Mike Peters is the legendary musician who in the 1980’s, fronted the Welsh pop-rock band The Alarm, whose best known hits include “Blaze of Glory” and “Sixty-Eight Guns”. In 1991, Peters left the Alarm and embarked on a solo career and while he was diagnosed with cancer, he has not let it stop him as today, he has reformed The Alarm and strives with his Love Hope Strength Foundation. Peters is the subject of the upcoming documentary, Man in the Camo Jacket, coming to VOD and iTunes on July 4.
World Film Geek had the chance to talk to Peters about his career, his philanthropy, and the documentary.
Thank you, Mike, for taking the time out of your schedule to talk with me. I understand you had just came back from a trip involving your Love Hope Strength Foundation. What was that like?
Yeah, it was a long journey. We hiked up about 150 miles to raise funds for our local services. We raised over £300,000 (about $388,000 US) and then we performed a concert at the peak of Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in England. We took about 700 people to the concert on the summit then we had another 1,000 people down below in the town. It was a fantastic occasion with loads of kids and community members walking up every day. And the weather was incredible. It was California weather so it was brilliant. And from a personal level, it got me set for a 45-day tour of North America that begins this week so I’m in good shape. (Laughs)
The Alarm was a band whose popularity had risen in the 80’s and in 1991, you practically shocked the music world when you announced you were leaving the band. What led you to return under the Alarm name in 2000?
Mainly because, well Billy Corgan [lead singer of The Smashing Pumpkins] said it in the film, “You can break up The Alarm, but you can never leave The Alarm”. And I did try to put the original line-up back together because our old manager said, “Mike, you are The Alarm and you will be The Alarm for the rest of your life”.
And I felt because nothing has happened for ten years, and the other guys had every opportunity to continue without me. Because of that, I felt I had to call them. And I know in the film, Eddie MacDonald said he wasn’t happy with me doing that, because not only was he in the original line-up, but it was his idea to call the band The Alarm A.D. at the time. But that fact didn’t come out completely in the film. And it just continued to grow.
Originally, the idea was to come back and play some of the old songs that haven’t been heard in ten years. But that immensely put me back into the idea of what The Alarm was all about. I started to connect songs and I started to realize that I was in denial for a while. We broke up because we were too young to deal with all the situations we ended up in. We were stuck in a tour bus for so long and we even had some tragedy behind the band that people don’t know about.
They didn’t want me to be the main singer anymore. They wanted to have Dave [Sharp, original guitarist] as the lead singer and that was evident from our last album together as he sang three of the songs. So, I thought I was being pushed out so I said, “Okay”, and that was my way of doing things. If the foundation is being broken down, then my mantra is “you have to smash it down and start again”. I am like that in my personal life and I’m not afraid to walk away from things if I have to, and rebuild. Just rebuild it. That’s what The Alarm was always about. To have the courage and work on your own convictions. Take personal responsibility.
I’ve always taken responsibilities for the actions I’ve done in my life. And I admit, that was something that I happily regret, but thankfully, the original band and I are still friends. We realized now why we broke up. Dave and I had a massive fallout at the time, but you get past that. I’ve never held a grudge against anybody so I’ll be happy to sit down and talk about it, and that’s what we did after the fallout. And he’s coming out on tour in October. He just finished a tour of the U.K. in May. But, those things get put aside in life and that’s the beauty of life isn’t it?
Yes, it is. How long were you being filmed for Man in the Camo Jacket and did you have any difficult experiences while it was being made?
Well, I think it’s been being filmed since 1979! (Laughs) In its own way. I think the major contribution actually came in 1984 or 1985, when the video camera, or view-cams, became accessible. I bought one right away and I just carried it with me everywhere. And there was some footage of the band before we became The Alarm. When I met Russ Kendall [the director of Man in the Camo Jacket], he stepped into my life and discovered all this massive archive material because not only was I the lead singer of the band, but I kept all the archival materials. I kept all the lyrics, all the tapes, the music, the demos, and the photographs. When I.R.S. Records went out of business, I went to London and made sure all The Alarm materials were kept safe to be used as a reference for the future history of the band.
So that was where I came into it, but there were intense situations. I was going through treatments and even when we were on the road, I wasn’t at my best. The treatment at that point in time, it would deposit itself in your body, into the bloodstream. And three days later, it would unleash this treatment and your body would go under hyperventilation and it feels like someone is having a flashback with LSD. I mean it was the same principle, but I wasn’t getting high. I was getting low. (Laughs) So yeah, that was difficult. But I’ve always been comfortable around cameras because being in a band, you get used to it.
