"The Clash would have KILLED to have come from Derry"
June 11, 2014 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, was a dangerous place to be in the late 1970s. With bombs, shootings, British Army Patrols, riots on the streets, and The Ramones and New York Dolls on the turntable, the most punk thing 5 Catholic lads could do was to sing upbeat songs about adolescent lust, girls, getting nowhere with said girls, and the general struggles of being young. In the bleeding heart of The Troubles, The Undertones escaped by dreaming of a life more ordinary.

When punk hit London, there was no "punk scene" as such in Derry. The Belfast scene was characterized by the musically aggressive, overtly political bands like Stiff Little Fingers.

What Derry had was The Casbah, a wretched run-down little pub, built over the rubble of a previous pub that had been blown up. There, The Undertones honed their craft with a weekly headlining gig, eventually setting themselves the goal of a new song (or at least a new cover version) every week. The Casbah was also a place where Catholic & Protestant kids could put aside the violence & sectarianism of their daily lives and just be music fans for a while.

In 1978 The Undertones sent their first EP to Legendary BBC DJ John Peel who fell in love with the song Teenage Kicks, and became The Undertones champion. And in accordance with his often mentioned wishes, when Peel died in 2004, his wife had the opening lyrics to Teenage Kicks inscribed on his headstone, and the song played at his funeral.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (38 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

Yeah, I don't know how much better Derry is today.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:20 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Teenage Kicks is, indeed, a hell of a song.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:27 AM on June 11 [8 favorites]

I never quite understood what John Peel saw in Teenage Kicks or the Undertones --decent but not worldshattering-- but damn, is it ten years already that we lost him?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:30 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

I wore out my copy of Cher O'Bowlies, such a great album. I miss John Peel so much, his radio show lit up so many evenings in my youth.
posted by arcticseal at 11:35 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Oh my god, I love the Undertones. There was a year in high school during which I basically listened to Hypnotised every single day.
posted by scody at 11:36 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Timely post! I've been listening to the Undertones a lot lately. That first album and the early singles are pure distilled awesomeness. And the other three albums are wonderful as well.
posted by cropshy at 11:37 AM on June 11

I can't speak for Peel, of course, but for me, Teenage Kicks is one of the songs that does the most with the least. It's rough, not particularly well played or sung, not particularly well produced, but it's just great. It's a song that sounds like it should be within the reach of every pimply, angsty kid with a guitar, or bass, or a mic. It sounds like kids, and being young and loud and looking for love is the purest distillation of rock and roll.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:40 AM on June 11 [9 favorites]

Great collection of links, great post. Thanks, PBZM.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:41 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

The first 18 seconds of You've Got My Number (Why Don't You Use It)(the general struggles link above), comprise one of my favorite opening riffs of any pop song ever.
posted by otters walk among us at 11:42 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

CRAP! In the whole page-crash-reconstruct-the-whole-damn-post-from-scratch dance, meant to include this link re: Peel's love for Teenage Kicks: "There's nothing you could add to it or subtract from it that would improve it."
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:45 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Great post. It's worth calling attention to how many truly great Northern Irish power pop bands there were, though, most of them from Belfast and signed to the Good Vibrations label, which also released "Teenage Kicks."

Protex is my favorite of all the Northern Irish bands. Formed in Belfast in 1978, their full length was delayed for 32 years until the awesome power pop reissue label Sing Sing Records put it out in 2012.

I find myself humming The Tearjerkers' fantastic single "Murder Mystery" all the time lately.

Rudi cut the first 7" on Good Vibrations, the awesome "Big Time."

There were plenty of other cool bands, like The Moondogs, Strike, Xdreamysts, and Starjets.
posted by vathek at 11:57 AM on June 11 [10 favorites]

This is probably worth a watch if you are interested in an entertaining (and possibly somewhat fictionalized) version of the broader context.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 11:57 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]

Gooooooooooooood post.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:58 AM on June 11

See also the Rezillos. Different North, similar pop-punk wonderfulness.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:00 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]

Also I read that lyric with a comma...

"Teenage Dreams, so hard to beat."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:01 PM on June 11

File another under WHY THE F*** DIDN"T THIS MAKE IT INTO THE DAMN FPP, The Undertones, Live at BBC Northern Ireland (1979). Includes an interview w the band.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:06 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]

Teenage Kicks is probably my all time favorite song. I used to go to a ska/punk/etc record night in the basement of the Star Bar in L5P with DJ Park-It Paul spinning all the stuff he had. He knew how much I loved the song that he would cue it up for me when I walked in.
posted by Kitteh at 12:17 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

*suddenly craves a Mars Bar*
posted by jonmc at 12:19 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

*suddenly starts looking for a Subbuteo game*
posted by scody at 12:21 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Since The Rezillos have been mentioned (excellent video performance you linked there, PotomacAve), if this stuff is new to you, there's Rhino Records "D.I.Y.: Teenage Kicks- UK Pop I (1976-79)", which has the top hits of many more groups like this.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:24 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I don't know how much better Derry is today.

Oh, I don't know. City of culture, host to the Turner Prize? Things have moved on. I seriously recommend a visit.
posted by Segundus at 12:26 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I don't know how much better Derry is today.

I might have said that a couple of years ago, but post-Troubles Northern Ireland turned out to be a fascinating place to visit, and Derry has its charms. (My collected thoughts and photos are here.)

