Thunderstick – interview
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY CAME – AN INTERVIEW WITH THUNDERSTICK
The fabulous NWOBHM stalwarts that are Thunderstick released a splendid live record entitled “Something Wicked This Way Came – Live in France” via Roulette Media on CD a couple of weeks ago to mark the 40th anniversary of the band. These skilled musicians offer raw, powerful metal of the catchiest and most memorable kind. I will not bore you with a long introduction, but I would sincerely ask that you check this underrated act out ASAP if you are into glorious old-school British heavy metal capable of melting your face and tearing your roof down. Enjoy our chat with legendary drummer Barry ‘Thunderstick’ Graham Purkis (ex-Samson, ex-Iron Maiden) below.
Greetings Barry, how are you? First of all, congratulations on your fabulous new live record,
“Something Wicked This Way Came – Live in France”! As you know, I am quite fond of it and I think it truly showcases just how strong and tight the current incarnation of Thunderstick is. As to the concert itself and the atmosphere surrounding the event, was the whole affair a pleasant one for you and did you enjoy it? It is in actual fact the first ever official live document by Thunderstick, correct? Personally, I think it is the perfect way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band.
B: Hi Jens. First and foremost, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your review of the album and I am really pleased that you liked it.
The festival for us was very enjoyable, we had to leave the UK on a ferry very early on the day so we were half asleep during the crossing and once in France it was a few hours driving to arrive at the gig itself. Once there though tiredness disappeared entirely. It was already full with a great audience, many merchandise stalls and a generally exciting atmosphere. As you know there were both French and English bands performing so it was great to ‘catch up’ with friends such as Airforce. We played early evening and the live album is a ‘snapshot’ of our gig. There have been many incarnations of
Thunderstick the band through the years both in the UK and in the USA. I have always tried to work with as many musicians as I can, having a changing line-up I think keeps a band fresh. I saw the opportunity of recording a live album of this gig a fitting way to introduce our fantastic vocalist Raven to many that would’ve liked to have been there, and of course to those that were there as a memory of that night. Yes, you are also right that it documents the 40th anniversary of the band.
“Live in France” is also a great representation of both how fantastic the material lifted from the “Something Wicked This Way Comes” record (2017) is and how well it blends with the old tunes. There is something quite special about immersing oneself in the live offering in that there is a red thread running through it all and everything seems connected. Whenever you compile a set list for a show, is it important to you that all chapters and eras of the Thunderstick history and discography are included and represented or do you merely choose the songs that you enjoy to play the most regardless of whether they are old or new?
B: What an insightful question. The set-list that we have been playing at home in the UK has been compiled under the title ‘Ground Zero’ having a story line running through it whereupon each song represents something within that story. I also wanted to include a couple of songs from my time with Samson. So overall I felt it was a good balance of intensity and substance.
Another great thing about the live record is that it captures the wild and fiery energy of your performance as well as the raw and bombastic nature of Thunderstick’s music. I love its organic aura. Were you involved in the mixing and/or the post-production of the release?
B: Once again I thank you for your insight.
Yes, I have always produced my own material right from day one, arrangements and the way the band sounds are of the utmost importance to me. Obviously with a live album you are at the mercy of the way it has been recorded, constant changing sound due to movement onstage, occasional unwanted feedback and so many other factors all play their part. So, you have to work with what you have rather than having the luxury of a controlled environment such as in a studio. At this juncture I would just like just mention my friend Bill Kendama who recorded us that night under challenging conditions. He and I worked closely on the post-recording, EQuing and final Mixdown whenever we had the time to do so. He is located in France and I am in the UK, so it was back and forth for a while, but we got there in the end. I wanted it to contain that rawness of which you speak so your confirmation of hearing that pleases me.
As I have written in the sleeve notes there are no studio overdubs or audio enhancements or reconstructions; just a band doing what they do live.
There is a wonderfully theatrical vibe to some of the Thunderstick tracks in terms of the lyrics and the way in which they are delivered. Were you in any way influenced by outfits and artists with a strong visual and to some extent dramatic quality to them (e.g. Alice Cooper and David Bowie just to list a couple of examples) when you launched Thunderstick back in the day?
B: Totally 100% – I have always loved theatricality in rock. Alice, The Tubes, Bowie, Kiss. I have always believed that if an audience are paying to see your show you should give them just that – a show. I admire bands that show they really care about their fans and are only too willing to reinvest money back into a stage show. Rather than go onstage in jeans and t-shirts staring at their guitars or pedal boards. My band of course have a limited budget so we try to deliver whatever we can without it looking too ‘Spinal tap’. Lyrically, I write all the lyrics for the material and with certain songs like to be satirical and sometimes even caustic. I mean who else would want to write a love song to Jack the Ripper from one of his victims called ‘You Get Me in Pieces (Love Letter to Jack)’. Check out the lyrics sometime.
