BBC Radio 1 David “Kid” Jensen Interview with Mike Peters
Audio tracks originally recorded 13th February 1983.
Originally Broadcast on the 23rd February 1983
Interview Audio transcribed by Chuck Frye
Audio links via Pete Cole
Audio Link – We Are The Light Session version
Broadcast before Mike comes on air.
Audio Link – Sixty Eight Guns Session version
DAVID “KID” JENSEN: The Alarm, and that was called “68 Guns.” They’re In Session tonight, and while that was playing Mike Peters from The Alarm was telling me about all the new songs they’ve been writing just recently. Mike, welcome to the program.
MIKE PETERS: Thanks a lot.
DJ: You have really a bit of a legacy to kind of live up to in the sense that people have been singing your praises for some time. Firstly, Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers was on saying, “Look out for The Alarm, they’re really, really good.” Then Bono was here not long ago saying, “Look out for the Alarm,” and Jenny Bellestar most recently said, “The Alarm, look out for them.” So, you’re here, we’re listening out to you tonight, it’s the second time we’ve had this Session on, and on the strength of the first one, we’ve got all this mail for you. I mean, it’s incredible. You’ve built up a following in how long … I mean, how long have you been playing music together?
MP: The band The Alarm have been together for 18 months but we’ve been together as friends in a group and different groups and all sorts of various combinations since we were … I first met Eddie when I was about four. We’ve been around kind of in groups since about 14, something like that, you know.
DJ: Now some people that that you’re Irish. Now that might come from the fact that Jake and Bono were both kind of like raving about you. But in fact, you come from Wales which was even more bizarre because you don’t have a Welsh accent, at least one that I can discern.
MP: No, well, the part of Wales that we come from is very close to the English border, it’s about 25 miles from Liverpool, so we’ve probably got heavy Liverpool accents.
DJ: Why do you think it is so few bands actually come out of Wales, or come to our attention, anyway? Clearly, they make music in Wales but so few of the Welsh bands actually come to our attention. Why is that? I mean there’s lots … Scotland, of course, and Northern Ireland and England, but not …
MP: Well, I think first all it was, like the Irish scene first came about through the Punk Rock explosion with like U2 and Stiff Little Fingers, and then a few months later afterwards it became Scotland with Orange Juice and people like that, and I think now it’s about to have the turn of the Welsh. (laughs)
DJ: So, it’s not through lack of bands, then?
MP: There’s been a lot of groups in Wales, I just think that the trouble with a lot of the Welsh groups is, a lot of the good Welsh bands do stick to singing in Welsh, which restricts them in crossing over into an English audience. But where we come from it’s very English so we choose the English form of singing.
DJ: It’s easier for you, sure. How long was it before you got a record deal, then?
MP: Well, when we first moved to London, we recorded a single ourselves, about four days before we left Rhyl to move to London, and we released it ourselves on a little, small label, and we pressed up 2,000 copies. And we played a lot of gigs for about six, seven months, and then we finally got a deal with Illegal Records, which they’ve transferred, is now into IRS which goes through A&M, so we can actually get our records into the shops. And we waited about six months until we found the right people who were into the group for our music and not for the way we looked, you know.
DJ: Were they the first people that came around or were you really waiting for the right …
MP: We were waiting for the right thing. We had a couple of offers from certain record companies, yeah, that we didn’t feel were right, you know.
DJ: Why, because of the money?
MP: Not because of the money, just because we felt we weren’t ready to go into a recording deal. Because we were using, like, acoustic guitars and things, and it was an idea. It was very much a small idea at that time and we felt we needed to have time to develop the idea so that when we actually came to make records, we could make strong records and be very sure of recording in the studio. Because when we set the band up, we wouldn’t record demo tapes, we went straight to produce a single so we were kind of experimenting at the single process and not in the rehearsal studio and things like that.
DJ: How did you get record companies interested in the first place because that’s the main question. You have thousands of bands that send cassettes around and get nowhere.
MP: Well, I think the first point of contact with anyone is when a band actually plays live, and that’s when you can really get across to people. And if you’re a good group, people will go away and say, “Aah, so that’s a really good group.” And the word of mouth about a group is obviously one of the biggest forms, you know, of promotion of any sort of group. And it was basically a word of mouth thing that got record companies interested in the group in the first place, because we didn’t have a manager or nothing. We went out there and we were just playing these acoustic guitars and everyone was going, “What? Acoustic guitars? Haven’t seen them for a long time,” you know, and then everyone just got interested in it because of that, you know.
