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The Undertones are a punk rock/power pop band formed in Derrymarker, Northern Irelandmarker in 1975.

The original line-up of The Undertones released thirteen singles and four studio albumsThe Undertones (1979), Hypnotised (1980), Positive Touch (1981), and The Sin of Pride (1983) — before disbanding in July 1983. The Undertones have since reformed, replacing lead singer Feargal Sharkey with Paul McLoone. Music guide Allmusic have since stated in a review of The Undertones: guitarists John and Damian O'Neill "mated infectious guitar hooks to 1960s garage, 1970s glam rock, and Feargal Sharkey's signature vocal quaver."

Formation and early gigs

The Undertones formed in Derrymarker, Northern Irelandmarker in 1975, the band members were five friends from Creggan and the Bogsidemarker, who initially drew inspiration from such artists as The Beatles, The Small Faces and Lindisfarnemarker. The band initially rehearsed cover versions at the home of the guitarists, brothers John and Damian O'Neill, and in the shed of a neighbour. By the following year the group, at this stage still un-named, began playing gigs at minor local venues, including schools, parish halls and scout huts, where the band's lead singer, Feargal Sharkey, was a local scout leader. Sharkey was also responsible for giving the band their first name: at the introduction to a gig at Saint Joseph's Secondary School in Derry on 16 March, 1976, Feargal Sharkey was asked the name of the band and quickly replied ' The Hot Rods '.

Later that year, drummer Billy Doherty proposed an alternate name for the group: The Undertones, which Doherty had discovered in a history book. The other members of the band agreed to the proposal.

With the arrival of Punk Rock in the winter of 1976, the artistic focus of the band changed. Artists such as The Adverts, Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks and, particularly, the Ramones became major influences on The Undertones.

Casbah Rock

By 1977 the band were performing their own three-chord pop punk material, which was performed alongside cover versions at concerts, primarily at The Casbah, where the band began to perform in February of that year. These gigs were the first performances for which The Undertones were actually paid: performing at The Casbah earned the group up to £40 a week. This inspired the band to write and rehearse further material, as a means of remaining a popular act at this venue. By the summer of that year the concerts The Undertones performed would include the song Teenage Kicks, which was written by guitarist John O'Neill in the summer of 1977. Thegigs performed at The Casbah gave The Undertones increased confidence in their musical ability, and in June of 1977 they performed concerts outside of Derrymarker for the first time, supporting a Dublinmarker punk group named The Radiators From Space.

In March 1978, The Undertones recorded a demo tape at Magee University in Derry, and sent copies of the tape to various record companies in the hope of securing a record deal, but only received official letters of rejection. The band had also sent a copy of their recordings to influential BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, requesting he play the songs on his radio programme. Peel replied to the band, offering to pay for a recording session in Belfastmarker. On 16 June 1978, the band recorded their debut four-song EP "Teenage Kicks" on a budget of only £200. The E.P. was produced by Dave Smyth in his studio Wizard Sound Studios in Lower Donegal Street, Belfast and was released on Belfastmarker's Good Vibrations record label. The title song became a hit with support from John Peel, who considered Teenage Kicks his all-time favourite song, an opinion he held of the song until his death in 2004. Seymour Stein, president of Sire Records, heard Teenage Kicks on BBC radio and sent a London based representative named Paul McNally to Derry to discuss a record deal with the band.

Teenage Kicks (1978-1979)

The Undertones signed to Sire Records in September 1978 on a five-year contract, and the single was re-released on Sire's own label in October that year. The same month, The Undertones performed Teenage Kicks on Top Of The Pops. With help from DJ John Peel, Teenage Kicks reached number 31 in the UKmarker charts. The following month, The Undertones embarked on their first tour of the U.K., which lasted for one month, as the supporting act for The Rezillos..

