‘Music is my form of escape to forget about cancer and live in the moment,” says The Alarm’s Mike Peters ahead of York solo gig

Mike Peters: Playing a “one-man band electro-acoustic setlist ” at The Crescent, York, on June 8

MIKE Peters took his guitar into hospital to write The Alarm’s new album, Forwards, out on June 16.

After a year of heightened health challenges, the 64-year-old Welshman is on tour, performing a one-man band electro-acoustic setlist of songs from all four decades of The Alarm discography at The Crescent, York, on Thursday.

“The album title came to me when I was in hospital, at the North Wales Cancer Treatment Centre [at Glan Clwyd Hospital, Rhyl], and things weren’t looking good,” he says.

“I was in a ward where someone had flown in from America to visit their father for the last time, and they said, ‘oh my God, it’s Mike Peters from The Alarm’. I realised I would need to write a letter to The Alarm fans and I signed off the note, ‘Forwards, Mike Peters’. That’s when I thought, ‘that would make a great album title’.”

Mike was suffering from both pneumonia and a leukaemia relapse. “I’ve been living with leukaemia since 1995. I’ve probably had more [leukaemia treatment] than any person alive and I’m still here to tell the story,” he says.

“But all the drugs that had kept me alive were now working against me, which was why I was in such a dire position. It would take three weeks to get used to the new drug, and luckily I made it through to be able to take the full dose. That’s what’s keeping me alive today.

“I asked if I could bring my guitar in, when I was lying on my side for eight days while five litres of blood were drained out of me, through the back. I was walking the corridors when I could to keep functions going – and playing the guitar to do that too.”

His fellow patients encouraged him to “keep going” with his guitar playing. “They were enjoying it, and I found myself coming up with new chords. By the time I came out of hospital, I had all these new songs and did the demos really fast in the caravan by my house, when my voice was working well before I lost it again,” says Mike.

“My manager said, ‘you’ve got to record this’ – and I was down to a whisper at the time – so I thought it might the only vocals we could use but could rebuild the music sonically around them, but later switch back to the caravan to record the vocals again.”

Mike was last on the road with The Alarm in 2019, playing a 38-date American tour and subsequently did a spoken-word show called Stream, piecing the story together from the albums Eye Of The Hurricane [1987] and Change [1989]: a story of leaving your environment, going downstream and then realising you can’t really leave your roots behind.

“So I did the show, one performance with a proper immersive theatre experience working with the Brecon Theatre company in South Wales, which was amazing, and I was about to stage it at the Edinburgh Fringe when the pandemic came.

“We hope to revisit that show with an open invite to bring it to the Fringe, but for now I have this solo tour in May and June, doing ten dates, just to get the voice into action again, then two dates in America.”

All this is against a backdrop of Mike having to take a regular “huge dose” of chemotherapy in tablet form. “I also have to go to hospital to have different drugs put in my bloodstream two weeks apart,” he says.

His solo show takes the form of a one-man band. “I play drums with my feet and my guitar is acoustic or electric, which is a lot of noise for one man – and that’s how The Alarm started without a bassist. It’s like a one-man White Stripes: I can play bass, acoustic and electric all in one on my guitar,” he says.

“I like going on without a setlist, just playing what comes into my head and whatever people shout out for, so there are endless possibilities. That’s why people come to the gigs: they want spontaneity. I want that moment of surprise too.

“One night I wrote a whole song on the spot around a setlist I found on the floor from the gig there the night before and that song’s never been repeated – I didn’t even know who the band was!”

Being in a band allows you to run away from life, says Mike. “Now music is my form of escape to forget about cancer and live in the moment, so it’s been a great release for me.”

At one point he was set to have a bone marrow transplant. “I said, ‘that’s great, but I’ve got a tour to play. Let me do that and come back in a really positive state of mind’, but when I came back my blood cell count had gone in the wrong direction,” he says.

“At first, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma but then I was re-diagnosed with chronic lymph Leukaemia. The disease I’ve got does ebb and flow in its intensity and it came back with a vengeance in its intensity last year, but hopefully it will stay stable for a few years.

