One of my favourite bands of all time was Derry’s Finest, The Undertones. Teenage Kicks is one of my favourite songs of all time, and even though it was actually released almost 35 years ago, whenever I hear it, it still sounds as fresh as if it came out a week last Thursday.
Before the band broke up in 1982, I got to see them live in concert on three occasions. The first was at the Free Trade Hall, where I was sat about six rows from the front. The band hit the stage, the audience surged. I got to about four rows of bodies from the stage itself, discovered that I was having this problem with expanding and contracting my chest and spent the best part of four songs forcing my way back far enough to breathe.
The second was the Apollo, Ardwick, where I was sat in the front row and spent the gig stood up leaning against the stage, with my arms balanced on the stage-floor itself, as Feargal Sharkey wheeled and emoted.
The third and final occasion was at the famous Haçienda, FAC 51, in 1982, when the band were touring their fourth and last album, The Sin of Pride.
If my memory serves me correctly, this was the first of about half a dozen visits I made to see gigs at the Haçienda. It was a bit of a strange venue to see bands, with everybody but a tiny handful having to stand, and from my second visit onwards, I used to buy my only drink at the bar, carry it upstairs and find a place on the balcony which gave me the best view of the stage, and nurse it for as long as I could until the gig started, and believe you me, when it was New Order on stage, that took a whole heap of nursing.
This first time, however, I was down on the floor with the mass of the audience, a good rowdy crowd looking for fun and the ‘Tones usual high energy set.
The Sin of Pride was a far better album to tour than Positive Touch, which had been the focus of the previous tour and the gig at the Apollo. Positive Touch was an experimental album, the band’s self-conscious attempt to ‘progress’ their music. The Sin of Pride, in contrast, accepted the fun of simplicity, and emphasised the band’s soul influences, with several tracks decorated with brilliant horn riffs, not that the ‘Tones were bringing a horn section onto the Haçienda’s tiny stage.
It was a good night, and the band were on good form until, suddenly, halfway through the set and bringing a song to a typically frantic conclusion, the sound went off!
There was confusion on stage, and in the audience, and a bit of laughter on our part of the equation. It only took the electricians about five minutes to get the plug back in again, but in the meantime, a little piece of magic ensued.
With the PA out of action, bassplayer Mickey Bradley came to the front of the stage, signalled for the audience to stop buzzing about it, and shouted out, “Well, we were going to do My Perfect Cousin next, but instead, we’re going to get you do it!”. Behind him, Billy Doherty struck up with the strutting little drum intro. Bradley shouted a vocal version of the two guitar chords that accompany it, and waved to us. And the whole crowd, in unison, if not in tune, shouted out, “Well I’ve got a cousin called Kevin, who’s sure to go to heaven.”
And, for a madcap four minutes or so, not even interrupted by the PA, which came back on towards the end of the song, we stood and swayed and lustily sang the whole song, word for word, while Billy Doherty kept the beat, and Mickey Bradley conducted us, and everyone had a whale of a time, even during the ‘instrumental’ break, which was the strutting beat and more mouth guitar chord sounds. And when we finished, the band applauded us, and we gave ourselves the biggest cheer of the night (until it was time to haul the Undertones back for their encores).
The band broke up after the tour, and whilst they’ve returned to action in later life, minus the Fearg but still boasting Bradley, Doherty and the O’Neill brothers, I’ve never had the luck to see them again.
It won’t be (quite) the same without the Fearg, and I’ll never get another silly little interlude like that again (though I’d laugh my head off if it did repeat itself), I’d still love one day to be in a hot, sweaty crowd, whipped up in a ferment, and those two beats and the riff ring out and once again I’m rocking to Teenage Kicks.
But that’s what it was like that night, when I was there.