The Undertones Interview

fns caught up with The Undertones bassist Michael Bradley…

How’s 2009 been for The Undertones (including Saturdays gig at Derry City), you seem to have been a bit quiet on the gig count this year?

 2009 has been quiet, mainly because of our own decisions. We held back on a lot of offers, as some of us didn’t have a lot of spare time. Personally speaking, I lost a bit of my enthusiasm for doing shows in 2008, and we only did a handful. We started back slowly doing shows in 2009, then we had big philosophical debates about what we wanted to do , and then one thing led to another. We all have different ideas about what we want, so it’s always going to be a compromise between doing a lot and doing almost nothing. We agreed to do the show for Derry City a few months back when they had financial difficulties. Over the last few weeks the financial difficulties were much worse than anyone realised, which led to all the playes being put on the transfer list, the Football Association Of Ireland getting involved and throwing the club out of the Premier Division and withholding their prize money for coming fourth. So we were a bit nervous about doing the show. Luckily a few days before we played, the old board resigned , older and more experienced people got involved, and there was a better feeling in the city about the football club than there’d been for a while. Musically it was a great night.

How’s your local music scene these days, anyone we should be keeping an eye out for?

I’m not the best judge, as I am ‘too old’ to know anything. But I do hear the odd good band on the radio. I like the band that supported us at the Derry City show – Here Comes The Landed Gentry – I also like a band i heard during my day job, producing Gerry Anderson.  They’re called Kitty & The Can Openers.

Plenty albums being re-released though? Is that something a band has to get involved in or is it basically all handled by your record company?

We own the rights to all our records, so we lease them every few years. The current deal is with union square music, who really did a great job, adding extra songs and allowing me to write sleevenotes for the re-releases. So its a combination of us working with the record company.

Which of the albums has been most popular?

Not sure, as I never look too closely. Of the individual records, not compilations, I think the first one is the most popular. Its the best in my opinion as well. Although Hypnotised also sounds good. 

Your favourite places you have played (may it be for the venues, the crowd, whatever)?

That’s a big question…. off the top of my head, the Picturedrome in Holmfirth, in Yorkshire. Small village (where they film Last Of The Summer Wine) , venue an old cinema, rickety stairs, hotel next door, snooker table in the big cluttered dressing room – we played there two years ago and had a great time. Also a club in Madrid which I can’t remember the name of which we played a few years ago. Very small, and its Madrid. What more do you want ?

Any previously untold amusing stories of life as a ‘tone?

Let’s see……… (reaches down back of sofa and pulls out folded up sheet of paper) Not sure if this counts, but I remember the first time I ever got reaaaalllly drunk. October 1979 , we were on tour in England and visited Manchester, where we went back to the flat of a friend of ours from Derry. It was the night I discovered how easy it is to drink vodka if it’s mixed with orange juice. I had about three trebles, which sounds great on a dart board but it made me very drunk, which wasn’t that bad because I just get happy. But the next morning I was as sick as a dog, and still had to make it back to the hotel so that we could travel to the next show which was in Leicester. Having done the ‘down on hands and knees being sick’ in the back of a black taxi, I was then given the honour of the front passenger seat in the Transit minibus which was our preferred mode of transport. All along whatever motorway it is that links Manchester with Leicester, I had my head out of the window like a , yes, dog,  occasionally projecting a stream of orange coloured liquid on to the hard shoulder. (of the motorway, not of my coat). What made it worse was that, for once, the band decided to stop off at a restaurant and have Sunday lunch – paid for by the tour manager! – which meant I had to stay in the front seat of the bus, and try to recover, while they went inside. A few minutes after I’d got to sleep there was a knock on the window, and a young girl  was there with a scrap of paper – “Can you sign this, please ?’ – the rest of the band had sent her out to complete the set of autographs by getting the bass player. We made it to Leicester without me dying, although standing on stage it was all I could do to stay upright without bursting into tears and vomiting all over my Fender Precision. I was only cheered up when our lighting guy said that he once downed a bottle of whiskey and said that doing something like that ‘could kill you, y’know’. A lucky escape, then …….  

 When you mention The Undertones to anyone the first thing they think of is the iconic `Teenage Kicks`. What’s the story of that song? 

