Review: The Alarm – Welsh wonders complied�

The Alarm
Re-formed for the new millennium, they are still one of the biggest Welsh bands ever

Boyo Tom Jones looks at a new box-set covering their career

In the last five years, the sheep jokes have gradually fallen by the wayside in the wake of ‘Cool Cymru’, which was sparked by the success of the Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia, 69 Foot Dolls, Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. No one laughs now at the numerous new bands from the hills and vales, like Melys, Terris, Tystion, Murray The Hump, Gwacamoli, Big Leaves, Derrero, or the Crocketts to name but a few. But Tom Jones wasn’t always regarded as a demi-god, and before Vinnie and Catherine Zeta made it, the Alarm had to suffer incessant jibes throughout their 80s heyday, when being Welsh meant Aled Jones or Harry Secombe.

After their early 90s demise, however, the Alarm retained a large and loyal following, who have now been rewarded by the return of Mike Peters and co. and a nine-CD 150 song-strong box-set, pegged at just under �100.

Hailing from the Disneyfield holiday haven for Brummies, Mancs and Scousers that is Rhyl, Meic Peters (as the avid Wrexham FC fan is now known, emphasising his very Welshness) set up the four-piece as Thatcherism dawned, and moved from punky pretensions when the outfit were known as Seventeen to the type of pop-rock peddled by U2 (whose guitar-led sound was, of course, moulded by fellow Welshman, the Edge).

There was more than a dose of Clash about the Alarm too in their fledgling days, not least on their anthemic 1983 Top 20 hit, “68 Guns”, and the energising “Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke”. And if that’s all you can remember about Messrs Peters, Sharp, Mcdonald and Twist (solicitors?) – other than the mushroom-cloud hair and cavalier boots – then you won’t be that bothered about the thoroughly decent remastering job done by their leader, or give a hoot about the 17 previously-unreleased tracks in this mammoth collection. The 28 live cuts and a total of 86 tracks hitherto unavailable on original LP or CD will be as nought. If, on the other hand, you wore head-to-toe black plus the gold neckerchief with pride in those far-off 80s glory days, you may well want to go the whole hog and imbibe all but every note laid down by the quartet. In doing so, you can also take in over 70,000 words about the band and gawk at over 200 photos (many previously unpublished).

The eponymous album takes in no fewer than five demos from 1981-1983, including “68 Guns”, plus a ruck of live stuff and the extended version of “The Stand”. Add to that the five-track mini-LP from ’83, “The Alarm EP”, which was only issued for export, and you’re off to good start.

The classic, Top 5 album, “Declaration”, from 1984, also lobs in a mass of additional material (all told, some 26 tunes), and the same goes for “Strength” . It covers all the band’s recorded output from 1985 to 1986 , including the raging, autobiographical “Spirit of & 76”, the wistful homage to urban decay that was contemporary “Deeside” (!), and the electric version of “One Stop Closer to Home”.

1987’s “Eye of the Hurricane”, which boasted the hit “Rain in the Summertime”, is bolstered by an unissued mix of the title track, overseen by the Smith’s producer John Porter. Additionally, there’s a banquet of bull-and-bluster delights taking us up to 1988, including a couple of 12″mixes.

The Alarm were always hailed as a sharp live prospect (ably demonstrated to this day), not least by Bob Dylan, Neil Young and U2. And “Electric Folklore (Live)”, taking in recordings from 1987-88, while the shortest set here, has been expanded from the half a dozen songs of the original mini-LP to 17 tracks. It remains a testament to the band’s on-stage strengths, with the full impact of their declamatory style fully evident.

“Change”, produced by Tony Visconti and featuring material from 1989-90, diversified the tone with a journey through the band’s roots, taking in Celtic laments and the use of the Welsh Symphony Orchestra, well before the Manics (who were fans of The Alarm) adopted a similar tack. There’s also the inclusion for the first time of the title track, “Change 1”, as well as familiar hits like “A New South Wales”. Unfortunately, while the band released a version in Cymraeg (Welsh), called “Newid” – following in the footsteps of the likes of Maffia Mr Huws and presaging the efforts of bilingual bands like Catatonia (who supported the Alarm in ’89) and the Super Furries – this Welsh-language presentation was not deemed worthy of inclusion here. Pity. Shouldn’t purchasers (many of whom will be completists) be offered it at cut-price, with bonus material?

The ‘final’ fling was “Raw”, with tunes from 1990-91, now incorporating the first-ever release of the last studio track recorded together by The Alarm – a acoustic “Walk Forever By My Side”, which was recently unearthed by EMI. It makes you wonder what else may be nestling in the vaults, but the box set offers numerous versions of songs, making for diverse, fresh and interesting listening. The revised packages of the albums also feature not only the original artwork, but new track listings with programming information to play back the lot in their original sequence. Finally, as the piece de resistance, there’s an 18-song “Rare Tracks” CD, bringing together rarities and demos, as well as the promise of a bonus CD that will be dispatched to each buyer, containing their own selection of their favourite Alarm songs, bolstered by a personal dedication from Mike Peters himself. Bloody hell! All you need now is for him to buy you a curry at the Deeside Bengal Dynasty and you’re bonded for life!

It would’ve been nice to include a disc with interview excerpts, CD-ROM or live material from King Biscuit broadcasts and others. But anyone who has been a pilgrim to the annual Peters ‘Gathering’ in Llandudno and other posh bits of the North Wales coast should be pleased as punch that the Alarm are being recognised as the forefathers of the Cool Cymru set and given due tribute through this special custom-cased package. Not before time!

Now that the Alarm are back, following Peters’ solo endeavoursand Coloursound experiment, “The Alarm Collection 2000” marks the end of one era and the beginning of another in suitably grand style. So what are you waiting for? Get the hair gel on and dust off those boots!
The box-set is available by mail order only from:
www.thealarm.com
or by phoning 01745 571571

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