Saturday, 25 June 2022

Summertime Special

It's Saturday. it's summer, it's (hopefully) a special day, so it's time at long last for The Undertones.

Side 1 of a mixtape, compiled some time in 1989 and one of my most treasured DIY cassettes, having been with me on many travels to different parts of the globe.
 
Hopping back a few years prior to this, my reawakened love for The Undertones was purely and simply the fault of my school friend Stuart. No, not the Stuart that I've mentioned here before, but another Stuart at another school (I moved house and schools a bit as a kid). Both Stuarts have ginger hair and that is pretty much where the similarity started and ended. 
 
One school coach trip, circa 1986, Stuart and I were sat together and talking about music. In all likelihood, I had hogged the coach's tape deck as I was usually the only one with the presence of mind to bring along some homemade cassette compilations. In fact our music conversation may well have kicked off with Stuart telling me what crap taste I had, as I remember that this led to him extolling the virtues of Feargal Sharkey and co, having recently bought the compilation Cher O'Bowlies: The Pick Of The Undertones.
 
It felt like everyone loved The Undertones, growing up. They seemed to always be on kids TV (Cheggers Plays Pop especially) and Top Of The Pops, their singles were extremely catchy and although Feargal Sharkey looked a bit naff in his jumpers and bad haircut, The Undertones were uniformly brilliant. However, by 1986, the band were already a distant memory and although Feargal Sharkey looked even more naff in his snappy suits and even worse haircut, the record buying public seemed to love him even more.

So, it's fair to say that The Undertones weren't foremost on my mind at the time of that conversation. Stuart didn't have Cher O'Bowlies with him on that school trip and I never got to borrow it from him. 
 
Around 1987/1988, my older brother was living in a bedsit on Jamaica Street in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol, then - as now - brilliantly placed off the city centre and in the heart of a vibrant community of pubs, clubs and creativity. A regular haunt, as it was just across the road from the bedsit and especially invaluable for the Sunday stumble in for a hair of the dog, was The Bell. Apart from it's convenient location and focal point, The Bell also boasted a truly brilliant jukebox, chock full of vinyl 7" treasures, including The Undertones' You've Got My Number (Why Don't You Use It!). I would play this every visit.

My brother also had two albums by The Undertones: the self-titled debut from 1979 and their record label's definitive closing statement from 1983, the singles compilation All Wrapped Up, A-sides on one disc, B-sides on the other, and sporting a striking if somewhat unrepresentative cover photo, as seen above.

I loved these albums and ended up 'borrowing' them when my brother went on the mandatory pre-University InterRail trip with a girlfriend, moving his stuff temporarily back home. Don't worry, unlike some of my record collection, which mysteriously went AWOL with near-identical copies turning up wherever my brother happened to be living at the time, I did the decent thing by returning his records and getting my own copies later on. 

By the time I recorded this mixtape, these two records by The Undertones were all I had and, to be honest, all I thought I needed. I've revised my opinion since I bought the rest of The Undertones' albums, although I still have absolutely nothing by the 21st century Feargal-free incarnation of the band.

Summertime Special (yes, intentionally named after the crap early 80s BBC TV variety show) is a beast of a compilation: 18 songs in a little over three quarters of an hour, a mix of hits, B-sides and album tracks; the common thread is that they are all brilliant. 

Girls Don't Like It is the second song on their first album, following Family Entertainment, but it was always going to be the opener on my planned mixtape, followed by the swift 1-2 of Teenage Kicks and True Confessions from the debut EP. No spoilers in saying that all four songs from the EP made it onto the cassette, Emergency Cases later on Side 1, Smarter Than U on Side 2.
 
As the 1980s arrived, The Undertones took a different musical turn, with a poppier, more soulful sound. Wednesday Week and Julie Ocean are wonderful songs but I can see that the band's appeal was (to quote from Spinal Tap) becoming more selective at this point and, until the All Wrapped Up compilation, I had no particular recollection of their later singles. 
 
