“WE WANT TO spread the vibe of friendship.” No sniggering at the back, please. Mike peters of The Alarm really means that. And what’s more the “vibe” seems to be spreading.
A couple of weeks ago, I caught The Alarm supporting Big Country at the Lyceum in London and was impressed by their fiery vigour and the surging enthusiasm of the audience. Large sections of them seemed familiar enough with the group’s repertoire to be able to sing along. “This is like seeing The Clash at the Music Machine in 1977,” someone muttered. It was time to plumb the depths of Alarmania.
The story of friendship begins in Rhyl, North Wales, in the early ‘60s. Mike Peters met Eddie Macdonald when they were only four years old. They’ve been firm friends ever since. Eleven years later they met Dave Sharp and Nigel Twist, guitarist and drummer respectively, and in the summer of 1981 formed a group, taking their name from the first song they wrote together, ‘Alarm, Alarm’.
“There was a strong bond between us,” says Mike (it’s that vibe again). “When The Alarm were formed we wrote our songs from our hearts.”
A few months later they recorded their first single, ‘Unsafe Building’, and released it on their own record label, White Cross. The cross had a religious significance: Mike had begun to read The Bible. Today he seems almost reluctant to discuss his religious beliefs, although they’re obviously important to him.
“I accept The Bible as being the truth. I believe in Jesus but it doesn’t mean I have to go to church. We’ve all got personal beliefs. I don’t get drunk and I lead a decent life.”
At the end of 1981 the group made a wise move by accepting an offer to support U2 (again at the Lyceum) where they won over an initially hostile audience. Throughout 1982 they began to build up a solid following by touring with The beat, Stiff Little Fingers, The Jam and U2, as well as playing their own shows. They seem to me to share the “committed” ideas of those groups and to sound not unlike The Clash.
“We’re completely different musically from The Clash,” Mike is quick to maintain, “but I suppose we do both sing about the things we believe in. We’re also both very energetic on stage.”
Their second single, ‘Marching On’, was released in October and a rousing third, ‘The Stand’, in April. With its ringing chorus of “Come on down and meet your maker/Come on down and make the stand”, it’s a typical Alarmist anthem. Inspired by a novel of the same title by Stephen King (best-selling author of Salem’s Lot, Carrie and The Shining), it aims to conjure up Armageddon: the end of the world and the second coming of Christ.
“It’s about people having to make a decision between good and evil.” Mike thinks that Armageddon should be awaited with hope as the triumph of good.
Quite why a group with such powerful beliefs should dress up like Wyatt Earp or some other Wild West character was totally lost on me but cowboy hats, buckskin fringes and leather boots do seem to be the order of the day.
“It began with a bootlace tie here and there,” explains Mike, “but there’s no meaning in it.”
After a tour of America with U2 and some British dates, The Alarm will record their first LP for release in early autumn. Mike seems optimistic about their future, as you’d expect.
“We’re trying to build our following up slowly because we plan to be around for a long time.”
The time certainly seems right for them. The success of U2 demonstrates that commitment is back in fashion.
“We’re not part of any movement. We’ve all been mods and we’ve all been punks and we can now appreciate what a good group can do.
“And we can tell the difference between good and evil.”
© Neil Tennant, Smash Hits, 12 May 1983