Manchester Apollo, March 17th, 2017
One of the UK’s most enduring bands of the ever-unfashionable end of rock music, Thunder has not played the Apollo since 1999, the year they officially split up. They came back, of course, to paraphrase one of their songs; you can’t keep a good band down. Although they haven’t played the Ardwick theatre for so long, the band’s popularity wasn’t waning; subsequent tours consistently sold out and supporting the last album release, Thunder played dates at Arenas in Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Wembley. Not bad for a band some people haven’t heard of, eh? Well, with the release of studio album number 11, Thunder is back and sold out the Apollo in no time whatsoever.
Before the band themselves take to the stage, it’s the job of support Cats in Space to attempt to get the packed house – and it really is full early doors – in the mood for Danny and co.
The band members of Cats in Space look as though they have walked straight in from the local working men’s club or holiday camp where they’ve been performing a selection of ‘70s classics for a bored audience. Musically, they embrace that era as well; this can’t end well, can it? Well, surprisingly, after a couple of songs and a fair few instances of people in the crowd giving that ‘really?’ look to their gig neighbours, people genuinely begin to start listening and enjoying it! While the music is a tad derivative, it does the job of getting the crowd going and the band genuinely appears thrilled with the response – as they should be. Leaving the stage, you’d think they’d just played a headline show at the Arena; let’s hope the rest of the tour is as kind to them.
Thunder is an unsung British institution. For nigh on thirty years, they’ve been making fantastic bluesy rock n’ roll. Always on the wrong side of fashionable, they’ve strayed into the ‘hit parade’ several times over the years, but are still one of those groups that prompt the puzzled ‘who?’ down the pub. Top 20 singles and Top of the Pops appearances count for nothing these days, but they are not content to just play the heritage circuit. The latest album, Rip It Up debuted at number 3 in the album charts – their highest ranking since their second release Laughing on Judgement Day back in 1992 – and it’s that record that forms a large chunk of the 100-minute set.
Hitting the stage to Kool and the Gang’s Jungle Boogie – best remembered now from Pulp Fiction -complete with Sam Jackson’s Ezekiel 25:17 speech, oddly enough. Cool as it is, it’s only relation to the band’s music or style is the title of the new album opener No One Gets Out Alive, which they launch into to the delight of the sold out Apollo. We’ll get another six tracks from the new record, as well as three from 2015’s Wonder Years throughout the show, such is the band’s confidence in their material and fan base.
That’s not to say the classics are ignored. With a back catalogue full of amazing singalong songs, it must be hard to strike the right balance with older tracks. River of Pain, from 1994’s Behind Closed Doors is our first oldie, and it sets the audience alight; a crowd which is as diverse as any that one could imagine. There are plenty of women present, not something one thinks of when imagining a ‘classic rock’ gig. But they are here, all ages and from all backgrounds. It’s not hard to see why; frontman Danny Bowes has a voice to die for. Forget the crap that you’re force fed on a Saturday on TV, real talent and vocal power is out there – just take the blinkers off and look for it.
The majority of the rest of the set is made up of songs from the band’s very first album, Backstreet Symphony. It’s a genuine classic, and the tunes haven’t aged like many of the other rock songs from 1990. There’s a simple blues-based feeling to them that seems to make them timeless. Tracks like Don’t Wait For Me still have the power to draw tears from the burliest of bikers while set closer Dirty Love always brings the house down with a mass singalong and plenty of dancing.
There’s a risk of losing the attention of some of the audience brought up on instant gratification when many of the tracks are extended to include some stunning fretwork from lead guitarist and head songwriter Luke Morley (although second six-stringer Ben Matthews can more than hold his own too), but the majority were along for the ride and fully appreciative.
Thunder must be respected for their sheer tenacity in the face of an adverse music industry. Always dependable and still making great music, even if they have no intention of reinventing the wheel. If being uncool is the coolest thing you can be, these fellas are up there in ice.
Cats in Space setlist: Too Many Gods/Only in Vegas/Last Man Standing/Mad Hatter’s Tea Party/Mr Heartache/Greatest Story Never Told/Five Minute Celebrity.
Thunder setlist: No One Gets Out Alive/The Enemy Inside/River of Pain/Resurrection Day/Right From the Start/Backstreet Symphony/Higher Ground/In Another Life/The Thing I Want/Don’t Wait For Me/Rip It Up/Love Walked In/I Love You More Than Rock n’ Roll/Wonder Days/There’s Always a Loser/Dirty Love.