I've loved Thunder for as long as I can remember. Their songs are pretty much the soundtrack to my life, seeing me through some amazing times and some pretty shit times too. I've lost track of how many times I've seen them live, and the only thing I know for certain is that they NEVER disappoint.
Because I live in the arse end of nowhere, I always have to travel to see gigs of any kind. This usually involves a long train journey, a mad night, a hotel, then a long train journey home. But Thunder were playing in Bristol, not far from the home of a very good friend, and I was offered accomodation for the night...
Whenever I see Thunder live, it's become tradition to go with a group of friends. Most of us live so far apart that we don't see each other on a daily basis, but we try to meet up at least once a year, and always at a Thunder gig. Two of these friends live not far from the venue in Bristol, and between us we decided to go for the VIP package this time. The money that would have been spent on hotels (almost) covered the extra cost of the ticket, so we went for it.
So the big day came, I jumped on a train and three hours later arrived in Bristol and was met at the station by my good friend Alun who is (amongst his other projects) the front man of The Night Hours, one of Bristol's foremost entertainment ensembles. For reasons I won't go into here, he's affectionately known as 'Mad Al'.
So we started the day at The Hatchet Inn, arguably one of the oldest pubs in the City, and met up with the gang over a pint and a bucket of chips!(Don't ask). The day seemed to fly by, and soon enough it was time to make our way to Colston Hall for the Thunder soundcheck!
When we arrived at the venue we were met by some of Thunder's entourage, and were issued with our VIP passes and instructions on how to get back into the venue later, ahead of the masses. Excitedly we made our way into the main hall where Thunder were doing the last few songs of the check. Needless to say, it sounded awesome! The guys were on good form, joking around and asking the 'crowd' if it sounded alright. I'm used to seeing Thunder in sold-out halls and arenas, and to be there watching them perform in front of about 45 people was surreal to say the least!
After the soundcheck (which was about 4 songs and a bit of Ben messing around on the Piano) the band joined us in the hall for a chat! As a lifelong fan, this was the most excited I'd been about anything since my kids were born. And what's more, the guys weren't in any rush to leave. They mingled with us mortals, they chatted, they posed for photo's, they signed albums and VIP passes. They really made us feel like VIP's. I didn't know what to expect, but for some reason I hadn't expected it to be that up close and personal!
I got Harry's autograph first. His real name is Gary, but someone called him Harry and it stuck. He's exactly as I expected, a cheeky cockney with a wicked sense of humour. Next was Chris. We'd been friends on Facebook for a while, but I'd never met him. We talked about finger plucking or plectrum playing of the Bass, and ended up talking about Mark King of all people! Next up was Danny, the voice, front man and manager of the band. He came across as a bit more serious than the other guys, but still completely down to earth and approachable. If you've seen Thunder live, you'll know his stage prescence is massive, and his on-stage antics are anything but serious! Then came Ben. Having recently had a year battling (and beating) cancer, Ben looked a little frail, but was in high spirits and is apparently ever the optimist. His bright-eyed enthusiasm was inspirational. A complete dude!
Luke Morley is my hero. He's a musical genius in my opinion, an inspiration, and the main reason I started playing guitar all those years ago. And here he was, a totally down-to-earth bloke chatting with me like I was his equal. One of the most under-rated guitarists/composers in the country, someone I completely idolise and he's posing for a fucking selfie with me! Mind = blown!
Thankfully, I kept my shit together and managed to have a civilised conversation with him. I thanked him for his music, told him how it had got me through some rough times, and some great ones. He asked what my favourite Thunder track was, and although I hated to pick a specific one, I told him if I was forced to choose it would be 'Like A Satellite'. But damn, every song they've done is fantastic!
I asked him if there were any plans for the rest of the year (and possibly a Christmas party) and he told me there were a couple of things in the pipeline but he wasn't sure about Christmas yet. (The couple of things later turned out to be the Ramblin' Man Fair at Mote Park in Maidstone on July 24th 2016, and The Steelhouse Festival in Ebbw Vale on July 23rd, right when I'm out of the country on Holiday - typical!)
Eventually, the stage crew ushered us out of the hall so the guys could get ready for the main event. We managed to grab a few more sneaky photo's then headed out for drinks, excited about the gig ahead.
