History Of The ALARM: 1973-1995
“Your revolution ain’t no solution there’s gotta be a better way out”
-The Toilets (Mike Peters) “Alarm Alarm” 1976
In 1973 the future members of the Alarm met in Wales as teenagers. Dave Sharp (real name: Dave Kitchingman) and Nigel Twist (real name: Nigel Buckle) both moved to the Rhyl, Wales from Manchester, England. Twist and Sharp had been playing music together for most of their early teens, Twist on his step-father’s drums, and Sharp Strumming his mother’s Spanish guitar. In Rhyl, the pair met Mike Peters and Eddie MacDonald, next-door neighbors since the age of 4. Rhyl is known as a beautiful vacation spot for British tourists, but in 1976 there was not much in the way of excitement for bored teenagers. The British punk explosion beckoned Mike Peters across the border to see The Sex Pistols in Chester,England. Peters was blown away by the Pistols energy and stage presence. However, after being shunned at the backstage door by Jonny Rotten, he decided two things. He would pitch in his career as a computer operator to start a punk band, and if successful, never treat his fans with contempt.
Mike Peters, and Nigel Twist soon formed a punk band named The Toilets. The Toilets were regulars at the famous Liverpool club “Upstairs At Eriks,” a virtual breeding ground for 80’s new wave artists (e.g. Echo And The Bunnymen, Flock Of Seagulls, Icicle Works). Dave Sharp took Eddie MacDonald to his first punk show to see The Toilets. His eyes were opened, inspiring him then and there to get into the punk scene. MacDonald was interested in joining the Toilets, but after support slots with The Clash and The Buzzcocks, the band broke up. Sensing a common musical purpose, Peters and Macdonald began writing songs together.
Peters, Twist, MacDonald and Sharp slipped in and out of various bands until, 1979 when they formed Seventeen, named after a Sex Pistol’s song. Dave Sharp was the only non-regular member, playing in Seventeen between stints in the Merchant Marine. The post-punk mod revival was taking the U.K. by storm at the time and was not missed by Seventeen. Sporting mop-top haircuts, and playing pop flavored punk, Seventeen was slightly successful. They supported The Jam on tour and released a single in 1980 on the Vendetta record label, started owned by a British dentist. 1500 copies of the “Don’t Let Go” b/w “Bank Holiday Weekend” 7″ were printed. The single was a failure, most of the copies ended up in Mike Peter’s mom’s basement, and Vendetta Records went out of business. A bootleg of the single exists, containing both Seventeen songs, and two live songs from an April 1986 concert of The Alarm. After a being thrown off a tour with Dexy’s Midnight Runners after the first show, and a tour opening for the Stray Cats, Seventeen split up.
Inspired by the “do it yourself” ethic of the (then dying) punk movement, the band members spent the better part of a year focusing on their hometown. They opened a club named the Gallery, and Riot, a clothes shop in Rhyl. The only other club in town was a disco, and the Gallery soon became a hot spot in Rhyl. Although successful, The Gallery had to close in a few short months after being trashed by the fans of the punk band Discharge. The Gallery had set the stage , the band had accomplished something successful and positive. Mike, Eddie, Dave and Twist went their separate ways for a while, but soon reunited with a common purpose: to form another band. This time though, they would have their own personal angle and do something honest and original.
THE ALARM FORMS
“Behind The Wardrobe there lies a better world
Burn all your old clothes start again make yourself something new“
-The Alarm (MacDonald/Peters) “Unsafe Building” 1981
In February of 1981 The Alarm formed. At he request of Eddie MacDonald, the name was taken from the title of a “Toilets” tune, “Alarm Alarm,” a song Mike Peters once called “The first positive thing I had ever done.” To write songs they used acoustic guitars, but planned to play and record them on electric ones. When they rehearsed, one of Dave Sharp’s first Alarm songs, “Up For Murder” it just didn’t sound right. It frustrated Sharp so much, he borrowed Mike Peters acoustic guitar, and Eddie MacDonald’s electric, tore them apart, then crafted pieces of both into one guitar. The makeshift instrument used the acoustic’s body, and the electronics from the inexpensive electric guitar. The cheap pick-ups were the key, lifting the acoustic sound, without enough power to distort it. “We wired the acoustics up so they could be played at brain damaging levels,” is how Dave Sharp explained it.. At first Mike Peters and Eddie MacDonald were shocked to see how Dave had massacred their guitars. Their thoughts changed when Sharp played “Up For Murder” for them. The sound Dave’s guitar created was more dynamic than a mere amped-acoustic guitar, yet retaining an acoustic flavor they all liked. Mike Peters described it as transforming the sound of an acoustic “from being an individual big sounding instrument that rattles throughout your bones into a big sounding one that could rattle around the seats.”
With his makeshift electric/acoustic guitar in hand, Dave Sharp had set himself up to be lead guitarist for The Alarm, but that wasn’t set in stone. Except for drumming duty laying squarely on the shoulders of Nigel Twist, the band members played musical chairs depending on which song was being recorded. Since all four musicians could play guitar, they experimented with 3 guitarists, sounding great live, but hallow and bass-less when recorded. Because of this, both Mike Peters and Eddie MacDonald took up the bass guitar and alternated playing it on different songs. Eventually MacDonald took up the bass full-time, and Peters moved to rhythm guitar and lead vocals. Mike Peters was the main lead vocalist, though he was not the only one. Both MacDonald and Sharp sang lead vocals on several songs through The Alarm’s career. The Alarm also added the harmonica as an important instrument in their sound, played by Mike Peters as well as Dave Sharp.
Not only the sound, but the look of The Alarm changed drastically from Seventeen. Gone were the mop-top hair cuts and suits with their favorite band’s logo-buttons on the lapels. The Alarm had electric-shock-spiked-long hair, and wore western and cavalry clothes. Dave Sharp explained the look to CREEM magazine: “When we first moved to London (in 1981), there was a big rock-a-billy thing going on. All the kids were in their Confederate gear, and the southern stuff, and I sort of thought, I’ll stand out a bit and wear the opposite side. I’d look like John Wayne at first and then all the birds starting hanging around me and the other guys in the band were saying ‘Oh, I’ll get a boot lace tie and see what it does for me.”
Song writing credits remained mostly a constant with The Alarm. Songs were usually written by “MacDonald/Peters” or “Sharp/Twist,” each displaying a different song writing style. The “Sharp/Twist” songs displayed an acoustic, folk, rock-a-billy influence while “MacDonald/Peters” songs tended toward punk-influenced pop. When these styles were mixed in the few “Sharp/Peters/MacDonald” songs (i.e “The Stand,” “Blaze Of Glory”) they created a classic Alarm sound neither song writing party could create on their own. After their first album, the “Sharp/Peters/MacDonald” song writing credit was dropped in favor of the more pluralistic credit “The Alarm.”
The “do it yourself” punk ethic of The Alarm did not end with the closing of The Gallery and Riot. The next thing they did was move out of the small-town confines of Rhyl Wales and into a London flat together in June of 1981. There, they worked odd jobs and played any shows they could, saving up enough money to record their own single. With a piece of vinyl in their hands, The Alarm believed they would have an advantage over bands with only demo tapes while trying lure record companies to their side. In September of 1981 the band entered Pluto Studios and recorded “Unsafe Building” b/w “Up For Murder.” The single displayed the duality of The Alarm’s song writing. The MacDonald/Peters penned “Unsafe Building” was an earnest, exciting rock song with a punk feel. Sharp/Twist’s “Up For Murder” on the other hand is a fast, all acoustic, folk-a-billy song with added harmonica. The original single featured a black cover with a 4 headed snake on the cover. and says “The Alarm” in small lettering. This record became a collectors item, and thus, two bootlegs surfaced. Both have the same western-style picture on the picture sleeve, one in red, andt he other in a mustard-like color. The red one contains a red vinyl record marked “Promotional.”
THE LAY OF THE LAND
“Join hands make plans and take a chance on the right-hand side of the road”
-The Alarm (MacDonald/Peters) “Lie Of The Land”
With their own 7″ single in hand, The Alarm started an all-out assault on the music industry. They played as many live shows as possible, exhibiting an intense energy on stage that, little by little, gained them a reputation as a first-class live band. Following gigs at The Rock Garden, and Upstairs at Ronnies, The Alarm landed an agency deal with Wasted Talent, and agent Ian Wilson, who soon became The Alarm’s manager. The band sold, or gave away copies of their “Unsafe Building” 7″ believing, if each
person with a copy of the single became a dedicated Alarm fan, they would have a great following. They struggled for nearly a year, and sometimes resorted to underhanded activities. They would show up at gigs, pretending to be the opening band, and play until they got kicked out. They got so desperate for press coverage, they once tried to kidnap a reporter from NME, just to get him to listen to their songs. Thankfully, they were thwarted, and realized the futility of shoving themselves down people’s throats. Instead, they used their growing reputation as a great live band to their advantage. By playing their hearts out on stage, jumping around like wild indians in punkified cavalry outfits and electric-shock style hair, they began to build a moderate, but rabid following. The Alarm showed up on record companies doorsteps with acoustic guitars, playing for who ever would listen. Their plan was to get noticed, and ultimately, it worked. A word of mouth buzz starting forming in the UK about the band. They got support slots with U2, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Jam in the Spring of 1992, and by the summer had embarked on their first British college tour. They also went into the studio with fledgling producer
Bram Tchaikovsky, but the session just didn’t work out. A bootleg 7″ called “What Kind Of Hell,” containing the songs “What Kind Of Hell,””Marching On” and “Across The Border” has surfaced, that may be from this recording session, even though the single states it was recorded by Seventeen. Their own piece of vinyl, combined with blistering live performances, and a spot on John Peel’s BBC radio show, landed the Alarm in the wanting eyes of several record companies. EMI interested them the most at first, but they realized EMI might try to turn them into a pretty-boy pop band, stripping them
of their musical integrity and originality. In October of 1982, The Alarm chose to sign with Miles Copeland’s newly formed I.R.S. records which promised them much more control over their music.
