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+ {Nuthin’ Fancy} + {Terraplane} + {Bowes & Morley}

From under-the-radar no-hopers in the 80s (as TERRAPLANE) to hard-rock contenders ready to fill the muddy boots of BAD COMPANY et al, the tempestuous THUNDER roared throughout the 90s as Britain’s answer to a raft of American hair-metal acts flooding the market. It’s testament to the long-term friendship of Messrs Danny Bowes and Luke Morley, that after nearly 40 years as buddies (since last term at Grammar school), South London’s THUNDER are still storming the album charts, comeback set `Wonder Days’ notching up a Top 10 place.
It was a long way from scratching out a survival on the toilet circuit as noisy NWOBHM act NUTHIN’ FANCY (the name taken in 1980 from a LYNYRD SKYNYRD set), but it sure made the lads dream of better days ahead. After one solitary independent effort in ‘81, `Lookin’ For A Good Time’, 1983 was the year to say ta-ta to bassist Mac McKenzie and sticksman Paul Caple; vocalist Bowes and guitarist Morley almost immediately forming TERRAPLANE with Nick Linden (bass) and Gary “Harry” James (drums).
Soon-to-be Reading Festival specialists, TERRAPLANE tried in vain to create a bigger stir, but the derivative British hard-rock outfit couldn’t quite get the attention for workmanlike albums, BLACK AND WHITE (1986) {*6} and the soulful MOVING TARGET (1987) {*4}; second guitarist Rudi Riviere would arrive just prior to their Top 75 debut, but left soon afterwards. Gaining little but experience and leaving behind a string of decent tracks for Epic Records (`I Can’t Live Without Your Love’, `When You’re Hot’, `Talking To Myself’ and `If That’s What It Takes’), the once promising combo disintegrated by early ‘88; a planned career in America coming to an abrupt end.
From the ashes of TERRAPLANE’s crash came THUNDER; the core of the former act, Bowes, Morley and James recruiting Ben Matthews (guitar/keyboards) and Mark “Snake” Luckhurst; the latter bassist once appeared on Top Of The Pops for OWEN PAUL’s massive pop hit `You’re My Favourite Waste Of Time’ – a proud boast indeed.
Hailed as hard-rock’s great white hopes and signing to E.M.I. through old mucker-turned agent Malcolm McKenzie, THUNDER rolled around the country relentlessly, building up a grass-roots fanbase which subsequently saw their debut Andy Taylor-produced set, BACK STREET SYMPHONY (1990) {*7} go gold; by coincidence the said DURAN DURAN drummer-turned-knob-twiddler had himself released an album named “Thunder” a few years back.
Rootsy heavy rock in the mould of AEROSMITH, DEF LEPPARD and WHITESNAKE, the album spawned a series of hit singles: `Dirty Love’, the title track, a re-vamp of the SPENCER DAVIS GROUP’s `Gimme Some Lovin’’ and a second-time-around re-issue of flop debut `She’s So Fine’. THUNDER duly played the Cathouse in New York and were given a deal with EMI’s US counterpart Capitol, although they tasted only minor success with a version of `Dirty Love’.
Sticking to their hard-rock guns, THUNDER went from strength to strength; two further albums LAUGHING ON JUDGEMENT DAY (1992) {*8} and BEHIND CLOSED DOORS (1995) {*6} both stormed the Top 5, bolstered by a string of infectious big hits `Low Life In High Places’, `Everybody Wants Her’, `A Better Man’, `Like A Satellite’, `Stand Up’, `River Of Pain’ and `Castles In The Sand’. The latter set had been recorded without Snake, who’d been superseded by Swedish-born Mikael Hoglund. A “Best Of Thunder” compilation, featuring a hit single take of PYTHON LEE JACKSON’s `In A Broken Dream’, saw off their time at E.M.I.
Although the group had maintained healthy sales, the quartet – without Hoglund –downshifted to Raw Power Records, then home to BRUCE DICKINSON and HELLOWEEN, amongst others. The resulting album THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1997) {*5}, still managed to crack the Top 20, having already spawned a hit single, `Don’t Wait Up’. The advent of grunge hadn’t affected THUNDER, but their formulaic retro-rock had its sell-by-date, and it seemed it was looming fast on their decision to expand again with ex-THEN JERICHO bassist Chris Childs; a concert set simply titled LIVE (1998) {*4} almost put the nail in the coffin right there and then.
