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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to The Undertones and The Outcasts (but more specifically Teenage Kicks and Self Conscious Over You) December 17, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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A very welcome guest post This Weekend from Anarchaeologist.

The Undertones and The Outcasts, the ying and the yang of NI punk. But which is the ying and which indeed is the yang? Both songs were released on Good Vibrations, the Belfast label established by Terri Hooley to support a local scene as much as to showcase punk bands to a wider UK audience. Both singles (Teenage Kicks from ’78 and Self Conscious Over You released a year later) share a certain visual aesthetic, folded within photocopied sleeves, effectively providing the owner with a double-sided poster (in a variety of colours, though not I’d imagine with collectors in mind). Both have similar lyrical concerns, unconsciously knowing though seemingly innocent of what exactly they were actually trying to get at.

I acquired my copy of Teenage Kicks from a friend over twenty years ago. He was offloading his massive collection of vinyl as a result of being permanently on the road as a jobbing archaeologist, anticipating I suppose the new era of the CD when you would carry your music around with you from dig to dig. I bought Self Conscious… one Saturday afternoon just before Christmas in 1979 from one of the newly skinheaded Cowan brothers who made up three quarters of the band. They’d just come off stage at the Dandelion and despite their fearsome looks were quite happy to shoot the breeze with a spotty 14 year old in town for the day, one who’d just stumbled into the market to check out the hippies and what passed for the punks (or if the truth be told, the girl who worked in No Romance). I caught them there again a few months later but hadn’t the money to buy the album. That wasn’t a problem for the band, who gave me Terri’s number on the basis that I could pick up a freebie if I ever found myself in Belfast!

Teenage Kicks had by that stage entered the pantheon of Irish rock. Doubtless helped along by John Peel’s imperator, it had broken out of the nascent indie ghetto, the Derry lads appearing on TOTP in parkas and those funny, slightly flared trousers (parallels?) rolled up over their Docs that thankfully weren’t worn much south of the border. They were getting substantial airtime on RTÉ and I dutifully noted that schoolmates had started inscribing their name with biro on their canvas schoolbags, alongside such worthies as Boston and Lindisfarne. The ‘Tones at this stage had long departed Good Vibrations and were presumably ‘fairly in the money now’ having signed a deal with Sire. Indeed, if they’d never recorded another note, their’s would have been Teenage Kicks forever. An instant classic, as they say.

I’ve the first (pink-sleeved) Good Vibrations release of Teenage Kicks in front of me now. The photograph covering the full extent of the inner sleeve was taken in a laneway to the rear of a row of terraced houses, presumably in Derry. The lane falls away behind them, the brick parapet of the wall dropping off to the rear, disappearing out of focus with the backs of the houses to a streetfront just perceptible in the distance. The band displays a less gritty image in the foreground: Billy Doherty to the left in a denim jacket, two badges on the right lapel, looking slightly down and away from the camera; one of the O’Neills (Damien?) beside him, a biker jacket offset with a childish grimace; the brother John in the middle, right sleeve rolled up, hands in pockets, more badges on the jacket bending into the camera against the cold; Sharkey (before the polo necks) has his hands on his hips in a leather jacket too small for his frame, his right leg bent in what appear to be leather trousers. He’s laughing at the lens behind a large pair of shades which must have looked as stupid then as they’re hip now. Mickey Bradley is to his left, perhaps the most composed of the five. If nothing else, the ‘Tones took the anti-image thing seriously, delivering a gawky pre-emptive strike for post-modernity in a way that’s impossible to appreciate today.

You would imagine looking at this photograph they all know they’ve just recorded a record that’ll be played for ever. However the ep was, according to band mythology, a last ditch effort to finally make it out of Derry. They weren’t even going to put Teenage Kicks on the record. According to Billy Doherty the band thought it was too commercial and went against the whole idea why they’d started the group in the first place. It would be a Nuggets-type classic, hidden away on obscure vinyl to be rediscovered and celebrated years later.

Another shot on the poster sleeve depicts graffiti on a metal door — ‘The Undertones are shit. Pish [sic]. Counts [sic again]. Wankers’. Putting this on your debut single said something about punk rock that was as honest and unadorned as the music itself, although there was always the suspicion that the band had written it themselves.

