When we last spoke with Mike Peters, he was on a series of tours that found him in one-man band mode, surrounded by an expansive collection of instruments, including drums that he could play with his feet, and an acoustic that could go electric with a quick flick of a switch, alternating between several microphones scattered across the stage, singing into each one and connecting with the audience from different angles.
As Peters explained at that time, his chosen method of performance, paired with a bit of theater of the mind, allowed for fans to reach back in time. He described the show as one that “rocks like mad as well when it gets to the end and it’s like the whole band is playing.”
Fans will finally see that whole band playing for the first time in many years here in the States. Peters and the members of the Alarm — featuring a three-piece version of the current lineup with guitarist James Stevenson (moonlighting on bass for the current tour in place of regular bassist Craig Adams) and drummer Steve “Smiley” Barnard — are knocking down a heavy load of more than 40 dates spread across two months. They just wrapped up a month-long stint playing shows on the Vans Warped Tour, which the Welsh singer-songwriter says was a “fantastic” experience. The group will perform at the Music Box Supper Club on Sunday, Aug. 27.
“We played a fast and furious Alarm set. It’s really helped to raise our profile and keep the contemporary vision that I have for the band reaffirmed,” he shares via phone as the group was en route to Seattle for a headlining date, the morning after the annual package tour wrapped up. “To play Vans Warped Tour sends a great message out. We’ve tried our best to not just get railroaded into being an '80s band and do those kind of ‘80s package tours. You know, they’re great for what they are, but we’ve just tried to focus on things that keep the modern vision of the band protected and in line with the vision we have for the group in 2017.”
Even with only 25 minutes of stage time, Peters and the band barreled through nearly a dozen songs, some condensed, to deliver a rapid-fire overview of both the past and the present for the group. Along the way, he found plenty of musicians on the tour who were fans of his group. Even members of GWAR acknowledged their affinity for the Alarm.
“My kids like them. I’ve got my two boys, 10 and 13 [on the road], and they thought GWAR were great,” says Peters. “I took them to see them play a few times, because they were the one band on the Warped tour that actually got a set time and they were the last band on. Obviously, to go on in those kind of costumes that they wear, you couldn’t survive in the heat in the desert areas and the California sunshine, so they got to go on late when it was a bit cooler. At the end of the night, I’d take the boys down and they and go and watch them play and they wanted to get in the circle pits and the mosh pits and all of that stuff and got a bit wet from all of that. It was great.”
Eventually, his kids saw an “unassuming looking guy” on the side of the stage watching the Alarm’s set. He came up to Peters and revealed that his first concert was an Alarm concert in the ‘80s. It was current GWAR bassist and lead vocalist Blothar (Michael Bishop)
“My first real concert was the Alarm, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the Pretenders at William & Mary Hall in Williamsburg, Virginia,” Bishop recalls in a separate conversation. “The Alarm opened the show, I think, so they were literally the first live band I had ever seen play at a concert. I was so freaked out. I was just a fledgling punk rocker, having recently lost the parachute pants and thrown away my Rockwell cassette in exchange for combat boots and the Dead Kennedys. I also loved a lot of new wave type stuff, and the Alarm and the Pretenders were sort of crossed over, pop rock, new wave, but with some of the attitude of punk.”
The Alarm, as Bishop remembers, “had the acoustic thing with the anthemic songs and the vibe of U2,” pointing out that Peters’ accent and “that clear strident and soulful voice” really made an impact on him.
“At the time, I loved them like I loved the Clash, and they were all on the same level to me. I loved them,” he says. “It turns out that a bunch of other people from GWAR were at that show, but we didn't know each other yet. Mike Derks [Balsac the Jaws of Death], and I think Brad Roberts [Jizmac the Gusha] was there too. I was so happy to see them play at Warped Tour. And Mike was warm and engaging, he was very kind to me when I geeked out on him.”
Man in the Camo Jacket
, a new documentary film, offers an engaging in-depth look at Peters’ career to date and the challenges that he’s faced — including living with cancer for the past two decades. He admits that the filmmakers had a big task, tackling his story.
“You’re telling not just the story of my cancer survival, but the story of the band and everything in between and the vision that we’ve tried to stick to and to see it through, to be in a band that’s a long way away in time from the moment it was born,” he says. “It’s a real odyssey of a journey through a life with massive incidents that I could never have predicted. When I wanted to join a band and sign up for rock and roll, I never saw cancer come in, I never saw [Mount] Everest in the distance, I saw a life of being on stage, and I didn’t see that I’d have to rebuild friendships that were torn apart through conflicts in rock 'n' roll or because of life impacting others in certain ways that we were too young to deal with. To see it all crammed into an 84-minute film, it’s quite a rollercoaster.”
And Peters refused to board that rollercoaster until the film was finished — in typical fashion, he saw it for the first time with two thousand diehard fans of the band that had assembled at the Millennium Centre in Wales to see the debut screening.
