The Undertones Biography
Last updated: 02/09/2012 10:00:00 AM
The Undertones emerged from Derry in Northern Ireland in the whole punk, ‘mew wave’ boom of 1977-1978. They had actually formed in 1975. The time-honoured five mates who played cover versions in youth clubs. The line up featured the O’Neill brothers – John and Damian on guitars, Michael Bradley on bass, Billy Doherty on drums, and on vocals Feargal Sharkey.
Like countless others, punk rock fired their imagination, and gave shape and direction to their material. A love of Garage bands as heard on the seminal Lenny Kaye compilation ‘Nuggets’ helped formulate their predilection for songs with strong chorus hooks, keeping songs short, economical and dynamic.
It wasn’t until 1978 that their pop fizz bombs were finally preserved on vinyl, with the classic debut single ‘Teenage Kicks’, released originally on the Good Vibrations label. The song so enamoured influential Radio One deejay John Peel that he announced it to be his ‘favourite record of all time’, and played the single incessantly. "Teenage Kicks" has subsequently come to be considered one of the best rock songs of all time.
The Undertones shared a musical commonality with The Ramones in the USA and The Buzzcocks in England, wherein their songs were distilled to an addictive core, but still finding time for lyrical invention and musical flair.
Signing to The Ramones label, Sire, the bands eponymous debut album and its follow-up, ‘Hypnotised’, showed that ‘Teenage Kicks’ was no mere fluke. On ‘Hypnotised’, the band even spoofed label mates Talking Heads second album, ‘More Songs About Buildings and Food’ with the song ‘More Songs about Chocolate and Girls’, showing that there was a knowing wit at work amongst the addictive choruses and chunky riffing. The band earned a reputation as a ‘singles’ act par excellence, with cracking 45s such as ‘Here Comes The Summer’, ‘You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It)’, and ‘My Perfect Cousin’.
Subsequent albums, such as ‘Positive Touch’ and ‘The Sin of Pride’ showed a band with an increasing mastery of studio technique, and a greater feel for song arrangement and structure. Sadly, internal tensions within the band reached breaking point, with the result, that singer Feargal Sharkey departed, to pursue a solo career, and the O’Neill brothers formed the highly regarded and popular That Petrol Emotion.
However, in 1999, The Undertones reconvened to play some shows in Derry, without Sharkey, his role being taken by Paul McLoone whose electric onstage presence more than make's up for Sharkey’s absence. It was like the band never split; they were rapturously received. The old classics were as fresh and their live performances as exhilarating as in 1979 with the new songs receiving a positive reaction from audiences and critics alike.
They are now playing selective shows around the globe, attracting old fans, and many younger fans intrigued to have an opportunity to see one of the major influences on the new wave of pop/punk bands such as Sum41, The Hives and Green Day etc. As well as performing live the Undertones have also recorded and released an album of new material, "GET WHAT YOU NEED" plus a "BEST OF", both albums were released in the autumn of 2003 and received unanimous critical acclaim.