The Alarm was a no-name band when it arrived on U.S. shores in 1983. But the Welsh rockers were quickly exposed to arenas full of listeners as a supporting act on U2's War Tour, which included a stop at Sunrise Musical Theater in South Florida. The bands paired together exceptionally well: Both used melodic instrumentals and soaring vocals to inspire a life-affirming sense of exhilaration, and Alarm frontman Mike Peters' singing voice sounded uncannily similar to Bono's.
Peters attributes the two bands' sonic similarities to their shared Celtic roots. "That was one thing that brought us together," he says. "We never would have played America if it wasn't for U2 reaching out and bringing us along when their War album was breaking and they were starting to become a big deal. They were extending their tour and they were tired because they had been on the road for so long, and one of their conditions was, 'Can we have some friends on the road, some people we get along with?' That happened to be the Alarm."
Of that first concert in South Florida, he recalls the technical difficulties more than anything. "The Edge was having quite a few problems with his guitar pedals," Peters says. "He had been using the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man, which had been phased out. So he was trying to use some new equipment, and the venue staff was so helpful. Our guitars were pretty much stuck together with glue; we were using acoustic guitars that had electric pickups we had made ourselves. It was very DIY."
Boosted by the popularity of the single "Sixty Eight Guns" and the 1984 album Declaration, the Alarm had a much stronger following when it returned to South Florida in 1985 to open for the Pretenders. Despite having toured the world several times in the decades since then, the Alarm hasn't been back to the region in 34 years.
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In honor of the beloved '80s band's long-overdue return to South Florida September 7 at the Ground Miami, New Times caught up with Peters, a prolific songwriter and relentless touring musician despite his battles with lymphoma and leukemia during most of his adult life. The Alarm recently released its 17th studio album, Sigma. Peters is also the cofounder of the Love Hope Strength Foundation, a charitable organization that raises money for cancer treatment and early detection by sponsoring high-altitude rock concerts on some of the world's tallest mountains. Basically, he's tackling life with abandon and "not saying no to anything," he says.
"There's a life inspiration that fuels our new music, but I'm also looking back and making sure the history of the band is represented in the modern era," he says. "We're at a point in our history where we've been hitting the 30-year anniversaries of all our major records that we had in the '80s. Our success has been longevity, so I need to make sure that all our music doesn't get buried under the weight of history but also allow for the new music to flourish. It's a real balancing act."
Classic Alarm songs such as "Sixty Eight Guns," "Rain in the Summertime," and "The Stand" have a strong emotional pull for longtime fans and Peters alike. His oldest songs remind him of countless places and times — not just the moment of their creation — and they've come to mean more over the years as the experiences continue building.
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"A song like 'Sixty Eight Guns,' it was just a story for me," he says. "Since I've been living with leukemia, whenever I sing the part about '68 guns will never die,' that's the part that speaks to me today. It was a hit in 1983, but now it's taken on a new meaning. A song like 'Strength,' from 1985, one of the lines is 'Who will be the lifeblood coursing through my veins?' I never knew that would come to mean more to me than anything else in the world when I was facing the possibility of getting a bone marrow transplant and that I would literally need somebody else's blood transfused into mine to keep me alive. So when I sing those songs, I feel grateful to have them in my life. They're like my children: Once you bring them into the world, they have to live their own lives, but you have to stand by them no matter what."
Peters is the type of person whose sense of memory is attached to music more profoundly than photographs or video. Certain songs bring him back to special moments in his life and also remind him of the difficult passages he's had to traverse. He knows that many longtime listeners of the Alarm feel the same way.
"As performers, we have a responsibility to present our music in the way our audience wants to hear it and deserves to hear it," he says. "And once we connect over that, let's see where it takes us now."
The Alarm. With Modern English and Jay Aston's Gene Loves Jezebel. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 7, at the Ground, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; thegroundmiami.com. Tickets cost $35 to $40 via eventbrite.com.