In January of 1979, The Undertones recorded their eponymous debut album at Eden Studios in Londonmarker, using producer Roger Bechirian, whom the band had worked with for the first time the previous December, when Bechirian had produced the band's second single, Get Over You. Folowing the release of Get Over You in February of 1979, The Undertones' debut album was released in May. The primary lyrical concern of the songs focused upon youthful relationships and adolescence. Three further punk singles; Jimmy Jimmy, Here Comes The Summer and You've Got My Number (Why Don't You Use It)? were released between April and October of 1979, each to critical acclaim. In September, 1979, The Undertones toured America for the first time, supporting The Clash with eight different concerts in six different States. Towards the end of 1979, The Undertones returned to the U.K. and began writing and rehearsing the songs which would be included on their second album.
My Perfect Cousin was the Undertones' sixth single

Wednesday Week (1980)

In January, 1980, The Undertones began recording the songs for their second album, Hypnotised, at Wisseloord Studios in The Netherlands. The production of the album was finished at Eden Studios in London. Hypnotised was released on 21 April, 1980, and reached number 6 in the UK album chart, remaining in the top 10 for one month. Two further singles, My Perfect Cousin and Wednesday Week, were released in March and July, reaching number 9 and 11 in the UK singles chart respectively, and making 1980 the band's most successful year in terms of chart sales. In a review by Sounds magazine the same year, The Undertones were described as: 'possibly the best pop group in the English speaking world.'

The same year, the band also performed five major tours between February and December, including another tour of America, this time as the headlining band, and their first tours of continental Europe.

You're Welcome (1981-1982)

In December 1980, The Undertones announced their intention to split from Sire records as they were unhappy with the lack of promotion they were receiving outside of the U.K., particularly in America. Following negotiations, their manager, Andy Ferguson, signed the group to EMI. In January, 1981, the band began recording their third album, Positive Touch, again at Wisseloord Studios in The Netherlandsmarker. This third album was released in May 1981. The songs on this album indicated a change in both musical and lyrical influences; although the songs remained largely guitar-oriented, the band had written songs which focused on the Troubles in Northern Irelandmarker such as Crisis Of Mine, You're Welcome and the single It's Going To Happen!, which preceded the release of the LP and was inspired by the Hunger Strikes. Positive Touch, which peaked at number 17 in the U.K. charts, did receive favourable reviews from several critics, and was listed by NME as one of the best albums to be released in 1981.

Two months after the release of Positive Touch, The Undertones released their second single of 1981, Julie Ocean. As with Positive Touch, each single was critically acclaimed, although neither the album nor either of the singles was as successful as any of the material released the previous year. Following the release of their third album, the group embarked on their biggest European tour, which lasted from May until October 1981.

1982 saw a lull in activity from The Undertones, who only performed a single tour of continental Europe in August, and spent much of their time writing and recording songs for their next LP in their 8-track demo studio. Damian O'Neill, the Undertones' lead guitarist, later admitted: "we (had) definitely lost a bit of the spark. I don't know but I tend to think some of us got too complacent sitting in our homes in Derry." The Undertones did, however, release two studio singles, Beautiful Friend and The Love Parade, in February and October, however both of the singles failed to make an impact on the UKmarker charts.

Conscious (1983)

In March 1983, The Undertones released their fourth album, The Sin Of Pride. This album, which drew inspiration from both soul and Motown, was produced by Mike Hedges, who had replaced Roger Bechirian as The Undertones' producer in 1982. Although The Sin Of Pride was critically acclaimed and The Undertones performed several gigs to promote the release of this album, The Sin Of Pride only reached number 43 in the U.K. charts. The Undertones also released two further studio singles, Got To Have You Back and Chain Of Love in February and May of 1983; again, both failed to make any major impact on the U.K. charts.

Final tours and subsequent careers

In April 1983, The Undertones embarked on their UKmarker Sin Of Pride tour to promote their latest album. By this stage in their career, the band were acutely aware of the pressure they were under from EMI, who were unhappy with the lack of chart success of much of the material the band had released since their Positive Touch album in 1981. In addition, internal tensions between various members of the band, in particular between Feargal Sharkey and John O'Neill, had deteriorated significantly. These factors led to Sharkey announcing his intentions to leave The Undertones during the European Tour 1983, which the group performed in July of that year.

