"The new drugs are working better than anyone could have hoped for": The Alarm's Mike Peters is feeling good, thanks for asking

Mike Peters surrounded by musical instruments
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

The word ‘indomitable’ comes to mind when speaking to Mike Peters. After The Alarm star, 64, returned from tour in April 2022, he was diagnosed with pneumonia

The leukaemia he’s battled for decades had come back with life-threatening vengeance, and his drug treatment was no longer working. He spent most of that year either in hospital or at home recovering, and then – coming back from the brink – he thought he’d lost his voice forever. 

But with a successful new drug regimen (and his relentlessly positive attitude), Peters is coming back strong with spirited new Alarm album Forwards, and acoustic shows too.


How are you feeling right now, in this moment? 

I feel really good. The new drugs are working better than anyone could have hoped for. I’m on the highest dose you can imagine. It took me a long time to get weaned onto it, but ever since then it’s been working fantastically well. And I can sing much better on the new drugs, too. 

You’ve been through the wringer yet again, so when did you find time to work on Forwards

I actually started writing some of the songs while I was in hospital. I had a drain coming out of my back, releasing the blood that had filled my lung, so I could only lie on one side, for hours on end, for ten days non-stop. I could have half an hour between IV sessions when I could sit up. I knew I was going to be in for a long time, so I had the guitar there. I’d strum a few chords and then it was: “Right, Mike, you’ve got to get back on your side, down you go.” 

As an artist and musician, you must have relied on your musical imagination to keep you sane

Exactly. I didn’t take the guitar in to be creative. I just thought a bit of quiet strumming would be calming after the procedure – all these big needles coming at you. Then after a while a bit of a melody would just arrive. All artists know that when you’re down or brokenhearted, that’s often when you write your best songs. When you’re being challenged, that’s when the muse strikes hardest. And mine was working overtime.

That’s clear from the record. The title track, The Returning and Another Way all sound like they were written by someone willing themselves on. 

I was. But I didn’t want it to be a ‘fight back’ record about where I’d been, I wanted it to be about where I was going. I wanted to believe in the hope I could feel myself in the hospital. Another Way came from the doctor literally saying to me: “Look, Mike, these drugs aren’t working any more, we’ve got to find another way.” 

I heard him and thought: “There’s the song!” You store it away, then you’ve got hours lying on your side and you sing these songs to make yourself feel better. Your imagination becomes your own hospital radio. The beeps from the machines become your click track. I came out wondering if anyone else had written an album while in hospital. 

As usual, the record is anthemic, with a good, earthy production, acoustic guitars and electric riffs. And your voice sounds strong. When did you think you’d lost it? 

When I first came out of hospital [October last year], I did these quick demos in my caravan, which had become a sort of home studio for me over lockdown. I had to sing it all quite low down; I couldn’t get to the high stuff. I was going through cold turkey with the old drugs, my glands were out here and my voice was deteriorating – by the end I could barely whisper. 

I said to our producer, George Williams: “I might not be able to sing this again. We might have to treat this as a sort of posthumous record, without me being dead. These demos are all you’ve got to work with.” 

Within a day the band were at Rock Hard Studios in Blackpool. And then in November – with me on this new drug – I went back to my caravan to see what I’d got, and I could get up there again. I sang the whole album in there on my own, in a day. I didn’t have the stamina to stop then get back up to that level again, so I sang my heart out right then.

You were well enough to perform at the Alarm fan even The Gathering in Llandudno in January. That must have been a big deal for you. 

During my treatment my wife would say: “Do we need to move The Gathering?” I said: “No, I’ve got to have that. If I can’t sing at all, it’s all our best fans from all over the world anyway, so they’ll understand, they’re not going to hold it against me.” But in December I got the band together for a sneaky few days of rehearsal. I belted it out, and thought: “I’m going to be alright now…” 

Do you ever have an evening where you sit down with your favourite records and just listen, as a fan? 

Oh yeah. And I’ve got a music bar now in [his North Wales home town] Dyserth, and I DJ there every Saturday night. I’ve always got my radar up for new bands, so I’ll start off with stuff like The Lathums, The Snuts or [Bono’s son’s band] Inhaler, then into The Jam, the Manics, a bit of Van Halen and AC/DC creeps in. All from my vinyl collection. 

Where do you think rock’n’roll is at in 2023? 

I look at all the bands that replaced The Alarm in the top tier in the nineties – Pearl Jam, Stereophonics, the Manics, Oasis – and I haven’t seen anything to really knock them off their perch. At festivals it’s still The Killers, Foo Fighters, Rage Against The Machine. I don’t see any absolutely brand new bands headlining with twenty killer singles. 

Maybe it’s got to be forgotten a bit first to come back again. And a lot of the songs have been written, the tricks have been overplayed and done. Some of the heritage bands like The Stranglers and Simple Minds are still great, but I just long for that day when some brand new band comes along that’s just got it – killer songs, great lyrics and looking brilliant. I’m still looking for bands like the Pistols and The Clash, stuff that’s undeniably great.

Forwards is out now via The Twenty First Century Recording Company. More on the record and tour at thealarm.com.

Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.