Interview with Mike Peters of The Alarm
40th Anniversary 1981 - 2021
St David’s Hall
Saturday 5 June 2021 7.30pm
LEGENDARY Welsh rock band, The Alarm are set to play a 40th anniversary celebration concert at St David’s Hall on Saturday 5 June 2021.
This very special occasion is exactly 40 years from the day that they performed their first ever gig as The Alarm at Prestatyn’s Royal Victoria Hotel in 1981.
The event will be the finale of The Gathering, which gets underway with a sold out weekend in the band’s hometown of Rhyl on 21-22 May 2021 and promises to take fans on an intimate acoustic journey through four decades of music and lyric.
Neil Collins spoke with The Alarm’s iconic frontman, Mike Peters about the 40th anniversary show and their incredible career.
The St David’s Hall 40th anniversary concert sold out straight away due to overwhelming demand. What are your memories of that iconic night at the Hall in 1989 with the Morriston Orpheus Choir?
I remember it being a really massive occasion for us as a band to play at St David’s Hall. We had played there a couple of times before that, but in 1989 it was charged with a lot more awareness of being Welsh and being part of a country from north to south. We had created the first bilingual rock album in Welsh and English with Change and Newid, so it was quite a charged atmosphere. Cymdeithas yr Iaith – the Welsh Language Society – were involved and were the beneficiaries of that concert. We had Ffred Fransis of Cymdeithas yr Iaith on stage with us at one point. I think it was the first time a lot of us from my generation felt like we could really embrace coming from Wales, and that we weren’t a backwater nation.
I saw Welsh language TV and there were some really impassioned speakers on there politically, but there were no subtitles and I felt that excluded people. We had a policy that whenever we played in Wales in the 80s, we had Welsh language bands opening for The Alarm, and I talked to them before the show and said “The audience out there are English speaking Welsh people like me. They don’t necessarily understand what you’re singing. Why don’t you tell them what the songs are about in English before you play them in Welsh?” But they were like “No, that’s selling out!”
Language is supposed to be about communication and open horizons though. It’s not supposed to be about putting up barriers, and we had a wall built around the Welsh language, so I was thinking how can we take that down and make it more inclusive? Bilingualism was the way forward, so the atmosphere at that Cardiff concert in ’89 was charged. Wales had been divided as a nation because of the language. That ’89 gig was the spark that came through, and unity happened in the 90s with the whole ‘Cool Cymru’ thing – even though I hate that term! All of a sudden those Welsh language bands, who had supported us like Y Cyrff and Ffa Coffi Pawb had become Catatonia and Super Furry Animals and they were singing in English and Welsh. That ’89 concert was the beginning of that – it changed a lot of things.
Just before that we played at Cardiff Arms Park in July 1987 with U2, and it was the first really big gathering of music fans in Wales. You would be hard pushed to find a bigger one at the time – maybe the Rolling Stones, but I’m talking about with an actual Welsh band on stage. When we came out onto the stage and said “We’re from Rhyl, North Wales”, the place just went mental and we blew the gig to bits! Luckily, for U2 they had The Pretenders on after us because we owned Cardiff that day! I played a bit of the national anthem on my harmonica before Blaze of Glory, and it was spine-tingling. That was another moment of awakening for our nation. We could actually come together and not be ashamed of it, and celebrate our unity whether we could speak the language or not. That was a big turning point.
The Cardiff gig comes 40 years to the day since The Alarm performed their first ever gig at the Royal Victoria Hotel in 1981. Can you remember what you played that night?
I remember it well. It was a Friday night, and there were two bars at the hotel – the public bar where the gigs happened and a lounge bar for drinking. When we were about to play, most of the people were still in the lounge bar! I said to the band let’s just make some noise before we go on stage and see if we can arouse people’s curiosity. There were no intro tapes at that basic stage of the band’s development. I had half of this song called Shout to the Devil, which ended up on Declaration. So I said “I’ll go on scratching the guitar and you come in with the drums. We’ll get some big tribal chant going and I’ll make up lyrics as we go along.” And that’s how it started – as we were making this noise, one by one people came in and we had an audience!
Later in our set, when we got to playing For Freedom, Third Light, What Kind of Hell and Sixty-Eight Guns, I thought “We’ve got something here.” I could see the audience responding to us differently to the bands that had been on before us.
The plan was then to move to London as I knew that if we were to stay in Wales at that time, our energy would’ve imploded and turned on us. We needed to go away to come back home. We needed to find our feet and establish ourselves in the world. Getting a gig in London was really tough in 1981 and there wasn’t a scene to plug into in Cardiff, so that wasn’tan opportunity for us either, so off we went to Manchester to make our single.
