In the summer of 1979 five lads from Derry were the best geeks on the block.
Chris Jones 2008
Turning up like badly behaved, but still ostensibly cute, younger siblings during the second wave of punk, Derry's Undertones always had youth on their side. Anyone who remembers seeing their first foray onto the nation's screens on TOTP remembers a spotty bunch of teenagers in school jumpers and docs. Much like Ash, 25 years later, Northern Ireland seemed to breed early starters.
Armed with seemingly rudimentary musical skills, the reason the Undertones stuck out was that, unlike their cooler older peers from London and Manchester, they didn't stick to the rigorous adoption of American garage and art rock like the Stooges to the Velvets. They were still in love with their elder brothers and sisters' Bolan and Bowie albums: their sound welded glam to pub rock, all topped off with Feargal Sharkey's Larry the Lamb warble. If they did take a cue from any USA acts it was the cartoon fun of The Ramones, Here Comes The Summer contains the same Beach Boys-on-amphetamine rush that 'da brudders' wielded so succesfully. At the same time, the accents definitely didn't stray across the pond. Never has the Northern Irish twang been so thrust into the face of our pop kids. Check out the deadpan backing vocals on True Confessions.
One thing they did share with many of their elders was the fact that they achieved near-perfection with this first album. The self-titled debut not only contained their first three-chord bolt from the blue that had so floored punk's friendly Uncle, John Peel, when it was first released on the Good Vibrations label -Teenage Kicks - it also yielded Get Over You (arguably a BETTER record than the sainted Kicks), Here Comes The Summer and Jimmy Jimmy.
It was mainly the pop savvy of John O'Neill (occassionally helped out by brother Damian) that created these paeans to working class teenage life. The subject matter didn't revolve around nihilism, but rather young love/lust frustration and all things adolescent. And just about every track could been a hit. Only the wibbly mini-closer, Casbah Rock, hinted that they had ambitions beyond three-minute bursts of fun.
Power pop and even cod-psychedelia were lurking around the corner and by 1983 (until their reformation in the 90s) the game was just about up. But in the summer of 1979 five lads from Derry were the best geeks on the block.