Soon after signing in 1982, the band recorded and released their first single for I.R.S., “Marching On” b/w “Across The Border” and “Lie of the Land.” The single exhibited all of The Alarm’s musical ideals, from the rabble rousing punk of the title track, the the “get off your butt and do something” folk-rock of “Lie Of The Land,” and the deft punk of Dave Sharp’s anti-violence ode “Across The Border,” It also displayed their original sound: Dave Sharp’s electrified, acoustic guitar, Mike Peters impassioned vocals, the martial rhythm track laid down by Eddie MacDonald and Nigel Twist, and a a large dose of harmonica.
The cover of the “Marching On” 7″ was just as important as the record. The cover art was of a “exploding poppy.” The symbol was originally designed by Robert Olsen for a song by Eddie MacDonald called “Third Light.” The band liked the symbol for its imagery, and because the poppy is the “flower of life.” This symbol would one day become seriously important to Alarm fans, so much so in fact, the band didn’t realize it.
COMING TO AMERICA
“It’s funny how they shoot you down when your hand are help up high
and you open up your heart and soul but that’s not enough for most”
-The Alarm (MacDonald/Peters/Sharp) “Blaze Of Glory”
Earlier in 1982, The Alarm caught the ear of U2’s manager. He brought Bono down to see them, and he instantly became a fan. U2 liked them so much, they asked The Alarm to open several of their shows in 1982 culminating with U2’s Christmas show. The two bands quickly became friends. In January of 1983, The Alarm played 2 sold-out headlining shows at the London Marquee, their first ever, and recorded them for future use.
In April 1983 The Alarm released their third single “The Stand.” The song, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, became a semi-hit, reaching #86 on the UK singles charts. The UK 7″ b-side was a live version of the Eddie MacDonald’s anti-war song, “Third Light.” The UK 12″ single contained the live version of “Reason 41,” a Dave Sharp song that questioned philosophy. as well as a live version of the stomping anthem “For Freedom,” the only version of this song ever released. All the live songs were recorded at London Marquee shows. Money was tight at I.R.S., so a longer version of “The Stand” planned for the 12,” was saved for future use.
The Alarm continued to forge through scorching live performances, gaining fans where ever they played, and started building a near-fanatical fan base. In June of 1983, they got a big break. U2 Needed a band to open for them on the last 18 shows of their “War” tour in the USA. The Alarm jumped at at the chance to take their brand of blistering acoustic rock to the America, and were well received by U2 fans who otherwise had little clue who they were. Commenting on the tour, Dave Sharp said “We thought it was an ideal way to come to America because no one really knew who we were.” He continued, “We had to prove ourselves every night in front of thousands of U2 fans. We liked the fact that the audience could decide for themselves what to think of us.” U2’s Bono also commented, saying “Without any introduction, music should be able to stand up on its own. And with The Alarm it did.”
To coincide with the tour of America, I.R.S. quickly put together a collection of The Alarm’s earlier recordings and released it as The Alarm, a 5 song e.p., about halfway through the opening dates with U2. Alternative and modern rock radio stations like KROQ in Los Angeles and WBCN in Boston were the first to play the e.p. which jumped in the Billboard album charts and stayed there for 4 months. The record was also a college radio hit, reaching #5 on the charts. The band didn’t have much input into
the e.p., but when they heard it, they liked the way the songs sounded together. “The Stand,” “Across The Border,” “Lie Of The Land,” “Marching On” and “For Freedom” all had a punk feel with a wall of harmonica and acoustic guitars. Also released in the USA, was a 7″ single of “The Stand” b/w “Reason 41(live). The Alarm received such an enormous response to the e.p. they played headlining shows of their own in the USA. The first show was at the Club Lingere in Los Angeles, and they concluded the tour with 3 more on the East Coast.
The tour with U2 became a bittersweet success. In the short run, it was phenomenal. It took only a couple months for The Alarm to become a headlining band in America, something that had taken them 3 years to achieve in the UK. They landed a spot on “American Band Stand” which was unusual because they hadn’t been on Top Of The Pops” in their own country yet. In the long-run, though, it would prove debilitating. Because of their similar energy and passion, The Alarm would forever, and unshakably held up and compared to the mighty monolith of U2. Ironically The Alarm may have had more of an influence on U2, than vice-versa. In the May 1990 issue of “Stereo Review” , Eddie MacDonald commented on being compared to U2 by saying “Bono told me that if we hadn’t written songs like The Stand, they (U2) would never have written anything like “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” In Reality, the bands probably borrowed stuff from each other,
but as far as most of the American music press was concerned, The Alarm were simply “U3.”
While critics in the USA were comparing The Alarm to U2, critics in the UK were already comparing them to The Clash. The cowboy outfits and clothes, exhibited on the cover of “The Stand” single were too much for the cynical British press. The Alarm were lambasted, called “an imitation of a shadow of The Clash,” and “A storm in a teacup” It was a time in the UK when the critics were realizing the promise of punk, had turned into plastic-sounding, commercial new wave. The press wanted to find their own darlings, and The Alarm just did not fit the mold. To them, a band expousing the “D.I.Y.” aspects of punk, while trying to inspire their fans to “join hands make plans and take a chance” was just too idealistic and naive for the 80’s. The Alarm brought back memories of a promise gone sour, something critics would just rather forget than acknowledge.
“There is beauty out there somewhere, I will leave no stone unturned
There is a guitar and a bugle , I hear the sound of distant drums”
-The Alarm (MacDonald/Peters) “Howling Wind,” 1984
In July of 1983, The Alarm started the long and arduous process of recording their first full length album, to be called “Dedication.” The title was a testament to all The Alarm had been through in their first 3 years. The name was later changed to the more urgent sounding “Declaration.” In the studio with producer Alan Shacklock, they tried to use the first take of every song recorded, or at least use a chorus or a piece of the first take so the final song would have the excitement of being played live for the first time. The album took much longer to record and mix than the band imagined. The Declaration release date was pushed back to December 1983, but the band decided to release the first single anyway, “Sixty Eight Guns.” “Sixty Eight Guns,” a song by Mike Peters written about a gang of youths living in 1968, served as a parallel to the Alarm’s struggle for success. Along with “The Stand,” “Sixty Eight Guns” became one of the Alarm’s most memorable efforts. The UK “Sixty Eight Guns” 7″ contained and edited version and the b-side “Sixty Eight Guns (Part II), a reworking of the part of the song edited out of the a-side. The UK 12” included the full version of the song as well as the forgettable b-side “Thoughts Of A Young Man” written in the form of a letter. The US 7″ included the edited version of “Sixty Eight Guns” as well, but the b-side was one of the best Alarm songs ever written, “Pavilion Steps” with Eddie MacDonald on lead vocals. With it’s quiet, ethereal beginning, and explosive ending, “Pavilion Steps” was not only a great song, but also a hint of Alarm material to follow.
The band toured the UK in the summer of 1983, then returned to the USA in September for their own headlining tour, recording their show at “My Father’ Place” in Long Island,NY. for future use as b-sides. During the tour, they were chased down and stopped by the Highway Patrol, who told them “Top Of The Pops” requested their appearance the following night. “Sixty Eight Guns” had reached #17 on the UK charts, and PiL had canceled out of their slot. The band caught a plane back to the UK, did the show, and returned the following day to continue their tour. In October 1983, they went back into the studio to finish recording their debut album. Still not happy with it, they delayed until February of 1984, and released another single, “Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke.” This fast paced rock song became an instant Alarm classic, and headed straight into the UK charts, hitting #22. The 7″ included the b-side “Pavilion Steps,” while the 12″ included both “Pavilion Steps” as well as “What Kind Of Hell.” The latter b-side was actually one of the first songs The Alarm ever wrote. They saved it for “Declaration,” but were disappointed with its extremely flat sounding production, and felt it was a bit
of a wasted effort. There was no USA release of the “Where Were You Hiding…” singles, but “What Kind Of Hell” did appear on the soundtrack to the Tom Hanks movie “Bachelor Party.”
Finally, in February of 1984, the Declaration album was released. It instantly reached #6 on the UK album charts, but in the USA it made a slow climb through the Billboard top 200 albums, reaching #50. The album shined with a crisp acoustic-electric sound achieved by Alan Shacklock, with a bit of orchestration on a couple songs. Uncharacteristic for the time, Declaration was digitally recorded. Besides the two singles released previously, the album had many highlights. New versions of “Marching On,” and “Third Light” were improved by the long studio sessions. The slow acoustic “We Are The Light,” written by Mike Peters on Christmas Day, and Dave Sharp’s “Tell Me” were also highlights. The best song though, was “Blaze Of Glory.” A song about struggling through adversity, it is the most powerful song on “Declaration.” “Blaze Of Glory” became one of The Alarm’s most popular songs, although its imagery of battle kept it from becoming a single. The band was conscious of the UK press who had miss-interpreted “Marching On” and “Sixty Eight Guns” as calls for revolution, and they didn’t want to make things worse by releasing a song with a stronger message.
