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Interview: Danny Bowes (Thunder)

Rock Stars...

Vocalist Danny Bowes is back with the reformed Thunder, who released their comeback album 'Shooting At The Sun' early this year. They embark on a UK tour in November when a DVD is also scheduled for release. Coupled with this there is a second Bowes & Morley album due early next year. A busy man indeed!

(Thanks to Sharon at The Publicity Connection)

Danny Bowes


Whatís it been like being back in Thunder? Whatís been the highlight so far?

To be honest with you its been a bit strange. After having two & half years away, to then get back into Thunder where you left off, and the first shows you play are in arenas, its a bit of a weird one.

We got back together primarily for the Monsters of Rock and we made a record subsequently, then we decided to release it ourselves and play record companies, its been a real learning curve. Although its been hard work its been massive fun, going out and playing in May was great.

You released the new album, ĎShooting At The Suní yourselves in the UK and Frontiers have just released it in Europe. Howís it been received?

Signs are really good. Shot straight into the German charts. Itís a big gamble taking on a licensee but I realised early on you canít possibly do the records everywhere, you need help. But when you can control the record and licence the record, they obviously buy the right to licence th

e record and they pay all the promotional costs. Whilst itís a big gamble itís very gratifying when they get you loads and loads of interview requests. Iíve done so much European promotion itís been frightening.

You did the album with Luke Morley, ĎMoving Swiftly Alongí. How did that come about? Was it planned as a solo record?

I was offered the chance to make a solo record by a Japanese label. We were signed to Toshiba in the early Thunder days and became good friends with a guy who was their product manager and moved on to be the label boss. He contacted me, oh two years ago, and asked if I would be interested in making a solo album.

I loved the idea but I didnt tell him that Id already been trying for four years to get a solo record going. Its not easy to find other people to work with after so many years working with the same group of guys. Because you know each other so well there is lots of ego bulls*** you dont get involved in.

It's like slipping on a really comfortable pair of shoes, they don't rub your feet like new ones. Its exactly the same thing when youve worked with the same people over a number of years. I found it so hard, I found guys who were really good and then suddenly the guitar player and bass player would have a massive falling out. Its like handbags at dawn, and suddenly they wont talk to each other. That's alright but where is my record going to go now?

I was bemoaning this to Luke one night, we were slightly the worse for drink I have to say, and he said Why dont you let me do it? I said Im not happy with you just getting a producers credit as youre going to basically make the record. He's a control freak you know, he has to be in charge of all of it, I'm just glad he cant sing very well or Id be out of a job! I dont mean that in a bad way.

We made the record together on a kind of joint basis, there was no way we were going to make a record like Thunder without having the Thunder guys in, it wouldnt make any sense, we may as well have just reformed Thunder. We decided to use our other influences like Motown, Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding.

Much more soul based, we were into soul as well as rock when we were growing up. You are never going to get away from the fact I sing the way I sing and he plays guitar the way he plays guitar. We were never going to turn into the Chi-Lites. Moving Swiftly Along is certainly a bit of a departure and one we enjoyed very much, so much so weve just made another one.

Will this new album still take a soul base?

In a way yes but there are also some more early 70s rock tunes in there as well. Weve done a cover of Come Together In The Morning by Free from the Heartbreaker album. Its really turned out well with such an A-list band. I am really pleased.

The drummers called Mario Goossens, a Dutchman. He plays in a vibe kind of band called Hooverphonic. He played with us in Japan last year. A really tricky drummer, but he couldnt make our UK shows last summer, he was busy with Hooverphonic. Great keyboard player, called Mark Taylor, hes played with everybody from Simple Minds, the Cult to Belinda Carlisle. Hes literally played with everyone whos anyone. Hes become a very firm friend. Weve got some great girly backing vocals and brass on the album too. Its a really nice thing to step outside of Thunder and do something different.

Will you tour again as Bowes and Morley?

The new record wont be out until the first quarter of next year, and wed love tour with it, so well try to fit it in. Because were so busy with Thunder, with the new DVD and running the record company, its complicated, you just cant just stop running the record company while you make your record.

