Interviewed by the alarm.com founder Steve Fulton, Mike Peters delves into the creative process that fuelled the new Strength album covering a wide range of subjects.
SF: How was your re-envisioned version of Declaration received by fans in 2014?
MP: From my own point of view it certainly elevated the profile of Declaration way beyond a remastered / bonus track style reissue. It got everyone who has ever been in contact with Declaration talking and created all kinds of discussion and debate which was the whole point of the project. It gave me a platform to move forward as a musician, producer, arranger and singer and revealed insights into the songs that would never have surfaced.
Lots of shows sold out, there were some amazing reviews, the BBC got behind the project and so I can only say that a lot of good came of it. Of course, there were a few negative vibes, especially at first, and I expected that, but once people got into the spirit of the project most of them came around even if it drove them back to the original with the ability to hear it with a fresh appreciation.
I don’t think anyone has done anything like this before so it was uncharted territory for all of us and I don’t think anyone can argue that it has only had a positive effect and if nothing else, one of the best lines I ever wrote for the original Alarm is now in the public domain… “If they take our chances, we’ll create our own”.
SF: Were you pleased with how the Declaration 2015 record turned out?
MP: It was everything I hoped it would be. It was great to play live and a record in tune with the times. The music, songs, lyrics, artwork, everything about it stands up in its own right. People forget that the original release polarised opinion when it first came out and now has its place in history with those who were affected by it just the same as Declaration 2014 will hold for those who embraced the new version as a reflection of the times we live in now.
SF: Did you learn anything from the recording of Declaration that took into the studio for the re-envisioned “Strength?
MP: You always learn from one project to the next. Strength is another record built from the foundations of the original. I kept a book of lyrics and production notes for Strength that I only recently discovered. I had misfiled it with some Declaration era lyric sheets and memorabilia that I had left it with Karl Parsons when we were researching the artwork for Declaration and Peace Train and he brought the folder back to me at the chapel one day and that was when the book came to light with all these additional lyrics and notes relating to the Strength era. It was invaluable to the creative process of the new Strength.
SF: Strength was released in October of 1985. Can you briefly describe the process of going from touring the Declaration record in 1984, to recording Strength in 1985? What were the record company pressures? What was the band like internally? Basically, I want to know what forces were in place to create “Strength”, one of the best albums of the 80’s.
MP: Hard to answer this one briefly. The band was on a creative high after ‘Declaration’ and we were well placed to make a great follow up. We had previewed new songs like ‘Walk Forever’, ‘Unbreak The Promise’ and ‘One Step’ on the BBC before we had even released ‘Declaration’ itself.
We produced a great set of demos (check out Alt-Strength), with our live sound engineer Nigel Luby in the summer of ’84 so there was no fear factor about our second album. The demos had even secured us the services of Jimmy Iovine to produce in the January of 1985 and the title of the album was going to be ‘Absolute Reality’. The Absolute tour was even booked to promote it’s release.
The only problem we had was that IRS did not have distribution deal and I think that when talks broke down with A&M it scared a ‘player’ of Jimmy Iovine’s nature away. Big producers want to work on albums with big budgets and big marketing strategies behind them and to be honest we must have looked second rate compared to the likes of U2 and Simple Minds (who eventually secured Jimmy Iovine’s services for Once Upon A Time).
At the beginning of 1985, Ian Wilson and Steve Tannet put together an independent release for ‘Absolute Reality’ (which we had in the can as we had previously recorded it with Alan Shacklock after Declaration but decided not to release). It was a brave attempt to keep the momentum going but in the eyes of the industry we looked weak and instead of coming out all guns blazing with a brand new album building on the success of Declaration, it was like starting all over again.
When Strength was eventually released IRS was a part of MCA and they didn’t really believe in us the way A&M did, so it felt like we had to build everything up all over again. Again, Ian Wilson and Steve Tannett did an amazing job winning over MCA by the end of the album’s initial release life that culminated in us playing at UCLA and Wembley but if the label had been behind us from day one who knows what could have happened.
SF: How did “The Chant” fit into all that? Almost 20 years ago I asked you about that song, and you said “It was recorded out of fear.” Can you explain that? I ask because the acoustic sound of “The Chant” as played on The Cutting Edge alonq with “Bells Of Rhymney” and the Woodie Guthrie covers you were doing at the time *did* signal the direction of Strength 2015, just not the single itself.
