DERRY'S finest, The Undertones, are back in action on home soil this weekend to celebrate 45 years of their debut release, Teenage Kicks.
It's appropriate that the Paul McLoone-led pop punk pioneers should be playing both in their native Derry – where the song was written and performed live for the first time, at the long-gone Casbah – and in Belfast, the city where the iconic track and the rest of their debut EP was recorded for release on Terri Hooley's Good Vibrations label.
The sold-out Derry show at Millennium Forum on Friday night will be the band's first home fixture since being immortalised on the gable wall of McCartney and Casey solicitors in Castle Gate by artist Karl Porter, who based his mural on a classic photo taken by the late Derry Journal snapper Larry Doherty in the Bull Park: a similar shot adorned the cover of The Undertones' eponymous 1979 debut album.
"Me and my wife came home from London earlier this week to see family and stuff, but I still haven't been to see it," reveals guitarist Damian O'Neill, younger brother of Teenage Kicks writer and fellow Undertones guitar man John O'Neill, when we speak to him in the run-up to the Derry date.
WOW! How fantastic is that, what an absolute honour.— Feargal Sharkey (@Feargal_Sharkey) November 9, 2023
My applause and appreciation to everyone involved, never thought for one second I would ever see myself staring down from Derry walls.
Totally brilliant bit of work. https://t.co/MSvxA5Oyus
"I'll actually see it today, because I'm going to get my haircut nearby – it's virtually next door, so I can't avoid it. Although my wife is meeting me afterwards and she's said to me, 'Don't look at the mural 'til I come down', so I'll have to try and avert my eyes.
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"But I've seen the pictures and it looks great – it's very, very well done, actually. Top marks to the artist, because it could have been a disaster. It could have been like that sculpture of Ronaldo or something, so we got lucky."
Of the original photo shoot for the album cover, Damian recalls that the band wanted black and white shots that would properly project their punk rock attitude.
"We picked the ones of us on the wall because we thought they kind of epitomised us," says the guitarist, who released an excellent solo album, An Crann, last year.
"We were such an ugly band – except for Billy [Doherty, Undertones drummer], who I think had also just washed his hair. And we were all kind of carrying on a bit as well, because none of us liked getting our pictures taken. Especially our John.
"But I loved those photos because they perfectly captured the 'punk rock' attitude that we wanted for the first LP."
In typically self-deprecating style, the guitarist is quick to point out the irony of he and his bandmates – who also include bassist Mickey Bradley and original Undertones frontman Feargal Sharkey – being celebrated in such a prominent way by their hometown, given the rough ride they received from some locals back in the early days.
"If you had told me 45 years ago 'there will be a big mural of youse here one day', I would have said 'you're having a laugh'," he chuckles, "Because back then we weren't so much liked, to put it mildly.
"We got a lot of s**** – a lot of abuse for being punks, for just playing the kind of music we liked. Back then, Derry was kind of a very 'rock' town, you know, they were into their Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher and all that.
"So anything different was laughed at or frowned upon – especially if you were doing your own songs, which was like unheard of. We got a lot of abuse for it, so we've come a long ways."
For documented evidence of such abuse, look no further than the sleeve of their debut EP, which included a photo of some particularly choice anti-Undertones graffiti.
"Yeah, we immortalised it on the Teenage Kicks EP: 'The Undertones are s***, p***, c***s, w*****s'," laughs O'Neill, who went on to form genre-bending indie rockers That Petrol Emotion with his brother after The Undertones split in 1983.
"Someone also wrote 'The Undertones' on that wall in the Bull Park where we took the photos for the first LP cover – so, of course, then some wee f***er came along and wrote 'Hang' next to it."
As mentioned, this weekend's Undertones gigs mark the 45th anniversary of the Teenage Kicks EP, which was released in October 1978. While the lead track has long been the Derry band's signature song, Damian admits he can't quite recall the first time he heard his brother play that classic riff.
"A lot of people have asked me that, and I don't remember," admits the guitarist, who came up with the song's sublime solo.
"I wish I did. I don't remember even the first time we all went through it. But I mean, it developed. It took a while, especially that brilliant drum intro by Billy – it used to just start on the first guitar chord – and we probably worked on it for a good few weeks, months even, playing it at the Casbah.
"But, at the time, we definitely didn't think it was our 'big' song. Even though fans would have said it was their favourite, we just saw it as another good song."
Looking back at Teenage Kicks and some of the group's other early hits now with the benefit of hindsight, Damian is in awe of his brother's teenage songwriting skills.
"We were still living with our mum and dad at Beechwood Avenue at the time, so with Teenage Kicks, he might have come to me and said, 'Listen, I've just come up with this one', and then played it. And I probably went [sarcastically], 'My God, how does he do it?'.
"But I mean, he wrote Teenage Kicks and Get Over You in one month, July 1977: he wrote those two f***ing brilliant songs in one bloody month. That is amazing."
Happily, there were plenty more brilliant songs to follow.
The Undertones, Friday November 17, Millennium Forum, Derry (sold-out); Saturday November 25, Telegraph Building, Belfast. Tickets via ticketmaster.ie