The Gathering 2019 gave rise to a series of remarkable events which you can now read about in this excellent review from North Wales writer Dave Jones.
The photographs generated during the SOLD OUT weekend are also available to view (see links below).
The Gathering 2019 range of Merchandise and Event T-Shirts are all on sale in thealarm.com store now.
Please Note:Tickets for The Gathering 2020 will go on sale officially from 9AM March 1st 2019 with the first 300 weekend passes will allow fans to be a part of the pre-show reception with Mike Peters and The Alarm.
Review – The Gathering 2019
This was The Gathering that had it all.
It started out on the opening Friday night, with a whole new look to the arena and a stage built in the centre of the Venue Cymru Entertainment Complex. The centre stage was first graced by an intelligent set from Alarm troubadour Dave Sharp who once again demonstrated his independent music-making spirit, channelled though poetry and chord. The second instalment saw Dave Sharp return to the stage with the one and only Mike Peters for an intimate set of close harmony singing and acoustic interplay that demonstrated a deep respect and connection between these two founding members of The Alarm. Bonds may have been torn asunder but never severed completely, and the experience of a life shared together and apart, shone through every word sung and (with the benefit of hindsight), the song choices set the tone for a weekend of incredible and unexpected twists and turns that were both planned and unexpected. “A Little Help From My Friends” and a closing “Little Bit Of Love” (Hope and Strength), pointed the way towards an endless series of events that would unfold across an incredible weekend at the Gathering 2019.
The pipes of Georghe Zamfir’s Light of Experience pierced the atmosphere as Mike Peters and The Alarm arrived through the audience to take to the centre stage for a tribally stomping version of “Shout To The Devil”, followed by an ecclesiastic ‘For Freedom / Marching On”. A pulsating “Howling Wind” pushed the intensity and an incredible version of ‘Knife Edge’ brought the audience to a frenzy. Mike Peters was untethered from guitar at this point and utilising a hand-held radio microphone, prowled all sides of the stage, even generating a ‘mexican wave’ that ran through all quarters of the arena at Venue Cymru. It was thrilling in the extreme. A poignant updated / original version of ‘Sixty Eight Guns’ (with the missing verse restored), closed the first half of the set in classic style with every voice raised in unison.
Mike Peters then took the audience through an excellently chosen sequence of rare but important songs that form the cornerstone of all the things that the modern Alarm is built upon. ‘Poetic Justice’ dealt with the breaking up and tearing down of an era as intentioned by the ideals of ‘Unsafe Building’ that followed. Mike Peters spoke of a recent meeting with his Doctor who had told him that he “couldn’t believe he was looking at a cancer patient” and amplified the feeling of relief that swept through the auditorium with ‘Feel Free’ and intimate readings of ‘No Better Than This’ and “It’s Alright/ It’s OK”. “Without A Fight” is an Alarm anthem that many people who follow Mike Peters have connected with through the experience of life that only longstanding musical relationships can bring. It was sung by everyone as one.
Smiley and James Stevenson joined the fray for ‘The Drunk & The Disorderly’ and the electric staccato crashed through the sound system. The drum / guitar interplay of the middle section was spectacular with the white light strobe lighting punctuating every hit of the drums from Smiley who is surely the best drummer Mike Peters has ever worked with. Smiley’s professionalism and stage craft are as wide as his smile itself and together they have a special chemistry that is unique and open for all to see.
“Who am I?, Who Are You?” is the eternal question that is always being asked by Mike Peters of himself, and his audience. A continual cycle of self examination and the redefining of self. Following the conclusion of this epic performance, there was a moment of confusion when James Stevenson’s bass guitar went down and had to be fixed by the stage crew. Mike offered up solo renditions of ‘We Are The Light’ and ‘Blaze Of Glory’ while a bass solution was found in the shape of James’ now iconic double neck bass / guitar combination (which when it was unveiled on stage, was greeted with a huge cheer!).
