In the ’80s The Knack hit it big . . . and the record companies went looking for the next “My Sharona” . . . and signed the likes of The Plimsouls (“A Million Miles Away”), Translator (“Everywhere That I’m Not”), and Wire Train (“A Chamber of Hellos”). Later on, along came some kid named Kurt Cobain . . . and the record companies searched for instant chart nirvana in the grooves of Bush, Pearl Jam, and Silverchair.
And in between, there was a little ‘ol band out of Ireland called U2. And the record companies gave us the likes of Big Country (remember their guitars “sounded” like bag pipes) from Scotland, along with Ėire Isle’s An Emotional Fish and Hothouse Flowers (both oh, so “Bono”), and Silent Running (imagine Brian Adams writing songs for Bad Company fronted by Bono). But the ones that looked and sounded the most like U2 was a band out of Wales known as The Alarm. Their label, IRS Records (home to another set of U2 hopefuls out of Athens, Georgia, R.E.M), even went as far as booking the Welsh lads on U2’s 1983 groundbreaking “War Tour.” The Irish assist gave the Welsh rockers international success with the songs “The Stand,” “Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke?,” “68 Guns,” and “Strength.”
But by the advent of the ’90s — with that kid out of the Pacific Northwest changing the musical landscape — The Alarm was finished. And the record companies wouldn’t give lead vocalist Mike Peters’s new band The Poets Of Justice or his solo endeavors the time of day. He was “too old” and his music was “out of style,” they told him.
So Peters pulled a Milli Vanilli, so to speak.
After writing a new song, “45 RPM,” he recruited an unknown band by the name of the Wayriders to lipsync the song’s promotional video — under the name the Poppy Fields. And the scam worked: the song hit the British Top 30 in 2004 and became the Alarm’s first significant hit in 20 years.
In the frames of this fun, low-budget film loosely based those events, Mike Peters and the Alarm are portrayed by down-on-his luck punk rocker Johnny Jones (Phil Daniels from Breaking Glass and Quadrophenia), the leader of the once glorious Weapons of Happiness. After attending a funeral for one of his old mates, Johnny runs into his old band (as well as Steve Diggle from the Buzzcocks and Peters from the Alarm in cameos) and decides to get the band back together.
. . . And the record companies couldn’t be more disinterested in the “new music” from these ‘ol sods and codgers. So Johnny hires a bunch of fresh-faced youngins to mime his music in a promotional video. The gig — well, jig — is up when the Johnny’s hired guns — the Single Shots — decide they want to be a “real band” and receive more recognition for their work. (Cue Don Kirshner and his Beatles wannabes, the Monkees. Be sure to check out our Exploring: The Movies of Don Kirshner featurette.)
Meanwhile, back in the real world: Mike Peters gave it all up in a Radio 1 interview during a 2004 chart countdown show — and the story was picked up by the international press. After the U.K. and European success of the film and its accompanying soundtrack in 2012, Mike Peters and the Alarm embarked on The Vinyl Tour 2013 to packed venues.
. . . And Peters and the Alarm are still recording. They released their most recent album, Sigma, and its hit single, “Brighter Than the Sun,” in 2019. Ironically, in 2021, the band released the effort, War. You can learn more about that album in this piece by the Los Angeles Daily News.
Yeah, Peters made his point: you’re never too old to rock ‘n’ roll. Amen!
As for director Sara Sugarman — who got her start as an actress in Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy (1986) and a variety of British television series — she’s been named as the new director of the production beleaguered Midas Man (2023), concerned with the relationship between the Beatles and Brian Epstein. We discuss that film — and thirty-three more — as part of our three-part series regarding speculative biographical flicks on the Beatles, the films using the legend of the “Fab Four” as plot fodder, and the historical sidebars to their careers — both as a band and solo artists.