All this week we’re throwing the spotlight on our favourite Donington-bound bands ahead of Download 2018. And Saturday main stage stars Thunder are in red hot form on the back of live album Stage. HRH Mag Editor Simon Rushworth talked to songwriter Luke Morley.
When 2015’s Wonder Days became Thunder’s first UK Top 10 album in 20 years nobody was more surprised than the band’s chief creative force, Luke Morley. As producer and songwriter, the band’s veteran guitarist had lived and breathed 11 brand new songs long before the public delivered their unanimous verdict. Morley might have been quietly confident that Thunder’s first long player in seven years lived up to its title but confirmation of its quality was, nevertheless, reassuring. The downside? Recording the follow-up would surely be no easy task?
“To be honest it felt like the pressure was actually off making Rip It Up,” he revealed. “One record rolled out of the other! In the writing process for Wonder Days there was a pause for touring but even on the road I was making notes and jotting down ideas. Rip It Up became a continuation of that.
“I didn’t have time to stop and think about it too much. Ultimately, because the last record was so well received it felt like the polar opposite to pressure. Wonder Days proved that people still liked us! That was a weight off our minds. So there was no pressure. None at all. It wasn’t a difficult album to write.”
If Rip It Up represents a continuation of Thunder’s creative resurgence then it’s a very different record from its rousing predecessor. The band’s trademark blues-based rock remains at the heart of another standout release but the there’s an overriding sense that playing it safe was never an option.
“Because the last album did quite well I felt like we had a licence to expand with Rip It Up,” added Morley. “It felt like a chance to incorporate a few new things. There was a sense of ‘right – let’s stretch ourselves a little bit and take things forward’.
“We saw a chance to flaunt some of our other influences and there are a lot of those! They’re so varied from band member to band member. We share a love of music but as teenagers in the 70s we managed to collect just about everything between us.
“Of course there’s lots of rock and roll but you’ll find Stevie Wonder in there, Joni Mitchell and the The Isley Brothers to name but a few.”
Morley has enjoyed successful spells with The Union and Spike’s Free House since the turn of the decade but the thrill of playing live and writing for Thunder has never diminished. It’s a twofold task that excites the Brighton-based musician as much now as it did back in the late 80s when definitive debut Backstreet Symphony was being readied as a last shot at rock and roll redemption.
“Songwriting-wise it’s a good time for me right now,” added Morley. “I’ve moved to Sussex and living by the sea has reinvigorated me as an artist. I’m really enjoying making new music at the moment. But I think all of us are appreciating just what a pleasure it is to be in Thunder.
“It’s a long time since we started the band and a lot of things have changed. If you look at the state of the industry across the board we’re doing well, all things considered. Most of the shows in 2017 sold out – who’d have thought it! But here we are.
“I can’t tell you why – it’s not as if we ever get any kind of mainstream support. But we’re still picking up new fans. I think the best thing about the internet is that people can find music that’s new to them if they really want to. The last album I bought was a Miles Davis record from before I was born! So in that respect I’m just like anyone else discovering new music. And it seems some people are still discovering Thunder!”
Discovering Thunder first time around was a true delight for fans seeking that missing link between British blues rock masters Bad Company and the slick pop rock of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Europe et al.
“On the first Thunder album we worked with Andy Taylor and Mike Fraser and at that point we realised that we actually knew a lot more than we thought we did,” added Morley. “They encouraged us to learn and evolve.
“It’s very different when you’re working with people who are sympathetic to what you want as musicians. Mike worked with us immediately after he’d finished Pump with Aerosmith and of course Andy was always a frustrated rock and roller.
“Both of them approached Backstreet Symphony with a tremendous momentum and force. That whole process reinforced our belief in ourselves after a few setbacks. It gave us all a major shot in the arm.”
That timely boost inspired a decade-long run of sustained success before the band’s decision to call it quits for the first time in 2000. Persuaded to come out of retirement just two years later, another four albums followed before Thunder insisted that their time was definitely up. And this time for good.
History tells a different story and with the band enjoying a third lease of life there’s no longer any talk of walking away or stepping down. “It’s difficult to say whether it was the right decision or not,” added Morley. “It’s very easy to look back on life. For whatever reason it felt like the right thing to do at the time.
“Maybe the fact that it’s going so well for us now is down to the decision to stop when we did. I just don’t know. I certainly didn’t regret it at the time and I don’t regret it now. I really enjoyed making those records with Peter Shoulder and The Union. Who knows how much of that has contributed to my songwriting now?
“It’s good to vary the path from time to time. I really don’t regret what we did despite the fact that many of our most loyal punters weren’t very happy. It made us better humans and, who knows, a better band.”
Images courtesy of Marty Moffatt
*The full versions of this feature originally appeared in Volume One of HRH Mag – out now!