Live Review: The Alarm, Brixton Academy, 15th February, 1990

United Strength

I always find Brixton Academy a rather sad venue, a once beautiful building long past its best in a worse than bad state of repair, that seems to get tattier every time I come here. It could be a great venue, a good size, a large stage, the sound is usually good, and the beer's certainly cheaper than the Astoria. I suppose it makes enough money as it is and no one wants to 'throw money away' doing the place up. Anyway it always takes a special band to set my toes tapping in these dilapidated shabby surroundings. Iggy Pop managed it a while ago, but no one has really risen above the melancholic atmosphere of the Academy since. Tonight I am expecting the Alarm to.

The support band is bashing out a less than rousing version of a Kim Wilde song so I retire to take advantage of the reasonable bar prices. The majority of the crowd look too young to remember the fire and frenzy of the early days: a mixture of students, beer boys, rockers, and a distinct lack of posers. There's a good vibe about the crowd (shit, I sound like an old hippy) and an excited buzz of anticipation builds as show time nears.

The lights go down and a huge roar greets the band as they grab the crowd by the scruff of the neck and lead the charge through Change. Mike Peters and Dave Sharp look a little like Amish preachers and there is an almost religious fervour about the Alarm and their fans. Between songs raps are limited to the expected 'hello it's good to be back' but the rapport that exists between band and crowd goes beyond words. Often the crowd are singing the chorus long before the band have got through the opening bars.

The new album is undoubtedly the best yet and almost all it gets an airing tonight but the set isn't swamped. Large chunks of previous albums are played and seem to be given a new lease of life alongside the new numbers.

David Sharp gets to take us One Step Closer To Home, Mike Peters happy to let him take centre stage. An all too predictable but sincere and heartfelt – so forgivable – speech about change in Europe and Nelson Mandela's release introduces No Frontiers, a song of our times that builds slowly and confidently from a quiet verse to huge chorus that unleashes waves of passion in Mike Peters and the crowd, lifting the ailing Academy higher than it’s been for a long time. The song contains many of the themes that run through the Alarm’s catalogue: love, justice, honesty, optimism, and a passionate belief in right and wrong.

Rain In The Summertime gives way to a Celtic romp through Rivers To Cross – all that's missing is a fiddle player. Next we are invited to Come On Down And Make a Stand, during which the band is introduced. David Sharp is a fine guitarist who has got the Keith Richards book of guitarists' poses memorized. Twist and Eddie slam the rhythm into the ground with a sledgehammer and wouldn't look or sound out of place in, say, Bon Jovi, but I think an Alarm gig has more to do with rock n' roll than the corporate rock of the New Joisey boys. Despite their considerable success the Alarm haven’t lost touch with their roots.

68 Guns and Blaze of Glory are obvious crowd pleasers and get everybody's voices warmed up for their role in the songs to come.

The mass choir of the Brixton Academy steps into the shoes of the Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir on A New South Wales, Mike Peters' impassioned (that word again) plea for the salvation of his beloved homeland. Could sound corny but it doesn't. This is intelligent rock music without the patronizing, pretentious prattle the like of U2 or Simple Minds succumb to.

For my favourite song I have to wait 'til the last encore. Spirit of '76 is the kind of song everyone has to love, an anthem of life. A gentle harp intro building through the verse to a chorus made in heaven: "somewhere out on the…" (everyone has their own video in their mind, their own Matthew Street, their own John, Susie, and Pete.)

I really don't think I've done full justice to the gig. I haven't mentioned half the songs (this was a long set) or heaped enough praise on individual performances. But an atmosphere this special has to be savoured, not read about. I know you'll think, "Oh God, why does he always go over the top?" but, believe me, this was special. Where were you hiding when the storm broke?

Simon Robinson
Riff Raff
April 1990
Share on Google Plus


  1. I was at this gig , my first visit to the famed academy which i thought was a shithole.
    The alarm were a great live band and should have been massive. Such a shame the original incarnation ended on this very stage just over a year later.