With everything back on track, Smiley launched into the glam drum beat of ‘Kill To Get What You Want (Die For What You Believe In)’ followed by high energy bursts of ‘Superchannel’, My Town’ and the Poppy Fields’ classic ’45 RPM’. All four sides of the stage were with them every step of the way and there ere a lot of steps with Mike Peters hurtling around the stage positions even circling the drum kit at high speed. One verse sung here, one verse sung there with everyone up close and centred on the action. I’m glad I took notes because it was over in a flash and the dead stop of ’45 RPM’ elicited a huge roar from all assembled. The band stood in the spot light and soaked up the applause before gathering themselves for a terrific ‘Rocking In The Freeworld”. Mike Peters then gestured for his friend Dave Sharp to join the stage and as he made his way through the audience, talked of a 1983 dressing room jam session at Birmingham Odeon between Big Country’s Stuart Adamson, U2’s The Edge, Bono, Mike Peters and Dave Sharp before laying out the famous chord sequence of ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door”. The quartet left the stage to rapturous applause. It was instantly apparent to all that this event would live long in the memory as one of the best, if not ‘the best’ Gathering Friday night ever.
The Saturday Morning began with a re-screening of the 1989 BBC Documentary ‘Blaze Of Glory’ with many people who had been at the original concert film sequence present today. Memories came flooding back for everyone as the film reminded us of just how much The Alarm have contributed to the musical landscape of Wales. In between rounds of the always interesting ‘Mastermind’, Gathering MC – Gareth ‘Garething’ Jones, conducted an interview with ‘first ever’ fan Rob Bevis who had met the band as Seventeen in 1979 and became a lifelong friend. It was marvellous for all the fans to hear some great stories of the earliest days when the band were still sleeping on floors and trying their best to make the grade and transition from being a fledgling power pop outfit known as ‘Seventeen’ to realising the scale of their ambition as ‘The Alarm’. Mike Peters joined proceedings and delivered a powerful presentation about the upcoming reissue of ‘Strength’. It was amazing to hear and see the remastered versions of ‘Deeside’ with concert footage and unseen clips and an even better ‘Knife Edge (Demo Version), that had something special about it. A lot more was revealed throughout the hour that Mike was speaking and it all points to another busy year for Mike Peters and The Alarm and for Alarm fans all around the world.
A few hours later and the first 300 ticket buyers were escorted into the arena for a private audience with Mike Peters and band members. A second PA system / stage area had been erected to foster a feeling of intimacy. Fans mingled with the band and Gareth Jones played host as DJ. and conducted a q&a with Mike Peters. The questions and song requests were forthcoming and Mike obliged. ‘Reason 41’ was called for a dispatched with aplomb. A lot of the questions came from fans who had travelled great distance to be at The Gathering and Mike gave of himself freely. A request was made for ‘Train A Comin’, and as Mike gently strummed the chords everyone held their breath as Mike talked of how proud his late Mother was when attending Gathering’s. There were many powerful performances over the weekend but none more so than this. Mike Peters sang with humility and grace and was obviously moved when singing about his family members. I could see that his emotions got the better of him and he had to fight back the tears. It was incredible, but fitting, that such a moment was being shared in these surroundings. Gareth and Jules continued the conversion and fns shared stories of travel experiences and how The Alarm had made connections with people from countries both near and far away. A request was made for ‘Statue Of Liberty’ and the deep family ties that bind this event known as The Gathering were made strong. Mike Peters thanked everyone for being so supportive of The Gathering and surprised everyone (including the band and crew members), by unveiling (on the huge screens that flanked the main stage), a video for a brand new song which is to feature on a near future new Alarm album. If we had all had to go home right there and then, we still be talking about one of the greatest Gatherings ever.
At 7pm, the doors to the arena swung open and in poured the rest of the Gatherers. Third Generation which featured the Peter’s boys ‘Dylan (14), on guitar and Evan (12) on drums with their mate Carwyn Williams (14) on guitar and vocals got warm applause from the fans for a three song set of Blur, Foo Fighters and Who tunes which show how far they have come as musicians since playing at previous year’s events. Recent tour favourite special guest Ryan Hamilton was up soon after, and gave a very powerful acoustic and piano performance of great songs and stage banter that built on the obvious connection made during last year’s Winter Tour with The Alarm. Then Jerico arrived on stage with the charismatic Mark Shaw who got the audience moving and grooving through a greatest hits set and closed with their anthem ‘Big Area’. They went down a treat.
A feeling of expectation could be felt as The Alarm’s intro tape rang through the PA system and the band arrived on stage to the refrain of ‘Two Rivers’ and two thousand voices singing loud and proud. Blaze of Glory took the volume of the band and the audience up another notch and every hand was held high as the song morphed into ‘Tomorrow’. It was obvious that this is a band that has played a lot of shows in recent times. The Rhythm interplay of Smiley and James Stevenson is as tight as could be, there’s a great rapport between all four performers and lots of eye contact going on all over the stage. Jules’ keyboards offer up multi layer tones from atmospheric strings to subtle piano tones and driving organ. Absolute Reality saw Mike Peters switch out his famed electro-acoustic for blond telecaster electric guitar and ignited the mosh pit with a storming version of ‘Absolute Reality’, sounding fresh and sharp.
