“Did all that really happen?”, said Mike Peters during a marathon Sold Out Gathering Weekend at Venue Cymru, Llandudno.
Indeed, so much happened on stage (and off), that it’s a challenge to even recap the scale of the event in a few words.
The Friday night began with the audience seated ‘in the round’ and an excellent set, from special guest Ian McNabb [Icicle Works], who treated the assembled, to 45 minutes of melody and inimitable Scouse wit.
At the appointed time of 9.00pm, the lights went black, and out came the hero of the hour. Mike Peters strode into the black out, wearing a head lamp shining into the expectant faces of those gathered for a 30th Anniversary performance of Eye Of The Hurricane.
The first song of the night was a spectacular and theatrical reading of A New South Wales, that perfectly highlighted the working class roots of the original lyric.
Mike Peters’ voice soared throughout the four corners of the venue and as the house lights came up at the end of the song, video screens (one even hung above the stage), burst into life with a beautiful tapestry of hurricane weather formations and imagery, relevant to the stories and insight that Mike imparted from the stage.
There were some beautiful moments including a poetic Eye Of The Hurricane and an intimate Only Love Can Set Me Free, before Mike played a song unfamiliar to most. It was called The Irish Sea. Mike talked of new horizons and of seeing beyond the ‘Mersey Lights’ visible from his early upbringing in Rhyl, North Wales, (beside the Irish Sea), and looking to the wider calling and adventure afforded in North America, that has continued to embrace Mike and the music of The Alarm ever since their first overseas adventure in 1983. Mike followed with another previously unknown ‘Hurricane’ era song – The Ballad of Randolph Turpin that told a very poignant and moving tale about the world champion boxer with local roots. Had it been recorded at the time, it would have surely strengthened the import of an already excellent album.
The next minutes, heralded the arrival of original Alarm member Dave Sharp to the stage for a moment of magic, that many people must have thought would never happen. Yet, it was here, on the Friday night at The Gathering 2018, that Mike and Dave reunited for an amazing three song acoustic performance of power and grace. Mike Peters sang the high harmony to Dave’s lower baritone and it was spine tingling. He Was A Friend Of Mine was simple yet elegant. Dave’s unmistakable acoustic playing took this unlikely duo into a stirring rendition of the Rod Stewart classic – Gasoline Alley, and then the moment everyone in attendance was hoping for arrived, with an epic take on One Step Closer To Home. You could see the depth of friendship as both Mike and Dave performed eyeball to eyeball, rolling back the years and embracing the relationship that the two old friends and band mates, clearly enjoy today.
Mike completed the album sequence with an excellent and reworked Newtown Jericho, followed by the Rain In The Summertime anthem, that had everyone on their feet as Mike Peters pounded away on his blue ‘Hurricane’ kick drum. A sonic dive into the first five Alarm singles took us to Blaze of Glory with Mike being joined on stage by Ian McNabb, James Stevenson, Smiley, Jules Peters and Dave Sharp for a finale that closed with a dedication to the late Tom Petty in the shape of ‘Free Fallin”. Mike again spoke of friendship and loss, and expressed how lucky he feels to be alive and still have all his nearest and dearest friends, family and band members in his life. It was a moving end to an unforgettable night.
The Saturday convention featured a special screening of the Mike and Jules – While We Still Have Time documentary that saw many people shed a secret tear. The quiz was another event that demands greater attention as the years go by, and such was the concentration of the fans as they tangled with the complexity of the ‘Alarm’ related questions being posed, you could almost hear a pin drop. This year, Dave Sharp presented the Mastermind Champion with the specially engraved winners’ trophy, and the stage was then set for the arrival of Mike Peters for his much anticipated keynote address.
A Third Generation era of music for The Alarm was unveiled by Mike Peters in dramatic fashion, and we were treated to video premieres and unveilings of album sleeves for a reissue series and new album campaign that begins rolling out from February 9th onwards (more detailed info can be found at www.thealarm.com).
Saturday night’s concert began with a reception for the first 300 ticket buyers in the main arena, who were all treated to an up close and personal experience with all band members in attendance. Mike used a microphone to speak with people (some of whom had travelled from all over the world), over the PA throughout, and even jumped up onto the centre stage and performed an impromptu Walk Forever. If that wasn’t enough, to the astonishment and disbelief of those assembled, he then popped a CD into the player behind the mixing desk and cranked up the PA System to give everyone a very first listen to a brand new track from the forthcoming album scheduled for May 4th. It was an outstanding track that featured The Cult / Coloursound guitarist Billy Duffy and (if you can tell anything by one listen), is destined to be an Alarm classic.
As the doors officially opened to the main body of Gathering fans, Mike and Jules’ young boys – Evan (drums and vocals), and Dylan Peters (Lead guitar), along with friend Cangi Williams on acoustic and vocals, performed a youthful and energetic set as Third Generation, which emphasised the love of music which must envelop the Peters household at all times!!!!