And I always saw the camera as an opportunity to tell my story and when The Alarm started and up to when I left the band in 1991, you couldn’t talk directly to the fans or media. You always had press releases which would talk about new albums. So with the cameras, they can actually hear your voice and see you. It was how you would communication. The day I left the band, I wasn’t going to do it that day. Originally, we were going to have a meeting the next day. But after the soundcheck, Dave told us that he wasn’t going to make it to the meeting because he had to fly out to New York for a solo gig. We didn’t even know he was doing his own thing and I.R.S. Records was filming that last gig because Dave was going on a solo tour. They wanted to film the gig to keep the interest of the band going. So I figured, if I say it now on the stage, people will be able to see what I said and why I did it. (Laughs) And how I did it, because it wouldn’t be a press release. It would actually be me saying it. That way, they wouldn’t be able to say any derogatory comments but see it was me saying it. It was a rash decision on my part, but it showed how much I was being pushed to the edge but it was all in good nature.
For those who have yet to see Man in the Camo Jacket, what inspired you to create the Love Hope Strength Foundation? There seems to be many musicians involved with the foundation as well and I think that is great.
Oh, thank you for saying that! Well, I met James Chippendale, who is also one of the producers of the film who ended up being the co-founder of Love Hope Strength. I was in my second battle with cancer. I was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1995 and then a second time with leukemia. James was a transplant survivor and he couldn’t believe my treatment was free as part of the NHS, the health care system we have in the U.K. His treatment in America was done through insurance and meeting doctors across the country as to who was the best.
He asked me, “How did you choose your doctor?” and I said, “I didn’t.” (Laughs) He asked, “How did you know he was good?” Anyway, James brought me to a specialist in Dallas, Texas and they told me I had an amazing doctor in Wales. James has always been involved in charitable programs in America. He told me, “Mike, you gotta pay back now. You have a life that you should be thankful for.” And I said he was absolutely right so I told him we should start a charity. I told him how during my treatment for leukemia, I was looking out at Snowdon from my hospital window.
And I told myself that when I got well, I would take all the Alarm fans and go up the mountain and perform a concert on the summit and give the money back to those who need it for chemotherapies and the road to recovery. James loved the idea and said we are going to do just that. James remembered I have the song Strength from 1985 and I took the words from the song and made them into T-shirts with “Love Hope Strength” on them. We decided to name the charity Love Hope Strength and let’s go make a difference and regulate cancer treatments around the world. James and I had ours in different parts of the world, so we’ve tried to give fighting chances to people in Africa and the poor.
James was a transplant survivor and the donor was a German man named Klaus, who was 42, and I told him that he was very lucky to have gotten the transplant. The reason is because if Klaus had been in Britain, he would have been deemed too old to be a donor. So we try to regulate how donors get on the list. We also do campaigns for gigs and we’ve had over 150,000 people on the donor list. We found over 3,000 life-saving people who were matches for those who needed transplants. So, the charity’s taken off and we are so thankful for the health we have this day.
I have to say you are truly an inspiration. You truly seem to be living the high life in terms of performing while going through everything. If there is a message you want to tell everyone, what would it be?
Thank you so much for saying that! That means a lot to me.
My message to everyone is, stay alive and live in the moment. Because time, and I’m in a band named after a time instrument. And from my personal experience, the most important commodity as a human being is time. And value that time beyond all else. And do with your life what you want to do in the time you’re given. If you can do that, then you will be at your happiest. Give time to your loved ones, family, community, to the things you enjoy. If you give back, you can never get enough of what time can give you as a human being. So cherish time, make the most of it. And live!
I think everyone needs to see Man in the Camo Jacket as this is truly an inspiring look at a music legend who truly will not let anything stop him from continuing his dreams of music. Thank you so much Mike for taking the time out of your schedule and I hope you continue to strive.
Thank you so much! And to everyone, The Alarm will be on the road this week for a 45-day tour of North America.
A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Mike Peters for making this interview possible For more on Mike Peters and the Alarm, including their upcoming tour, go to their official homepage and if you want more information on the Love Hope Strength Foundation, go to the LHS Official Homepage.