With their album Equals out now, Mike Peters of anthemic rockers The Alarm tells Why Vinyl Matters author Jennifer Otter Bickerdike about the sense of magic and discovery a new LP brings.
“My mum and dad had a radiogram in the living room. My sister was five years older than me, and she came home with a record that had a tramp on the cover… with a beard. It was Aqualung by Jethro Tull. I can remember her playing that record in our living room and hearing the way the singer would distort his voice. I loved that record. When I finally came of age to go and buy my own records, the first one I ever went to buy was by Slade, called Slade Alive!. When I got to the record shop to buy it, I was looking at the back cover and I didn’t realise that songwriting credits were what they were. I thought that when Slade Alive! had Born To Be Wild with brackets (Mars Bonfire) on it, I thought that was another artist on the record! And it had Darling Be Home Soon in brackets (John Sebastian), and I thought, ‘I don’t want to hear those guys, I want to hear Slade!’ [laughs].
“My favourite LP would have to be Quadrophenia by The Who. I bought it when it came out in 1973 at a record store in Prestatyn, North Wales. I’ve always held onto the original vinyl. There was the Saturday Rock Show on BBC Radio with Alan Freeman, and he used to play classical music while he talked over it, then he’d crank in the rock tracks straight after. I remember hearing Bell Boy on his show and being absolutely floored by it. I had to get the album when it came out.
Magic Bus Ride
“When I bought the album, I probably had to get the bus home. There was so much painted onto Quadrophenia’s inner sleeve, you didn’t want the journey to end; you wanted the journey to keep going, so you could devour every single little piece of the record before you actually played it! The record sleeve is an album on its own, and then you’d pull out the black plastic and stick that down on the turntable and away you’d go.
“I loved the whole thing. I lived in a seaside resort: when I got the cover and heard the soundtrack that was played between all of the songs – the beach noises and the photographs of the cafes and the pier front – I could totally relate to it. I could see myself in the guy in the huge booklet that spanned the record, and I liked a record where there was a lot to read.
“It sort of transported you to a place within a place. I’ve been brought up around all that was conveyed in that album, with all the mods and the rockers on the beach. It wasn’t quite to the scale of Brighton, but it was all there, and the Northern Soul clubs, that was my upbringing. Pete Townshend’s writing on the album really struck a chord with me, especially tracks like The Punk And The Godfather. I think it pre-dated punk-rock, in that it was talking about seeing modern bands as almost out of touch with reality; or at least it was the first sort of seed of expression of the feeling that fans were getting out of touch with bands.
“Now, I don’t think we have that same journey of discovery, with streaming services… albums just appear, and you start playing them and there’s no anticipation or build up, really, to set yourself up for that magical moment when you embrace that music for the first time. I think, now, there’s much more demand again for LP covers and the size of art that’s demanded for that medium. It feels really liberating again to be an artist and to connect your music to the art on the cover, because I think it’s a part of how it connects you to your audience and your listeners.”