The story behind Mike Peters’ inspiring new documentary, Man in the Camo Jacket, actually begins with the music of the Alarm.
Peters’ will to live also comes through his charity, the Love Hope Strength Foundation, which raises funds and awareness for cancer centers around the world through music-related events and promotions. To date, LHS has added more than 129,000 music fans to the bone marrow registry, helping to find more than 2,400 potential lifesaving matches.
Man in the Camo Jacket will have its U.S. premiere in Los Angeles on April 22 and in New York on April 29. This will be followed by the Alarm's run of live dates as part of the Vans Warped Tour.
I recently spoke to Peters about Man in the Camo Jacket, the Alarm’s upcoming tour, new music and more.
What inspired Man in the Camo Jacket?
The genesis of the film happened when I was approached by Russ Kendall from Kaleidoscope Pictures. He had been commissioned to make a series of programs for a film called A Song That Changed My Life. Russ and his crew came to Wales to film my portion. While he was there, I told him the story about our work with the charity and the bone marrow drive and he became enthralled with the whole Love, Strength, Hope story. That’s when he said, “Mike, this is more than a TV show. This has to become a film.”
He started the drive with the other producers [James Chippendale, Stash Slionski and Alex Coletti] and put the story together. The film is the coming together of a lot of people who had faith in the band and me as an individual and stood behind me through my cancer struggles, and also about the people who got on board and volunteered to give their love, hope, strength back to the world.
What's the story behind the camouflage jacket?
When I was first diagnosed in 1995, I was due to have a bone marrow transplant. But I told the doctors I had an American tour in a few days and couldn’t cancel it. A friend of mine gave me a book about self-healing to read on the way over, and there was a chapter about a girl who had a brain tumor and created a Pac-Man game in her mind to eat it.
She wound up going into spontaneous remission and cured herself through the power of her mind. It really connected with me and made me realize I needed a defense mechanism of my own. I thought that if I was going to war with the cancer, I was going to buy an army jacket and wouldn’t take it off until I was cured.
One of the interesting parts of your musical journey was when one of your early bands, Seventeen, dissolved. It was the day you were told by the band’s manager that you’d never amount to anything musically.
That was the bottom and a terrible day, because it was also the day John Lennon died. But I saw something in myself that day. Up to that point, all I was trying to do through the band was get a record deal. I realized it shouldn’t just be about that. I thought we’ve got to put our ideals across and give something tangible to our audience through our music. Something where they can say, “Wow! Those guys mean it. Let’s apply that to our lives as well.”
I remember walking away from that moment with no anger or bitterness and later telling him, “You’re wrong. I’ll prove you wrong.” It was a wakeup call and a turning point that shocked me into real action instead of just going for a ride.
What can you tell me about the Alarm’s upcoming tour?
We’re doing the Vans Warped Tour and will be mixing it up with all of the modern, contemporary bands in the U.S.A. We’ve been ready for this kind of challenge. I’ve turned down a lot opportunities to tour the band that were based on to the “looking back” and nostalgia tours, because the band has always been about looking forward and making new music. I’ve spent the last few years really challenging myself on guitar, and we’ve brought that into the core of the band.
What people can expect to see is a band at its absolute best, with a great mix of new and old. I think we’ll cause some shock to the young kids who are gonna be thinking, “Who’s this band from the Eighties?” [laughs].
Are there any other projects you’re working on right now?
We’ve got a new project called “Blood Red Viral Black” that will be coming more into the picture in 2018. The early seeds for it are being sown right now at TheAlarm.com. I’ve also got a musical coming out in October that’s being staged in Britain.
Are there any moments in your life and music that stand out as most memorable?
There are so many. There’s a BBC television program airing in May about my wife going through a journey with breast cancer. It’s been a pretty brutal last few years, but seeing her come through that was pretty amazing. I feel great that we’re in a position where I can finally step out the shadow of cancer and live in the light. It’s something I haven’t been able to do properly for 20 years. So I’ll take the ingredients of everything I’ve had: playing with the Clash in 1977, singing with U2 in 1983, jumping up onstage with Bob Dylan in 1988 and even singing on stage with Bruce Springsteen two years ago. All of it is preparing me for what is about to come.
Is there a message you’d like people to take away from watching Man in the Camo Jacket?
The simple message is to stay alive and appreciate every second you’ve got. Live right up to the last breath and stay positive about the world, your family and the environment you live in. When we first came to America, I was in my early twenties. I’m 58 now and am still the same punk rocker in my head. I want to give the feeling out to live life to the fullest.
I’m lucky to be alive in who I wanted to be when I set out of Peter Buckle’s office and said, “I’ll show you.” I’m still that same guy. I’ve got a wife and two boys and am still in the Alarm. I can’t ask for anything more than that.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.