Sign of the times: The unique story behind The Alarm’s new lockdown album
Mike Peters has never been one to shirk a challenge or do things by half measures.
The Alarm frontman, a three-time cancer survivor and the archetype of a conviction musician, has overcome more obstacles in his life than most mere mortals.
A creative colossus whose career has been trademarked by grand schemes, ambitious projects and inspirational challenges is viewed by many as the hardest working man in rock music. And with good reason.
His output continues to be prolific, charged by the spirit of constant reinvention and musical renewal.
While lockdown has stymied the creative process of many musicians, who have seen their industry thrown into uncertainty and doubt, Mike alongside his wife Jules, have seen the pandemic as an opportunity to continue to connect with their glocal fanbase.
For an artist whose lifeblood is touring, the couple figured if they couldn’t bring the songs to a live audience they would bring the music to a worldwide audience online, broadcasting every Saturday evening from their home in Dyserth.
The venture was hugely successful, attracting thousands to the weekly shows – a mix of guests, archive clips and live performance, presented by Jules.
Now the Welshman has unveiled his latest project, an album borne out of the chaos and confusion seen in America during the last fractured days of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Waking up on January 7th, the day after the storming of the Capitol building, Mike hatched his latest formidable plan – to write, record and release a new Alarm album in a matter of six weeks, to be let loose into the world at midnight on February 25th, the singer’s birthday.
The album, titled ‘WAR’, is by any stretch of the imagination an incredibly ambitious project.
Issuing a message to The Alarm’s fanbase informing them of his plans, Mike revealed how the chaotic scenes in the States inspired a call to action.
He wrote: “The Alarm has always been a responsive musical unit and when I saw the word ‘alarming’ being quoted and splashed across the global news footage of events taking place last night, it was as if someone had put up a sign telling me to act, and act fast.
“Starting today, I will take the first steps in writing, recording and creating a brand new Alarm album that will be informed and shaped by everything we are all seeing and experiencing right now.
“A moment in time not dissimilar to the days that led The Alarm to make and release the Raw album 30 years ago.
“I’m not going to attempt to remake Raw but rather, make a record driven by the ‘spirit intended’.
“When you look at RAW from behind it looks like this – WAR.”
The RAW album, released in 1991 and the final collection of songs featuring the original Alarm line-up, has proven an inspirational echo from the past and an opportunity to finally right a wrong at a turbulent time when the original line-up was falling apart, subsequently splitting that year.
He continued: “Personally, I always felt we missed an opportunity when we made Raw back in 1991,” says Mike. “The original intention was to make a fast and furious record that was subsequently displaced by what turned out to be a compromised creative state rather than an all out attempt to capture the zeitgeist of a world plunged into conflict by a Gulf War playing out on screens and in homes just beginning to be influenced by the power of the 24 hour news channels we have today.
“Now, we also have social media and an internet that has moved on from being the preserve of the few to something that is now available to all.
“The technology is there to make a record in Lockdown. We proved that last March by turning our home into a television studio for the Big Night In.
“So, I shall start writing songs and lyrics, speaking to producers and musicians today and see who wants to come with me.
“By the time of my birthday on February 25th, I hope to have recorded a music collection that can be delivered quickly and almost instantly into the world, so let’s get to work and see where this adventure will take us.”
Corralling his trusted team, including wife Jules, drummer Steve ‘Smiley’ Barnard, guitarist James Stevenson and producer George Williams, this dynamic unit, have pulled off quite the feat, collaborating online via their own studios and copious Zoom calls to ready the release of ‘WAR’ this week.
Hiding himself away in the Peters’ family caravan, renamed by Mike as Crusader Studios, the whole process has been documented online with a series of intimate video updates, allowing fans first hand experience of the writing, recording and production of the album.
“We’re letting the fans in on the creative process, so they can see it’s really a living breathing record made in the moment,” says Mike. “We’re shining true light on the creative process and fans can really see what is going on making a record.
“I had the germ of an idea when we were watching the Capitol building being occupied and a lightbulb went off in my head. Now here we are making an album called War by The Alarm.
“It’s a volatile time but if you can’t write a song now, when can you.”
Taking cues from John Lennon, who famously recorded ‘Instant Karma’ in a single day, the Beatle commenting that “I wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch and put it out for dinner”, Mike seems unfazed by the challenge he has taken on. But then if anyone would be able to pull this off it would be the indomitable musician.
War is an album about, and of, the uncertain times we are all currently living through.
“We’re taking the spirit of writing an album in the zeitgeist, right in the moment to try and capture what is going on,” he says. “The album is like a polaroid, it will forever be framed in this moment.