The most surprising song on the record, is the 7 minute “Howling Wind” a song about a man searching for love. Slow and atmospheric, with crunching power chords, and a steady rhythm, “Howling Wind” was the first song The Alarm had ever written from the ground-up in the recording studio. It was more than the final song on “Declaration,” it showcased a maturity to the band’s sound that would hold over into the recording of their second album.
To show Declaration was not just a bunch of “rabble-rousing anthems,” as it had been called, The Alarm released “The Deceiver,” a song about the evils of greed, as their final single from the album. The UK 7″ was backed with a studio version of “Reason 41,” and the 12″ added “Second Generation.” A clear vinyl version of the single was also released, and a mustard colored miss-press of this single is one of the most collectable Alarm records. A special 7″ double pack also appeared in the UK, which included the standard 7,” plus a 7″ with live versions of “Lie Of The Land” and the Who’s “A Legal Matter,” recorded at the My Father’s Place show. In the USA, only a 7″ of “The Deceiver” b/w “Second Generation” was released. The Deceiver single reached #52 on the UK singles chart.
The Alarm spent the first half of 1984 touring in support of “Declaration.” They received a fanatical response in America. They caused a near-riot at in in-store appearance at a Tower Records in Los Angeles, and made it onto American Bandstand, lip-synching to “Sixty Eight Guns.
In 1984, The Alarm recorded several of their live performances for radio shows.
The BBC recorded their show on March 25, and released as a BBC Rock Hour #513. This show was bootlegged on a record called First Rebel Carriage,and two of the songs were bootlegged on a 7″ called Live In London. Three of the songs from this show were also released on BBC Rock Hour #538-Summer Special. Westwood One recorded at least two Live performances of The Alarm. One is 1 double LP with Talk Talk on one record and The Alarm on the second record. The other is show #86-08, The Alarm/Marillion. The best sounding bootleg of The Alarm available, appeared about this
time as well, called Live At Lorieli Rock. The Alarm show at the Kloten Festival in Switzerland was bootlegged extensively, with at least three CDs : Live In 1984, Live In 1989 and The Major Premise, all are identical.
BACK IN THE STUDIO
“The end of the place where our memories are kept
The end of the new way the start of the next
The end of a landmark, the end of an era “
-The Alarm (MacDonald Peters) “Pavilion Steps,” 1984
Looking back on Declaration and the critical flak The Alarm received because of it’s “anthemic” feel, Mike Peters said he wished they had put some of the 5 leftover tracks (released as b-sides) on the “Declaration.” album. The Alarm wanted to release another single, but instead of taking one off “Declaration,” they recorded new material. In September of 1984, they went back to Pluto studios and recorded the song “The Chant Has Just Begun” along with several other tracks. While at Pluto studios, they bought back the master tapes from the 1981 single “Unsafe Building” b/w “Up For Murder,” “The Chant Has Just Begun” was a big departure for The Alarm, succesfully achieving the “big drum sound” they had tried to capture. “The Chant Has Just Begun” became The Alarm’s brief foray into dance-oriented music, and it was almost a major hit. The song contained the lyrics “gunpowder’s been lit in the house” because Mike Peters thought someone would try to blow up the House Of Commons. It was bad timing, someone tried to do just that, and the song got restricted air play, reaching only #48 on the UK single charts. The 7″ of “The Chant…” contained the b-side, “Bells Of Rhymney,” a poem by Welsh Poet Idres Davies, that the Byrds had once recorded as well. The 12″ single had a re-mix of
“The Chant,” that got rid of the “gun powder” verse of the song, “Bells Of Rhymney,” and the full-version of “The Stand.” A European variation of the 12″ single added a cover version of Woodie Guthrie’s “Bound For Glory” to the songs on the UK 12.” The Japanese 12″ contained the same 3 songs as the UK 12,” but added “Second Generation” and “Thoughts Of A Young Man.” To coincide with this release, The Alarm finished off 1984 with their first tour of to Japan.
The Alarm appeared for the first and only time on a King Biscuit Flower Hour record in January of 1985. The recording is 2-disc set, one of the band X, and the other of The Alarm. This record was bootlegged on a vinyl l.p. called Knife Edge.
To record their second album, The Alarm entered the studio in February of 1985 with U2 producer Jimmy Iovine. They had just settled in to record, when a tragedy in Iovines’s family forced sessions to be called off. The band had recorded a few songs a month earlier with Declaration producer Alan Shacklock, and decided to release a single from the sessions , “Absolute Reality.” The song was released in the UK on 7″ and 12″ both b/w a version of “Blaze Of Glory” recorded in 1983. An “Absolute Reality” 7″ double-pack was also released. The extra 7″ single included Dave Sharp’s “Reason 36” and the Eddie MacDonald sung “Room At The Top.” Released in April of 1985, the “Absolute Reality” single reached #35 on the UK singles chart.
After writing a batch of new songs, The Alarm toured some more, to test them in front of an audience. They wanted to get the a reaction, and at the same time, invite producers down to hear them play live. In the UK, they spent April of 1985 on the “Absolute Tour” in support of “Absolute Reality.” The tour program sold during the “Absolute” tour contained a flexi-disc which included the band covering Free’s “All Right Now,” a bit of the Toilets “Alarm Alarm,” and part of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.” This flexi-disc appeared in both red and clear vinyl versions. Soon after, The Alarm toured the USA, opening for The Pretenders. Since some of the new songs required a keyboard player, Rupert Black of The Pretenders stood in for The Alarm until they could find someone permanent could be found for the job.
“We were running so fast We didn’t even know what had hit us
We were blind to the world And the world was blind to us”
– The Alarm (MacDonald/Peters) “Majority,” 1985
In June of 1985, The Alarm comenced recording their next album entitled Strength with producer Mike Howlett. The Alarm were called “naive” for shouting on Declaration about the problems saw in the UK. The Alarm had been continually asked for answers to things they sang about (unemployment, disaffected youth) that they, and no one else had solutions for. Tired of the situation, they wanted the songs on the new album to speak for themselves. Mike Peters, with the urging of the rest of the band, wrote songs from his own personal perspective. “Simplification” is how Mike Peters described it. No longer was the band trying to throw everything into each song, blurring the content. The songs were more focused and to the heart of the matter. With a common thread of “love, hope, and strength,” the album was about people, friendships and personal worth. Mike Howlett had a hand in squeezing out quality material . He rejected a whole stack of songs the band brought him, and made them go back to write material from a much more personal angle. Howlett also helped define a new “bigger” sound for The Alarm. He gave the it more low-end, tightening the rhythm section to create the characteristic “thumping” sound permeating “Strength.” More importantly though, most of the acoustic guitars were done-away with in favor of electric ones, pushing Strength toward a more rock sound, and away from the acoustic punk of “Declaration .” The Alarm brought in Rupert Black to play keyboards on the album, but hired Mark Taylor (The Cult) as part-time keyboarist for the ensuing tours. The album, like Declaration was digitally recorded.
In September of 1985, The Alarm released the first single from their upcoming album, the title track “Strength.” One of the first songs the band wrote for the album, it was actually a derivative of the song “Shout To The Devil” from “Declaration.” Fast paced, with echoing guitars, organ, and a pounding rhythm, “Strength” shot The Alarm back into the limelight, reaching #40 on the UK singles chart, but more importantly, #61 in the USA, the highest they had ever reached. The UK and USA 7″ of “Strength” was b/w “Majority,” a song pointing the Alarm’s “finger of guilt” back at themselves asking just who they thought they were. Another version of this single, with a poster cover was released in the UK. The UK 12″ single included the “Strength(Power Mix),” “Majority” and an acoustic version of “Absolute Reality.” In the USA, only a couple 12″ promotional singles were distributed.
The Strength album was released in October of 1985. Embracing the “poppy” symbol once more, it appears several times on the album cover and sleeve. Beyond symbolism the album contained a batch of great songs. Two of the best were later released as singles, “Knife Edge” and “Spirit Of ’76,” but other gems were not. “Deeside,” “Father To Son,” a newly recorded version of “Absolute Reality” and
Mike Peters’ “Only The Thunder” shine with crisp guitar and driving rhythms. Eddie Macdonald shows his own song-writing talents on “The Day The Ravens Left The Tower,” inspired by a flu-induced stupor he found himself in one night. The album also included The Alarm’s first self-proclaimed love song, “Dawn Chorus.” The UK version of Strength deleted the new version of “Absolute Reality.” A limited edition picture disc of the album was simultaneously released in the UK. The album reached #40 on the UK album charts, but was bested by it’s showing in the USA where it hit #39.
Shortly after Strength was released, a book called “The Alarm,” written by Rick Taylor, was published and released in the UK. It became the only book ever written about The Alarm.
“And the word I seek to answer all my questions
Is written down on everything I see
It’s in the words on the subway walls
It’s in the sounds filling the concert halls”
-The Alarm (MacDonald/Peters) “Only The Thunder,” 1985
The “Strength” tour was the largest and most ambitious tour The Alarm had yet to undertake. Playing to sold-out, near fanatical crowds in the USA, they made a name for themselves as a first-class live band. The Alarm toured the USA in November of 1985, playing colleges and large concert halls, recording their November 5th show in Boston, MA. for use as b-sides on later singles. The Alarm contributed a live version of “Howling Wind” from this show to an I.R.S. records compilation l.p. to benefit Cancer research called Live For Life. After the “lightening strike” American tour, The Alarm hit the UK, playing to similar rabid crowds and sold-out shows. They recorded their Dec. 16th, 1985 show at the Hammersmith Odeon, for a BBC transcription disc.