I am wearing about five different hats at the moment! Which is very complicated and causes me some strife from time and time, but I wouldnt have it any other way. I am a multi-tasker, always was.

Was Castle Donington the biggest audience you have ever played to? Any plans to release these shows at all?

Yeah it was a big show, about 80,000 people. It was released by Toshiba EMI in Japan last year I dont know what its called, something original like Live At Donington. I dont know where the film footage went. Ive got some footage from the second time in 1992 when it was pouring with rain and everybody got soaked. Of course this doesnt make for particularly good television.

What are your views on all these compilations that come out, usually by former record companies? Thereís a new one just coming out called ĎBalladsí.

I have mixed emotions about compilations; I've never been a fan as it's usually a record company scraping the bottom of the barrel, especially when there is nothing new.

We did one a few years ago called The Rare, The Raw & The Rest. That was Luke selecting stuff the record company didnt know about like his own demos and things like that. That, along with unreleased stuff that never made the records at the time appeals a lot to fans. But when theyre blatantly churning out the same stuff with a different cover its a bit sly I think.

 I knew they were going to do the Ballads album and we had a choice of either to be involved in it or not be involved in it. If they are gonna do it and we arent involved it wont be as good. We could at least bring all the ballads from all the records together and make it a chronological document.

We licensed them the brand new song and one song from our new record. So wearing my artists hat I dont think compilations are a particular good idea, but wearing my record company hat, having a song from our new record on there can only help us. Its a tricky one.

You have a UK tour coming up in November. Will it be the same sort of set as Mayís tour?

Well hopefully get a bit bolder and play a few more songs from the new album. When we played in May the new record had only been out a couple of weeks so we had to be careful not to play too much from it.

This time well be in a good position to play more songs off the new album. Well hopefully mix it up a bit. It gets harder with every record, as fans dont want you to drop certain songs.

You're damned if you do, and damned if you dont. If you do them, then people say its the same old rubbish and if you dont do it they say they want it! I suppose its a good problem to have.

What are the bandís plans for the coming year?

We did have a sniff at a couple of European festivals in the summer but they didnt happen for one reason or another. We are doing a show as part of the Avo sessions in Switzerland in November.

We're opening for Deep Purple so I am very excited. Always been a bit of a fan. The whole thing gets broadcast across Europe on satellite, digital TV, radio and the Internet. Goes on for two weeks with two bands on each night and weve been lucky enough to be invited. After the UK tour well take a break and we may do an acoustic show at Christmas, something a little bit different.

I'm trying to find a suitable venue for that. Im concentrating on the DVD at the minute, which will be the entire show at the Marquee last November, straight after the Monsters of Rock tour. Brilliant night, very hot and sweaty.

Along with it will be a re-mastered version of a video we put out via mail order a couple of years ago, containing loads of our own backstage handycam footage. There is one bit when were drunk on a night off, when we recreate the whole Nativity in a hotel room.

It's very, very bizarre and quite surreal in some places. I've just written the DVD sleeve notes and said this offers a real interesting insight into the mindset of this band. After Id written it I added that I wasnt sure it was such a good idea to release this DVD.

The current plan is to record a new Thunder record between Christmas and the release of the new Bowes/Morley in the spring. It all depends if Luke has the creative juices flowing between now and then. Hopefully in December he can find time to write some new Thunder material. We need to get into the studio in January/February to have it out in September next year.

Do you find the UK rock scene is in better shape, particularly with all the coverage and success the Darkness are getting?

Anything that helps rock music is a good thing. My own personal opinion on the Darkness is given that it took them eight years to get anywhere, theyre probably not taking the Mick.

I think theyve decided to do it like they do to help the radio get round it. The radio in this country have never been massive fans of rock, they dont play it. But if they can play a band who are seen to be tongue in cheek and poking fun at rock music that helps the radio as they feel comfortable with that.

It's almost like they are playing the radio at their own game. That can only be good. If they open the door and get record labels all excited about rock music, the labels will start signing rock bands again. Youll get a new wave of bands coming through and the Darkness will have paved the way.

Heard any good new music yourself lately?