“The music keeps me alive and gives me a reason to look forwards. Just because you’ve heard the word ‘cancer’ doesn’t mean you stop going for a run, going to work, but no-one prepares for it, thinking ‘I’ll read a book about it’.

“You only read about it when the doctor says ‘you’ve got cancer’, which could send you plummeting, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You have to stay at the highest point you can.”

Mike’s wife, Jules, has been through breast cancer, charting both her and Mike’s cancer journeys in a documentary for the BBC, and now she mentors cancer patients.

“We run our own charity, the Love Hope Strength Foundation, which takes people to Everest, helping to build a cancer treatment centre, speaking at the World Cancer Congress,” he says. “Every year we climb Snowdon, taking other survivors with us, showing that with a good attitude, you can ‘buy yourself’ days, months, years, through a positive attitude.

“Exiting from life can be just as beautiful as the entrance point, and we have to accept that sometimes we’re going to have to go through that, and maybe cancer will save you from other horrors. You have to respect cancer, as it comes from the same life as all the positive things.

“In my case, I try to be in control, and I know that some people don’t have that disposition, but if you can find some inner strength, you will be better for it.”

Mike Peters presents The Alarm (Acoustic), The Crescent, York, Thursday, 7.30pm. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

More Things To Do in York and beyond when Pride comes before a full diary of big ideas. Hutch’s List No.23, from The Press

Claire Richards: Taking Steps to headline York Pride’s main stage

PRIDE is loud and proud this weekend in a city full of ideas, heated politics and apocalyptic music, as recommended by Charles Hutchinson.

Diverse celebration of the week: York Pride, city-centre parade at 12 noon, followed by festival until after-hours on Knavesmire

NORTH Yorkshire’s largest LGBT+ celebration sets out on a parade march from Duncombe Place, outside York Minster, processing along Bishopthorpe Road to the festival site on Knavesmire.

Hosted by Sordid Secret and Mamma Bear, the Main Stage welcomes Claire Richards, from Steps, Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, Union J’s Jaymi Hensley and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK finalist Kitty Scott-Claus. Plenty more acts take to the YOI Radio Stage and Family Area and the new Queer Arts Cabaret Tent (1.30pm to 7pm, headlined by York’s pink-attired Beth McCarthy). Full festival details at: yorkpride.org.uk.

In the pink: Beth McCarthy tops the Queer Arts Cabaret Tent bill at York Pride this evening

Festival of the week and beyond: York Festival of Ideas 2023, until June 15

THIS University of York co-ordinated festival invites you to Rediscover, Reimagine, Rebuild in a programme of more than 150 free in-person and online events designed to educate, entertain and inspire. 

Meet world-class speakers, experience performances, join entertaining family activities, explore York on guided tours and more! Topics range from archaeology to art, history to health and politics to psychology. Study the festival programme at yorkfestivalofideas.com.

Ocean-loving Kent violinist and composer Anna Phoebe performs her Sea Soul album with Klara Schumann and Jacob Kingsbury Downs at the National Centre for Early Music, York, tonight at 7pm as part of the York Festival of Ideas. Picture; Rob Blackham

Don’t myth it: The Flanagan Collective in The Gods The Gods The Gods, York Theatre Royal, tonight, 7.30pm; Slung Low at Temple, Water Lane, Holbeck, Leeds, tomorrow, 7.30pm (outdoor performance); Hull Truck Theatre, Stage One, June 29, 7.30pm

WRIGHT & Grainger’s myth-making The Gods The Gods The Gods is performed as a 12-track album in an exhilarating weave of big beats, heavy basslines, soaring melodies and heart-stopping spoken word. In the absence of co-creators Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Megan Drury in New York and Australia respectively, Easingwold birthday boy Phil Grainger, 34 today, will be joined by Oliver Towse and Lucinda Turner from the West End original cast of Wright’s The Great Gatsby.

The 65-minute performance links stories of two youngsters who meet when out dancing, destined to fall hard; a woman on a beach, alone at night, looking at the stars, and a bloke on a bridge, thinking about jumping, just before dark, all at the crossroads where mythology meets real life. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; Leeds, slunglow.org; Hull, 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk.