The Alarm asked their fans to choose their next single, and overwhelmingly so, they chose “Spirit Of
’76,” a song written by Mike Peters about his teenage friends. The 7 minute song was the obvious
standout on the Strength album. It’s quiet beginning, punctuated with harmonica, exploded with full-
force electric guitars like The Alarm had never produced before. The song was a hit with Alarm fans, but
became the bane of music critics. Missing the true meaning of the song, they called The Alarm naive for
writing a song “glorifying punk.” “Spirit Of ’76” may have been set against a punk background, but it’s
main themes were friendship, and teenage dreams, both lost and found. Loved by their fans, the song
became The Alarm’s most popular of all-time. The “Spirit Of ’76” single was released in January of
1986. The UK 7″ included an inferior 4 minute edited version of the song, and a live version of
“Deeside.” The USA 7″ include the edited version of “Spirit Of ’76” and the b-side “Reason 36.” In the
UK, two 12″ singles were released. The first included the album version of “Spirit Of ’76,” as well
as live versions of “Deeside” and “Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke” The
other 12″, a limited edition double-pack, included the same 12″ single from the standard version, plus a second 12″ with live versions of “Sixty Eight Guns” and “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.” All the live songs on the “Spirit Of ’76” singles were recorded Nov. 5th in Boston, MA. Only a 12″ promotional single was distributed in the USA, including the album version of the song, and a special A.O.R. edit. “Spirit Of 76” reached #22 on the UK singles charts, and grazed the top 60 in the USA.
Six months of planning led to The Alarm’s most historic concert, a live MTV broadcast on April 12th, 1986 from the campus of UCLA. Admission to the show was free, and a crowd of 20,000 people showed up. The band wanted to play the free show to thank their fans for their support, and at the same time gain a ton of exposure. UCLA was chosen for the time zone and it’s proximity to the satellite resources needed to beam the show around the world. Although technical problems detracted from the sound quality of the live broadcast the concert came off as a complete success. The mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradly even declared April 12th as “Alarm Day.” Later, in the summer of 1986, a video of the concert entitled Spirit Of ’86 was released by I.R.S. Home Video.
The 3rd single off of “Strength,” released in the USA only, was “Absolute Reality” b/w “Room At The Top.” A 12″ promotional single was distributed as well, including the b-sides “Reason 36 and “Majority,” with an advertisement for the UCLA concert on the cover.. This single was mostly ignored by American radio stations who programmed The Alarm, because they already played the earlier UK single version into the ground. Also appearing about this time was an “Innerview” radio show disc of the band being interviewed by Jim Ladd just before the UCLA concert.
The 3rd single released from Strength in the UK was “Knife Edge.”
“Knife Edge” showcased the Strength album’s sound. “Baba O’riley”-esque synthesizer opens the track followed by crashing guitars and an intricate, varying rhythm. The UK 7″ single, packaged in a gatefold sleeve, included the forgettable b-side “Caroline Isenberg.” The UK 12″ included 3 b-sides: an acoustic version of “Howling Wind” , an acoustic guitar/harmonica gem named “Unbreak The Promise” and “Caroline Isenberg.” The “Knife Edge” single failed to chart in the UK.
After the UCLA show, The Alarm continued their wildly successful North American Spirit of ’86 tour, then returned to the UK for more concert dates. They finished up the “Strength” tour supporting Queen and Status Quo At Wembly Stadium in front of 80,000 people.
“Say I know a lot of people just like you,
Plenty to live for, and nothing to lose
So tear it all down, Smash it all up
Break it all down, and then build it up”
-The Alarm (Sharp/Twist) “One Step Closer To Home,” 1984
Once “Strength” tour concluded, The Alarm entered a time of turmoil and silence. After recording, promoting and touring constantly for nearly two years in support of the Strength album, tempers and patience were wearing thin. Almost from beginning , there was a desire within The Alarm to create an “album of a generation” like Who’s Next or Never Mind the Bollocks. Strength was supposed to be that record. After playing the same songs and going through the same emotions on stage nearly every night, it becamely became apparent that the importance they had placed on the album was not really there. The record company and the group’s management were putting pressure on the Alarm to follow up Strength quickly with a new album that would essentially be Strength II, instead of allowing them to continue their on-going development. The band decided instead, to take a break. They took care of unfinished business, which included firing crew members getting paid much more money than they were worth, and put The Alarm on hold for the summer of 1986.
While Dave Sharp went to France to write new songs, Mike Peters went
home to North Wales for song writing inspiration. He wrote songs while sitting on mountain tops, and took a video camera and filmed people on the street to soak up the atmosphere and write songs on the spot. He also found inspiration in Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. During their hiatus, the British music press printed rumors that The Alarm had broken up. For the first time, they felt how much tension manufactured stories could cause within the band.
When they got back together they to re-examined their 15 year friendship, trying to decide if it was still valid. They had been teenagers when they started playing in bands, Declaration and Strength were albums made with a teenage mind set. They had grown up and changed in the 6 years since forming The Alarm,but non-stop touring and recording had pushed those things aside for the band. They realized, making “the album of a generation” and becoming the biggest band in the world, was not the goal of everyone in the group anymore. With their maturity added to the mix, The Alarm decided, instead of commercial success, they would focus their attention on writing the best possible songs they were capable of. It was the autumn of 1986, and The Alarm had begun the slow process of re-inventing themselves once more.
EYE OF THE HURRICANE
“The sound of the wind is blowing
Rushing over hill and vale
As the new day dawns
And the rose beyond the wall”
-The Alarm (MacDonald/Peters) “Rose Beyond The Wall,” 1987
Displaying a new solidarity within the band, The Alarm came out of their silence in the spring of 1987, almost one year after the “Spirit Of ’86” tour ended. Not only were they back but they were prepared to end the two year breaks between albums, and attempt record an album and have a tour every year into the foreseeable future. They began in the spring of 1987 with the “Electric Folklore” tour, using it to try out new material for their next album. Immediately following the tour, the band entered the studio with John Porter (of Roxy Music) to record their 3rd album, “Eye Of The Hurricane,” while they were still “hot” from playing live. They chose Porter because of the freedom he promised them in the studio. The Alarm wanted to produce the album themselves, but they were not studio-savvy enough to do that yet. Porter exercised a hands-off approach, and joked that he would sit back and “make the tea” while the band was taking their first significant part in the production of an album. Mike Peters summed up what Eye Of The Hurricane meant to The Alarm in an interview with the Canadian magazine “Only Music”, “We wanted to make a record for ourselves, not for the record company, the radio, or anyone else. We wanted to do a record that we’d want to play in ten years time, a record we’d be proud of. We didn’t care whether this record would be a success or failure.”
The time off had been good for the band. They realized each of them had grown as musicians and song-writers. The pushed each other in the studio to play to their ability, and came away with a greater respect for each other’s talents. Dave Sharp decided he didn’t want to play guitar over-dubs, which encouraged Mike Peters to become a better guitar player. Nigel Twist started experimenting with Japanese rhythms, and Eddie MacDonald with keyboards. Peters and MacDonald encouraged Dave Sharp to take part in much of the song writing, and for the first time, they attempted to seriously write as group. The result was an album with lyrics more introspective than Strength’s, sounding miles apart from The band’s previous efforts.
The first single from Eye Of The Hurricane said it all. A Low-key song with whispering guitars, synthesized drums laid on top of real ones, and a danceable rhythm, “Rain In The Summertime” was a huge departure. It was also a moderate hit, opening at #20 on the UK singles chart and moving deep into the America’s Billboard “Hot 100.” This prompted The Alarm to lip-synch it on both Top Of The Pops and American Bandstand. The 7″ singles in the USA and UK contained the b-side “Rose Beyond The Wall,” an enjoyable but slow-paced song about their Welsh home-land. A Limited edition 7″ “Collector’s Pack,” including a premium version of the standard single, a sticker and 5 postcards, was released in the UK. The USA 12″ single included a quality, extended version of the “Rain In The Summertime” called the “Thunder Mix,” plus the useless “Lightening Mix” and the insipid “Instrumental Mix.” The UK saw two 12″ singles. The first contained the “Through The Haze Mix,” which was the same as the USA version’s “Thunder Mix,” the “Lightening Mix,” and “Rose Beyond The Wall.” The second 12″ included the album version of “Rain In The Summertime,” a live version of “Bells Of Rhymney” and the up-tempo, but over-produced, synthesizer heavy track named “Time To Believe.” A promotional CD called “Rain In The Summertime” was distributed in the UK, including the song, plus 3 other tracks from the album.
