@ The Sage Gateshead, January 5 2012
Following the closing number, a version of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love during which Ben Matthews made a slight error with the piano accompaniment, Danny Bowes mouthed the word “wanker” at his sparring partner.
While it would be a tad harsh to say that summed up the gig – if “gig” is the correct word to describe an event featuring less than half an hour of music spread across two sets – it does indicate that this was not exactly a slickest performance from the former Thunder boys.
To be fair, this was the opening night of the tour and the guys were breaking in a new format, which took the form of extended anecdotes about what went on behind the scenes with the self-proclaimed “biggest band you’ve never heard of” – with some acoustic songs thrown into the mix.
And it was the mix that was part of the problem. Not the sound mix, which was fine, but the mix between chat and music – there was simply too much of the former and not enough of the latter.
This format can work, as anyone who caught Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman’s acoustic tour can attest. There, Wakeman’s wry asides undercut Anderson’s sincere chats about unity and oneness, the ideal funny and straight combo. However, on that tour it was the music, as opposed to the chat, that was to the fore.
The gig began promisingly with Danny announcing they would be playing “songs we like, and some Thunder songs” before lanching into a cover of Bad Company’s Seagull – the perfect song to showcase the fact that Danny is right up there with Paul Rodgers when it comes to classic rock vocalists.
Ben’s acoustic guitar work wasn’t quite in the Joe Bonamassa class, who covered the same song on his Sloe Gin album, but then Joe is in a class of his own.
Then came the anecdotes about Thunder’s first tour, dubbed “the toilet tour’, which didn’t go down we’ll with veteran Groundhogs rocker Tony McPhee, who was on the same tour. And there was the story about drummer Harry’s extended tambourine work on the debut album – producer Andy Taylor forgot to tell him they’d broken for lunch.
The stories were fairly engagingly told and weren’t without humour, especially the ones about Harry’s flying-on-wires stunt that went awry because the bloke they’d hired to work the wires turned out to be an alcholic.
And there were the “Co-op limousines” (yes, they were exactly what you’re thinking of, and weren’t used to travellling at more than 5mph) hired to take the band to their first appearance at Donington..
However, the length of time between songs meant that the atmosphere was never allowed to fully build. Things could have taken off after the first Thunder song of the night, A Better Man, if another song had followed fairly quickly. But it didn’t.
The second set was shorter, and, with the audience now knowing what to expect, it was we’ll received and it took a strong stomach to endure the tale of Harry’s vomit-strewn entry to a Japenese bullet train.
Fun was had when bird whistles were thrown to a few lucky punters to blow during a cover of Paul McCartney’s Blackbird, which featured some impressive finger-picking from Ben. A word of mention should go to Danny for mastering the fiendishly difficult kazoo, notably for a solo during a version of The Who’s Squeezebox.
Highlight of the night was the Thunder favourite Like A Satellite, featuring Ben on piano and soaring vocals from Danny. It couldn’t help but make you yearn for a full reformation of Thunder, which won’t be happening soon unless a way can be found for the band to coexist with The Union – what a shame Luke Morley isn’t able to clone himself.
Martyn P Jackson