Mike Peters first reached an international audience with Welsh band The Alarm’s self-titled EP and clarion call of 1984’s “Declaration” album. Songs including “Marching On” and “Sixty Eight Guns” were rallying cries for solidarity and perseverance, fueled by jangling acoustic guitars and Peters’ urgent howl. The band’s potential coalesced with 1985’s “Strength” album, featuring anthems like “Knife Edge” and “Absolute Reality.” Although the original quartet splintered following 1991’s “Raw,” Peters returned in 2000 with a new, tough-as-nails version of The Alarm.
In recognition of their 30th anniversaries, Peters is touring reimagined versions of “Declaration” and “Strength.” The gut-level conviction of “Blaze of Glory” and dogged determination of “Spirit of ‘76” are amplified by the surprising power of Peter’s one-man presentation. “It’s got all the elements of a rock show,” says Peters. “It builds up and becomes like a band at the end.”
The songs are radically changed. The autobiographical “Spirit of ‘76” was originally written during Peters’ 20s, intent upon carving a future but remembering friends who fell away. “Now, it’s a celebration of the line, ‘I will never give in until the day I die,’” says Peters. “The real message in the song is the story isn’t over. I’ve been able to rewrite that verse about John and Susie, and describe the lives they live now.”
Even when describing hardship, The Alarm’s music is steeped in stubborn will to overcome. That quality has served Peters well. He has beaten cancer twice, overcoming a 1996 diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and 2005 diagnosis of leukemia.
When Peters was diagnosed, his doctor recommended aggressive treatment beginning immediately. Peters refused to cancel an American tour. “Maybe I ran away into rock and roll to get away from it and get my head ‘round it,” says Peters. “It’s that performer’s instinct, isn’t it? The show must go on. I basically had a big shouting match with the doctor, but it was ultimately my choice. So they said, ‘We’ll buy into this, but when you get back we’re going to hit it with a heavy hammer.’”
“I came to America for the tour, and I bought a camo jacket when I got off the plane,” says Peters. “I created a psychological combat zone where I could go to war on the cancer. My wife saw me decked out in green from head to toe, and I said, ‘These aren’t coming off until I’m well enough again.’”
After both scares, Peters’ passionate return to action was inspirational. He felt it wasn’t enough. The Love Hope Strength Foundation was launched in 2007, named for recurring lyrics throughout the “Strength” album. The foundation purchases medical equipment and supplies for doctors treating cancer patients, and registers bone marrow donors at concerts by many high-profile artists.
“We’ve signed over 100,000 people to the international bone marrow donor registry,” says Peters. “We’ve worked with Foo Fighters, Mumford and Sons, and Linkin Park, right down to shows like I play. From that pool, we’ve found close to 2,000 life-saving matches for people who need a transplant.”
In addition to a new solo album and dates with The Alarm, Peters’ plans for 2016 include release of a documentary called “Man in the Camo Jacket.” The film describes Peters’ efforts to maintain life and career while battling cancer, and his mission to help others through the Love Hope Strength Foundation.
* Mike Peters, 8 p.m. Sept. 19, Old Town School of Folk Music, Szold Hall, 4545 N. Lincoln. Tickets $28; oldtownschool.org.
SPOTIFY playlist: http://bit.ly/PetersSPOT
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.