The Alarm Call
Prowling around the girls' changing-room they've been given as a dressing-room - all hard wooden benches and pegs and definitely not the height of sublime luxury - The Alarm pace up and down repeatedly, consumed with nervous tension.
Having been refused entry to a local restaurant, they haven't eaten and now there's barely quarter of an hour before they have to rush on stage in front of a cramped, expectant and sweatstained audience in a cauldron of rising excitement.
Suddenly their manager Ian arrives and breaks the momentous news that they're confirmed as American tour support for U2. "Great," roars vocalist Mike Peters, while the others stare at each other in amazement before celebrating with little jigs of delight, their cowboy hats jauntily cocked at a suitably arrogant angle. "Right, let's go out there and show them what we can do," Mike shouts. "Let's go for it"
Under the piercing glare of the spotlight, The Alarm are a fiercely vital proposition, attacking the audience with an almost evangelican zeal and capturing that electric spark that ignites the likes of the Clash, U2 and early Buzzcocks gigs.
And - like those bands - their appeal lies in a curious blend of naive enthusiasm, dogged determination and a cracking flair for writing instantly memorable melodies that also brings to mind The Undertones and Skids.
In short, The Alarm are exciting, exhilarating, inspiring and uplifting, with just enough erratic raw edges to make them a truly aggressively endearing live act.
No matter how much the intense heat cruelly takes the guitars out of tune, nor how often Mike and Dave go hoarse on high notes, they power on with this amazing mixture of punk-thrash and refined melodic sophistication.
The band's sense of furious, but genuine, elation at simply being on-stage soon becomes infectious, and their gigs usually have a celebratory feel to them.
"We've been brought up on hot, sweaty gigs like the Marquee," explains Mike, "so we've built up a lot of stamina, cos when we play the Marquee now, it's always sold out and it's so hot our guitars virtually melt as soon as we go on stage!"
How do you stop yourselves getting complacent in that situation - how do you keep your enthusiasm?
"You keep it by fixing your eyes on the guy at the bar with his pint who's acting cool - there are always people to be won over and you just remind yourself that while the front rows are with you all the way, there are still people at the back who aren't committed fans."
Mike: " First of all I saw the Sex Pistols, then we saw the Clash and got into punk-rock, and that's what brought us all together in Rhyl."
"Then we were into mod as well and we came to London in a band called Seventeen and it just wasn't happening - we were selling our souls, giving up everything we believed in just to be successful.... we had to stop and look at ourselves."
"We'd forgotten 1977 completely - all that energy - we'd forgotten everything that ever meant anything to us. So we just packed the group in, went home to Rhyl and started writing some new songs, then we turned to each other, cos all we had left was our friendship."
"So we began to get back that enthusiasm that comes from the heart and we wrote some new songs - and we knew we had to go with this group while it was still fresh and exciting, so we got summer jobs and saved all our money then went to Manchester to record 'Unsafe Building (their first single) on the fourth of September - and we moved back to London on the eighth!"
So how did you get started back in London, now called The Alarm?
"Well, we really wanted to get a gig in that first week," recalls Mike, "but we weren't having any luck at all. Then we were walking round Trafalgar Square when we saw the Crypt Folk Club in St. Martins-in-the-Fields, so because we played acoustic, we asked to support this folk group, Decameron."
"But they just said 'theres no way you're supporting anyone in here dressed like that - get out!' So we played outside on the steps instead and everyone waited till we'd finished before they went into the club. The promoter was well pissed off!"
Did you ever do any busking?
"Yeah, Sharp and I did it on the tubes," laughs Mike. "We actually came away with a quid once...."
"...but after we'd paid our tube fares, there was nothing left!" finishes Dave.
Dave: "A lot of bands and producers believe in putting every note in exactly the right place - and what comes out is well-produced record that has absolutely no feel to it. The really special moments that take you up there, they come from..well, MAGIC!"
"We'll be doing our debut album when we come back from America," muses Mike. "It's still early days yet - we haven't thought of a title or anything - but we'll be doing the best songs we've got."
"Really it'll mainly represent the live set as it is now," explains Dave. "The idea is to put over the excitement and feeling of a gig on record."
"We started using acoustic guitars by accident really," admits Mike with a smile. "We were writing songs on the acoustic in our bedrooms" remembers Dave, "and we took 'Up For Murder' (the b-side of that first single) into rehearsal to put electric guitar on it - and it just sounded horrendous! It sounded nothing like what I had in mind when I wrote the tune."
Mike: "It was still a great song, but it didn't sound right."
"So we just decided to try it as we wrote it - with the acoustic guitar," adds Dave. "And that was it - it was amazing with these three acoustics hammering away!"
The only doubt about The Alarm concerns some of their image - their cowboy hats and boots, and some of the lyrical content that seems to dwell on soldiers, war and violence. Well boys?
"Well, you've suggested maybe there's a touch of the pioneering frontiersman in us, Johnny - but it's just the way we are," says Dave. "We'd still be the same people if we dressed like gangsters and then everyone would say we had the gangster spirit of going out and blowing people away!"
"But what makes me laugh is other bands starting to wear cowboy gear, because it doesn't mean anything - and they think it does!"
"We don't want people to start coping The Alarm by wearing the gear or picking up acoustics," stresses Mike.
"But that wouldn't even worry us," adds Dave, "because we're stronger than just an image or a sound - it's to do with the songs and the belief."
We talk of The Alarm's apparent fascination with violence, and in particular the song '68 Guns', which - as Mike explains - is based on a true story of a kid in a Glasgow Borstal.
"He used to get out at the weekends, when all he had was his gang - he couldn't get a job and he was in trouble all the time. All he believed in was this gang of his, so he gave up on everything else."
"But there was lot's going on around him that would be really good for him - and that's what we're trying to say and do, open people's eyes so they don't have tunnel vision."
But when your fans sing along '68 guns will never die!', do they really understand that?
"Well, we try to get it across - we want to inspire people at our gigs...it doesn't have to be with music - it'd be great if they went away and formed groups or maybe started up a disco, but it could be that they'll go and form a dustbin co-operative, anything they want to!"
"And hopefully we'll maintain the same level of belief in ourselves as those fans have in us."
"We don't have time to stop - we've got another gig to do tomorrow!"
"We could have gone on the telly the other week, which is something we've never achieved yet. We were meant to be on The Saturday Show with Isla St. Clair but it would have meant canceling a gig - and we'd rather do the gig instead."