GLASGOW EYES MAGAZINE
NEWS / MUSIC / INTERVIEW / THE ALARM
BY BRIAN ANDERSON
INTERVIEW WITH THE LEGENDARY ALARM AS SCOTTISH GIGS LOOMS
ACCLAIMED ALBUM ‘EQUALS’ IS OUT NOW
The Alarm, who have just completed a marathon 50-date tour of North America, return to the UK for a winter tour of select city venues including an opening night at ULU in central London on November 28th (see tour dates below).
The band are also putting together a Midsummer Gathering at Cardiff University for June 29th 2019 that will celebrate 30 years since the recording of their landmark 1989/90 single ‘A New South Wales’. Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir (who also sang on the original recording), will reunite with The Alarm for this special event. Tickets go on-sale at the same time as the UK winter tour, with the full event bill to be announced at a later date. Tickets are on sale now for the following UK shows;
THE ALARM – 2018 UK WINTER TOUR
28th Nov LONDON ULU www.alttickets.com/the-alarm-tickets
29th Nov PORTSMOUTH Wedgewood Rooms www.seetickets.com/event/the-alarm/wedgewood-rooms/1254436
30th Nov YORK Fibbers https://www.seetickets.com/event/the-alarm/fibbers/1260014
1st Dec LIVERPOOL Arts http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/event/1F005504BDB426D1
2nd Dec BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy 2 www.ticketmaster.co.uk/event/1F005503DEC48BA6
5th Dec READING Sub 89 https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-alarm-tickets-49127008204
6th Dec LEEDS Brudenell www.alttickets.com/the-alarm-tickets
7th Dec EDINBURGH Liquid Rooms http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/event/3600550E90AF0F88
2019 Midsummer Gathering
29th Jun CARDIFF University ticketmaster.co.uk | www.cardiffboxoffice.com| 0800 988 4440
The Alarm haven’t released an album of original songs since 2010. Why such a long creative gap?
This current decade heralded the beginning of a period of significant Alarm 30th Anniversaries (our first gig, debut single, debut album etc), and so I felt that the weight of the band’s history would ultimately overshadow any attempt to create or release new music during this time. Also, rather than dust down the master tapes for reissue again like I had in 2000, I took the opportunity to revisit the past and re-record 30th Anniversary versions of all the songs I had become best known for. It was a challenging process for myself and the fans, but to me it became important to set my music free from its 1980s timestamp. I knew from experience that songs change with you as you travel through life, some becoming even more relevant through the passing of time, so I decided to re-examine all my early 1980s works as if they were brand new collections of songs and see what they would sound like with the outlook and perception I had gained through decades of consistent touring, and also from dealing with major life challenges presented by living with cancer since 1995.
When did the writing of the latest album ‘Equals’ begin?
In 2015 we played one of the biggest shows in the band’s life when myself and The Alarm performed with a huge orchestra and two choirs at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. It was an amazing night and a career high of sorts, but right before the concert and unbeknownst to the fans, my doctors discovered that I had suffered a relapse from the leukaemia (CLL), that I’ve been living with since 1995. I was able to play the concert, but right after almost everything ‘rock’n’roll’ was put on hold while we addressed the situation. It was a script that you cannot write, as out of the blue, my wife Jules was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Neither of us could believe it, and we were both plunged into a very unexpected place and time. As it happens, I was admitted on to a clinical trial for a new anti-cancer treatment (Idelalisib), that has proved to be something of a miracle drug for me personally and, whilst helping to nurse Jules through her treatment and road to recovery, I would write all about all the conflicted feelings I was experiencing into my iPhone. Once we were through the worst of times, I shared some of the essays with Jules, who suggested that I turn my emotional outpourings into a new Alarm album. It was to present a very dramatic change to the way I usually worked, as previously, I had always written the music first – not what turned out to be the lyrics.
How did you shape the lyrics into songs?
It started as word association really, and then gradually music would be revealed in amongst the phrases and sentences. I spent days going over the various pages of script looking for the music. I eventually created a batch of around thirty songs that I demo taped in my writing studio. I categorised all the songs individually, by using colour codes such as ‘Blood Red’ for the lyrics that were inward looking, and ‘Viral Black’ for the songs that looked outside It was challenging to be working backwards so to speak. Once I felt confident in the body of work, I shared them with the band and producer George Williams and over time we managed to form a cohesive framework for a selection of the songs that became known as ‘Equals’. The benchmark for all the songs on ‘Equals’, was exactly the same as that which we strived for on the very first Alarm album ‘Declaration’, in that, every song has to be able to stand up by itself as a pure acoustic piece with just guitar chords, lyrics and melody. I’m really proud of the fact that when I took part in last month’s National Album Day celebrations in conjunction with the BBC, to perform both ‘Declaration’ and ‘Equals’ as acoustic pieces from start to finish at Parr Street Studios in Liverpool, every song from the two running orders stood up to the challenge of being performed in this way.