Eye Of The Hurricane was released in November of 1987. Beyond the shock of the synthesizers, electronic drums, and re-mixes of “Rain In The Summertime,” the album contained a few surprises of its own. The most pleasant was the return of acoustic guitars. Songs like “Hallowed Ground,” and “Shelter” bristle with the sound of 12-string acoustics laid on top of electric guitars. The real stand-out on the album, was Dave Sharp’s “One Step Closer To Home.” With acoustic guitar, a crashing finale of instruments, and well-crafted lyrics, the rest of the album paled in comparison. On the down-side, heavy synthesizers marred the otherwise fine track “A Newtown Jericho,” and pretty much sank the title track “Eye Of The Hurricane.” The Alarm tried to distance themselves from their previous efforts in another way as well. The exploding poppy symbol was all but forgotten. In it’s place was an eye in cross hairs. When asked about the poppy, Mike Peters replied “The poppy, we just forgot about that.” however, a lot of the The Alarm’s longtime fans didn’t . They heard the sound of “Rain In The Summertime,” they saw the new look, and a lot of them gave up on the band, believing The Alarm were was lost in musical territory they didn’t care to visit.
The second single from Eye Of The Hurricane was “Rescue Me.” An enjoyable, fast paced rock track, “Rescue Me” could have used a little more punch, or some of Mike Howlett’s Strength style production to push it over the edge. In the UK, there were several “Rescue Me” 7″ singles: a standard 7,” a 7″ with a poster sleeve, and a blue vinyl 7.” Each included the b-side “My Land Your Land,” Dave Sharp’s reworking of the Woodie Guthrie classic of nearly the same name. The UK gatefold sleeved, “Rescue Me” 12″ single included a longer version of “Rescue Me” called the “Tearing The Bonds Asunder Mix,” “My Land Your Land,” a cover of Woodie Guthrie’s “Pastures Of Plenty,” and the best of all the Eye Of The Hurricane b-sides, “Elders And Folklore.” Another 12″ single was listed for sale, including an early version of “A New South Wales,” but this never appeared. “Rescue Me” was not released as a single in the USA.
EYE OF THE HURRICANE TOUR
“In the strength borne of hardship I knew we’d make it through
So throw back your head these dreams are coming through”
-The Alarm (MacDonald/Peters) “Permanence In Change,” 1987
December of 1987 saw The Alarm touring the USA once more.
They lip synched “Rain In The Summertime” on American Bandstand, and sold-out large concert venues filled with a mixture of old fans and new ones won over by “Rain In The Summertime.” They recorded their December show at the Chicago Vic Theatre for further use as b-sides, and released it as a Westwood One Radio show. After playing playing a free, all-acoustic show at The Roxy in Hollywood, they met Elliot Roberts, manager of the club and friend of Bob Dylan. He was extremely impressed by The Alarm, and showed interest in managing them. The band had been having financial trouble with their longtime manager Ian Wilson and decided to make a change In early 1988 they replaced Ian Wilson with Elliot Roberts. .
In January of 1988, The Alarm released their final single from “Eye,” “Presence Of Love.” The USA 7″ single included the b-side “My Land Your Land.” Only a 1 song promotional 12″ was distributed in the USA. In the UK, a standard 7,” and a 7″ picture disc were both released, each having a live version of “Knife Edge” as the b-side. Two 12″ singles were released in the UK. The first included live versions of “Knife Edge” and Strength as b-sides. The second, a limited edition 12″ with a poster, included live versions of “Knife Edge,” “Dawn Chorus” and “This Train Is Bound For Glory.” A CD single was released in Germany with this same mix of songs. A limited edition CD-single of Presence Of Love” was released in the UK, containing “Rain In The Summertime (Through The Haze Mix) and “Knife Edge(live).” “Presence Of Love” became the only single by _The Alarm_ to reach the American Top-40, hitting #39. A Spanish re-mix of the song is rumored to exist as well.
Planning to release a live album, The Alarm recorded several shows from their February-March tour of the USA. At the least, their show at the Boston Orpheum Theatre was recorded, and possibly shows in Poughkeepsie, Philadelphia, and Greencastle as well. A bootleg CD called Coming Of Age appeared in 1990, an extremely poor recording of The Alarm’s 1988 show at The Ritz in New York. A BBC transciption disc was recorded in February of 1988 at the Hammersmith Odean. A Bootleg of this show named Electric Folklore ’88 surfaced a few months later.
Elliot Roberts was so excited about The Alarm, he played their music for Bob Dylan. Impressed, Dylan invited them to open for him on his summer tour of the America. The Alarm found the tour challenging, but ultimately successful. They played a couple shows where more Alarm fans showed up than Dylan fans, their performances were a success with music critics, and they found inspiration to write songs for their next album.
In October of 1988, The Alarm released a six song live album called Electric Folklore Live. The stand-out on the album was a 9 minute take of “Rescue Me”, with a rock attack far superior to the album version. Other highlights include versions of “Rain In The Summertime” and “Permanence In Change” from the Eye Of The Hurricane album. Curiously, the three older songs included, “Strength,” “Spirit Of ’76” and “Blaze Of Glory,” sounded rather dull and lifeless. To promote the live version of “Rescue Me,” a promotional-only album named Curtain Call was distributed American rock-radio stations. The 12 song CD included the album and extended versions of “Rescue Me,” six classic Alarm songs, plus the live version of “Rescue Me” and 3 other tracks from Electric Folklore Live.
In late 1988 and early 1989 A&M, the original distributor for I.R.S. records before M.C.A. took over, released a series of Alarm related compact discs. In the USA, they released a 3″ CD single with “The Stand” (single version),”Lie Of The Land(live)” and “A Legal Matter(live). This collection was also released on a 5″ CD named Save It For Later. A Second 3” CD including the songs “Sixty Eight Guns(edit),” “The Chant Has Just Begun” and “Marching On(live) was also released. In the UK, A&M released a CD named Compact Hits including 4 songs from the Declaration album.
1988 ended with a scare for The Alarm. Mike Peters was involved in a stage-lighting accident, leaving him blind for two weeks. Peters described the incident as simply “the scariest time of my life.”
“Change at my ankles Holding me back
Change like an icon, beckoning fast”
-The Alarm (Peters) “Change I,” 1989
The Alarm spent the first half of 1989 holed up in a Welsh castle named Kinmel hall, belting out demos for their next album “Change.” Their was strong desire in the band to get back to the basics of recording, to what Dave Sharp referred to as the “True Values Of Rock And Roll.” At Kinmel hall, the Alarm had written and recorded over 20 new songs. Attempting gain a larger role in the band, Dave Sharp started writing more prolifically. For the album they enlisted Tony Visconti as producer and found a working, early 70’s, vacuum-tube mixing desk to record with. Visconti agreed with The Alarm about the back-to-basics approach, and they proceeded to record the album live in the studio. Mark Taylor was once again invited to play keyboards on the album. Attempting to decide whose songs to emphasize, Sharp/Twist or MacDonald/Peters, the band left it up to Visconti, who chose nearly all MacDonald/Peters songs. This left Sharp with only one song on the album, “Change II”. With only supporting role as The Alarm’s chief musical instrument (guitarist), he was left with desire to let his own musical voice be heard..
The first single from Change was “Sold Me Down The River.” Reminiscent of “Howling Wind,” it showcased the vivid rock production of “Change.” Its pounding rhythms, and guitar leads mixed with piano hardened back to an earlier age of rock’n’roll. In The UK, the 7″ and cassette singles of “Sold Me Down The River” included the b-side “Gwerthoc Fi I Yr Lawr Afon,” which was “Sold Me Down The River” sung in Welsh. A special version of the single packaged with a couple b&w photos was also released. The UK 12″ single and CD single included the album version of “Sold Me Down The River,” the Welsh version, and the folk-influenced b-side “Corridors Of Power.” A 10″ single was also released in the UK, containing the same songs as the 12,” but adding the unreleased track “Firing Line,” a guitar driven anthem taken from the Kinmel Hall sessions. In The USA, cassette and 12″ singles of “Sold Me Down The River” were released, both containing the songs “Black Sun” and “How The Mighty Fall” from the CD and cassette version of the Change album. For promotion, a nice gatefold CD single with the “Sold Me Down The River” album and edit versions was distributed in the USA.
The Album Change was released on September 17, 1989 . Originally designed as a double album, it was pared down to a 14 track CD and cassette, and a 12-track vinyl l.p. The live production, recorded with ancient equipment paid off. Change had the urgency of Declaration coupled with the rock and roll power of “Strength,” but most importantly, continuity. What held the album together was its theme, a homage to Wales. Songs like the the powerful “Hardland,” “Where A Town Once Stood,” and the all-acoustic “Rivers To Cross” displays the beauty and troubles found in the homeland of Mike Peters and Eddie MacDonald. “Hireath,” a word that roughly translates to “A Welshman’s longing for his home country” is used in the experimental sounding “The Rock,” punctuating the album’s theme. Other highlights include the anthemic “No Frontiers,” and the Strength style rock of “Prison Without Prison Bars.” The lone Dave Sharp tune, “Change II,” sounding a bit like “Deeside,” featured Sharp singing only one verse, while Mike Peters sang the rest. In the UK, a limited edition vinyl l.p. was released, packaged with a 7″ single containing the two songs left off the record, the “Strength”-like “Black Sun” and Declaration-esque, prophetic warning of “How The Mighty Fall.” The Japanese CD of the album added “Gwerthoc Fi I Yr Lawr Afon” and “Corridors Of Power” to the album as well. Also released in Japan was a promotional album named The Alarm with 9 classic Alarm songs and 6 tracks from Change. In a slight nod to the past, The Change album included a small “poppy” symbol on the back cover.
The second single from Change in the UK was “A New South Wales.”
