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"You could always call yourselves the guess who."
Big brothers are always good for advice.
"But there's already a band called that!"
Well thanks.
Feargal had christened us The Hot Rods, but the name only lasted one show.
"You can't call yourself after another group." I mean we told him.

March 1976, and we'd just played to the pupils of St Joseph's Secondary school. We played six songs, which was about all we knew. So during the summer of '76, we practised, and listened to records, and practised more, and began to ask around to see if we could get some more shows. No more schools, and no more scout halls. We had to aim a bit higher. So - the Waterside Youth Club. John and Damian had a cousin who was in the club, and he arranged for the group to do a show there. I remember it was a Sunday afternoon, and there was a decent enough crowd there, you could only get about thirty teenagers into the room . They may have been expecting someone who could play a few Bay City Rollers songs, but they got us.

It's a matter of some embarrassment now, but for that show we went by the name Little Feat. The name may mean nothing to you, but to the millions of people who bought records by the band in America, called Little Feat, and to the many journalists in the New Musical Express who wrote glowing reviews of their records and to the viewers of the Old Grey Whistle Test - get the picture? Feargal had struck again!

Before he got the chance to call us The Rolling Stones, we came up with the name The Undertones. It didn't mean anything, despite what you sometimes read in reference books. One such book said that the name came from the phrase "Undertones of Violence" Uh huh.Billy Doherty, the drummer, found it in his school history book. It sounded like the Ramones, which suited us.


The Ramones were from New York, they were what was being called ‘Punk Rock." Basically short fast songs, simple chords, and simple beat. That suited us as well. The problem was that it was nearly impossible to hear bands like the Ramones. They weren't heard on the radio, apart from John Peel, and their LP wasn't easily available in shops here. But they were being played in one house in Derry - in Donal McDermotts. I think it was John and Billy who first met Donal, and his records. I mention his records, because they provided the Undertones with a whole new repertoire. Out went the Rolling Stones, Dr Feelgood and Eric Clapton. In came Iggy and the Stooges, the Ramones and the Shadows of Knight.

They didn't go down any better with the audiences we were playing to, though. I don't know who was arranging the dates, I just turned up, but they were becoming a little strange. We were playing in a parish hall on a Thursday night, as warm up for Anne Shelley and the Marines. No harm to Anne or the Marines, but we shouldn't have been there at all. This occurred to us after about six or seven songs, but we were supposed to play for another couple of hours. There's nothing more disheartening than being on a stage, the singer giving it everything, the drummer sweating, the guitar players thrashing away and young fellas and girls standing there mouths open, arms folded, feet definitely not dancing. Anne Shelley and the Marines weren't due on until eleven o'clock and it wasn't even half nine. Luckily Billy had a plan…

The man in charge of the hall was called Eddie Davis. He'd been involved in bands and football for years. We had a short break, and Billy went down the hall for a bit of negotiation, to see if we could get away early - put us out of our misery. He came back, shaking his head.
"No good."
"What did you say to him?"
"I told him I was on night shift, and had to leave early - he didn't believe me."

You would have thought that that experience would have stopped us playing youth clubs, but to be honest we weren't really in a position to be choosy about where we played. We couldn't turn down the offer of supporting a band called Honey in St Mary's youth Club. I wish we had though, because my one abiding memory is standing on the stage, playing "Anarchy in the UK" and seeing a friend of mine, who grew up beside me, walking through the crowd. He saw me, and I don't know who was more embarrassed.

But Derry wasn't all youth clubs, or scout halls, or schools. It also had The Casbah. The Casbah was a pub and it had a bad name. I knew it had a bad name before I ever knew what having a bad name meant. But they did have bands on, bands who didn't have to worry about audiences dancing or not. Usually that meant they had rock bands, with the crowd in the bar sitting shaking their hair over their beer. It was a bar full of "Dudes". And what's a dude? Well, it's hard to explain a word that meant nothing to anyone outside the Undertones, a word which I haven't used in almost twenty years. A dude was basically a hippy - the original version, not the 1990s model. We hated dudes, not hate in any violent sense but hate all the same.

