'80s rockers climb Mt. Fuji to fight cancer

Musicians lending their time to charity has long been a staple of the rock pantheon. Since 1971’s Concert for Bangladesh, artists have continually given a hand when called upon. But it’s rare for rockers to get down and dirty in support of a cause the way Mike Peters of The Alarm has been doing the past few years.

Recovering from lymphoma in 1996 and then being diagnosed with leukemia in 2005, he started the Love Hope Strength Foundation with Texas businessman and fellow cancer survivor James Chippendale. Peters and a caravan of his musician mates have raised money and awareness to fight cancer while climbing some of the world’s premier peaks. Scaling Mt. Everest and Mt. Kilimanjaro, he recently made his way up Mt. Fuji. Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook joined him on the Fuji trek and the two looked tan and rested a day after descending.

“Mt. Fuji was great,” Peters said. “Most of the summits we’ve done, getting there was the experience. Whereas this was getting there, then staying to experience the sunrise. As well as the joy of bagging a high peak, it was also to stay and experience a communal event. And the sun coming up–it was like New Years’ Eve.”

Before tackling the Great Outdoors, Peters and company set their sights on a more accessible landmark. In 2007, Love Hope Strength kicked off with a climb up the stairs of the Empire State Building.

“It wasn’t as tough as I thought it was gonna be. It took about an hour 50 minutes. Slim Jim Phantom [of the Stray Cats] was the first to the top. I don’t know what he does, or what his training regime is,” he said with a laugh. “You know, he smokes. He plays drums standing up which probably keeps him fit. The Empire State Building, that was our first event. It was typical Love Hope Strength in the way it happened, in the middle of ridiculous circumstances. It was the worst Northeaster storm to hit New York in a hundred years. They closed the airports; half the people [we were] expecting couldn’t make it.

“But, it was fantastic. We had Slim Jim, Dave Wakeling from The English Beat and Billy Duffy from The Cult. It was a great start.”

Since its inception, Love Hope Strength has gone global fighting cancer. The foundation purchased the first ever mammography machine for Nepal, funded the first children’s cancer center in Tanzania and helped open the new wing of a cancer center in Wales. Peters reflected on the genesis of it all.

“It started like all things do–with something dramatic,” he said. ” I was diagnosed with leukemia, and when I was going through all the treatments, I was still playing gigs in between chemotherapy. I got invited to play Joey Ramones’s memorial. He died of lymphoma, was a fan of The Alarm and used to come to my gigs. So it was even more important to me to go and support this guy who had lost his life.

“I wanted to play that gig, and go to Texas, and I couldn’t have insurance. So I found a guy, James Chippendale, who helped me while I was in America. I paid him a return compliment and he came to stay with me in Wales. We decided to start a charity, tell people our story, share the good news that we’d both lived through cancer, that we’re living in a modern era where people can overcome it if they act quickly and responsibly, that you could fight back.”

Tilbrook, who has joined past fundraising treks, recalls his reaction when Peters first proposed the idea to him. “Mike called up with this absolutely mad idea of going to Everest base camp,” he said. “I really like the idea of doing something that’s out of kilter with rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll is about decadence and excess. It’s actually counterintuitive to go climbing, but it’s great; it’s inspirational. It’s also a metaphor for what Mike and everybody’s been through in their lives. And so that was me on board.”

After all this mountaineering, Peters says that the next excursion might be somewhat more pedestrian. “We’re planning some not-so-high adventures next year. As it’s getting bigger, more people want to come on the international treks. So we’re trying to broaden the horizon a bit. We thought of doing something in Hawaii. That’s more of a coastal walk–but it could be a great one.

“And then Siberia? It could be cold.”

Frank Spignese / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

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