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Thunderstick 40th anniversary gig a triumph for live music and British hard rock

East London’s finest venue, The Cart & Horses at Maryland Point, was the place to be on a hot Friday night in the capital city. The event was the 40th Anniversary show of Thunderstick, the eponymous band of the NWOBHMs finest mad, masked drummer, and there was a real buzz about the place.

Thunderstick – Cart & Horses, Maryland Point, Stratford

5 August 2022

Words: Alex Eruptor

Opening with one of the best-known songs from his time with Samson, Riding With The Angels (actually a Russ Ballard cover), the band is loud and tight and hits the spot. It’s a great feeling to hear it live after all these years of listening to the records and to see the man behind his kit, the iconic rhinestone-covered mask and drum kit. It’s hard to explain the spectacle, but everyone in the room was feeling it.

Thunderstick 40th anniversary gig - Cart and Horses
Thunderstick in action Photo Mike Chudleigh

Also immediately apparent is that the latest singer Raven Blackwing is a superb vocal talent and a great focal point. Taking the stage in a silver skull mask and changes outfits between nearly every song to reflect the themes and storylines of the music and show.

Thunderstick 40th anniversary gig - Cart and Horses
The Dark Princess Raven Blackwing Photo Mike Chudleigh

They play one more Samson song, Earth Mother, later in the set, and once more, they put their own stamp on it. Raven’s voice is an obvious contrast to Bruce’s voice on the Samson version, but make no mistake it is every bit as powerful. ‘Sticks’ distinct drumming sounds bigger and more dimensional than my old vinyl copy of the Shock Tactics album could ever get close to.

Video: Mike Chudleigh

Other than that, it is almost all Thunderstick originals. Buried Alive from the first EP has always been one of my favourites and is a standout. There’s something about the way that it moves that works in the same way as the stuff from the first couple of Mötley Crüe albums, and it really got the crowd moving.

An even deeper cut is You Get Me In Pieces, previously only recorded in demo form and finally unearthed and released on the ‘…analogue asylum’ album a few years ago. It was a real reward to hear it played live.

There are costume changes aplenty and theatrics too. A hooded figure emerges from the side of the stage, joined moments later by another as Thunderstick has come down from behind his kit and donned his iconic cape. He drags singer Raven, wearing blood-splattered clothing left over from the ‘pieces’ performance to the side of the stage, from where she sings Blackwing, one of the best songs that finally saw the light of day on the most recent Something Wicked album.

Thunderstick 40th anniversary gig - Cart and Horses
Thunderstick is prone to step out from behind the kit to do crazy things or sometimes to simply talk to the crowd Photo Alex Eruptor

The backstory to the stage show is based around Raven’s character coming of age and taking power from her father, played by Thunderstick, who ruled the dark underworld as his personal theatre of cruelty. The setlist is described as The Rites Of Passage and builds upon the story from a previous show.

Each gig is thus a special event with its own storyline and themes. At face value, it’s simply a great Heavy Metal/hard rock band, but there are more layers and levels, symbolism, and meanings if you care to delve into Thunderstick’s dark and mysterious underworld.

Torn & Twisted was a very strong recent single and bodes very well for the next album. The main set ends with a cover of Timewarp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is very fitting considering tonight’s dark theatrics, nostalgia, and occasional humour. The Monty Python-esque ‘sensible person’ sign on the drum kit is the clue that we shouldn’t take everything too seriously.

Thunderstick 40th anniversary gig - Cart and Horses
Pete Pinto a blur of movement delivers the riffs and tricks Photo Mike Chudleigh

Ten songs are delivered with intensity, passion, and with fun. After a brief pause, the band returned for an extended encore, with some classics from the 1980s, such as Rich Girls.

Welcoming to the stage some previous band members, we are treated to original singer Vinnie Munro who transports us back in time to that first gig at the Marquee all those years ago. She projects confidence and sings us fantastic versions of Alecia and The Shining, as well as telling some amusing stories from back in the day.

Guitarist Paul Lewis, from the final 1980s line-up, joins the party too and trades blistering guitar solos with current hot-shot lead player Pete Pinto, underpinned by the ever-smiling rhythm guitarist Dave Butters.

Thunderstick 40th anniversary gig - Cart and Horses
Thunderstick looks on approvingly as hot shot guest guitarist Paul Lewis shares some memories from his time with the band in the 1980s Photo Alex Eruptor

Finally, Cart & Horses guitar hero Terry Wapram gets up, a significant moment for any fan of Iron Maiden because this is the first time in 45 years, in fact since the 1977 Maiden line-up, that these two have performed together on a stage.

We get Running Free, and Thunderstick truly masters the almost glam-rock stomp of the song’s beat, and Terry’s guitar playing is wonderfully fluid.

As far as I know, it’s a song that wasn’t created until a couple of years after they’d both left the band, so we get a glimpse into an alternate ‘could have been’ universe, and in case there is any doubt, yes they play it superbly. Lead vocals were handled by bassist Rex Thunderbolt, who has been the perfect foil for Thunderstick since reforming the band a few years ago. His bass playing sometimes brings to mind another Thunderstick collaborator, John McCoy.

Thunderstick 40th anniversary gig - Cart and Horses
Rex Thunderbolt and Dave Butters bringing the thunder Photo Mike Chudleigh

The last song of the night is another Iron Maiden classic, Drifter, its introductory riff getting a loud cheer, and it’s a home run from there. Amazing to hear these two playing together, like a time machine to another era.

Thunderstick 40th anniversary gig - Cart and Horses
Terry Wapram and Thunderstick reunited after 45 years Photo Alex Eruptor
Thunderstick 40th anniversary gig - Cart and Horses
Another of Terry Wapram and Thunderstick reunited after 45 years Photo Alex Eruptor

I can’t say it enough, but tonight there was a real buzz and sense of occasion, comparable with the Cart & Horses opening weekend gigs a few months ago. The music and the stage presence were everything you could want from a Thunderstick gig. This really was the place to be. Full marks to the band and their crew and to the venue and staff for getting this show together. It was a spectacular event.

Thunderstick 40th anniversary gig - Cart and Horses
Original singer Vinnie Munro with current singer Raven Blackwing after the show Photo Alex Eruptor
Thunderstick 40th anniversary gig - Cart and Horses
Rex Thunderbolt with Vinnie Munro and the poster advertising tonights gig depicting original Marquee Club show and Cart Horses fundraiser CD Photo Mike Chudleigh

Thunderstick, the character, has captured the imaginations of millions of music fans around the world, from Lars Ulrich to Lady GaGa, and perhaps most blatantly Slipknot, who appears to have borrowed his style-sense of boiler suit and mask-wearing drummers.

Not least as he played in two of the NWOBHMS’s greatest bands, but most of all, tonight was about Thunderstick, the band, past and present.

Most of tonight’s crowd weren’t even at the first gig 40 years ago. Some, like me, had only ever heard the music in recorded format. Tonight was a triumph for live music and showcased the heritage of British hard rock and Heavy Metal.

Thunderstick setlist

Riding With the Angels
Cortege of the Dark Princess
Afraid of the Dark
Dark Night Black Light
Buried Alive
Heartbeat in the Night
Torn ‘n’ Twisted
You Get Me in Pieces
Blackwing
Thunder Thunder
Timewarp

Encores

Rich Girls
Contact Angel
Alecia
The Shining
Running Free
Drifter

For more info about Thunderstick including music and merchandise, please visit the official website https://thunderstick.co.uk.

For more info about the Cart & Horses pub and music venue, including details of how to purchase the ‘2 Wasted Years’ compilation CD (which includes Thunderstick) please visit https://www.cartandhorses.london

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