Irish punk and new wave legends The Undertones are still going strong and aiming to prove it with a UK tour and a gig in Leeds this month.
They are without singer Feargal Sharkey these days, but have lost none of their fire and will be playing all the big hits that came in the band’s heyday when taking to the stage at Leeds University on Friday, November 24.
The Undertones emerged from Derry in 1976, the result of five friends (John O’Neill, Damian O’Neill, Feargal Sharkey, Billy Doherty and Michael Bradley) learning how to play basic rock and roll.
Even by the standards of that decade Derry was not the rock and roll capital of anywhere. With no live bands worth watching, they learned by listening to mail order records, reading one of the few copies of NME that made it to Derry but most of all from listening to John Peel’s show on BBC Radio One. Practicing in their bedrooms eventually led to the band recording John O’Neill’s ‘Teenage Kicks’ in 1978 on Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations label in Belfast. The legendary DJ John Peel received a copy and liked it so much he played it twice in a row on his radio show.
The Undertones signed with Sire Records and ‘Teenage Kicks’ was re-released, resulting in the band’s first appearance on Top Of The Pops.
Over the next five years, John O Neill, crafted further pop gems such as `Here Comes The Summer`, ‘Jimmy Jimmy`, `You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It)’ and ‘Wednesday Week’ while Damian O’Neill and Michael Bradley contributed ‘My Perfect Cousin. They also recorded four highly acclaimed LPs. Indeed, they almost enjoyed the life of professional musicians.
In 1983 Sharkey left the band to pursue a solo career and the remaining members decided to call it a day. The Undertones were to remain silent for the next 16 years.
In 1999, however, they reconvened, without Sharkey, to once again perform their two-minute, three-and-a-half chord songs to a new generation of fans in Derry. Fellow Derryman Paul McLoone replaced Sharkey on vocals and his vocal prowess and electric onstage presence soon convinced any doubters that he was more than capable of doing the job.
After much consideration the band released an album of new songs called `Get What You Need’, which was critically acclaimed by Q magazine, Uncut, Rolling Stone and Hot Press. Songs like ‘Thrill Me’, ‘I Need Your Love The Way It Used To Be’ and ‘Everything But You’ showed that the art of writing short, sharp songs had not been lost over the previous two decades.
In 2003 ‘Thrill Me’ was released as a limited edition 7” vinyl single and found its way to John Peel’s turntable. He introduced it on his show commenting, “And these are words I thought I would never be saying on radio again, a new single from The Undertones”. He liked it so much he played it twice, just as he did with ‘Teenage Kicks’ in 1978.
Since signing a licensing deal with Union Square Music, the four original LPs, ‘The Undertones’, ‘Hypnotised’, ‘The Positive Touch’ and ‘The Sin Of Pride’ have been available in digital and physical form, all with additional tracks and videos.
The band marked Record Store Day 2013 with a 7” vinyl only release, recorded in the famous Toe Rag studio in London. A return to their punk roots, ‘Much Too Late’ sold out the 1,000 copies before the day was out.
The year 2016 marked the band’s 40th anniversary and they celebrated with a variety of scorching live performances at festivals and venues throughout the UK and Europe. The reviews have been glowing and many critics and fans say the band are playing as well as or better than ever before.
This year sees the band continuing to play plenty of live shows and their return to Leeds will be a welcome one for gig goers.