Interview with LUKE MORLEY (THE UNION/THUNDER)

Guitarist Luke Morley is a busy man with a new album by The Union (the band he formed with Winterville’s Pete ShoulderThe World Is Yours’ out on March 4th and a UK tour in February. Plus Thunder are back for a UK arena tour with Whitesnake and Journey in May and a couple of summer festivals in June.

The new album is really good. When you come to write an album do you have any specific musical styles you write in?

We just tend to write and not worry about genre at all. We see what comes out and pick out the songs we like the most. Sometimes it’s quite a discipline to do that. We write songs we like regardless of genre, and that’s what makes the album. A simple philosophy, but you’ve got to go with your gut instinct really. Despite the fact people are always trying to categorise bands, for us it’s all about making music we like and hoping other people like it.

How did it go using Pledge Music to fund the new album?

It’s an interesting idea. The idea is that you go to your fans ahead of the game and say we’ve made two albums you’ve liked and now we are making a new album – and we’d like you to help us make it, in the financial sense.

It will only work for a band with a certain sized fanbase. If you are such a band, with a certain amount of followers to generate the money to do it that way, it is a model of what all future album releases are going to be for everybody across the board. There are more and more labels shrinking into one big label, and for bands not in the pop/teen bracket this is going to be the way forward.

What extras did you give for the fans? Some bands have given signed albums, meet ‘n’ greets based on the amount pledged…

We tried to make it as interactive as we could. We invited small numbers of fans in to see the recording process. Next Saturday we have an exclusive playback of the album and a little acoustic gig at Walton Castle, where we recorded the album, for some fans. It’s a fairly spectacular place. We invite them in, play the album, have lunch, play an acoustic gig and have a detailed meet ‘n’ greet. Fortunately, we are people quite comfortable doing this but for some bands that wouldn’t work, because the thought of having to actually talk to people would be too much for them. There is also a deluxe version of the album, poster and other things.

We tried to cut the cloth of the campaign to what the average Union fan would like, based on average age and all that sort of thing.  We did try to think about it scientifically. So far everybody’s been fine and we have only had one complaint so far.

That’s not bad then!

(Laughs) It’s quite good.

You have the UK tour coming up in February. What sort of set list are you compiling, and how much of the new album will you feature?

I ain’t got a bloody clue! Basically, on the first day of rehearsals we will blast through the stuff on the new album we think is appropriate. What happens in any band’s career is there are some songs you just have to do – and on the first two albums there are some really important live songs, so they will stay in the set. It’s a question of augmenting. I’ve been through this process with Thunder, as with every new album it makes it harder to pick the set. It’s almost like a football team where you have a bigger squad of higher class players to pick from. It should get better every time you tour.

You received a ‘Classic Rock’ nomination for your last album ‘Siren Song’. How did you feel being nominated?

The previous year we won Best New Band. Awards don’t mean a great deal in the wider scheme of things. It’s better to win them than not to win them. The awards ceremony itself is more important. Until Classic Rock came along classic rock music had no awards, and it’s an annual piss-up for everyone involved in all the aspects of the business. The awards are so subjective if they are not based on sales or audience vote.

What sort of fanbase have the Union got? You’ve obviously brought some fans over from your days in Thunder and Terraplane.

The Union’s being going since the end of 2009 and during that time we had a degree of interest from some Thunder fans, but not all. Pete’s previous band, Winterville, it was the same sort of thing. It’s impossible to take everyone with you and fans from twenty years ago have had families, kids and what’s going on in music now is maybe not so important to them. Maybe they are not as avid as they were.  They will check out Thunder but won’t go and see anything new. The hardcore are the ones who will listen to everything we do outside of Thunder and some will like, some will not have liked it.

It can be an invigorating thing for creative people but sometimes fans can be very conservative and say ‘it’s not like it used to be’. We have also picked-up fans who were too young to have seen Thunder and that’s good as well.

Your solo album ‘El Gringo Retro’ is being re-issued as a two disc set later this month. What is on the second disc?

It’s mainly a collection of demos that didn’t make the album at the time. When the label Cherry Red approached me I said “how are we going to do it differently?”. They said “have you got anything else knocking around?”. I went through my archive, which was quite interesting really, and chose songs from the same period, plus a few live songs from the only Japanese tour I ever did.

Would you consider doing another album?

Well, when I did this album I didn’t have anything else to do after Thunder had finished. Now, bizarrely, I am busier than I have ever been. It is a time consuming thing, as you are doing it all on your own. It’s difficult to say but possibly.

Thunder has the tour with Whitesnake and Journey coming up in May. Did Thunder get back together after they were offered the tour? How did it come about?

I sat down with Danny (Bowes, Thunder vocalist) last year over dinner and we talked about doing some festivals this summer. The Union did a lot of festivals last year and we won’t do as many this year. We thought if everyone is around why the hell not? As we have no pressure to make a new record, just go out and play.

We said to our agent we are up for a run of festivals in the summer and the Whitesnake/Journey tour came after this and the promoter is the same one who books Thunder. He said, “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in this?”. We had a chat about it and thought if we are going out in June for a couple of festivals we might as well do it. ‘Be a good warm-up. Arena shows are always fun to do.