Good Vibrations (linked by Martha My Dear Prudence above) is essential viewing for anyone keen on the story of these bands. It's an entertaining watch in its own right.
posted by rory at 12:43 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]

I got a little choked up watching the footage of kids at the Casbah in the Peel documentary [starts @6:16]. Partly because it reminded me of being a teenage punk, but also because the fact that they made that scene, under the conditions they were facing, is really inspiring.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:03 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey: "... page-crash-reconstruct-the-whole-damn-post-from-scratch dance ..."
I cannot recommend Lazarus enough.
posted by brokkr at 1:07 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]

Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, was a dangerous place to be in the late 1970s

From a strictly rationalist point of view, it's worth remembering that in no year of the troubles did deaths or injuries from fighting exceed those of road traffic deaths or injuries. And it's also worth remembering that throughout that time the UK had road traffic casualty rates half those of similarly developed countries. So yeah, danger's all relative.

Mindless derail aside, I'm going to enjoy these videos the minute I get to look at them.
posted by ambrosen at 1:19 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

Inflammable Materials is just as good if not better than the first Clash record. But my favorite song of theirs might be from the Go For It album.
posted by cazoo at 1:29 PM on June 11

> ... in no year of the troubles did deaths or injuries from fighting exceed those of road traffic deaths or injuries

Yeah, but at no time would road traffic accidents point multiple guns at you (hello traffic stop for me near Strabane, early 1990s) or blow you up just because you're from where you're from.
posted by scruss at 2:24 PM on June 11 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I don't know how much better Derry is today.

If you'd been to Derry in the 70s and 80s you'd understand how much better it is now.

So yeah, danger's all relative.

To echo Scruss, I am not sure that many people are aware not just of the violence but how profoundly and deeply fucked up and militarized the Six Counties were. My dad comes from near Omagh and every time we visited overnight the house would be raided by the RUC and army at 2 in the morning. I don't think many traffic accidents involve you all standing by the side of the road as the army in full gear rumages through where you've been staying.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:34 PM on June 11 [10 favorites]

Peel once said of Teenage Kicks that it was perfect because "there's nothing you could add to it to make it better, and nothing you could take away from it to make it better". It's been my working definition for small, perfect items ever since.

Also, who remembers The Clash's much-mocked Belfast photo shoot in 1977?
posted by Paul Slade at 2:47 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

> Inflammable Materials is just as good if not better than the first Clash record.

By gad, I wouldn't have thought to put it that way, but you're absolutely right, and "Alternative Ulster" is one of the very few songs that can stand their ground with "Complete Control." No offense to the Undertones, like anyone with a lick of sense I love "Teenage Kicks," but Stiff Little Fingers is a really great band that never got its due. (Have we had a Stiff Little Fingers post? If not, why not?)
posted by languagehat at 3:01 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]

Great post, thanks!

I just linked to "My Perfect Cousin" in this AskMe the other day and was thinking about how great they were. I loved John Peel ( . ) so it was always a little source of pride that his favourite song was by a Norn Irish band.

There have been lots of great bands here, not too many of which made it outside NI, which was possibly because lots of other bands were too nervous of travelling here to play so if you wanted to go to a gig it was more than likely a local group. Have to give a wee shout out to Therapy? as long as we're name checking - they did at least get some wider recognition. "Teethgrinder" is still epic and "Nurse" was a great album.

Good Vibrations is a brilliant film, it's really joyful, I totally recommend it. It's just a great celebration of the punk ethos.

(Btw I wouldn't know where to start with the difference between Derry then and now. There was more to the conflict than just the outright number of deaths. It's a LOT better now, trust me.)

Also thanks languagehat - I'm heading to bed with an "Alternative Ulster" ear worm... :)
posted by billiebee at 4:12 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]

For some contemporary abrasive northern Irish music, check out LaFaro. Tuppenny Nudger isn't a bad start.
posted by knapah at 4:24 PM on June 11

Feargal Sharkey had a short solo career, and he has since hung up the mic. This was not his biggest hit, but I keep coming back to "If This Is Love." I love his voice!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:37 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

Feargal Sharkeys solo career consisted amongst other things of two top five UK singles which were linked by the relationship of the respective songwriters.

'A Good Heart' was written by Maria McKee, and the topic was her heartbreak after splitting with Benmont Tench. He in turn responded with the song 'You Little Thief', which he offered to Feargal and reached no. 5 over here.

BTW, The Undertones still tour and give great value for money - 2 hours on stage just a couple of weeks ago in oxford. Almost all the first 3 albums and the singles done with as much vigour as before, only this time we the audience were throwing Mars Bars at Singer Paul Mcloone, instead of Feargal showering us with them...
posted by dash_slot- at 7:05 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

The O'Neil brothers went on to form That Petrol Emotion, another vastly under appreciated band. Some tracks that are worth some time:

Big Decision

Spin Cycle


Hey Venus

Creeping to the Cross

Genius Move (lousy audio)


posted by Joey Michaels at 8:12 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]

Man, I used to love that band. Too bad Feargal has become a record industry stooge. Still, they were awesome live and made a great album.
posted by evilDoug at 9:04 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

evildoug, "Too bad Feargal has become a record industry stooge"--too bad for whom and why a stooge? A serious question not a bait. It seems he is widely regarded for his contribution to music, radio and technology
posted by rmhsinc at 5:21 AM on June 12

Just have to say how much I'm loving all of these links. Yay for new-to-me 40 year old music! Thank you thank you!
posted by travertina at 3:12 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]

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