Feargal Sharkey initially formed The Assembly, a short-lived duet with former Depeche Mode keyboardist Vince Clarke before embarking upon a brief, but commercially successful solo career in the mid to late 1980s. Two of the other band members, John O'Neill and Damian O'Neill formed That Petrol Emotion, a highly regarded, pioneering rock act which released fifteen singles and six albums between 1985 and 1994.


Paul McLoone on stage with The Undertones in 2005
The Undertones reformed in November, 1999, initially to play concerts in Derry. The band replaced lead singer Feargal Sharkey, who declined to rejoin The Undertones, with Derrymarker singer Paul McLoone. Since this date, The Undertones have performed several tours across the U.K., Ireland, Continental Europe and North America.

Noteworthy gigs by The Undertones since their reunion include performing at the Glastonbury Festivalmarker in June 2005, and providing pre-match entertainment prior to kick-off at Celtic Parkmarker in the UEFA Champions League play-off between Celtic and Arsenal in August, 2009..

The band have since released two critically acclaimed albums of original material with Paul McLoone: Get What You Need on 30 September, 2003 and Dig Yourself Deep, which was released on 15 October 2007. Both albums failed to chart.

In a 2000 poll by Q Magazine to discover the 100 greatest British albums of all time as voted by the British public, the Undertones' eponymous debut LP was voted the 90th greatest British album.

The Undertones have also been subject of a 2004 documentary, The Undertones: Teenage Kicks, which was recorded in 2001. The 65 minute documentary features the band wandering their old haunts and discussing their formation, career and reunion with DJ John Peel.


  • Feargal Sharkey (lead vocals)
  • John O'Neill (guitar)
  • Damian O'Neill (guitar, keyboards and vocals)
  • Michael Bradley (bass and vocals)
  • Billy Doherty (drums)
  • Paul McLoone (lead vocals)
  • John O'Neill (guitar)
  • Damian O'Neill (guitar, keyboards and vocals)
  • Michael Bradley (bass and vocals)
  • Billy Doherty (drums)


Song Title Date Released UK Chart position
Teenage Kicks October, 1978 UK #31
Get Over You February, 1979 UK #57
Jimmy Jimmy April, 1979 UK #16
Here Comes The Summer July, 1979 UK #34
You've Got My Number October, 1979 UK #32
My Perfect Cousin April, 1980 UK #9
Wednesday Week July, 1980 UK #11
Its Going To Happen! May, 1981 UK #18
Julie Ocean July, 1981 UK #41
Beautiful Friend February, 1982 Did not chart
The Love Parade October, 1982 UK #97
Got To Have You Back February, 1983 UK #82
Chain Of Love May, 1983 Did not chart
Teenage Kicks (re-issue) 1983 UK #60
My Perfect Cousin (re-issue) 1983 UK #88
Save Me June, 1986 Did not chart
Thrill Me October, 2003 Did not chart


Album Title Release Date UK Chart Position
The Undertones May, 1979 UK #13
Hypnotised April, 1980 UK #6
Positive Touch May, 1981 UK #17
The Sin Of Pride March, 1983 UK #43
Get What You Need September, 2003 Did not chart
Dig Yourself Deep October, 2007 Did not chart

Compilation Albums

Album Title Release Date
All Wrapped Up November, 1983
Cher O'Bowlies May, 1986
The Peel Sessions December, 1989
The Best Of The Undertones September, 1993
Singles = A+B's September, 1999
Teenage Kicks: The Best Of The Undertones October, 2003
Listening In: Radio Sessions 1979 - 1982 February, 2004
An Anthology September, 2008


  1. allmusic ((( The Undertones > Biography )))
  7. Sounds magazine, 1980
  10. Teenage Kicks, the story of The Undertones (1993)
  13. allmusic ((( Feargal Sharkey > Overview )))
  14. allmusic ((( That Petrol Emotion > Overview )))
  16. BBCi - Glastonbury 2005: The Undertones
  17. UEFA Champions League play-off between Celtic and Arsenal on August 18th, 2009.
  19. New album website; Dig Yourself Deep

External links

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