Having VIP passes meant we were right at the front, although you're guaranteed to have a great time at a Thunder gig, no matter where you stand. We were full of Jack Daniel's (and cocktails...) by this time and were well oiled and up for it! Support for the headliners came from a great sounding blues rock band called King King who were exceptionally good (I immediately bought two of their albums based on what I heard at this gig, and have gone on to become a huge fan, buying all of their material and seeing them perform live many times) and Terrorvision who, while having seemingly unlimited energy, had lost a bit of the charm they had when I last saw them in the 90's and all their songs sounded a bit samey. Don't get me wrong, they were professionals and obviously knew what they were doing, but in my opinion they should have been on first, with King King as the main support. But then it was time for Thunder!
The crowd erupted as the guys confidently walked onto the stage, waving and pointing as rock stars do. Then they burst into a kick-ass version of 'Wonder Days' which had the crowd going beserk right from the get go. Everybody in the hall seemed to be singing, clapping, jumping up and down and Danny, with his usual flamboyance, was in complete control. Next up was 'Black Water' then 'River Of Pain'. The boys were mixing up the old favourites with new material and the crowd were loving every note.
They took a bit of a breather with 'Resurrection Day', an emotional song written by Luke and capturing the band's initial despair and eventual euphoria as they all lived through Ben's nightmarish battle with cancer. The cheer at the end of the song was deafening. We all knew what that song was about, though it's never mentioned directly. Next up was a killer version of 'Like a Satellite'. I couldn't believe my luck! Not only had I met the guys, but they were performing one of my all-time favourites! Could this night get any better?!
By this time my voice was paying the price for drinking all day and singing at full volume for the last five songs, but hell, like I cared about that! 'The Devil Made Me Do It' didn't offer any respite and it's one of those songs you can't help but sing along with. Thankfully, 'Empty City' was up next, with it's collossal instrumental section, it offered a chance to get my breath back. But that was short-lived as it led on to the classic 'Backstreet Symphony', a Thunder stalwart from the heady days of 1990. Voice = broken. Head = swimming. Legs = Jelly. I'm a 46 year old bloke and I was jumping around and singing like I was a teenager!
Next up was 'I'll Be Waiting' which was a heartfelt ballad that had the crowd singing along like we'd known each other for years. 'The Thing I Want' is one of my favourites from the Wonder Days album, and once again, I was bouncing about like a kid. Hell, we all were! They followed this with 'When The Music Played', a song about when music really was music and not the machine-made crap that's so popular nowadays. Following that was 'Love Walked In', another Thunder classic from the Backstreet Symphony album, and everyone in the place knew every word. They finished the set with 'I Love You More Than Rock'n'Roll' which pretty much raised the roof! Everyone was singing and dancing and happy and it was one of those moments when you think there's not a single problem in the world and nothing else matters. Utterly, utterly awesome.
The guys left the stage to rapturous applause and the whistling, screaming and clapping simply didn't die down, it mutated into a chant of 'Thunder, Thunder, Thunder' until the band were forced to re-appear for an encore, much to the delight of everyone in the room. Luke started the chug, chug, chugging opening chords of 'Serpentine' and everyone burst into louder applause. My friend Midge was a happy girl, she'd been waiting to hear that song played live since the Wonder Days album came out. She was in front of me and I could see her and Heather singing along and dancing their little socks off. Finally, Thunder brought the show to a close with a stomping version of 'Dirty Love', a guaranteed crowd pleaser, and one which Danny really gets the audience involved with. The cheer at the end of the show was indescribable. I have to say, it was probably the best I've seen Thunder perform so far, they seem to be getting better with age!
When we bought the VIP tickets, we knew we'd be meeting the band. We didn't realise how intimate it would be, but we knew we'd get to meet them. We knew we'd have access to the last few songs of the soundcheck. We also knew we'd have the best seats in the house for the actual gig. What we didn't know was that we'd also be invited to after-show drinks with Thunder!
The after show was held in the upper-floor bar of Colston Hall. Again, it wasn't rushed, there was no fighting for photo's. The guys from Thunder made us feel like we had all the time in the world with them, they mingled, had a chat, posed for photo's, gave hugs, signed things (not that there was much left to sign) and didn't seem to be in any rush to leave. I couldn't in my wildest dreams have imagined things could get any better than the soundcheck meet, but it just had. I can honestly say I came out of there feeling like I'd really had a VIP experience. OK it was £100 for a ticket, but it was the best £100 I've ever spent.
I had an amazing night out with friends, the best night out I've ever had. I met my lifelong hero Luke Morley, talked with him, had photo's with him. This was a night I'll never forget, and I'm so, so glad I did it.