LIVE: The Alarm / Ryan Hamilton, London ULU 28/11/18
Since I last saw Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts at Camden Rocks about six months ago, things have been progressing quickly, with the group being signed to Little Steven’s Wicked Cool records in the States, and a new album in the offing. Swaggering onstage in Jam-style mod suits tonight, they give an enjoyable half hour run through some of their best moments to date including Medicine, Smarter, We Never Should Have Moved To LA and a triumphant finale of Freak Flag. We also get new single Bottoms Up (Here’s To Goodbye) which I have to hold my hands up and admit to having not heard before tonight, but it bodes well for the new stuff and it’ll be interesting to see what 2019 brings for them. Certainly, these are exciting times for the Harlequin Ghosts.
Back when I first started listening to guitar music in 1990-91 or so through various mates’ older brothers, The Alarm were probably about the least fashionable band in the world to admit to being a fan of. They seemed to be the butt of every joke in the music weeklies at the time, mainly because it was the era of Madchester and hedonism, and heart-on-sleeve Springsteen-influenced guitar rock was regarded as being a good half decade past its sell-by date. However, fast forward to the 21st century and, similar to Big Country, another group who were pretty much music scene pariahs by the early 90s, their music has matured surprisingly well, sounding like what you’d like to think U2 would be if only Bono wasn’t such a pompous up-his-own-arse egomaniac.
Kicking in with the fiery defiance of Blaze of Glory, Mike Peters and co are on good form tonight with the set divided half and half between old standards like Marching On and Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke? and new numbers from their recent Equals album. I’ll be honest and say I was slow to warm to their new effort, but it’s definitely grown on me over the last few months and the sentiment behind numbers such as Peace Now, Thirteen Dead Reindeer and Cenotaph sounds like a much-needed voice of reassurance in what, let’s be honest, are pretty scary times in the world right now. And I think it’s safe to say that the heartfelt ode to lost youth Spirit of 76 is capable of making even the hardest-hearted of folks mutter that they’ve just got something in their eye.
By the time they finish with the evergreen calls-to-arms of 68 Guns and Strength, the Alarm have proved that they very much deserve their place as respected elder statesmen of rock. A good evening spent in the company of two good bands, all told.