Author: Ben Hughes
Photography: Marc McGarraraghy
Recently announcing they would be knocking the headline tours on the head for a while to concentrate on other opportunities, I didn’t think I would be catching them for a while here in the UK. Yet, here they are on a high profile tour opening for Welsh legends The Alarm, which should hopefully widen their appeal to larger audiences than they have been reaching in recent times. It seems the image change and the name change is no coincidence, as this band is stepping things up to the big league.
There’s a glint of something different in Ryan Hamilton’s eyes tonight. A new sense of determination and seriousness to his delivery. There’s less of the between-song jokes and banter, although he is still obsessed about learning new English swear words.
Whether it’s the matching sharp suits and the heavier (yet still catchy) material, I don’t know, but this bunch of musicians seem more cohesive now, more like dare I say it…a band.
Faced with an over-loud and dodgy sound mix and an audience unfamiliar with their material, Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts are up against it tonight and they rise to the challenge. When a band are up against the wall with something to prove, when they have to fight for attention, that is when a band are at their best.
So out of the relative comfort zone of a room of people who will sing along to your mighty fine power pop ditties, the band reel off song after song to a small but growing crowd of The Alarm fans, sipping their beers waiting for their heroes. Maybe tonight, just a few of those fans may have found a new band to check out in the morning.
It’s a good job Ryan and the guys have the songs then. ‘Karaoke With No Crowd’ with it’s over cool “whoo hoo’s”, the sublime power pop of ‘Records and Needles’ and the following ‘Medicine’ should be enough to reel in even the staidest of observers.
Ryan, his hair in plaits and wide-brimmed hat, making him look like some spaghetti western preacher leading his congregation. He uses his hands to gesture as he addresses the audience, whether playing the guitar or just in control of the mic. The Tom Petty like drawl of ‘Never Should Have Moved To LA’ is mighty fine as always, they then transport us back to Texas with the country twang of ‘Oh My God’.
Introducing final song ‘Freak Flag’ Ryan tells us he is the living proof there are second chances, that it is possible to get a second chance at the rock ‘n’ roll dream. Tonight’s performance is a testament to a rock ‘n’ roll survivor and long may he keep returning to our shores. A sublime set from the probably the best support band you will see this year or next.
Now, Mike Peters is a true survivor and a legendary rock ‘n’ roll talent. He may not be as famous or as revered as Bono or Springsteen, but he has the songs, the road-weary years of experience and the passionate fan base to match.
I guess I’d call myself a casual fan of The Alarm, and I’ve never seen them live, so tonight is a truly monumental experience for me, as I never imagined they would be this good.
This live incarnation of The Alarm, with Mike Peters on vocals and acoustic, his wife Jules on keyboards, longtime Alarm guitarist come bassist James Stevenson and drummer Steve ‘Smiley’ Barnard is as good as it gets.
Anthem follows anthem tonight as Peters and the gang dig deep into the 35 years plus back catalogue to deliver a set that will satisfy even the most casual of fans. From opener ‘Blaze Of Glory’ to main set closer ’68 Guns’, it’s a masterclass of rousing, alternative rock ‘n’ roll. From the ’80s, through the ’90s and beyond, all bases are covered.
Peters has free reign of the stage as the rest of the band are pretty much rooted to the spot. I’ve never seen any frontman use 3 vocals mics for a performance. The only advantage I can see if for the vocalist to reach every corner of the venue, so as not to be confined to one spot due to him being the sole guitar player. Fair play, he uses it to its full advantage, switching between left, right and centre stage at will during songs.
It’s an energetic and passionate performance as the man plays to his crowd, and The Alarm fans are as passionate as it gets. Being down the front, I witness it firsthand; 2 ladies of a certain age next to me sing and dance together having the best night of their lives, a middle aged gent in a suit jacket is reliving his youth, precariously swinging from the railing with one hand and punching the air and pointing at his hero as he mouths the words to the anthems of his youth.
This is nostalgia at its finest, people. There are no teenagers here, we are all of a certain age, gathered together to hear the songs that transport us back to a time that was simpler, better and much more fun than most of us have now. True escapism, am I right or am I wrong?
I would usually argue that no one wants to hear new songs at this sort of show, but The Alarm do have new songs and they ain’t too shabby to be fair. ‘Beautiful’ fits the bill nicely and 2 new songs bookend ‘Strength’ come encore time. ‘Neutral’ and ‘Two Rivers’ are as good as it gets and rightly deserves a place amongst the classics.
The feel of a stadium show in a small local venue, you can’t beat the power of rock ‘n’ roll old or new. Two excellent world-class bands in my local venue and certainly one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.