Teenage Kicks is nonetheless one of those few songs you’ll never tire of hearing. From the first two whacks on the drum and straight into the twin guitar assault, this is power pop in extremis. The guitar break and the handclaps, the lingering chord at the end, they’re all there and there’s little more I could add to the story apart from the fact that Emergency Cases on the flip side is the band’s lost Nuggets classic (covered breathlessly, if memory serves, by Dublin’s Lawnmores 10 years later).
The Outcasts though were a different deal. I’m looking now at the sleeve photographs on Self Conscious… Greg Cowan in a double-breasted jacket, scowling, hands in pocket to the left, Getty (Colin Getgood) on the right, skinhead and sideburns, both leaning against a wall with Martin and Colin in biker jackets sitting between them, all of them looking well hard. The facial mugshots and slightly grown out skinheads on the photos within the sleeve reinforce the message. And the message was the Outcasts were from Belfast. You really wouldn’t want to fuck with the Outcasts (although according to Hooley, the Cowans were from the posh Malone Road).

John T. Davis caught both bands when shooting Shell Shock Rock, a movie which from the very beginning attempts to establish the non-sectarian nature of NI punk. Notwithstanding Rudi’s performance of their sadly prophetic Big Time in a rural Orange Hall, the first song featured at length was SLF’s Alternative Ulster, the song that’s gone down as the anthem of the period. In this regard punk was posited as a cross-confessional subversive activity — however short-lived — and the Outcasts represented a side of the coin certainly less familiar to southern ears.

Where the Undertones had been together since ’75 and Teenage Kicks was their first single, the Outcasts were formed in ’77 and had recorded several singles prior to Self Conscious… You’re A Disease their first single was followed by Justa Nother Teenage Rebel / Love Is For Sops, followed again by a split ep with Rudi and the Idiots. The Outcasts’ contribution was The Cops are Comin’ addressing issues surrounding killing your girlfriend and having sex with the corpse. This was the type of puerile schlock-horror they’d come back to in the ‘80s at the arse end of the psychobilly scene.

Self Conscious Over You catches the band at their most interesting and perhaps at their most lyrical. The title itself posits a cognitive self-reflection, an articulation of a state of being at a level beyond that achieved by their Derry label mates. Fishing the same waters of teenage lust as Teenage Kicks, the song’s principal attraction to these ears is the rhyming scheme, or lack of it. Where punk always attended to this more traditional aspect of the song structure, Self Conscious… revels in nasal couplets rhyming ‘street’ and ‘right away’, ‘bus’ and ‘out’, although they do manage ‘school’, ‘doin’’ and ‘you’. The vowels, when assembled together, resonate a uniquely Belfast assonance. Kicking off with Getty’s guitar and joined by a loping bass that’s slightly out of tune, the song roars into an iconic chorus, replete with repetition and handclaps. Even the sax solo — never a successful staple of punk — somehow fits.

Self Conscious… was followed by a parting of ways with Hooley and their next tune Magnum Force, a rebel-reggae stomp which got a lot of airplay on Fanning and the pirates, was put out on their own label. The band recorded a few Peel sessions at this stage and things seemed to be about to take off. The next step was a cover of the Glitter Band’s Angel Face, which got them into the British indie charts, however drummer Colin Cowan’s death in a car crash took away the momentum.

The Undertones continued on to produce several classic singles, moving towards something akin to a soul-psychedelia which though interesting in its own right, wasn’t quite shifting the product. It’s Gonna Happen was supposedly about the Hunger Strikes, though I never saw it myself. Julie Ocean remains sublime. The O’Neills went on to form That Petrol Emotion, a band before its time where the politics were thrown to the forefront, perhaps catering for a more agitated mid-80s audience. A midlife crisis with dance might’ve taken them off the true path of rock’n’roll but they made up for it on the final two recordings. The Outcasts on the other hand waned somewhat, returning during the same period as TPE with a product more attuned to the psychobilly/thrash scene. Seven Deadly Sins perhaps marks the high tide of this activity but they never had the legs or the edge of the Petrols. Although they remained popular on the European punk scene, sadly they became a somewhat camp parody of themselves. Both groups reformed for a few gigs over the last year or so but where I have great memories of early TPE gigs, it’s the Outcasts I regret missing the more. Hopefully if they’re gigging in 2012 they’ll leave the S&M gear in the van. The Undertones of course tour regularly these days, with Paul McLoone replacing Fergal Sharkey.