MP: The Chant was supposed to be like a new version of The Stand and wrapped in the folk rock influences that abounded in our music of 1983-4. It was chosen as a single because it was going down fantastic live whenever we played it. Unfortunately, we went in the wrong direction in the studio and it ended up sounding more Frankie Goes To Hollywood than The Alarm meets Woody Guthrie.
I don’t think it did Alan Shacklock any favours with IRS in terms of producing the second album and drove them to try and secure Jimmy Iovine. It certainly didn’t sound like The Alarm for sure and was recorded using computer technology pioneered by Trevor Horn. I think we got caught up in trying to be a singles band with ‘The Chant’ and once we had got that out of our system it was back to being an album band from then on.
SF: When you finished “Strength” in 1985, did you have any regrets? Anything you wanted to change?
MP: I always regretted that we had not been able to work with Jimmy Iovine. We made strength with Mike Howlett and our live sound engineer Nigel Luby. Don’t get me wrong they did a fantastic job but Mike Howlett was not a ‘rock’ producer. His previous production before The Alarm was Blancmange but IRS wouldn’t let us produce ourselves so he was really there to oversee and make sure we got things done on time. He brought a lot of great ideas to the table but he wasn’t really the kind of producer we needed at that point.
SF: alt.strength came out more than a decade ago. It featured several songs that were not on the “Strength” album including “Black Side Of Fortune”, “Sons Of Divorce”, and “In The Cold Light Of Day”. When you were going through the “re-envisioning” process, did you consider recording any of those?
MP: I have cut some of those songs for the companion album which is going to be called ‘Majority’. ‘Black Side Of Fortune’ is a great song that could easily have helped make ‘Strength’ a very strong double album.
SF: Speaking of the new “Strength” album, did you approach it as a whole project, or tackle each song individually?
MP: I tried to see the album as a complete project and make sure there was an identity and focus to the direction I was pushing for in 2015. It’s not the album I think we could have made back then but more an album I think The Alarm would have been made if those very same songs had been written recently.
SF: You’ve said that if you worked with Jimmy Iovine, the album would have been named “Absolute Reality”, and it would have been closer in sound to what you have produced with Strength 2015. Are you letting fans into “what could have been” a bit with this album?
MP: I’ve made Strength 2015 to sound like the kind of record those songs (if written today), would demand. Of course, I’ve taken some of the Jimmy Iovine ideas on board but as The Alarm never actually followed any of that through to a recording stage of any kind in 1984/5, I can’t say for certain what a Jimmy Iovine produced album would have turned out like.
I have taken on board some of the things like prioritising the arrangement around the vocal delivery and I’ve also added in a lot of the early Alarm folk / Americana influences that were hardly visible on the original album once it came out.
I’m still very proud of the original album but wanted to show how the songs have evolved and the characterisation stands up to today’s life challenges. I’ve made this record to compliment what was made in 1985 not to replace it. I think what comes out through this recording will only add substance to the original Strength.
SF: The Deportees are an alt-Bluegrass band and they have backed you on this record. Do you feel like The Alarm took a turn with Strength away from it’s core “electric folk” sound. (i.e. away from where you were going with those b-sides from “The Chant” Are you trying to recapture some of that?
MP: I’m still trying to work with all the core influences that made The Alarm special – the electro acoustic sound that made us so interesting musically at the beginning of the Declaration / Strength period. We toured a lot with The Long Ryders at that time and shared a lot in common and if we had embraced the mandolin a little more at that time rather than going fully electric who knows where we might have gone.
I think Strength was the point where we started to act as individuals, or in pairs, rather than as a band, especially when Dave Sharp got into using the vintage Stratocaster (that he bought from Bad Co. Guitarist Mick Ralphs’). That really changed the dynamic of our relationship and sound both in the studio and on the stage.
All the songs that made it on to Strength ended up being mine and Eddie’s (The title song was credited to the band so that everyone got an equal share of the single royalties but it was mainly my song). All of Dave’s songs got left behind because he wasn’t disciplined enough to be able to sing them when the time came as was the case with ‘One Step Closer To Home’. We all loved ‘Black Side Of Fortune’ but it’s quite a high song to sing and Dave couldn’t quite pull that range out of himself consistently and so another great track fell by the way side.
