The Alarm Rings For Freedom
New York - It is a steaming July Fourth weekend in New York. The dance floor at the Ritz, one of the city's bigger dance/video clubs, is packed with sweating bodies celebrating the long weekend marking the anniversary of their country's independence. But tonight has not drawn just the usual notoriously jaded crowd of clubgoers; tonight, people are staring transfixed at the sight and deafening sound coming from the stage. For there, four young men are delivering ringing proclamations of freedom, and singing of the power that comes from people joining together, and of the foolishness of conflict.
And now, one of these men has taken a guitar and lifted it over his head, and is holding it a loft while a martial drum beat plays behind him. The precise meaning of his gesture is not apparent, but there can be no denying its symbolic force. And as the lights fade and the drums stand silent, the singer puts down his guitar, reaches for his mike stand, and pounds out the beat for the band's next number. 'Come on down and meet your maker,' they cry in unison, 'Come on down and make the stand.'
That is the sound of The Alarm, and theirs is a calling out that should not go unanswered.
'We can't expect things to change overnight with one song, so we've all got to keep writing songs and lending our voice.' Mike Peters, the front man for the Alarm, sits backwards on a chair in his hotel room, virtually confronting his interviewer with an earnest, good-natured faith in the order of things. The Alarm, who hail from Wales, are finishing up their first month in America opening shows for U2, but noticeable exhaustion doesn't slow the loquacious Peters from speaking up. 'There is hope around the corner, and there always will be, because there's always someone out the with the ability to make something happen in their own sphere, in their chosen way of life, and that's what we want to do, to encourage people to make things better for themselves.'
The concept of self-help is something the quartet knows by the way of constant practice. Peters and guitarist Eddie McDonald knew each other from childhood, as did lead guitarist Dave Sharp and drummer Nigel Twist; they eventually joined forces through the usual musical chairs process of falling in and out of neighborhood groups in their native Rhyl. After a self run club for teens bit the dust, the four decided the time was right to make a go of it. Peters, who had written a song that gave the out fit it's name, say's the idea was 'to go back to find what first inspired us to pick up a guitar, the unlimited possibilities.' Retaining the do-it-yourself feeling, the band pressed up a 45 which sold out its modest pressing, and convinced them to try their luck in London.
They made their mark in Britain's capital by knocking on doors, always carrying acoustic guitars to give promoters a a first hand listen at what they could do. One of those most impressed was U2's agent (and current Alarm manager) Ian Wilson, who took Bono and company to see The Alarm. The two bands hit it off tremendously, an important connection for the Welshmen. By the fall of '82, the Alarm had signed with IRS and released the anthemic 'Marching On.' Earlier this year, they came out with 'The Stand,' their third and finest single to date. Plans were made to join U2 at the tail end of the War tour in America, and IRS released a five song EP, made up from their two records for the label plus one live track.
The Alarm's modus operandi, being masterminded by Wilson, naturally follows the U2 ethos of hard work, and avoiding the here today gone tomorrow feel exuded by so many current singles bands. Peters reasons, 'We wanted to build up the group in the way that traditional groups were built up by working in sweaty clubs, infront of people, in live performances. We knew we were going to be a real group, with real values and real faith with our fans.'
The faith is founded on the idea of one to one contact, centered on an instrument virtually extinct from today's international pop scene; the acoustic guitar. The majority of their songs, presented live, feature two guitars. When asked about the origins of such an odd (for 1983) lineup, the assertive Dave Sharp declares: ' We got a tremendous feeling from the songs we wrote on acoustic guitars, but when we took them into rehearsals and tried them out on a traditional electric setup they lost their original feeling. We thought, why don't we take the guitar and find a way to make it sound bigger? Acoustic guitars are intimate instruments, and what we wanted to do was to create an intimate situation with them not just one to one, but one to a thousand, or however many.'
The stance of the bands like U2 and the Alarm is one of firm and clear-eyed optimism, it's true that, as Steve Pond of Rolling Stone noted in his review of the EP, 'this is the kind of record that could only come from a young band.' But such hope should never be the exclusive province of the young, or even the foolish and the naive. If rock is now, after thirty years, approaching middle age, it still needs these bands' call for unity.
Smiling, Peters concludes, 'I think young people are coming together more and more, and all of the fashions possibilities of the last few years have been exhausted. Now, people are getting into it as: it's music, let's get on with it, let's forget the clothes. I think young people are realizing that to love one another is alright; if you walk down the street and see a guy with his hair different from you, he's still on the same side, part of the same race, the human race let's just go up and shake his hand. I think people want to feel that way; I don't think people want to feel alienated.'
Heed this Alarm.