Recorded with the Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir and heavily orchestrated, the song expresses the most passionate sentiment about Wales on the Change album. The 7″ and cassette singles contained an edited version of “A New South Wales” as well as “The Rock.” Two other 7″ singles, one with a die- cut sleeve, gatefold sleeve, and 4 pages of photos, and the other, a Welsh version, with “Hwylio Dros Y Mor” b/w “Y Graig” were simultaneously released. A 10″ white vinyl single of “A New South Wales” was also released, containing “A New South Wales(edit), the impressive “The Rock(long version), a recording of “Rivers To Cross” with the Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir, and a cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.” The 12″ single contained the album version of “A New South Wales,” “The Rock(long version),” cover of Woodie Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” with Dave Sharp on vocals, and “Breaking Point.” Thematically, “Breaking Point” doesn’t fit with the theme of Change, but that doesn’t keep it’s well-crafted acoustic rock and impassioned vocals from emerging as one of the best Alarm songs ever recorded. A CD single was also produced, containing the same songs as the 12,” on which “Vigilante Man” was replaced with “Working Class Hero.” “A New South Wales” was not released as a single in America.
In the USA, the blues tinged, power-chord rocker “Devolution Working Man Blues” from Change was geared towards radio stations as single. However, it got little air play , and was never commercially released.
“From the valleys of the south to Snowdinia, The land of sacrafice
The flames are burning my conscience, Wales is not for sale”
-The Alarm (MacDonald/Peters) “Hiraeth,” 1989
To support the Welsh Language Act, an act when passed by the British Parliament, would allow the use of Welsh as well as English in legal transactions in Wales, the band recorded the entire Change album in Welsh (minus “Black Sun” and “How The Mighty Fall”) and released it on vinyl with the name Newid, which is Welsh for “change”. Some songs, like the version of “Hardland” named “Hireath,” had totally different lyrics because many English phrases simply don’t translate into Welsh. Newid had a “big impact” in Wales according to Mike Peters. At first he thought it would be difficult to record the album in Welsh, but after a while it all came together. The Newid project created so much goodwill Mike Peters could only describe it as “incredible.” People came out of the woodwork to help, offering coaching and translation facilities. The recording of Newid showed The Alarm there was a lot more compassion for the Welsh language in the UK than they realized. A CD of Newid was released in Japan, including a booklet explaining each verse of the poem “Change” by Mike Peters. The Alarm contributed “Hulon Du,” the Welsh version of “Black Sun” to a compilation of Welsh bands named “Hei DJ.”
The Alarm toured the USA in fall of 1989, playing sold-out shows a large theaters and concert venues. During the tour, their popularity in America hit its peek as “Sold Me Down The River” reached #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. After the short tour, they went to Japan, then back to the UK, promising to come back in the Spring of 1990 to tour the USA again.
The third and final single from Change was “Love Don’t Come Easy.” A slow country-tinged track that builds to an explosive ending. In The USA, the only commercial release was a cassette single with the b-side “Corridors Of Power.” However, a promotional CD single was distributed, with “Love Don’t Come Easy,” “Corridors Of Power” and “Working Class Hero.” In the UK, the a 7″ single with a die-cut sleeve, and cassette single were released, each containing “Croesi’r Afon,” the Welsh version of “Rivers To Cross” with the Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir. The 10″ for “Love Don’t Come Easy” was a picture disc with the b-sides “Croesi’r Afon” and an acoustic version of “Change II” with Dave Sharp on vocals. A CD single and a 12″ poster sleeve single were also released, containing “Croesi’r Afon” and an acoustic version of “no Frontiers” as b-sides. “Love Don’t Come Easy” sold well in the USA, but with no Alarm tour to back it up like “Sold Me Down The River,” it quickly faded.
Later in the Winter of 1990, Dave Sharp and Nigel Twist appeared on MTV unplugged, and played “Change II,” “One Step Closer To Home,” “Bound For Glory” and “20 Flight Rock.” About the same time, Mike Peters helped out fellow Welsh rockers Jess by singing back-up on two of their songs “Glaw 91” and “Pswyn Haplis.” The Jess went on to win Best new Welsh band in 1991.
“And In The Morning
Do you remember the night?
Put on dark sunglasses to shut out the light.
Shut out the pain,
Shut out the red in your eyes you hide.
Every time you look in the mirror
How do you live with your life?.”
-The Alarm (MacDonald/Peters) “Breaking Point,” 1989
The Alarm did not return to the USA in the Spring of 1990 and rumors started to spread about the band, most contending that they had broken up. The truth was much more upsetting than anyone could have speculated. Mike Peters sister suffered a brain aneurysm leaving her unable to speak. On top of that, his father suffered a heart attack and died. If that wasn’t enough, Nigel Twist’s step-father committed suicide. Shaken, Mike Peters applied the brakes to The Alarm, taking time to sort things out.
In the interim, Dave Sharp, feeling the need take more of a lead musical role, took a song writing trip to New York City, and ended up playing solo acoustic at the Earth Day festival. At a club in New Jersey, Dave Sharp saw a band named The Barnstormers and described it as a “religious experience”. He asked if he could step up on stage and play a few songs with them, and he felt a real chemistry with them. He kept them in the back of his mind as he continued his writing trip. About this time, I.R.S. released the “Change Video E.P.” in the UK. The collection contained the video for “Sold Me Down The River,” “A New South Wales,” “Love Don’t Come Easy,” and “Sixty Eight Guns” taken from the Spirit Of ’86 video. Mike Peters was upset that I.R.S. included “Sixty Eight Guns,” thinking it to be a rip-off to Alarm fans.
In the summer of 1990, Mike Peters surprised the rest of his band mates by calling them up and telling them they were going to start recording another album in one week. Unbenounced to them however, Peters saw this as a last ditch attempt to continue The Alarm. The death of Mike’s father and the serious ailment his sister suffered had changed Peters. The Alarm, once foremost in Peter’s life, now seemed much less important. Not willing to give up though, Peters gathered up strength and decided to take on more shot at The Alarm. However, he was not as willing to compromise with The Alarm anymore. If any member wanted something, they were going to have to fight for it.
The band met up in Wales, in a barn Nigel Twist converted into a recording studio. They bashed out most of their next album in one week, and then recorded it live, in 28 days, at Amazon studios in Liverpool. They recorded sans keyboard player, so Eddie MacDonald stood in on the songs requiring one. The live recording suited most of the band well, especially Macdonald who thought the live tracks contained a lot of the “interesting” bits (i.e. mess-ups) giving songs character, something studio polished ones just couldn’t retain. However, Mike Peters had second thoughts. Creativity, to him, was stunted by only recording “live” songs. He was getting the urge to experiment, and it was beginning to seem like he wouldn’t get to do that with The Alarm.
While recording, Peters and Eddie MacDonald argued over one of Peter’s new songs, “Moments In Time.” The song was reminicent to “Spirit Of ’76”, but paid homage to The Alarm. Macdonald thought the lyrics were “rubbish”. Upset, Peters sang it in the studio with an anlternate chorus, which include the line “This is my sawn-song” to show his band mates what was really on his mind. Expecting anger or a debate, Peters left the the studio, but was met with no reaction at all. The rest of The Alarm either didn’t listen to the recording session, or didn’t care that he was considering leaving the band. From that point on, as far as Mike Peters was concerned, the the energy and bond he once felt
within band was simply “gone”.
In October of 1990, Dave Sharp hit the USA with another solo tour. He played mostly new songs, with a few Alarm classics mixed in. When he was asked if The Alarm had broken up, he simply joked “we’ve been too busy to break up, or we probably would have.” He went on to say , The Alarm had been “treading the treadmill of rock’n roll” and were simply taking a break.
In November of 1990, The Alarm released newly recorded versions of “Unsafe Building and Up For Murder” entitled “Unsafe Building 1990” and “Up For Murder 1990″ on 7,” 12,” CD single and cassette single in the UK. The newly recorded versions were competent, but were not nearly as good as the original versions. The 12″ single added the original version of “Up For Murder” while the CD single added the original version of “Unsafe Building.” A Free poster was included in a limited edition of the 12″ single. There was also a limited edition “collectors pack” containing the 7″ single, early photos, and other bits of nostalgia from The Alarm’s formative years. Only a 1-sided promotional 7″ of “Unsafe Building 1990” was released in the USA, but a brand new song named “The Road” was released as a single. “The Road” , produced by Mick Glossop, had a surging rock feel, with harmonica laid on top of acoustic and electric guitars and explosive drumming. Only a cassette single of “The Road” was released in the USA, although a 1-song CD single emblazoned with a with a great looking version of The Alarm’s “Poppy” logo appeared in promotional-only format. The cassette single had the original version of “Unsafe Building” as the b-side.
If The Alarm were attempting to get back to their roots, the “poppy” must have symbolized that desire, because their retrospective album Standards, like the “Unsafe Building” and “The Road” singles, was covered with one. In the USA, Standards was released on CD and cassette only. The collection included “The Road,” “Unsafe Building 1990,” a cover of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas(War Is Over),” the full version of “The Stand,” the UK single version of “Absolute Reality,” “Devolution Working Man Blues” and 8 other songs released as singles in the USA. The CD included two bonus tracks, “Blaze Of Glory” and the UK single version of “Marching On.” In the UK, an l.p. version of Standards was released as well as a CD and cassette. The UK versions substituted “Devolution Working Man Blues” for “A New South Wales.” The Japanese version of Standards added “Love Don’t Come Easy” to mix of songs on the UK CD version. In the UK, a promotional boxed set of six 7″ singles containing 12 songs from the UK version of Standards showed up as well. In addition to a the retrospective album, The Alarm released a video collection named Standards containing 15 of the band’s promotional video clips. Curiously missing from it were videos for “Absolute Reality” and the live version of “Rescue Me” from the Electric Folklore Live album. I.R.S. also published a book titled Stand including the lyrics to every Alarm song released.
