Arts

Part-time punks: Mickey Bradley on The Undertones' Irish dates

Punk legends The Undertones play their final shows of 2017 in Ireland this weekend. Bassist Mickey Bradley chats to David Roy about how touring in short bursts keeps things fun and why we shouldn't expect a new album any time soon

The Undertones are at The Limelight in Belfast tonight

LIFE is good for Derry punk legends The Undertones. The band play a sold-out show at The Limelight in Belfast tonight, followed by a Dublin engagement at The Academy tomorrow evening (tickets still available at time of press), the final two gigs of what's been a very successful 2017 for Ireland's premier exponents of songs about chocolate and girls.

Earlier in the year, the quintet made their first ever visit 'down under' to play shows in Australia and New Zealand as part of a summer touring schedule also including some German dates and English festivals.

And, when I spoke to bass player extraordinaire Mickey Bradley earlier this week, The Undertones had just completed their latest excursion through England and Wales in weekend-based chunks.

Touring in such measured bursts has become standard operating procedure for this much-loved veteran group – which also features Paul McLoone (vocals), Damian and John O'Neill (guitars) and Billy Doherty (drums) – who freely admit that they barely expected to last beyond their debut single Teenage Kicks way back in 1978.

"We did nine shows in England over three weekends," explains Bradley of their recent live activities.

"For us, that's a major commitment. You do three shows in a row and then you go home, some of us back to work."

Indeed, when not wielding a Rickenbacker bass with intent, the Derry man spends his Tuesday nights playing the very best in old and new rock and roll on Radio Ulster's descriptively titled Mickey Bradley Record Show, as well as producing Sean Coyle's popular daytime programme throughout the week.

He's one of two Undertones with a radio gig: singer Paul McLoone, who helped revive the band in 1999 when no-one wanted to lift the phone to ask original warbler Feargal Sharkey if he fancied playing out again, also has a regular alternative music show on Today FM.

Sometimes, such media connections come in handy, as Bradley reveals.

"Sheffield was good," he says of the band's recent show, which featured a rare guest appearance during one of their signature songs.

"We had [acclaimed Sheffield indie crooner] Richard Hawley come on and join us for Teenage Kicks. Paul had been in touch with him and said 'if you're around and if you want to come in...', and Richard said 'Yep, and I might bring my guitar'.

"To be honest, that's not normally something we'd do. But I think if you're in Sheffield and Richard Hawley says he'll come down, you go 'grand job'. He's a cool guy, y'know? And he was great.

"We were sitting talking away to him too – I didn't realise that his uncle, Frank White, played with Dave Berry [1960s Sheffield pop oddity/legend].

"He was at pains to point out that it was his uncle Frank who played guitar on [1965 hit] The Crying Game, not Big Jim Sullivan or Jimmy Page."

It's all very different from their first time around, when the band and their gear would have been crammed into the back of a Ford Transit for days on end, a situation guaranteed to test the mettle of even the nicest young punk rockers.

"It definitely suits us," says the bass man of their current set-up.

"You get a wee burst of it with three shows, so you're still kind of fresh and you enjoy it. I particularly enjoy seeing the places we play, places like Sheffield, and then the morning after the third show you're home again.

"I look back at the dates we did back in 1979, 1980 and we would have done seven days on the trot, a day off, and then another six days and a day off. Which is OK, but I think any band would find themselves looking at their watch sometimes, y'know?

"I remember sitting in the back of our minibus with my hood up the whole way through England because I was fed up and I didn't want to talk to the rest of the band."

Second time around, The Undertones function primarily for fun – though, of course, the money from ticket sales and their quality selection of official merchandise helps everyone involved to have a nice Christmas – touring as and when they want to.

Though they've made two well received new albums with McLoone since reforming, so far there's no sign of a third.

"You're depending on people saying 'I've a bunch of new songs – I think we should record them'," explains Bradley.

"And, so far, that hasn't happened. There's no real kind of urge – and unless there's a real urge, ye don't do it."

To be honest, that's probably the best kind of quality control any band could hope for – and with so many beloved 'oldies' already jostling for position in The Undertones' set, it's not like the group are struggling for material.

"We do 31 songs, which includes five songs in the encore," explains Bradley.

"I would be the one picking the setlist and there is that thing of 'what do you drop?' to fit something new in. And in fact, for these shows in England, we revived a song that we haven't played since we reformed, The Way Girls Talk [from 1980's Hypnotised].

"John never liked the words, so he actually rewrote them a wee bit."

Having marked their 40th anniversary as a live entity last year with touring, reissues and a nice 7-inch single for the Kevin 'My Bloody Valentine' Shields remix of key moment Get Over You ("we were never happy with the original," admits Bradley, "so we mainly did it for us."), 2018 brings with it yet another significant milestone for The Undertones.

"We were talking about doing shows next year and our manager says 'you know that it will be the 40th anniversary of Teenage Kicks?'" reveals the bassist.

"You kind of go 'oh, right'. Anniversaries are handy because you can come up with titles for tours – because apparently promoters like tours with titles.

"I don't mind it. Though sometimes people do come up and say 'I saw you here 40 years ago'. You're thinking, do they expect me to go 'Yeah... were you wearing a red shirt!'?"

:: The Undertones play The Limelight in Belfast tonight (sold out) and The Academy in Dublin tomorrow, December 2 (Tickets via Ticketmaster.ie)

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