5 Fascinating Facts About The Alarm

Anthems and songs of freedom, The Alarm have always had a message. 

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Mike Peters saw the Sex Pistols perform in 1977. After a two-word exchange from Johnny Rotten, Peters decided punk rock was for him. Along with his friend Nigel Buckle on drums, Peters started The Toilets. They played their first show supporting The Clash in London. Bassist Eddie McDonald was a childhood friend who joined forces shortly after. Buckle’s friend from Manchester, Dave Sharp, rounded out the group. Here are five fascinating facts about the best band to ever come out of Rhyl, Wales: The Alarm.

1. They Started With the Name Seventeen

When McDonald joined Buckle and Peters, they took on the name Seventeen. They kept the name after Sharp joined, and soon veered from the straight punk rock The Toilets played. The Stray Cats had just shown up in London, and Seventeen felt they should be supporting bands like them. Peters called a venue where the Cats were performing and lied about being asked to open the show. He was informed another band was already on the bill, but it was fine with the venue. Peters called the other band and told the same lie. Everything seemed fine until the phone rang, and Peters answered to a puzzled Tony Bidgood, the Stray Cats manager. Peters talked a “good game” and convinced him to allow them on the bill. This led to a long relationship with the Stray Cats.

[RELATED: Mike Peters Defies Cancer, Pushes The Alarm into ‘Forwards’]

2. An Acoustic Guitar Was the Inspiration for The Alarm

Seventeen was playing live gigs and working towards a record deal with little success. Dave Sharp had added a pickup from an old Gibson Les Paul to a 1972 Epiphone acoustic guitar. Playing an acoustic guitar through a Marshall amplifier inspired the band to change musical directions again. With the new direction came a new name: Alarm Alarm. It would soon be shortened to The Alarm. I.R.S. Records offered the band a deal, and an E.P. was released. The band supported U2 on dates in the U.K. and the U.S. The E.P. failed to chart, but the publicity generated from the U2 dates was strong enough for the label to forge ahead with an album. 

3. Their First Hit Was About a Glasgow Gang

Sixty Eight Guns” was the only song held over from the Seventeen days. McDonald composed the music. Peters’ lyrics were inspired by reading A Glasgow Gang Observed. It was about a Scottish street gang in 1968.

The title, “Sixty Eight Guns,” came from an inside joke between band members. The Clash had covered the old Crickets tune “I Fought the Law.” When Joe Strummer sang “Robbing people with a six-gun,” drummer Topper Headon would pound six beats on the snare drum. The Alarm guys would sing along, “Robbing people with 68 guns,” and then mock as if they were pounding out 68 beats on the snare drum.

Producer Alan Shacklock was given a directive by I.R.S. records: Supply a hit single, no matter what. He first had the band shorten “Sixty Eight Guns” from the nearly six-minute version routinely performed live. The next major change came without the band’s knowledge. A trumpet was added to the intro and throughout the song. The original version was a more Mott the Hoople feel. Each band member hated the trumpet, but the record label and the band’s managers demanded it stay. 

4. Johnny Rotten Indirectly Gave the Band Their Biggest Break

After shooting a video for “Sixty Eight Guns,” the band flew to the U.S. to start their first American tour. They released the single in the U.K., where Top of the Pops had scheduled Public Image, Ltd to appear. A conflict occurred, leaving the show to scramble to find a replacement. I.R.S. Records agreed to The Alarm filling in the slot, even though the band would have to fly back home as soon as possible. The group changed their plans at the last minute and decided to stay in Buffalo, New York, instead of going on to Boston for a day off. When the band arrived in Boston, their tour manager called back to check in with management and was informed of the situation. Peters recalled how the P.R. department enhanced the story to include the fact that the Massachusetts State Police had to pull over the band’s tour bus to inform them of the news, and they had a police escort to the airport, etc. Sources reported the legend of the event for years, and the band members still have to set the record straight.

5. Mike Peters Announced Onstage He Was Leaving the Band

The band continued performing and recording through the ’80s. They changed producers, working with Mike Howlett, John Porter, and Tony Visconti. Eventually, they produced themselves. Record sales slowed, but the band was more satisfied with the music they released as they took over the reins. The band toured in support of their album, Raw. The final show of the tour was June 30, 1991. 

Peters surprised the fans and his bandmates as he announced from the stage, “We’ve shared some great moments in time over the last ten years, and tonight I would like to thank all the people who have supported me from the beginning to the end. Tonight, this is my last moment with the Alarm. I’m going out in a Blaze of Glory. My hands are held up high.”

He finished the song and left the venue. His shocked band members wondered if it was true. It was.

The original lineup reunited in 2003 for VH-1’s Bands Reunited. The reunion only lasted for that one show. Peters continues to record and tour using the name The Alarm. Sharp continues to tour and record, as well.

Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

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