The Undertones

TrackSingle / Album
Family EntertainmentThe Undertones
TearproofHypnotised
I Gotta GettaThe Undertones
Billy’'s ThirdThe Undertones
Really ReallySIR 4010 single (B-side)
You’'ve Got My Number
(Why Don’'t You Use It?)
SIR 4024 single
Sigh And ExplodePositive Touch
Rock n RollThe Peel Sessions
We All Talked About YouDig Yourself Deep
Much Too LateRecord Store Day 2013 single

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Contributor: Neil Waite

I’ve been passionate about music for as long as I can remember. Strong memories of buying glam rock singles from W H Smith when I was around 5 years of age, taking them home and playing them on the family Dansette. Around 1977, aged 10, I went to stay with my cousin, who was heavily into a new type of music called “Punk”. He had just bought an LP by a group called The Clash and, according to his mum, overheard talking to mine in the kitchen, it was not music but noise. I listened to the LP and loved it. Over the coming months my cousin would introduce me to many bands including Stiff Little Fingers, Siouxsie, the Ruts and the Pistols.

The best thing he introduced me to, however, was John Peel.

From age 12, I listened to John Peel religiously. My parents insisted I went to sleep at 10pm ­- when his show started. So I had to listen quietly on a little transistor radio under the covers. It was at this time I first heard Teenage Kicks famously played twice in a row. I was blown away, not so much by the tune, but by their amazing guitar sound. I remember reading an article in NME in 1979 where the journalist described the sound as a “Ramonic Buzzsaw Blowtorch”. A great description. I was hooked. I loved the Punk/New Wave movement and for me the Undertones were the top of the pile.

For my birthday I asked for the debut LP. The black and white photo of the band on the sleeve was brilliant. They looked so cool. Unfortunately, side one was damaged and it jumped on Family Entertainment and Girls Don’t Like It. I was distraught but couldn’t bring myself to take it back. After a couple of months, I finally went back to the shop but I had no receipt and had to blag it. The woman in Boots said she would replace it but the record had been re-released in a new sleeve. I didn’t like this new cover as much, even though the re-release had two extra tracks ­- Teenage Kicks and Get Over You ­- so I kept my faulty copy because I preferred the photo.

From then on I became obsessed with the Undertones. My school books were covered in Undertones pictures. In French, when asked to speak, I tried to speak about “les Undertones”. In Design and Technology I made an Undertones wall plaque. In Art I painted the Undertones. In Drama we did a sketch about choosing between a Beethoven concert and an Undertones gig. English was spent writing stories about the Undertones. In Geography we had to do a project on exotic places, and while my friends chose Hawaii or Greek Islands I chose Londonderry, to my teacher’s puzzlement.

I became known as a bit of an Undertones freak at school.

Then I saw, in Smash Hits I think, an advert for the Rocking Humdingers Club. I was so excited and started saving my dinner money so I could join. Soon I received my membership card, badge and a signed photo ­- an actual signed photo! That day I sat in my bedroom for hours staring at it. It became my most treasured possession. My next Design & Technology project would be to make a photo frame. And the RHC newsletters kept coming ­- a thrill before setting off for school. Then came a signed Christmas card, which was just incredible. In what other fan club would the band send out personally signed cards?

Then something amazing happened. A newsletter arrived with tour dates. They were coming to the Southampton Gaumont, 7 miles away! I nagged at my parents until they gave in and drove me to the box office. They bought 2 tickets (£3.50 each), for me and for my best friend, Rod. Rod also liked the Undertones but he thought his mum wouldn’t agree to him going to such a concert. On the way my dad picked Rod up from outside the local church. He had told his mum he was going to a talk on “Classic Books” at the local library. I remember praying we wouldn’t break down. Any other time but not now ­- please God.

Seeing the Undertones that evening was inexpressibly exciting. Even now the memory is vivid. As I sat in the front of the circle watching Orange Juice ­- the support ­- I just couldn’t believe what was coming. And then they were on stage – and they didn’t disappoint. That razor-edged sound came up rawer but intact, and Feargal was on vibrant form, leaping about through the opening song ­in a way that seemed incongruous with the sedate spinning of the record at home.

My obsession continued as I stayed up for Undertones sessions on John Peel and saved to buy their latest single or LP. I would check the post eagerly for the RHC newsletter. My name was published in Smash Hits when I requested the lyrics of Mars Bars and I was developing a reputation at school as “Undertones Neil”.

Although I liked the third album, Positive Touch, it lacked the sound of the first LP or even of the second, Hypnotised. If they had recreated the sound production of the first album with the Positive Touch songs it would have been another corker. I was disappointed with the next, The Sin of Pride though, as the edge in the guitar sound had quite gone. Of course, the band needed to evolve and while I was upset when they split up, the slight disappointment of that album somehow softened the blow.

