THE UNDERTONES Get your kicks

The Undertones formed in 1975 when a bunch of teenagers in Derry, Ireland cut their teeth on a diet of garage bands and the emerging UK punk scene. CHRIS HAVERCROFT spoke to founding member and guitarist Damien O’Neill about the second wave of the band, who are bringing its back catalogue back to life as well as adding a new chapter. The Undertones play the Rosemount Hotel on Saturday July 15.

Although they only released four albums between 1975 and 1983 (before reforming in 1999), The Undertones influence was vast. The band have an array of classic two minute punk/pop songs with Teenage Kicks being bestowed the honour of John Peel’s favourite song of all time. In spite of this recognition, The Undertones have never set foot in Australia until now.

“I have been trying to work out why we haven’t been before,” says O’Neill of the Australian Tour. “We must have got offered the chance to come out back in the day. The only reason I can think that we wouldn’t have gone, is that at the time we probably didn’t feel like we wanted to be away from home for so long. It works better now because we pick the time when we want to play shows, where as when we were younger we weren’t able to do that.”

Many things were different for the band when they were younger, but O’Neill suggests that the band were a product of a certain time and place. The music world was changing and The Undertones were lucky that they got the timing right.

“We started in the mid 70s and there wasn’t much going on, and then the punk scene happened,” he says. “The independent record scene started and we had a chance to make a record and had a radio DJ fall in love with us, so we had luck and a bit of talent. It must be much harder for bands now to be discovered, although they do have the Internet. Getting someone to notice you these days would be hard for young bands.”

O’Neill opines that when The Undertones do get together to play shows these days, that it is all fresh and fun. He admits that the band aren’t “spring chickens” anymore so they do short runs of shows so they aren’t too jaded or tired. This is a mature approach for a band who’s success was based on tunes about petty jealousy, girls and spotty neuroses.

“We don’t have teenage angst anymore, but it doesn’t stop our enthusiasm for playing all those great songs,” he jokes. “The one great thing about reforming in 1999 is that we had forgotten how good the songs were. We were always a very self deprecating band when we were young and we didn’t believe in ourselves. It took until we reformed to be able to rectify that.”

Feargal Sharkey decided not to be a part of the band when they reformed in 1999, so The Undertones had to look for a new voice. It didn’t take long for a friend of the band to suggest former voice actor and radio presenter Paul McLoone. Replacing a front man is never easy, but McLoone has turned out to be just the right fit.

“We all knew him, and he had a pedigree and is a nice guy, and most importantly is from Derry,” O’Neill says. “It had to be someone from Derry or it wouldn’t have worked. It needed to be someone from our home town who could sing in the Derry accent. They were huge shoes to fill as obviously Feargal Sharkey is an amazing singer. Paul has proven that he can do it.”

Since their revival in 1999, The Undertones have recorded two new albums with Paul McLoone as well as some members having solo releases. The one curio that has caught the ear of many music lovers is last years remix of The Undertones staple Get Over You by Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine).

“I am a friend of Kevin’s, I have know him for years,” O’Neill says. “I was a big My Bloody Valentine fan. I have done a few other projects in the past with Kevin so we are quite close. I know that he is a huge Undertones fan and when we got the opportunity to remix Get Over You, I knew that Kevin would jump at the chance. The thing I love about it is that he didn’t turn it in to My Bloody Valentine by adding any guitars. He just toughened it up a bit. He made it more like the New York Dolls. I reckon he did a great job on it.”

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