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It was the new pair of pyjamas that made me realise something was up. I mean, I felt alright - I wasn't sick and I definitely wasn't due to go into hospital. They'd been bought that morning, while I was out - when I came back to the house, I got the pyjamas, and the message, "Damian O'Neill says you're to get ready to go this evening to go to London to go on Top of the Pops".

It's only about half a mile from O'Neills house to our house - but its all uphill, and we didn't have a phone. So for a few weeks in September and October 1978, there was a lot of running up the hill for various members of the O'Neill family. The record Teenage Kicks was released, John Peel was playing it on Radio One, we were interviewed for Melody Maker, and we had to sign a record deal. After four years, it began to look like we'd be a real group. All we had to do was sign on the dotted line. The only problem was, we didn't know which dotted line. The record had come out on Good Vibrations, the Belfast label, but as there was no long term contract, we were free agents - sort of like the Bosman ruling in football.

At this time we were still playing in the Casbah, the tiny wee pub in Derry. And it was there that we were watched by a man from the Sire record company. Sire were American, they were the Ramones record company, and we were flattered that they were even interested. Their London manager was a man called Paul McNally, immediately christened Noisy McNally by us, for no reason whatsoever. On a Thursday night he saw us play, liked what he saw and wanted to talk to us the next day about the contract. So on Friday we all met in Feargal's mothers front room. The band, a few of our friends, Terri Hooley from Good Vibrations, and Paul McNally from Sire records. I don't know what the friends were doing there - they were probably as curious as we were about what would happen.

McNally started talking to us about the contract - five years, options after the first, seven points on albums, after promotion costs, on dealer price, advance of twenty thousand pounds recoupable from royalties, publishing to be decided at a later date... and so on and so on. It meant nothing to us. He could have been offering us our weight in gold, or he could have been offering us our weight in potatoes - we couldn't tell. So we signed immediately. Well, three of us signed. We had a cunning plan. We didn;t want to lose the contract...we were worried in case Sire would pull out - but we didn't want to fully commit ourselves after only one meeting. So Feargal and I would go over to London, to complete the signing, after we had some advice about the contract.

We didn't have a manager at the time so we took the contract to a solicitor in Derry. He looked at it, said it was OK and that was it. This wasn't a music business lawyer, you understand, who would be able to examine a contract and tell you if the deal was acceptable by industry standards, or would change it if it wasn't. This was a solicitor more used to clients with riotous behaviour charges than a record contract. There was nothing wrong with the deal as far as he could see.

Feargal and I were met at Heathrow by Noisy McNally and by my sisters boyfriend, Paddy Simms, who had taken the photographs of the band for the Teenage Kicks sleeve, and who coincidentally was staying in London at the time. All four of us went to the flat of the boss of Sire Records, Seymour Stein, to do the final negotiations on the deal. Seymour Stein was the man who would sign Madonna, who signed Talking Heads, and who is now a senior vice president with Warner Brothers. But, hey, he didn't know who he was dealing with - otherwise he would have thrown us out.

He started talking in the same gobbledook as we'd heard back in Derry, but at least this time we tried to argue back. We didn't know then that the royalty rate was the important figure and in our contract it was pathetically small. We didn't try and get that changed, but we did manage to get more out of them for an advance, money which we'd have to pay back. I think we got it up to eight thousand, which sounds a lot and in 1978 it was a lot. Money that we couldn't even imagine having.

So after a few hours of Seymour Stein talking to us, and Feargal trying to bluff that he knew what was going on, and me getting bored, and Paddy Simms photographing the whole thing for posterity, we thought we had a deal and I phoned O'Neills house, where the rest of the band was waiting to hear the outcome. I told them about the eight thousand, and said we thought it was OK. Now you know how easy it is to be big and brave on the telephone? How you get more nerve if you're not actually standing in the same room as the person you're dealing with? Billy, John and Damian did. "Tell him we want sixty thousand". I'm listening to this on the phone, while Seymour Stein is standing behind me, thinking he'd got a done deal.
"No, I'm not going to ask for that".
"The Rich Kids got sixty thousand".
The Rich Kids were a band who'd been in the papers a few months previously.
So, I take a deep breath, turn around and look at Seymour - "We want sixty thousand"

And a very angry wee man from New York, the boss of Sire Records, started shouting and screaming and saying things that I still couldn't repeat years later and then he gave us ten thousand pounds!

That trip to London was the first time I'd stayed in a hotel with a mini bar, the wee fridge in the room with drink in it. - it was the first time I'd stayed in a hotel. It was great, as I thought - free drink, free bags of peanuts, free bars of chocolate, and even a bottle of champagne. And lucky for me I had room in the bag for all of this. So, we were now Sire Records recording artistes - and bags clinking with whiskey miniatures, we flew back to Aldergrove. The miniatures came in handy while we waited two hours for the train at Antrim station. This was October, nine o clock at night, and it was freezing. I still remember walking up and down the platform, reading every poster, every timetable, and taking the odd wee swig of whiskey. I'd seen boys doing this on the TV, and I managed to persuade myself that it really did keep you warm, even though it didn't.. The train came, Feargal and I got on, and a couple of hours later we got off at Derry. To be met by a welcoming committee. It wasn't marching bands and the mayor, it was Billy Doherty's father.

