Leave home early and head Wales-bound (not as far as you think: Three and a half hours from London Euston on British Rail, 5 hours from Glasgow by coach, 1 hour from Manchester etc. etc.). Nor is Wales as cold as folk lead you to believe in January. On arrival, take in the Victorian splendour of the Llandudno bay, check into your MPO Hotel at the bargain price of £16 per night and be ready to get loaded at The Gathering 5.
1,200 Mike Peters fans crammed into 6 hotels. Chat to your neighbour about your most favourite M.P. gig of ’96, your favourite track on ‘Feel Free’ or, if you were an Alarm fan, trawl your memories for obscure gems like the ’87 Electric Folklore gig in Wormlowe Tump.
Yes, we are the trainspotter Mike Peters fans. Some of us are Alarm fans who were loyal to Mr Peters despite his hasty exit at Brixton Academy, some are early ‘twenty-something’s’ who discovered M.P. from older siblings while some of us just liked Mike’s first solo album ‘Breathe’ and jumped on the MPO Bandwagon. We are a clutter of types, from students, to mothers, to traindrivers, to chiropractors, to TV producers, to dentists, to toddlers, to ‘A’ Level students… who all migrate towards Mike and his songs. A collection of T-shirts from ’83 to ’96…
It’s Friday night and we take our seats at the North Wales Conference Center in preparation for Mike Peters’ solo and acoustic. This is our ‘one on one’. Mike takes the stage in the round, and us on a journey from ‘Unsafe Building’ through to ‘Feel Free’
Between songs, we catch a glimpse of the bloke behind the songs, as he shares stories and discloses nuggets about life on the road, in the studio, the rows, the highs and the downs. Sipping ‘who knows what’ from his Man Utd. cup he surprises us at each and every turn. He is the only performer we have witnessed who can take the most obscure request and spin it on it’s head. With a grin and a brief private recollection he smashes down all the preconceptions of an expected singer-songwriter performance and leaves us breathless every time. We all know this kind of night is special. What artist can risk exposing himself so ‘up close and personal’, without us, the fans, becoming too close and damaging that magic fan/artist relationship? But he does it every time. Sure, we see him naked, but he still leaves us wanting more…
Wanting more, us trainspotters regroup to our Hotel, our parties, our post-match discussions and our piped music of ‘Second Generation’ for the more collectable trainspotter.
Saturday morning and we’re performing badly. The Gathering event is sponsored by Coors Lager, and of course we sponsor ourselves, again, badly.
A motley collection of hung-over T-shirted ‘Gatheringites’, too tight to miss brekkie (as it’s included in the marvellous MPO price of £16!).
“Isn’t that Mikes Mum over there?” we mutter. “Have you heard that Mike is staying in the room next to me?” “Yeah, right”. The rumours mingle and we all ponder on the location of tonight’s Aftershow Bash, the party where we all want to be.
Saturday afternoon and we’re back in the Conference Theatre. Last night’s intimacy has now been transformed into a cinema and we take our seats for 21st Century Films. This is where we are treated to ‘fly on the wall’ stuff from Mike’s own personal vid footage (oo er). It makes cracking viewing and again we get some feel of what it’s like to be a rock ‘n roll star. It’s funny, revealing, a bit like being in bed with Madonna without the door being smashed in your face.
A quick wash under the arms and it’s time to queue up outside the Theatre again for the ‘big one’, and the much sought-after front row position. By now, we’re beginning to recognise faces, swapping addresses, making plans. We pour in and the big buzz hit’s us full in the face. It’s that indescribable belly flutter, the bit that makes music your life. The moment when everything else is forgotten and you’re just waiting for the lights to dim, the roar of the crowd, and the band to be there on stage, playing all those songs that you’ve listened to over and over and over…
Fuck me. Mike and the band strut. They know they’ve got us by the bollocks. We all know that Peters and Co. can wipe the floor with all band on this front. There is no set list and we all ride the wave of new songs, old classics, rare gems, future hits and a cluster of covers.
Three hours later and we’re drenched. All 1.200 of us sway in the house lights with our arms outstretched to the stage. Thousands of gigs of a thousand other bands notched up on ‘our’ belts but none can hold a candle to this. We’ve rocked, we’ve grooved, we’ve been moved, we’ve bruised, stood silent, we’ve cried, we’ve laughed, we’ve sung-a-long… we’ve each been a rock’n’roll star for the night.
It’s midnight and the weekend is only just beginning. Word has it that the Aftershow Bash is at the Hydro Hotel. After much cajoling and wheeling we’re in. “Look, isn’t that Mike’s mum over there?” “This guy reckons he was at school with Mike”. “Do you think Mike will be here?” “Yeah, right”.
Shit, it is Mrs Peters! Yes, this guy did sit next to Mike in Maths! Shit, Mike just walked by. That’s the beauty of The Gathering Weekend. Dreams do come true. Before we know it we’re sat with the locals, we’re chatting to Mike’s mum and we’re an inch away from Mike performing at the Aftershow Bash with his New York Covers Band, The Clash City Rockers! Coors are still the official sponsors and the party bleeds into breakfast.
Sunday morning and we stagger to the Gathering Football Competition, a thoughtful stone’s throw away. It’s all so compact! The competition is inspired by Mike, the Cantona-loving Man Utd fan. Some fan’s have been training for months for this special event while some have given in weakly to Coors last night. We take the piss out of the Yanks who look terrified and wait eagerly to catch a glimpse of Peters in his shorts. We’re not disappointed. We shout and bawl and watch 5 lads from Wigan beat Mike and the band.
Trophies, a signing session and a few minutes for each of us who dare with the man himself, crowns the weekend.
“What do you say to your hero?” Shake him warmly by the hand and shakily tell him that his music changes lives. Phew. Hopefully, Mike feels the same way when he meets Eric..
‘Some people are too nice to be in the music business. Mike Peter’s is one of them. For a start, he was pilloried in the music press when he was frontman with The Alarm, for no obvious reason except the fact that he wrote honest issue-driven rock songs and was Welsh. Today, bands have more soapboxes than they know how to get on while being Welsh is enough to get music journalists wetting themselves all over their keyboards.’ So, 1996 and Mike is still Welsh. He’s cool. He’s making music for today and amassing a network of followers like us, ordinary people who tell the next ordinary person and the next and the next about this singer-songwriter from Wales. If it’s hip to be Welsh, then Mike’s the hippest dude around.
Sunday lunch and time to leave this oasis. We don’t want to leave. We’ve gathered and it feels good. We reversed the roles. Mike ‘stayed’ at home and we got to go on tour.
We got loaded at The Gathering. See you next year.