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The Alarm

+ {Mike Peters} + {Coloursound}

Whether unfairly labelled as CLASH clones, or one of the best-loved post-punk acts of the 80s, The ALARM competed for the Celtic crown alongside Caledonian counterparts BIG COUNTRY; the fact that Prestatyn boy Mike Peters actually joined a reunion line-up of the latter band was no coincidence. Posted missing throughout most of the 90s, an inspired Peters – who’d come through being diagnosed with lymphocytic leukaemia in 1996 – surrounded himself with seasoned former goth types and re-formed his band as The ALARM MMIV. Or was that The Poppy Fields? Read on.
Formed 1981, in the seaside town of Rhyl, singer/bassist Mike Peters had stemmed from Wales’ only punks in the village, The Toilets, an outfit who toured from 1977-78. Alongside drummer Nigel Buckle (aka Des Troy), plus Richard “O’Malley” Jones (aka Bo Larks) and Glyn Crossley (aka Steve Shock), Peters (then named Eddie Bop), were going nowhere fast among a rising tide of new wave/power-pop outfits. Swapping Jones and Crossley for guitarists Eddie Macdonald and Dave Sharp (Nigel became “Twist”), the quartet assumed the group moniker, Seventeen, releasing the single `Don’t Let Go’ at the start of the decade. Changing yet again to Alarm Alarm, and playing several gigs in around their home-away from-home, London (some opening for STRAY CATS), The ALARM finally self-pressed up copies of their debut single, `Unsafe Building’, a subsequent single of the month in Mick Mercer’s ZigZag mag.
Impressing agent-cum-manager Ian Wilson enough for him to invite The ALARM to support his main act, U2, the stage was set when Miles Copeland’s Illegal Records (aka I.R.S.) delivered the group’s subsequent single, `Marching On’, in October 1982. Calling for the band to decide on who played what instrument, it was decided that Peters would concentrate on vocals (and a bit of acoustic guitar), while Macdonald would switch to bass.
Compared to The CLASH, but inspired by the earnest passion of U2, the group’s music was at odds with the limp synth-pop of the day, attracting fans who were too young to have experienced punk’s heyday, but still begging for energetic anthems that eschewed clever lyrics for a populist sensibility. Although their major label debut, `The Stand’, registered nowhere in the Top 75, the excellent rabble-rouser, `Sixty Eight Guns’ (penned by Peters and MacDonald), smashed into the Top 20. Premiered by another banner-waving hit in `Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke?’, The ALARM’s debut Top 10 album, DECLARATION {*8}, arrived in February ’84, while it also dented the American Top 50. Featuring all of the above and the likes of minor hit `The Deceiver’, `Shout To The Devil’ and `Blaze Of Glory’, the group were indeed “Marching On”.
Part of a kind of Celtic triumvirate as aforementioned (completed by Ireland’s U2 and Scotland’s BIG COUNTRY), The ALARM were essentially a rock extension of the folk tradition, their acoustic rendition of mining ballad, `The Bells Of Rhymney’ (a B-side to exclusive hit, `The Chant Has Just Begun’), hardly seemed out of place. As with U2, there was always the possibility of taking things too far down the road of grandiose stadium rock, The ALARM coming perilously close on follow-up set, STRENGTH (1985) {*7}. Another Top 20 entry (it also cracked the American Top 40, where their big sound was much appreciated), the record spawned further hit singles in `Absolute Reality’, the title track, `Knife Edge’ and `Spirit Of ‘76’.
That self-same spirit seemed to be lacking on follow-up sets, EYE OF THE HURRICANE (1987) {*6} – highlighting the over-production values of `Rain In The Summertime’, `Rescue Me’ and `Presence Of Love’ – and the acoustic concert set recorded in Boston, Massachusetts, entitled ELECTRIC FOLKLORE: LIVE (1988) {*5}.
Although the Tony Visconti-produced CHANGE (1989) {*6} saw them adopt a more rootsier approach, even looking to their native heritage with the help of a Welsh male choir and the Welsh Symphony Orchestra, The ALARM were still regarded as walking in the shadow of their major league rivals. Still, it did unearth their biggest American hit to date, `Sold Me Down The River’ at No.50 (and No.43 in Britain), and other anthemic rock fodder in the double-A-sided, `A New South Wales’ and `The Rock’.
