Ultimate Thunder: Britain’s most punk-rock band

Meet Britain’s most punk-rock band. An eight-track from Leeds, also featuring bassist John Greaves and synthesizer Stuart Illingworth, which sound like absolutely none of their influences – or indeed like anyone. A band of drone-tastic noisenik wonders, whose forthcoming self-titled debut is a jaw-dropping mix of motorik drum beats, menacing fuzzy basslines and cosmic synthesizer swirls. Ultimate Thunder has been described by their producer James Mabbett, aka lo-fi pop artist Napoleon III, as “The fall meets Hawkwind”.

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First formed by Heselwood in 2013 as part of an art project in conjunction with Leeds charity People In Action, Ultimate Thunder have been playing together in a variety of different line-ups for nine years now. But it wasn’t until lockdown in 2020, when their weekly jam sessions had to go live, that they set about writing and recording their debut album on Zoom, with support from fellow organization Pyramid. Leeds-based charity that supports apprentice artists. disabilities to “discover, develop and disrupt the arts”. The band received a £43,000 grant from the Arts Council to have their record professionally mixed, pressed and promoted.

Making an album on Zoom brought with it some technical challenges, mostly related to absurdity
internet connections. “It was difficult,” Stainburn recalls, “because it was difficult to sing through the screen and you couldn’t see anyone.”

“It was tough at times because we kept losing Kenneth,” adds Heselwood, “you kept freezing with a big smile on your face.”

All members of Ultimate Thunder have learning disabilities except for founder Heselwood – who acts as a mentor and guide, in addition to playing guitar. Several members are almost non-verbal. Frontman Watson isn’t one of them – it would be problematic if he was – but that doesn’t guarantee he’ll actually sing during gigs. Sometimes he prefers to just prowl happily, looking at the rest of the group, like a nicer Mark E Smith. “I think being on stage is a wonderful feeling,” says Watson. “When I go on stage, I feel happy.” Ultimate Thunder never follows setlists. Free-form chaos reigns.

One of drummer Anderson’s favorite things about gigs is watching his bandmates — of whom he is hugely complimentary — strut their stuff. “Alex, who plays the piano,” he says, “he’s a fabulous star.”

Star keyboardist Sykes’ favorite thing about the shows, for his part: “I like it because it’s loud,” he says.

When Watson sings, the results are incredibly unpredictable. “Lions, tigers! To America!” he incants mischievously on the opening track of the album Ultimate Thunder A toll of moneyin a brand sprechgesang stream of consciousness spiel. He does a lot of sneaky cackling into the mic, overlaid with an unnerving echo, like something out of an amusement park horror house. Bring the science it looks a bit like Black Sabbath Paranoid, except re-tooled by angry robots. Other intriguing and bizarre song titles on the album include Laminations, take my head and my favourite, Holiday Inn Summer Camp. Their very cool cover art and logo are designed by bassist Greaves.

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What’s the best thing about being in Ultimate Thunder?

“Being in a band, learning to play music,” Sykes replies.

“Being in a rock band, making beats and playing drums,” Anderson replies. Clearly a lover of spontaneous songs, he gets into the Queen’s we will Rock You That much.

Illingworth: “Being with friends.”

Stainburn: “Teaching music to others.”

Finally, singer Watson: “I think that’s really good,” he said to himself. “Being in a band is really amazing. Every Monday, see everyone. You use a guitar, you play drums.

Ultimate Thunder’s self-titled debut album hits vinyl, CD and digital platforms July 29

Malcolm Jack is a freelance journalist

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Diana J. Carleton