew up together, touring countless bandwagon bands in their teens. They don’t try to hide skeletons like Seventeen, a typical 1980 mod band, pointing out their naievety at the time.
Eventually, in 1981 the three (sic), formed The Alarm and moved down to London, determined to follow no trends except their own. Soon their gigs and three singles had built them a following.
Now their EP, ‘The Stand’, is a minor hit in America and, back in Britain, the boys are about to be peak viewing. What do they feel about Top Of The Pops? The Clash, a band they admire, won’t go on unless they can play live, whereas The Alarm are miming. “When I’m up there miming to ’68 Guns’, says bassist Eddie Mcdonald (sic), I remember the day we wrote that song, what the sentiment was, the feeling. That’s coming over on stage up there.”
“Top Of The Pops is a great way of getting heard,” says Mike. “If you want to change things, you’ve got to go in there where things need changing.” What things? “We’re not saying we’ll change anything specifically overnight. But we’ve got a messsage of hope and we believe in a future for this generation, we believe that this generation can bring change.”
The Alarm have finished making-up and gelling their hair into huge spikey shocks. Now they await their turn alongside Culture Club, Nick Heyward and the rest. During their run through, they have to endure the horrendous Top Of The Pops dancers going through the motions behind them.
Can’t you do anything about them, boys?
“Well you can,” insists Mike, “just by going up to them and chatting. I said to one of the dancers, “You’re going to have problems with this record, because it’s raw, it’s got energy, and it’s the emotion that carries it’. He said, ‘Well, it’s great to have a band with a bit of spike on the show. I get bored dancing to drum beats all the time”.
While The Alarm wait, Mike Read, host of tonight’s show, enters the dressing room to meet the band. The cuddly one picks up a nearby acoustic and soon the group and he are ploughing through Bob Dylan’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door’.
Can’t you ever stop playing lads? ”
This is what we’ve always wanted to do,” says Eddie. “We love playing.” And you start a British tour in a few days.
“Yeah, but we’ve got to finish the American tour first!’ says Mike.
“Yeah, we’re only here for the day. We’re returning to the states for a gig tomorrow night. Then we get back here, do our own tour and try and finish the album…
So when are you having some time off?
“I think we’ve got a few days off at Christmas,” says Mike.
At twenty past eight the next morning, The Alarm left Heathrow for Philadelphia and more work. When I woke up, I wondered what time their alarm had gone off and went back to sleep.
Article by Tony Fletcher. Candid camera : Jason Pervovar
Special Thanks to Lee Aherne for the original Record Mirror press cutting.