Thunder — Backstreet Symphony/Laughing On Judgement Day/Behind Closed Doors vinyl reissues (BMG)

As Luke Morley readies the second solo album of his storied career there’s never been a better time to reflect on the records that cemented the reputation of one of British rock’s finest songwriters.

Having cut his teeth trying — an ultimately failing — to break into the big time with Terraplane, the talented and determined Londoner hit the reset button towards the end of the 80s.

And alongside partner in crime and childhood buddy Danny Bowes, that man Morley hatched bullish blues rockers Thunder.

More than 30 years later a thrill-a-minute back catalogue continues to grow in size and ambition.

But Thunder’s early work has always stood the test of time and given three expanded vinyl reissues, a slew of truly iconic tunes have never sounded better.

A lot’s happened in the intervening period — not least Bowes’ serious accident late last year that left the band’s charismatic frontman fighting for his life.

That Thunder’s very future still hangs in the balance (albeit with Bowes well on the road to recovery) is another reason to recall the five-piece at their swaggering best.

But what hasn’t changed three decades down the line is the impact of Morley’s peerless songwriting prowess. 

The Luke of Love Walked In

The architect of Thunder’s iconic canon is criminally underrated as a master of his melodic craft but his tireless work on the band’s explosive debut truly stands the test of time.

Fusing elements of Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and more with Terraplane’s poppier signature sound, Morley reinvented his former band as purveyors of the finest British blues rock.

And in producer Andy Taylor, the genius Geordie who’d made his name in Duran Duran and Power Station, Thunder’s lead guitarist discovered a like-minded creative who shared a bold vision for necessary reinvention.

That Taylor revealed he was managing incurable prostate cancer just weeks after Bowes had diced with death adds a fresh layer of perspective to the bullish Backstreet Symphony.

As a debut album, it’s a remarkably bold statement of intent from a band bristling with confidence.

And there’s no doubt Taylor’s canny production — coupled with Mike Fraser’s masterful mixing — played a key part in elevating best buddies Bowes and Morley to the next level.

Listen again to the driving Dirty Love, evocative Higher Ground or the bashful ballad Love Walked In and it’s difficult to imagine Backstreet Symphony sitting anywhere other than atop 1990’s Best Of lists and flanked by myriad award nominations.

In reality, a peak of 21 in the UK album charts barely reflected this game-changing record’s genuine influence within a newly energised British rock scene that had spawned the Quireboys, Gun, Little Angels, Dogs D’Amour, The Almighty and more.

Who’s Laughing now

Undeterred, Morley and Taylor joined forces again to co-produce 1992’s magnificent Laughing On Judgement Day and this time commercial success went hand in hand with a fresh surge in critical acclaim.

Only Kylie’s Greatest Hits kept Thunder’s second album off the top of the charts as Bowes added his inimitable touch to the sassy Everybody Wants Her, brooding A Better Man and the titanic title track.

No second album syndrome here then.

Not a chance.

In fact, for all of Backstreet Symphony’s undeniable sheen, its superior follow-up was awash with frequent Morley flourishes so fabulous that the white and blue vinyl reissue feels a little tame.

Behind Closed Doors reveals added depth

Emboldened by the success of Laughing On Judgement Day — and laughing in the face of grunge’s unstoppable rise — Thunder sought to up the ante on 1995’s Behind Closed Doors

Morley might have taken on sole production duties for the band’s third long player but he got the gang back together one more time: Taylor earned a writing credit on opener Moth To The Flame and Fraser served up a trademark mix out of Los Angeles’ Record Plant.

Singles Stand Up, River Of Pain and Castles In The Sand all made their presence felt within the UK Top 40 and underpinned another reputation-cementing tour de force from the irrepressible Londoners. 

Within the space of six years Thunder — thanks to Morley, Taylor, Fraser et al — had nailed a flawless studio sound that would become synonymous with the band’s music for decades to come.

But Bowes, in particular, only truly came alive belting out those classic tracks in sweaty clubs and on vast festival stages the world over.

Bowes is live and kicking

So the decision to spread 10 live tracks across these three reissues is the added bonus every long-time fan craves and deserves.

Highlights include a version of Python Lee Jackson’s In A Broken Dream (recorded at Japan’s Club Citta in 2000), Gimme Some Lovin’ (from Nottingham’s Rock City in 2008) and Like A Satellite (live from Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2007). 

Bowes is in his element breathing new life into these stirring live staples and it’s a blessing that Thunder’s talismanic frontman lives to fight another day.

Whether Danny boy makes it back to where he belongs — behind the mic and flanking best mate Morley — remains to be seen but revisiting three treasured records offers a timely reminder of a precious legacy. 

Band images by Ross Halfin