Northern Ireland

Teenage Kicks: The story of The Undertones

The Undertones
Image caption The Undertones were formed by a group of friends in Lononderry in the 1970s

They were formed in Londonderry in the 1970s - a city deeply affected by Northern Ireland's Troubles, yet few bands can put a smile on your face as quickly as The Undertones.

As the conflict raged on at their doorstep, a group of friends came together to offer the youth of Derry and Northern Ireland a brief but welcome respite from the daily doom and gloom.

To this day, they remain the most successful band to have emerged from Derry and one of the most successful to ever come from Northern Ireland.

An hour-long documentary, Here Comes The Summer: The Story Of The Undertones, on BBC One NI on Monday, 21 January at 10.35pm, charts the story of the band from when it first formed around a campfire in 1974 until 1983, when the members decided to go their separate ways.

Combining archive footage with new interviews with band members Michael Bradley, Billy Doherty and brothers John O'Neill and Damian O'Neill, the documentary tells how a group of teenagers beat the odds to become an improbable pop phenomenon whose hits still resonate today.

Friends Michael and Billy and brothers John and Vincent O'Neill formed their band in 1974 and invited classmate and Derry Feis regular Feargal Sharkey to join as singer.

The Undertones were born and the lads would spend most of their time over the next couple of years in the O'Neill household rehearsing and listening to everything from British R&B, American rock 'n' roll, glam rock, garage bands and new, emerging punk music from the US and Britain.

After a couple of years, Vincent O'Neill left the band to concentrate on his studies and was replaced by his brother Damian and by 1977, The Undertones had a set of finely rehearsed covers and became regulars at Derry's alternative nightspot The Casbah, where they developed a loyal following.

Battle of Bands

When they started writing their own songs, a mutual friend suggested they contact Belfast music impresario Terri Hooley to record some tracks.

In 1978, the group made the trip to Belfast for Hooley's Battle of Bands competition and he was so impressed that he invited them to record their debut EP the following day.

That EP was Teenage Kicks and the rest, as they say, is history.

The band soon found a fan in legendary BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel and were then signed to the major record label Sire Records by Seymour Stein, the man responsible for signing Madonna a few years later.

The Undertones experienced a meteoric rise to fame and their music reached the masses.

Though they came from a conflict-torn city at an extraordinary time, their music was not about politics or protests.

Instead, they created their own brand of infectious punk pop and sang adolescent anthems about ordinary yet universal themes such as teenage angst, finding a girlfriend and having annoyingly flawless relatives.

Singles such as Teenage Kicks, Jimmy Jimmy and My Perfect Cousin soared up the charts and the band made numerous appearances on shows such as Top Of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Clash tour support

They even snagged the support slot for The Clash on their tour of America.

But in 1983, five years after signing their record deal and with four albums and 13 singles under their collective belt, the fun had started to dwindle and The Undertones called it a day.

Here Comes The Summer: The Undertones Story, made for BBC Northern Ireland by Alley Cats Films and narrated by James Nesbitt, tells the incredible story of how, amid the backdrop of the Troubles, a group of teenage boys shot to success with their songs of everyday life.

As well as hearing from members of the band, the documentary also hears from those who signed and worked with the band, music experts and relatives - including a certain 'perfect cousin'.

Here Comes The Summer: The Undertones Story is part of BBC Northern Ireland's programming to mark Derry-Londonderry as the UK City Of Culture 2013.