Personally, I think Dave changed the way he wrote after that and rather than writing the melodies he was capable of, he started writing for the range of his own voice. Imagine if Pete Townshend never wrote songs he couldn’t sing himself…. We wouldn’t have ‘Won’t get fooled again’ or ‘Behind Blue Eyes’. Dave used to get very angry when each producer we worked with tried to persuade him to let me sing his songs for him. I always felt for him and tried everything to encourage him to do it his way and hated it myself when the producers suggested it. It actually killed the band when Dave eventually refused to record any more of my or Eddie’s songs after Strength. It always made for a very uncomfortable creative process from then onwards.
SF: Wow, that’s some powerful commentary. How did The Alarm create songs after 1985 if some of the members refused to play on the songs they didn’t write? How did you work through that to create three more albums after Strength?
MP: That’s all part of the story for ‘Eye Of The Hurricane’!!! Basically, we did demos as either Sharp and Twist (with other musicians), and Eddie and I together. The next step was to deliver them to IRS and then people like our A&R man Steve Tannet would make the decision as to which songs went forward to be recorded.
SF: Have Eddie, Dave or Nigel ever commented to you about your solo work or material? Do they even acknowledge that it exists?
MP: Eddie has been very supportive and often comes to my shows in London. We did Flesh and Blood together in 1999 and that was a great experience. To my knowledge, Nigel and Dave have never talked in any detail about my music either from my time with them in the 1980’s or post. Dave has played at The Gathering and also with the modern Alarm as special guest but never says anything to me about my own writing other than general esoteric stuff.
SF: Do Dave, Eddie or Nigel have any solo material that you admire?
I thought Dave’s solo albums were excellent and had some fantastic songs (especially Hard Travelling), although I was surprised he got another player in to do the guitar solos on Downtown America. I’ve always been a fan of Dave’s writing and wish he would do more. I also think he could have developed his music writing for other people’s voices as he has a way with melody and words that is unique. He’s also a great guitar player but since 1990 he’s been more obsessed with being an acoustic singer songwriter. Back in the 1980’s I would have liked to see him become someone like Johnny Marr and playing with other bands. He would have been great in The Pretenders. In 2003, I travelled to see him in New Orleans and when he came back to live in the UK I funded an album for him called ‘Power Of Soul’ to help him get something going back in Britain. The highest compliment I can pay to Dave is that I’m always playing his songs live (and recording some of them), as I genuinely love them.
As for Nigel, I see him when I’m in San Francisco occasionally (he almost came to see me with Big Country in Napa a few years ago), but we don’t really communicate much. Musically he was a great drummer and I respect that he gave up his rock and roll career to be near to his daughter while she was growing up in San Francisco and as a father myself I can totally understand that kind of sacrifice so good on him.
Eddie has got a lot of music to share and I hope we all get to hear some songs from him soon. It seems like he has a project brewing and I wish him every success.
SF: The Alarm were many things to many people. The band mixed punk, folk, rock together like no band before or after. Do you think the way you have recorded Strength 2015 is more in-tune with that spirit than the record released in 1985?
MP: I wanted this record to be in tune with these times and reflect the life I have lived with these lyrics at the core of my experiences. When I got married ‘Walk Forever’ was played in the church. When I was diagnosed with cancer ‘Strength’ was the song that spoke to me the most. I’ve walked the lonely streets of ‘Dawn Chorus’ and it is my friends and story in the ‘Spirit of ’76’.
I may have shared a lot of the music writing with Eddie Macdonald but almost every word on Strength is mine. I’m not sure where I would be without those lyrics. I have tried to live by some of them and can still look the people in the eye that I’ve written about. It’s as real to me today, even more so, than when it was written in some ways, so I wanted to show the human side of those songs today.
The album is responsible for creating a charity called Love Hope Strength that has played a part in saving people lives. The song ‘Walk Forever’ has given its lyric to an appeal that will help give people in my community the same fighting chance against cancer that I have. It’s so alive today it’s ridiculous, and so I wanted to set the songs free from their 1980’s time capsule and see what happens. I know it won’t be for everyone, especially those who just wants the songs to stay the way they were, and I appreciate that, but for me it’s almost as if my life depends on this record again so I decided to let it live and damn the consequences.
