Review: Review: The Gathering XI 24.01.2003

An incredible night at The Gathering XI was made all the more special for Alarm fans when Mike Peters introduced original Alarm guitarist – Dave Sharp – to the stage. Dave Sharp, who opened his solo set with a reworking of ‘Change II’, growled his way through through a fine set of proto-blues before closing with a poignant rendition of his Alarm classic ‘One Step Closer To Home’. It was then Dave’s turn to introduce Mike Peters to the stage. A very public showing of unity, friendship and maturity that highlights the unique way in which the rebirth of The Alarm has been conducted by all concerned.

If Dave Sharp’s heart is in the blues and the music culture of the past, Mike Peters spirit is all about the now. Beginning with ’21st Century’, the entire audience immediately took up the refrain. Then, a new song – ‘The Innocent Party’ – a brutal onslaught of acoustic and lyrical power. ‘Rise’ followed, a beautiful piece of hope and optimism highlighted by another new song from ‘In The Poppy Fields’ ‘It’s Going To Be A Good Year’.

Mike then took a moment to express his fears over the potential conflict against Iraq before performing ‘The Deceiver’ which was beautifully sequed into the rarely played ‘Third Light’. The First World War references further emphasising the confusion and mistrust that has people divided over the reasons for war in the Gulf.

Another new song ‘Raindown’ was followed by ‘Father To Son’ and ‘The Day The Ravens Left The Tower’. Mike then dedicated ‘When Everything Was Perfect’, to the late ‘Clash’ frontman Joe Strummer. It was a spine tingling moment, especially when Mike spontaneously changed the lyrics to “I have stared into the eyes of Joe Strummer who stuck the safety pins inside my soul”, he even worked in a mention of Dave Sharp. Superb stuff.

‘Unbreak The Promise’ and a rousing ‘We Are The Light’ were followed by the introduction of pianist and long time Alarm collaborator Mark Taylor. The two peformed an amazing version of ‘A New South Wales’. With Mark at the piano and Mike enjoying the freedom to move around the stage without his guitar, singing to all sides of the jam-packed venue. Mike Peters dedicated ‘Walk Forever By My Side’ to his wife Jules and spoke of the time when Mark Taylor had played the piano at their wedding in 1988. With that in mind, the audience sang every line of the hymn like song.

Mike Peters then introduced the new members of the Alarm to the stage; Craig Adams, James Stevenson and Steve Grantley, who were all given a huge reception. It was quite a sight to see all the band on stage together all dressed in black suits (they looked like they had just stepped off the ‘Reservoire Dogs’ film set). The band were also joined by trumpet player Ian Davies (also wearing black suit, white shirt, black tie).

Mike lead the band into a series of songs from the ‘Edward Henry Street’. Fast, furious, melodic, anthemic and stirring all at the same time. ‘1959’, ‘The Crescent’, a blistering ‘Edward Henry Street’,
‘Wherearewegoingandwhatarewegoingtodowhenwegetthere?’ all prompted a huge singalong from the audience, and considering this was the first time these songs had ever been played live, it was amazing. Mike then spoke of meeting Nigel Twist in a Rhyl night club, ‘The Downtown’ on New Years Eve 1975 and had used that meeting as the source of the lyric for the next song ‘Up Downtown’. Mike stabbed out the Kinks/Clash style riff on his Fender Telecaster and the band roared in behind him. ‘In You I see The World’ was instantly catchy and Ian Davies performed an scorching trumpet solo. Mike then sang a short version of Seventeen’s ‘Bank Holiday Weekend’ before hurtling into ‘Mercenary Skank’. It was Dexy’s, The Clash, The Kinks, The Jam, Punk Rock, Northern Soul, Beat and Power Pop all rolled into one. It was all of these but most importanly, it was – The Alarm at their best.

Steve Grantley then took up the rhythm of ‘Swansong’ with Mike dedicating the song to “absent friends”. The Gathering fans knew the lyrics better than Mike who stumbled over a few of the lines but that still did not detract from what is obviously a very powerful piece of music destined to become a live classic. James Stevenson played a superb guitar solo and the audience even started to sing the chorus unprompted. Then came another new one ‘When You Can’t Have What Everybody Else Has?, I was caught by surprise by this one as it had not grabbed my attention on the CD’s but live it became a tour de force. I get the feeling that a lot of people (me included) are going to be going back to their ‘In the Poppy fields’ CD’s after this weekend and hear them in a whole new light.

‘Deeside’, ‘Majority’ and ‘The Stand’ took us back to more familiar material and closed the set in frantic style. An encore was demanded and we got ‘Gone Elvis’ and ‘Bound For Glory’. What a night. What a band.

Dave Jones