Even as an avid concert goer, this was the first time I had attended a musical event quite like this. The Alarm coming to NYC this past weekend was not just a sold-out concert, it was a four-day event with fans coming together from multiple countries in celebration of Mike Peters & The Alarm. To fully understand how and why The Gathering USA 2023 took place, it helps to know more about the personal connection and culture that’s evolved around lead singer/songwriter Mike Peters over several decades.
Before Mike and his band hit the stage on Saturday night, the audience got to see a preview of Rewind, a BBC music documentary show that’s featuring The Alarm in July. We are all familiar with the Welsh band’s hits from the mid-to late ‘80s – “Sixty Eight Guns”, “Strength”, “Sold Me Down The River” but there is a lot more to the story following the MTV years. After leaving The Alarm in 1991, Mike Peters continued with other projects including The Poets of Justice (featuring his wife Jules on keyboards), different incarnations of The Alarm (some featuring members of The Cult and Gene Loves Jezebel) and The Poppy Fields. In 1996, Mike recovered from lymph cancer and then in 2005 was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which relapsed, most recently in September 2022. In 2005 he formed a foundation called Love Hope Strength which, over the years, has brought many other musicians and survivors together to bring awareness and raise money in the global fight against cancer. An award-winning documentary film Man In The Camo Jacket, which chronicles his story, was released in 2017. But, to see and hear Peters perform, you would never guess he has been (and currently is) battling a deadly illness – it’s quite remarkable.
The Gathering is an annual event, that started in Wales in 1992 as a way to stay connected to The Alarm’s fans. The U.S. version began in the early 2000s. I chatted with some fans waiting to get into The Gramercy Theater on Saturday night and met people from the UK, Canada, as well as multiple states across the US – and they have attended Gathering weekends for years. It was warming to witness how Mike Peters’ music and cause has brought people together for so long and they noted participating in the bone marrow registry – not something you usually hear in a concert queue. The full weekend included an acoustic appearance and signing at Rough Trade Records in Rockefeller Center, shows on both Friday & Saturday night (with soundcheck and Q & A) and a group walk through Central Park with Mike on Sunday. There was a full schedule for those who could participate or individual tickets. Full weekend passes and the nightly shows were sold out.
The 40 song, career-spanning evening opened with Mike Peters entering the stage solo and conjuring up his youth with 1981’s rebel song “Up For Murder”. On to 2023 with “New Standards” a commentary on today’s media culture “Everybody stops to film the battle, no one’s gonna stop the war…” This song is from The Alarm’s latest album Forwards, written while he was in the hospital being treated for last year’s relapse. Alone in the spotlight, with “The Vigilante” painted across his guitar, we got to witness a modern day troubadour with a lot of fight still left for himself, as well as the rest of us.
For the second set, Peters was backed by a full band, including wife and long-time bandmate Jules Peters on keyboards. The energy kicked up with “Beautiful” a tale of optimism against-all-odds. With three microphones set up, he transverses the front of the stage from one to the next with each verse and chorus. Everyone in the crowd is able to get a prime view – you don’t have to be the lucky few center stage. A very unique set up. The lyrics “Give me love, give me hope…” reverberated through the hall and the band launched into “Strength” from their 1985 album. I instinctively began singing along to the vocal break and the chorus, just like when I saw them in NYC in 1988. It’s still such a great song.
The Alarm have opened for Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Bob Dylan. There’s still a clear line between these artists and Peter’s songs of ordinary people trying to make sense of and taking a stand against local and national corruption, political powers and senseless war. The grit is still evident, even decades from the first songs he and The Alarm wrote in their 20s and this very robust set (with a 6-song encore) brought us full circle.
With yet another Gathering USA behind Peters – he’s headed back to Wales for a concert with The Cult at Cardiff Castle in July. No doubt, we can expect more new music as his inspirational story of boundless drive, passion and creativity has more chapters to come…
All Photos: Deb Johnsen