I wrote last year about The Undertones' final single Chain Of Love's harmonica line and it's striking similarity to Culture Club's Karma Chameleon, released a few months later in 1983. I rate all of the later singles, particularly The Love Parade. The version on All Wrapped Up appears to be exclusive to the compilation, an edit of the 12" removing the keyboard intro with an early fade at the end, but retaining the middle instrumental section that was unsatisfactorily cut from fourth album The Sin Of Pride.

I don't think I quite managed to get the whole of The Undertones' debut and All Wrapped Up onto two sides of a C90 cassette, but I came pretty close. Rest assured that any favourites missing from Side 1 will almost certainly be on Side 2 when it eventually makes an appearance here.

In the meantime, put on your Doc Martens, turn up your jeans, zip up your Parka despite the summer heat, crank up the volume, press play and just let it all go. You can rest tomorrow.
 
1) Girls Don't Like It (1979)
2) Teenage Kicks (1978)
3) True Confessions (Single Version) (1978)
4) Life's Too Easy (Single Version) (1982)
5) Let's Talk About Girls (1979)
6) Billy's Third (Album Version) (1979)
7) It's Going To Happen! (Album Version) (1981)
8) Chain Of Love (Album Version) (1983)
9) Fairly In The Money Now (1981)
10) Wednesday Week (1980)
11) Emergency Cases (1978)
12) I Gotta Getta (1979)
13) My Perfect Cousin (1980)
14) Top Twenty (Single Version) (1979)
15) Male Model (Album Version) (1979)
16) I Know A Girl (1979)
17) The Love Parade ('All Wrapped Up' 12" Edit) (1983)
18) You've Got My Number (Why Don't You Use It!) (1979)

1978: Teenage Kicks EP: 2, 3, 11
1979: Here Comes The Summer EP: 14
1979: The Undertones: 1, 6, 12, 15, 16
1979: You've Got My Number (Why Don't You Use It!) EP: 5, 18 
1980: Hypnotised: 10, 13
1981: It's Going To Happen! EP: 9
1981: Positive Touch: 7
1982: Beautiful Friend EP: 4
1983: The Sin Of Pride: 8
1983: All Wrapped Up: 17
 

4 comments:

  1. Still haven't seen them...managed to get someone to go who didn't ask 'Is Feargal still the lead singer?' and then felt ill on the day and didn't go. Interestingly they were more impressed with Hugh Cornwell supporting. My music teacher retired when i was in year 7 and on his final day he said a) we could all bring in a 7" to play and b) he would stand on a chair and we could throw paper aeroplanes at him. I brought in 'it's going to happen' and still to this day don't think i could have made a better choice..seemes my music taste at 12 was better than when i was 16!

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  2. The closest I got was seeing That Petrol Emotion, featuring the O'Neill brothers Damian and John, but I don't think that counts... I like the story about the music teacher, though option b) sounds more like a very strange bucket list request!

    As for your pre-teen music taste, it was definitely a darn sight better than mine! The first 7" single I bought with my own money, aged 10, was Ant Rap by Adam & The Ants. Not even current, but in the ex-chart bargain bin at Woolworths as I recall.

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  3. I was fortunate ( older enough) to have seen The Undertones in their heyday, including the first ever show at Nottingham's Rock City, I don't think I have ever seen a band which has generated as much pure enjoyment. To open your second album with 'More songs about Chocolate and Girls' is genius. I would nominate the Wrapped Up sleeve as a front runner for worst sleeve ever . I'm on holiday next week and you have provided the perfect soundtrack- cheers

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, middle aged man, I can only imagine how brilliant The Undertones gig must have been. And yes, to both of your comments: Hypnotised is fantastic follow up; I love Positive Touch and The Sin Of Pride, but they're probably pipped into third place by the truly wonderful BBC Radio Sessions compilation.

      As for All Wrapped Up, I feel for the poor woman who had to presumably spend ages modelling this, her dress slowly cooking from her body heat and no doubt starting to stink a bit. There's no way she was paid enough for that job...!

      Glad that this will support your holiday soundtrack - let me know when you're off again and I'll try to get Side 2 posted in time :-)

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