“If a man can’t change the world these days,
I still believe a man can change his own destiny,
But the price is high that has got to be paid,
For everyone who survives there are many who fail,
I’ve seen my friends caught up in the crossfire,
All their dreams and hopes smashed on the funeral pyre.”
– Spirit of ’76
When the original Strength album was released back in 1985, it was a seminal moment in the history of Welsh rock. It was the sound of a band at the height of their powers, every chord, every word resonating with everyone with dragon blood running through their veins, and a fair few who didn’t. They were songs of despair and struggle, hope and triumph. Lyrically, it was an album born of it’s time, with songs about the the miner’s strike, growing up in a country with a dying industry, and working class life in the Iron Lady’s Britain. It wasn’t pretty.
“I’ve got ideas that I cannot deny,
If I stay I’ll be killed by the dreams in my mind,
Today I can’t find nothing nowhere,
Tomorrow I might find something somewhere.”
– Father to Son
The stadium rock sound of Strength marked a slight departure from the folky punk organized chaos of the Alarm’s debut, the songwriting was on-point, the playing tight and the production (by Mike Howlett, who had previously worked with Tears For Fears, OMD and Joan Armatrading) crisp and sharp. Absolute Reality, Spirit of ’76 and the title track all made the UK Top 40 singles chart, with the latter also becoming their biggest US hit. For a while, the Alarm were our U2, our Simple Minds. The Irish had the Troubles to sing about, the Scots had the Glasgow shipyards, and the Welsh had empty coalfaces and deserted mining villages. In their own ways, they all spoke for a lost generation. Every track on Strength is a classic, and it’s a mystery how the album didn’t sell as many copies as the likes of Unforgettable Fire and Once Upon a Time.
Thirty years on, not that much has changed, except I’m not an over-excited eleven-year old anymore. All the exuberance of youth has long since deserted me. Three of the four original members of the Alarm have also left, but the songs and the sentiments remain and are still as relevant today as they were in 1985. The band as it was then may be gone but Mike Peters still stands, guitar in hand. He even has the same hair cut. Despite his well-documented health problems, tonight he is on top form. It’s clear nothing can sap the man’s passion. As promised, he performs the Strength album in it’s entirety, though the songs have been re-imagined and rearranged to facilitate what is essentially a one-man band approach.
Some tracks are virtually unrecognisable from their original versions, but all have retained their power and allure. I must admit I was dubious when I first heard of the project to re-record Strength. If it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it and all that. But hearing the songs in this stripped-down form adds a whole new depth and clarity, bringing them kicking and screaming into the 21st century where they can be enjoyed in a new context. They are designed to complement the originals, rather than replace them.
A quick word about the venue. I’ve been to dozens of gigs in Cardiff over the years but never been to The Globe before. It’s small. Very small. Intimate, even. Which suits me fine. I’m off those big soulless arenas and stadiums where you can’t see anything and the sound goes over your head. Maybe it’s a consequence of getting old. Set deep in the suburbs of Cardiff, the Globe used to be a cinema, and it retains some of that old-school character and charm.
Peters is a born storyteller, and the flow of the gig is punctuated by long raps about the music business and his experiences. As well as the Strength material and the between-song banter, he throws in a selection of lesser-known tracks from his extensive back catalogue. Set opener Howling Wind goes down a storm (sorry) and Strength-era b-side Majority, which has also been re-recorded and re-released this year on the companion album to Strength, is another highlight. There is the usual smattering of old standards like Unbreak the Promise and One Step Closer to Home, and the traditional set-closer Blaze of Glory gets an airing to the delight of the partisan crowd. It just wouldn’t be an Alarm/Mike Peters gig without it.
With no support act, all those stories and a two hour-plus gig, Peters gets more like Bruce Springsteen with every passing moment. He’s also the nicest rock star you could ever wish to meet, and possibly one of the busiest. The tour continues throughout the summer in Europe and the States. Catch it while you can.
Love, Hope, Strength