A Celtic bond on the day U2’s The Edge played rugby at The Arms Park
In golden light and late afternoon sunshine, The Alarm entered the citadel of Welsh rugby.
A deafening roar of 50,000 voices reverberated around the Arms Park, a wave of noise rolling from those in the seats to those on the pitch, in tumultuous anticipation for what was to come.
The stirring sound of Dylan Thomas’ haunting recital of Do Not Go Gentle and a church organ accompanying the opening strains of their anthem Strength guided the band to the stage. Fitting, as this was to be a religious experience for those that witnessed a performance of fire and brimstone.
The home of Welsh rugby the stadium may have been, but these four Welsh musicians were greeted with the same passion and fervour that any sporting hero in red has ever received. It’s certainly the greatest ovation a support band has experienced.
But this wasn’t any ordinary gig and this wasn’t any ordinary band.
When U2 brought their Joshua Tree tour to Cardiff on July 25, 1987, they offered The Alarm the chance to support them, cementing a relationship that was built on rock solid foundations.
It was already a hot summer’s day in the Welsh capital, but the heat was about to be turned up a notch.
Frontman Mike Peters and his bandmates Dave Sharp, Eddie MacDonald and Twist, took to their instruments like soldiers bearing arms, before launching into battle. Bodies washed back and forth to the stage, a sea of arms held aloft, the atmosphere electric, a frenzied exultation.
It was a day never to be forgotten.
More importantly, it was the culmination of a rock ‘n’ roll friendship that was forged seven years earlier, as The Alarm and U2 set out to make their mark on the world – these Celtic soul brothers first meeting in London at The Marquee in 1980 – forming a bond that exists to this day.
The U2 and Alarm relationship would only grow and prosper as both bands toured extensively globally, memorably taking the US by storm touring together in 1983 – Peters and Bono often appearing on radio shows together in something of a mutual admiration society.
As the Alarm’s own career took off with hits such as 68 Guns, Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke, Spirit Of ‘76 and Rain In The Summertime, the band’s paths crossed less often, as each headlined their own tours.
However, seven years after Mike Peters first set eyes on this powerhouse band from Ireland, U2 and the Alarm played their final show together in Cardiff.
July 25, 1987, was a fiercely sunny summer’s day in the Welsh capital as U2’s mighty Joshua Tree stadium tour rolled into Cardiff. After a fan organised a petition with more than 10,000 signatures requesting U2 play Wales, the concert was booked.
It was only the second rock concert at Cardiff Arms Park, David Bowie’s Glass Spider tour show at the stadium on June 21, 1987, pipped U2’s by a month.
The bill was U2, The Pretenders, The Alarm and The Silencers – a late replacement for the originally scheduled World Party, who had to pull out at the last minute.
U2’s management must have had some foresight placing The Alarm before The Pretenders, given the spectacular reception the Welsh heroes received in front of a 50,000-strong crowd.
“I don’t think a Welsh band had ever played to a Welsh audience on such a scale before,” remembers Mike Peters.
“It was a fantastic, sunny day. Listening to the roar as we walked out, I don’t think any support band has ever received such a rapturous reception. It was lucky that U2 had the nous to put The Pretenders in between us on the bill. It was a tough gig for them to follow that.
“We pulled out all the stops that day because it was in Cardiff,” he says. “We played Bells Of Rhymney, which was the Idris Davies poem set to music by American folk legend Pete Seeger, I even managed to fit in the Welsh national anthem on my harmonica before we closed with Blaze Of Glory. It was the sort of homecoming bands dream about.”
The gig was also memorable for U2 guitarist the Edge, who has Welsh parents, fulfilling his father’s dream of his son playing the hallowed turf of The Arms Park.
The guitarist, born David Howell Evans on 8 August 1961 at the Barking Maternity Hospital was the second child of Welsh parents Garvin and Gwenda Evans, both of whom were from Llanelli.
“Coming to The Arms Park means a lot to an Irish band, but it means even more for a Welshman like The Edge,” announced Bono from the edge of the stage.
The singer told the crowd Edge’s father would say “one day my boy will play Cardiff Arms Park, but he didn’t mean rock ‘n’ roll, he meant rugby football.”
To fulfil the dream, Bono handed the Edge a rugby ball and he attempted to kick it into the crowd, slicing it horribly*, much to the glee of the crowd who greeted his botched attempt with ironic cheers. (Witness the kick seven minutes into the YouTube video)
“And it’s just as well he plays electric guitar,” laughed Bono at his guitarist’s skewed miskick.
For Mike Peters, watching this monumental performance from the side of the stage, it was a poignant moment.
“I remember Bono coming over to me during Bullet The Blue Sky and planted a big kiss on my cheek,” he recalls. “It was the last time the Alarm opened for U2 and it was a day to remember forever.
“After first playing with them in 1981, six years later we were all playing together in a stadium in Wales – it was a real jumping off point.
“U2 have always been fantastically welcoming and the friendship has remained until this day.”
U2 Arms Park Setlist
Stand By Me
I Will Follow
Trip Through Your Wires
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For / Exodus (snippet)
The Unforgettable Fire
Exit / Riders On The Storm (snippet) / Van Morrison’s Gloria (snippet)
In God’s Country
Sunday Bloody Sunday
The Electric Co. / Break On Through (snippet)
Springhill Mining Disaster
New Year’s Day
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Bullet the Blue Sky / The Battle Hymn Of The Republic (snippet)
Running To Stand Still
With or Without You / Shine Like Stars (snippet)