31 min read

Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

Thunder have been a favourite band of mine for decades. ‘Laughing on Judgement Day’ and ‘Back Street Symphony’ are amongst my favourite albums back from a time, pre-grunge which ultimately killed off real rock music, and cut down many bands in their prime, seemingly overnight, sadly, Thunder were a statistic, if they had of been around a year to 18months earlier, there is no doubt they would have been as big as Bon Jovi and the like.

Luke, the venerable lefty 6stringer with the band has released his second solo album, brought about during Covid and the bands hiatus due to singer Danny being poorly. When Luke announced he was touring this album, something he didn’t do with ‘El Gringo Retro’ some 20years ago, it provided a chance to catch a bit of the Thunder magic.

On The undercard are a band completely new to me but one I was soon to enjoy as Hillbilly Vegas stormed the stage at the Rescue Rooms Nottingham with a raw, unapologetic energy that had the crowd on their toes from the first note.

The small stage, as usual, was packed with instruments, amps, and cables, The lack of any smoke was notable as the Rescue Rooms seem to enjoy turning the stage into a scene from Victorian London. The lighting helped create an intimate atmosphere as the band members weaved their way through the gear to take their places.

Frontman Steve Harris, sporting a trademark hat, led the charge with his gravelly vocals and commanding stage presence. As they launched into “Mason Jars and Moonlight,” from the 2022 EP ‘Greetings From Hill Billy Vegas’.

The dual guitars blazed a trail, at times there is a familiarity as the twin guitars harmonise, while the rhythm section thundered beneath helping set the tone for a night of high-octane rock.

The band’s versatility was on full display with a rollicking cover of Shooter Jennings’ “Steady At The Wheel,” featuring three guitars tearing through the air like a sonic whirlwind. I can’t be the only one that enjoys the ‘quack’ of a Strat through an Orange valve amp. The crowd are having a great time as they roar in approval, feeding off the band’s energy.

The guitar driven Southern Rock continues with “High Time for a Good Time” another from the 2022’s long player, ‘The Great Southern Hustle’, this keeps the momentum going before Harris treats the crowd to a personal story about his lack of being able to write love songs, but eventually writing one dedicated to his wife, he introduces “Something Crazy” with a grin, adding his wife wasn’t happy. The crowd ate it up, cheering along as the band delved into heartfelt territory.

But it wasn’t all fun. Harris enlightened the respectful crowd with tales of his granddad’s wartime experiences, to cheers and applause from the back of the room, and of his escapades when he returned home, setting the stage for the poignant “Long Way Back,” a tribute to those who have faced similar challenges of being away from home, lonely and lost and vowing to never leave again, this too features on the latest long player.

The band’s reverence for musical legends was evident, and if you have checked out YouTube, you’ll know that they throw in a cover or two, having previously played ‘Shooting Star’ by Bad Company. This tour is no different as they launch into a blistering cover of Frankie Miller’s “Down The HonkyTonk,” a great choice from his back catalogue and one that showcases their reverence for the Blues, some would say an American invention but one that the band agree that Frankie has mastered and bettered most of their home-grown talent.

“Let It Ride,” their latest single, keeps the crowd on their toes with its driving rhythm and infectious melody. It’s a great tune about not being bothered by the things in life that don’t matter. I think we can all get onboard with that idea.

Amidst the banter and music, the band showed their appreciation for the Rescue Rooms’ warmth, both in atmosphere and temperature, calling out Newcastle for being like a fridge, the beer being colder on the bar top than behind the fridge doors. With more banter about being a Hill Billy, Guns and working hard, “Shake It Like A Hillbilly” closes out the set with a tumultuous bang, despite its false start as Jonny Ringo plays the intro to the only other song he wrote, leaving the audience, laughing. The thundering beat and catchy melody draw the crowd in to its final note and the untimely conclusion of the set leaves everyone wanting more.

Despite a mishap with the missing setlist, Hillbilly Vegas delivered a performance that left a lasting impression. Their blend of country, rock, and blues, apparently referred to as ‘Red Dirt Rock’, resonated with the crowd, earning them cheers and applause as they exited the stage.

As the venue buzzed with anticipation for Luke Luke ‘s performance, fans and critics alike couldn’t help but rave about what they’d just seen. With their infectious energy and undeniable talent, Hillbilly Vegas proved just why they’re a band to watch out for in the future, because, I’m sure they’ll be back, with their unique Southern style.