The Alarm tried to release “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” as single, but it proved a futile exercise in bad timing. In the UK, the song got restricted air play because of the impending “Gulf War. The song was ignored in the USA , though a promotional CD single was released. The only commercial single was a Japanese 3” CD “Happy Christmas(War Is Over)/”Black Sun.”
“I remember it now, like it was yesterday
Playing those guitars at a frantic pace
Somewhere we got lost along the way “
-The Alarm (MacDonald Peters) “Moments In Time,” 1991
In Late 1990 Dave Sharp toured the USA once more.
I.R.S. had gotten word of Dave Sharp’s continuing solo tour of America and were interested in having him recording a solo album. Sharp enlisted Bob Dylan producer Bob Johnson to head the project, and started recording it in January of 1991, using The Barnstormers as a backing band.
In Early 1991, The Alarm put the finishing touches on their next album, now titled Raw. Dave Sharp then hooked up with The Barnstormers for a tour of the UK. His shows mixed solo, acoustic songs like “A River Still To Cross” and “Driving Hard Rain,” with songs like “Twisting Wind” and “In The City” backed up by the Barnstormers. The plan was for Dave to finish his solo tour, then The Alarm would start promoting and touring Raw. In an interview with CREEM magazine in the Spring of 1991, Mike Peters sounded puzzled about Dave Sharp. He said, “Dave’s a hard guy to understand. “I’ve known him since 1973 and his real name is Dave Kitchingman. Dave Kitchingman is everything Dave Sharp isn’t…it’s very hard to get to know him.” The gap between Peters and Sharp, it seemed, was only widening.
In April of 1991, The album Raw was released. The band decided to spread song-writing and lead vocals evenly among members, giving Dave Sharp more of the lead role he wanted. The album contained 3 songs written by MacDonald/Peters, 3 songs written by Sharp/Twist, 3 songs written by The Alarm, and a cover version of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Freeworld.” All the Sharp/Twist songs were recorded with Dave Sharp on lead vocals.
The result was an album with some bright spots, but for the most part, sounded disjoint and confused. The different song writing styles did not mix well and there was little continuity between songs. Unlike the cohesive, planned-out sound of their previous effort Change, Raw sounded like a collection of b-sides and unreleased tracks. The album did have strengths. Musically, the band was back to mixing acoustic and electric guitars, and added harmonica on several songs. Song-wise, there were several standouts. “Hell Or Highwater” rocked like Alarm songs of old, the sweeping power-chords of “The Wind Blows Away My Words” displayed the band at one of their all-time best levels and the prophetic “Moments In Time” cried out to be heard. Out of Dave Sharp’s 3 songs only “Wonderful World” really worked, while the other two “God Save Somebody” and “Save Your Crying” did not sound fully fleshed out. The album was destroyed by the British press, but received mixed to favorable reviews in the USA.
The only single released from Raw was the title track, A Mike Peters treatise on “burnout”. Displaying clean power chords, and acoustic guitar, the song started out well, but got lost somewhere and never returned. In The UK, the 7″ and cassette single contained “Raw” with the b-side of “Sixty Eight Guns(part 1).” The 12″ single added a demo version of “Devolution Working Man Blues,” while the CD single added “Sold Me Down The River(edit)” to the mix of songs on the 12″ single. Only the limited edition red vinyl 7″ of “Raw” had a “real” b-side, the song “Change I,” recorded in late 1989, too late to be included on any of the releases from the “Change” album.
Added to the stress already placed on the band within its own ranks, was the lack of support I.R.S. gave them. Mike Peters handed I.R.S. a good amount of unreleased material, demos and out-takes, but they insisted on putting “Sixty Eight Guns” and “Sold Me Down The River” as b-sides on the “Raw” single. Since the retrospective album Standards had been released only six months prior to Raw, I.R.S. felt the need to promote it with the “Raw” single. Furthermore, I.R.S. failed to promote the single in UK, and, failed to advertise the band’s tour dates on the single. Incensed , Mike Peters fought with I.R.S., believing Alarm fans were being ripped off again, but he made no head-way.. The decent relationship The Alarm had with I.R.S. for almost ten years quickly deteriorated.
The Raw album was promoted lightly in the USA as well. The press materials were little more than a 1 page fax, and there was no commercial single released, only a 1 song promotional CD for radio air play. After the Raw album and single failed to generate sales of any significance, I.R.S. announced they had no plans to release more singles from Raw. Attempting to continue their support of the Welsh language, a version of Raw, sung in Welsh, was released under the name Tan. Apparently I.R.S. was not interested in releasing the album, so it was released on the CRAI label. The three Sharp/Twist songs on Raw were replaced with Welsh language versions of “Unsafe Building,” “The Road,” and “Happy Christmas(War Is Over).” At least 3 of the songs, “Tan” (“Raw”), “Rocio Yn Ein Rhyddid” (“Rockin’ In The Freeworld”) and “Fel Maer Afon” (“Let The River Run Its Course”) had different backing tracks than versions on Raw.
After a tour of the UK in April of 1991, The Alarm spent the month of May in the USA on a promotional and concert tour for the Raw album. The band packed as many live show in as possible, sometimes playing 2 shows a night, or playing midnight shows at venues other-wise booked for that particular evening. Attempting to get back to their roots they played small venues where they could feed off the audience. The band toured with stream-lined crew compared to previous tours. Elliot Roberts had ceased being manager for The Alarm, so Mike Peters did most of the work himself. Keyboarist Mark Taylor was not invited on tour either. Mixing greatest hits in with a few songs from Raw, the well received shows were filled with energy and passion. Since I.R.S. had shoveled retreads onto their b-sides for the “Raw” single, the band played the buried track “Change I” over the P.A. to open every show.
When interviewed during the tour, Dave Sharp made the band’s future seem promising. He said everyone was writing new material, there was talk of recording another album, and the band was planning to tour the USA again in the late-summer of 1991. While Dave Sharp was optimistic, Mike Peters wasn’t. When asked about the “future” of The Alarm, shortly before their American tour, he answered .”..were just taking things as they come, so we don’t like to look to far into the future, we enjoy every gig now as if it could be our last….”
The Alarm returned to UK for a tour, with the last scheduled show at Brixton Academy in the UK. After finding out that I.R.S. had arranged for the show to be filmed, Mike Peters collected his feelings and decided it was it would be a perfect time to leave The Alarm. During the song “Moments In Time,” Peters ad-libbed the words “now you know the truth about this song.” From that point on, his eyes stared into the audience, fixed, like he was in a trance. Before playing the final song of the night, “Blaze Of Glory,” Peters announced “this is my last moment with The Alarm.” As the audience chanted “…going out in a blaze of glory…” over and over at the song’s finish, Mike Peters left the stage, left the building, and left The Alarm forever.
“There should be a warning sign here in the ground,
It’s a mighty hard road to be travellin’ down”
-Dave Sharp “Driving Hard Rain,” 1991
After leaving the Brixton stage, Mike Peters went into hiding, leaving the rest of the band unable to contact him. Stunned, Twist, MacDonald and Sharp had either ignored the signs of that Mike Peters was leaving the band, or didn’t realize their significance. They went their separate ways, Twist traveling to San Francisco and Macdonald staying in the UK. Dave Sharp continued on his tour with The Barnstormers to support his solo album, he had planned before the band started the “Raw” tour. During the tour, he was asked about the future of The Alarm. Sharp said he had talked to Nigel Twist and Eddie MacDonald about The Alarm, and they decided to continue the band, but after a long break. He said that The Alarm would probably come back, but it was time for them to “sing a new song,” and move into a new direction.
Dave Sharp’s solo album, Hard Travellin’ was released in August of 1991. The album was split into two parts, and electric side and an acoustic side. The electric part had The Barnstormers backing up Dave Sharp. Mixing a whole lot of folk with some rock-a-billy, this side has a distinctive “Dave Sharp” sound. Stand-out songs include: the rockin’ “In The City” and “Long Black Night,” and the prophetic “Last Smiling Villain From The South.” The acoustic side, while quieter than the electric side, was much more effective. The song Hard Travellin’, written for the common people sent to fight the Gulf War, was easily the stand-out. Other solid songs included “In The Dead Of The Night,” “Big Road Blue” and “Joey The Jone.” Sharp wanted to release a single from Hard Travellin’, but he also didn’t want to get caught up in the “album/single/tour” cycle The Alarm had gotten caught up in during the previous 10 years. As it turned out, no single was ever released from the album and it got little radio air play. The album received good reviews, most notable, a B+ from Audio Magazine.
Dave Sharp embarked on a tour of the USA in the Fall of 1991, playing small clubs, and benefits whenever possible. He played on into 1992, most notably, a benefit on the eve of Easter in Los Angeles, and in July, he was in New York to play at a Woodie Guthrie tribute concert. Continuing to develop as a song writer, Sharp’s new songs were some of his best yet. “Downtown America” and “The Ghost Of Preacher Casey” showed a growth in both musicianship and song-writing. He left IRS records, and aquired new management, and started searching for another record label. He toured in late 1992 with few musicians as the “Acoustic Terrorists”, and was planning to record another album in 1993, but it never surfaced, then suddenly, either by fate or design, news about Dave Sharp dried up.