Upwards and onwards: Oliver Towse, left, Lucinda Turner and Phil Grainger survey the auditorium ahead of their Harrogate Theatre performance of The God The Gods The Gods. York, Leeds and Hull dates lie ahead

Comedy gig of the week: Patrick Monahan, Classy, Pocklington Arts Centre, tonight, 8pm

IN a world of groups, hierarchies and class systems, everyone tries so hard to fit in. What’s wrong with being a misfit? Be you, be proud!

From the caravan to the middle-class neighbourhood, Irish-Iranian comedian Patrick Monahan, 46, has taken four decades to realise this. Time for the Edinburgh Fringe regular to pass on his observations on living his contemporary life alongside stories of his upbringing. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Patrick Monahan: Classy performance at Pocklington Arts Centre

Apocalypse now: Late Music presents Late Music Ensemble, Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York, tonight, 7.30pm

YORK Late Music concludes its 2022-23 season on a spectacular – if not entirely optimistic! – note tonight when the Late Music Ensemble, conducted by Nick Williams, opens up the End Of The World Jukebox.

Composers and players re-imagine the pop songs they would like to hear if Armageddon were nigh in arrangements of Imogen Heap’s Hide And Seek, David Bowie’s Warszawa, Cole Porter’s Every Time We Say Goodbye and Bob Dylan’s Cat’s In The Well. The Beatles will be represented by The End from Abbey Road, alongside new works by Christopher Fox and Anthony Adams.

Williams’s nine-strong ensemble promises a broad musical spectrum through the presence of Edwina Smith (flute, piccolo), Jonathan Sage (clarinet, bass clarinet), Iain Harrison and Lucy Havelock (saxophones), Murphy McCaleb (bass trombone), Kate Ledger (piano, toy piano, voice), Tim Brooks (keyboards, piano), Catherine Strachan (cello) and Anna Snow (voice).

Due to unforeseen circumstances, today’s lunchtime concert by Stuart O’Hara has been postponed. It will, however, be rescheduled in the 2023-24 season, whose programme will be announced in the next few months.

While the End of the World cannot be avoided, York Late Music adminstrator Steve Crowther is an optimist who believes that, for now at least, the end is no nigher. A 6.45pm, pre-concert talk by Christopher Fox includes a complimentary glass of wine or fruit juice. Box office: latemusic.org or on the door.

Kate Ledger: Pianist playing in the Late Music Ensemble’s end-is-nigh concert tonight

Folk gig of the week: Spiers & Boden, The Crescent, York, Wednesday, doors 7.30pm

THIS weekend the focus falls on the City of York Roland Walls Folk Weekend at the Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green. Meanwhile, the organisers, the Black Swan Folk Club, have teamed up with The Crescent to present Bellowhead big band cohorts Spiers & Boden in a seated concert next week.

John Spiers and Jon Boden re-formed their instrumental duo in 2021 after a seven-year hiatus to release the album Fallow Ground. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Seated gig: Folk duo Spiers & Boden atThe Crescent on Wednesday

Defiant gig of the week: Mike Peters presents The Alarm (Acoustic), The Crescent, York, Thursday, 7.30pm

AFTER a year of health challenges, The Alarm leader Mike Peters returns to the stage this spring with a new album set for release in the summer.

Co-founder of the Love Hope Strength Foundation, the 64-year-old Welshman will be performing a one-man band electro-acoustic set list of songs from all four decades of The Alarm discography. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Mike Peters: Setting The Alarm songs acoustically at the Crescent on Thursday

Troubadour of the week: Steve Earle, The Alone Again Tour, Grand Opera House, York, Friday, 7.30pm

AS his tour title suggests, legendary Americana singer, songwriter, producer, actor, playwright, novelist, short story writer and radio presenter Steve Earle will be performing solo and acoustic in York: the only Yorkshire gig of a ten-date itinerary without his band The Dukes that will take in the other Barbican, in London, and Glastonbury.