The ALARM continued to cut little ice with the more discerning critic, but despite this they soldiered on for studio album five, RAW (1991) {*5}, before MIKE PETERS embarked on a solo career. The record itself featured covers of NEIL YOUNG’s `Rockin’ In The Free World’ and JOHN LENNON’s `Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, but it fell short of the character that got them up there in the first place; Dave Sharp, incidentally, provided some lead vocals. Over the years, The ALARM covered other stuff, including `A Legal Matter’ (The WHO), `Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ (BOB DYLAN), `Pastures Of Plenty’ + `Vigilante Man’ (WOODY GUTHRIE), `Working Class Hero’ (JOHN LENNON), `It’s Not Unusual’ (a TOM JONES hit) and `Get Down And Get With It’ (the SLADE hit).
Although it was Dave Sharp that first re-emerged later in ’91 with his debut solo album, “Hard Travellin’” (“Downtown America” – from his newly-adopted country – was his belated follow-up in ’96), MIKE PETERS and his Poets Of Justice stuck to his independent guns on 1994’s BREATHE {*4}.
FEEL FREE (1996) {*5} was another example of rootsy alt-rawk, and it looked like we’d heard the last of him when 1998’s underrated RISE {*6}, failed to make an impact on all but his loyal fanbase; the CD also featured a bonus-track, rap reading of GRANDMASTER FLASH’s `The Message’. The same inglorious fate awaited 2001’s solo effort, FLESH & BLOOD {*5}, inspired by a stage play written by Helen Griffin.
Squeezed somewhere in between his flagging solo work was his team collaboration as frontman of COLOURSOUND, a supergroup of sorts with alt-rock veterans from The CULT: songwriter/guitarist Billy Duffy (also ex-THEATRE OF HATE), bassist Craig Adams (ex-SISTERS OF MERCY, ex-MISSION) and drummer Scott Garrett (ex-HOLY BARBARIANS). Very derivative of all their previous incarnations, their eponymous COLOURSOUND (1999) {*4} was found wanting as the music world was gearing up for an exciting millennium to come.
Abandoning another short-lived project, Dead Men Walking (alongside alumni from STRAY CATS, etc.), Peters brought together an all-new ALARM, but without a record deal as such, his group looked to be heading the same way. Having roped in Adams again, plus the great James Stevenson (guitar; ex-CHELSEA, GENERATION X, GENE LOVES JEZEBEL, et al) and drummer Steve Grantley (ex-STIFF LITTLE FINGERS), the ageing Peters – now 45! – devised a master-stroke to get the music industry to sit up and listen. He would send them a video of a younger-looking act to lip-sync on a video of `45 R.P.M.’ by his pseudonymous band, The Poppy Fields. The single took the staged band back into the Top 30, and then it was time to reveal who was behind the unique and enterprising scam. Unmasked, and with a full album’s worth of songs at their disposal, Peters and The ALARM MMIV, struck critical gold with 2004’s attendant “comeback” set, IN THE POPPY FIELDS {*6}. A film starring Phil Daniels and Keith Allen was duly put into production thereafter; VINYL {*6} finally being premiered several years later.
LIVE IN THE POPPYFIELDS (2005) {*5}, UNDER ATTACK (2006) {*5}, GUERILLA TACTICS (2008) {*5} and DIRECT ACTION (2010) {*5}, kept fans of the band, at least, happy and content with once-mighty outfit. Meanwhile, over the ocean, Dave Sharp was re-fastening in his Yankee version of the band when touring in 2008 as AOR – Spirit Of The Alarm. The biggest surprise of all was in 2011, when Mike Peters took up the option of joining The ALARM’s biggest rivals, BIG COUNTRY, taking the place of the late, great Stuart Adamson (who’d died a decade ago) for the album `The Journey’ (2013).
Subsequent sets such as re-recorded re-vamps of DECLARATION (2014) {*6} and STRENGTH (2015) {*6} – including respective “live” double-sets by the year-end – had a sense of déjà vu for fans forking out hard-earned cash. As MIKE PETERS & THE ALARM resumed some sort of semblance therein, fresh studio tracks appeared – among other mini-sets – by way of BLOOD RED (2017) {*5}, VIRAL BLACK (2017) {*5} and EQUALS (2018) {*6}; though what constituted a bona fide proper album could only be interpreted by real fans.
Released exactly a year on and featuring contributions from original ALARM guitarist and The CULT’s Billy Duffy, 2019’s SIGMA {*6} album was another measured attempt at capturing the group of old. At its core was of course stalwart frontman Mike Peters, MBE (presented to him for cancer charity work), a man who could scribe an anthem or three in true U2 aplomb. One can imagine the sing-a-long, fist-in-the-air appeal of `Blood Red Viral Black’, `Love And Understanding’, `Brighter Than The Sun’ and the 7-minute-long `Armageddon In The Morning’.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Oct2013-Jul2019

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