“We’re all going through the same thing. We’re all living in the pandemic era. We’re all coping with lockdown, wearing facemasks, not being able to see our family and friends. It’s a challenging time for everybody.”
The immediacy of the release of the album reverberates through the decades, borne out of Mike’s formative years – of discovering bands that would stay with him for his whole life.
“Back in the 70s when I started making music and listening to music properly it was the punk-new wave era,” he says. “A band like The Clash would record White Riot and it would be out the next week.
“That’s what happened with (early Alarm singles) ‘Marching On’ and ‘The Stand’. They were immediate records, snapshots of that time in the band’s life.
“Imagine if The Sex Pistols had released ‘God Save The Queen’ after the Jubilee year in 1977, it would never have had the same power it had been looking back at that year. So I wanted this record to have that instant feel that will bring us back to this time.
“Now you make a record and you normally can’t get an LP out for eight months. It has to be shipped off to a pressing plant in the Czech Republic and it has to come back through all the Brexit red tape.
“If you sit on an album for eight months, it loses relevance. Not just to you as the artist but the world it is made to represent. I wanted to make this record like a broken mirror, where the pieces, the shards, haven’t been swept up and glued back together. It is just what it is. It’s just what it is right now.”
If the writing and recording of the album is an ambitious undertaking, then the concept behind the release of War is equally unique.
In order to combat production times and to have physical product available immediately, the band is advance-releasing the album, without music, in a special CD-Rom format. Fans will then burn their own copy of the finished record. Finished tracks will be sent electronically to fans once the final mix and mastering process has taken place.
War is also available to pre-order as a hand-cut vinyl LP which will be released to fans on Mike’s birthday, February 25th.
“The responsive nature of the writing and recording situation has given rise to some radical thinking on how to instantly release the album into the modern world and also across all the major formats – stream, download, CD and LP,” says Mike.
To release the album on vinyl, a specialist cutting-house has been engaged to hand-cut as many pre-ordered vinyl copies as possible, once the final master has been cut in Los Angeles by the legendary Howie Weinberg.
The digital edition of War is being distributed internationally by InGrooves who have already paved the way for the groundbreaking release to appear on all digital service provider platforms on February 26th.
As the artwork has been created in advance, each CD/LP will also have the album title and band logo painted onto the cover by Mike personally, with the tracklisting left intentionally blank so that fans can write in the song titles themselves, once they receive the completed work.
“I really want the fans to have access to this album as soon as it’s finished,” says the singer. “We have set ourselves a very tight deadline, and the music is already being created out in the open for all to see and hear. The technology is there so that fans who still have access to a CD burner and wish to get involved in the spirit of the project can do so by interacting with the creative process and play their own part in bringing this new Alarm album into the world.”
Mike, who is an enthusiastic, force-of-nature at the best of times, does seem like a man inspired by the mammoth challenge he has set himself.
“I think we’ve made a record as good as The Alarm has ever made,” says the Welshman, the founder of the global rock ‘n’ roll cancer charity – Love, Hope and Strength. “I’m really confident. I think when people hear this album they will be blown away.
“I’ve put my heart and soul into it, as has George, Smiley , James and Jules. It’s really shaping up into something out of this world and I think it will really connect.”
While we’re all living through troubling times, the most testing any of us may have ever faced, Mike is content to major on the positives.
“We can’t forget there’s been an incredible loss of life, so many people have lost loved ones,” he says. “There’s a sadness in the world, but there are also positives as well. I’ve got closer to my kids than I ever thought I could possibly get. We’ve been for some amazing walks. We’ve talked like we’ve never talked before. It’s been beautiful. We’ve really come together as a family.”
2021 marks the 40th anniversary of The Alarm and their first gig at The Victoria Hotel, Prestatyn, north Wales, on 6 June 1981.
It will also mark an incredibly busy schedule of events and releases for the legendary Welsh outfit.
First, there is the release of The Alarm 40 year anthology box set ‘History Repeating’, which will be followed by the release of a new Coloursound album, a collaboration between Mike and The Cult guitarist Billy Duffy.
During the summer, July through to September, Mike will also be inviting fans to his home village of Dyserth, north Wales to be part of The Alarm Experience 40, a unique sold-out staycation concert series which will celebrate 40 years of Alarm history via a programme of weekly Big Night in Friday night broadcasts and intimate Saturday evening acoustic concerts.
There will also be special 40th anniversary concerts planned in Rhyl and Cardiff, subject to the latest pandemic guidelines.
As the saying goes, ‘You can’t keep a good man down’.
Mike Peters continues to prove he is an inspiration to us all.
WAR is available to pre-order/pre-save here.
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