At precisely 21.00 Hours on the 25th January 2003, Mike Peters and The Alarm took to the stage and delivered a 2 hour and 50 minute rock and roll extravaganza of brilliant new songs and and the best that their illustrious past has to offer.
On entering the venue, which was decked out in huge swathes of poppy fields projected onto walls, back drops and matching white amplification and drums, we were walking into an evening of total immersion in the spirit of ‘In the Poppy Fields’, honouring the past and celebrating the future. Recorded and released over five frantic months ‘In The Poppy Fields’ is surely destined to become The Alarm’s modern masterpiece.
The tone for the evening was set with ‘Coming Home’. An explosive piece of new Alarm music that had the audience gripped from the opening twin guitar onslaught of Mike Peters and James Stevenson, who were superbly complimented by the powerhouse drumming of Steve Grantley and the welcome return of Craig Adams on bass. With Mark Taylor back on the keyboards there was even more colour to the sound than ever before. Mike Peters who was in fine voice right from the get go, finished the song as he does on the record with the immortal lines – “It’s been a long time coming but it’s good to be back”. The old meets the new. Straight into ‘Unsafe Building’ still sounding as fresh and vibrant as ever.
Mike Peters introduced ‘In The Beauty Of My Surroundings’ and although the song is only a few months old you would swear – by the reaction of the audience – it had been around as long as ‘Unsafe’. The audience took up the vocals of the outro, and it was as if the song had been in the set for ever. ‘Absolute Reality’ was greeted like an old friend. Mike said the next song was inspired by being ‘The Alarm’ again when he was recording ‘In the Poppy Fields’ and what a song it was – ‘Right back Where I Started From’. Brilliant lyrically, the song strikes a chord with everyone who hears it. Everyone has been where Mike Peters has been and vice versa. Once again I was struck by the audience reaction to what is still essentially a new song. Mike was conducting proceedings from the stage, band and audience working together as choir and orchestra, a connection that only the truly great performers can achieve.
The lone voice of Mike Peters filled the room during the intro to ‘Breathe’ and the band brought all they could to the driving rhythm. Another new song ‘The Normal Rules Do Not Apply’ was beautifully delivered. The audience rose to it’s feet as the atmospheric intro was shattered by the band crashing in and Mike Peters singing his heart out – the passion all too evident in his ‘X-Ray eyes”. ‘Rain In The Summertime’ resplendent with the addition of Mark Taylor’s counter point keyboard lines sounded fresher than it has done in a long while.
Then came ‘The Unexplained’ a monumental song that seeped into the venue before exploding into life with some brilliant slide guitar playing from James Stevenson. Once again the audience took up the refrain. The heat inside the venue was intensifying by the second as James Stevenson’s e-bow flooded the P.A.. ‘How Long And How Much Longer’ was brilliant. Impassioned vocals, scything chopped rock guitar riffs and a pulsating groove. Another track destined to be live classic of the future. The quick – slow – quick – slow dynamics of both ‘Knife Edge’ and ‘Regeneration’ explored familiar territory and then came ‘Federal Motor Voter’. I don’t know what an F.M.V. is, but I do know a serious slice of R.N.R. when I see it. It starts it stops, it starts again with a chorus that rocks like a modern ‘My Generation’ – classic – and it’s even better live than on record as all great rock songs should be.
Mike took a few moments to describe the intense procedures that surrounded the recording of ‘In the Poppy Fields’ and brought on the first guest of the evening, his I.T.P.F. co-producer Martin Wilding who set up ‘The Rock And Roll’ with some beautiful ‘infinite’ guitar. One of Mike Peters best lyrics – ‘The Rock And Roll’, with it’s reference points to Alarm songs past and present was a defining moment in the concert. Something has happened to Mike Peters since he became The Alarm again, his writing has become more personal than ever yet at the same time it seems to say just as much about other peoples lives as it does his own.
