The Undertones

The Undertones were my first love and it was a sad day when I could no longer squeeze into my Autumn '79 tour T-shirt.... A few more years and the band were gone, leaving four albums and John Peel's favourite song. Of course, the O'Neill brothers rapidly formed the rather good That Petrol Emotion and Feargal Sharkey was to record a few unfortunate solo and collaborative songs before sacking in the performing game, never to return. Now a music executive, he refuses to return to the game where he made such a mark as a gawky youth, and probably quite wise too. Instead, reforming in the early 2000s, the original band brought in Paul Mcloone as singer and it'll not surprise anyone to hear he has a high warble, not a light year from Mr Sharkey, without exactly immitating it. Seems a shame but, I guess, the others figured that the warble was a unique feature of the band, like looking for a guitarist, say, to play in the same style as one you lost. Having made a fine album in 2003, is this the Undertone's sixth album or is it, as I prefer to think, the second from the new Undertones? It has less of the reaching after new ideas of the second, third and fourth albums, revealing instead a band happy to be a pop-punk band doing what they do in the twentyfirst century.

And what they do is sing love songs as if it was 1980, the heyday of The Buzzcocks and Stiff Little Fingers. They don't piss about, either. Fourteen songs are packed into thirty minutes. Do the maths - that's a couple of minutes per song - and just as well, their audience is unlikely to be able to pogo for more than 120 seconds these days..... It's remarkable that, here, nearly three decades after the band's inception, all three of the aforementioned bands are still touring. Certainly not something I'd've imagined possible back in the days of My Perfect Cousin, Jimmy Jimmy and Wednesday Week.

The band's lyrical obsessions are really not far removed fromthose of a quarter century ago; love songs, love lost, girls you can't have, girl that don't want to know, trying to impress your friends - the mind of a forty-something man is as insecure and messed up as the teenager they once were. Touches like "you should have married him not me" are amongst the few signs that these are not spotty lads in duffel coats anymore. Close your eyes during songs like Precious Little Wonder and you could be back in the early days of punk, before Green Day had even been dreamt of, breathing the fresh air of simple punked-up pop, blowing away the turgid dinosaur rock that had sat on british music for a year or two too long. When an O'Neill guitar line, simple and high pokes through the bouncy backing you'll feel your heart lift and a gladness that, for some, the creative urge and ability stretches way past the days of fame.

Ross McGibbon