Getting back to the songs that open this piece of seasonal nostalgia, the Outcasts of course never achieved consummation. The song fades out, their very self-consciousness rendering them impotent, defeated. There’s no answer provided to the eternal question ‘so what’ll I do?’ The Undertones, as suggested by the graffiti referred to above, perhaps took a more hands on approach; live performances of the song suggested that Sharkey wanted to hold it, hold it tight, the teenage kicks of the title becoming a much more achievable (and perhaps less expensive) outcome of the night in question. So the Undertones then, if not the yang, well surely the yank?

anarchaeologist

The Outcasts, Self Conscious Over You

The Undertones, Teenage Kicks

The Undertones, Emergency Cases

The Outcasts, You’re a Disease

The Outcasts, Self Conscious Over You (live at the Ulster Hall)

The Outcasts, Justa Nother Teenage Rebel

Rudi, Big Time

Stiff Little Fingers, Alternative Ulster

The Undertones, It’s Gonna Happen

The Undertones, Julie Ocean

That Petrol Emotion, V2

That Petrol Emotion, Can’t Stop

The Outcasts, Seven Deadly Sins

The Undertones, Thrill Me

Comments»

1. sonofstan - December 17, 2011

Of that lot, the one song guaranteed to see me drowning in a pool of useless nostalgia and vague longing is Rudi’s Big Time.

I have very fond memories of the night they played the Buttery in Trinity, along with the Outcasts. Brian Young, the guitar player and Johnny Thunders nut was facing into a sleepless night and day after that gig – he was a glam-rock postman and was straight into work the next morning after the drive back to Belfast.

And parallels were the teen uniform in Athlone in the mid-seventies, where I had the misfortune to spend my inter cert years.

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2. LeftAtTheCross - December 17, 2011

Very opportune choice Anarchaeologist. I was up in the attic last Sunday looking for the christmas decorations and came across the box containing my singles collection which I hadn’t seen in many many years. Amongst them the Good Vibrations pair of Teenage Kicks and Big Time. Great music.

Funny though about music nostalgia, my kids were having a communal moment the other evening with YouTube, playing pop stuff rom their younger years, S Club Junior, Spice Girls, Venga Boys, and were saying how dated it all seemed. Seems like yesterday to me mind.

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3. sonofstan - December 17, 2011

Hijack alert, but along with LATC’s bit of synchronicity, I just had a little touch of the spooky-spooky stuff here – Anarchaeologist’s post reminded me of Rudi, which in turn got me digging out various Johnny Thunders records, thanks to the link mentioned above, which in turn got me thinking about his death and the not- at- all mysterious attractions of New Orleans for musicians with certain ‘hobbies’ – which got me thinking about James Booker, my favourite one- eyed gay junkie piano genius, and googling him to find out about the recording history of Junco Partner, I discovered that today would have been his 72nd birthday – a birthday he proudly shared with Beethoven. So anyway, I had to put this up in his honour (Booker not Ludwig)

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LeftAtTheCross - December 17, 2011

SoS, and there I was thinking that was a Clash original.

Here’s the link to their (excellent) version, from the album Sandinista (which is probably their equivalent of the Grundrisse in terms of being less accessible than their other works, and I say that as someone who _still_ counts the Clash as being my all time favourite band):

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sonofstan - December 17, 2011

Booker claims to have written it, but it’s probably a melange of bits and pieces of other songs put together by that prolific songwriter ‘anon’ or his or her mate ‘trad.arr’

Angola prison – mentioned in the lyrics – was an early example of a public/ private partnership: the state donated the labour of the prisoners to the ‘Ponda Rosa’ farm in return for boarding and lodging them.

Here’s another cracking version:

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anarchaeologist - December 17, 2011

One-eyed folk are starting to figure in this thread. A mate told me the Outcasts supported the Clash (who covered this, right?) in Dublin during the Crap tour… I was also directed to a NI punk webpage (can’t find the url at the moment) which has a section on old ticket stubs and there within is a stub for a 5GDTTS gig in Omagh of all places. That sort of thing wouldn’t happen today.
Maybe the parallels thing was happening SoS when I was still in the nappies…
In the age of xbox, wii and what have yeh I was trying to explain to the young fella about Subbuteo and showed him the video of My Perfect Cousin. He wasn’t impressed.

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WorldbyStorm - December 17, 2011

God, to me even now Subbuteo seems madly unattainable, none of my mates had it. This may also explain why I never quite got football. 😉

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4. Blissett - December 17, 2011

Think the only reason anyone is aware that ‘It’s gonna happen’ is about the hunger strike is because one of the O’Neills said it around the time, and wore a black armband on TOTP when Sands died. As politically themed songs go, its pretty lyrically opaque.

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WorldbyStorm - December 17, 2011

Yeah, it’s a bit oblique…

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Phil - December 19, 2011

I remember reading in an interview with one of the O’Neills, around the time of the first TPE album, that It’s Going To Happen! had originally been a song about the hunger strikes, but that Feargal had insisted on changing the lyrics to something more radio-friendly. I’d give quite a bit to see the original lyrics. No idea how much of them survived into the version we know – the last verse & the chorus, maybe?

