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'I get stage fright and freeze up' The Steelhouse Festival returns TOWALES this weekend to celebrate classic rock. Here Danny Bowes, the lead singer of headline band Thunder, speaks to Dave Ling of Classic Rock magazine.

Do you remember your own experience of a festival as a fan? The first festival I attended was Reading back in 1975 with Luke [Morley, guitarist] and our friend Jon. We were 15 years old and it was very exciting at first, with the travel and the tent pitching etc but then Luke knocked a saucepan of freshly boiling water over my ankle. I had a long excruciating walk to find a phone box and call for an ambulance. My "friends" Luke and Jon stayed to watch the bands, and told me they were great when I found them later that night. I ended up in Reading General Hospital with third degree burns, and they sliced off my killer patchwork jeans, and my brand new Gola trainers to get to the blisters. I was super choked about the trainers! The nurse cut the blisters off - yuk! - and covered me in icy cold wet towels, then I was bandaged up to my groin to reduce the swelling and sent away with instructions not to get it wet. I fell in the Thames the next night drunk, of course and the wound became very badly infected, which resulted in dozens of hospital visits over nine months. I still have the scars today. The bands I did manage to see were amazing, and I loved being at the festival, apart from all the pain of course.

What was the first festival you actually performed at? Reading again, in 1982, with Terraplane. We were regulars at the Marquee in Wardour Street by then, and were offered the opening slot on the Sunday morning. Everybody was crawling out of their tents at midday when we went on so there was hardly anyone watching, but it filled up quickly, and we loved it. We got paid PS75, and they charged us PS90 for the drum riser. The big time had arrived. We did get two of our songs on the 'Reading Rocks' live album though, so we were chuffed.

Which was the biggest crowd you appeared in front of? I don't know for sure but I suspect it was our first appearance at Donington in 1990. I've heard reports that there were 88,000 people watching. I do know that you couldn't see the back of the crowd, and it took ages for the sound to travel there. When I asked them to clap, it was like a vast Mexican wave. Incredible.

Is there a secret in controlling such a big audience? No idea, I get stagefright and freeze up completely! Ha ha. Seriously, it helps if you have a great band and fab tunes that work indoors and outdoors. When I talk to the crowd, I try to keep it simple and speak slower than usual. Seems to work.

As a band that played the Monsters Of Rock Festival twice, do have any practical experience of a crowd throwing objects at you? We did Reading in 1982 and 1987.

The first time was great as they were only half awake but the second time it was very ugly. We got the obligatory bottles of piss and all sorts thrown at us. In Sweden in the early 1990s they threw coins which almost cost me a tooth. Luke was also hit by a really smelly plimsoll in Uruguay in '92. Why did the guy only throw the one? No good to anyone, except a unidexter. Does spit count as a projectile? If so then you can add that to the list.

Thunder appeared at Steelhouse back in 2016. How was that experience? It was fabulous. I think Steelhouse is unlike other festivals. The vibe is very full on and the crowd is ridiculously loud, which of course is food and drink to us.

Its location at the top of a mountain makes it pretty unique. I'll be honest I missed the whole scaling the mountain experience in 2016, as we went overnight on the bus - that's the tour bus, not the 122. I fell asleep in my bunk just outside London and awoke next morning on the mountain. I have no idea how the driver got it up there, but I think he probably earned his beans that night. Up on top it's pretty staggering all round, and the organisation is really good. There's a real family vibe, and not corporate like some festivals.

You know Mikey and Max, the show's organisers. What are they like? I know them well. They're mostly drunk in my experience. Luckily I don't see them all the time, so there must be times when they're sober! Seriously, I know they're really passionate and committed to the festival being the best they can make it. They put in a hell of a lot of work in order to do that, and each year it grows a bit more, which is how it should be when you're doing a good job.

Thunder have recorded in Wales. Do you feel a strong affinity with the place as a country? I think it's hard not feel an affinity with a place if you have such a great experience every time you go there. For us Rockfield is like home from home. The show we did at Caerphilly Castle [in 2018] was incredible, not just because it was a stunning location but because the audience was mental in their enthusiasm. Though the label wanted London we insisted on filming our 'Stage' live album and DVD in Cardiff in 2017 because when we were there in '13 with Journey and Whitesnake the reaction after the first song was nuts. It was like we were the headliners. We thought someone else had come on behind us! It took two mins before we could begin the second song. As you can probably tell, Wales definitely works for Thunder.

You are invited to curate Bowes-Fest, a loaned time machine allowing you to book six bands or artists existing or defunct. Who gets the nod? I like the sound of BowesFest. I'd have Free, Little Feat, The Doors, the Coverdale and Hughes era of Deep Purple, Sensational Alex Harvey Band and James Brown. I'll let them all fight it out for the billing, but JB definitely headlines. I might also need a second day.

Via the Steelhouse Facebook page Thunder invited the fans to make suggestions for the set-list. Was that helpful? Will they be acted upon? We always like to know what fans want so we always welcome suggestions. With 12 studio albums' worth of songs over 30 years, sometimes we can give it to them, sometimes we can only give them some of it.

Given that Thunder's most recent album 'Please Remain Seated' was a selection of mostly unplugged reimaginings, what's the likelihood of an acoustic interlude? None, nada, zilch. This is our only outdoor show in the UK this year. It will be full on, electric, one jump all jump. We're seriously looking forward to it. No one will leave the arena anything less than exhausted.

And finally, we know about the Christmas shows in Manchester and Birmingham, but when can we expect an all-new Thunder studio album? We announced a Greatest Hits album on June 24, with pre-sales beginning on June 28. It'll be released on Sept 27 and contain at least one song from every studio album, so it will be the most cohesive and comprehensive collection released to date.

We chose the tracks ourselves, so we hope fans old and new like having all the bangers in one handy place.

As for a new album, we've already begun and barring any unforeseen forks in the road we expect it to be released towards the back end of 2020.

| Steelhouse Festival is at Hafody-Dafal Farm, Ebbw Vale, NP13 2ER from today until Sunday (JUL 26 to 28). Visit www.steelhousefestival.com
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 26, 2019
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