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Thunder at the De Montfort Hall, Leicester, March 21st 2017.

Happy birthday to me! I’m here at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester to see Thunder and, for the first time, I get to photograph the show.

The Hall, adjacent to the University of Leicester campus, holds around 2,300 people and tonight it was expected to be just about full as Thunder continue their current tour in support of the latest album, ‘Rip it Up’ which we reviewed a couple of months ago.

First, however, it’s Cats in Space. The band sees itself as a 70’s influenced ‘power-pop’ AOR band, and that describes the band perfectly. The set begins with the title track from the band’s latest album, ‘Too Many Gods’ released in 2015. It’s very difficult not to hear the band for what it is, and that is a bunch of fantastic musicians, without also hearing the influences of bands such as ELO and even Asia come through the songs. ‘Only in Vegas’ was next, this is ELO re-packaged, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that because the song is brilliant, very melodic, the ultimate singalong song and those in the audience who knew the band already did just that. ‘Last Man Standing’ took us back another decade, typical 1960’s, and while it might sound odd it’s a sort of Billy Joel meets Supertramp song! We reach the half way point with the ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ with pianist Andy Stewart looking the part in his Mad Hatteresque Steampunk outfit. This was the only song not to come from the album. Moving swiftly along, ‘Mr. Heartache’ was next and like the preceding songs it is the distinctive, but strong, voice of Paul Manzi that comes through. The music behind the vocals reminded me of ‘Snow Goose’ era Camel. We’re coming to the end of this all-too-short set and Andy Stewart’s keyboards open the penultimate song, ‘Greatest Story Never Told’ and bassist Jeff Brown opens the vocals. What starts as a ballad lasts two minutes before the band kick the song into gear and really rock it out. Just time for one more song, ‘Five Minute Celebrity’.

Paul Manzi led the way for Cats in Space tonight but he couldn’t have done it without some exceptional support in the forms of Greg Hart and Dean Howard on guitars, Jeff Brown on bass, Steevi Bacon on drums and Andy Stewart on the keys. The band have only been around for a couple of years but it looks like they have a bright future ahead of them.

Take a breath, a storm is coming and the forecast is for Thunder!

As if it wasn’t hot and sweaty already, the band roll on to the stage to the sound of ‘Jungle Boogie’ before telling us that ‘No-one Gets Out Alive’, a song taken from ‘Rip it Up’ and the band barely pause for breath before jumping into another from the new album, ‘Enemy Inside’. As has become the norm the band entertain as only Thunder can; Danny’s ‘dad-dancing’, Luke’s sky walking, Chris and Ben throwing poses and Harry playing at being Kilroy (as in Kilroy was ‘ere) peering over the top of his kit. After some brief “hello’s” the band return the audience to the days of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ as they play ‘River of Pain’. Danny smiles and is everyone’s friend, Luke takes to the air, again, and Ben points skywards like he’s giving the finger to the ‘big C’ from which he seems to have thankfully recovered fully.

The next stop is ‘Wonder Days’ for ‘Resurrection Day’ before the band returns to the latest album for ‘Right from the Start’. The guitars of Luke and Ben sing, the voice of Danny is at its best, Chris’s bass booms and Harry keeps perfect time – what could be better. The style of the band hasn’t changed since the start, Luke’s writing is superlative and while it doesn’t offer anything out of the ordinary when compared to earlier excursions it does put fans deep into a comfort zone with the knowledge that whatever comes next they’re going to love it. I know I do.

A couple of old favourites next has the fans singing along as they’re treated to ‘Backstreet Symphony’ followed by ‘Higher Ground’. The band have a simple philosophy, which says that while there is a need to promote the new material the fan favourites will always have a place in the setlist and the inclusion of these two songs illustrates that perfectly.

‘In Another Life’ from the latest album means we’re almost two thirds of the way through the main set and the time has flown by. ‘The Thing I Want’ and ‘Don’t Wait for Me’ follow in quick succession before the title track, ‘Rip It Up’, from the new album gets aired. This is a cracking song and probably my favourite off the album.

Two more firm favourites finish the main set, ‘Love Walked In’, which has the audience singing along loudly, and finally ‘I Love you More Than Rock and Roll’ which closes the set.

From the setlist the band have a choice of five songs to play as an encore, should the fans want that of course. Want it? The fans DEMAND it! So the band return to give us ‘Serpentine’, ‘She Loves the Cocaine’ and, to close the show, ‘Dirty Love’ which yet again has the fans bellowing the lyrics.

The lights, the sound, the songs, all bloody brilliant and to top it off I got to go to the after show meet and greet. That was pretty manic, I just wish I could have stuck around longer.

My sincere thanks go to Chris Hewlett (www.chrishewlett.com) for organising the press pass and the meet and greet ticket, it was a great birthday.

Words & pictures by Reg Richardson

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