Mike Peters Interview February 1990

Interview with Mike Peters on The Biz before St David’s Hall Concert 04.02.90 – Broadcast 12.02.90
Transcribed from the original broadcast by S J Henry

Interviewer: Chris Moore plays hardland before the interview

Click image to link to an audio of Hardland

Chris: Hardland from the last Alarm album called Change.  The Alarm recently played to yet another sell-out crowd at Cardiff St David’s Hall and before the gig I had the chance to grab a few words with Mike Peters from the band and started by asking him what it was like for The Alarm beginning their music career in the early 80’s in North Wales.
Mike: Well, y’know, as regards opportunities, to sort of make it so to speak, there are very little.  North Wales is very isolated in terms of any chance of becoming aware to the media, and so erm, we use to do things like promote our own gigs and try to bring bands in from London to play so that we could support them, and promote them ourselves and try to create some kind of scene.  We started our own disco to play music just to get people into the idea of alternative music, and y’know it was a long time ago we were doing that, I don’t know how successful we were at the time because our initial effort seem to lead to just frustration and the energy that we had for the group initially, especially before we were called The Alarm when we were called Seventeen, that frustration became very destructive and we broke up the musical side of our group at that time and concentrated on other things. Then when we formed The Alarm we thought we mustn’t y’know, become stuck in the rut of playing for the same handful of people, which you can end up doing when you come from a small town, and we decided to break the mould and move away with our music, take it to London or Liverpool or Manchester.  We happened to pick on London and we managed to create a following by making our own records at the time as opposed to recording demos which people tend to see as second class singles, are identifiable with fans and we picked up a following very quickly and that lead to a recording contract.

Chris:  There’s a lot of bands I find with South Wales bands that we have on The Biz every week, a lot of bands are now financing their own records, rather than like you say, than make demos tapes.  Presumably it was because of that that the record deal came about?
Mike: Yes, the single really helped to create a following.  Y’know fans don’t buy demos, y’know, they buy records and once they buy records you can become a fan of the band.  Records you can send to papers to be reviewed and they’ll be treated as respectable articles.  Y’know demos are just often cast off and left on the shelf, but a single you can put so much more into it single.  You can put photograph of the band, information, telephone numbers, y’know gig dates, all that kind of thing and really help to spread the word on your group, and it can be played on the radio.  It can really help to take the music of the group a lot further.  Y’know so I think many groups are making their own singles.  If you put your mind to it they are very cheap to produce these days, it doesn’t cost a lot to put out a single, and yeah and I think it is a much better way of presenting your band.

Chris: So, when did the record deal come about?
Mike: Oh, we got a deal in 1982.  About 6 or 7 months after we started The Alarm.  We turned down quite a few deals along the way with the major labels because we felt at the time that going with a more independent company like IRS gave us a lot more autonomy over the creative output that we enjoyed and sometimes going with a major label, they’ll give you maybe one shot, y’know their kind of theory is if you throw enough mud at the water some of it will stick.  And sometimes if you sign to a CBS that has hundreds and hundreds of artists you can become lost in that and you don’t even get given a proper chance.  Whereas for ourselves, we were at a label like IRS who don’t have a massive roster of artists, they can concentrate on working on The Alarm for a long period of time.  Whereas some of the major labels, they’ll maybe work the band for a couple of weeks and then they have to move on to the next project and so you get dropped very quickly.

Chris: And you’re still with IRS to this day, so you are obviously very happy with the way that they treat you?
Mike: Well there’s good and bad in all recording situations, y’know, you’ve got a record company their main aim is to sell records, and groups and artists their main aim is to produce worthwhile music, and you will never find a happy medium where artists are opposed to certain elements of commercialism that record companies expect especially in today’s very competitive music world.  But we do enjoy a good kind of working relationship with IRS because we know all the people, the same people, the same guy that signed The Alarm in 1982 is still working to this day, y’know very closely with the band.  Whereas if we’d signed with a major label, sometimes the person who signed the band might have been fired or moved on to another job and then the new guy moves in doesn’t like the band or can’t relate to it and then you don’t enjoy that working relationship.  Whereas we do so y’know it’s worked in our case.

Chris:  And you’re very much a live band in the true sense of the word.  Are there times when, I mean in the middle of a UK tour at the moment and you’re telling me it’s to Europe next, are there times when it gets a bit too much?
Mike: Erm, I don’t know.  Sometimes it can be, it can place a great strain on the band especially when you are a band like The Alarm that is very committed to a live situation and puts an awful lot into it and it is very draining.  We are the band that y’know that luckily I’ve got the stamina for a lot of shows, as a singer y’know I’ve never had to cancel a show because I’ve lost my voice ever.  It’s always been a major part of the band and of course being on tour y’know together for such a long period of time it does cause tension and strain but out of that comes the adrenalin that produces music, y ’know, if everything was happy go lucky there wouldn’t be the elements that produce the fire, the sparks, the great moments in live concerts come from or great songs come out of.