Nice of him to give us a lift, I thought. What he thought was "what has my son got into?" I thought I was bad, not telling my mother and father about the record deal. They knew that there was one, and that I would be giving up my job at Ballantines building merchants - a job which I hadn't even started. But I hadn't told them any great details about a career in music. But Billy's father knew nothing, and understandably wanted to know something.

Straight from the train station we went to Feargal's house - this was about eleven o clock at night, and I hadn't been home. It was strange to say the least - persuading Mr Doherty that his son hadn't made a terrible mistake, that the Undertones wasn't a waste of time, and that maybe somebody could make a living out of playing the drums. Fair play to Feargal's mother - she did most of the persuading. I remember at one stage in the discussion, somebody mentioned Damian O'Neill - "and he's a very good guitar player", Mrs Sharkey said. She'd never seen Damian or the band play - but she knew what to say, and when to say it. Mr Doherty went home with Billy, happy.

The mess that we made of signing the record contract was really a result of us not having a manager. Up until then we didn't need one, but if we went to London, to operate in the music business and didn't have someone who knew what "recoup the advance" actually meant, we'd be broke by Christmas. In the meantime the record company looked after us, while we looked for a manager. The job was given to a fella called Andy Ferguson, who actually worked for Sire records parent company, Warners - he drove us to the meetings with potential managers in London, and gave us some advice about what to look for. Because we didn't know what to look for - we turned down one man because he didn't buy us sandwiches when we met him at a hotel. Never mind his ability to get us a good deal with a record company, or his plans to get us a number one record - we didn't want a tight manager. As we were getting nowhere fast, Andy Ferguson offered his services on a temporary basis. He's still looking after the Undertones affairs today.

With someone in charge, we could relax - sit back and enjoy the pleasures of Being in a band, playing on top of the pops, and getting ready for a tour of the UK. That was the theory - of course, it being us, we couldn't allow it to be that simple. To know what happened, I'd need to fill you in on a few details. Up until the summer of 1978, the summer we recorded Teenage Kicks, there hadn't been a lot of activity on the girlfriend front. They were not a part of our universe, probably as a result of too much time spent sitting in O'Neills front room playing records. But by the time we signed a record deal, most of us had, let's say, romantic attachments - and some of us didn't want to be away from Derry, and away from those attachments.

Looking back, it's amazing that we had this longing to be back in Derry, when you consider some of the slagging off we got. Two days after our first Top of the Pops appearance, we played on the back of a lorry in a playground for a local youth club, it was Halloween night, and we'd agreed to do the show a few weeks before. We were only on for one song, when out of the sky came a shower of eggs, thrown from behind the small crowd in front of the stage. There's not a lot you can do to preserve your dignity when you're standing with a guitar, and eggs are bouncing off your head. Sorry, they weren't bouncing off my head, they weren't hard boiled. So when they hit you... och, you know what eggs do when they hit you.

As well as the eggs incident, we also got a lot of personal abuse from some fellas in the street. Feargal as usual got the worst - for some reason he brought out a particularly vicious streak in the youth of Derry. A few months after our first Top of the Pops appearance, while we were in the first flush of stardom, we did a benefit show for Women’s Aid, playing in a community centre in Shantallow, a housing estate in Derry. While the support band was on stage, some fellas came up to me and asked about Feargal,
"Where's Sharkey?"
"I don't know, he's somewhere out front."
Now these boys didn't seem to be looking for Feargal's autograph. His blood, yes, his autograph no. They must have seen the look of fear on my face, because one of them told me not to worry - it was just Sharkey they were after. We went on stage, and played as usual but we had to get cars to take us home, because there was a crowd outside waiting for us. If it was Boyzone, a crowd outside means autographs, and screaming and kisses and pictures. For the Undertones that night, a crowd outside meant a good kicking.
Hometown heroes, eh?

There was a certain symmetry about the way the band split over the question of whether to tour and whether to come back to Derry. Two of us, Billy and John, hated being away from home and two of us, Feargal and Damian, loved it. One of us, me, had a kind of take it or leave it attitude. I enjoyed being away. I particularly loved being in London, but I also loved coming home to Derry. Some things, though, we were all agreed on. We all hated Thin Lizzy - didn't know them, just heard the records, but hated them all the same. We hated them even before they announced in the music press that the Undertones were to be the support band at their Christmas show in the Hammersmith Odeon. There's nothing we liked more than an excuse for a huff. Of course, no one had actually asked us about the show - so we took great delight in saying no.

I don't know what it was about Thin Lizzy, but a few years after that, Feargal and I were on Round Table - Radio One's record review show. Phil Lynott's solo LP was reviewed, and both of us slagged it off - predictably. A year after that, we were doing a show in New York, and Phil Lynott came up to say hello. I can't believe I actually did this, but I said to him "Sorry about the review, but we just don't like your music" and walked away, leaving the man standing there two arms the one length. I doubt if he even heard the programme, but I couldn't talk to him. It wasn't meant to be as hateful as it sounds - but, you know, Thin Lizzy! Phil Lynott was interviewed in the papers a few months later, and was asked about new bands from Ireland. He mentioned U2 and said they were a great bunch of lads, but the Undertones - a strange band. And you know, he was right.

Michael Bradley - The Undertones


My Life As An Undertone

Part Three

By Michael Bradley