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Its a strange existence, being in a band, even if it's only a moderately successful one, like the Undertones. And no matter how many musicians would deny it, it's not hard work. It's not like a real job at all, although at the time we couldn't have said that for sure, none of us had had a real job to compare it with, except Feargal the Radio Rentals man. There's the travelling, which some people complain about but which isn't that much of a problem - you don't have to book the flights, someone does that for you - you don’t have to put your hand in your pocket to pay for the ticket - the manage does that - you don't even have to decide where to go - you just do what you're told. So I'd get my bag, and walk down to O'Neill's house, where a taxi would come to take us to the airport at Aldergrove. Have you spotted anything wrong with that? If you did, you're a lot quicker than I was at the time. Because It was only after a few of these trips that I realised the taxi could just as easily have come to my house first, then go to O'Neill's. Well I wasn't used to taxis, put it like that.

One memory of those early trips is the starting point at O'Neill's house. You might have your own visions of a pop star's lifestyle, but seeing Damian O'Neill at the start of a tour was something else. Crouched over a gas fire, head down, a piece of bread and jam in his hand, and a grunt as you walked in. You might think he had some sort of hangover, but drink had nothing to do with it - he was the same getting up for school. I remember him when I used to call in for his brother Vinny on the way to the Tech. It's funny how O'Neill's house was still the focus for the Undertones, even when we were 'pop stars'. Of course John and Damian still lived there, and so wrote the songs there - after a while we even went back to practising in O'Neill's house, after Mrs Simm's house and our practice shed were demolished.


And if you've ever seen the video for a single of ours called 'My Perfect Cousin' you'd have seen the house itself. Duran Duran did their videos in the Bahamas - we did ours in the house. Although we did have a big time director, a man called Julian Temple (photo: left) who'd directed films for the Sex Pistols and David Bowie - not at the same time, of course. Julien Temple thought it was a great idea to do the video in Derry, and so the cameras and lights and sound equipment, and the people to operate them, were flown over and installed in O'Neill's back room. We were to be filmed playing Subbuteo football (too long to explain) and as you've probably heard before about filming, there's a lot of waiting around. This particular video also took a bit longer because we had to wait until Vinny was finished ironing his trousers in the kitchen. He was going out you see and you had to go through the back room to get out from the kitchen. So the trousers were done, and Julien Temple shouts "action", and the cameras are rolling, and Feargal pretends to play Subbuteo, and the songs being played back so he could mime and... the lights go out. All these technicians start to look at the equipment and each other, and wonder what's wrong and then somebody says "the meter's run out". O'Neill's had an electricity meter, which had to be fed 50ps every so often. Normally not a problem, but these bright lights... very sore on the electric. "Has anybody any 50ps ?" The band and the crew go through their pockets... nothing. Julien Temple, a man who works with film budgets of millions of pounds, puts his hands in his pockets and no 50 pence pieces. We don't have any, so a big meeting, decision taken and somebody runs down to Crossan's shop at the foot of the street, and asks Mrs Crossan for 50ps for the electric meter.

Thanks to Mrs Crossan and her 50ps, the video was finished, the single was released and it went to number nine in the charts - nothing earth shattering, but still a great feeling having a top ten hit. This was 1980, probably the best year we had as a band. We did about half a dozen tours that year - Ireland, Europe,America and twice around the UK. A lot of the cliches you hear about being on tour are true - you don't really see much of the places you visit, hotel rooms do look the same after a while, and you miss being able to make yourself a cup of tea. A lot of the cliches aren't true, at least as far as we were concerned. TV sets don't get thrown into swimming pools, hotel rooms don't get wrecked and huge amounts of drink and drugs are not consumed - if any of that did happen, it wasn't us, it was the roadies.

The roadies are the men who do the hard work on a tour. They set up the equipment, they look after the instruments, they drive the trucks, they smoke the cigarettes, they wear the leather jackets, they drink the beer, they tell the dirty jokes. We were scared of our roadies. One of them had a great trick - he'd wait until after the show, when we were all back at the hotel - he'd find a smoke alarm, and stand underneath it with a lighter. The alarm would go off, and there'd be a whole panic, and people coming out of their rooms in their dressing gowns, and he'd be sitting there with a smirk on his face. And I'm sure the elderly couple who were standing in reception in their night clothes, terrified, thought he was a real scream. Eventually we got rid of that particular roadie, as he was getting drunk too many times. Last I heard he was a lumberjack in Canada. But in some ways it's easy to see how that kind of carry on happens. Because when you're on tour, especially if you're in the band, you don't have to take any responsibility at all for your life. As I said earlier, you do what you're told.

You're driven to the hotel, you're driven from the hotel to the venue, you're driven back to the hotel after the show. The hotel's paid for, your meals are provided, your day is usually planned out ahead of you - you're given what is basically pocket money, and all you have to worry about is playing the guitar. You don't even have to worry about sleeping in - the tour manager organises an early morning call for you . It's great ! It's not good for you, but it's great. I say it's not good for you, because you don't learn how to do things for yourself when everything done for you. It wasn't until after the band that I learned how to drive a car - there was never any need, with tour buses and taxis. I had never organised, either booked or paid for, a holiday myself, until after I was in the band. I only saw plane tickets when the tour manager thought I wouldn't lose them. This was as I was going through the gate at the airport. Once through, he took them off me again. I was very bad at operating my bank account - at the back of my mind there was always the thought - "sure I can always get money from the manager".

