Sunday, 10 April 2022

The Undertones Live at The Electric Ballroom, the new compilation "Dig What You Need" and other personal ramblings on the importance of the band and their related offspring...

The Undertones at Camden Electric Ballroom - Photo Retro Man Blog

The Undertones have always held a special place in my heart ever since I first saw them on Top of The Pops as an impressionable 13-year-old back in 1979. I was too young to fully appreciate the initial Punk Rock explosion – the Sex Pistols had already split up and their record company were releasing cash-in singles such as “Silly Thing” and “C’mon Everybody”. Punk was already pretty mainstream, New Wave I guess it was called then, but it did mean that some superb singles were gate-crashing the Top 40 and we got to see loads of exciting bands on TOTP every Thursday evening. The Undertones might not have had the surly aggression of The Stranglers nor the spikey peroxide cool of Generation X and they certainly didn’t have the sharp black and white Mod stylings of The Jam or the theatrical fantasy look of Adam & The Ants but they really struck a chord with me and my pals. The band members were cheeky, smiling and clearly enjoying themselves on the tele and with their snorkel parkas, V-necked jumpers, floppy fringes and questionable complexions we could really relate to them. Most importantly, especially in guitarist Damian O’Neill’s case, they didn’t look much older than we did. So, in 1980 when we started up our very first band in the school music room, our guitarist Jeff copied the guitar swinging style of Damian rather than the high-octane leaps and poses of Mick Jones and Paul Weller. We also butchered “Teenage Kicks” as an encore at our very first gig in the school gym, a C-90 cassette tape of which still exists under lock and key somewhere in the attic. To cap it all, soon after that gig The Undertones released a superb new single about a cousin called Kevin. Hey, I even had a cousin called Kevin! 

The Undertones, Belfast 1978 - Photo by Paul Slattery

John & Damian O'Neill at Camden Electric Ballroom - Photo Retro Man Blog

The band’s second album “Hypnotised” became a firm favourite and even to this day, remains in my “all-time top 10 albums of all time” (as Smashey and Nicey would say). After The Undertones split, the O’Neill brothers were to have a similarly invigorating impact on my life with their new outfit That Petrol Emotion and the blistering 1985 singles “Keen” and “V2”. These were followed a year later by their debut album “Manic Pop Thrill”, the title of which summed up their sound better than anything I could ever think up. On their release, I wrote about these records in my old D.I.Y. cut ‘n’ paste fanzine “Out of Step” – the records were ahead of their time, something that could be said for That Petrol Emotion’s career as a whole I guess. So, let’s fast forward to 2014 and Damian was involved in another pivotal musical moment in my life with the release of "Anima Rising" by a new band called The Everlasting Yeah - who just so happened to be the last line-up of That Petrol Emotion minus singer Steve Mack, who had moved back to the States and now fronts the excellent band Stag. "Anima Rising" must surely rank among the greatest debut albums of all time and I was thrilled to get to meet Damian, along with Raymond Gorman and Ciaran McLaughlin from the band around this time to record our comprehensive and thoroughly entertaining Retrosonic Podcast special about TEY and TPE (as they can handily be abbreviated). 

Steve, Raymond, Brendan & Damian (That Petrol Emotion) at Stag gig, Islngton

The Everlasting Yeah, Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
This led to me putting on a show for The Everlasting Yeah at one of my Retro Man Blog nights at The Half Moon in Putney, a wonderful night that will live long in the memory. I also then did two more Podcast episodes with Damian about his career in music, including his superb solo album “Refit, Revise, Reprise” and contributions to 5 Billion in Diamonds, a kind of super-group project created by Garbage drummer and producer Butch Vig, James Grillo and Andy Jenks and also featuring our mutual acquaintance Ebbot Lundberg of The Soundtrack of Our Lives. Damian also discusses how he and Billy Doherty got to produce the excellent New York based Power Pop band Baby Shakes. All throughout these encounters, I think I did a reasonable job of holding myself together and not collapsing to the floor in a blubbering fan-boy wreck. At least I hope I did. In the meantime, hopping back to 2003, I’d seen The Undertones at the Brighton Concorde 2 for the first time since the band had got back together with vocalist Paul McLoone stepping in to fill the shoes of Feargal Sharkey and I was blown away. They’d just released a superb album of all new material called “Get What You Need” and yes, this really was just what I needed. 

The Undertones in Brighton, 2003 - Photo Retro Man Blog

The lead single “Thrill Me” gave me goose bumps – it had all the unmistakeable melodies of the classic Undertones with the edgy sonic thrill of That Petrol Emotion. The Undertones were back in my life. They released another mighty fine album called “Dig Yourself Deep” in 2007 that again highlighted the fact that the band were very much of the here and now. Damian and Brian O’Neill’s excellent label Dimple Discs Records have just released “Dig What You Need”, a new compilation of the best of these two albums, re-mixed by Paul Tipler and sequenced by Damian. It also marks the first time on vinyl for the featured tracks and is packed full of great numbers such as “Enough”, “She’s So Sweet” and the brooding “Fight My Corner”, which I always thought sounded like a long lost That Petrol Emotion track. The compilation is not only perfect for those that might have overlooked the Undertones ‘Mark 2’ material but is a must-have for the die-hard fan too. It all sounds so fresh and exciting in a different context, especially when played extremely loud on vinyl. 