DJ: And do The Alarm have a manager now?
MP: We do, yeah.
DJ: OK. A few letters, just a couple of questions: from Joanne McEwen, who writes from Erskine in Renfrewshire in Scotland. Very close to the original ancestral homeland there, Joanne. She wants to know from you, Mike, what your main aim is in writing lyrics. Do you feel you’re putting forward a message? Is there a message to your music?
MP: Not putting any sort of message, you know, really, we’re just reflecting what we feel in our own hearts, you know, and everyone’s got their own way of seeing something. And when we’re writing lyrics, we try to present it in an original way that’s not like, say, anyone else’s, you know. We’re just trying to show off something that we feel in our own hearts, you know. A personal thing or something that we feel touched by, you know. That’s what we’re trying to do,
DJ: Then it must be frustrating for you because you have been compared to other people like The Clash, for example, which is impressive. So how do you feel about that?
MP: You know, if you’re going to get compared, let’s get compared to one of the best groups around, you know, and we take it as an honor that we’re compared to The Clash. And I think that people are basically comparing us on The Clash in that people have got an idea about what they’d like The Clash to be like, you know. They’ve seen The Clash and they think, “Wow, The Clash are like this great, amazing rock and roll band,” and I think people are confusing The Alarm with their image that they’ve got of The Clash, because we’re basically nothing like The Clash. We’ve got a completely different set of roots, and I think its people building up this idea of The Clash that they see in The Alarm.
DJ: And you look different, as well, as Joanne points out. She says, or asks, is there any significance in dressing as cowboys towards your music, as in “Stand,” you mention cowboy boots?
MP: Yeah, that just came about in the song. But the clothes are basically a reflection of … it started off with, like, Dave Sharp in the band wearing a bootlace tie, and then Eddie came in with a pair of cowboy boots, you know, because we’re such close friends, it obviously all rubs off on each another, and then before long we all have similar outfits. (laughs)
DJ: Joanne finishes her letter off by saying, you made a great appearance at Glasgow in December and March. Hope to see you in Glasgow again soon.
MP: Yeah, we’re looking forward to it.
DJ: OK. Here’s some music from some of the boys that have been championing you. In the first division themselves with the “War” album, U2, “Seconds.”…
Audio Link – U2- Seconds
DJ: So, we were talking about U2 because The Alarm are going to be going off to America next month to tour with them.
MP: That’s right. We’re flying out on the 30th of May after the … we’re playing two nights at the Marquee in London on the 28th and 29th, and then we’re flying out the next morning from Heathrow, and then we’re picking up the tour in San Francisco.
DJ: That’s exciting. Is it your first trip to America?
MP: It certainly is.
DJ: Fantastic. John Chapman writes from Spalding in Lincolnshire, he says: Dear David, hearing that you were going to interview Mike Peters of The Alarm, or any other Alarmists (thanks to Flexipop for phrasing), I’ve got a few questions. Actually, he’s got tons of questions, I’ll try a few. What influences do The Alarm have?
MP: We’ve got lots of influences. I mean, we’re basically, first and foremost, fans of music anyway, and that’s how we came to meet people like Bono and Jake Burns because we used to follow those groups around, you know, and trying to chat to them afterwards. And we’ve got so many influences, I mean, from right across the range from, you know, people like Bob Dylan and the Stones, right, to The Clash, you know, U2, Wah!, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Mott the Hoople, you know, there’s hundreds, and we just love music, you know.
DJ: Do you have a favorite, this is going to be really difficult in case any are listening, a favorite band of those you’ve supported?
MP: Uh, not really, no.
DJ: OK. Why do you use acoustic instruments, wonders John? Folk connotations, he says?
MP: (laughs) No, not folk, but it happened by accident, really. Dave Sharp had written a song for the band on an acoustic guitar, and he brought it into rehearsal and we tried it out with our electric guitars and it didn’t quite feel as good as with the acoustic guitars. We thought, well, let’s get the acoustic guitars in, and then we tried it and we thought, wow, it sounded really exciting, you know. And we just kind of like went on and progressed the idea as far as we could and, you know, we’re here today with it.
DJ: It’s a nice idea. I like hearing acoustic guitars on records. Hmmm, let’s see … This is a good question, question eight: Apart from the three singles, are there any other Alarm recordings available? Because there’s a little bit of confusion. A lot of people assume that “Stand,” the current single which is just outside the chart, is your second release but in fact it’s, technically speaking, it’s your third, isn’t it?