SF: This album reminds me very much of what might have become of those demos from the summer of 1984 that were on alt.strength. Did you use that session as a focal point and move forward from there?
MP: I definitely referred to the demos, especially the songs that never made the album, and it was this collection of music that attracted Jimmy Iovine. I also loved the demo of ‘Knife Edge’ more than the album track and so grabbed some of the lyrics back, same with ‘Deeside’. The only song I haven’t gone to is ‘One Step Closer To Home’ as that feels like its part of ‘Eye Of The Hurricane’ even if it was conceived in the Declaration / Strength era.
SF: Some of the new tracks are so different from their roots (Deeside, Knife Edge, Strength, Father To son) they sound like different songs, but are good enough to be singles unto themselves. Do you feel like you’ve breathed new life into these old creations?
Of course, I think so but I’m biased. As a songwriter in The Alarm, it was only Eddie who ever got behind me as a creative person. Ian Wilson our manager and Steve Tannet who signed The Alarm were the ones who believed in me the most, along with Redeye (who’s contribution to my confidence was invaluable). Redeye was always excited to hear about my new song and lyric ideas whereas Nigel and Dave remained indifferent at all times.
Dave used to say to me that people came to see The Alarm because of the four members and not because of the songs. He would often say before a gig that it didn’t matter ‘what’ we played but ‘how’ we played. I used to argue that our audience would go crazy if we didn’t play our own songs but he would never back down from his point of view. Nigel also used to back Dave to the hilt and was more of a Karl Wallinger (World Party), fan than a Mike Peters or Eddie Macdonald fan especially when it came down to songwriting. That’s why you’ve never seen or read Dave and Nigel acknowledge my lyrics or the songs Eddie and I brought to the band. In their eyes it’s all ‘Alarm’ music and nothing else. In some ways, it’s one of the reasons why I’ve fought pretty hard to get my part in the band’s creativity acknowledged and part of what drives me to make these albums and not rely on just another remastered reissue to tell the story.
SF: As far as Strength 2015 goes, were there any stand-out songs that were begging you to work on first?
MP: I started with Spirit of ’76 as that was a colossus hanging over the project. It was playing that song on the Baritone guitar and using completely different chord shapes that opened it up to me in a new way. I was always fascinated by how that song could turn around live in my acoustic shows and could take having other songs played in the middle or the Mersey lights part in different places. I always like playing the guitar riff on the harmonica and then when I performed it with the Orchestra at Cardiff I knew it was ready to be challenged.
SF: So how did the BBC recording / Horizons Sing event come about? What do you think of it a year on?
MP: Horizons Sing came about when BBC Wales heard the new Declaration and thought it would be appropriate for BBC Wales Music Day and a pairing up with the National Orchestra of Wales. It was a very special project to be involved with and I have to say Dave Driscoll from The Orchard (who promote all my shows in Wales), did an incredible job putting me together with John Quirk the arranger (who came to the show in Neath), and got the vibe instantly. John and I worked closely on the musical arrangement ‘direction’ although John created the scores for all the wonderful orchestral accompaniment. The BBC production team were amazing to work with and they made it happen for the choir to come down from North Wales and arranged the surprise message from U2 (which I knew absolutely nothing about right up to the second I saw them on screen). It was an incredible event, and such an honour to work with a massive world class orchestra. The concert was very successful for the BBC also as it made an impact all over the world and I would love to see it released as a CD / DVD at some point in the future.
SF: One of the songs that interested me the most here is “Spirit Of ‘76” because , to me, it’s the one song that didn’t really need to be redone at all. Spirit Of ’76 always struck me as the “spiritual center” of The Alarm from 1985 onward. From what I hear though, that might have been a mistake. Why did you choose such radically different arrangement for the song?
It’s not as radical sounding to me. It still has the melody of the guitar but played on violin. The arrangement still has the stomping backbeat although is more akin to the seven inch single version that was released in January 1986. The single version was a weird one as the opening lines were not “Well I find myself in Reverie”, but “My friend John he went away” which was a strange opening for a song on Top Of The Pops. As far as I’m aware, I don’t think there is an Alarm compilation in the history of the band that carries that version on it anywhere. It’s always the album version. My approach was to look at it as a single for 2015 and get straight to the substance of the song. I upped the melody a little with the delivery and gave it more of an upbeat rather than wistful vocal performance. I also felt it important to rewrite the stories of the main characters as I still see them from time to time and talk whenever we meet. Anyone who has studied the recent live Gathering DVD’s will have heard me trying to give the outcome of their personal stories a more positive slant and this re-recording provided the perfect opportunity to get it right. I have sung the song with the original lines on the Vinyl LP version though.
