1.3.16

TEENAGE KICKS, MY LIFE AS AN UNDERTONE – By Michael Bradley



This is an extract from the newly published autobiography by Michael Bradley, the bass player in The Undertones who joined his school friends in the group in 1974. Four year later they recorded ‘Teenage Kicks’ which famously became John Peel’s favourite song ever, just as The Undertones became one of the most fondly remembered groups on the post-punk era.
          Michael’s story is a bitter sweet, heartwarming and occasionally hilarious tale of unlikely success, petty feuding and playful mischief during five years of growing up in the music industry.
We join Michael and his friends on the night in 1974 when John Peel played ‘Teenage Kicks’ for the first time on his radio show. Their world would never be the same.



We were in O’Neill’s kitchen that night listening to the radio.
          Some moments in your life can never be bettered and that was one. There wasn’t an outbreak of cheering, high fiving or back slapping. A few ‘Yes!’s may have been uttered but that was all. The reference to Loudon Wainwright III left us a bit puzzled but I suspect at that moment we would have been happy to be compared with Loudon Wainwright II or even The I.
          John Peel liked our record. Damn it, John Peel LOVED our record.
          It took a few days from Peel playing it to the first phone calls arriving from London record companies. We didn’t have a phone in our house, so I would get updates each day when I went down to Beechwood Avenue. Not that there was much to be updated on, as none of the companies suggested bringing us over to see them or, even more unlikely, them coming to see us.
          Not until the man from Sire Records got in touch.
          The story as told by no less a man than Seymour Stein himself is that he was driving – or being driven – to a Searchers show in the south of England. Seymour owned Sire Records, a New York label which had The Ramones and Talking Heads. Before punk Sire had specialised in signing British bands, including Barclay James Harvest and the Climax Blues Band, but we’ll forgive him for that.
          By 1978 he’d started to recruit new UK bands (The Rezillos) and old UK bands (The Searchers).
          He was listening to John Peel the night ‘Teenage Kicks’ was played and decided he wanted that band. Us.
          To prove he was serious he sent the entire staff from Sire’s London office to Derry to see if we were worth the chase.
          Paul McNally was that entire staff. Paul was tanned, fair haired and a very gentle man. To our ears he spoke with a posh English accent although we had only the Queen and Peter Purves to compare him with. He arrived at the Casbah in the company of Terri Hooley, who spoke the native tongue, and Ian Birch, a journalist with Melody Maker. I think the real reason Paul came over was to check that we had more songs than the four he had heard on the EP. Which we had, of course.
          There was an atmosphere of celebration when it became known that someone from Sire was in the room, someone who might give us a deal. Record companies never came to Derry. Not proper record companies who offered contracts, who released records around the world and who had bands on Top Of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. The Casbah was so small that we were in eye contact with Paul McNally the whole night but we weren’t at all nervous. We had the confidence that the Patronage Of Peel gives you. Even if Paul hated us, we were still sure that someone else would come through the Casbah’s doors, tossing 30 pence into Big Tony’s outstretched hand and holding out a piece of paper and a pen to sign it with. It turned out that Paul did like us, as did Ian Birch. After a quick conversation at the bar after the show, it was agreed that we’d meet up again the next day at Feargal’s house for a meeting about The Future. Ian Birch impressed us with the fact that he had a really nice Steel Pulse badge in his lapel. It wasn’t the standard round button job, but the band’s name cut out in, presumably, steel and attached to the lapel with a small stud fastener. Much too tempting for one of our fans who, with admirable sleight of hand, managed to remove it while Ian had his jacket casually slung over his shoulder.
          Paul McNally once said that he had difficulty working out who was actually in the band and who wasn’t, when faced with nine of us in Feargal’s front room the next day. The band were there, of course. So was Vinny, naturally. Eugene Martin took his usual place, as did Paddy Crawford (now sporting a Steel Pulse badge) and Joe Breslin. Undeterred, Paul ploughed on with his comments on the band, last night’s performance and his intention to sign us to Sire. We were flattered that the home of The Ramones was even interested in taking us in so when Paul handed us the contract he was already half way to a deal. Sixty per cent, in fact. We decided there and then that John, Billy and Dee would put their names on the dotted line as it stood. Feargal and I would only sign after negotiating better terms with the man himself, Seymour Stein.
          In 1978 Derry’s legal community was busy representing young men who were involved in the many and varied attempts at overthrowing the state. Rioting had been in decline since the early seventies but still had the occasional revival. Some of our school friends had taken the cause of Irish Republicanism a little further than others and found themselves charged with membership and possession. Membership of the IRA and possession of arms or explosives.
          So it was entirely reasonable that our local solicitors were expert at representing teenagers with guns, rather than teenagers with guitars. Feargal took a copy of the Sire contract to a legal professional on Clarendon Street, home to many solicitors offices. He looked at the clauses. Not having anything to compare it with, he declared that, yes, it was indeed a contract. Nothing unreasonable in its contents.
          So, like Michael Collins some 60 years earlier, Feargal and I were off to London to negotiate on behalf of our people back home. Collins went to Downing Street to negotiate with Lloyd George. We went to Baker Street to parley with Seymour Stein. Neither party came back with a good deal.
          The London trip started well. For one thing, we flew in an aeroplane. This is important, because a couple of months earlier, Feargal and I (along with Billy and Eugene Martin) decided to go to London for a holiday and could only afford the train. Trains were cheap then, planes were expensive.
          It is, I know, the reverse today.
          Northern Ireland Railways ran a cross-channel service to London via the Larne to Stranraer ferry. It left Derry at twenty to three in the afternoon and arrived at Euston Station the following morning at five minutes past eight. No sleep and no sleepers for us. Sitting upright on the seat and worrying about being robbed were the main ways of passing the time. We went to London to see what the centre of the punk rock universe was actually like in 1978. Neglecting to bring much money, we soon discovered that even the most horrible B&B in the most horrible street wasn’t cheap. We had enough cash for the four of us to share one room for three nights in Earls Court. After that, we were directed towards a large camp called Tent City, which was way out west. Acton, I think. We got refuge in a large green tent. Can’t remember how much we paid, but compared to the £12 each for the B&B it was a bargain. It also meant we could afford to eat. I remember on that trip we went out for something to cure our hunger and stood in the doorway of McDonalds on Earls Court Road. I was amazed at the cost of the hamburgers. We had just come from a city where even a Hawaiian Burger (pineapple ring and thousand island dressing) cost 45 pence. In 1978 the golden arches had yet to reach across to Derry but I had read about McDonalds in NME and was curious about it.
          Not that curious that I would spend 75 pence on a Big Mac, though.

         


5 comments:

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  2. Enjoyed that :-)i couldnt begin to imagine how many times ive gigged Teenage Kicks,but i know it will be many more!

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  3. Enjoyed that :-)i couldnt begin to imagine how many times ive gigged Teenage Kicks,but i know it will be many more!

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