How did the Thunder Christmas shows in Manchester go? You’d played Nottingham previously.

We moved this year and it’s great. Every year it seems to get bigger and we are moving it again this year. Hopefully, we will be able to announce this soon. Last year was great; two sold out nights at the Manchester Academy, the best part of 5,000 people across the two shows. Being the Christmas show, we augment the band with guest musicians, which is always fun for me, as the kind of musical director, and I can have fun with the musical arrangements. It’s like our Christmas office party in a way.

Would you consider releasing a live DVD of the shows, as many fans obviously can’t get to the gigs?

We have talked about filming it in the past. We record it each year, as a live recording of the show is included in the ticket price. It would be nice, and it is also about finding an appropriate venue. We couldn’t have filmed it in Nottingham due to the shape of the building and the stage. With this year’s shows we shall see how we feel. It’d be nice to do it.

Thunder is a touring only band now but is there any chance of recording a new album at some stage?

We stopped as Danny wanted to do something else and I didn’t want to carry on with Thunder without Danny. The other thing he was doing he did but didn’t enjoy doing it, and during this time the Union started, which is very time consuming. To make another Thunder would mean a lot of work for me, not for the others (laughs)! I am too busy to undertake writing the songs.

I am not saying we wouldn’t do it in the future. We’ve stopped and started twice with Thunder, so you won’t get me to predict anything! I don’t want to say ‘no’ and I don’t want to say ‘yes’. The same applies to Bowes/Morley, it is all about timing. If there was a period (of time) then all these things are a possibility.

Why did Terraplane call it a day? A lot may have been due to label pressure for singles?

I look on Terraplane as our apprenticeship, really. We were rough around the edges when we started. A bunch of lads from south-east London signed to Epic Records. It was kind of like how we were fortunate enough to work in nice studios and have a lot spent on us marketing-wise.

We learnt how to deal with lawyers and labels. But where we weren’t strong enough was in terms of our musical identity and what direction we were going. We allowed ourselves to be pushed and pulled a little bit. CBS/Epic at the time was a very pop orientated label with bands like Wham! Rock acts seemed to be American and, at an A&R level, they didn’t really understand rock music and how it all worked, so we were struggling against that. Myself, as a songwriter, I was all over the place – I still am.

A definite direction didn’t really happen until Thunder. After the second Terraplane album, which wasn’t particularly enjoyable to make, we thought we can’t go any further like this.

I started a few songs and I had an epiphany one day and thought “this is what we should do”. We sat down and I said let’s make records we want to make and if people don’t like them f*** ‘em, we’ll go and work in McDonalds. We just made a record we wanted to make and that was what the first Thunder album was. There is a moral in that story: do what you like, do what you’re good at and normally success doesn’t come far behind.

Thunder came in with the debut album in 1990 and you kept successful throughout the 90’s, despite grunge.

We always thought of ourselves as outsiders, as we were never embraced by the mainstream media in the UK. We never got on Radio 1’s playlist or anything like that. We just concentrated on playing live and making the best albums we could and not bother too much what was going on around us. Fashion is a dangerous thing. With Terraplane, we experienced that with the label.

A lot of bands now do tours playing a whole album. Is this something Thunder would consider at all?

I don’t think so. That doesn’t work for me, but I can understand why it works for some bands. I wouldn’t want to do a Thunder gig that didn’t have ‘I Love You More Than Rock ‘N’ Roll’ or ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’. I feel they are just as strong as songs on ‘Backstreet Symphony’ and ‘Laughing On Judgement Day’. A band’s career is across a number of years and that’s what makes it interesting. It’s almost like acknowledging you never made a good an album as the one you are playing and I don’t feel like that about Thunder.

You’ve worked with Andy Taylor in the past. Any chance you may work with him again in the future?

Andy’s a good friend and I saw him about a year ago. He’s fiddling in various musical things. He has an interest in dance music. He’s a person I really enjoying writing and hanging-out with. Maybe, who knows?

What do you like doing outside of music?

(Laughs) I’d love to have time to do something else. I used to play golf! Union is self-financed, completely independent and there are lots and lots of things to do, not just the music. I have just started to go to the gym again after Christmas, like a lot of people do.Just try and keep myself fairly fit, keep myself in touch with the world and, if the chance comes along, play a round of golf.

Message for your fans…

Thank you, both of you (laughs).

Interview conducted by Jason Ritchie


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Power Plays w/c 10 November 2014

THE BOSSHOSS Bullpower (Caroline)
FLASHFIRES Circus Boy (Angry Badger Records)
BLINK Cello 20 (indie)
PRYTI Amnesia (Welcome To Pariahville)
WITCHRIDER Witch Hunt (indie)
BEND SINISTER It Will Never End (File Under: Music)

Featured Albums w/c 10 November 2014

10:00-12:00 WICKED SENSATION Adrenaline Rush (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 RATED X – Rated X (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 THE SARAH DUNN BAND You Or The Whiskey (Audacity Records)


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