SF: The version of “Father To Son” on Strength 2015 had me choked up. What meaning, if any, does this song have in 2015 that it didn’t have in 1985?
MP: I think the main difference is that all of us who have lived with the song from 1985 until now have had to go through that experience in some way either with our own fathers / mothers or as parents ourselves. I think the song makes a connection in all of us and I tried to make more of the lyrics by spacing them out more so that there is as much unsaid as spoken in this performance of the song.
SF: If you could choose one song from this new collection as the one you are the most proud of, which one would it be?
MP: The Day The Ravens Left The Tower is very powerful on this record and allows a much deeper connection to the man and the woman in the lyric which is something that I think got overlooked with all the poetic imagery flowing through the verses. I think in some way every journey we make in life is only ever made complete through trying to get home to our loved ones.
SF: I’ve heard some fans say that they believe you “toned down” a few of the songs on Declaration 2015 because your voice might not be as strong as it used to be? Can you address this directly?
My voice is as ‘strong’ as it ever was. I actually sang Sixty Eight Guns’ a semi tone higher than the original for Declaration 2014. I will accept however, that I have been experimenting with ‘where’ my voice sounds the ‘strongest’ though and that doesn’t always mean singing higher.
In recent times I have lowered the tone of a lot of songs as I think it suits my voice better. In fact, I think the vocal performance on the new Strength has some of the best singing of my entire career. I’ve even sung the title song a semi-tone higher than the original which allows me to deliver the song with a greater low to high register whereas on ‘Ravens’ I have lowered it to be able to get more warmth and emotion into the performance.
In the original 1980’s my vocals were cut as almost an afterthought as Dave and Eddie took so long doing the guitars and bass that I would only have a day or two to sing (or as some observers remarked – Shout!) the entire album.
Recently, I learnt a lot from Steve Lillywight when I sang for him in the Big Country session for ‘Another Country’ as he afforded me a lot of time to get the vocal performance right. He really pushed for the best key to suit the voice first as that is most listeners way into a song. It was amazing to work with someone who saw my voice as an instrument and not just a mouth piece for the lyrics. I have taken the experience gained from Steve Lillywhite and applied it to all my musical thinking of recent times.
Throughout most of my career I have sung in sharps and flats especially with The Alarm as we always tuned a semi tone down. This is one area that Jimmy Iovine was challenging us on in 1984. It’s always a discussion debated amongst musicians on the merits of tuning down or to concert. Jimi Hendrix tuned a semi-tone down as do many other acts. The Smiths used to tune a tone up to F# to give the guitars more jangle as did Big Country when recording Fields of Fire (Steve Lillywhite argued that when following records in a lower pitch on radio there was a subconscious lift for listeners hearing a higher tuned recording. Alan Shacklock actually sped up the original ‘Sixty Eight Guns’ single to give it more snap on the radio. Others like Dave Sharp’s hero Stevie Ray Vaughan, tuned a tone down to D. There’s no right and no wrong.
Big Country have remarked of late that they are back to playing their songs in the original keys but when I saw them live in the original days I always felt Stuart Adamson struggled on some of the higher tuned tracks like ‘Look Away’, and lowered and adjusted the melody in concert. When I joined BC I brought an individual singer’s approach to the material that suited me and allowed a song like ‘Look Away’ to be sung live with the original melody. I was most certainly not trying to sing it like someone would in a tribute band.
All singers are different and some higher pitched than others. Rod Stewart has an incredibly high voice range although most people would not realise because of the husky nature of his tone. As a singer in a band, you are often shackled to a pitch because of the guitar riff and where it can be played but as a singer songwriter I have recently been looking beyond that to try and discover ways to deliver the song and the lyrics with more depth and emotion and I think it’s working.
SF: Well, that was certainly a definitive answer! I don’t think anyone would blame you if you had to change-up your vocals after two bouts with cancer. Maybe that is where the rumors start. Maybe they come from the fact that your fans care about you. By the way, How are you feeling these days?
