Monday, 17 February 2014

Declaration 2014 Tour - Oxford

30 years on from the original release of The Alarm's debut album "Declaration", Mike Peters is touring the UK in 2014 performing the album in full. This is no ordinary tour though, as marking the anniversary he has completely re-recorded the album with totally new arrangements taking the album back to the origins of the band's sound of acoustic guitars and drums. I got a taster of the new recordings at The Gathering in Llandudno  recently so I was eagerly anticipating this gig in Oxford to hear the whole album performed in full.

I have seen Mike Peters perform Alarm material acoustically many times, and this was without doubt the best acoustic show I have ever seen him perform. The show was split into two halves with the first half seeing him perform a selection of material covering the bands complete musical history so there was something for everyone. For me it was an absolute treat to see him perform songs like "Lie of the Land" and "Across The Border" which got rare outings. With "Unsafe Building", "Up For Murder" and the glorious "One Step Closer To Home" it was a terrific first half. He is using a new guitar called "The Deceiver" which allows him to seamlessly switch between an acoustic and electric sound, and a small drum by his feet allowed him to put a beat into the music at times too. Also by using a sampler and the occasional backing track it really was a lot more than just an acoustic gig. Very much a one man band in 2014! The second half of the show was the performance of Declaration, and it was stunning. With every track being completely reworked it made for a new experience for any fan of The Alarm even those of us who go back to the early days. The anecdotes in between the songs were both interesting and amusing as we were treated to a really interesting insight into the band back in the early days leading up to the release of the album. It's hard to call a favourite song from the second half... "68 Guns" has been transformed into a song of both beauty and power, "Where Were You Hiding" rocks along in free flowing fashion and the anthemic "We re The Light" has taken on a more sullen beauty to it with introduction of minor chords to the verses. "The Stand" which was the song that brought me into this band has a wonderful skiffle arrangement and "Blaze of Glory" which finished the set was glorious, and watch out for the choir on the new recording of the song. We also got an insight into the origins of the lyrics and the band's relationship with U2. Possibly for me "Third Light" was the highlight as it is such a powerful song lyrically and very apt at the moment with the 100 year anniversary of World War One. The audience was very enthusiastic and much bigger than I expected, so I would advise anyone thinking of seeing the show to get their tickets in advance! A fantastic evening, and I hope tour this again very soon!

Of course there are bound to be many fans who will be anti the idea of reworking the album and dabbling with songs they have lived with for the past 30 years. It was interesting to hear Mike talk about how disappointed the band was with the production of the album, how tracks were messed with in their absence, and it brought back memories to me too. I had a copy of the single version of "Marching On" and back in 1984 I was eagerly anticipating the album and I remember when I first played it being disappointed with the production of that song more than most. Having seen the band a number of times during 1983 starting at The Marquee somewhere the live sound just hadn't been captured like I hoped. However you  learn to live and grow to love albums and Declaration remains one of my all time favourites, but 30 years on I am eagerly anticipating the new release and getting the 2014 perspective. I see no point in Mike simply re-recording the album as it was, and if you are going to do it I think it is right to strip the songs back and represent them in a fresh light, whilst staying true to the origins of the band. It might not be for everyone's tastes but I still eagerly anticipate new music as much as I did back in the day and am very impatiently waiting for my order of the new album to arrive in the coming weeks. 

I have included a chapter on Mike Peters & The Alarm in my "Beating Bowel Cancer" fundraising book I have self published to raise money for the Beating Bowel Cancer charity. If you would like to find out more about that please click here.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Rifles

I think it's a case of straight to the point with this post. The brand new album by The Rifles entitled "None The Wiser" which came this week is quite simply an absolute belter. It has been a long wait for it to come out, but it has been more than worth it. It is the band's 4th studio album and it more than holds its own with their previous efforts. What does it sound like? I don't think there is any harm in making comparisons to bands like The Jam, but for me it just sounds like The Rifles! Elements from all the previous 3 albums are in there so we get the fast energetic melodic guitar tracks as well as some beautifully crafted acoustic sounding slower tempo songs. I think my favourite song on the album at the moment is "You Win Some", which has a fantastic unofficial video to go with it, but seeing as I am playing the album non stop at the moment I am sure this will change in the days ahead. It seems these days that guitar driven bands like The Rifles struggle to get much radio airplay, which is simply beyond belief. It can't be because the music is not popular as the band have no problem filling concert venues and the new album is riding high at number 6 in the midweek charts during its first week of release. Its about time radio stations stopped deciding for themselves what is and what is not popular and created their playlists a little bit more based on facts...

I kind of missed out early Rifles material at the time, and not sure why as its bloody brilliant including the wonderful "She's Got Standards". By the time I got round to trying to buy the debut album "No Love Lost" it had been deleted. As much as I love the band I refuse to pay the high prices now being asked for the album so I had to resort to downloading it from a file sharing site. I shall have to hope that one day it gets reissued so as to get a genuine copy.

However I was right on cue to buy "Great Escape" the fantastic 2nd album. This album has been my favourite album by them to date, and I think it will be a close run thing with the new album as to whether it remains so. This album contains the live favourite anthem of "Romeo & Julie", which when seen live with a crowd in full song is about as good as things get at any gig...

The third album "Freedom Run" continued the run of quality material being released by the band. Around this time I was due to go and see the band live for the first time at The Coronet in London, I had my ticket and everything was set, and then unforeseen circumstances prevented me from going at the last minute. I put this right in 2012 going to see an acoustic show in Oxford which was amazing. Last year I went Rifles mad seeing the acoustic tour in Reading, then 3 dates in one week in November with the original line up playing back together, plus finishing off going to a Christmas concert at the Boogaloo in London. I am looking forward to seeing them on tour this spring in London.

Don't underestimate this band. They write rousing guitar driven anthems with lyrics that are both insightful and connect with their audience. They have also released 2 acoustic albums on their website of the songs of their career to date, and this is where the stripped back versions let the lyrics come much more to the forefront. This a band at the top of their game.