Born in Fort Monroae National Monument, Hampton, Virginia, Earle grew up in Texas and began his songwriting career in Nashville, releasing his first EP in 1982 and debut album Guitar Town in 1986, since when he has branched out from country music into rock, bluegrass, folk music and blues. Box office: atgtickets.com/york

Steve Earle: Heading from New York to York for the opening night of his British solo tour. Picture: Danny Clinch

Brass at full blast: Shepherd Group Brass Band: Stage And Screen, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, June 10, 7pm

SHEPHERD Group Brass Band’s late-spring concert showcases music from across the repertoire of stage and screen, featuring five bands from the York organisation, ranging from beginners to championship groups, culminating with a grand finale from all the bands. Tickets update: only the last few are still available on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Thalissa Teixeira: The Royal Shakespeare Company’s first black female Brutus in Julius Caesar, directed by Atri Banerjee, on tour at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Marc Brenner

Power play: Royal Shakespeare Company in Julius Caesar, York Theatre Royal, June 13 to 17, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and Saturday matinees

ATRI Banerjee directs this fast-paced political thriller on the RSC’s return to York Theatre Royal in a fresh interpretation of Julius Caesar with a female Brutus (Thalissa Teixeira) and non-binary Cassius (Annabel Baldwin) that asks: how far would we go for our principles?

Concerned that divisive leader Julius Caesar (Nigel Barrett) poses a threat to democracy, revolutionaries take the violent decision to murder him but without a plan for what happens next. As the world spins out of control, chaos, horror and superstition rush in to fill the void. Civil war erupts and a new leader must rise, but at what cost? Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Be Alarmed! Mike Peters’ New Wave musical Oxy to be streamed on Facebook

Oxy & The Morons: re-formed but not reformed in the punk-spirited New Wave musical Oxy. Pictures by: Mike Kwasniak

NEVER mind the lockdown, here comes Oxy, a night of Alarming virtual theatre on Saturday night, presented live on Facebook by musician Mike and Jules Peters.

This “life-saving New Wave musical”, co-written by The Alarm frontman, Steve Allan Jones and Paul Sirett, will be streamed from 7pm as part of the weekly Big Night In With The Alarm broadcast at facebook.com/theofficialalarm.

“Turn your home into a theatre for the night,” comes the invitation. “Get dressed up, prepare the pre-show dinner and chill the drinks for the interval. Play the music loud and pogo along from the best seats in the house – your front room – and help save lives.”

Molly-Grace Cutler as Sheena in Oxy

The Big Night In broadcast also will feature live interviews with cast members, writers and production staff and the chance to join in the live commentary and interact with theatre and music fans from all over the world.

In Oxy, when a routine check-up leads to a startling diagnosis, Andy decides this is the time to put the band back together, to crank up the amps and party like it’s 1978!

Why not re-form the legendary Oxy & The Morons, who burned fiercely before exploding in a riot of rivalry, jealousy and bitter betrayal?

The publicity poster for Saturday’s Facebook streaming of Oxy

Andy’s mission involves twisting arms, healing wounds and putting his family and friendships back together, but can that New Wave spirit of DIY defiance be rekindled more thirty years later? Will they play their trademark version of It’s Not Unusual as an encore?  Can you still pogo when your knees go?

Driven by a machine-gun playlist of a dozen new Peters and Jones songs and a powerful message, Oxy’s affectionate look-back at the days of teen spirit suggests “we could all do with some of that garage band power right now”.

The life-affirming theme of Peters, Jones and Sirett’s fast, furious and funny musical helped to save someone’s life during its first production run at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.

Robbie Jarvis (Andy) and Mark Newnham (Oxy) in Oxy

Now, Peters and co hope the online premiere during the Coronavirus lockdown “might just save even more lives”. Through Mike and Jules Peters’ association with the cancer charities Love Hope Strength and DKMS, an online bone-marrow donor drive will be taking place throughout the evening.

Recorded on film by All Media Works, Saturday’s online premiere features a cast of Robbie Jarvis, Janet Fullerlove, Sean Kingsley, David Rubin, Mark Newnham, Matthew Durkan, Molly Grace Cutler, Adam Langstaff and John Hasler, directed by Peter Rowe.

The Big Night In With The Alarm has been broadcasting throughout the lockdown, attracting 100,000 viewers each week.