ARCHIVE POST Caught Live: Thunder, Wolverhampton Civic Hall 20 December 2013

NB This is a repost taken from my old music blog, others will appear as and when I rediscover the original posts.

It’s been several years since the last time I saw a Thunder Christmas show, in fact they were still an active band then! Although the band actually split for the second time in 2009, with everybody becoming involved in different projects immediately afterwards, 2013 has still been a busy year for the London rockers. They played an arena tour in May, opening for Whitesnake and Journey, they’ve travelled to the US to take part in a fundraising motorcycle trip in aid of Childline and performing along the route, they’ve travelled to Japan to play shows in conjunction with The Union, the regular band of guitarist Luke Morley, and there was this Christmas show announced in the summer. It sold out almost instantly, meaning a second date was quickly added. All of this was in addition to a low-key British tour at the start of the year by singer Danny Bowes and guitarist Ben Matthews, two UK tours from The Union and live dates for Magnum (now featuring drummer Harry James) and Ultimate Eagles (a popular tribute act featuring bassist Chris Childs). If nothing else, it demonstrates the demand for this group is as strong as ever, although they’ve consistently stated there are no plans to make any new material they’ve certainly been the most active defunct band of 2013!

The Wolverhampton Civic filled up rapidly soon after opening, as the format for this show followed that of previous Christmas shows; no support but two sets, one a ‘semi-acoustic’ set, then a short interval before the ‘full band’ set. The first part of the show sees the acoustic guitars to the fore and the songs rearranged to suit, and all the guys seated, while the second part is more akin to a regular Thunder gig. The songs played are a mixture of their own material, with many tracks that haven’t been played in some time, plus a selection of covers from acts they were influenced by. Throughout the night, they were accompanied by guest musicians including Tim Olvier on occasional keyboards, plus two female backing singers and a horn section comprising three other ladies, none of whose names I caught (apologies!)

The stripped-down format of the first set does give an opportunity for Danny Bowes to shine with his remarkable voice; the guy is in my view the best rock singer to come from this country in the last twenty years and should be spoken of in the same breath as the likes of Paul Rodgers, he really is that good. Equally adept at his own (okay, Luke Morley’s) songs as he is with covering artists as diverse as Doobie Brothers, The Who and Neil Young, by rights he should be a superstar. In addition to that he has the timing of a comic, in between songs he can have you in stitches, during songs he can leave you awestruck.

The second set kicked off with ‘She’s So Fine’; a song that used to feature regularly in their sets but has not been played in several years, with other almost forgotten gems such as ‘Empty City’, ‘Fade Into The Sun’ (a favourite of mine live since it features the two guitarists trading leads), and ‘I’m Dreaming Again’. They also treated us to ‘In A Broken Dream’, their cover of Python Lee Jackson’s classic which definitely influenced their own epic ‘Don’t Wait For Me’, also delivered on this night. The second set flew by and we were into the encores before we knew it. Two covers were performed here, one of which (‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’) was the third time I’d seen it performed live by different bands within the space of two months! (Nickelback, and Toseland also played it in recent live performances I’ve seen). They ended with Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’; not many have the pipes to cover anything of Noddy Holder’s but if anyone can, Danny can! (I should know, I saw Slade themselves perform this song thirty years earlier at what turned out to be their final UK gig in Liverpool!)

So, a near-flawless performance delivered to an adoring crowd who certainly would love to see this band back full-time; whether schedules will permit that is another matter but while they remain such a stunning live act, any chance to see them should be snapped up.

However, in closing, a word about the venue itself – or rather, its stewarding. This was the last time I will ever patronise Wolverhampton Civic Hall; their stewards are much too zealous and succeeded in almost ruining this show certainly for me. I have posted a selection of pictures from the show to accompany this blog; not video, just a few snaps. The muscle-bound jobsworth stationed at the front was intervening throughout this show stopping people from grabbing a few snaps of their own, and one of those he gestured towards (somewhat aggressively) was me. I was not filming; merely grabbing a few snaps and the policy, if one is in place, was applied extremely inconsistently with some people snapping away far more frequently than I did while he seemed to pick on ‘easy targets’. I find this attitude extremely outdated – like it or not in 2013 (2014 now) people are going to take snaps with their phones or whatever devices, and short of frisking everyone that goes in, you’re not going to stop it. All this did was put a downer on the night, and so in defiance of this over-zealous jobsworth there are pictures on this blog, and you will find plenty of footage on YouTube (shot by others) thus making a mockery of the stewarding ‘policy’.

I sincerely hope that should there be a Christmas show by Thunder in 2014, that it takes place at another venue in a different city, since as long as this policy is in place I’ll never travel to Wolverhampton again to attend a concert at this, or any other venue under the management of the Civic Hall.