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THE ALARM (MIKE PETERS) INTERVIEW [2002]

HOW DID THE IDEA FOR THE RESISTANCE TOUR COME ABOUT?

I had this idea for a kind of British version of say the Travelling Wilburys, or a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, coming out of my generation, and for a year or so I approached various people like Pete Wylie, and it took a bit of time to sink in for people. But in 2000 The Alarm and Spear Of Destiny went on tour together in Britain, and it was on that tour I got talking properly with Kirk Brandon and was able to explain the idea over a few days and Kirk came on board straight away, then Pete Wylie came to the gig in Liverpool that we were playing and we press-ganged him into it, and then Glenn Matlock came to the London show and we got him in too!

I suppose the idea behind the Dead Men Walking project - which features myself Pete, Kirk, and Glenn - was just showing that there is a lot of strength in unity, and that by working together we can reach out to each other’s' audiences and start to turn around all those sort of nasty pre-conceptions that people have about us because we're associated with a certain era. So all of a sudden if we go out together Spear Of Destiny fans who always thought they didn't really like The Alarm suddenly started to realise that they do like us, and they only thought they didn't like it because the press said it was no good - and when we were younger we used to believe what they wrote in the NME!

But now people are finding things out for themselves and Alarm fans are getting into Pete Wylie and Spear Of Destiny and everything. The other great thing is that it means that people - I think that throughout the nineties for example, Alarm fans have followed me and my work in kind of isolation - but now those people are meeting Spear Of Destiny fans at gigs and finding that they've done the same journey but with Kirk Brandon and the audiences have so much in common - it's kind of a rock and roll Friends Reunited really!

One of the great things for us in Britain as The Alarm was that we got to do a tour with Big Country and a lot of their audience come to the shows as a result of the relationships we made during that tour. In fact Stuart Adamson was someone we were hoping to involve in Dead Men Walking at some stage, but sadly we couldn't reach out to him enough before he took his own life... but we're all going to take part in Stuart's testimonial if you like on the 31st of May.

So that's really how it all came about and by meeting with Pete and obviously all talking about how we feel an isolation as artists, and all that we've all had to endure at the mercy of labels, and the inefficiency of labels in their dealings with artists of our calibre and nature, and Pete was articulating this idea of it as the resistance - as a sort of theory, and I suppose we were all articulating it ourselves anyway by starting our own labels and dealing with our own fans and so on, so it was a case of 'right let's put into action the results of all our practices and our theories' and the idea of The Resistance Tour is to go out and play small places and to show that we can actually make it work. In that way people can get to see us close, and we can create a spread of ideas, we can communicate what is a good idea in a small environment - rather than tring to do it on a massive scale where no-one really gets the point.

It's really the result of us all having been inspired by, and having grown up with, punk rock; how that started as a small acorn and for a year, before it exploded in the tabloids, it was the greatest thing we ever had. The myth of punk rock is that it was all nihilism and black leather jackets and 'no future' but when you were involved in it,it was about the complete opposite; it was about setting you free, creating your own identity, making your own opportunities and expressing yourself, though clothes, through fanzines, through starting your own record label, and through 1976 and 1977 that was what punk was really all about - not the kind of tribal, kind of gothic, black leather look that the tabloids picked up on...

DO YOU FEEL THEN THAT THINGS HAVE COME FULL CIRCLE FOR YOU?

In some ways absolutely yeah, and I think that in some ways a lot of the audience have come full circle as well. I know that a lot of our generation of fans - the ones who grew up with The Alarm as their first band if you like; a lot of the fans who saw us and had their first ever experience at a rock concert - a lot of that generation by the nineties might have had children or were trying to establish themselves in careers or whatever, which didn't allow them the time or the space to go out and see their bands and at the same time all of a sudden they dropped out of the media target area for advertisers so it became very hard to effectively promote your tours.

We all had to reinvent ways to get back to our audience and making that connection, and I think that full circle thing has happened to a lot of our generation who've grown up now and maybe have children who are old enough to babysit the other kids and so they can go out again - and they turn on the radio and they think 'what's happened to Radio One?!" or they go through their old records and think 'we used to love going to see The Alarm, where are they now?' and then they click on the website and it's all still there for them, they come back to us and realise there's a whole world going on. One by one they come back into the fold and hopefully they'll be back in for life!

HOW IMPORTANT HAS THE INTERNET BEEN IN REINVENTING THE WAY YOU WORK?

It's been a lifeline for me - I was lucky to become involved very early on. I actually used to work in computers in 1976 before The Alarm, so I had a grounding in it - in fact we used to run a very basic sort of email thing in about '86, '87 when we were on tour in America and we used to communicate with Wasted Talent, our agency in London, with a little box that we had which was very primitive - in fact I think we only got it to work about twice - but I always retained an interest in it.