Soundcheck at Camden Electric Ballroom - Photo Retro Man Blog
And now, rather like one of those annoying backwards and forwards time-travelling dramas, (insert wavy lines and psychedelic music) I find myself in the present day, standing on the side of the stage at the Electric Ballroom in Camden watching The Undertones sound-check. It’s hard not to avoid the lump in the throat, as I think back to myself as that 13-year-old boy transfixed by seeing the band on Top of The Pops. It’s a dream come true to be standing so close to the band that has meant so much to me over the years. The venue starts to fill up and is soon packed to the rafters and there’s barely room to move as the band take the stage and blast straight into “Family Entertainment”. The atmosphere is amazing – there’s such a wonderful vibe as the band speed their way through a career spanning set of almost thirty songs. Paul pulls out all the stops with his high kicks, jumps and Elvis moves – he’s an engaging frontman that has built up a real rapport with the crowd and live, his voice is really something special. Rather like Baz Warne in The Stranglers, Paul has made the position his own on merit – keeping the integrity of the original delivery intact while retaining his own personality. There’s the usual witty on stage banter, mainly from bassist Mickey Bradley as he reads out requests and dedications between songs. 

The Undertones at Camden Electric Ballroom - Photo Retro Man Blog
Damian and John’s guitars are immensely powerful, swapping rhythm and lead parts effortlessly and Billy’s drums propel everything along at breakneck speed. Mickey jokes, “that’s a record, the quickest we’ve ever played that” after one song. “Hypnotised” and “Tearproof” are personal favourites and of course, the pick of faultless singles such as “Here Comes The Summer”, “You’ve Got My Number”, ”Jimmy Jimmy” and the inevitable “Teenage Kicks” are certainly hard to beat. It’s not just about the singles though, they treat us to a plethora of excellent album cuts and B-Sides like “I Gotta Getta”, “Jump Boys”, “True Confessions” and of course “Male Model”. The Paul McLoone era songs featured on “Dig What You Need” such as “Thrill Me”, “Oh Please” and “Dig Yourself Deep”, sit perfectly alongside all the familiar classics and I particularly enjoyed “Here Comes The Rain”, which sounded superb tonight.

The Undertones at Camden Electric Ballroom - Photo Retro Man Blog

I think it’s rare to see such a band where the only disappointment is that they don’t include more “new” material in the set. Given the quality of the songs highlighted on “Dig What You Need”, it’s a bit of a shame that they haven’t released any new material since the 2013 Record Store Day single “Much Too Late”. The band seem content to spend more time touring rather than being cooped up in a studio these days and I suppose you can’t blame them. When you get the chance to play live in front of frenzied, adoring crowds around the world, you’re not going to turn down the opportunity I guess. Anyway, after such an abysmal couple of years, it’s hard to put into words how wonderful tonight’s show was. It was so great to experience once again the sheer joy and life-affirming power of timeless music played by a band that still clearly enjoy themselves as much as we, the fans do. The crowd - from the very front of the stage to the bars at the back and to the balconies above - all singing along together, almost drowning out the band…bloody marvellous!

At the time of writing, it was announced that drummer Billy Doherty unfortunately had a medical emergency, which meant a show had to be cancelled at the last minute. However, the band have recruited Kevin Sharkey as a deputy and the rest of the advertised dates should be going ahead as advertised, but please double check with the venues. Our very best wishes to Billy for a speedy recovery. “Dig What You Need” is available now from Dimple Discs Records.

Please check out the following highlighted links...

The Undertones - official web-site

Damian O'Neill - official web-site

Retrosonic Podcast - From The Undertones to The Monotones with Damian O'Neill
Michael Bradley Radio Show - BBC Radio Ulster

Paul McLoone Show- Spotify Show/Playlists

Dimple Discs Records - official Bandcamp site

 The Rocking Humdingers Club - The Undertones Fan's Facebook page

That Petrol Emotion - official Facebook page 

 The Everlasting Yeah - official Facebook page

 King Afonso Radio Hour - Raymond Gorman's Podcast

Stag (Steve Mack) - official Facebook page

Baby Shakes - official Facebook page

5 Billion in Diamonds - official Facebook page

Retrosonic Podcast - That Petrol Emotion & The Everlasting Yeah special 
(with Damian O'Neill, Raymond Gorman & Ciaran McLaughlin)

Retrosonic Podcast - with special guest Raymond Gorman
Retrosonic Podcast - with special guests Baby Shakes 
Retrosonic Podcast - with special guests 5 Billion in Diamonds

Retro Man Blog - feature on The Everlasting Yeah at The Half Moon Putney

Retro Man Blog - Good Vibrations movie feature with photos by Paul Slattery
Write Wyatt - Malcolm Wyatt's excellent Blog with lots of Undertones related features

For videos of The Undertones at the Camden Electric Ballroom and more...please check out the Retro Man Blog YouTube channel. Here's a little taster for you...enjoy!

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