MP: It is our third, yeah. Our first one, as I think I said before, our very first one was “Unsafe Building” coupled with “Up for Murder,” which is going to be on this Session, and that was our very first release which we did rather than doing demo tapes, which seem to be the way a lot of groups are presenting themselves. Which, to us, it seemed a bit second-class ticket. We thought we’ll go straight for a single and that puts us one step ahead of the rest, and that’s the way we did “Unsafe.” And we only did 2,000 copies which sold out, except that we did keep a few hundred back for when we could get in the position when we could go on a tour ourselves and everyone would come see The Alarm, that we’d have some left to actually sell to the kids, you know.
DJ: Well, a few fans have certainly, in their letters here to me, asked how they can get a hold of that very first single?
MP: Well, if they come along to see us on the tour, they’ll be able to pick up a copy …
DJ: Alright, OK …
MP: … as long as it doesn’t sell out after the first few dates.
DJ: Right. But you don’t have any plans perhaps of recording a song for an album?
MP: We will be doing both songs on our first album.
DJ: On the first album. When is that going to be?
MP: We’ll be recording the album when we come back from America in the last part of July and it should be out in early September. We’re going to be recording all of the songs that we’re playing in our live set, because we’ve got a lot of new songs at the moment, so hopefully we could even follow the first album up fairly quickly, within let’s say six months, with a second album with all our new songs, you know.
DJ: I mean, you’re in a fantastic position now because … well, Mike was telling me before we turned the microphones on that he’s just written, or has in the bag, something like 25 new songs, and you like trying at least one new song out a night and see how it goes down.
MP: You see, we’re very lucky in The Alarm that we’ve got three songwriters. There’s myself, there’s Dave Sharp, there’s Eddie Macdonald, and Nige Twist, he always comes in with a few ideas. So we’re very lucky in that sense. And because we use acoustic guitars, we can actually rehearse things in dressing rooms just before we go on. Or, you know, at least in soundchecks or on the way to a gig, we often get the guitars out in the van and have a strum, and with a few new ideas and see what comes out when we get to the gig, you know.
DJ: Great. OK, let’s hear some more Alarm music now. Is this one of your very early songs? This was the B-side of your first single, “Up for Murder.” Was it one of the first songs that you wrote?
MP: This is actually the song that Dave wrote on his acoustic guitar, brought into rehearsal and tried it out with the electric guitars and it didn’t feel as good, so we put it back onto the acoustic guitars, and this is the song.
DJ: OK, from The Alarm In Session.
Audio Link – Up For Murder Session version
DJ: We’re having a great chat here. This is an interesting question … Mike Peters is here by the way if you’ve just tuned in, and he’s the front man with The Alarm who we have In Session. Five after nine, and going back to this long letter from John Chapman, he wonders: Do you think you are/have been/will be flavor-of-the-month, and, if so, how would you avoid this? And it’s an interesting question because, of course, that does happen when there’s a good buzz about a band and people are sort of raving about them. You obviously feel good about it, but on the other hand, you say, hey, wait a minute, I know what happens to bands who are like this, you know.
MP: Yeah, well, with the bands being flavor-of-the-month, a lot of it comes from the bands actually maybe trying to make themselves flavor-of-the-month whereas we’ve not been doing that. If there is a sort of buzz in the music business about the group, it’s hopefully come from the actual fans themselves, the people, and it’s not being made by the music business. So, it’s, generally, a kids’ following that has made the group, and if they’ve made us, they’re not going to lose us overnight, you know. And the amount of letters we’ve had from the single has been phenomenal and really encouraging and, you know, I’d like to thank everyone out there that’s written to us, because it’s been really great.
DJ: Terrific. Apart from “Maggie May,” which you dedicate to John Peel, apparently, do you do any other cover version of songs on stage or is it all original stuff?
MP: Well, sometimes we do, but, like, when we’re on the tour, we’re going to be trying to do a few cover versions. We try to do old songs that we like. We’ve done “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan, and we’ve done “Legal Matter” by The Who, and we’ve done “Better Scream” by Wah! Heat one night, you know. We just try and knock them out and see what we do just for fun, really, just to make gigs a bit different every night, you know, and try out different songs, because just by playing other people’s songs, you can learn so much about a song, how it’s constructed.