Dave Sharp took to the stage at 8PM and delivered an excellent set of his storied americana / folk style music and received a warm and appreciative reception from the faithful.
At just after 9, the staging turned from Blood Red to Viral Black and from behind a dark veil, the sound of The Rock And Roll flooded the arena. It was as powerful a beginning to an Alarm show as I have ever seen. It seemed that Mike Peters was laying down a marker to literally start the Third Generation of Alarm music with slow burning music and a set of lyrics that are amongst his finest – “and the rock and roll still burns in me”.
The veil came down and the lights went up in a blaze of bright white as the group tore in to Coming Backwards and thousands of arms reached skyward to the beat. “Until we meet ourselves COMING BACKWARDS’ screamed a clearly emotional and driven Mike Peters. It was thrilling stuff.
Mike Peters never let up from this point on, and was at his most energetic self throughout the entire evening, prowling the front of the stage and utilising the three microphone positions to address all comers. Absolute Reality crashed out of the speakers and was one of only a few older Alarm songs performed during what would turn out to be, a near 4 hour set.
13 Dead Reindeer featured the versatile multi-instrumentalist James Stevenson on five string electric guitar and, as he chopped out the rhythm, Mike Peters (untethered from his instrument), worked the stage to such an effect that had everyone singing along to the refrain.
Then came the first of many more surprise song choices, as the group shifted direction with the charismatic drummer Smiley trading drums for acoustic guitar and strumming out the haunting intro to The Unexplained. Jules Peters descending keyboard orchestration, created the perfect atmosphere for Mike Peters to take up the electric bass guitar and deliver another amazing set of intensely personal lyrics. “Sometimes there isn’t an answer”. Anyone who knows anything about the Peters’ struggle to conceive children could not fail to be moved by this epic performance of deep human emotion revealed. James Stevenson’s guitar solo was emphatic and took the song to it’s final minor chord crescendo.
Peace Now stepped out of the Viral Black ramped up the excitement and delivered a stirring and direct message that is so relevant to these uneasy times we live in – “No Guitars in the War Machine”.
The gentle acoustic strumming of Mike Peters took the audience into another unexpected place, as he delivered the brilliant word play of Plastic Carrier Bags. To hear a song like ‘Plastic Carrier Bags’ working it’s way into the body of people like it did at this year’s Gathering, has just as much power and spectacle as any mosh pit and collective sing-a-long that happen throughout the course of all Alarm concerts (and as expected, many of those happened this weekend too).
The gentle piano motif of Right Back Where I Started From was sprinkled into the intensity by Jules Peters and another song from the In The Poppy Fields Collection came into life with another deep lyric ‘Sometimes you’ve got to stop breathing just to stay alive’, resonated with all who were listening and taking in the spectacle of a brilliant and contemporary band of musicians, playing with and for each other, and creating time and space for all instruments to be heard in the mix. Hearing Mike’s songs played as he committed them to record, is a privilege and I personally prefer the way the band is set up these days, built around Mike’s voice and unique acoustic / electric guitar sound and playing, that bridges the original sonic template of the band to the present day. It feels like we are hearing the sound of the man’s soul in it’s purest form, delivered straight from the heart and always aided and abetted by people who love him as much as his fans. To see the chemistry between Jules, Smiley and James as they back him up through all he demands, is special indeed.
Breathe is greeted warmly by all and the lyrical refrain taken up by every voice, a Jules Peters’ song with a Mike Peters lyric in a marriage of equal talent.
Be Still continues the flow and demonstrates the long running quality of the Mike Peters song line and from here on in, it becomes apparent that Mike Peters and The Alarm are living firmly and proudly in the here and now. It would be so much easier for Mike to lead the band out on to the stage and play an opening salvo of old established Alarm hits with the same old traditions that, if left unchallenged, can border on cliche. It’s the unpredictable element of The Gathering that makes people come back time and time again, and as someone who has watched Mike Peters develop as an artist over many years, I am always welcoming of the attention to detail that he brings to every set list, every performance and every live event.
Another new anthem for this modern age Tomorrow, swarms out of the PA, it’s obviously been worked on since it’s debut on Blood Red, and is even more powerful than it was in 2017.
Rain In the Summertime just gets better with age. Played tonight, like it was on the original recording with drum machine and sequential bass line, James Stevenson relays the original guitar hook perfectly. Mike Peters’ voice is an amazing instrument in itself these days, and unlike many of his peers, has got better with age. The vocal delivery and harmonies from James, Jules and Smiley are special, allowing Mike Peters to disappear and arrive at the centre stage, ready to reprise the chorus and tease out the traditional ending, complete with rain shower.