I keep banging on about this kid Peter Shoulder, hes a 19 year old Geordie who plays the guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughn and sings like David Coverdale. I just want to chop him in the throat and shut his hands in the door. He makes you sick he's so talented.

Luke's producing some demos for him. Hes doing six shows supporting us in November and we have another band called Must, who I also really like. I kind of helped them a bit a couple of years ago. They are like rock music meets drumnbass. Very, very interesting. Theyll play all eleven shows, Peter will open on six shows.

You run the record label for Thunder. Do you guys ever consider adding other acts to the label?

I've been approached by loads of people. Im trying to work out how to do it. Its a tough old business and very time consuming. I would like to be able to help people make the most of owning their own records.

What were the highlights and lowlights of your time with Terraplane?

My God youre going back a long way now. One of the big things was when we got to play the old Marquee in Wardour Street. Wed supported nearly everyone there, to try and get a headline gig. But the guy who was the booker was a sadist, he wouldnt let us headline. Then one day the headline band had pulled out as they hadnt sold any tickets. They went on to be quite famous, they were Big Country.

As I said they were about to become big but at that stage they hadn't sold any tickets whatsoever. They pulled out and the manager of the club phoned up in a panic, and said we could headline if could get fifty people in that night. We rang absolutely everyone we knew and we ended up with over 200 people there.

The manager was absolutely delighted. From then on we headlined the Marquee and played Reading in 1982. We even made the Reading Rocks live album. We got two tracks on it, never got any money from it of course but we were really pleased.

Two years later we released an independent single. We even hyped it, I was driving up and down the motorways buying copies of the single. It got to about number 50 odd in the charts. CBS as they were then, Sony now, saw this and were genuinely fooled by it and thought we were popular, fools (laughs). They came to see us play at the Marquee and signed us. That was the beginning of Terraplane, just proves you can fool them. The ironic thing was theyd already turned us down once.

One of the lowlights was to go through the sausage machine as I call it. To go through three years and release two albums only to realise you werent going to be famous unless you took control of your career. It taught us a lot, that we needed to be in charge.

That experience with Terraplane helped us with Thunder, and talking to record labels we were absolutely merciless. I set off a fire extinguisher over the head of one record label. One came to our showcase, we played three songs and said Right, were off to the pub.  Whos buying? He said I've come all this way to see your band play and we said sure, but we got bored and now weve stopped. He did buy the drinks and still made us an offer. Strange thing record labels, the worse you treat them the more they seem to like you.

Has the Internet helped a lot, especially the excellent Thunder Online website and mailing list?

Absolutely, the ability to let people know electronically moment by moment is superb. Itís transformed the way you do stuff, we couldnít have done the record company otherwise.

Years ago we had the Thunder fan club, the Thunder Channel, it was all based around the Royal Mail. To do a mailshot about a record you had to beg your record label to pay for a mailshot to put the stamps on for you, as you couldnít afford to do it. A major label would factor those costs into your campaign for the record. We could never go back to those days again.

What songs do you like performing most live?

Something like Dirty Love is a double-edged sword. We dont even rehearse it as we have played it on nearly every tour I think. My heart sinks thinking about singing it, but once you play it live the audience starts bouncing up and down and I love it. I dont like rehearsing it or even to think about singing it, but I love it at the gig, in the moment. I love singing the new stuff as its very fresh, like Loser.

If you could create a fantasy band, who would you have in your line-up and why?

All be singers really. Stevie Wonder, heís my absolute hero. Have to have Keith Moon as heís nuttier than Harry (James, Thunderís drummer) and guitar player, Ry Cooder. God knows what Ry Cooder and Keith Moon would do together! Bobby Crush on keyboards just for novelty value, or even Richard Clayderman. I donít want to take it too serious. Tower of Power horn section. Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye for that gospel vibe. Now that youíve got me going now this band will get bigger and bigger, Iíd better stop now.

Message for your fans?

Please buy the record if you havent got it. Please buy the tickets for the tour if you havent already. Tell everybody you know that they should be there with you. Ha ha!

Interview © 2003 Jason Ritchie


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