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Music Q&A: The Undertones

The legendary Undertones emerged from Derry in 1976, the result of five friends (John O’Neill, Damian O’Neill, Fergal Sharkey, Billy Doherty and Michael Bradley) learning how to play basic rock and roll. 2018 marked the 40th Anniversary of the release of their most influential and famous song, Teenage Kicks, which Mikey Bradley recalls playing on Top of the Pops in this interview with Blackpool Social Club. The band plays Lowther Pavilion on the 8th October with special guest Hugh Cornwell. Get your tickets here.

What inspires your music and songwriting?
In the past, I was inspired by the need to do something to keep up with Damian O’Neill, our lead guitar player. He was coming up with song ideas, and I really wanted to be involved so I wrote songs with him. There was no chance of keeping up with John O’Neill, Damian’s older brother, as he was waaay out in front with songwriting. Still is.
In the more recent past, I wrote songs to, again, relieve my feelings of guilt at being lazy.
Nowadays I’m happy being lazy.
Of course, inspiration in the actual writing came from phrases, wordplay, neat chord changes. And making sure it wasn’t something that someone else had already composed.

How did the pandemic impact your music and how does it feel to be back on the road?
Well, like every other band, our plans for playing shows were immediately dropped. Our manager, Barry, immediately postponed the dates till later in 2020. Then, as it became clear Covid was going away, he further postponed them. Which is why we’re only getting round to doing them now.
Since last year we’ve been back doing shows, and for me it was a realisation of how lucky I am to be able to go on stage, with my friends, play the songs well (most times, anyway) and make people happy. And people really are happy. I usually go ‘out front’ and talk to people afterwards. And they’re always happy that we’re back playing our songs.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
Not a lot, to be honest. Although playing our songs is kind of artistic. In terms of creating things… I present a radio show on BBC Radio Ulster. And I do my best.

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
Embarrassing? Well, when I look back at old videos, some of them are a bit embarrassing. Dressing up as 1920s Hollywood film crew? Ah well, at least no one got hurt. Surreal? Being on Top Of The Pops in October 1978, with Teenage Kicks. It was our first trip out of Ireland. We’d been in our day jobs a few weeks earlier. And the next night we’d be playing in the Rocking Chair pub in Derry.

If you weren’t a musician what would you be doing with your life?
Well, as my musical career is definitely part time, I would have been a radio producer. In fact, I was a radio producer. And I am still a radio presenter.

What’s on your rider?
Good question.
Red wine, bottle of whiskey, beers and water.
Tomatoes.
And a roast chicken (our tour manager’s request).
And nice bread.
Other things too. Usually bought in the nearest Tesco.

What song do you wish you’d written?
There are a lot but leaving aside the big money earners: Shipbuilding and
White Man In Hammersmith Palais.

What’s your worst lyric?
Oh, do I really have to answer this?
“Hey, raid the Spar”
It had to rhyme with “I need a Mars Bar” (b side to Jimmy Jimmy).
I could say I intended to go back and change it before we put it on tape, but that would be a lie.

Are you looking forward to playing Lytham and is there anything you’d like to check out while you’re here?
I’ve never been in Lytham. So yes, we are looking forward to it. I have heard it’s a bit swanky. Is that true?
Will we be allowed to stay there or will we have to leave town at sundown?
I imagine there’d be a nice café so I could have a cup of tea and a fruit scone.

What can we expect from your live show?
Well… about 25 songs. Most of them played at a brisk tempo. None of them over three and a half minutes long. There may be some false starts. There may be humorous asides, said in a Derry accent that most English people can’t understand. And you can dance. Or sway. Or just rock backwards and forwards on your feet.

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