When the original line-up of The Alarm closed down in 1991, I started to carry on making music on my own and I got a computer - a very early Mac to help me, and then I started surfing about on the internet as it was then, seeing what was going on, and I started to meet fans over the internet and they said 'let's start a chat group', 'let's start a website', 'let's put out some information about The Alarm', and all of a sudden from being an artist that didn't have a record deal or anything like that I'd been given a voice to all those fans I'd made through all those years of touring and I was able to stay in touch with fans in Japan, and America, and Europe even though I didn't have the machinery to get over there as often as I could when I had the backing of a major label.

Through being creative I have been able to build an infrastructure where I can now tour around the world with or without record company backing... I've got The Alarm's catalogue back, and I administer all of that, and I've been able to make all sorts of music over the past ten years that has sort of set me free as an artist.

I realised how limiting it is when we were in The Alarm from 1981 to 1990, I realised how limiting that actually was. If you'd ever wanted to make a solo record in those days it was seen as being the death of the band, whereas now I've learnt that some music is meant to be small, some music can stand being put through the mincer and being sent to radio and all that, some music is strong enough to take that, but some music is just meant to be played between you and a small audience and I think I've learned to project those ideas in the size that they were intended, and because you've got a website you can communicate the size of the idea, that not every release has to be the big statement in your development as an artist, and I've been able to go back to things... I did a retrospective - I just went back to all the songs I wrote as The Alarm and just did them on an acoustic guitar and put them out to the audience and I think that changed people's opinions of The Alarm because they were able to listen to the music as a lyric and a set of chords as opposed to in a concert with all the fire and brimstone, and the haircuts, and all the things that people didn't like about the band!

So as well as developing as an artist and putting out new songs, and developing as a writer, I think I've also been able to bring the past along with me and actually to marry the two together which is why we have The Alarm 2002 as the vehicle to portray The Alarm from then in the modern era alongside the stuff I do now and to see that they all stand together and that they all come from the same place.

GIVEN ALL OF THESE DEVELOPMENTS, WHAT IS NOW YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS?

Being here right now talking to you. Being able to make music in the way that I intended as a young gun in The Alarm, and that's it. Going back through to the very earliest interviews I did, I always used to get asked 'how long will you keep going?' and it was always 'as long as I'm enjoying it' and I still am enjoying it, and that is success for me.

ARE YOU ENJOYING IT MORE?

Absolutely. So much more - you know you're not dealing with... I was going to say wankers...

I THINK YOU CAN SAY THAT!

I'm now dealing with my audience on a day to day basis and it's so liberating. I'm not having to go through a journalist to communicate with my fans - I mean I'm doing this now between you and I and that's great - but now I can actually do things direct to the audience and it takes all the stress out of it. I can put a record out when I want to do it, in the form that I want to do it, so through the website and the internet I can be as powerful as Sony if I want to be I really can, and that's why I don't need them to be backing me as an artist. If they want to get involved then that might be something to consider, but I don't need them in the way that I had to have them there in the 80s...

SO IF THEY WANTED TO GET INVOLVED NOW IT WOULD HAVE TO BE ON YOUR TERMS RATHER THEN THEIRS?

Exactly. I think that the industry is having to look at artists like The Alarm, and Marillion, and bands like that who have very active fan bases, very healthy record sales, and obvious international careers where there's no funding coming in, and there's no marketing resource there in the same way that you get from being a label.

I think that they waste so much of their marketing budgets on things that don't matter and they really don't know how to build a band up from the ground up any more. That has completely disappeared from the record industry. Labels don't talk to the bands and their managements about how they should be handled - it's just a case of 'we know best' and they don't and it's a tragedy for young bands coming through... I help out a number of bands up here and I try to steer them, and I always try to warn them off!

I think the music industry now is a pop industry full stop, it doesn't mean music at all, but I do think that there's a sea change coming, and I do think they're going to have to realise that they've got to develop acts for the middle youth - which is how I would describe my crowd!

But you see so much snobbery in the music industry - I mean even with programmes like Jools Holland you can just tell that it's such a plugged programme. Audiences are very intelligent now - they're so used to living in a marketing world and landscape where everything you look at is an advert for something that they can tell. They switch off from these programmes because they know they're seeing a formula and they know it's driven by pluggers, not driven by passion. There's not one music programme in the media that's driven by passionate people who would respond to the passion of a Pete Wylie say, who would say 'well he might not look 'right', but he's a fantastic song writer and he's written classic songs in all his era's', because he's not on Sony or anyone so he's just not going to get a shot - it's a tragedy.