The band were cracking out the songs in rapid fire bursts and ‘Coming Backwards’ and ‘The Stand’ built on the energy pulsating through those standing front to back and up left and right into the seating areas.
‘Peace Now’ from ‘Equals was preceded by the riff from ‘Across the Border’ with Mike Peters triggering his loops by stamping on his foot pedals. One of the highlights of the evening for me, this song was electric and all the fans gave as good as they got declaring they too are ‘not just another brick in the wall’. ‘Rescue Me’, ‘Thirteen Dead Reindeers’ and ‘Rain In The Summertime’ carried the momentum forward with James Stevenson proving what a talented musician he is by, switching from his iconic white Double Neck that allowed him to play both bass and guitar to straight echo drenched electric.
Unannounced, Smiley picked up the drum intro for ‘Transatlantic’ and with James Stevenson playing guitar and bass pedals, Jules on Piano the trio created a soundtrack for Mike Peters to deliver a beautifully phrased vocal performance full of passion that captured the feeling of loss expressed in the lyric. The drums continued into ‘Sold Me Down The River’ and the blues based chord structure took over the groove. The electro acoustic guitar sound created by Mike Peters on his guitar marked SIGMA was just divine and the spacing between the classic riff and the back beat was delicious.
During the middle section of the song, Mike Peters took the opportunity to work his way onto the small stage centre of the room and the band, singer and audience where joined together as if they had all just arrived in a gospel church dedicated to a religion named The Alarm.
Mike picked up his acoustic and after a moment to retune, continued solo with the words and melody of ‘The Deceiver’, that segued into an immense version of ‘Third Light’ and then my personal favourite song from Equals – Cenotaph. The band appeared back on the MainStage with the shuffling off beat rhythm of another ‘Equals’ favourite ‘Hell Fire’.
As Mike worked his way back through the audience towards the main stage, something happened and the sound disappeared from the PA system.
At first, it wasn’t apparent anything was technically wrong, the band continued to play and we all braced our selves for another musical surprise. Mike Peters reappeared and immediately called for silence, he had to do it using arm signals and gesticulation. Immediately a silence fell over the proceedings. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but I could see Mike Peters strumming his guitar, soon the words of the song ‘One Guitar’ could be heard being sung by those in the front rows at the barrier. One by one, the words were passed deeper back onto the venue and soon the entire population of Venue Cymru started to be sung. I don’t know how he did it, but Mike Peters turned the audience of fans into one giant choir. Technical crew were climbing all over the stage and people were rushing to try and fix the sound situation. Meanwhile, Mike Peters continued directing the human choir. He was moving throughout the venue heading up on the steps of the seating platforms literally urging everyone to stay focused and singing. It was like he was literally carrying the weight of the concert atmosphere on his shoulders willing every person present to stay alive in the moment. It was incredible as this human force of nature kept everyone involved, entertained and involved. In all my years of attending concerts, I’ve never seen anything like it. The singing continued with ‘Blaze Of Glory’, everyone knew the words and still no sounds came from the P.A. Mike’s energy to keep this moment alive must have been tested to the limit. He was here, there and everywhere urging everyone in the seats to stand up and then he somehow got us all singing Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody. It was ridiculous yet, at the same time, so powerful and then the present we were all hoping for arrived with the sound of the PA System firing back up.
The band immediately kicked back into ‘Hell Fire’ and it was as if we had all been taken on an out of body experience. Had that really happened or had we all imagined it? Mike Peters had us all rocking, grooving and moving and an already great gig somehow became even greater. The song finished and Mike talked of how moments like this sum up what The Alarm has always stood for. Togetherness in the face of adversity and to find a way to continue despite all odds.
Jules brought forward the chords to ‘Walk Forever By My Side’ and everyone took out their phones to light up the darkness. It was beautiful as was the song. To hear it sung with piano accompaniment made its simple message of love ring clear and try, especially as the two people playing the song have stood the real test of time in a relationship that was born in 1986, and has flourished despite all the recent life challenges placed in front of them.