We hated their music, we hated their clothes, all that cheesecloth, and we hated their hair. Very petty, very narrow minded, I know, but that's what it's like when you're seventeen isn't it? Alright, I admit we were odd. We couldn't see past the hair. I don't mean that literally. This was early 1977, and if you ever look at photographs taken at the time, you'll see that long hair was the norm. Teachers had long hair, your uncles had long hair, politicians had long hair, but we had short hair. Of course a year earlier we had long-ish hair as well, but then we saw photos of the Sex Pistols, and pictures of the other punk bands, and the summer of 76 was very hot. I think a word of credit as well to my mother, who told me that short hair was coming back. I didn't believe her of course, wishful thinking on her part, I thought.


This obsession with long hair lasted for a good few years with the Undertones. Anybody we met, either in record companies, or in other bands, or if they were roadies working for us, had to have short hair. It wasn't a rule, it's just that we immediately disliked them. Sometimes you can judge a book by looking at the cover. Anyway, there we were, in this den of iniquity, this haven of hair, and if we were any way good, we'd get more bookings in the Casbah. I think we were good. We were different anyway. I don't think any other group kicked over the drums and amplifiers at the end of the night. Not in the Casbah anyway. I still don't know why we did it. I say we but I have to admit I had nothing to do with it. I thought it was corny then, and I think it's corny now. But maybe Feargal and Billy really did get worked up at the end of our version of Gloria - the Van Morrison song, not the hymn - and maybe they really needed to go out in a blaze of glory. Whatever, the manager of the bar thought we should come back - and that was the start of eighteen months of regular bookings in the Casbah.

A Friday or Saturday night, we began playing at half past nine. We'd stop for five minutes around quarter past ten, then finish for eleven. At the start we'd have maybe one or two friends in the crowd, looking as out of place as we did. Within a few months, we began to see more people who weren't regulars, who'd come to see us, not just to drink in the pub. I'd better be careful here that I'm not unfair to the Casbah regulars. Most of them did actually like the Undertones and they would tell us. One or two were a bit dismissive, especially in the early days, comparing us unfavourably with the other bands who played there, like King Rat and Zig Zag.

I remember before we started one evening, we were tuning up - a laborious process for us, who had cheap guitars which were difficult to keep in tune. And a fella at the bar - the bar was two feet away from where the band played - a fella at the bar was saying to his mate "Listen to them boys trying to tune up, you should hear King Rat tuning up". I still don't know what he meant.

So these regular bookings at the Casbah were great. It meant regular money coming in to buy strings, to buy the odd new amplifier, and to pay off the Provident Loan, which was still costing each of us £2 a week. We even had transport - courtesy of Radio Rentals. No, we didn't rent a van - we used Feargal's, the one that came along with the job. By night he was a punk singer - by day he was a TV repairman. In fact I think he never made it past aerial installer - but whatever he was, he was mobile. It usually took a couple of runs, but the white Ford Escort van took the drums, took the amps, and took the guitars, all back to Mrs Simms' Shed, where the Undertones were now based.

Last week I mentioned how hard it was to get somewhere to practice and to keep equipment. We had a room in a scout hall in Creggan, but that was broken into and we lost an amplifier. So we had to get somewhere else. So, my sister's boyfriend - whose sister was married to my brother - suggested that we move into a shed at the back of his mother's house. When I say shed, it was really the upstairs of old stables. And when I say stables, you'd imagine I was talking about a big house in the country. But I'm not - this was a small terrace house, round the corner from the Bogside. At one stage the stable would have been used for horses, or pigs, but by 1976 it was full of junk and it was called the shed. We cleared it out, lined the walls with polystyrene packing from Radio Rentals, (for soundproofing) covered that with old blankets, and moved in. As you can imagine, with the polystyrene on the walls, we wouldn't have lasted five minutes if there'd been a fire - but the thought never occurred to us. We were too happy to have somewhere we could practice to our hearts content - till nine o clock. The neighbours, you see...