After Hilly Billy Vegas have cleared the stage, we patiently await for the reason we’re all here, the mighty ‘Luke Morley‘, who hits the stage on time, sauntering on with his band of merry men, Dean Howard (T’Pau, Ian Gillan, Cats In Space), on guitar, Chris Childs (Tyketto, Thunder), on bass, Jack Taylor (Tax The Heat), on drums, and Sam Tanner (Brother Strut) on Keys, his arms raised in acknowledgment to the applause from the partisan crowd, his intro music Tom Petty’s ‘Freefalling’ is still being played over the house PA.

Luke does a quick shout-out to Hillbilly Vegas before setting off on a set dominated by his latest album, ‘Songs From The Blue Room’. The album title apparently refers to the colour of his home studio, where his latest album was conceived during lockdown. The opening track, ‘I Wanna See the Light’ kicks things off with its references to being cooped up during the COVID-19 years. It bounces along and sets the tone for the night. This is grown-up rock, none of this shoe-gazing malarky. This is followed up by the Beatles-esque ‘Damage’ a touching lament about a one-sided relationship, seen from the side of the giver, it starts off with a tinkling of the ivories and a walking drum beat, the solo is bathed with an edgy attitude which fits the theme perfectly, needless to say it goes down great with the fans.

‘Killed by Cobain’ gets a derisory intro to much merriment, Luke asks if we’ve heard of him and then follows it with “Not that it matters, he’s dead!” this is a rocking number about Cobain and the grunge scene becoming the biggest thing overnight and in doing so it killed off many a rock band just breaking into the big time, Luke’s day job, Thunder, being caught by it and subsequently getting left behind. The strummed intro has Luke asking for some hands, and the crowd claps along as this one plays out, as a side note this was the first single off the album. There’s a great edge to the guitar tone, it has an underlying ‘Wings’ feel to it, and I have to say I like this one a lot.

Luke shouts out during the start of the next song; he chuckles as he says “It must be song 4 all the togs are getting chucked out of the pit”. Before the song carries on, he talks briefly about meeting Harry, Ben, and Dean, these names get a cheer from the crowd, Luke adds “It warms my heart every night that Benny gets a bigger cheer than Harry”, he continues about getting the best of the guys in the pubs that he used to go along to, how a person said he should collect the best from them and form a band, which he does but forgets Deano (Howard), but anyway he goes on and forms Terraplane who gets a record deal.

Thinking they have made the big time the first album bombs, he tells the crowd he’s fed up so goes home and watches Top of The Pops, to cheer himself up, just as the No1 record was coming up he sees his mate Deano on the screen with T’Pau, he says he was a bit pissed that Deano beat him to TotP, but Thunder got there eventually so all was good. The next song, ‘This World’, is about that time, it was released in 2001, 23 years ago on his debut solo album, ‘El Gringo Retro.’

Luke, again, takes a moment to ask who has the new album and points out that Carol, on merch, will sell them a copy if they’ve not. He continues the set with ‘Errol Flynn’ a song to reminiscent to, it’s about looking back, taking stock of what has gone, the womanising and partying. It’s an introspective number that has us thinking about our pasts, and how its ultimately shaped our lives today. Sliding into ‘Quiet Life’ this one is also El Gringo Retro, this time Luke asks if anyone has the album, there is a surprising number of yes s’ from the crowd. the solo is sublime, both Luke and Dean have been sharing the runs up to the guitar’s dirty end throughout the evening.

‘The First Day’ is yet another from El Gringo Retro. Jack Taylor, on drums, counts this one in with the cracks of his drumsticks. There is a safe familiarity to this one as Luke, again laments gently, his left-handed guitar hanging comfortably as he strums away. His voice is remarkably good despite what he says about himself. He then takes a moment to introduces the band, saying that Sam Tanner, on keys, is the best singer in the house, and that he feels a bit of a twat singing in front of him, his Nemesis Deano is on the other guitar, whilst his old Thunder mukka the deviant Chris Childs is on Bass, and youthful Jack Taylor is on the drums, who he says brings the average age of the band down a lot and for that he’s very happy.

‘I’m the One You Want’ is up next and this one is the closest, both sounding and stylistically, to Thunder, It’s a simple song with a great Blues groove running throughout. It’s got a catchy intro riff full of attitude. The keys swirl in the background as this one plays out. There’s some great funky jazz-esque interplay between Luke, Chris, and Deano, as the song rocks out before a super little solo lets you know it’s a guitar band. Luke comments on how hard the riff is to play as the song closes.

