The Alarm gave us solid hits “Sold Me Down the River,” “Sixty Eight Guns,” “Absolute Reality,” “Rescue Me,” “Strength,” and “Rain in the Summertime” in the ‘80s. Now they have a brand new album entitled “Forwards” headed our way June 2nd.
Front-man Mike Peters is in the States for a bit, but before he left Wales, he chatted with us about making the album and his health. Peters had been hospitalized with pneumonia and a relapse of leukemia, but wrote music to get through it. When he was not in the hospital, he would head to the studio with the band and record the songs, leading to the creation of “Forwards.” Now we will experience an album full of “life-affirming songs” from The Alarm next month.
Traci: First off I must ask about a gorgeous blonde I saw on your socials… What is your dog’s name?
Mike: (laughing) Ziggy. Ziggy Stardust.
Traci: Ziggy is adorable. I love Ziggy.
Mike: She’s a good girl.
Traci: The other gorgeous blonde, of course, is your wife, Jules. You guys have been married forever!
Mike: Since ‘88 now, yeah.
Traci: Wow! Ok, now to you, sir. How are you feeling?
Mike: I’m great. I’m on top of all the treatments and everything. I’m back in hospital on Tuesday for another IV session, but I seem to be coping with it all and accepting the levels of dosage that I’m taking quite heavy chemotherapy every day, but it’s working, so I can’t complain. I’m still here.
Traci: How often do you have to do the IV treatment?
Mike: Every two weeks.
Traci: So you have to stay close to home?
Mike: Yeah, I have oral chemotherapy every day and then have Rituximab treatment this Tuesday, and then two weeks later, I’m in for an immunoglobulin therapy session as well.
Mike: Yeah, they’re throwing everything at me. They’re giving me the best treatment there is, the most up to date. I’m on a really new drug that’s quite a difficult drug to get onto because you have to be exposed to it over a long period of time, but I took it, no problem. I’m still on it now, which is great. The doctors are really pleased. So am I.
Traci: And even going through all of this, you managed to put together a new album.
Mike: Yeah, I took my guitar into hospital; I knew it was going to be on the board for a long time. I wasn’t intending to write songs or make a record; I just wanted to keep my fingers going and have something to keep myself company in the moments when I could sit up or not have to have an IV in. It became quite therapeutic, and then all of a sudden, songs started to appear out of nowhere or phrases, and then it became an album, really. So it all happened really fast. As soon as I came out of hospital, I did some demos and within a day we were working in the studio and going on top of them and we didn’t stop. It was made in a couple of weeks. It was recorded, it was really fast.
Traci: What is the theme of the album?
Mike: I just knew when I was in hospital, I wanted to seize on the optimism. You have to create it yourself in hospital now. And people are unfortunately living in such a litigious society that I don’t think doctors like to tell you too much in case they give you false hopes that family can seize. If the outcome doesn’t match the expectation, then sometimes litigation follows. So people are very guarded in what they say, so you have to create your own optimism. I had to really focus on making sure I stayed positive mentally and willing the drugs to work and dreaming and hoping that I could leave hospital and get back to life. That’s really where the record came from.
Mike continues: The word “forwards” came when there was an American fan that arrived on the cancer center and his father was on the ward and he saw me and said, “I’ve just told all the fans that you’re in the cancer center and you’ve been on one of the Alarm forums.” And I thought, “Oh no, it’s out.” I thought I better write to everybody and reassure them because people start speculating and thinking the worst, don’t they? I wrote a piece on the website to share with all the fans and I signed it off as “forwards.” And as soon as I wrote the word, that’s it, there’s a song, there’s an album title and everything, and it just poured out. So it was all really instinctive, obviously.
Traci: I can’t imagine having to address things publicly like that. It’s crazy how news travels now compared to the ‘80s. The internet is a blessing, but I’m sure it is weird to read stuff about yourself.
Mike: There’s something every day, there’s rumors come around; I’m going to join another band, or something like that. I don’t really go on the internet and listen to all that, to be honest. I’m internet savvy, but I don’t really go on social media and read what people are saying about me or anything like that. I prefer to just stay on my own path because all that stuff, it can derail your day. If you read a post that someone said something odd about you or something that they don’t know, you kind of think, “I need to go and put that right,” whereas it derails your day, so I prefer just to just get on my path.
Traci: Now that you’ve been doing this for so long, do you still get nervous at show time?