‘Resurrection’ and the psychedlic glam rock heavy metal of ‘Trafficking’ both explored new ground for both the band and the fans, and although still a little unfamiliar at this stage these two could prove to be real faves in gigs to come. I remember being in the audience at an Alarm show of 1985, at the Marquee club in London during the beginning of the ‘Strength’ tour and hearing ‘Knife Edge’ and ‘Sprirt Of 76’ for the first time. I’d listened to the songs on the record and liked them, but It was when I ‘heard’ them live that I fell in love with them. I sensed a lot of people falling in love with the ‘In the Poppy Fields’ collection this weekend.
‘High On the Hill’ was beautiful. ‘Contenders’ was excellent and then out of the blue came ‘The Drunk And The Disorderly’. This is surely going to grow into one of the greatest Alarm songs of all time. Hooligan rock and roll with a lyric that, like ‘The RockAnd Roll’ will be seen as one of Peters’ best. Amazing. A frantic ( a bit too frantic actually), medley of ‘Marching On’ and ‘Where Were You Hiding?’ was segued into ’68 Guns’. The band followed ’68’ with ‘Close’ and although it is a ‘new’ song you wouldn’t have known it. 1500 pairs of hands reached for the air, every voice sang the chorus. Any normal band would have finished there, but this is not a normal band and these are extraordinary times for all concerned. ‘Spirit Of ’76’ and the instant classic ’45 RPM’ drained every last ounce of energy from the audience.
By now everybody in the hall knew what was going to happen next. The band came back for the first encore and without further ado Mike Peters introduced his old friend and guitarist Dave Sharp to the stage. These days, Sharp looks and acts like a long lost blues legend returning from the past. It was appropriate then that he should strike up the blues rock of ‘Sold Me Down The River’. It was a great sight to see Sharp and Peters together again on a big stage. ‘Devolution Working Man Blues’ from 1989’s ‘Change’ continued the bluesy theme. Then, while Sharp swapped his Telecaster for a Strat, Mike Peters held his arms aloft in the trade mark stance that is the signal for the beginning of ‘Strength’, Sharp dug into the guitar riff, the band played with a respect and a deference to what was obviously an emotional moment for both Mike, Dave and many of us ‘older’ Alarm fans alike. 1-2-3-4. ‘Rescue Me’ brought the house down with a mass celebratory sing-along. As the band discreetly left the stage Mike and Dave found themselves alone together in front of an audience who spontaneously serenaded them with ‘Going Out In A Blaze Of Glory’.
Mike Peters and Dave Sharp both seem incredibly happy men, both seem free from the constraints of ‘having’ to work with each other. Both are being incredibly public in their support of each others musical endeavours. Dave supports Mike in his quest to take The Alarm forward and Mike supports Dave in his quest to recast himself as an earthy singer songwriter. Both obviously have immense respect for each other and it is a good thing that everyone, themselves included can now move forward without being tied down to the past exclusively. What a decade we have in store as Alarm fans.
Mike Peters led the band back on to the stage for a second encore and began by telling a story of seeing The Clash for the first time in 1977 and how much it had changed his life, he went on to tell of the various meetings / run-ins he had had with the late Joe Strummer including an hilarious tale of standing next to all four members of The Clash in a toilet prior to a Clash show in Birmingham. He spoke of a fan who had written to him when Strummer died in December telling how Joe Strummer had had to admit to the fan that “although he felt he was not supposed to ‘like’ The Alarm every time he heard one of their songs on the radio he had to admit to a a certain amount of respect for the band”. Dedicated to Joe Strummer, the band burst into ‘Complete Control’, with a huge picture of Joe Strummer’s face projected onto the venue walls. Mike then introduced one of his ‘Dead Men Walking;’ collaborators Kirk Brandon to the stage who joined the band for a hurtling ‘White Riot’. Then, a full band version of ‘Blaze of Glory’ and it was all over for another year.
When you get home whatever do don’t throw away your ticket stub, keep it safe so that one day you can say ‘I was There’…… and prove it.
In The Beauty Of My Surroundings
Right Back Where I started From
The Normal Rules Do Not Apply
Rain In The Summertime
How Long And How Much Longer
Federal Motor Voter
The Rock And Roll
High On The Hill
The Drunk And The Disorderly
Where Were You Hiding
Spirit Of 76’
Sold Me Down the River
Devolution Working Man Blues
Blaze Of Glory