Tuesday, 22 March 2011
BOWES & MORLEY - Moving Swiftly Along
Over the course of the 1990s, Thunder had gained a solid fanbase, a lot of press goodwill in the UK and notched up a few million album sales. Despite their sales figures dropping toward the end, it had been a successful ten years for the band. Vocalist Danny Bowes, guitarist Luke Morley and drummer Gary ‘Harry’ James had been working together for far longer, though, having previously made up the core of British rock band Terraplane, whose career highpoint had been a slot at the Reading Festival in 1982.
Everybody needs a change, and so it was with Thunder. After playing a farewell show at Camden Dingwalls in May 2000, the band looked to new projects. Luke Morley released a solo album ‘El Gringo Retro’ in 2001, which he promoted with live shows. These live shows featured other Thunder members (though no appearance from Bowes), so in terms of moving on, the Thunder chaps hadn’t exactly moved very far!
In 2002 Morley teamed up with vocalist Danny Bowes once again, forming the imaginatively named Bowes & Morley. Despite the duo being the driving force behind Thunder and most of the songs being written by Luke Morley as usual, their debut album, ‘Moving Swiftly Along’ echews Thunder’s classic Free and Bad Company influenced hard rock sound and opts for softer soul filled grooves. Though a few numbers edge towards syrupy, it’s not often soul in a soft Motown-esque style... Here, for obvious reasons, the album’s soul vibe often manifests itself in a “white rock musician” way.
‘Freakshow’ opens proceedings with a bouncing piano and a slight Stax vibe. Vocally, Bowes sounds completely at ease; female backing vocals add weight to the soul elements here, but it would have been just as good without them. ‘Hypnotized’ has a well-structured funk groove and far less of a throwaway party atmosphere. The track opens with a guitar line with a gently Spanish flavour, before a tight horn arrangement provides a big musical hook. The drums lead a shuffling groove with plenty of organ and while Morley’s contribution is limited to choppy rhythm guitar for the most part, everything builds towards a great solo which fills plenty of space until the fade.
Things get turned down a notch for ‘Something About My Baby’. While the soul elements of this track lean towards a more syrupy easy listening style (something really not helped by the female backing), a warm bass set against sitar (played here by the song’s co-writer Garfield Myers) provides a nice backdrop for Bowes, who naturally turns in a great performance. Luckily, a spirited cover of The Power Station’s ‘Powertrippin’ provides contrast enough to balance things out. Here, Morely’s rhythmic guitar is spiky and aggressive, competing against equally sharp horns. Childs’s bass line is busy without being obtrusive and on the whole, it’s one of a few numbers which could’ve graced a Thunder album. Winterville’s Peter Shoulder guests on a featured guitar solo, which is aggressive while remaining tuneful. [In 2010, Morley formed blues-rock band with Shoulder called The Union, not to be confused with the similarly named band featuring KISS man Bruce Kulick and ex-Mötley Crüe/The Scream vocalist John Corabi].
‘Dancing The Night Away’ contains a similar energy, but despite another top-notch bass line from Childs and superb vocal from Bowes, this one is weaker than the previous uptempo numbers due to an uninspired chorus which is too heavily reliant on backing vocals. ‘Hesitate’ gets the balance of the album’s key musical ingredients just right. Bowes finds a decent blend of rock and soul in his vocal and Morley’s guitar has an edge, but not enough of one to make this a hard rock number. The horns recall classic Stax once again (particularly work by Sam and Dave) and an electric piano solo (courtesy of David “Muncher” Moore) adds an extra element of retro cool. Even the backing vocals are well arranged here, making this a definite stand out track.
‘Better Times’ moves away from soul influences and moves towards acoustic singer-songwriter territory. Bowes’s vocal is as at ease as it ever was, while a few twangy guitars give the song a slight country feel in places, but its best moments are provided by Morley overlaying some subtle bluesy electric guitar lines. ‘River of Time’ has an unashamedly funky guitar riff which sounds like a re-write of the riff from Thunder’s ‘Too Scared To Live’ (from their 1995 album ‘Behind Closed Doors’) and as such, is one of the times that Bowes and Morley’s more mature approach falls aside almost completely. It’s none the worse for its outright Thunder-ness, of course. Bowes’s vocal is strong and the arrangement gives Morley the opportunity to cut loose (just a little). As good as it is, it’s a shame they didn’t swap the organ part for a clavinet, to make it more in keeping with the more retro styled funk present elsewhere.
‘I’d Take the Stars Out of the Sky’ closes the disc in a mellow way, with a very smooth performance from Bowes. Moore’s 70s style organ work is understated and very sympathetic to the vocal performance. Thanks to a couple of impeccably played solos, Morley’s performance here is arguably his finest on this album; he shows a great restraint with his playing and judges the mood perfectly, never upstaging Bowes.
While musically some of the material may be a little bit too soul influenced and a little lightweight for the more unadventurous hard rock fan, ‘Moving Swiftly Along’ is an excellent showcase for Danny Bowes’s bluesy vocal style. Granted Luke may have written most of the songs and played guitar, but it’s Bowes who really grabs the attention on most of this disc. It’s certainly an album which deserves a wider audience and its mature sound is natural companion to some of Thunder’s softer outings. Unfortunately, ‘Moving Swiftly Along’ was not a commercial success; but despite its poor sales, Bowes & Morley released a second album in 2004. Entitled ‘Mo’s Barbeque’, that second album fared much better, although still only achieved modest sales and gained a cult following.
Looking at the bigger picture, Thunder’s retirement in 2000 was arguably one of the shortest retirements ever, since it only lasted two years. They were persuaded to reform for the 2002 Monsters of Rock festival, to the delight of fans. The new line up of Thunder included Chris Childs, who was drafted in as a result of his great work on ‘Moving Swiftly Along’. The reformation was not to be a one off, however; Thunder stayed together for the next seven years, disbanding for a second time in August 2009.