The Alarm (Contemporary Musicians)
The Alarm combined punk influences with acoustic guitars and political and sociological messages to become a notable rock band in the 1980s. Originating in Wales, the foursome of Eddie MacDonald on bass, Mike Peters on vocals and guitar, Dave Sharp on guitar, and Nigel Twist on drums, received unending comparisons to U2 throughout their career. Debby Miller described the Alarm in Rolling Stone, "With a fresh, muscular lineup of two acoustic guitars, bass, and drums, the Alarm are both hippies and latter-day punks, descendants of both Bob Dylan and the Clash. "After a decade of recording and performing together, the members of the Alarm agreed to dissolve the group and pursue their individual interests.
The members of the Alarm had been friends since childhood. MacDonald and Peters met at the age of four in Rhyl, Clwyd, Wales, while Sharp and Twist became friends at the age of six in England. The latter two moved to Wales when they were 14 years old. Peters and Twist decided to form a punk band called the Toilets after seeing a Sex Pistols show in 1977. After a year, they recruited MacDonald and Sharp to join the group. The group later changed its name to Seventeenfter the Sex Pistols' song, and performed in Rhyl for four years. They recorded the single "Don't Let Go" backed with "Bank Holiday Weekend" on Vendetta Records. In 1981, Seventeen had the opportunity to tour with Dexy's Midnight Runners. After their first show, they got fired because the headlining band didn't think they were good enough to take on the road.
After a factory closed in Rhyl, many of its residents became unemployed. With work opportunities virtually impossible, the foursome decided to open a clothing shop called Riot, for which they made their own clothes. They also opened a nightclub called the Gallery, where they were able to hone their own musical talent.
Moved to London to Pursue Success
"Hard luck stories are one thing,"Eddie MacDonald told Rick G. Karr in Stereo Review, "Doing something about it is something else. There was always sort of a scene in Wales, but no outlet. We made the outlets." When a fight broke out in the Gallery, demolishing its interior, the group decided to move to London, and changed their name to the Alarm. " Pretty early on, we found there wasn't much of an audience for music where we started out," Mike Peters told Rock Express. "So we moved down to London ... and started playing for anybody who'd listen."
The group recorded the single "Unsafe Building" backed with "Up for Murder," pressed 2,000 copies, and released them on their own White Cross label. They used the single as a demo and sold it at performances. In 1982, one of the members of U2 showed up at one of their shows in England. "We got talking and found out we had so much in common," Dave Sharp told Geoffrey Himes in Musician. "They're a passionate band and want to continue to be, and we're the same way.
After the two groups became friends, U2 invited the Alarm to open for them during a few of their shows in England. From there, they toured the U.S. together. Gaining interest from the press and music industry, the Alarm signed a record contract with I.R.S. Records. In September of 1982, they released their debut single, "Marching On. "The following year, they released a self titled EP and toured North America. Steve Pond described The Alarm in his Rolling Stone review as "simple, forceful music, rambling strings of earnestly poetic images and the conviction that speaking out just might change a few things."
In 1984, the Alarm returned to the studio and released the single "Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke" followed by the album Declaration. Again, the group continued to communicate their message. "What we try to do is inject hope into people, to show people that the individual is a creative force, that you have to make your own situation," Sharp told Himes. "We want to encourage people to turn around and look at themselves, and say, 'Yeah, we can do something.'"
Musical Direction Reexamined
After a year of reevaluating their direction, the Alarm returned to the studio with producer Mike Howlett to record Strength. "I think we've learned how to take control of our music a lot better," Peters told Firework Fanzine, "and we're learning to write better lyrics that have much more depth into the subject matter." The following year, the Alarm released a live concert video titled Spirit of '86, which was recorded in Los Angeles. In November of 1987, they returned with the release of Eye of the Hurricane, produced by John Porter. This time, the Alarm took their style in a slightly different direction in an effort to discover their musical definition. "We're not trying to ram things down people's throats like we did in the early days," Sharp told Jimmy Guterman in Rolling Stone. "The time for broad statements has long passed."
As part of their tour in 1988, the Alarm spent the summer in the opening slot for another of their musical influencesob Dylan. In November of the same year, they released their first live album, Electric Folklore Live. In 1989, their next release, Change, arrived in stores.
Returning to the roots of their home country, the Alarm also recorded a Welsh language version titled Newid ("change" in Welsh). The group also revisited their past with a remake of their earliest recording, called "Unsafe Building 1990" and a retrospective collection called Standards.
In 1991, Dave Sharp took a temporary detour from the band with a solo project. He released the album Hard Travellin' and played a limited acoustic tour in the Northeastern U.S. In May of the same year, the Alarm released their final album, Raw. The group had begun to have some difficulties. On June 30, 1991, the members of the Alarm had not yet decided to dissolve the band when they went on stage at London's Brixton Academy. Singer Mike Peters simply walked up to the microphone at the end of one of their songs and told the audience, "Thanks for coming to our final show." Although none of the other members anticipated it at that particular time, theyall knew it would happen eventually. "There was a time when it started becoming less fun," Peters told Rey Roldan in Consummable. "We all started to get egos. We all started feeling more superior than each other. I just felt like it was falling apart around me."
Peters went on to form the Poets of Justice, who released their debut, Breathe, in 1994. In 1996, he went on a solo tour called "Unalarmed," during which he resurrected the Alarm's material. "The 'Unalarmed' tour really put my faith back in music," Peters told Roldan. "I really loved hearing words which I once struggled to write being sung back to me. It's times like these when I feel like the luckiest man alive."
The Alarm, I.R.S. Records, 1983.
Declaration, I.R.S. Records, 1984.
Strength, I.R.S. Records, 1985.
Eye of the Hurricane, I.R.S. Records, 1987.
Electric Folklore Live, I.R.S. Records, 1988.
Newid (Change), I.R.S. Records, 1989.
Standards, I.R.S. Records, 1990.
Raw, I.R.S. Records, 1991.
Rees, Dafydd and Luke Crampton, eds., Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, DK Publishing, New York, 1996.
Billboard, July 9,1983; November 30, 1985; December 28, 1985; April 5, 1986; July 12, 1986.
Consummable, October 25, 1996.
Musician, May 1984, June 1984.
Rock Express, January 1988.
Rolling Stone, July 7,1983; November 10, 1983; March 29, 1984; April 10, 1986; January 28, 1988.
Stereo Review, July 1984, May 1990.