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Thursday 19 July 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Thunder (Live Review By Paul H)

Thunder, Hand Of Dimes & Cats In Space, Caerphilly Castle

As the splendid weather continued an outdoor gig in the heart of the South Wales Valleys was always going to be an attractive option but when it was housed in the concentric castle at Caerphilly, the second biggest castle in the UK and the biggest Castle in Wales with its famous leaning tower then it turned into a magical setting.

Entering the 13th Century structure across the moat and under the portcullis into the outer walls of the castle, the air of anticipation was palpable. Heavy rock blasted out from the guys at Fuel who were providing the tunes amongst the stalls, before crossing the second bridge and entering the arena, housed in the inner ward. The stage was bathed in sunlight, making it a nightmare for the two support acts, but for most of the sold-out crowd, the high walls and battlements kept the temperature at ground level mercifully cool.

Having suffered the usual Planet Rock style rock tunes from local radio GTFM’s rock show presenter Andy Fox, openers Cats In Space (6) took the stage to huge applause. I’d seen these guys support Deep Purple at the Motorpoint in Cardiff last year where their fluid enthusiastic performance had been impressive, more so that on record where their ELO style power pop rock doesn’t do much for me. The band had a 35-minute set, and are of course no strangers to the Thunder crowd, having supported them on their 2017 tour. With the sun blinding them as it dropped lower, CIS worked hard with vocalist Paul Manzi never still. Unfortunately, their songs were rather bland and as my better half commented, “if Andrew Lloyd Weber did hard rock this is the kind of shit he’d produce”. There you have it! Of course, many of the crowd loved CIS, clapping along throughout their set, and it was certainly polished and slick. Not for me.

Whilst CIS may not float my boat, there is no doubting that Hand Of Dimes (8) push every musical button. With Jim Kirkpatrick from FM filling in on lead guitar for the recuperating Colin Edwards, the band delivered another set of superb hard blues filled rock which rightly received huge roars of approval from the crowd. Early in the set front man Nev McDonald asked how many of the audience were not from Wales with a surprisingly large number raising their hands. With the usual local support there was never any doubt that HOD would get the backing needed but it was pleasing to see those that hadn’t seen them before enjoying a quality set. The sun was now merciless, with the shiny heads of bassist Mark Maybry and drummer David Stephenson glowing as they sweated in the heat. Whilst Mark dived around the stage desperately trying to avoid the rays, but never missing a note, poor David was held captive at his kit and played a blinder under extreme conditions. Alongside them, Neil Garland, with his customary top hat perched proudly on his head delivered the now expected stunning keyboards and harmonica.

As I’ve said several times when reviewing HOD, the band get better with every show and with Nev looking every inch the rock star up front, the band eased their way through a fine selection of tunes which took in several from their album Raise and even a track from former band Kooga, taking those of a certain age (of which there were many) back to the 1980s. Highlights once again was the stunning Jacob’s Ladder, which allows Nev to show his vocal prowess, whilst Guilty and Pinstripe Arrogance once again got the crowd dancing and singing. Closing with the inevitable Skin cover, this was another great show from a band who continue to improve with every show. How about a new album soon guys?

The army of Thunder shirts on display in the arena left you in no doubt of the pulling power that the Londoners retain. As Messrs Bowes, Morley, James, Childs and Matthews entered the stage as the strains of AC/DC faded and Thunder (8) kicked into Wonder Days, one of four tracks from the 2015 album. In a set which covered the entire band’s career, there were some stunning highlights; a raucous Backstreet Symphony set the arena alight, whilst Low Life In High Places received its usual mass participation as emotions peaked. Thunder are a class act, despite the sometimes pantomime feel of their show, full of charisma with Danny Bowes’ measured approach usually spot on. The undoubted star of the band is guitarist Luke Morley, a sorely underrated player whose performance throughout the evening was breathtaking. Smoother than silk, Thunder know what their audience want and spoon feed it gently as the tempo increased. As the set moved towards its climax, Love Walked In ensured that the cabaret element of the show was completed in style. As usual, the encore, the magnificent Dirty Love provoked much shape throwing and ‘dad’ dancing around the arena, before the set concluded bang on time.

This was a fabulous evening with great company. The splendid setting and some stunning music as we basked in the early evening sun was just perfect. Congratulations to Orchard Entertainment and the bands that played. What an evening and this now lends itself to more events in the future.

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