Despite a series of serious health issues in recent years, Welsh rocker Mike Peters continues to carry the creative flame, influencing fellow musicians around the world and inspiring a new generation of followers with his philanthropic efforts in the fight against cancer. Recently we spoke with the 59-year-old frontman for The Alarm from his home in Dyserth, North Wales, where he has been enjoying some down time with his family.
Let’s start with a question you likely get all the time – how’s your health?
Ha. Yes, that one does seem to come up. I feel great, thank you; strong, healthy, happy…never better actually. I have my off-days here and there for sure, but that is to be expected. I am very fortunate, however, to have great people around me who crack the whip and keep me on track, and so long as I follow their direction I am in good hands.
You’ve had quite the journey.
It’s been something of a wild ride to be sure. In 1995, I was diagnosed with lymph cancer, went through treatment, and survived. Ten years later – almost to the day – I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. And then, as if all of that wasn’t enough, my wife Jules was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2016.
That is a lot to handle.
It has been a little overwhelming at times, yes. Inevitably there are going to be those moments of self-pity, when you ask yourself ‘why is this happening’ or ‘why me’? But, gratefully, those moments are just that – moments. The miracle has been in understanding that the cancer journey has been a blessing or sorts, not a curse. Not that I would wish it upon anyone – surely there are easier ways to enlightenment – only that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having gone through these experiences. To be truthful, Jules has dealt with all of this far better than I have – she has been solid as a rock, and a shining example of strength, dignity and grace.
How have those experiences changed your perspective on life?
Well, it really changes everything doesn’t it? Very suddenly, the things that once mattered to me don’t seem to matter all that much anymore. The parts of my life that I perhaps once took for granted – my life, my health, my family, my friends, my career – I have utmost appreciation for these days. That sense of mortality, something that we don’t necessarily have in our younger years, becomes an ever-present reality. Knowing that you could be gone at anytime allows you – or perhaps drives you – to live each day to the absolute fullest, as if it were your last. This may all sound a bit cliché, however I am sure that most people who have been through some sort of life-threatening illness or situation will say the same.
And your decision to get involved, to give back, arose from where?
Gratitude – gratitude for being alive, gratitude for my health, gratitude for the incredible people I have around me…and gratitude for being in a position to be able to give something back.
Along with fundraising, how much of an educational component is involved with your efforts?
It is a huge part of what we do. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is at the very core of our mandate. One of the biggest issues we face in the fight against cancer is the sheer volume of disinformation that is out there. Cancer gets a lot of visibility, in large part because so many people are touched by it – we all know someone that has been affected by the disease in some capacity, be it a family member, a friend, an acquaintance or a co-worker. There has never been more dialogue on the topic than there is today, and much of that discussion – as with everything now – takes place online. A simple Google search brings up, literally, millions of pages dedicated to cancer; definitions, causes, treatments, fundraising opportunities, holistic options…there is so much to sift through. And because our understanding of cancer is still very much in its infancy, our knowledge of the disease is constantly changing, evolving. What was important and relevant one day may no longer be so the next day, so it is vital that everyone involved – medical teams, researchers, fundraisers, and especially patients and their family members – stay as informed and up-to-date as possible.
Part of the problem, I imagine, has to do with public perception?
Very much so. There is this huge stigma surrounding cancer. When many people hear the “C” word they just assume it is an automatic death sentence. And, in the past, perhaps they had good reason to think that. However, that is simply not the case anymore; today, there is massive amounts of money being put into cancer research, education for prevention, better technologies for treatment, more holistic options, stronger aftercare and support programs, and greater resources generally. Because of that, survival rates have risen steadily in recent years, and more and more survivors are enjoying longer and healthier lives. But, again, all of that starts and ends with individual responsibility; people need to be proactive with their health, and a large part of that is sifting through the available information.
How can everyday people, perhaps those not affected by the disease, best get involved?
There are so many opportunities these days that it might be somewhat confusing as to where to begin. My suggestion would be to look at getting involved with something in your local community – perhaps an area fundraising event, or support visitations with those who are presently undergoing treatment. The important thing to remember here is that every little bit counts, and it all adds up to make a big difference. We are winning the war on cancer – I am living proof of that.
And you are a living example of someone making a difference.
First and foremost, I am very fortunate to have lived-to-tell my tale, and I am very lucky to have both the means and the mediums to do so. The concerts, the tours, the documentaries, the hikes, the interviews, the speaking engagements…it is all a bit of a whirlwind actually. The best part of it all, and I say this with great humility and earnestness, is meeting and talking with individuals who are going through treatment, those who have survived, and those who will not survive. The rewards of those one-on-one encounters are mostly intangible, and they are immeasurable.
Do you ever get tired of it?
No. I mean, it can certainly be exhausting at times, especially the heartbreaking stories – they cut right to my soul. And the travel can be tiring. There are some days that I simply don’t want to be that guy – I would rather just be at home being a normal husband and dad. I have to constantly remind myself that my experiences with cancer are not my life and identity, that they are merely a part of my story, in much the same way that being a musician is only a piece of who I am.
Let’s talk rock ‘n’ roll. You still love what you do obviously.
Best career move I ever made. Actually, it’s the only career move I ever made. Ha. Yes, I still love doing what I do. That fire is still burning bright.
Are the reasons you keep going the same as why you started in the first place?
Yes and no. Obviously my cancer experiences have pushed me in new directions, but fundamentally there remains something inside of me that seeks some sort of creative expression. Music has been an outlet for a long as I can remember. As most artists will tell you, I didn’t choose music – it chose me. The benefit of coming-of-age in the U.K. in the mid-to-late 1970s was coming under the spell of punk rock. All of these great bands – the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Jam – had a huge influence on me, both stylistically and philosophically. The whole DIY ethos of the punk and new-wave movement inspired me in that, if these people could just get out there and make it happen, then so could I. And I still have that approach when it comes to certain areas of my musical life, particularly with regard to writing songs.
That ethos is still a part of your makeup today.
It is, yes. The old adage that ‘if you want something done then do it yourself’ has served me well over the years, in all areas of my life. The difference now is that I no longer have that youthful angst and the ‘me against the world’ mentality. Perhaps some wisdom has crept through the cracks over time. Today, my attitude is much more ‘we are all in this together’ – whether that pertains to music, my foundation, and especially my family and friends.
What’s next on your agenda?
It’s shaping up to be another busy year. We just released a new mini album fcalled Where The Two Rivers Meet. The Alarm will be on the road across Europe and the USA. Some of the American shows are a part of The Gathering series, an audio/visual celebration that brings the band’s fans together from around the world. And, always, there is the ongoing work with my foundation. So the proverbial plate is full. Right now, however, I am content to simply enjoy some down time with my family.