Mellowing down somewhat and playing-it-by-numbers, twilight label Eagle Records were also behind fifth studio set GIVING THE GAME AWAY (1999) {*5}, a Top 50 breaker that heralded a calm-before-the-storm band on a straight-faced rendition of WILD CHERRY’s `Play That Funky Music’. Similar in some respects to GUN’s worthier version of CAMEO’s `Word Up’, this song, plus the yearning and arena-rock balladeering on `You’ll Still Need A Friend’ and `Just Another Suicide (You Wanna Know)’, didn’t pack the necessary punch.
Over the years, THUNDER had performed several excellent cover versions as B-sides, including
`Get It On’ (T. REX), `With A Little Help From My Friends’ (The BEATLES), `Gimme Shelter’ (The ROLLING STONES), `5:15’ (The WHO), `All The Way From Memphis’ (MOTT THE HOOPLE), `Stay With Me’ (FACES), `My Brother Jake’ (FREE), `Once In A Lifetime’ (TALKING HEADS) and `Dance To The Music’ (SLY & THE FAMILY STONE).
Bowing out while their loyal fanbase was still on board, THEY THINK IT’S ALL OVER… …IT IS NOW (2000) {*5} – recorded at Dingwall’s London 04/05/2000 – said their farewells. BOWES & MORLEY never quite threw in the towel, and two sets MOVING SWIFTLY ALONG (2002) {*5} and MO’S BARBEQUE (2004) {*5} kept the pair from the dole queues.
In the meantime, THUNDER were rolling the dice once again; 2003’s SHOOTING AT THE SUN {*6} marking a return to vintage classic rock. Bowes could hardly shrug off his PAUL RODGERS-vs-DAVID COVERDALE vocal prowess, and the fans cared less as long as their songs bounced from the speakers. Blending simple blues melodies with fierce riffs and vocals to match, the skies were again crying on `Somebody Get Me A Spin Doctor’, `Loser’, `The Pimp And The Whore’ and the funk-driven `Everybody’s Laughing’.
The aptly-titled THE MAGNIFICENT SEVENTH! (2005) {*6} continued to the fly the flag for British retro-rock, while both ROBERT JOHNSON’S TOMBSTONE (2006) {*6} – more Brian that Robert – and BANG! (2008) {*5}, maintained an outsider foothold in the music business. Citing other outside interests they split again in 2009, only to return a couple of years later as mainly a live attraction.
Building upon growing support from their stalwart legions, THUNDER surfaced from the studio with album ten, WONDER DAYS (2015) {*7}. Not since their peak twenty years ago had they entered the higher chart echelons, and this album was a fitting tribute to a band that had never lost their roots or gave up the ghost. Produced by main writer Morley and happy to reinstate Matthews back after his recovery from throat cancer, THUNDER dripped blood, sweat and tears on the swaggering `The Rain’, the sensual `Serpentine’ and the glorious title track opener. America – are you listening?
A decade too late to join the NWOBHM but still maintaining their links with bluesy hard rock (Nuthin’ Fancy put to one side), THUNDER were still selling albums like there was no tomorrow. 2017’s RIP IT UP {*7} was one such record, a Top 3 present from their ever-faithful devotees. Nothing complex or highfalutin in their melodious-meets-hook-driven dirges, there could be no denying the strength and resolve in the likes of `No One Gets Out Alive’, the glam-ish title track, `She Likes The Cocaine’ et al. And as all metallic acts seemed to do to earn a bit on the side, the dreaded double-CD/DVD of a concert one’s just thought they’d seen – on this occasion, STAGE (2018) {*6}, filmed on 24th March 2017 at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff.
Duly resting on the roster of BMG Records, THUNDER’s decision to take a wrecking ball to their hard-rocking highlights was, on paper at least, curious. The re-imagined alt-acoustic, soft-shoe-shuffle jazz or light-blues within PLEASE REMAIN SEATED (2019) {*7} surprised even their most ardent of doubters; and, of course, their multitude of fans who’d grown up “unseated” at many a gig. While some songs stretched their boundaries a tad too far (e.g. `Girl’s Going Out Of Her Head’), the likes of `Future Train’, `Just Another Suicide’, `Loser’, `I’m Dreaming Again’, still maintained a modicum of fire and brimstone.
© MC Strong 1994-2001/GRD // rev-up MCS Feb2015-Jun2019

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