John wrote it in 1977, just when he was started to get into a rhythm of writing a song every few weeks. I think he’s said in the past it was kind of inspired by the girl groups of the early 60s, the Crystals, etc, in terms of the lyrics at least. I was never completely convinced by the title, as ‘kicks’ was never a word that we used in our everyday speech, but I got used to it. We never thought of it as our best song in the early days, and regarded it as part of an EP, albeit the title song. I think you can hear the influence of the New York Dolls on it, with Damian’s guitar, and the Ramones, with the overall guitar sounds.

Promoted non-stop by the 10pm god of radio that was John Peel… do you think you would have `made it` without his help?

Probably not ….. definitely not. We would have probably broken up if the record had come out and nothing happened. And nothing would have happened if John hadn’t played it , and Seymour Stein from Sire hadn’t heard it when he was in London. Teenage Kicks was on a demo sent to Chiswick, Siff and Radar record labels a few months before we recorded it. I’ve heard the demo, which we recorded in Derry , and it’s not that much different from the version which made it to vinyl.

Any tracks you think should have done better popularity wise (my own favourite is Thrill Me, the album is exceptional as well in my humble)?

Thanks for that. I long ago stopped worrying about what was popular, to be honest. You kind of know yourself if something is as good as it should be. The ‘Get Over You’ single isn’t as good as it should have been. I blame ourselves for not producing it ourselves, as we did with Teenage Kicks six months earlier.

Any bands you’ve admired over the years and would liked to have shared a stage with?

 Well, we played with the Clash in America, which was good. Apart from them, its not something I’ve ever thought about. “Would like to have seen the Beatles” is a fairly unimaginative response, but true. When we supported the Rezillos in our first tour in 1978, Joy Division were on before us for a few shows. They weren’t great though, to be honest. But what do I know ?

Any grumbles with the music scene nowadays?

Nothing that hasn’t already been the subject of much discussion by people who know more than I do. I miss LP covers, but like CDs for their sound and handiness. I read a great article recently which said that when we stopped listening to vinyl, we lost something in terms of giving proper attention to music. With the turntable,  you had to be in the same room ,  and usually listened with a bit more concentration than if you’re listening on an iPod walking along the street or sitting at a computer. Maybe that’s nonsense, but it sounded right to me.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I think we’ve yet to get a live release with Paul singing, any reason for that? In the pipeline perhaps?

We’ve never planned to release a live record ever, apart from a few songs on the extra CD with the Anthology. Every so often we talk about recording some of the shows, but then we get distracted by a balloon or a sandwich or something.

How does gigging now compare to what it was like when you first started out? You can obviously be more selective perhaps but is the buzz still there?

Its easier to play well these days, with guitars staying in tune better and electronic tuners making life easier. That in turn helps me feel less concerned about the prospect of playing live, which I always did when we started. I always secretly hoped for the show to be cancelled so I didnt have to go on stage. Once on stage, of course I was fine. I think I have as much buzz, and dread, as I had when the band started.

In the early days it must have been costly to come to the UK to play? Any stories from that time?

Costly ? Never thought that much about it , although we did fly in and out of London a lot – I think we kept British Airways in profit in the late 70s early 80s. Although it was better than the Belfast -Liverpool or Larne-Stranraer ferry , which is what we used to do when we first did a tour of the UK.

Have you ever played with Stiff Little Fingers? On a personal level that’s a question I’ve never known the answer to!

Never played on the same bill, no. Can’t remember the prospect ever arising either. Saw them live once , in Portrush, Easter Monday 1978. Their first song was brilliant, I thought. Then someone pointed out that they were actually playing ‘Complete Control’ by the Clash. Good taste, mind. 

Any recordings in the pipeline and general plans for 2010?

General plan for 2010 ?  Watch some of the world cup on TV, and possibly play a few shows for the first time in Japan. The odd show here and there, and might start recording some of the new songs that John has written.

Your five desert island discs?

Desert island discs change from week to week.  This week they are…
Search And Destroy – Iggy & The Stooges
Sweetie – The Chefs
Hanging On The Telephone – The Nerves
Too Dumb – The Regular Guys
Gloria – Them

Finally, what’s your favourite flavour of crisps?

Tayto Cheese And Onion, preferably in a sandwich. White bread, real butter and cup of tea. You’ve put the notion into my head , now.

fns thanks Michael for his time and we’ll see you in 2010!

You can catch The Undertones at Fat Sams, Dundee on Friday the 26th of Feburary and at King Tuts, Glasgow on Saturday the 27th of Feburary.

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