‘Nobody Cares’ follows on in which Luke tells us that it is about the mundane world of social media, saying “who cares what you had for tea”. It’s got an Eastern European Waltz timing groove, (read Romanian Gypsy, ) Django Reinhardt comes to mind, as the vibe gets the toes tapping and crowd swaying. Luke once again asks for audience participation during the chorus which is a procession of Lah laa laa’s. A sharp staccato solo breaks the groove briefly before the walking beat on the drums returns with more Lah Laa Laa’s as this atmospheric tune reaches its joyous climax. This once again gets a huge round of claps and plenty of cheers from the respectfully behaved crowd.

‘Lying to Myself’ has a more country feel to it, Luke quickly tells us it’s about his wife, as she’s not present, and adds he better not say that at the London show. The crowd joins in with claps as this jaunty country, folkish number about COVID-19 bringing people closer together during lockdown which may not have been as bad for some, plays out. The set closes with ‘Watch the Sun Go Down’ and with this one we get a great laid-back, upbeat holiday vibe.

It’s about just cutting back and enjoying a bevy and watching the sun going down with your partner. Luke shouts out “Go on then” as this one kicks in with an upbeat guitar riff and a decisive snare snap from Jack Taylor on the drums. Another perfectly crafted song with a bit of Harp thrown in for good measure, which segues into a nice dirty guitar and then a tinkling of the piano from Sam Tanner before going back to Luke singing. Once again, the crowd are encouraged to sing along with plenty of “Hey Yeah’s” going back n forth which gets higher in pitch as Luke leads the way.

The song finishes and after a brief thank you, they leave the stage, but the band isn’t off stage for long before the cheering and clapping have them back full of smiles and appreciation. The encore starts off with Luke giving thanks to everyone who chipped in for Danny’s hospital treatment following his accident, he adds “without it, Danny would be nowhere near as solid as he is now, and the future of him and the band would be hanging in the balance”.

He dedicates the first song to Danny and to Ben Matthews, his guitar partner in Thunder, who has also had his share of health misfortunes over the years. He adds that he and Chris are almost the last men standing as Harry has been Mentally ill for years. The crowd erupts in laughter and cheers at the banter amongst these friends, and with that, they crack on with ‘A Better Man,’ for those who do not know it’s a Thunder song, from the Sophomore album ‘Laughing On Judgement Day’ released back in 1992. The crowd can’t help but join in and sing along, hands are up as they sing along. Luke throws his heart into the song and it gets the deserved cheers and applause from the crowd.

Another quick thank you and the band are straight into ‘Go With the Flow’ (this is the fourth song from the El Gringo Retro album.) Dean Howard, on guitar, is digging in as he strums the riff out to this tune from 2001. It builds to a breakdown that has Luke , hitting the loud pedal and wanders across to Childs and Howard as they start rocking out, there’s some answer and reply from the two guitars as they both soar and scream. Childs drops some tasty rumbling bass riffs that slam you in the chest as Luke calls out. He mentions he loves a bit of masturbatory guitar, and the crowd respond with their approval.

The final song is sold to us as a song written about Luke, Danny Bowes and Harry James’s first manager, Robert Wace, more specifically, in the early days when he managed The Kinks. It’s about a time when he got himself into a spot of bother in a Paris Nightclub, and the chance meeting with a transgender person. It’s obviously the Kinks, ‘LOLA’. The crowd yet again join in with the singing to this classic tune.

As the lights dim and Luke bades farewell to the crowd, thanking his band and the fans, the lingering echoes of his music hang in the air, are witness to the power of his artistry. Throughout his performance, Luke’s passion and dedication to his song writing have been unmistakable, earning him cheers and applause from the captivated audience. With “Songs From The Blue Room,” Luke has proven once again why he’s considered a masterful songwriter and musician. It was a night to remember, filled with soul-stirring melodies and heartfelt lyrics.

Leaving the venue and walking back to the car, thinking the gig through, there’s a familiarity that’s quite comforting in the tunes, there are obvious nods to bands in Luke ‘s writing style that are not Thunder, bands like Wings, Tom Petty, and even the supergroup, The Travelling Wilbury’s come to mind, I guess bands that he and those of us of a similar age, enjoy. It’s been a great night out and the album is a cracking addition to anyone’s collection. With it only being a 6-night tour, I hope that Luke fans everywhere have gotten a chance to see him play live. This has been yet another school night well spent.

Load More Related Articles
Load More By admin
Load More In Gigs
Comments are closed.

Check Also

Arielle: ‘Reel to Real’ Album Launch – Marshall Amplification Factory, Milton Keynes.

This one is a little bit different, and very special. MPM Tog ‘Statler’ Manson and myself …