Books - T

TEENAGE KICKS: My Life As An Undertone - Michael Bradley {228 pages, Omnibus}

THE UNDERTONES hold a special attachment to me. Among the very first records I bought was their biggest hit, ‘My Perfect Cousin’, so the prospect of the band’s story written by bassist, Michael Bradley, was always going to appeal. Question is - would it be any good? The answer is most definitely yes.

Bradley takes us right back to 1974, just as he turned 15 and decided to join his school friends in a band. Equipment was sparse but they persevered. Along the way, they picked up award winning choirboy Feargal Sharkey and the band was formed. The book details the band’s early years including various recording and touring stories, each member of the band leaving at some stage, writing John Peel’s all-time favourite song, getting arrested by the Special Branch, signing with Sire Records and getting to hang with THE RAMONES and the wide-eyed wonder of appearing on Top Of The Pops. There’s also a great story about the band faking drummer Billy Doherty’s death and touring the US with THE CLASH.

What really makes this a great read though is Bradley’s narrative. Its written with sublime wit, something that is uniquely Irish. There is genuine enthusiasm in his words, be it reminiscing of the formative days crammed in the house of the O’Neill brothers watching TV and then even rehearsing in an upstairs bedroom, the thrill of early performances and his hatred of both STIFF LITTLE FINGERS and THIN LIZZY!!

There is also a great realism about his writing; you can sense life in Derry at the time and relate to his embarrassment every time some locals shouted "Undertones are shite". There was a naivety about the band that Bradley doesn’t shy from highlighting, best exemplified by their star-struck demeanour every time the ran into someone famous and his use of self-deprecation is refreshing.

This humour and realism runs parallel to the political climate in Northern Ireland at the time. It’s fair to say that THE UNDERTONES were never the most overtly political of bands, but Bradley does bring politics into the narrative along with his own thoughts and opinions on various incidents.

Interestingly, the band’s last two albums (‘Positive Touch’ and ‘Sin Of Pride’), both of which saw a marked change in direction and an even more noticeable lack of success (although spawning some decent songs), are both encapsulated in about 30 pages in total. It’s clear that by the end of the band’s tenure, no one really seemed to be enjoying it - which is tragic when compared with the veritable child-like excitement of the way Bradley describes the early years.

The book is filled out with 16 pages of exclusive photos that span those early Derry days through to the 1999 reformation (minus Sharkey).

Just like the band’s early singles, this is as unpretentious as autobiographies come. The narrative flows with a conversational tone, refusing to become laboured with unnecessary detail or self-aggrandizing pomposity. Most importantly, it does the band’s memory and those classic early years justice. Job done, Bradley - bloody good work!!! (26.03.18)