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A Blaze Of Glory

22 Jan 2024 7 minute read
Mike Peters. Photo from The Alarm a Blaze of Glory documentary

Veteran documentary director John Geraint reports on a prophetic moment captured on film in the 1980s that has just been screened again – at a major rock festival.

Last weekend’s ‘Gathering’ in Cardiff of fans of The Alarm from all over the world was – of course – first and foremost a musical celebration of one of our most internationally successful bands.

Mike Peters, in solo performance, and in full-on rock group mode, treated the faithful to a vast catalogue of standards, from the 1980s to the present day.

And if two nights of hard rocking wasn’t excitement enough, Sunday morning saw a ‘walkathon and communal singalong’ down in the Bay, raising funds for Love Hope Strength, the cancer charity founded by Mike and his wife Jules.

But the couple had laid on another weekend event: a screening of ‘The Alarm: A Blaze of Glory’, the 1989 documentary I was privileged to make with the band from north-east Wales, one of whose classic tracks commemorates the day ‘industry died’ in the ‘steel mill town’ of Deeside.


Watching again, with a large and attentive audience, just hours after the confirmation of the thousands of job losses in Port Talbot, was a poignant, emotional experience.

Because 1989, as those of us who lived through it will testify, was another moment of crisis for our country. We’d suffered a decade of Thatcherism, and the final wave of colliery closures felt like a deathblow to beleaguered Valleys communities. “Great is the need,” sang Mike Peters in The Alarm’s hit single, “for A New South Wales.”

We filmed the band and the members of the Morriston Orpheus Choir travelling to London to perform their anthem ‘live’ on BBC network television’s Wogan show, hosted in primetime that evening by Joanna Lumley.

Then, our documentary took Mike to Oakdale in the Gwent Valleys, to see for himself the devastation of hope wreaked by the shutting of the pit there.

But, further west, Welsh-speaking communities also felt besieged. One response was the arson campaign which saw hundreds of holiday homes attacked. Tension and fear stalked the land, and the Welsh language was in danger of becoming a bitterly divisive issue, and potentially violently so.

And this is where I believe Mike Peters and his music took on a prophetic mantle. If ‘prophetic’ sounds fanciful, I don’t mean ‘clairvoyant’. I intend it in the biblical sense of someone with moral authority and influence standing up and speaking out, revealing to people what justice and fair play demand.

In a charged atmosphere, at a sold-out concert in Cardiff’s St David’s Hall, Mike had the courage to say something that thankfully nowadays might seem uncontentious: “There are two sets of people in Wales. There are Welsh-speaking Welsh people and there are people like myself, who are English-speaking Welsh people. And this great country of Wales belongs to us all.”

The Alarm on stage from a Blaze of Glory documentary

The Hall echoed to cheers. Then, with our cameras capturing everything, it quietened as Mike went on: “But there are forces gathered out there that are trying to shatter everything that Wales stands for. There are people waging an arson campaign in this country. Should their campaign bring about the loss of life – and I feel that that loss of life could be very, very imminent – that loss would affect every single person here in Wales. Now is the time to speak up against all acts of violence.”

Finally, before the band struck up Rivers to Cross, with its evocative line ‘Under drowning valleys, our disappearing tongue’, Mike finished with this: “There’s a saying in Wales, cenedl heb iaith, cenedl heb galon – a nation without language is a nation without heart. And I believe that we all – English speakers and Welsh speakers – must do everything we can to keep the heart of Wales beating into the future.”

Our film camera was right behind Mike on stage as he said all this. And I was standing next to the camera.  I sensed the power and influence he had over that vast audience. And we’ve all seen, much more recently, how politicians and demagogues can misuse such power. What happened three Januarys ago, at the Capitol in Washington, is just one example.

For Mike back then, it would have been so easy, with the audience hanging on his every word, to stir things up, to give those thousands of passionate young people licence to give vent to their frustrations.

But Mike’s call for restraint – expressed with a prophet’s authority and eloquence – was far from a call for passive acceptance. He himself had been taking action, and stepping well outside his comfort zone.

The Alarm’s Change album had just depicted – probably for the first time in English-language rock music – a rounded portrait of Wales, and a Wales in crisis at that. But it was also issued in a Welsh-language version, and Mike had arranged for us to film him singing A New South Wales in Welsh to the annual conference of the Welsh Language Society in Aberystwyth.

Mike had learned a few phrases of spoken Welsh, and he was always going to get a warm croeso. But in addressing the conference, he had to speak mostly in English, and he really didn’t know how that would go down with a lecture-theatre full of understandably fired-up language campaigners. It was a moment of real tension for him, and in the film.


“What I am trying to do,” he told me as I interviewed him afterwards, “is to unite the strands of people who are struggling to do good work in Wales. And to do that you have to speak to both camps. There is a divide between the Welsh speakers and the English speakers, and I’m trying to bridge that gap. And hopefully by going to Cymdeithas yr Iaith and speaking to them in the terms that they understand, I can help them look at Wales in a new light.”

No one can say whether Mike’s stand, in his words spoken at St David’s Hall, and broadcast to an even larger television audience in our film shortly afterwards, made a real difference.

A Blaze of Glory documentary at The Gathering 2024

But Wales did avoid the loss of life Mike feared. And I think it’s fair to say that, although deep concerns for its health remain to this day, the Welsh language has become something that far, far more Welsh people feel positive about, whether they speak it or not. To steal Mike’s phrase about the whole country, we can see that the language ‘belongs to us all.’

But Wales – its economy and its culture – faces such profound challenges today, that it’s no exaggeration to say that we’re in another moment of crisis. A moment of choice too – elections in the offing, and a Commission on our Constitutional Future having just laid out the options for how we’re governed.

To help us sense the right way forward in this present moment of crisis and choice, we surely need to hear the prophetic voice of artists, in whatever discipline – artists like and including Mike Peters himself.

John Geraint is one of Wales’ most experienced documentary film-makers and author of Up The Rhondda!  and The Great Welsh Auntie Novel

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