It’s impossible for me to think about Northern Ireland for any length of time without hearing the wonderful music of The Undertones in my head. One of my favourite groups of all time, ever, The Undertones did that supremely difficult thing of mixing pop tunes with crunching rock music: hard coated, soft centred stuff filled with life and energy and joy and excitement. I’ve been in a few bands in my time and tried to emulate this confection, and haven’t even got close.
If you want to know what being young feels like at its best, listen to the joyous ‘Here Comes The Summer’ – if you want to know what it feels like at its worst, then listen to ‘Teenage Kicks’, a timeless razor sharp pop song filled with yearning. The Undertones simply wrote great songs, seemingly artless, almost naïve things that, nevertheless, were full of emotion and profundity. They were clever, too – and funny - they called the opening track on their second album ‘More Songs About Chocolate & Girls’, after all.
All the best group’s progress, of course, and, with each release, The Undertones’ sound evolved into something more subtle and considered. Their songs became more complex and layered, and began to be about things other than chocolate and girls, quite often the situation in Northern Ireland. The band never became self-indulgent, but they did become slightly self-conscious, and their later records try a little too hard to be diverse. Surprised by their success and the sort of lifestyle it afforded them, the band lost their unity too soon, and split up (initially) in 1983.
It’s hard (and slightly pointless) to try and pick out The Undertones finest moment from their marvellous back catalogue but, if pushed, I would nominate the astonishing garage rock of ‘You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?)’, a jet propelled pop art vignette fuelled by hooks and oomph, as played by brilliant yobs in half mast trousers.
Feargal's red polo neck and shooting jacket combo remains the outfit I'd like to be buried in.