It was an extended childhood, being in the Undertones. There was the time I phoned up the New Musical Express, the music paper, pretended to be our press agent and told them Billy Doherty had been killed - run over by a bus in Derry - I said this with Billy standing beside me, in O'Neill's house, laughing. Next thing we know, a DJ on Radio One, Kid Jensen, is saying how sorry he was to learn of the death of the Undertones drummer, Billy Doherty. Our manager, sitting in England, heard this - he immediately rang O'Neill's - not to find out what happened to Billy, but which one of us had made up the story. Eventually the truth got out that it was a hoax, but we never got the blame. It was stated, by our real press agent, that an anonymous person had made the call.

We then got a lot of sympathy, with newspapers writing about "how distressed the members of the band were" about this "cruel hoax". And a year later, Kid Jensen met Feargal and I in London and he immediately apologised about carrying the story. I don't know how we kept the straight faces, but we had to accept the man's apology and agree that it was a terrible thing for anyone to do... what kind of a sick mind, and so on... I felt really sorry for him. Still never told him the truth, of course.

The childishness carried on into the tours. We used to fight over who got to sit in the front seat of the minibus. Usually Feargal won, and we'd make v-signs behind his back afterwards. There was also a ritual when we stopped at a garage for diesel for the minibus. We'd all pile out and go in and buy sweets. Now, this was only pointed out to me many years later, but it would be considered normal in this situation for one person to ask the rest, "Would anyone like anything from the shop?"
But not us - we'd all go in, mooch around, buy our own sweets and then head back to the bus. Then, once we were travelling again, there'd be a ten minute session of
"Anybody want a Rolo ?"
" No, I've got me own."
"Anybody want a bit of Mars Bar ?"
"No, I'm alright."
"Anybody want an Opal fruit?"
"Aye, dead on."
"Are you going to finish that Crunchie...?"


The arguments with Feargal over the front seat were, I suppose, a sign that things were never going to last with the Undertones. Like any other band, the attention from the crowds, from the press and sometimes from the record company, was directed towards the singer. Feargal didn't do too much to deflect it, but it still wasn't his fault and it was resented by the rest of the band. It didn't help matters that Feargal didn't write any of the songs. If he did, it could it be said that it was his band and that was that - but he didn't . He had to rely on what John and Damian, and on occasions I, wrote. So when we were recording in the studio, there would be a bit of tension if he was singing the song in a way that the writer didn't like. Looking back, it should have been left up to Feargal to sing the song whatever way he wanted, but that's looking back. Maybe we never forgave him for naming us "the hot rods" or for always getting the front seat, but there was always a kind of distance between Feargal and the rest of the band. In interviews with the press, Feargal would be saying what he thought about the band, about music, about life in general and the four of us would be sitting there, squirming with embarrassment, thinking - "Don't be saying that." Only thinking it. I don't think we ever actually said to him that we were unhappy with his interviews. And it wasn't as if he was saying anything terribly wrong. He just had different ideas from us.

Sometimes that distance I talked about showed itself in other, less subtle ways. One snowy winter's day we were in rehearsal studios in London and we'd been having the usual arguments, but all in all things weren't too bad. We stopped to get something to eat. We were coming back from the cafe down the road, and Feargal was lagging a bit behind us. We'd just got into the yard of the studios, and someone, I think it was either me or Billy, decided that we should ambush Feargal with snowballs. It seemed funny at the time. We got ready, a snowball in each hand, and whacked him as he turned the corner. Now we expected him to start throwing snowballs back at us, but no! He ran straight at us, and was ready for blood. We scattered, but it was a small yard and I stupidly ran into a corner, and Feargal came after me. This is where it turns into a school playground story. Sir, he grabbed me by the hair sir, and pulled me head down sir, and I thought he was going to kick my head in.

So there we were, the singer of the band holding the bass player's head down by the hair, and ready to kick his face in. I think I must have apologised, I can't remember or maybe Feargal realised how stupid the whole thing was but he let me up again. After something like that, you would have expected the Undertones to go through one of their many splitting up periods but we didn't. What finally ended it for us wasn't some catastrophe, or falling out. It was a realisation that the friendship we had wasn't enough to keep us going, especially at a time when the success of the previous couple of years wasn't as easy to repeat. By 1983 we'd grown up, and apart. Four of us were married, some of us had children. We didn't meet in O'Neill's house any more - we all had our own houses. And some of us thought that the Undertones had lasted long enough. When Feargal announced that he was leaving the band, he wasn't exactly overwhelmed by any pleading on our part for him to stay. Damian and I said that's fine, we want to leave as well. I think John was of the same opinion. There was no enjoyment in being in the Undertones anymore.

And so, it ended. We stayed together a few months to play at some concerts in England, and some festivals in France, both to fulfill commitments and to make a bit of money. Our last show was to be at Punchestown Racecourse outside Dublin, as one of the support bands for Dire Straits. We were due to travel from France, but, typically, we missed the scheduled flight. We had to charter a small plane from outside Paris, costing us an arm and a leg, and still managed to arrive in Dublin about three hours after we were due on stage.
As one paper said - "The Undertones - late for their own funeral"

Michael Bradley - The Undertones

 

My Life As An Undertone

Part Four

By Michael Bradley