Mick Mercer is a music journalist who ran one of the first punk fanzines, Panache, from 1976 to 1992. In 1978, he began writing for British music paper Record Mirror, then freelanced for ZigZag magazine, later becoming its editor until the magazine folded in 1986. During the 1980’s, he wrote regularly for the British music weekly Melody Maker, and edited Siren magazine in the 1990’s. He has written five books on Gothic music, and self-published over 100 books, available through his website
Below is his interview with The Alarm first published in 1982 and republished
as part of his The Mick edition 27 June 2006, an Alarm special edition
Mick Mercer’s website can be found at www.mickmercer.com
THE ALARM, they hail from North Wales. The Alarm, they dwell in Battersea. The Alarm, they rehearse in a T-Shirt Factory. The Alarm, they are here. In fact, the four of them are sitting in the steamy confines of Mike’s Cafe. Mike Peters (Acoustic Guitar and Bass), Dave Sharp (Acoustic Number Two), Nigel Twist (Drums) and Eddie MacDonald (Acoustic and Electric Guitar, Mouth-organs, Paraphernalia). All loudly enthusing over the matters that concern them most. What needs the most discussion would appear to be Eddie’s new hairstyle, although this is briefly mentioned and then forgotten. From behind he looks like a pineapple
The Alarm have just released a single on their own unfilled label, ‘Unsafe Building’ backed with ‘Up For Murder’, which reflect both the energy and variety of their live show. When flailing frantically and passionately before our very eyes they slip through pure acoustic bliss to evocative electric chaos. Beginning with three acoustic guitars and drums, they end up in a more traditional electric line-up, but rest assured they are distinct and different from anyone else around at the moment. For future live shows they hope to continue a plan that they set in motion at a recent Ronnie Scott’s appearance. The idea means continual entertainment for the audience from the moment you go through the door
Mike: I want to make it a music show. People are always looking for other forms of entertainment outside music but I still think music has a lot to offer. We want to have good records you can dance to. You don’t want to have records you’ve never heard of before. You wanna bop around!
Eddie: When I go to a disco I very rarely dance. I look a prat dancing but I like loud records I can get off on and there’s very few records like that these days. We wanna put a whole night on. It’s not building a ‘scene’ because I hate what’s associated with that these days, but it’s making friends.
Mike: We’re hoping to get a residency at the 100 Club and start that. If you aim people’s attention at the stage rather than the people around them, they start thinking “What a great record”, rather than “Who’s he over there?” It takes their mind off violence for a start. You can’t go to a D.J. today and ask them for a record!
Eddie: I went to the Rumrunner in Birmingham and just happened to ask for a U2 record. – “Never heard of ‘em” – and just carried on playing ‘Love Action’ million-inch version. When we started our own disco back home (The Gallery) there was nowhere to go and it was all Gary Numan so we thought we’d start something of our own: punk and New Wave. Then Futurist came along, so we could incorporate a lot of things and the kids really enjoyed themselves
Mike: We ploughed all the money back in to buying all the records. We had a policy of ‘No Bouncers’. The Gallery was run by the people for the people and they respected that. Then we put Discharge on. (Previously described to me as “A fight where a gig broke out in the middle”). The Oi mob came down. Gaz (their roadie) and Eddie got beaten up
Eddie: They thought I was a Wembley trophy, kicking me round the floor!
Mike: We shut down after that. The whole place got wrecked. They couldn’t see that some people aren’t in it for the money. That’s why we’re going to do this at the gig. We refuse to be beaten by it. We’ve got to make sure we stick to our ideals and our dreams. Someone’s gotta take it all on otherwise nothing will change. Little things to relieve the tension, like telling people what time the bands are going on. I can’t understand why bands are late for sound-checks. We never got a soundcheck at the U2 gig at the Lyceum because U2 were out Christmas shopping! When you do a gig the support band often has a shit sound, you can’t understand what they’re trying to do and you feel sorry for them. Then the big band comes on, whack ace sound! You ought to give everyone a great sound because people are paying to see a show. At U2 we had to wait three hours. There were much better things we could have done with our time.
Eddie: I could have done with some Christmas shopping
Before The Alarm became this band they were a little known Welsh pop band called Seventeen. The line-up has remained the same but the songs have changed. What’s it all about?
Mike: We were just like any other band in the country and we knew we were capable of more. We wanted people to come up saying “Wow, what a great song, what great lyrics”, but no-one ever did because we were writing songs like every other band.
Dave: I started seeing problems. We were singing about nothing and I was realising there was a lot going on around: Ireland, situations in the Far East, whatever. It means something when you make yourself aware of it
Eddie: It affects us all in a roundabout way. If the world ends tomorrow it’s because of one of those events somewhere in the world
This change is clearly evident in their live work. One song in particular is based around the Northern Ireland problem called “Across The Border’ that Dave penned
Dave: I’m not looking at it from the point of view that Ireland is in conflict, I’m standing back from it and saying what is the cause of this conflict? Who is ultimately responsible? Is it the people shouting about it in the street, or is it the people being encouraged to shout about it. I’m not being very concise here, but it’s not as simple as it looks
Concise or not the entire cafe, unknown to the band, has gone deathly quiet and is listening
Mike: The day people stop fighting and get together is the day something will get done about it. About anything. If you have a view then you’ve got to say it. In Seventeen we were scared to say it
Eddie: The thing about the Undertones or SLF, people did start uniting together through punk in Ireland.
Mike: Then hipness got into it, people stopped singing about it
Eddie: That’s started in Wales now, there’s Welsh groups getting very extremist, like those events in Birmingham. What the hell is going wrong?
Mike: When the kids did unite in the riots they made people sit up and take notice of them, and then the media killed it off again. It shouldn’t be violent. That was wrong. But it was a warning. That’s why Oi isn’t going to get anywhere, it’s ‘Oi, we’ve got no future.’ We have got a future, if only people would realise this. How can they influence people in power who are very intelligent? Those people who are intelligent and are in a position to do something should think a bit more. All these jokes about Margaret Thatcher are just numbing everybody to the fact. It’s overkill
Since the single appeared things have fared well for The Alarm, particularly the interest shown by the Wasted Talent Agency who have been setting up gigs willy-nilly
Mike: We’ve won through cos there’s four of us believing in what we want to do
Dave: Others aren’t so lucky. There’s a lot of pressures to back down
Mike: A lot of people say ‘Right, I’ll pack me job in and be my own boss’, but they’ve got no-one to turn to because they don’t know anyone in that position. With Alarm we had acoustic guitars. We can just do it
Eddie: We proved that with the St. Martins in the Field gig
Mike: Yeah, we went to play the crypt. It was a folk thing. We phoned up and organised things. When we got there they said “Bloody hell, you’re not folk singers! You’re not playing here!”, but we thought right, there’s nothing gonna stop us now. So we went outside and there’s a massive queue. We said “We were supposed to play here but they won’t let us cos of the way we look, so we’re going to sing some songs”. They opened the doors halfway through our first number but nearly all the people stayed outside and listened and when we said “Thanks very much.” they went in. They listened to what we had to say and they appreciated it
(Page updated 06/11/2022)