80’s Guitar Rock: The Alarm: UCLA Spirit Of ’86 Celebration Report

Mike Peters of The Alarm returned to UCLA on April 12, 2008 after 22 years to celebrate The Alarm’s historic show at UCLA on April 12 1986. This turned out to be a wonderful event for many reasons, not the least of which was the showing of the fully restored Sprit Of ’86 concert on a giant screen.

The original concert, 22 years ago, was historic for The Alarm and their fans. It was one of the first ever live satellite broadcasts on TV, and thus it was one of the very early live concerts shown on MTV. As well, this show highlighted The Alarm at the top of their game. as the musicianship and showmanship of the band both reached their peak for this event. The free show had been advertised on the radio and in the papers the week prior, but no one was prepared for the turnout. The expected crowd of 3,000 turned into an expected crowd of 10,000, which ultimately turned into an estimated crowd of 25,000. The barricades at the front of the stage had to be reinforced to keep the masses of people back, and the show almost did not take place. I was there on that day in 1986, and for me it was a very personal, special moment. It was the one day I can recall that my own personal musical taste was shared with (what I perceived to be) the rest of the world. That would never happen again.

Here is a video from YouTube.com from that day’s broadcast. This is pretty much the way it looked and sounded in 1986.

The visuals of the concert were always striking, but frankly, the audio was pretty poor. For more than 20 years Alarm fans have asked for a new version of this concert with restored sound. Mike Peters worked for over 5 years to acquire all the original footage, create special features, completely restore the audio, etc. His work was made available last year when the DVD for the Spirit Of ’86 show was released on https://www269.safesecureweb.com/21stcentury/ec/store.asp?func=viewproduct&id=368. Here is the promo for that DVD:

To celebrate this DVD release, Mike Peters devised this special show that would allow people to experience the original concert in close proximity to where the actual event took place (the original location, Jann’s Steps is now covered by a University Building). The day began about 1:00 when Alarm fabs were asked to jot-down questions for Mike Peters that would be asked during the question and answer period. At about 1:15 world famous D.J. Richard Blade announced the format for the day: the question and answer period/acoustic show followed by a showing of the newly restored Spirit Of ’86 video at 3:00, just about the same time as the actual event.

(Richard Blade And Mike Peters)

Richard Blade started the Q&A in expert fashion by asking Mike about his experiences with U2. Mike told an amusing story about introducing Bono to both the harmonica and the acoustic guitar (which elicited a gasp from the audience). However, long-time Alarm, fans and readers of some of my older blogs on this subject should already be aware of just how much influence The Alarm had on formation of U2’s persona for world domination…but that’s a subject for a later date. After this, Mike played an acoustic version of Unsafe Building, then told a story about John Peel and how The Alarm got their name (basically John Peel sw they were named Alarm Alarm and remarked how so many bands like Duran Duran and Talk Talk has two names, so they shortened it to The Alarm), n Mike then played a short acoustic version of The Toilet’s song Alarm Alarm.

(Mike Peters plays Alarm, Alarm. video by Rachel Fulton)

Mike continued by describing the type of set-list The Alarm would play when they opened for U2 in the late 80’s, and then played an acoustic version of Shout To The Devil. Richard Blade then asked Mike to talk about Top Of The Pops. Mike relayed the story about The Alarm playing in the USA, and being called back to appear on Top Of The Pops in September 1983 because, even though “68 Guns” was only #54 , they were the only band with a song rising through the charts that was willing to play (Johnny Lydon and PIL told TOYP to” f*ck off”…which is curious because that is the same thing Johnny Lydon said to Mike Peters back in 1976 when Mike e saw the Sex Pistols for the first time and was inspired to create his own band. It seems that Johnny Lydon’s propensity to utter the words “f*ck off” were instrumental for The Alarm’s success!).

Mike continued by answering some tough questions about the original The Alarm reforming for VH1’s “Bands Reunited” and just why they would probably never play as a unit again. He described the series of tragedies that befell the band in and around 1990, and how the original unit became so creatively and personally constrictive over its 15 year span (1976-1991…the Toilets through The Alarm) while they all grew-up and grew apart at the same time. Mike did relay one detail that I had not heard prior. He said that The Alarm had been invited to open for Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers in July/August of 1991, but the tour did not happen because Dave Sharp wanted to tour his own solo record. He also said that if the internet had existed in 1991, the band would have probably never broken-up at all, because they would have had an easy mechanism for communication that would have helped dispel rumors that affected both the fans and the band itself. As for an actual reunion, Mike did not rule-out anything, especially one-off events, but there was nothing planned into the foreseeable future. Mike then played an acoustic version of The Stand, answered a few more questions, played an acoustic version of Blaze Of Glory, and then finished up with a request from Richard Blade to play Rain In The Summertime.

The question and answer portion ended at just about 3:00, the lights went down in the theater, and within a few moments the very memorable words from Martha Quinn blasted through the James Bridge Theater’s THX sound system. “…UCLA and around world, IRS recording artists…The Alarm!” With that, the 22 year-old UCLA video was brought to life brilliantly on the James Bridge Theater screen. Since the theater is designed for optimal play of digital recordings, the concert was displayed in full wide-screen for the audience. While the visuals were definitely not HD, they were larger than life and absolutely fascinating to see after so many years. However, the real star of the day was the sound. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced fuller, richer audio for a concert …ever. Mike and his audio team performed a masterful job re-mixing the lost audio from the concert. The sound was exactly how I remembered it on that day in 1986. It was so stunning in fact, that I actually felt myself being lifted back to that time, standing under a tree on that field at UCLA, far back to the right of the stage. For a just a moment I was 16 again, pumping my fist in the air with songs that meant everything to me.

As the concert finished and the credits rolled, Mike Peters snuck down to the front of the stage with his acoustic guitar in one hand, and his son Dylan in the other. When the lights came-up, Mike played We Are The Light for the assembled crowd, just like The Alarm did after the broadcast ended on April 12, 1986. It was the perfect cap to a very special day. The ensuing standing ovation from the audience told the whole story. Mike had successfully brought The Alarm’s biggest day to life again with both style and substance. Would you have expected any less?

-Steve Fulton, April 13th, 2008

P. S: After the show I was able to film this short interview with C.D. Taylor (credits here and here ) the director of the Spirit Of ’86 concert for MTV. Please excuse my non-existent interviewing skills.

P.P.S :One more thing, when the internet was very new in 1996, I created a “salute” to the Sprit Of ’86 for the 10 year anniversary. I still have that site archived in my portfolio. It is very “old school” internet. You can see it here: Spirit Of ’86 : A look Back

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