DJ: Oh, sure. Joanne Lynne writes from Consett, County Durham – I was there only a couple of months ago, and you’ve got the answers to some of these questions, but she says that she saw you at Newcastle but couldn’t get to the front to see you as the bouncers barred the way. Were you with U2 on that date?
MP: It could have been. When we played with U2, we do actually have … the bands do not usually like people coming down to the front but we encourage everybody to come down to the front. We did have a lot of people down the front that night, a real good amount. But, obviously, some people if they’re right at the back of the hall cannot get down the front because it’s a seated venue.
DJ: OK, I have a letter here from Tash of Burlescombe, Tiverton in Devon, which says I heard Richard say that you were going to have the wonderful Alarm on your show. I’ve been a great admirer of the band since the release of “Marching On,” but sadly I missed seeing them at Exeter University because I was in hospital. 1, 2, 3, awww. So, to compensate, he’s put some questions here … now, oh, he asks about “Unsafe Building” again. You must get some more copies of that pressed, you know, because it’s come up a lot in these letters. People asking questions about that single. I don’t remember, though.
MP: Well, we didn’t really make a big deal of the thing because we did it as a demo for the band rather than an actual thing to actually go out and sell, because we only have 2,000 copies and we knew it would be a bit unfair because people were starting to want it. But it’s now become quite a popular artifact in The Alarm’s history and a lot of people want it. And actually, that letter from Tash, I do remember her writing to the band at the address we put on the back of “The Stand” single, so I remember her story telling me about she’s in hospital.
DJ: Oh, OK, from this point onwards, as like a dedication, maybe you could say hello to some of the people in that letter, then. I think she’s appreciated that.
MP: “This is for Tash, Kathy, Diane, Joss, Ian at Deeside (over where I live, I think), Wendy, Tracy, Spot, Dawn, Robert, not forgetting Jenny, nor Redeye, nor Gaz, nor Dobby. I know you won’t let me down, and can I have some Alarm autographs, please. Love, Tash.” Well, I’ll make sure they’re on the way for you, Tash.
DJ: Well, you must feel real good about the way things have happened for you. Are you still based in Rhyl, by the way, in North Wales?
MP: No, we actually do live in London now. We live in Battersea, but we’ve still got very strong connections with Rhyl because all of our parents are there and it’s a lovely place to go.
DJ: And do you go by there to play? Have you played since …
MP: No, we’ve not played in Rhyl, no. We did our very first two gigs in Rhyl and then we left. We’ll go
back one day when there’s demand for us there …
DJ: For a homecoming, like a football team in triumph with the trophy, something like that. OK, here’s that song we’ve been talking about so much. This is the one that was released, only a few copies were pressed of it. It’s called “Unsafe Building.
Audio Link – Unsafe Building Session version
DJ: The Alarm In Session tonight, finally, Mike Peters … Oh, a quick hello, I think, to someone who sent a rather cute photograph of you taken at Newcastle City Hall at a gig, Claire Alderson, hello to Claire. Thanks for your letter, I’ll pass it on to Mike right now. Claire writes from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. OK, you’ve got some dates coming up that you’d like to mention, I’m sure.
MP: Yeah, we’ve got a tour starting on … well, we’ve added a date, two dates actually to the ones that we’ve been advertised in the press. One’s in Cambridge on the 7th, I’m doing a special London show in the Clarendon on Hammersmith Broadway on the 11th. We’re playing right across the country. We’re doing Leeds University on the 14th of May, Glasgow Night Moves on the 17th, we’re playing Newcastle Dingwall’s on the 23rd, Liverpool Warehouse 25th, and then culminating in the two Marquee shows on the 28th and 29th in London.
DJ: You really looking forward to all that schlapping about?
MP: I can’t wait.
DJ: Roadway grub and all that stuff.
MP: It’s gonna be good fun just to get out there and play.
DJ: I’m sure, and try all those new songs you’ve been writing.
MP: Certainly will.
DJ: Right. Mike Peters, thank you so much for coming in. Good to talk to you.
MP: Thanks so much.
Audio Link – Original Interview Audio Part 1
Audio Link – Original Interview Audio Part 2
Audio Link – Original Interview Audio Part 3
The recordings from this session are featured on the CD released in 2008.
The Alarm Radio Sessions 1983-1991
Twenty First Century Records Recording Company Catalogue Number 21C045
BBC Radio 1 David Jensen Interview 1983
BBC Radio 1 David “Kid” Jensen Interview with Mike Peters