Thursday 30 May 2013

The Undertones live at Reading Sub89 May 27th

The Undertones at Sub89 Reading - Photo by Steve Worrall
Tonight, The Undertones were quite simply magnificent, they played with an energy and commitment that could put bands half their age to shame. Come to think of it, apart from a few grey hairs here and there, they pretty much do look half their age. In fact, as the band take the stage my mind conjures up a Portrait of Dorian Gray scenario, and I imagine there must be some old Undertones photo hanging in a dusty attic somewhere (probably taken by Paul Slattery…), corrupted and ravaged by over 30 years of rock and roll, while the band go about their business looking remarkably youthful and sprightly. Of course absent from that old photo would be The Undertones current singer Paul McLoone, who joined back in 1999 when the band got back together, at first with the intention to only play a couple of gigs. Paul had been in The Carrelines with drummer Billy Doherty and was invited to take up the unenviable challenge of replacing charismatic front man Feargal Sharkey. Feargal had left the band in 1983 to embark on a short-lived solo career and then to take up a position on the other side of the barricades as a record company A&R man.

Michael Bradley and Paul McLoone - Photo by Steve Worrall
With Paul settling in well and some excellent new material recorded, the band decided to make the reunion a little bit more permanent and released the superb album “Get What You Need” in 2003. Of course in The Undertones case, it does help that the band itself and the main song-writing nucleus remains intact so the sound is, of course, as authentic as you’re going to get. Now comes the tricky bit, replacing that all important original front-man/vocalist. To be honest the first time I heard the “new” Undertones was the track “Thrill Me” – a mighty headlong rush of a song propelled along by a great guitar riff and then Paul’s voice comes in and my first thought was “oh dear, sounds a bit too close to Feargal”. But then as the album progressed it became apparent that, yes, there is a resemblance, but it really works and I was soon blown away by the album completely on its own, and Paul’s, merits. 

The Undertones - Photo by Steve Worrall
Tonight at the excellent Sub89 in Reading, a great venue which even has polite bouncers - in fact it would almost be perfect if not for the £4.00 they charge for a plastic glassed pint - The Undertones take the stage and kick off straight into “Jimmy Jimmy” and the place erupts. Paul has certainly grown in confidence since the first time I saw the new line-up at the Brighton Concorde 2 back in in the summer of 2003. It must have been daunting stepping into Feargal’s shoes, but rather like Baz Warne has done in The Stranglers, he has grown into the role and seems to have built up a rapport with the crowd. Both Baz and Paul have taken on a tough task but get the balance just right between being able to express their own style and individuality, doing justice to the older material and avoiding turning into their own cabaret tribute band.

John O'Neill - Photo by Steve Worrall
Paul is an energetic performer to say the least, he runs through a gamut of classic rock poses, kicks and jumps, whipping his microphone lead like Morrissey one minute and then giving it the old Elvis hip-swing routine another. At one point he quips “is there a physiotherapist in the house, I think I’ve done my neck in.” By the time the familiar intro to “Jump Boys” rings out, Feargal is all but forgotten, then it’s “Here Comes The Summer” and the atmosphere in the venue noticeably cranks up another few notches. The genial Michael Bradley is an underrated bassist, and I was over the moon when his wonderful riff to “Tearproof” is played, it’s one of my favourite Undertones songs and when they followed that with “Girls That Don’t Talk” I didn’t think it could get much better. It did. We got treated to thirty, yes you did read that right, 30 songs of Punk Pop perfection. All the classic hit singles like “You’ve Got My Number”, “My Perfect Cousin” and “Wednesday Week” to some cracking album tracks such as “Billy’s Third”, “I Gotta Getta” and “She’s a Runaround”. There’s some overlooked gems “When Saturday Comes”, “The Love Parade” and “It’s Going To Happen” and some picks from their excellent new material such as “Thrill Me”, “I Need Your Love The Way It Used To Be” and the superb new Record Store Day single “Much Too Late”.

The Undertones - Photo by Steve Worrall
Guitarists John and Damian O’Neill are on fire, their melodic riffs just keep on coming and the ever youthful Billy Doherty drums his heart out, it really is an impressive performance. “Teenage Kicks”, somewhat surprisingly, is not held back for the encore but comes about three quarters of the way through the set. Unsurprisingly, it gets the most rapturous reception of the night but there are still more great songs to come. The band finish on the sublime “Get Over You” but are soon called back for an encore that is quite simply stunning. “Male Model”, “True Confessions”, “Hypnotised”, “There Goes Norman” and a frantic finale of “Mars Bar” – you just can’t ask for more.

The Undertones - Photo by Steve Worrall
Paul McLoone - Photo Steve Worrall
Damian O'Neill - Photo by Steve Worrall
The Undertones - Photo by Steve Worrall
You can check out some excellent early photographs of  The Undertones by Paul Slattery, here, in our previous Blog feature on the "Good Vibrations" movie about Terri Hooley and his vital Belfast based record label that originally released "Teenage Kicks". For more photos "Like" the Retro Man Blog Facebook page for access to the Photo Album. Here's a video from our YouTube channel...

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