‘Spirit Of ’76’ and ‘Beautiful’ were driven home by band and audience both willing each other on with every passing chord and lyric. During ‘Where Were You Hiding?’, Mike told the story of the legend of the ‘Playing Cards’ from a Top Of The Pops appearance in 1984 and once again assembled his band members across the front-line of the stage. The cards were marked, and at the appointed moment the sky filled with a million playing cards thrown by fans who have loved this iconic moment in Alarm shows all over the world. It looked amazing from where I was stood, but as the cards floated down from the air, it became apparent that another power outage had taken the sound system down for a second time. There were some frantic hand signals between Mike and the stage crew. This time all of us were prepared and accepting that ‘s**t happen’ and without Mike having to do anything the fans blasted out the chorus of Blaze Of Glory until wires were reconnected and the PA Came back on just in time to continue from where we had left off and power through the remainder of ‘Hiding’ straight into the rarely played single version of ‘Sixty Eight Guns’. What a finish.
The band were soon back on the stage and the syncopation and pulse of ‘Neutral’ worked it’s way into the night. Mike Peters was back singing this most powerful of Alarm songs. What chorus… it takes off and lands in seconds and then starts up again with a super tight call and response middle section with Mike asking for hands to be raised and audience answering in the affirmative with hands held high.
Neutral was followed by ‘Strength’, Mike Peters swapping guitars for a white Stratocaster. Any release valves left were loosened and the energy of the night was released as a sea of people moved with the music driven by Mike Peters incredible guitar / vocal performance. It was as fresh as the day it was born, as the band of today painted it in their own image. ‘Who will light the fire? screamed Mike Peters and a storm of red poppies came falling from the sky. It was powerfully symbolic of all that the songs underlying theme of love and hope stands for.
Two Rivers brought the house down and was a fantastic way to end a concert that had everything. The lyric about meeting “on the other side of the barricade”, a literal embodiment of all that happened in the previous hours. The band finished on a high, communing with their audience as one… “where the two rivers meet”.
Mike Peters thanked everyone for giving their all and for pulling together and invited a kilt-wearing Gareth Jones, Ryan Hamilton and Mark Shaw from Then Jerico, back out onto the stage for a rollicking version of ‘Get Down and Get With It’. The Gathering took on a party atmosphere for these closing moments and it was a fitting end to an unforgettable concert.
The atmosphere in the Aftershow area was buzzing as the band members and audience mingled together sharing stories and experiences. Stopping for photos and even dancing on the disco floor. This is as real as rock and roll can get. No wonder the fans keep coming and the band keep going. This is a special relationship.
The Sunday morning saw Mike Peters in the Love Hope Strength Lounge at 10:45. He looked like he had at the start of the event fresh and ready to go. Kirsty Thomson of Love Hope Strength reeled off the facts and figures about Love Hope Strength achievements of which there are many and thanked everyone for playing their part in making so many life changing / life saving events. Mike Peters took to the stage to begin the walk and after making his own thank you’s and presentations stunned the entire room with one of the most powerful acoustic performances I have ever seen him give. He sang the song ‘True Life’ from the ‘In The Poppy Fields’ album but he sang it with a voice fuelled with another kind of experience and tone that I had not heard before. I could see people around me crying and the power of the words and melody just seemed to connect with everyone. I was shocked as were the rest of the Love Hope Strength family. Mike ushered us all onto the promenade and with Alarm and LHS flags flying proudly in the bright morning sunshine we assembled for photographs and the walk to the end of the pier.
This year there was a PA set up and waiting of us. Mike climbed up onto a raised platform brandishing a guitar decorated with thousands of signatures from LHS members far and wide. He ripped into ‘Marching On’ with more gusto than the sea wind that was building up off shore. The audience members who stayed behind for this final event of The Gathering weekend huddled together, clapped and song along with the man they have so much respect for. It was amazing. ‘One Step Closer To Home’, ‘Blaze Of Glory’, ‘Sixty Eights Guns’ all sounded as fresh as the sun that shone above and Mike gave all he had for the closing song ‘Love Hope and Strength’, in as strong a voice as he had been when he stepped out onto the stage on the Friday evening.
Everyone headed back to the venue, where Mike Peters stood until the very last person who wanted a photo or a record signed got what they wanted.
It was The Gathering that had everything, The Gathering where everyone who attended got everything they wanted too.
See you at The Gathering 2020.
The Gathering 2019 Photograph Collection.
Credits: Gathering 2019 Photographs were taken by official photographer Stuart Ling with contributions from David Coombs and Andy Labrow.
Poster Photo: David Coombs