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The Alarm's Great Rock & Roll Swindle Reaches Silver Screen via Wales and Costa Mesa

While attending Estancia High School in Costa Mesa during the 1980s, Jim Cooper loved the punk-influenced North Wales band the Alarm, which broke up in 1991.

Reading the Los Angeles Times in 2004, Cooper discovered Alarm frontman Mike Peters pulled a hoax on the record industry. An idea for a movie was born, as Cooper revealed Saturday night after the Newport Beach Film Festival screened his hilarious and biting first film Vinyl at Fashion Island Cinemas.

Peters re-formed the Alarm in 2004, cut a song and shopped it to the band's old record label, only to be told the group was too old for today's audiences. The script Cooper co-wrote with director Sara Sugarman includes a line similar to what a record exec told Peters: "Signing a band over 30 is like watching your parents have sex."

Vinyl's fake phony band, the Single Shots
Vinyl's fake phony band, the Single Shots

So, Peters hired five 17-year-olds in Wales to pose as a band that would lip sync his song. And the music business actually fell for it before Peters wickedly exposed the lie as a comment on the industry.

Vinyl changes the name of the Alarm to Weapons of Happiness, the real fake band the Poppies Fields to the Single Shots and Mike Peters to Johnny Jones, who is played to the hilt by Phil Daniels, who you'll remember (depending on your age) as Jimmy in the Who's Quadrophenia or from his singing with Blur. One Weapons of Happiness member is played by Keith Allen, the father of Lily Allen., while another, Perry Benson, was Paul Cook in Sid and Nancy, which Sugarman also appeared in.

Standing in front of the Island Cinemas screen with Sugarman, a ratdog in her bag and co-producer Steven Berger, Cooper claimed the real story was so unbelievable it was decided to fictionalize it. During the latter-day Alarm's run, one band member fought cancer twice, and Peters was later recognized as the 11th most important person in Welsh history, two rungs up from King Arthur.

However, you get a sense that the low-budget indie project was also never in a position to secure the rights to the Alarm and its music, which included 16 Top 50 hits in the U.K. and sales of 5 million records worldwide. Sugarman mentioned that a "$2 million soundtrack" of punk classics from the U.K. and U.S. was ultimately abandoned. Mike Peters wrote new music and used an old song from his pre-Alarm band the Toilets for Vinyl.

The Alarm guitarist and vocalist had been high on the film since Cooper first pitched it to him over the phone.
 

Peters then mentioned as a possible director Sugarman, a friend he had known since the reign of the Toilets, which included his managing then-14-year-old Sugarman's band the Fractures. Peters informed Cooper that Sugarman now lived in Los Angeles. She was not only hired to direct but provide Welsh punk authenticity to the proceedings.

Cooper says his first produced screenplay, co-written with Sugarman, may be subject to plagiarism charges because reviews read in the film of the fictional fake band are word-for-word what was written about the real fake band--not that the rock journalists would want to make it an issue because they'd also be admitting they got royally duped.

Vinyl almost got made into a Hollywood film, with a budget of $11 million, but that later fell apart. Sugarman would not say how much the indie version cost to make, other than it was "tiny." There was also talk of hiring an American actress to play one of the Welsh roles, but Sugarman said that star's makeup budget alone would have dwarfed the project.

Despite having made a movie for Disney (Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen in 2004, when Lindsay Lohan was still sane), Sugarman wound up going back to the American Film Institute in LA just to meet contacts who could help her get Vinyl made. Among them were Berger and producer Preston Clay Reed.

Berger told the Newport crowd they "put together a little cash" and cashed in some favors before the LA crew arrived in Wales with nothing more than prepaid international calling cards. In the DIY spirit of punk and indie filmmaking, they managed to leave the U.K. with a movie in the can.

"It was a labor of love," Berger said. "It was a story we knew needed to be told."

But some would-be distributors have had problems with the "older cast." Gee, where have we heard that before. And one has suggested making an American version of Vinyl. Joked Berger, "We're going to have to get a British crew to shoot that in LA."

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