I saw TPE live once; wasn’t greatly impressed.They sounded just as good as the record, which was fine, but that was all they did. It may have been an off night / early in the tour / whatever.

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5. sonofstan - December 17, 2011

Maybe the parallels thing was happening SoS when I was still in the nappies…

Hmmm….

If you were 14 in 1979, then you’re not that much younger than me, so either Monaghan (?) was fashion forward and had moved on from the Wrangler parallels/ Loake Royals/ Ben Sherman look by 1974 and was deep into baggies and Northern Soul by then, while Athlone remained a bootboy backwater……….

……or you were in nappies for a very long time 🙂

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anarchaeologist - December 17, 2011

Cavan it was, and we wore Dingos jeans, Wrangler jackets over plaid shirts and either Monkey Boots (no Docs then) or those trainers (Winfield?) you’d get in Woolworths. Adidas ROM I think came a bit later. For some reason the Italian army was the preferred source for combat jackets however the young anarchaeologist declared an early preference for silk-embroidered smoking jackets.

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LeftAtTheCross - December 17, 2011

Those Italian combats were a cool olive colour, but the US army combat jackets were preferred in my school. I was far too square, it was a snorkel jacket for me until college, then a German army parka from the Dando’ (also up in my attic, might need it someday!), and brothel creepers, blue of course.

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6. Justin - December 17, 2011

Lovely stuff. The late Undertones material is just great. I remember the summer when the first punks came from Belfast to the wee tourist town where I grew up. It was mostly about rebellion and fun and self expression but it was also about growing up. I remember kids listening earnestly to Crass manifestos in smokey rooms and a punk, who went on to live in a commune, giving me a pamphlet on Kropotkin outside amusement arcade. And it was cheerfully, resolutely non-sectarian.
The only record store – “a crappy bookshop in a country town” – had covered up “the bollocks” in Never Mind the Bollocks. They wanted to sell the record but not offend the over thirties. More innocent times.
Here’s a link to my own Clash favourite. If the bastards have their way, we’ll all be working for the clampdown.

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7. Garibaldy - December 17, 2011

Firstly, I only ever saw German army coats in Belfast.

And secondly, for some of us, the words “Feargal Sharkey” will forever be associated primarily with this classic

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8. HAL - December 18, 2011

Wore a US army jacket all through college and and Tech, Kevin Street.Was advised by long time party member to remove US Army name tag from above front breast pocket during a protest outside American embassy.I also had a Chinese Mao jacket pale blue,padded and quilted, looked a bit of an oddity but used it camping.

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9. Dr.Nightdub - December 18, 2011

Best “This weekend…” thread in yonks!

I finished reading “Hooleygan” by the great man a while back. I’d say an awful lot of it is made up (and he admits as much), but underneath the lily-gilding, it’s a great insight into the times.

I always thought “Angel Heart” was a complete pile of donkey-poo. After that, it was always much harder listening to the Outcasts’ Good Vibes material, knowing what came after. “Seven Deadly Sins” was closer to their roots, but by then the damage had been done.

As for the Undertones, I reckon this is probably the best song they never wrote:

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10. Phil - December 19, 2011

On It’s Going To Happen!, here we go:

Damian – “the original lyrics to this were about The Hunger Strike, a hugely emotive subject at the time which will always be embedded in peoples memories. Ireland has a sad and bitter history of hunger strikes so the “ It’s Going To Happen” chorus came from that but the verses were shockingly cornball so Michael wrote new lyrics. Still, I’m quite proud of this song, it’s my favourite D.O’Neill / M. Bradley tune, the brass middle bit was my nod to Dexy’s Midnight Runners.” Michael – “ I still get asked ‘what was supposed to Happen?’ Don’t ask me, Damian wrote the chorus. I wrote the verses during my ‘mysterious stream of consciousness phase’ i.e. don’t worry about it not making sense as long as it rhymes. Some peoples favourite single, according to rumour.”

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11. Chet Carter - December 19, 2011

Considering that the Undertones came from Derry it was Dublin where they encountered a random act of meaningless violence. The murder at the UCD Punk gig in 1977 that featured the Undertones, Radiators, The Vipers, Revolver and the Gamblers set the Dublin Punk scene back years.

http://ucdhiddenhistory.wordpress.com/2009/04/27/4-belfield-punk-festival-1977/

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