Mike: Oh, yeah. It’s part of it. Especially now because I have to do more one-off events and there’s an energy to that. When you go on tour, you get into a swing of things, whereas when it’s one off, there’s no experience to relate it to. And I’m really enjoying that because that might have to be the way forward to me. I didn’t want to go on tour with the band straight away after all I’d been through, because I wasn’t sure if I could stand up to that kind of intensity. But I thought, let’s get an acoustic tour out of the way first and see how I respond, then we can look at doing some band shows. I don’t want to go booking a massive tour and then having to let people down and wind it down or cause upset for others, so got to be careful. But I think I can use it to my advantage in terms of make it empowering to play really great shows when the need arises.
Traci: Obviously the pandemic was horrible, but I think it taught music fans that our favorite musicians are human. I think it put a little reality in our minds of, “Mike might not be well, we might have to just postpone this for a little bit, but he’ll come back.”
Mike: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s it. We had a few incidents like that, shows that were postponed during the pandemic, but we went on the internet from our sofa and we chatted to the fans and played music and we learned a lot of things through it. And I think that’s why we can just keep moving with the situation and seeing where it takes us and keep on top of the communication with everybody. That’s the secret and that’s something we’ve always prided ourselves on in The Alarm. We opened a phone line in ‘90, ‘91 so that fans could phone in if they wanted to get something off their chest or find out something that they couldn’t find out from record companies. And we have created our event, The Gathering, where the fans came on tour to Wales and we could communicate in a really direct way and it’s set up a year ahead and then everyone looks forward to the following year. So we’ve always had quite an open relationship with everybody.
Traci: When you do tour outside of your area, is there something you like to do on your off days, like go to a record store or eat at a specific type of restaurant?
Mike: I think it depends where we are. I always like record stores when we’re on tour and not just on days off. While all equipment is being set off, me and Jules or Smiley [Steve Barnard] our drummer, usually, or the kids, or all of us with James [James Stevenson, guitar/bass], we go for a big walk across the city wherever we are. I’ll usually have found a record store on the Internet that I think I want to go to. I’ve usually armed myself with something that I fancy the look of. That’s always our little destination point, so we always like that. Or if we’ve got the kids with us, they always want to go to a water park or the beach. We make detours. We like going to historical places like Monument Valley or Mesa Verde. We like to go and see American history, living history as well.
Traci: Do you remember the last record you bought?
Mike: It was a Northern Soul record called “Red Light Spells Danger” by Billy Ocean.
Traci: How are things with your Love Hope Strength Foundation?
Mike: It’s great! In June, the 25th, when we’re in New York, we’re playing there on the 23rd, 24th. We actually just got permission to host a Love Hope hike, trek, walk and talk in Central Park. I think we’re just setting up the times for that. But all the fans at the shows that weekend can join us on the Sunday morning for a walk around Central Park and go to the John Lennon space in Strawberry Fields and play some music as we go along. It’ll be a great occasion. Cancer is a heavy word in people’s life. It’s like a dropping a bomb in the middle of any day when you hear it applied to yourself or your loved one. So we try to remind people that there’s a lot of hope in the word as well these days.
Traci: The list of accomplishments for your foundation goes on and on, and it’s just so amazing what you have done from your own original diagnosis. Like you said, it is news you’re not expecting, and you guys have used it for good for so many others.
Mike: Yes, it’s definitely turned something very negative into something that’s got a positive edge to it. And I’ve met some incredible people. It’s togetherness that makes it happen. All the people that have rallied round our little flag that we’ve put up to say, “Hey, we’re dealing with cancer here and we’re going to do some positive things.” It’s amazing what people have rallied around the flag and from simple things like making cakes to give out to people while they’re having cancer treatment, and it brings a smile to their face and shows them that people actually care about what they’re going through. Or you give one to the nurses to say, “Thank you for looking after these people.” And that’s where we felt we came in with Love, Hope, Strength, was on the front line.
Traci: Well, all that you have done has been phenomenal, sir.
Mike: Thank you.
Traci: This weekend is the big coronation for King Charles and you two have a history don’t you?
February 21, 2019
Mike: Yeah. I’m an MBE [Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire] now. He gave me my MBE in Buckingham Palace. I accept it on behalf of all the people that have supported Love, Hope, Strength. It’s amazing that our work has been recognized in royal circles.
Traci: Keep up the incredible work, but most importantly, please continue to take care of yourself!
Mike: I will! Thank you very much.
Thank you Mike for taking time to chat with us and we look “Forwards” to the new album on June 2nd, and hopefully a tour on US soil with a happy and healthy Mike Peters!