The 2015 Edition of ‘Strength’ guarantees Mike Peters and Alarm fans a brand new listening experience that builds on the foundation of the original.
All nine of the ‘Strength’ songs (UK track listing), have been rearranged and recorded from the ground up by lead singer and songwriter Mike Peters along with two additional songs from the period. “I always felt that song for song, word for word, ‘Strength’ was The Alarm’s best album of the 1980’s, and that by going back to the original source material, I could forge something fresh and new that would allow listeners a chance to see and hear the entire work in a modern context”.
Spirit Of ’76
The Day The Ravens Left The Tower
Walk Forever By Your Side
Father To Son
Only The Thunder
“Strength the album had layers of hidden qualities that were never truly revealed or properly explored back in those heady 1980’s days”, says Peters. “Since then, so many people have come forward saying how much their lives have been affected by the lyrics from songs like ‘Strength’, ‘Father To Son’, ‘Walk Forever’ and ‘Spirit Of ’76’. I myself along with many others, have also personally lived a life through the albums themes of Love, Hope and Strength that are only hinted at in the youthful voice that delivered those first recordings”.
Re-imagined and informed by experience gained, the songs on Strength 2015 have been able to shed skin and live again for new times. “There are a lot of stories on Strength, many of them autobiographical or written from personal experience“ continues Peters, “I still see the people I wrote about in the songs and live on the same streets affected by the political landscape documented in the original telling and I felt that they deserved an updating so that they could tell of challenges met and of relationships strengthened by time, in much the same way as The Alarm family has grown through change and circumstance.”
To conceive the album for 2015, Mike Peters was aided by the original production notes and lyric book he had first started writing in as far back as 1984 when the band went to New York to work with uber-producer Jimmy Iovine (Credits include John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, U2, Patti Smith etc.). “It was very challenging to work with Iovine – whom I had met while playing with U2 at Red Rocks during the ‘Under A Blood Red Sky Concert in 1983”, recalls Peters. “Although, I was disappointed when we never got to make the album with him because of record company politics. With the benefit of hindsight and through the experience of my own musical journey, I could begin to see some of the direction Jimmy was trying to push us into and so have taken the new ‘Strength’ into territories where it might have gone if we had been given the opportunity in 1985 to work with a world class producer like Jimmy Iovine at the helm.”
Strength’ 2015 was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios and has been re-examined by Mike Peters from the chords up. “If we had worked with Jimmy Iovine, the album was going to be called ‘Absolute Reality’ and so I have recorded that as if it was the album’s title track and pushed it more towards the style of ‘Knife Edge’ which was an idea that we discussed with Iovine back in 1984”. In fact, the new version of ‘Strength’ also contains a new / old previously unheard song entitled ‘Last Train’. “I’d forgotten all about this song when I found the lyrics in my original writings and remembered playing it in rehearsal a few times” Mike Peters reminisces, “There is a note alongside the lyrics that says ‘one for the future’. I think it was certainly ahead of its time for The Alarm back in 1984/5 and quite possibly if we had cut it back then it would have taken us into an area that some of our peers got into a few years later”.
The sonic template for the new ‘Strength’ album builds upon the one man band, electro-acoustic guitar and drummer axis as established with Alarm drummer Smiley during last year’s Declaration 2014 sessions. “For Declaration, I was trying to recreate the ultimate Alarm Electro-acoustic sound and was lucky enough to meet Doug Sparkes and Rob Bowman from Auden Guitars who built the ground breaking ‘Deceiver’ instrument for me,”reflects Mike, “One day I was in their workshop and unknowingly started playing one of their new Baritone Guitars which put all my songs into different keys allowing me to find a new tone that also opened up some interesting chord configurations”.
Eager to try things out with a band, Mike started up a loose jam with Doug, Rob and the other musicians from the Auden team known as The Deportees, a self described Punk Rock Hilllbilly Soul band (who once backed Alarm guitarist Dave Sharp on some live gigs in the early 2000’s). The sessions were so productive that a recording studio was booked and at least half the tracks on Strength now feature the various Deportees members – Doug Sparkes (Mandolin and Trumpet), Rob Bowman (Banjo), Nye Parsons (Double Bass), Julie Rands- Allen (Violin) and Rob Matheson (Acoustic Guitar). A collaboration which echoes the Alarm’s original alt-folk punk roots as exemplified by the revamped ‘Spirit Of ’76’.
Other iconic ‘Strength’ era songs such as ‘Deeside’ and ‘Walk Forever By My Side’ have updated lyrics while the version of ’Deeside′ boasts a brand new hook line that may well elevate this song from it’s previous album track cult status into classic Alarm single territory. “Deeside was always a song that went down a storm live and Jimmy Iovine said in rehearsals that more could be made of the story telling arrangement. I think the new version strengthens the real life narrative that runs through the lyric”.
Strength 2015 features further collaboration with Acquire (a community singing group that appeared on Declaration 2014 and also with Mike Peters at the memorable Horizons Sing concert in Cardiff which also featured a contribution from Bono and U2 singing ‘Blaze Of Glory’). “The sound of the choir represents the heart and soul of the audience on the record” remarks Peters, “The choir members come from all walks of life and membership is open to anyone and everyone in much the same way as an Alarm / Mike Peters concert gathering”.
The album’s artwork has continued the theme established on ‘Declaration’ by artist Daniel Shearn and like the music builds on the foundation of work created in 1985. “I sent Dan all the lyrics and asked him to extend the theme of ‘Declaration’ into ‘Strength’. Dan came to Real World Studios while I was recording and unveiled his vision of taking the arms from the original Strength 7″ single sleeve and telling their story via a series of drawings representing each song from the album that would be seen as Tattoo’s on those very same arms. It’s a beautiful piece of work and once again, totally at one with the spirit of the music”.
Strength 2015 presents new and old Alarm fans alike an opportunity to embrace a part of the band’s history that was special to so many who still support Mike Peters and the group to this very day and who continue to make new discoveries about the timeless qualities of the music. “Strength is an album that has lived outside of itself musically. The themes of Love Hope and Strength have gone from being words on a page or lines in a song, to literally giving life to thousands through the charity that it gave birth to. As a musician you can only dare to dream so far but ‘Strength’ has gone way beyond that now and hopefully these new recordings will help to inform and continue the legacy of ‘Strength’ for future generations”.
‘If a man can’t change the world these days, I still believe a man can change his own destiny’ – The Alarm – Strength 2015.