Tony Cummings spoke to Mike Peters of THE ALARM, whose albums are still producing radio hits
It's not every day that Cross Rhythms gets a chance to talk to the recipient of an MBE, but that's what I'm about to do, as my taxi takes me to my designated meeting place - a cheap and cheerful café overlooking Prestatyn marina. Ever before Mike Peters received his MBE for services to charity, having raised thousands of pounds for cancer care projects in the UK and around the world, and for dedicating his life to giving hope for families affected by cancer, the Welsh seaside town of Prestatyn had given its own accolades to the veteran lead singer and songwriter of rock band The Alarm. I was a little disappointed that my taxi didn't pass the statue the town has erected for its much-loved son.
Born in Prestatyn and growing up in Rhyl, Mike formed The Alarm back in 1981 and, down the years, he saw the band enjoy many hit records and perform in some of the biggest stadiums of the world. This year, The Alarm played over 100 concerts around the world and the tireless singer still organises The Gathering, an annual weekend of music which he first created 27 years ago.
A dedicated family man with two sons (Dylan 14 and Evan 11), the 59 year old made a recovery from lymph cancer in 1996, only to receive the devastating news that he was suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in 2005. Ever the pragmatist, Mike decided to set up a sponsored walk up Snowdon, Snowdon Rocks. Following the success of this event, Mike then co-founded the Love Hope Strength Foundations in the US and UK with wife Jules Peters, and Texan leukaemia transplant survivor James Chippendale. In the past decade, the Foundations have collectively gone on to raise over a million pounds for cancer projects through their international trek and events programme, with over £600,000 being raised by the charity in the UK. In addition to this, Mike spearheaded the By Your Side cancer care campaign for Awyr Las, the North Wales NHS Charity, which raised over £350,000 for cancer services in the region. Mike's Snowdon Rocks, now in its 13th year, has morphed into Snowdonia Rocks and has become a popular annual pilgrimage for a legion of Love Hope Strength supporters, musicians, families and people affected by cancer.
As well as raising money, Mike has been an active campaigner and helped to established Love Hope Strength's Get On The List programme over a decade ago. With the mission to "save lives one concert at a time" Mike's Foundations partnered with DKMS, the international blood cancer charity, to help find potentially life-saving bone marrow or stem cell matches for people with blood cancer (or blood disorders), who need a second chance at life. Since setting up Get On The List, the Love Hope Strength Foundations have organised over 6,000 free Get On The List bone marrow and blood stem cell donor drives at concerts, festivals and events in the UK and USA. Thanks to the Get On The List programme, over 200,000 people have now been added to blood stem cell donor registries, which has resulted in more than 4,000 potentially life-saving matches being identified.
Amazingly, Peters' ongoing battles with health has not, in any way, dulled his passion for music making. The Alarm continue to tour and many long-term aficionados have suggested that the current line-up (Mike Peters - vocals/guitars/harmonica; James Stevenson - guitars/bass; Jules Jones Peters - piano; and Smiley - drums) are every bit as good as the original '60s line-up. From their last two albums, 2018's 'Equals' produced Cross Rhythms radio hits "Tomorrow" and "Beautiful", while 2019's 'Sigma', featuring in part re-recordings of a number of band favourites, has brought the tracks "Can You Feel Me?", "Psalm" and "Love And Understanding" to Cross Rhythms listeners.
Over a coffee, I talked to this most unassuming of rock stars. I began by asking him about his feelings on receiving the MBE.
Mike: Multitudes of Brilliant Efforts is how we describe it. It was an award on behalf of our charity and all the people involved in our life so I was very grateful to go up to Buckingham Palace, or down to Buckingham Palace from the north, and receive it from Prince Charles himself.
Tony: That would have been absolutely unimaginable when you were the lead singer of your pre-The Alarm punk band, The Toilets.
Mike: Yeah, especially in my God Save The Queen t-shirt when The Sex Pistols came out. But yeah, it was unusual to be invited into that circle and I was invited to be a deputy head lieutenant a couple of years ago here in North Wales and represent the county.
Tony: There's a statue of you here. How long has that been up?
Mike: The statue at the Hub has been there for a few years now. I think this is part of the regeneration of Rhyl. It was 'let's focus on some of the good things that Rhyl has brought into the world.' And somehow, the powers that be decided that I was one of those good things. And there's a footballer and a scientist up there and its reminding people that Rhyl is a really creative environment. I don't know how it is but we have this micro climate of sunny Rhyl and it's an unusual place. There are some great people who come from here that I'm friendly with, that I went to school with and who succeeded in other walks of life.
Rhyl is a place where I've grown up in and out of, I always return to and there's a lot of people like me from Rhyl. I think that we're an interesting place because we're almost like the Blackpool of Wales or the Las Vegas of Wales, if you want to look on a grander scale. But we're changing into something else now, we're a seafront town and seafront towns have a lot going for them and people do want to live beside the sea and experience it and when you stand on a beach in Rhyl and look back there's mountains and there's a beautiful horizon and it's a great place.
Tony: Now, I told a friend that I was coming here and I mentioned Alarm and he immediately said, "Ah, '68 Guns'". How many times do you reckon you've sung "68 Guns"?
Mike: Well, hopefully enough to grow more brain cells. Apparently if you do something a hundred times in repetition you grow a brain cell. So hopefully singing it as many times as I have done has kept me alive. The interesting thing about a song like "68 Guns", and maybe other artists say the same things, sometimes the more times you do it, more things in it get revealed that you didn't realise were there.