Review by Paul Davis, Photos by Mark Lloyd
Who would have thought back in 2009, when Thunder played their ’20 Years And Out’ farewell tour, that not only would they be back in 2015, but playing arenas. Of course we’ve had the Christmas shows, unforgettable nights at Rock City and more recent ones in Wolverhampton and Manchester. There have also been festival appearances but now it seems we have Thunder back for the long haul.
Before Thunder, another band who made a big impact in the nineties were the main support. Reef had some incredible success back then and there’s only one member missing from the original line-up, guitarist Kenwyn House having departed with Jesse Wood being his replacement.
From the reaction tonight, lots of Thunder fans have some love for Reef too, with the big hits like ‘Come Back Brighter’, ‘Place Your Hands’ and ‘Naked’ (remember the Mini Disc commercial?) being well received. Frontman Gary Stringer may have a different look these days, sporting a somewhat magnificent beard, but the distinctive vocals are still there. There’s a new song tonight too called ‘Long Rider’, a laid back song with Stringer playing acoustic guitar. An album is apparently in the works and there are headline shows happening as well.
So, 9pm arrives and it’s time for the much anticipated return of Thunder. When the lights go down the screen behind the stage bombards us with images of celebrities and headlines from history, leading us neatly into opening song ‘Wonder Days’ from the new album. There’s a majestic opening riff from Luke Morley, unmistakeably Thunder, and Danny Bowes sings some nostalgic lyrics that take us all back to those long hot summers of yesteryear.
Bowes milks the applause before ‘River Of Pain’. ‘Black Water’ and ‘Resurrection Day’ follow and the new stuff is sounding incredible live. The comeback hasn’t been all plain sailing. Ben Matthews was diagnosed with cancer and missed the recording of the album. He’s back fighting fit for these shows though, and there’s a warm reception whenever he goes centre stage or appears on the big screens.
When Danny Bowes says that “Birmingham’s still got it”, it’s a mutual feeling. Once again, he’s shown he’s up there with the very best as far as rock singers go. Luke Morley knows a thing or two about writing a decent ballad, and ‘Broken’, led by the piano of Ben Matthews, is stunning. ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ then picks up the pace once more.
The cover of the debut album appears on the screen and tonight’s first song from Backstreet Symphony is the title track. ‘The Thing I Want’ is another from the Wonder Days album with a wonderfully catchy chorus. ‘When The Music Played’ takes us on another nostalgic journey to the seventies, discovering new bands on the radio and the wonders of buying vinyl records.
‘Love Walked In’ has a few thousand backing vocalists tonight with Danny even getting those high up in the seated area involved. ‘I Love You More Than Rock ‘n’ Roll’ brings the main set to a close in some style. When they return, ‘Low Life In High Places’ is led by Luke’s acoustic guitar and is as poignant as it ever was, the problems it addresses having never gone away. ‘Higher Ground’ and of course, twelve minutes of ‘Dirty Love’ bring things to an end.
It’s often said that arena shows can be quite soulless affairs compared to seeing a band in a smaller venue. That was no problem for Thunder tonight, a national treasure, a band with a special bond and wonderful rapport with their fans. It’s good to have them back.