Rumor has it that Eddie, Dave and Twist were interested in continuing The Alarm, but they were thwarted by I.R.S.. Supposedly, I.R.S. told them they would never release an Alarm record without Mike Peters. Since Mike wasn’t so much as speaking to his ex-band mates at the time, this meant continuing in any form would be impossible.
In the fall of 1992, a video of The Alarm’s final show at Brixton Academy named Blaze Of Glory appeared in the USA. A PAL version had been available in the UK since 1991.
MIKE PETERS AND THE POETS
“A new chapter in the book of my life
A new song in a different key
Walk on in a new direction
A new chapter in the book of my life”
-Mike Peters “A New Chapter,” 1994
Shortly after Mike Peters left The Alarm, he locked himself away in a converted church in Wales to write songs. According to Peters, The Alarm was “in pieces” right before he left, and the end of the “Raw” tour “Signaled the end of our creative road.” He felt a great weight lift from him, his independent, “do it yourself” was slowly creeping back. He started collaborating with his wife, Jules Jones as well, making it one of the most prolific and creative times of his life. Peters remained publicly silent for 12 months, but surfaced in the Fall of 1992 with a quick tour of the USA. Playing with a backing band of session musicians, called “The Poets Of Justice,” which included his wife on keyboards, Peters tried out his new songs to small audiences, with little fan-fare or promotion. Some of the new material was not unlike the MacDonald/Peters songs he had written with The Alarm, but there was an unmistakable quality and variety to it all. The rock n’ roll songs like “A Beautiful Thing” seemed to work better than the similar Alarm songs “The Road” and “Devolution Working Man Blues.” Peters had written slow acoustic songs like “Levi’s And Bibles” and “A New Chapter,” as well as experimental sounding ones like “21st Century” and “I’m Unstoppable.” It all sounded extremely promising.
During his tour of the USA and the UK, Mike Peters collected the names addresses of every fan he could. He used this information to create a database, and started his own fan club called The Mike Peters Organization, or The M.P.O. for short. He wanted a direct line to his fans to distribute information, and find out their comments on his new work. The M.P.O. became a huge success, and by 1995, had over 5,000 members.
To coincide with the M.P.O, Mike Peters held his first “Gathering” in 1992. The “Gathering,” was a 3 day event in Rhyl, Wales, including concerts by Peters, video shows of rare Alarm footage, and a soccer match. The “Gathering” was complete success. It has been held every year since 1992, and keeps growing larger. At one “Gathering,” Mike Peters held an impromptu “Toilets” reunion, playing some of his first songs ever. It was only a one-man reunion however, as Peters was the only original member to participate.
BACK INTO THE SYSTEM
“U2 against Solofield and all atomic dread
I’ve been compared to them so many times
I wish someone would nuke those suckers instead”
-Mike Peters “Back Into The System,” 1994
After more tours of Wales and the UK in 1993, Mike Peters decided it was time he found a real band to back him up. He contacted the band “Jess,” who had invited him to sing on their album in 1990, and they started working together. They shortened their name to “Mike Peters And The Poets,” and began recording in late 1993.
In January of 1994, Peters finally released his first solo efforts, two singles on the independent Welsh label Crai. The first single was “Back Into The System,” released on CD and 12.” “Back Into The System” showed just how much Mike Peters wanted to distance himself from The Alarm. Power chords intermixed with chanting-cum rapping vocals, and a soulful chorus all added up to a huge surprise. The title had a double meaning. Mike Peters was back, but the song was about giving back new ideas to the world instead of just taking and re-using old ones. Both the CD and 12″ contained the songs “A New Chapter,” “21st Century(demo)” and a longer version of the title track. “A New Chapter” was one of Mike Peters best solo songs, cataloging his feelings after leaving The Alarm. It starts off quiet, explodes with guitars and feedback, and then ended the way it began. A Welsh version of the single was also released, with the same mix of songs as the English one, except “21st Century” had a different backing track. The “Back Into The System” single to reached #5 on the UK “Indie 45’s” chart with little air play.
February of 1994 saw the release of Mike Peters second single on both CD and 12,” the 3-song “It Just Don’t Get Any Better Than This.” With it’s Manchester influenced rhythms and sharp guitar riffs, the title track was one of the highlights of Peter’s 1992 tour, and was a stand-out here as well. The b-sides were not as successful. Power chords combined with dance rhythms, and technology-weary lyrics punctuate “Devil’s World,” but the near-bass-less mix ends up sounding hallow. “White Noise,” the 3rd song on the single, pounded the listener with a steady flow of dissonant noise and growled lyrics. It had an artistic effect, but not one that promoted frequent listening.
“All I ever wanted…snatched away
By a piece of paper… I will not look back”
-Mike Peters/Jules Jones “Breathe,” 1994
Mike Peter’s first full-length album, Breathe saw its UK release in October of 1994. Besides a new version of “21st Century” and reprise of “A New Chapter,” the album contained all new songs. A double, vinyl l.p. version was also released in the UK, adding “Back Into The System” and, “It Just Don’t Get Any Better” for a grand total of 17 songs. The album varies from the Alarm-like rock of “Poetic Justice,” to the quieter, more poignant title-track “Breathe.” Country and folk-influences are not forgotten, and can be heard on the songs “Levi’s And Bibles,” (a reference to the 2 most sought after items in the Eastern Block before the Wall fell), and “Train A Comin’,” an intensely personal song about Mike Peter’s family. Peter’s exhibited his knack for writing powerful rock songs with “Who’s Gonna Make The Peace,” filled with power-chords and sampled voices, as well as “All I Wanted,” “Love Is A Revolution,” and “What The World Can’t Give Me.” The biggest surprise was the song “This is War,” whose power chords and atmospheric feedback, effortlessly shift into a cover version of Grand Master Flash’s “The Mess-age.” Peters stabbed at rapping, but not enough to be annoying, and he pulls it off pretty well. A 12 song Welsh version of Breathe called Aer, was also recorded and released. Breathe was critical success, gaining glowing reviews from all over the UK. The album reached #5 on the UK independent label chart.
Peters took a “whistle-stop” train tour of the UK to promote Breathe in late 1994, then toured the UK with “The Poets” in early 1995. In the Spring, he set out doing solo acoustic shows, opening for Stiff Little Fingers. He released the Breathe album in South Africa. “The Mess-age” and “If I Can’t Have U” got heavy air play on their largest radio network.
The M.P.O. started releasing recordings of their own in 1995. First, a video of Mike Peters solo acoustic performance at the 1993 “Gathering” was released. The M.P.O. also created and sold and album called Breathe – The Acoustic Sessions filled with 10 acoustic versions of songs from Breathe.
At the time of this writing, Mike Peters had renewed his relationship with long-time Alarm manager Ian Wilson. Breathe, retitled Un.Alarm.ed was set for a September release ,on the Sony Select label, in the USA. Rumor is, there may be different tracks on Un.Alarm.ed, possibly a version of “It Just Don’t Get Any Better” recorded with session
musicians in 1992, or the previously unreleased song “Planet Earth.” Peters was also planning to release a live album called “The Abbey Road Sessions.”
“Because your here for a purpose, but you’ll have to search for it
Whatever it is you’ve got to decide
‘Cause now you’re young you’ve got to run
Don’t waste your life, don’t waste your life”
– The Alarm (MacDonald/Peters) “Unsafe Building” 1981
Dave Sharp continued his solo work through 1993 and 1994. He toured as guitarist with Stiff Little Fingers in 1994, but stopped before Mike Peters started opening for them. He is currently living and playing in New Orleans, Louisiana. Sharp finally recorded his second album in early 1995, and scheduled it for release in November of 1995.
Eddie MacDonald is reportedly writing a book on tattoos, and more music. He was asked by Mike Peters, to help “Q” magazine by telling them his side of The Alarm story, but he refused to do it. Apparently, at this point in his life, The Alarm is something he would like to forget. Nigel Twist moved to the Los Angeles area, and has stopped playing drums. He is reportedly now working an assistant district attorney.
Mike Peters, with the help of Ian Wilson put together a b-sides compilation of Alarm material for I.R.S. records, scheduled for release in the Autumn of 1995.
Rumors were floating around at the time of this writing that I.R.S. wanted The Alarm to re-form, and promote the collection. Although the band members are supposedly back on speaking terms, those rumors seem more like wishful thinking than anything else.
For further information about The Alarm and related artists, there are several places to turn. The address of the M.P.O. is:
P.O. Box 709
Phone: (0745) 888911 Fax: (0745)888961
The M.P.O. has a new internet WWW site at URL:
On the internet there is a an Alarm “mailing list,” where every aspect of The Alarm is debated and discussed. Send a message to:
Put the word “subscribe” in the subject:, or in the body of the message
There is also an Alarm WWW site at URL:
This site is being continually updated by dedicated fans who want to continue the memory of The Alarm, and update people on the plans of the former members.
Finally, I’d like to thank Steve Varty, Stephen Darlington,
John Buchmelter, Helen Mesquita, Richard Yen, Mikko Hannihan, Sal Espinoza,
Jo Olesky, and Dawn and Jeff Fulton for helping me compile and edit the information in this ar