I see that you also featured on BBC TV’s primetime ‘The One Show’ recently. How was it?
It was a great experience, the piece was filmed entirely on location in Rhyl, and to go back to the origins of the band was insightful in lots of ways. The producer was particularly keen for me to go back to the moment that our 1983 hit single ‘Sixty Eight Guns’ was created, and so they had me driving around the town in a 1970’s Ford Cortina, re-living the earliest days of the band’s history when we used to drive around town in my Grandad’s old car, blasting out the cassette tapes we put together featuring The Clash, Bob Dylan, Sex Pistols, Killing Joke and all the other bands and artists who were unafraid to speak out in their music at that time. It brought back lots of great memories and in many ways it was like going back in time. I dug out my original lyric books and took them through the song-writing process of ‘Sixty Eight Guns’. Initially, the original song was quite long and complex, with a lyrical narrative about creating your own opportunities in life. When we recorded the song as a single back in 1983, the producer Alan Shacklock, made us take a verse out of the song in order to make it sound more ‘radio friendly’. It obviously worked, and ‘Sixty Eight Guns’ went on to become a huge hit around the world! Whenever we performed the song live afterwards though, something always felt wrong and, after re-reading the original lyrics, I realised that we had inadvertently taken out the verse that contained the lyric that gave the song it’s true meaning; “If they take our chances we’ll create our own”. The BBC wanted me to perform the song for the broadcast and so I sang it with those missing lyrics added back in and it felt right again, like the circle had been made complete.
So what can fans expect to hear when they see the band on the UK Winter Tour 2018?
At the moment, we are in the midst of a huge North American Tour playing over 50 dates, so the fans can expect to see The Alarm at it’s very best. We are also all very fit for action, as we just completed a marathon ‘Rock The Canyons’ hike and concert in the Grand Canyon for our charity Love Hope Strength!. The new music from ‘Equals’ sits alongside all the best known Alarm songs in such a way that everything sounds really fresh and exciting. We haven’t known a time like this for the band since the earliest days – US Radio is embracing the new single from ‘Equals’ which is called ‘Beautiful’, and the airplay has ensured that all the gigs are packed out with new and old fans alike. In the US, British bands don’t get the exposure like they once did, so it is rare for a band like us to be out there for such a long tour. Last year, we played Vans Warped Tour which pitched us up against all the very best new bands the current generation has to offer and we were able to more than hold our own, winning over a whole new audience at the same time. I think it is by challenging ourselves and our fans that we have been able to stand the test of time. The reaction from fans to the album has been overwhelming and sales of ‘Equals’ has put The Alarm back in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s always been important to me to know that our music is still relevant and all the struggles I have had to stay alive mean that I totally appreciate every single opportunity to stand up on stage with The Alarm and share our music with an audience. For that reason alone, the UK Winter Tour is going to be a real celebration of life and living in the present.
You have sung with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Bono in your time. That’s a pretty impressive CV.
I think that’s down to earning respect within the industry itself. The Alarm has always toured, even when the spotlight of the world was elsewhere. We have constantly paid our dues and worked our way through the challenges of line-up changes, creating new music and living in the present musically and politically. All artists who are going to tour and play music for their entire lives, have to face the same kinds of challenges at some point, and that is where the respect comes in to play. Each of the artists you mentioned have been around for as long as I can remember and the people that I met and sang with don’t see themselves as superstars or anything like that – the bonds between us were created through a communal positive enthusiasm and love of being musicians, singers and songwriters who create music and want to share their experiences with others on the stage. On this forthcoming UK tour, we have a great American artist named Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts playing with us, and it all happened as a result of Little Steven (from Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band) calling me to ask if they could play some shows with The Alarm. Ryan Hamilton’s band are signed to Little Steven’s label Wicked Groove, and he was so passionate about them and how he felt they would fit so well with The Alarm audience. I almost didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was already a fan!!!!! Little Steven doesn’t have to do that kind of thing, so for him to pick up the phone and take the time and the trouble was refreshing and inspirational. It’s that kind of energy and a simple love of music that bonds musicians from all walks of life, no matter how high up the food chain they may be.
Will your charity Love Hope Strength be trying to save lives on the tour?
Absolutely, we will be encouraging everyone who attends the shows, to ‘Get On The List’ via a simple cheek swab at the Love Hope Strength booth which is manned by volunteers. It is then hoped that someone will be matched to a person who has blood cancer like me, and needs their lifeblood to stay alive. The program has been supported by all kinds of artists and music festivals, from Ozzy Osbourne to the Isle Of Wight Festival, and proved very effective. To date, we have registered over 180,000 individuals and located over 4,000 potentially lifesaving matches. In the middle of this current US tour, we are playing a concert in the Grand Canyon to help raise funds to keep our ‘Get On The List’ program on the road. By having Love Hope Strengthpresent at our concerts means that every show we play has the potential to become a lifesaving event.