“It was quite a ride to see it all up there. It’s really well-portrayed and tells the story like it is, pretty much,” he says. “The toughest part for me was contending with my nine year old at the time, who turned around to me and said to me during the film, with fans all around me, ‘So you and Mom didn’t have sex to have me as a kid?’ [Laughs] Try to explain that to a 9-year-old amongst all of your fans! That’s a bigger challenge than living with cancer and playing rock 'n' roll.”
The documentary also offers a preview of the band’s next musical chapter, thanks to the inclusion of a new song, “Coming Backwards,”
which appears on the soundtrack and plays in the closing moments of the film.
“We’ve got a whole new project that we’re slowly unveiling that will be fully revealed in 2018. It’s called Blood Red Viral Black
,” Peters explains. “The thought process was a series of songs that looked inward and were describing what was happening in my life and family life as the relapse unfolded."
After beating non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1995, Peters was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005, which had been in remission for a number of years until the fall of 2015. Thanks to a new experimental drug, his cancer is once again under control.
"Almost within the same timeframe, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and has just come through that ordeal herself," Peters says. "I think that ‘Coming Backwards’ is a reference that every time life brings us full circle, we meet people coming backwards on the same part of the road and it was really trying to express an internal feeling and the frustration that I have been fighting this battle a long time, the same battle over and over and over again, until we meet ourselves coming backwards. You know, it’s like, coming out of the hospital, I then meet my wife going into it to have breast cancer surgery and radiotherapy treatments. So it was really in response to that.”
The project is divided into two sections, with the second half taking stock of “the life implications,” according to Peters. The Viral Black
section looks out on the world and sees it changing so much with the dominance of the iPhone, with the new presidential incumbent in the White House, with Brexit in Britain.
"We’re living in a very unstable world,” says Peters. “As someone who has to face the future living with cancer and having two children, I’ve poured a lot of what I feel of that world into the new music. We’ve been finishing our concerts [on this current tour] with a brand new song called ‘Two Rivers,’ which people will get to hear later in the year and especially in 2018 and it’s become a new anthem of the band."
The line "where the two rivers meet" follows from "Coming Backwards," a song about how "we meet ourselves."
"We haven’t had a song in the Alarm set that’s become that, dare I say, ‘anthemic,’ something like ‘Sixty Eight Guns’ and ‘Blaze of Glory,’ that instantly, the whole venue starts singing it and picking up on it," Peters says of "Two Rivers." "It’s exciting to be playing it and thinking about what could come for the band next year when we release the album proper into the United States. We included it in the film as a taste of things to come.”
Talking with Peters, it quickly becomes clear that he’s grateful for every moment. He’s taken his own struggles and channeled them into working to do good things for others who might be facing a similar situation, co-founding the Love Hope Strength Foundation
“Our mission is to save lives, one concert at a time,” the group's mission statement says. “We believe that all people deserve quality cancer care, a marrow donor if needed, and most importantly, hope. Founded by cancer survivors, LHS leverages the power of music to expand the marrow registry through our ‘Get on the List’ campaign. We believe in offering real hope to people currently living with cancer.
As the closing credits of Man In the Camo Jacket
reveal, their stated purpose has been very successful and continues to grow. The organization has enlisted over 150 thousand people to become part of the international bone marrow registry, and roughly 3,000 potential life-saving matches have been found. Additional events have raised over three million dollars to date.
“Our fans have become volunteers and helped carry the love of the charity out there into the world,” says Peters. “Because Love Hope Strength is what it is, not just because of me, it’s because of others. It’s all of the artists we’ve worked with from as diverse as Kenny Chesney to working with Flogging Molly and Frank Turner on the other side of the musical spectrum. We’ve worked with all of the festivals, Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza, Isle of Wight in the U.K. It’s really given true meaning to our music and what the band has stood for, and it’s been very humbling to be part of that process and see the amount of goodwill there has been that has come our way.”
Even with the challenges that Peters has faced, he’s able to see no shortage of good.
“We’re very lucky, because I meet bands all day long that have tried to live as long as the Alarm and have lived as long as the Alarm,” he says. “I’ve met bands on the Warped Tour, who have been around as long as the Alarm have, if not longer and they’re not lucky in the sense that they haven’t gotten this opportunity to tell their story and we have. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gotten cancer.”
He says if the band hadn’t broken up in 1991 and resurfaced in 2000, it wouldn’t have the story that it has to tell today. He thinks that he and his band mates should give thanks for the "blessings" that have been bestowed on it, even though they might not seem like they were blessings.
"They might have seemed like they were negatives, but by keeping faith in the love hope and strength that’s always run through our story and was encapsulated in our Strength
album in 1985, we’ve been able to survive all that life has thrown at us," Peters says. "Ultimately, that’s what we were trying to get across when we started the band. We were trying to get across to people that despite what life throws at you, there is always a way to survive and thrive and turn situations around. We’re lucky to be a band that’s still got a story to tell and is being told.”
The Alarm, 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main St., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $25 ADV, $30 DOS, musicboxcle.com