As if being on a 44-date US tour wasn’t enough for The Alarm frontman Mike Peters, he also led a five-day trek through the Grand, Bryce and Zion canyons for the cancer charity he set up.
The veteran rocker was joined for the event, dubbed Rock The Canyons, by his wife Jules and 38 other trekkers, including The Cult guitarist Billy Duffy and Gin Blossoms’ frontman Robin Wilson.
‘It was a really powerful event, we were raising funds to do bone marrow drives at our concerts, and we’ve been working with festivals like the Isle of Wight, or Lollapalooza and Austin City limits as well, and various different artists, from Ozzy Osbourne to [celtic punks] Flogging Molly all the way to Kenny Chesney the country star. We’ve pledged over 180,000 people to the list and made 4,000 lifesaving matches – people needing transplants have had a second chance at life. It’s made a difference.’
Mike co-founded the Love Hope Strength Foundation after his own run-in with leukaemia in 2005. And Jules, who also plays in The Alarm, was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.
Speaking to Mike, as the band travelled through Ohio to that night’s gig in Cincinnati, his passion for LHSF and what it does is clear.
‘We only travelled with 40 people on the trek, so everyone gets the chance to know everyone and develop a sense of community – you can get to know that amount of people in a week and get to know everyone’s name. We tried bigger groups in the past and it didn’t work so well, so this was an incredible trek, a real binding experience for everyone, we had some great moments.
‘We integrated the Gin Blossoms, The Cult and The Alarm for one band for the finale in Las Vegas. The fans saw us rehearsing and watching Billy up close trying to work out how to do a guitar solo for a Gin Blossoms song. It brings fans into how the bands work and communicate with each other - it’s a really special event and we’re looking forward to next year’s already.’
Although seemingly in good health and able to tour, the leukaemia remains a staple part of his life.
‘I still carry that burden with me through life, but developments in science and how cancer is dealt with now, I carry my chemotherapy on tour, I take it in the morning and at night.
‘I’ve been very lucky – I relapsed a couple of years ago and got placed on a clinical trial for a new drug, which has been a miracle for me. It’s meant I can do things like the American tour, whereas I used to be tethered to a hospital, I was always in hospital for treatment every three weeks so I could never stray too far. But this new drug has liberated me really and given me my life back properly, I can be the father I want to be and a husband to Jules.’
In light of Jules’ diagnosis though, Mike adds, ‘We’ve been hit with a pretty heavy hammer in our family, but you know, we’ve survived, we worked closely with our medical teams and stayed positive.
‘We’re lucky we’re beneficiaries of all the fundraising and help people have given before now. Breast cancer research has come on, and we’re hoping there will be a day soon when no-one else will die of breast cancer – same for leukaemia. We can manage these diseases now, they don’t have to be life threatening.
‘People should go to their doctors early and don’t be afraid to talk about it, to be open a bit and seek help straight away.
‘Ultimately life is terminal from the day we’re born – if we can extract as many days as possible from that, then we’re winning!’
Jule had her two-year mammogram just before the American tour, and was given the all-clear.
Mike takes this positive approach to what he does with the band – which wrapped up its North American tour last night. They return for a full UK tour, which kicks off later this month.
‘We’ve just tried to find the positives in all the situations we’ve found ourselves in. We’re lucky we have a strong, robust relationship and the band get on fantastically well.
‘That transfers to the audience – they see how much pleasure and the affirmative qualities we get from playing in our band, and that’s what we hope to pass to our audience. We relish every opportunity we have to get on stage and make the most of it - and that’s always been the message we try to put out in The Alarm, be alive and live in the moment and make the most of the opportunities that come your way.
‘We’ve always tried to keep a forward-facing approach to the band and not look back too far.
‘We toured with U2 in ’81 and ’83 and I learned a lot from them. Bono, as soon as he walked off stage was focused on the next gig and that’s how I’ve always lived my life.’
Earlier this year the band released the album Equals, which has been their best received work in years.
‘I try to maintain my enthusiasm for the songs I wrote as a kid so I can give them a lot of energy and throw my all into them. I’m lucky to have a catalogue of songs that people want to come and hear and sing along to, but I’m also mindful that I have to build and add to that legacy and keep it fresh.
‘I’m always looking at how the songs from the past can relate to now. Even a song like [their 1983 hit single] 68 Guns, which I’ve played all my life, it’s almost like the words to the song give it new relevance. It’s not the “68 Guns” anymore, it’s “68 guns will NEVER die”, with the emphasis on that, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do – stay alive, it has more relevance now than ever before. It’s a joy to sing, and having a new album out like Equals which has been received so well, it’s really freshened everything up for the band – having songs like Rain In the Summertime, Blaze of Glory and Strength, to sit alongside some of the big songs on Equals, it makes everything fresh and puts everything in a fresh context.’
And the reception for Equals has been a bonus to a band who have never been critical darlings.
‘We’ve never had great reviews - I think we’ve always been a people’s band rather than a critics’ band – but we’ve had respect. People understand where we’re coming from, but with this album we’ve had really powerful reviews from The Guardian and all sorts of people. To be able to still have that sort of respect after 35 years or so is amazing, and to have made a record where we can play every note of it live in concert, and it all adds to the concert – there’s no dull moments, all of the songs engage the audience.
‘Some of them have become new set pieces – it’s exciting. It’s what we always try to aspire to when we make a record. A lot of bands hit that in their first couple of records, but we’ve achieved that with Equals.’
The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
Thursday, November 29