This all brings me back to The Resistance Tour, because it's great to be creating our own opportunities - we've set up our on internet radio station for the tour, and it's all goes back to what we all started at the beginning - Pete Wylie and The Mighty Wah!, when I met him in the street outside Erics in Liverpool in 1976 he talked about being in a band one day and he actually went out and did it, and he did his own label 'Eternal' and brought Black through it, but then he had to sell the label to keep going, but he actually put his actions into practise! I wrote about him in the song 'Spirit Of '76', the line 'Pete, he's seen his dreams come true' is about Pete Wylie... he actually made his dreams come true, he didn't just sit around and wait for some guy to come along and tap him on the shoulder and say 'hey boy, come along, you're going to be a star', he went out and did it himself and he's still doing it now and I admire that, that he's not given up on being an artist.

We've all been in bands with people who've given up when there's no gravy-train any more, which is why none of us is really playing with the original line-ups anymore because that's what happens, and when that success stops it tests their integrity, and it tests their belief and their commitment to the cause. That's partly why we want to go back and play all these small venues - which we could all fill on our own - but the idea is to have all three of us in each place to show that we are real bands and we're not bothered about fame, about who goes on first and last, it's about communicating the idea that we're all still alive and kicking... to quote Simple Minds!

WILL THERE BE MORE TOURS ALONG THESE LINES - MAYBE NOT EVEN WITH THIS SET OF BANDS...

When we were all in the first generations of our careers we all used to look at those sixties package tours from the generation before, and think 'no way, we never want to do that!" forgetting that we all grew up on the 'White Riot' tour and the 'Anarchy' tour - I mean the 'Anarchy' tour was Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned it was just phenomenal, and when you get older people seem to think that it's just pipes and slippers time and it just isn't! The idea of a package tour came from the first things I ever saw; going to see the Sex Pistols and going to see the 'White Riot' tour - which was incredible, it was The Clash, Subway Sect, and The Buzzcocks and it was amazing - and so I think it's great for bands t double-up or triple-up because there's a power to it, there's an excitement for the audience and it keeps you on your toes as a band as well - there's the school of thought that it can only be cool if it's by 18-year olds and if it's by 40-year olds it's just like cabaret... and that's just bollocks!

WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU, AFTER THE RESISTANCE TOUR?

I've got a new album that we've been creating for the last few months and we're trying to do something quite different with that; it was almost going to come out on the tour, but I realised that with the idea behind The Resistance Tour and what we're trying to do with it, an album would just get lost, so I'm going to hold the album back and put it out over the summer.

We're going to put it out in new way, there's a new concept for the release... instead of it coming out and you promote it and that's it, we're going to do all the promotion leading up to it. Over the last few years - when I've really started combining my work of twenty years rather than just playing my most recent two or three years’ worth of material live - I realised that what made some of The Alarm's songs big was that they were actually physically released as singles, and people were then able to focus on them for a month before they got them in the context of an album.

What I'm going to do for the new album is to actually put out three - maybe even four - virtual singles before the album comes out. When I describe them as virtual singles - you will be able to actually physically buy them, but they won't go to shops, they won't be in Woolworths, they won't qualify for the top forty, but they'll have a lead cut that I can send to radio if I want, and spread around as something to focus on from the new record, but I can put ten tracks on it if I want, or twenty, and have some live things and some stuff spread out from the past twenty years... So we're going to put these three of four virtual singles out to focus people on the main tracks, to lead up to the album which will come out when I feel that we've created enough awareness. It's sitting here ready to go really, so I'll probably start by communicating the ideas during The Resistance Tour, and the first release will be in June or July, but it'll probably all start on The Resistance Tour's online radio station during the tour, and will probably be played live on the tour, and building it up as a way of focussing people.

I feel I've made one of the best records of my life and I'm not ashamed to say that, and I think that it will stand up to scrutiny. I've even built a whole website to document the whole recording process and with each release people will be allowed to get into another section so it'll build up a full picture.

It's kind of like a timed release of the whole project as opposed to what the music industry does; they've got us all conditioned to thinking that an album comes out one week and that's it and they move on to the next one, but I want to have a period of my life where we're promoting this record and all the songs that go with it so that nothing gets lost, and to give people time to get into certain songs - the 1984 Alarm album 'Declaration' came out after four singles and when people go the album they already had the little markers in place to help them get the whole album... I also think that CDs are too long to get into comfortably - most albums are 60 minutes long these days which is too long, and I have an idea to split this album over two CD's so people actually have to take a break. It's all a question of putting in some love, care, and detail in because that's all gone from the record industry today.

MARCH 2002

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