It is also worth mentioning that the live CD marks Raven Blackwing’s first recorded appearance with the band. That is something pretty special in and of itself. Her vocals are splendid and add so much color and texture to the compositions. It must be thrilling for you to listen to her sing the songs in rehearsals and on stage considering just how much charisma and power she adds to them? Will she be involved in writing and arranging songs for Thunderstick in the future?
B: She is most definitely the best singer I have had at the front of the band for many a year. I would put her on the same level as my one-time singer and partner Jodee Valentine (RIP). Raven has an onstage aura about her that she exudes both in voice and stagecraft. She will go from strength to strength throughout her career – of that I am certain – and I hope that a large part of it will be with Thunderstick.
As to the format of “Something Wicked This Way Came – Live in France”, it will only be available on CD, right? There are no plans to release it online for people to stream? In the humble opinion of yours truly, the most fitting and proper format for an album such as this one is either CD or vinyl – and it makes it much more exclusive and special too for those who have bought the limited edition release, but again, that is just my opinion.
B: You have really hit on a point here. This is lifted from my Facebook page: “I don’t believe for a minute that streaming or downloading an artist’s work helps expand that artist’s fanbase ($00.0006 per download)…maybe if you are a runner up on the latest talent show merry go round but if a band sits in a certain niche (such as mine) appealing to a certain demographic, it is of no use. Even if it did what use would it be if that fanbase weren’t prepared to pay for your product because they can download it or stream it for virtually no outlay. Most extremely hard-working musicians these days aren’t in the privileged position of being able to reap the benefits of the immense budgets that were spent on heavily promoting them years ago when the music business was a completely different animal. A time when concert promoters actually promoted, helping the band to play to an enquiring audience instead of doing a minimum amount of work expecting the band to turn up with a ‘ready-made audience’. Being a ‘jobbing musician’ in today’s musical climate is hard. When supporters/fans buy our product, it shows us directly that they recognize the importance and validity of their purchase, an ‘investment’ that keeps the band alive and being able to continue to make their music”.
You have been active in the heavy metal milieu for five decades now and one of the things that I find inspiring about Thunderstick (as in the band) and you as a musician is that you sound as determined, confident, and inspired as ever. But what motivates and inspires you to keep going? What constantly drives you forward? Is your desire to rehearse, write and record songs, play gigs, and promote the band as strong and present as it ever was?
B: Thank you for those kind words. I do find it harder these days it has to be said. “Why?” you ask…Well, see my answer to the previous question. The music ‘business’ is now completely unrecognizable from that of the 1980s when I first put together a band, and I am considerably older than the person of that time (although the Thunderstick character is ageless). I still enthuse about new songs, stage presentation and generally having a band to play with. It is the best feeling in the world when you are part of something that is firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, though, I have another side to me infuriated by ‘musicians’ that have achieved very little not having ‘paid their dues’ that feel as though fame/fortune is their God-given right. I have had a few of those through the ranks of Thunderstick down the years (not mentioning any names), but we don’t last long in each other’s company, ha-ha. I guess that I have an inner drive that doesn’t know when to quit. However, long gone are the days where I used to climb huge PA stacks and jump from the top of them back onto the stage. The body I have now wouldn’t allow such behavior.
Do you recall when your interest in music started and where your musical odyssey began? If push comes to show, what is your all-time favorite album? And what are you currently listening to at home?
B: Music has always been important to me. All of us have various songs or albums that act as punctuation marks of our lives and when we hear them, they immediately transport us back to those times or events. Back in the day I would derive much pleasure from memorizing lyrics and vocal melodies enabling me to sing alongside to particular albums, always trying to emulate the particular vocal style of the band’s singer. Then of course there was the unbelievable level of excitement that could be had in buying a ‘latest release’ from an artist/band, getting it home as quickly as possible and putting the needle in the groove of the opening track, pawing over the cover and taking in everything about it; where it was recorded, special thanks to…, the sleeve photos or the design the entire package presented – everything that would create a representation of your life at that time. All sadly missing for music lovers these days. Alex from ‘A Clockwork Orange’ said “What you got back home, little sister, to play your fuzzy warbles on? I bet you got, say, pitiful, portable picnic players. Come with uncle and hear all proper! Hear angels’ trumpets and devils’ trombones. You are invited!”.
To name just one album that defines everything that I love about music is an impossible task and would be a disservice to all the thousands of albums that have meant so much to me throughout my life. So many albums for so many different reasons.
What is next for you guys in the grand scheme of things? A new EP? A studio album?
B: At the moment it is all about a new album. We are now halfway through recording it and all being well we are looking to release it by the end of the year. Live work has been put on hold until we all hopefully immerge unscathed from this Covid-19 pandemic.
Finally, Jens, I would just like to add a huge ‘Thank you’ to you and all your readers.
Stay Safe Guys.