Starting 23 May 2021, you’ll be undertaking Offa’s Dyke Rocks - an epic 177-mile, 12-day trek from Rhyl to Cardiff in aid of the Love Hope Strength Foundation cancer charity. Are you relishing the challenge?
I’ve always wanted to do Offa’s Dyke and I nearly attempted it 20 years ago, but life intervened and I didn’t get to do it. I do quite a lot of running in North Wales in the mountains and we pass the Offa’s Dyke path up here in the Clwydians, so I’m really looking forward to it especially as the Royal Vic in Prestatyn is right at the start of Offa’s Dyke. It was the greatest symbolic way to walk from the place the band started all the way to South Wales. They say “Life begins at 40”, so I’m hoping the 40th anniversary isn’t just a celebration of the past, but the start of another 40years. Where can we have our 80th anniversary when I’m 102?!
The 40th anniversary is a celebration of everything associated with The Alarm – the musicians, the fans, the charity work – which is why Offa’s Dyke was a big part of the celebration event. It all goes hand in hand, one wouldn’t exist without the other. It’s a big part of what we’re trying to do.
The Welsh version of The Gathering sold out pretty much instantly once again. How do explain your unique bond with your fans?
There’s not many bands around who can lay claim to having an event like The Gathering that brings their best fans together in one place to become unified, and I always want to give back to them. I’ve never shied away from taking responsibility for the songs I write. There’s some bands who won’t play the hits. I remember Ian McCulloch going on TV when he was doing his solo album and being asked if he was playing any Echo and the Bunnymen songs, and he was like “No way!” Well, that puts off half the audience straight away!
If you commit yourself to writing a song like Sixty-Eight Guns, you can’t get bored of it 40 years later. You don’t get bored of your kids if they’ve done something wrong or got themselves in jail, you don’t disown them! You have to stick with them and nurture them through those tough times. We’ve always been proud of the music we’ve made, and the audience respect that. The fans don’t walk away from you so easily then. They may not like an album as much the others, but they will wait for the next one. It’s a moving landscape, and you’re not going to be at your best all the time. I’ve learned that along the way. But if you give your full commitment, people respect that and they will always come back and give you a second chance
We’ve got a really fiercely loyal relationship with our fans, but we’ve never pandered to the audience and we’ve made some brutal decisions about our music when required. We’ve never taken the easy way out.
The last few years have been a hugely creative and successful period. You’ve been awarded an MBE, played big American gigs and staged emotional homecoming gigs at the Wales Millennium Centre and Cardiff University. Equals and Sigma received rave reviews too on both sides of the Atlantic – the latter even topped the UK rock charts!
It's been incredible. I was at Cardiff Castle last summer when The Killers played Rain in the Summertime, and it’s built a whole new audience for us with digital music. I’m used to filing my records as I’m a record collector – you start with your old records first, you get a new one and it goes behind it. In the Spotify world though, it’s your new album first and then scroll down for your history.
Your 1983 hit The Stand also recently triggered over 1.5 million Spotify plays after featuring in the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.
That’s our biggest song on Spotify. It’s not Sixty-Eight Guns, it’s The Stand by a country mile and that’s because it’s modern life and it’s become a huge hit for us being on Netflix. When those fans then ‘Shazam’ The Alarm and come into our world, it’s Blood Red Viral Black and Sigma that they get into first.
It’s great for the fans who were there back in 1989 at St David’s Hall like James Dean Bradfield, who was at that gig. It’s great when the old fans see someone, who is as passionate about the new album as they were about Declaration. It has a knock-on effect with everyone, and makes them that little bit prouder that they’ve stuck with a band, who have lived life with them. We’ve been through ups and downs and break-ups and make-ups. It’s a real life story.
6 million albums sold worldwide, 17 Top 50 singles – it has been one hell of a ride. After all you’ve been through as a band and yourself especially with your battles with cancer. It must make you immensely proud that The Alarm are still as vital as ever after 40 years.
I’m so grateful to have been part of it. We’ve been through line-up changes and keeping the band together was really tough in the early days, so I’m really glad we made it through the challenging times. It never stops being like that – keeping people together through your music. You’ve to be honest and true to yourself all the time as well.
All we had to think about 40 years ago was how I was going to get to the gig, and were we going to be able to keep the band together long enough to make the first single!
Tickets for The Alarm’s 40th anniversary celebration concert on Saturday 5 June 2021 are SOLD OUT. However, please check with the Box Office nearer the time on 07391 791934.
Also, please keep a close eye on our website and social media for any returns and late seat releases.
If available, tickets are £30 (plus an optional £1.50 postage fee).
PLEASE NOTE: This is a part-standing concert and those seated in Row F will have patrons standing in front of them.