“Strength,” the title track from Welsh new-wave band The Alarm’s 1985 sophomore album, provided a triumphant battle cry for lead singer Mike Peters’ future bouts with cancer. The song begins with the now-chilling demand, “Give me love, give me hope, give me strength.” Twenty-two years later, Peters co-founded the Love Hope Strength Foundation (LHSF) with American businessman and cancer survivor James Chippendale to search for a cure.
Peters’ strength in the face of adversity takes the spotlight this summer via the documentary film Man in the Camo Jacket and The Alarm’s ongoing U.S. tour. The film, out July 4 on iTunes and VOD, is named after Peters’ decision to always wear a military jacket in public until conquering his 1995 diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Peters won that war, but he had to don camo again in 2005 to battle chronic lymphocyte leukemia (CLL). The disease returned yet again in 2015. Now, Peters is in remission.
Peters toured and recorded throughout all three cancer battles, using his platform to champion further research with songs that already relayed positive messages.
“When I started out singing, I knew I had a voice, and I had to use that voice with responsibility to the people I’m singing to,” Peters says. “I’ve always wanted people to feel a little bit better about themselves after they come in contact with my music, be it at a concert or on a record.”
Director and producer Russ Kendall and his crew do a masterful job capturing Peters’ loving connection with his family. Late last year, Peters’ wife Jules was diagnosed with breast cancer, adding more urgency to the LHSF cause.
“We can see that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and cancer is on the run from humanity,” Peters says. “It’s in its death throes, so it fights harder than ever before. As an activist on the front line, sometimes I feel like it fights back harder against me.”
The film begins by chronicling The Alarm’s meteoric rise to fame, culminating with the Spirit of ’86 concert at UCLA that drew an estimated 25,000 fans and was broadcast by MTV. This summer, a different Alarm lineup is playing the states, including numerous dates on the Vans Warped Tour. LHSF has a table at Warped Tour stops even when The Alarm isn’t slated to perform, educating a young audience and adding to a bone-marrow donor registry.
The Warped Tour doesn’t exactly remind Peters of his new-wave heyday, but it’s not for reasons old punks might giddily expect.
“They’re a great organization,” he says. “It’s not like rock ’n’ roll, because people actually are nice and courteous on the tour, from the top down. They answer emails. When they say they’re going to do something, they do it. Certain rock ’n’ roll is tiresome. Ego gets in the way, and people don’t run it like a proper business.”
Stops at venues that draw older crowds, such as Atlanta’s City Winery and The Foundry in Athens, seem more like places that would attract Alarm fans than a corporate-sponsored touring festival. Still, Peters relishes the opportunity to connect with a new generation of bands and fans.
“A lot of the younger bands grew up as fans, and they’re telling their audience to come see The Alarm,” he says. “A lot of our music has been handed down from father to son and from mother to daughter, and now those younger people are sharing our music with our contemporaries. It’s certainly helped grow our audience.”
Whether he’s climbing Mount Everest with fellow new wavers, like he did for charity in 2007, or sharing The Alarm’s music with fans of all ages, Peters is fueled by hope—just like the narrator in “Strength.”
“The drugs and treatment get better every single day,” he says. “Maybe we can eradicate cancer in time. It may very well be right around the corner. It might happen in our lifetimes. It’ll certainly happen in our children’s lifetimes, I feel.”
Peters’ story is equal parts heartbreaking and encouraging. Man in the Camo Jacket captures how the physical pain in his body causes emotional pain in his wife and sons’ hearts—an all-too-relatable truth for relatives of cancer’s survivors and victims. Yet the film and current Alarm tour also tell a much happier story of a rock star who conquers what others might view as a death sentence with ample doses of love, hope and strength.
THE ALARM Iconic UK folk-rock band led by singer Mike Peters. See story on p. 10.
DODD FERRELLE Lyrical folk-rock from songwriter and Winterville Mayor Dodd Ferrelle.