It has been more than three decades since post-punk band the Alarm last played in Tampa Bay. But Mike Peters hasn’t forgotten it. You don’t forget shows you played with U2 in their young prime.
"As a musician from a small town in Wales, dreaming of America, I didn’t even know any friends in 1983 who’d been to Florida on holiday, never mind go there to play a concert," Peters said by phone recently. "U2 were great opening the door for us to play in those parts of the world."
Alas, the door opened, but not as much as it should have. Back in the day, the Alarm was frequently compared to U2, fusing righteous politics, punkish spirit and searing live passion into songs like Sixty Eight Guns and Blaze of Glory. U2 respected the band so much they took them on their War tour, which hit Tampa’s Curtis Hixon Hall in the summer of ’83.
But it never quite happened for the Alarm. After some up and down years, Peters quit the band in 1991, only to re-adopt the name about a decade later.
Today the Alarm is touring again — really, it’s just Peters; the other original members are on good terms but have gone their own ways — and coming to Clearwater’s Capitol Theatre on Tuesday. It’s a good chance to ask Peters: What kept them from reaching U2-like heights in America?
"I think in the ’80s, America didn’t quite have a voice of its own through its own music," he said. "At radio and in the media, there was almost an obsession with British bands that was manifest in U2 or Echo and the Bunnymen or the Alarm or the Cult or Big Country."
Problem was, when that hype wore off, the Alarm was left without a big grass-roots following in America to fall back on. Touring helped — "I felt we were able to sort of start a relationship with America without any hype in between us," Peters said — but then radio stations realized America had some pretty good alternative bands, too.
"Alternative radio stations gave a voice and allowed us to be heard in America in the ’80s, playing alternative British music," he said. "And then America discovered its own way of playing and recording and writing music that could be played on national radio in the U.S.A. That’s why I don’t think there’s so many British bands touring America in the same way. There’s a lot of young bands that make it in Britain, but there’s not that same interest in them from America anymore as there used to be."
Since re-forming the Alarm, Peters slowly began seeing his old songs in a new light. Re-examining them for compilations and re-releases kick-started him writing new Alarm music. A lot of it.
"Originally, I thought it was going to be a single album, and I thought, ‘Well, I have so much to say about the past and about the future and where I was,’ that we ended up making five albums in six months."
Peters is not one to let time go to waste. He’s survived multiple bouts with cancer, and his wife, Jules, is battling breast cancer. In 1995 he co-founded the Love Hope Strength Foundation, raising funds and awareness by staging all-star rock concerts in unconventional locations. In October, Peters and Gin Blossoms frontman Robin Wilson will hike the Grand Canyon, playing songs along the way for a group of donors.
"If you treat it early, treat it with the right kind of respect, don’t be afraid of it, don’t be afraid of asking questions and be open to the treatments, people of all walks of life now have a fighting chance against the disease," Peters said of his family’s cancer struggles. "We can bear testimony, since we’ve both been in some very dire situations and survived and come through."
It’s experiences like that that make him reflect all the more fondly on old Tampa shows with U2 and the Pretenders.
"U2 still plays with everything they’ve got every single night, and that rubs off on me as an artist," he said. "Friendships like those are forged on those early tours, where we really got to know each other, where we became tired at times, we were euphoric, sharing in similar experiences albeit on different levels. Playing a place like the jai alai (fronton), coming to Tampa, that really bonded us as friends, as well as musicians and bands."
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.