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.