By the way, Mrs Simms had her own connection with the "wee band" as she called us. As a young child. Feargal had stood on her kitchen table, and was coached for the Feis.

Playing in the Casbah did wonders for us - it got us £40 a week, it made us learn new songs, it even made us write songs and we really loved it. Whenever I meet people who saw us there, they always have a story...
"What about the time Sharkey sang with a paper bag over his head?"
"What about the time Sharkey put his foot through the floor ?"
I remember the floor of the Casbah - there was a basement underneath and with about twenty people jumping up and down in front of us, it was a bit scary to feel the floor going up and down with them. I remember the bar men actually coming out and stopping people dancing. I don't think the insurance covered a floor collapse.

Good enough as the Casbah was, it occurred to us that maybe we should be looking for something outside Derry. and that's how we were playing at Belfield, part of the University in Dublin in June of 1977. We were invited there by a band called The Radiators From Space - a few months earlier we'd supported them in the Baggot Inn. Transport wasn't a problem - we'd be using their amplifiers, so we took the guitars onto the Dublin bus and went. We had a great time - Feargal's brother was a reporter with the Evening Press in Dublin, so we slept on the floor of his flat. It was nearly like being camping again.

But the second trip to Dublin was a bit different. Belfield was a fairly big hall, and altogether there were about six other bands playing. While the second band was on, I think they were called The Gamblers, there was a fight in the middle of the hall. It didn't seem to be much and it was all over very quickly. The band played on, we were standing at the side of the stage and couldn't really see much of what happened.

It turned out somebody'd been stabbed during the fight. He was taken out, and ambulance was called, and so on but he died. All this time the concert went on , we played and so did the main band. Then the police arrived. The next thing is, some fella comes up to the side of the stage, points at Billy and says "it was him". Well obviously it wasn't Billy, but it took all night to persuade the Garda that we had nothing to do with the stabbing. Billy himself had the hardest time - he was practically accused of doing it by one detective. Not pleasant. Eventually they let us go, and we went back to Feargal's brothers flat, gathered the stuff, and got the bus back to Derry. And we stayed there for a year...

It did us no harm to only play in Derry. It meant that we got better, and were able to do it without any music journalists writing about us.
It also meant we could fight amongst ourselves in peace. I don't know how or why the fights started but they got a bit out of hand sometimes. I remember we were playing in a pub in Derry where the stage, a tiny wee stage, was actually above the bar. We'd played all our songs, and some of us had come down from the stage, leaving Feargal and Billy still up there. Next thing I know people are pointing up at the stage, where Billy's swinging a cymbal stand at Feargal. The audience may have thought it was an encore, I thought it was the end of the band, never mind Feargal's head.


We got over the fighting long enough to make some demo tapes. All of which were turned down, by the record companies in England. To be honest, they weren't of great quality but it was still a bit of a blow. However one of the tapes got in the hands of a man called Bernie McAnaney. We knew Bernie through his brother Sammy, who worked in Radio Rentals with Feargal. Sammy had given us a few lifts in his van as well - are you following this? Bernie was at college in Belfast, and knew Terri Hooley, who owned a record shop. Terri had at this stage also been making records with some Belfast bands and so Bernie gave him a tape. Terri never listened to the tape, but Bernie pestered him so long that he gave in, and said alright - they can make the next record. Everything going great so far only one problem, Feargal had left the Undertones.

I couldn't honestly tell you what the row was about, maybe it was connected with the cymbal swinging incident but that was it, he had enough - no more - I don't need this - you know the usual. So the week before we were to go to Belfast to record our very first single, I had to talk to Sharkey to try and persuade him to stay. Maybe he just wanted someone to ask him back, but there wasn't a great deal of persuasion involved. Although he was only coming back to make this record after that he was away. That's fine Feargal just this record, and that's it. It was never mentioned again.

Michael Bradley - The Undertones


 

My Life As An Undertone

Part Two

By Michael Bradley