Like many I was sceptical when the Undertones reformed in 1999, especially without Feargal Sharkey. However, Paul McLoone is a wonderful replacement, doing the songs justice but not trying to impersonate Feargal, and their shows are just as exciting now as they always were.

Am I still in love with the Undertones? Absolutely! I keep a CD copy of the first LP in my car and often drive to work with Billy’s Third or I Gotta Getta blaring.

So to choose 10 tracks is difficult. The Undertones were known as a great ‘singles’ band and indeed such classics as Teenage Kicks, Get Over You, My Perfect Cousin, Jimmy Jimmy, Here Comes The Summer are brilliant pop classics that have stood the test of time. However, we all know these songs so well and therefore I have decided not to include them in my toppermost ten; not because they are not worthy but because there are so many equally great tracks which, perhaps, don’t get the airing they deserve. I’ve also included a couple of the new tracks which illustrate that the boys from Derry can still cut it.

Thanks to Mr Peel, my passion for music continues. I have been into so many bands and genres over the years but the Undertones still remain on the top of the pile … and always will.

 

The Undertones official website

The Undertones Rocking Humdingers Club – The Unofficial interactive fan page devoted to Derry’s finest for news, views and reviews

Damian O’Neill official website

The Undertones biography (iTunes)

Neil Waite, a teacher of 24 years, has written a number of posts for Toppermost. He lives in Hampshire, England and has always been a music and vinyl addict. He loves a wide variety of music genres but is particularly passionate about Punk. You’ll find him on twitter @NeilWaite1

TopperPost #272

3 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    May 10, 2014

    Thanks for this great list. Saw The Undertones play live in Galway in the early 1980s and it remains one of the best gigs I have ever been at. Would have to have ‘Jimmy, Jimmy’ in my top ten though and maybe ‘Julie Ocean’ or ‘Wednesday Week’ to show their other side. And ‘Teenage Kicks’ has to be one of the best singles ever made…

  2. peter Viney
    May 10, 2014

    I enjoyed your story of getting obsessed with The Undertones. Well told and a route most of us have taken with our own choices. Orange Juice as support at Southampton… now more sought after than The Undertones, partly because of the Postcard Records sleeves. When The Undertones started their own label in 1981, Ardeck, I thought they had fabulous designs. The distinctive centre labels feature a variation on the part(s) of the circle which are folded over. The centre label design changes, with different sections “folded-over” on each record. Side one has one fold, side two has two folds. This is the usual way they did it. But on the confusing Double A-side disc, Julie Ocean “Side A” has one fold. The reverse, Kiss In The Dark, which is “Side One” has one fold too.

    Sorry for being irrelevant on music … but I am into label design!

    • Neil Waite
      May 11, 2014

      Thanks Peter. Yes, the Ardeck labels were well designed weren’t they? I used to look at the labels and try and work out that if the peeling image could be flattened would if fit perfectly? The announcement to move from Sire came through in a RHC newsletter dated April 1981. It stated, ‘The Undertones have formed their own label called Ardeck. It is licenced to EMI worldwide. The first release will be their new single and LP. The previous two LPs and seven singles will be made available by Ardeck in due course.’ Although well thought out I wasn’t keen on the Ardeck label graphics or the ‘Positive Touch’ logos that came with it. The logos were clever and I did like the way they were just plainly embossed on the white album sleeve – completely lost, of course, when released on CD as they then had to be printed on the cover – Yet another thing to add to the long list of things lost when the world moved from Vinyl to CD. But I think it was an association thing. I associated Sire with that ‘razor edged’ guitar sound and Ardeck with the more softer sound. I therefore consider their career in two distinct categories, ‘Pre Ardeck’ and ‘Post Sire’ – the two having completely different sounds. I always preferred ‘Pre Ardeck’.

      I absolutely loved all the Undertones artwork up to, and including the ‘You’ve Got My Number’ 7” which had a single sided die cut sleeve revealing a band photo on the label – brilliant! The image was a ‘grouped’ (to fit in the label area) photo from the first album reissue photo shoot. The sketching style of ‘Get Over You’, the classic yellow ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ and the post card ‘Here Comes The Summer’ sleeves were just brilliant works of art – so simple but so striking in their own way. Following the same ‘association’ rule my favourite has always been the initial ‘Good Vibrations’ release showing a plain white label with the blue ‘serif’ style typeface stating ‘Good Vibrations Records’. The writing follows the line of circumference around the top. For me, simplicity is normally the best style of design. Interestingly some Good Vibrations issues credited ‘The Undertones’ while others just ‘Undertones’ – but I’ll stop there before I wander too far into anorak land.

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