MP: I’m feeling great. I have treatment every two months and Dr. Edwards has halved my dosage for a while to stop me having the nasty reactions I was having last year and so far, I seem to be getting pretty good results. It’s been great to not go so far under during the treatment cycle and I don’t think I fully realised the toll the side effects were having until they stopped happening this last few months. I guess I can get a little defensive about my voice especially after Big Country put out some veiled negative messages about changing song keys which had nothing to do with the actual ‘quality’ of my voice. In fact, I’m very proud of the record I made with them and thought it showed how much my voice has improved over the years. I’m always looking for ways to improve my singing and stay very disciplined on tour so that I’m in as good a voice as possible. Of course, I’m only human and sometimes I get affected by colds or tiredness but I always do my best to make the show happen so as not to let anyone down. At The Gathering this year I was really ill with food poisoning late on the Thursday night and had stomach cramps and sickness that kept me awake and in major discomfort. Jules was thinking we might have to cancel the show but my doctor gave me an injection on the Friday morning that seemed to stabilise the situation.
I was not even close to 100% when I went out on stage and I thought I did a proper job apart from a few cracked syllables here and there during two and a half hours. The next night I was fine and didn’t miss a single note across three hours of hard rock and roll. The point being that playing concerts and touring is always a gamble. In the studio you can usually come back the next day if your are not feeling 100% but on tour it’s different. A lot of singers cancel at the merest sniffle but I don’t buy into that and will never make an excuse from the stage unless it’s ridiculously obvious and that has happened on only a handful of occasions. I’m of the mindset that I will always try and push through and make it happen the way that some athletes try and run off an injury while others leave the field of play.
SF: Let’s put the final nail in the coffin for the discussion about Big Country. Was your time and effort worth what you got out of the experience of playing with them?
MP: Absolutely. I loved every minute of my time with Big Country apart from the last tour when they had decided they were moving on but wouldn’t talk to me or tell me straight up what was happening. Bands are terrible at delivering bad news to someone they are moving on from so a I can ultimately understand that part of it as it’s not something you have to do on a daily basis in rock and roll. The only disappointing part for me was that it was all made out like I was to blame and that I had even disrespected Stuart because I’d changed the lyrics in Fields of Fire from ‘a beating heart will never die’ to ‘Sixty Eight Guns will never die’. That’s only three words and I only ever did it at a couple of shows and only on the repeated second verse. It was just a small way of acknowledging The Alarm fans in the audience as they were always shouting out for ‘Alarm’ songs while I was with the band. Personally, I felt it wasn’t respectful to play an Alarm song in that situation but I felt I had earned the right to be playful with a word or two here and there. They certainly used that as a whip to beat me with although they never complained when I changed other lyrics on other songs such as ‘I am new to History’ to ‘ I am new to Big Country’ in ‘The Teacher’ as they thought that was hilarious.
At the end of the day Big Country changed when Tony Butler (who was the quality controller of the band), left and Derek Forbes came in. I carried on because we had made an album that I was proud of and thought the remaining band members of Big Country wanted to be a serious creative entity but all that changed after the American tour when they wanted to play every weekend which was something I couldn’t / didn’t want to do. To be fair to them, there was no way I could have done all of that and created all that I have in recent times alongside, so a parting of the ways was inevitable. I just wish it could have been done with a hand shake and a thank you followed by a joint statement to the fans. I do admire them for continuing though and having the courage to change singers as that takes some doing whichever way you look at it.
I’m also not down on it because I learnt so much from being part of Big Country. Jamie introduced me to the Mandolin and Bruce is still a fantastic guitarist and Mark a great drummer. I got to work alongside Tony Butler who was an amazingly talented musician and bass guitarist and also recorded with Steve Lillywhite. I think my time with the band was special. There were some highly charged moments on stage and so I can only speak well of the experience overall. Ultimately, I did it out if choice and for Stuart Adamson and I’d like to think he would have appreciated what I brought to his old band in his absence. The fans were always great to me and so I can only wish them and Big Country every success for the future.
SF: You finished “The longest song ever recorded” last year, and made a world record. How many world records do you hold at this point?
MP: I don’t actually hold any world records. I did hold one for ‘Highest Gig On Land’ for about two weeks in 2007 after Everest Rocks but we were beaten to the title by some German jazz musicians who went higher in the Andes. The Scriptures world record bid is just being assessed by Guinness now so fingers crossed.
