The world of popular music has always been fickle, and “the next big things” seem to come and go faster than one can blink. For rock singer Danny Bowes, his lifetime in music has been a rollercoaster of life-affirming highs and occasional lows, but his band – veteran British rock combo Thunder – just keep on going.
“Thunder as a band has always been hard to predict, and hard to control,” says Bowes, who believes graft and experience have kept his group on the road through thick and thin, and found them back at the top of their game in 2013. “Just when you think you know what’s going on,” Bowes laughs, “everything changes again.”
Bowes, now 53, has been making music since he was 15. “That was when I saw a drum kit up close for the first time,” he remembers. “It was like a religious experience – all the chrome and the bright shininess of the drum kit effected me very deeply. I couldn’t play one; I couldn’t afford one – I was a typical 15-year-old kid with no money – so I decided overnight that the way ahead was to become a singer, and I’ve been standing next to a drum kit ever since.”
Having cut his teeth with local outfits in the East End of his hometown London, Bowes co-founded Thunder in 1989, and the rockers’ first show was played in front of a crowd numbering fewer than 40 punters. Through effort and determination, however, Thunder quickly developed a reputation for their thrilling live shows.
“We got good at playing live because it wasn’t easy to get record deals back then,” Bowes explains. “There was no Internet to help a band become successful, and little in the way of TV opportunities. You had to get out there – pay your dues, sleep in the tour van, all that stuff. That’s what bands of our generation did. It taught us that there’s an audience to cater to, and that every live opportunity needs to be capitalised upon.”
Though things have changed significantly since the late 1980s, and many younger bands today, Bowes believes, miss out on that solid grounding, he still insists there are great live acts out there, and the secret is engaging an audience.
“Look at the Rolling Stones, even modern pop stars like Rihanna, she puts on a show, and so does Lady Gaga,” says Bowes, who claims influences as diverse as the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Stevie Wonder and David Bowie (“I was a massive fan as a kid, and Ziggy Stardust was the first album I bought,” he says.)
“These people are entertainers in the old fashioned sense of the word. They put on a show. An audience should leave a gig exhausted – worn out, no voice from shouting, hands hurting from clapping – having had the best night of their lives.”
Being a great live band, Bowes adds, saw Thunder through a dark period when their style of music fell out of favour. “In the early ’90s, when Thunder began to take off, American bands like Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses out of America were big, so our timing was very good,” Bowes says. “The problem was that within two or three years of us coming along, that public love for classic rock went out of the window, and everything was all about grunge. Many bands similar to us just disappeared. We managed to ride that out because we always sold a lot of concert tickets.”
Through the decades, Thunder have released nine studio album and 12 live albums, and the band has split and teamed up again a number of times, always to get back on the road and do what they do best – play live.
“We’ve had so many highlights,” Bowes says. “We played Wembley Stadium; we played in front of 80,000 people at Donington and the Monsters of Rock festival in 1990; we’ve played at the Tokyo Dome, which was staggering. We’ve played all over the world in front of audiences big and small, and there have probably only been a handful of shows where we didn’t enjoy ourselves.”
In early 2013, Thunder reformed to play just six gigs alongside rock gods Whitesnake and Journey. The London band’s stage shows were extremely well received, however, resulting in invitations to stay on the road, and Thunder supported British legends Mott the Hoople – most popular in the glam era of the 1970s – at London’s O2 Arena in November.
“They saw what we did in the summer – the ripples were spreading,” Bowes says enthusiastically. “The fact that we’ve been away for a few years means that Thunder’s ability to sell tickets is high right now – people want to see us. The idea of playing with Mott the Hoople was a very attractive one, of course. It’s great play alongside your heroes.”