Chris: Now it seems to be that the people that follow the band, rather similar to football supporters, not in the way they behave but in their intense loyalty to The Alarm.
Mike: That’s very true, we have a very loyal following that follow us all over the country.  An Alarm fan really is somebody who doesn’t just come to one concert but comes to as many as they possibly can and so we have a good relationship with the audience and a lot of them get to meet the band or have met us over the years and know us quite well.   We’ve got a very loyal sort of fan club base for want of a better word, and people do have this incredible communication network where tapes of gigs are passed around or information and fan club conventions where everyone gets together in the middle of Britain somewhere for y’know a get together and to talk about The Alarm, what have you. So we are lucky in that respect, we’ve got a very loyal following.

Chris: And what was it like to play with Bob Dylan last year?
Mike: Well that’s one of the moments that you’re gonna live with for the rest of your life.  Y’know anyone who plays a guitar owes something to Dylan somewhere along the way.  Anyone who’s ever written a song must’ve been influenced y’know Dylan’s the man who brought lyrics into music really in a meaningful way, and to actually join him on stage was y’know a moment I’ll never forget.

Chris: I remember you saying in a tv documentary that was shown not so very long ago that it really hasn’t sunk in yet.
Mike:   No, I think it’s the kind of thing that will grow in your mind, in your memory over the years.  I noticed in one of the music papers this week there was a whole article about people who would like to work with Bob Dylan, saying what he meant to them and it’s when you read that you think wow I’ve done that I’ve actually been on stage and sang with the man and worked with him and sang into the same microphone at the same time.  And it’s when you y’know see younger musicians come through and they say our ambitions are to play with Bob Dylan and when you look back and you realise some of your ambitions that have come true for you then it starts to put some kind of perspective on your achievements. 

Chris: I mean there must be an extra spark I can imagine when you come back and play live in Wales?
Mike:  Ah very much so, it’s great to play in our home country.  And er Wales has not had a lot to shout about for such a long time that y’know hopefully formed a relationship with the Welsh people that can grow now.  I hope that Welsh music and Welsh culture can y’know take something from what we’ve done and can start to become a little bit more international and to grow in the international music field.  There’s so much talent in Wales, so y’know when we played here last at Newport and Cardiff we had Y Cyrff play in Cardiff and Jess.  They are really fine bands, and y’know they sing in Welsh and y’know we’ve said to them y’know if they come play with us in England somewhere as Jess are doing next week they’re gonna play a couple of their songs in English as well and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that because y’know you’ve got to communicate to all the people in this country to help your music grow and I think Wales can really become a focus, a musical focus for a lot of international music markets if it adopts a more bilingual approach.

Chris: Well bearing in mind that The Biz is all about local music and maybe giving bands an extra step towards a little more success, maybe some words of advice from some who has been through it and has achieved success in music?
Mike: Well the main thing to do is to follow your instincts and to rely on them at all times.  Y’know there are so many people out there who want to sign you for this and offer you that and you can get very tied down very quickly because your dream is to have a recording contract and as soon as someone thrusts one in your face it’s ‘where’s the pen and I’ll sign right now’ and often y’know you’ve got to just take a moment and step back from that and if you really believe in your music then you can’t really go far wrong other than follow those instincts of belief.  I believe that there’s, I say really, there’s so much talent in Wales, that it’s a divided talent through the argument that should art in Wales be conducted through English or Welsh, and I say, y’know, forget the argument, do it in both, and when you go and play in London do a few songs in English just to capture the interest of those people who shut their ears off when they hear the Welsh language and the more the Welsh language starts infiltrating into Britain the more acceptable it can become.   I just feel many bands tend to run away from their roots and often coming from Wales you think ‘ah, there’s nothing here, it’s a very small town and y’know it’s not exactly the media centre of the world or whatever’, but there’s a great individuality that you have by coming from Wales and to build on that and to not forget that.  Because we realised as we travelled internationally that coming from Wales is what made The Alarm different and that’s what attracted people to come and see our group and that’s very important to remember that and not forget that and cos it’s so easy to become caught up in music business fashion as it’s dictated by the music paper or the latest groups that are getting in the charts but you can only, the best is to follow instincts and stick to your individuality.

Chris: Well Mike, thanks for joining us on The Biz and good luck with the rest of your UK tour.
Mike: Thank you very much indeed, The Biz.

Click image to link to an audio of Change II

Chris: The Alarm from the Change album and that song called Change II, and before that Mike Peters from The Alarm chatting to me before the bands recent concert at St David’s Hall Cardiff.

Audio Link – The original interview can be listened to on this link

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