An acoustic rendition of Unsafe Building includes the third ‘burning bridges’ verse and is swiftly followed by its ‘In The Poppy Fields’ younger sibling – You’re Only Young [And Innocent] Once. This song clearly references both Unsafe Building and past incidents in Alarm history, incidents that still serve to cloud some people’s judgement of the person that is Mike Peters. The mere act of playing these two songs side by side, serves up a subversive musical message that is surely aimed at some of those fans who still find it hard to allow Mike to live in the present and ‘Leave the past where it belongs”. Incredible.
One of Mike’s most beautiful songs ever – Heroine, is brought to life with gentle acoustic strumming and the introduction of recent breast cancer survivor Jules Peters on to the centre stage. It’s searingly honest music and, as James Stevenson and Smiley take up the backbeat, an intimate swelling of calm unity sweeps throughout the venue. There’s an inclusiveness to the band these days that comes from having a female member and also a married couple together on the stage. All walks of life are represented, and to see the camaraderie and brother/sisterhood between the musicians is infectious and provides the framework for past / recent and new members of the Alarm family of fans to come into the fold at any time.
Deeside, The Stand, The Deceiver lift the audience higher, with much participation and interaction between the stage and the main floor. Mike heads back to the centre stage, using his guitar to part a way through the massed ranks of Alarm fans and takes us into Blood Red’s Crowd Trouble which is another song reworked since 2017. James Stevenson is playing bass pedals and lead guitar and is becoming more and more the consummate musician and perfect foil for the frenzy that is Mike Peters.
The muted guitar sounds of Neutral creep out from the speakers and Mike Peters is again free of instrumentation and animating the left, right of centre aspect of the Viral Black lyrical content. What a performance this is, and for me the highlight of the weekend. Once the audience becomes aware of this version, it will surely become a massive part of future gigs. The quiet / loud dynamics recall Rage Against The Machine and an earlier generation’s The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. It further demonstrates the versatility of the musicians on stage, with Smiley and Jules taking up the rhythmic and percussive pulse and James concentrating on the electric dynamic and using bass pedals with precision and skill. This is what rock and roll is all about.
The Drunk and The Disorderly takes over proceedings and again, highlights what a tight rhythmic unit James Stevenson and Smiley have become after so much touring together. Mike Peters’ guitar playing recalls Dave Sharp / Pete Townshend at their most dynamic and the interval and space in the sound emphasises every snare hit and guitar chord. As a guitar playing bass player, James Stevenson has a more musical and resonant style that echoes original Alarm bass playing structures as delivered back in the ’80’s by both Mike Peters and Eddie Macdonald. It adds to the sound and allows space for the vocal, drums, guitar and keys to be heard independently rather than just being part of a wall of sound like the five-piece band employed in earlier parts of the present decade.
Mike Peters performs Cenotaph alone, but this is not just an acoustic song, it’s an electric tour de force. The power of the lyric amplified by the kick drum propulsion that stems from this stripped down one man band version of The Alarm. Beautiful is played ‘live’ for the first time ever, and is another new song destined for future inclusion on Alarm set lists. A classic chorus and hook line compliments the dynamics of the song structure.
Spirit Of ’76, Blaze Of Glory and Strength honour the history of the band and life stories contained within. ‘Spirit’ is delivered with updated second verse lyrics, Blaze of Glory starts acapella with the opening vocals sung over the snare drum beat, before band audience collide in unison as one. ‘Strength’ sounds fresh with new life coursing through its veins, and the set finally comes to a close with the rousing modern day Alarm anthem Two Rivers.
With an audience and band united in song, it’s an amazing sight to see the house lights come up and every person joined together from front to back in a way that only Mike Peters and The Alarm can bring about.
A short break and Mike Peters is back on the stage and again, starts alone and acoustic, weaving the words of When Everything Was Perfect into the story of the weekend. The lights come up as the band crash onto the electric section only this time, James Stevenson is on lead guitar and Mission / Sisters of Mercy / Spear of Destiny / Alarm bass player Craig Adams is integrated back into the fold for a frenzied finale that takes us all on a crash course of Alarm classics both modern and vintage. Kill To Get What You Want [Die For What You Believe In], Superchannel, My Town, 45 RPM. Marching On, Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke? and Sixty Eight Guns are all delivered one after another.
It was fast and furious, and before anyone had a moment to draw breath, the band was back for an encore of Swansong, Rescue Me and In The Poppy Fields.
The past was connected to the future with the re-mergence of Dave Sharp for a closing Bound For Glory and the original, most recent and present editions of The Alarm were joined as one, on the same stage.
The next morning – Sunday, Mike Peters took almost the entire audience on a Love Hope Strength walk-a-thon to the end of Llandudno Pier and back, flanked as always with his wife Jules and two boys, Dylan and Evan, by his side.
He again sang his heart out for the assembled and it was like a religious service at times, especially with the realisation that through Love, Hope and Strength, lives have been saved and the spirit of The Alarm, made ready, for a new era.
The Third Generation of The Alarm starts here.
Review by David Jones
Photos: Stuart Ling, Paul Green, Andy Labrow