- Courtesy of Hired Gun Media
Well-known as the frontman for ‘80s alternative rockers the Alarm, the Welsh singer/songwriter will be in one-man band mode when he comes to Akron for a unique performance celebrating the 30th anniversary of the band’s 1985 Strength album.
[jump] “It’s quite an innovative way of playing,” Peters says during a recent phone conversation on his way to a sold out gig in the New Jersey area. Surrounded by an expansive collection of instrumentation — including drums that he can play with his feet, and an acoustic that can go electric with a quick flick of a switch, he says he’ll alternate between three or four microphones that will be scattered across the stage, singing into each one and connecting with the audience from different angles.
“It’s a little bit of something that I learned when I was the singer for Big Country for a few years when they wanted to honor their anniversary and the passing of Stuart Adamson,” he says. “I sang for the band and I said, ‘Look, there’s five us in the group now, not four, so if we spread ourselves equally across the stage, no one is going to be stood where Stuart was when he was alive and he stood center stage in Big Country.’ I was sort of left of center singing the songs, but it felt like Stuart was there in a way. It felt like his presence was allowed to be acknowledged, because no one was standing in his spotlight.”
“So I feel like when I play as a one-man band, I can still play the music of the Alarm and you can close your eyes and you can almost imagine that everyone is there, as close as you can get to a reunion in a way,” he continues. “It happens in the spirit. And I can talk about the past without having people on the stage who weren’t part of that particular story. I think it works in the way still photographs often capture the essence of a moment rather than the film in a way. It’s a show that allows me to tell stories and put some of the history in perspective, but it also rocks like mad as well when it gets to the end and it’s like the whole band is playing.”
“It’s been quite a revelation for people who have seen the show,” says Peters, who calls it an evening of music that’s “very dynamic” and full of limitless possibilities, depending on what he’s picking up from the vibes in the room. “I can take it anywhere — I’m in full control of the show and I can take requests, so no two shows are ever the same and the audiences are as much a part of the show as I am. It’s a great communal experience that has one foot in the past, but it’s definitely a sign of things to come and a way of looking forward.”
As the group was hard at work on the Strength album in 1985, some famous friends filtered in and out of the studio, including Jimmy Page. Peters recalls with a good amount of humor that an invitation from the former Led Zeppelin guitarist derailed the sessions slightly.
“Jimmy happened to be in the recording studio, Studio 2 at Marcus Studios where we recorded and he was in the other studio mixing a live album from The Firm, with Paul Rodgers,” Peters recalls. “One day, he just popped into where we were in Studio 1; he came into the control room to introduce himself and say hi, and it was like, ‘Wow, Jimmy Page!’ Then he went into the live room and picked up some of Dave Sharp’s guitars, started playing them and we hit record straight away. So somewhere in the original master tape of Strength from 1985, there is a passage of music that features Jimmy Page playing guitar.”
Peters says Page was “so personable” and appeared to be “really interested in what we were trying to do in the studio.”
“He said, ‘Do you want to come up and hear the Firm album?” Peters recalls of the visit. “Please feel free to come up to the studio.’ So Dave Sharp, our guitarist, took him up on that almost within seconds of him leaving the room. He said, ‘I’m going up there to see what’s happening.’ At that point, we never saw Dave Sharp again for the rest of the sessions! He went up to the room and knocked on the door and a hand came out the door with a bottle of Jack Daniels and he said, ‘If you’re coming in here, you can’t go out until you’ve drunk it.’”
It’s no surprise to learn that Sharp was up for the challenge, and, as a result, he disappeared for a while. “We didn’t see Dave for about five days and then he came back and out and he must have slept on the floor in the room with Jimmy Page and they got absolutely hammered and Dave came back looking like he’d been around the world three times and he looked like a very different person to us all. He was unable to sing the song that he’d [come up with for] the Strength album, which eventually came out on Eye Of The Hurricane, a song called ‘One Step Closer To Home,’ one of my all-time favorite Alarm songs. He couldn’t do any of the vocals [for that one], so it never made it onto the [Strength] album in the end, which was a shame, because that would have added a little bit more information to the record. I blame Jimmy Page,” he says with a big laugh.
Peters says that 2016 will bring a new Alarm album, a set of songs that will come on the heels of an interesting pair of projects which found the veteran singer/songwriter revisiting the band’s first two albums, Declaration and Strength, to re-record them in full, but they’re not the updated copies of the original LPs that you might expect. Instead, Peters has reimagined the material, incorporating the natural evolution that has occurred as he has performed the songs live over the past three decades. Additionally, each of the albums features a song sequence that is different when compared to the original track listing running order.
“I think there’s something great about hearing a record again and hearing it [as an] LP and a series of songs that were meant to fit together,” he says. “I felt like some of the better songs on the original Strength album were tucked away on side two. I was making the record for both formats really, CD and LP, but I felt that there was a certain amount of narrative running through the songs that you don’t see when you’re so close to something, when you’re writing it and you’re recording it. It really is straight on top of each other, especially with Strength. There’s that classic saying that you’ve got your whole life to write your first album and months to write your second and with Strength, that was true. It was written on tour and it was written in the aftermath of our lives being turned upside down and leaving home and traveling to America where we’d never been before and all of my senses being really challenged and stimulated in a way that I could only have dreamt about when I was writing Declaration.”
Peters says the two albums are very different from each other.
“I think the writing of it is only part of the journey of understanding the music and then you take it out on the road and you play some of the songs and you think, ‘Wow, this song is at the end of the album.’ I mean, ‘Spirit Of ‘76’ is a song that we didn’t really quite understand how powerful of a song that would be when we were recording it. It’s only when we took it out live and it really started to make a connection with our audience through the lyrics, not so much the power of the music and the urgency that was in our stage performance, but the connection that started to be made through the actual autobiographical telling of the story within the song. I didn’t really understand the power of a narrative story like that when I was making our first albums and it was only by taking it on the road that we kind of understood it.”
Peters says that he’s excited to come back to town for the Musica gig, recalling the “fantastic” show that he played with Big Country at the same venue in 2013. It’s been a long time since he has sung songs from the Alarm catalog in this area and for local Alarm fans, it’s at long last, a chance to see him play a show that won’t require a road trip. The mutual love affair between Peters and his audience goes way back. “I think the first time we played Cleveland properly, we did a lunchtime radio show for WMMS, which was a [type of] gig that we weren’t used to doing and it went out live on the radio,” he recalls. “I’ve still got the bootleg of that — it’s one of the first times that we played live on the radio. We played in Cleveland with the Pretenders [on the Declaration tour in 1984] and that was special because Ohio was where Chrissie Hynde came from and it felt like a hometown gig for the Pretenders, playing in Cleveland. We had a fantastic time there.”
Mike Peters, 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18, Musica, 51 East Market St., Akron, 330-374-1114. Tickets: $18, liveatmusica.com.