The Undertones were from Derry, Northern Ireland an exotic faraway land for this kid from South Wales (might as well be the moon) and they looked like they could have been from the next street with their parkas and doc martins but they stood out because they had tunes and lots of em.
Famously championed by John Peel, who’s favourite all-time track was ‘Teenage Kicks’ played at his funeral I beleive. But they were much more than that one song, they released thirteen singles and four studio albums between 1978 – 1983, and then in time honoured fashion the singer (Fergal Sharkey) announced his intention to leave. The band was toast but re-formed in 1999 with new singer Paul McLoone.
Subsequently the new Undertones recorded two new albums and have been touring regularly ever since. They even played Glastonbury Festival in June 2005,and marked their 40th anniversary, (40th gulp!) and completed a 46 date world tour only last year.
That’s the history of The Undertones pretty much in a nutshell and less than a 300-page biography but it doesn’t tell the full story, because, when you lift the bonnet and look under the hood their body of work is nothing short of stunning, and for singles, early singles, they were right up there with Buzzcocks as prolific and one of the best punk / post punk / new wave call em what you like bands. The quality was nothing short of magnificent. So it’s about time they got the definitive best-of treatment and ‘West Bank Songs’ pretty much captures the spirit and style of those kids from Derry perfectly.
30 tracks compiled by the band themselves it features 7 top 40 hits (including 4 top 20s): ‘Teenage Kicks’, ‘My Perfect Cousin’, ‘Here Comes The Summer’, ‘Jimmy Jimmy’, ‘You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It!)’, ‘Wednesday Week’, ‘It’s Going To Happen’ plus the Kevin Shields remix of ‘Get Over You’ ah now you remember, not just a ‘one-hit-wonder’ with that song they always play at weddings and school discos. It’s not just a greatest hits though as they do dig into their four studio albums the self-titled classic debut, ‘The Undertones’ (1979), ‘Hypnotised’ (1980), ‘Positive Touch’ (1981) and ‘The Sin Of Pride’ (1983) so they might have tailed off through the years and they never managed to better the debut (in my humble opinion) but isn’t that often the case? They’ve obviously taken time and pride in this best of with a take on the Stones ‘Aftermath’ cover this one comes in white and purple vinyl and has a twelve-page booklet with sleeve notes by Undertones bassist Michael Bradley and Mick Houghton, it also includes previously unseen band photos.
As far as walking down memory lane records go this is pretty much as good as it gets. I’ve not played an Undertones record in a long time and this made me re-evaluate my childhood and boy was I glad I got them first time around and all these years later they’ve not lost an ounce of their energy, melody, catchiness and colour. the Undertones easily fill a double album of absolute belters and if you love your music then you should pick this up and revel in some of the best-written songs from the UK in the last fifty years. An absolutely essential purchase. I can now retire the original albums and play this crackle and pop free best of.
Author: Dom Daley