SF: You spoke and played at the World Cancer Congress last year. How did that feel? How were you received?
MP: It was pretty nerve racking to be honest and James Chippendale (co-founder of Love Hope Strength), had me practising for hours in my hotel room for days before the opening ceremony. When I walked out onto the plenary stage I felt calm and at ease. I don’t think the congress was prepared for a guy at the podium with a guitar and once I started speaking my performers instinct felt like I made an instant connection. By the end the congress was on its feet applauding. James Chippendale was crying back stage when I walked off and it was a very special moment. A lot is happening as a result and it has put Love Hope Strength on the global map in a very big way.
SF: It looked like an amazing time. Was any of it recorded for future use?
MP: At the World Cancer Congress I also had to put a band together for the closing ceremony. Through a friend I teamed up with the The Firebird Trio who are a first rate rockabilly outfit from Melbourne. At rehearsal the first thing we played was ‘Rock This Town’ by Stray Cats and it was phenomenal. Then we moved on to ‘Bound For Glory’.
All the band members were out of this world as players. Chris Nomad on double bass rocked and his brother Pete could play like Stevie Ray Vaughan way better than anyone I’ve ever heard and the drummer Eddie was right on the money. We worked up a set of covers mainly and, because I wanted the show to be as inclusive for local Australians as possible, I suggested a version of INXS ‘Devil Inside’.
At first it sounded cool but Eddie the drummer suggested we play it ‘swing’ style. Well… It was one of those moments when everything stopped and the rehearsal room lit up with people stopping by to see what was going on. We actually went to a studio the very next day and cut everything live to tape. I’m not sure where it will go, but I would love to do more because we really hit it off and tapped into the very earliest Alarm influences that were so fresh with us once we had toured with The Stray Cats back in late 1980.
At the show itself, we were joined by Glenn Tilbrook (who was in Australia on tour), and we stormed the congress in a way that it had never experienced before. I got everyone from around the world on stage and there were 105 countries represented so it was a lot of people rocking out to Love Hope and Strength.
SF: The “Mike Peters Documentary” was previewed at the World Cancer Congress. Any word on a release?
MP: We didn’t actually preview the new film at the congress rather an edited version of ‘Song That Changed My Life’. The ‘Song’ documentary has been the catalyst for the forthcoming fim though. Russ Kendall the director has interviewed almost everyone I’ve ever known pretty much, although I don’t have a lot to do with it as Russ wants to make a very open portrait of not just me, but the journey of both The Alarm and Love Hope Strength. Realistically it should start screening in late 15 or early 2016 at the latest.
SF: Russ Kendall appears to be looking “under chairs and looking under tables” to find the full story. Even though it’s not done yet, it must be gratifying to know that he has taken-up the charge here to create something special. How does that make you feel?
MP: Nervous!!! Ha ha!!! Russ is a great man and he is so dedicated to the project. He has a very calming way about him that gets people to open up. I’m sure it will be something very special when it’s finished and there will be a lot of things in it that have never been seen or heard before. James Chippendale, Alex Coletti and Stash Silonski deserve special mention also as they have been driving the production and filming side of things and without their drive and energy a lot of things may never have been filmed. The big problem for Russ Kendall as Director, is going to be containing the story inside one film as there is so much footage.
SF: Speaking of other projects, are there any plans for further “Dead Men Walking” shows?
MP: There is an album of original material that we have been working on for sometime that is coming out soon. It’s more U.S. based now and final recordings are happening in LA with Slim Jim and Chris Cheney right now. Captain Sensible and I have a little bit left to do in the UK but we are trying to finish it up for release in a few months time. There will be more live dates in the U.S. and then UK and Europe… Depends what we can all fit in basically, but we are all committed to making it work.
SF: Finally, next year in 2016. There was no album released 30 years from 1986. Is that the year we will finally see a new Mike Peters solo album?
MP: New album, movie, soundtrack and a musical. Bring it on…..
This Interview was originally published exclusively on The Alarm’s official Facebook page to mark the day when Strength 2015 was made public on 25.02.2015 (Mike Peters birthday), and the beginning of the Strength 2015 World Tour.
Strength 2015 Available to order now