Mike Peters of The Alarm celebrates the 30th anniversary of The Spirit of ’86 concert*
Cheers echo on the other side of the scaffolding; a camera follows MTV VJ Martha Quinn as she winds through a backstage maze, up some steps and into the front and center of a glorious spring afternoon at the heart of UCLA’s campus. This is what the world saw as MTV globally aired the world’s first simulcast concert featuring The Alarm. Broad daylight felt sobering in hindsight, but the impact was reverberated across the globe. There were no gimmicks; the music stood for itself. Whether it was 6 p.m. on the east coast, Midnight in Europe, or 6 a.m. in Australia and New Zealand, if you had MTV on April 12, you witnessed history in the making.
For Mike Peters, that was the day he reached the summit at the top of a mountain. This was a document of not just the decade but also the band. Where he and his colleagues were to go after this, who was to say, but he knew it was one of life’s highlights.
“It was all going to change,” he said, remembering the day. “Here we did the concert absolutely live and every word I said in between songs was amplified around the world. I wasn’t sure what the impact we were making. I had an ambition and a global voice. I had a chance to talk to the world. I hope it would be a deciding moment. I think it’s one of those moments you knew you would come back to at some point in history but you weren’t quite sure how and the journey is 30 years on. And the same voice we were striving for in 1986, we are still trying to reach out for the same thing now.”
What the anniversary means to Peters
Today, Mike is gearing up for a 30th anniversary celebration of the “Spirit of ‘86” concert at Red Rocks on October 1. This is a special experience as fans will get to walk alongside Mike and get to experience on a personal level not just a hike of the mountainside but a personal performance along the way as a means to share stories with each other.
“It’s a chance to walk with people, take music into their lives the way they don’t do at a rock concert. To do a song like ‘Rain in the Summertime’ out in the open, I often personally sang that in the rain on hikes and around the world. It makes the music come alive in ways you don’t necessary get to experience yourself as a musician. Typically, you write the songs and you record it, and then you share it with an audience. The listener takes it into their lives and then they are playing ‘Rain in the Summertime’ when they broke up with their girlfriend or tried to get through a hard time. It comes to life in their own lives. Being able to stand on the mountainside and sing ‘Spirit of ‘76,’ a song that talks about my friends and growing up in Wales,to share that with an audience sitting around you with a vista that goes on for miles and miles, it taps into what the music and lyrics get at.”
How punk sparked his soul
For Mike, it has always been about putting your heart and soul into everything both onstage and off.
“When I first met the Sex Pistols, I did not know what the word anarchy meant. I only heard it coming from Johnny Rotton’s mouth in 1976. I went up to him after the gig and asked what ‘Anarchy in the UK’ meant, and he told me to eff off. A few months later I saw The Clash during the White Riot tour. I was in the bathroom and was standing there with all four members of The Clash. I asked Joe Strummer what ‘White Riot’ was all about. It’s all new to me. He said the future’s a lesson kid, that’s what it’s all about. And that was a positive against the Sex Pistols’ negative. You can’t have life without positive and negative. That’s where sparks come from. That’s where a fire starts. That’s what started The Alarm and the flame burning in me.
That flame burns to this day. Even after disbanding with the original members in the ‘90s, he embarked on an illustrious solo career releasing albums like Breathe, Rise, and Flesh and Blood, going back and re-envisioning all of The Alarm albums and creating a fresh approach to these songs that complete lyrics that may have originally been taken out or a re-evaluation of the emotion of the music.
“When we made records in the ‘80s, they are still time stamped,” he said. “When you put the record on, it will take you back there. But if you come to see me perform live now, the songs have moved on, the meanings have changed and that is something you are always striving for as a musician is to have some timelessness within your songs.
“When we originally recorded ‘Sixty Eight Guns,’ the producers told us it was a potential hit record for us, but it’s so long you have to cut the middle out and cut a verse out. We did. Rock and roll was about getting to the chorus as fast as you can. But reading the original lyrics I realized that we took the wrong one out. I took the verse out that contained the line that was the manifesto to The Alarm and Mike Peters. And it was never heard until the 30th anniversary. The line was, ‘If they take our chances, we’ll create our own.’ It shined a whole new light on the song.”
A field full of new opportunities and work with the Welsh Pops Orchestra
Mike Peters and The Alarm is on the verge of releasing Poppies Falling From The Sky, an album that is the soundtrack to a motion picture film that revolves around a legendary performance from October 5, 2015. Filmed at Wales Millenium Centre with the Welsh Pops Orchestra and a blend of Acquire Choir and Morriston Orpheus Male Vocal Choir – together reaching 200 voices – the performance was another summit reached for Mike and an experience that will never leave him.
“It is how I will never give in until the day that I die. If a man can’t change the world these days, man can change his own destiny and those are the lines that come out today more so than the story of punk rock as it was written about in the beginning.”
Strength through activism
Through all of this, Mike works closely with his Love Hope Strength Foundation, the world’s leading cancer foundation, hosting marrow donor drives at concerts and festivals since 2008 and helping thousands of people defeat cancer. Over 150,000 people are signed up for the registry with more being added daily. Looking back at the lyric in the song “Strength,” it sums up the essence of what this charity is about: “Who will be the life blood. Coursing through my veins.”
“I did not mean it literally when I said it will be the life blood coursing through my veins, but then I was diagnosed with leukemia. On the night I was diagnosed I still went out and played a gig. I sang that song and all of the sudden it came on fire when I started to sing that line. It was like a brand new song.”
As the foundation reaches new heights and works with musicians and fans around the globe, they hope you will join in the fight and help take a stand against cancer.
*[This article was originally published in Selective Memory in 2016.]