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Thursday, 25 February 2016


Teenage Kicks
My Life As An Undertone By Michael Bradley
Omnibus Press


I was born and raised in Belfast. I lived there from 1954 to 1976. At 22, I followed my retail management career and moved to Manchester and I have lived in England ever since. But I have very strong family connections to my home town and a love of Northern Ireland’s creative arts. Growing up, my musical tastes had been influenced by records in our house, mostly bought by my big brother Paul, a mixture of showbands, rebel songs, traditional folk and country stuff. As the 1970s progressed or digressed, punk rock reared itself, grabbing pop music by the lapels and giving it a bloody good shake. I had developed into a singer/songwriter fan, enjoying Kris Kristofferson, Gordon Lightfoot, John Stewart, James Taylor and lots of others. Punk was not for me.

It was impossible not to be aware of The Sex Pistols, the baddest of the bad boys and girls who developed shouty, frenetic performing styles and perfected sneers to go with them. Punk was menacing and scary, as I suppose it was meant to be. I hated it. And, to a certain extent, I still do. I knew of some bands from Northern Ireland, especially Stiff Little Fingers and to a lesser degree The Undertones. But I was outside their orbit. Heading for my mid-20s, I guess even at that age, I was a wee bit too old to get it. Anyway, acoustic guitars were my preference.

But, as time progressed and the punk wheat was separated from the punk chaff, I took more of an interest in the good stuff and, in advancing years, I rekindled my interest in Northern Ireland’s arts, particularly poetry, theatre and music. The emergence of the Internet eventually gave me access to a lot of Northern Ireland’s artistic work including the output of BBC Radio Ulster and other sources. I listened to Gerry Anderson who championed some local acts and to Ralph McLean who is probably the current most influential champion of local singers, songwriters and musicians. And then a couple of years ago, The Mickey Bradley Record Show entered Radio Ulster’s schedules on a Tuesday night and I became a regular listener because of his ability to construct playlists of the familiar, the unfamiliar, the forgotten and the never before heard on the wireless. From the start, I was a fan. I found out he was also “the Undertone” (producer) from Gerry Anderson’s show.


“Mickey Bradley. That’s the stage name, of course. My real name is Michael Bradley.” (Incidentally, in The Great Rock Discography, he is Mike!) When I knew my copy of this book was on its way, I headed for Spotify and listened to as many tracks by The Undertones as I could find. I loved most of it. “Teenage Kicks” is a given, as great a record as a record can be and John Peel (who, by the way, was 39 at the time of its release) gave it his blessing which was a golden endorsement. There is so much raw energy, boisterousness, hyperactivity and humour in the back catalogue that it is impossible not to appreciate that these kids were on to something distinctive and special. At 62, I think I get it now.

Through his radio shows, I know Michael Bradley’s voice and presentation style and, as I read the book, I could hear him narrating it. Overall, it is conversational, nostalgic, honest and very funny.

The story starts with a bunch of Derry kids with notions of forming a band, even though they had barely a plectrum or drumstick between them. Through Provident and Credit Union loans, Freeman’s catalogue easy payments and however else a few shillings could be scraped, slowly but not always surely, a semi-equipped band emerged, as did the opportunity for a few local gigs. In addition, singer Fergal Sharkey had access to a Radio Rentals van, for transport is essential in the world of rock and roll, even in a small world. The NME was the weekly road map through the music business. McDonald’s grub became the sustenance of choice.

The Undertones’ hangout was a prefab joint in Derry called The Casbah (“one third smoke, one third sweat, one third essence of beer spilled on carpet.”). The seemingly ramshackle repertoire comprised covers of Rolling Stones songs and a few others that took their fancy. Eventually, with some original songs, a bit of a local fan base and a whiff of ambition, they decided to find a way to make a record. Assisted by local legend Terri Hooley and his Good Vibrations venture, a 4-song (including “Teenage Kicks”) EP surfaced which found its way to John Peel who exposed it to a wider world including Sire Records and The Undertones were on their way as a proper band in the roughshod world of punk.

As seems common in stories like this, contractual and other legalities were handled badly. The band was not administratively savvy and advantage was taken. But, on the upside, there was the excitement of London, Europe and US trips, appearing on Top of the Pops, recording singles and LPs, playing gigs, posing for silly publicity photos, meeting a few of their music heroes and all the ballyhoo of being young, carefree guys in a rock band. Through it all, The Undertones wanted to be themselves, feet on the ground Derry lads.

On reflection, an older Michael Bradley says: “I’ve often thought that managing The Undertones would be a thankless task, with our lack of ambition, our accents and our reluctance to engage in the business side of things. Add to that our irrational dislike of touring and people who work in record companies. We didn’t even have any addictions to drink or pharmaceuticals. At least we’d have had something in common with other bands.”

The Undertones released 13 singles and 4 studio albums between 1978 and 1983. They still tour occasionally today. (See the link to their website below.)

As I read this excellent book, my dislike of the generic word ‘punk’ thawed and I grew fond of The Undertones as people and as musicians. Listening to their catalogue now added to the enjoyment of their story. Michael, Mickey and Mike Bradley have together produced a wonderful book of memories told in a detailed, sincere and entertaining way. Kids forming bands today would benefit from reading this story, the ups and downs and highs and lows of showbiz, and the importance of staying true to their roots. It is nostalgic, witty and a joy. I recommend it highly.

At a book event in Manchester in 2017, Mickey signed my copy thus:


Amazon -

The Undertones:

Friday, 12 February 2016


Last night, I saw the Dad's Army film and, like many people of my generation, I have mixed feelings about it. I love the TV series and it can be repeated forever and I guarantee it would still make me smile. The casting is set in stone in my head and when I heard about the film, my shoulders and heart sank in tandem. How on earth could such a venture work without Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie, Arnold Ridley, James Beck, Ian Lavender (although he does have a small part in the new film as a brigadier), Bill Pertwee and Frank Williams (another small part as a vicar)? The truth is it doesn't. The film has a cast to die for - Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring, Bill Nighy as Sergeant Wilson, Michael Gambon as Private Godfrey, Tom Courtenay as Corporal Jones, Daniel Mays as Private Walker, Blake Harrison as Private Pike, Bill Paterson as Private Frazer, as well as firm support from Sarah Lancashire, Felicity Montagu, Alison Steadman, Annette Crosbie, Julia Foster and many more. The film's script is the problem. It is a mixture of mild humour, slapstick moments with a sort of Eagle Has Landed storyline about a German spy, topped off with sometimes clumsy nods to the original cast's catchphrases. The premise of the TV version was that this was a squad of old codgers subjected to inept leadership and an inevitability that whatever they did would be a hopeless failure, albeit with the occasional bit of luck that saw some of their escapades succeeding against the odds. By expanding the idea from small to big screen and showing the characters as heroes in shoot-outs and explosive beach battles, ebbed the charm away very quickly. Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the femme fatale spy, played her part very well but, one of the most uneasy moments came when she slugged a girl on the head with a gun. Such blatant violence in a Dad's Army yarn is unthinkable. I read (before I saw the film) that there was a debate about gender balance in the movie and, as before, my shoulders and heart sank. It's DAD'S Army for God's sake and not wishing to deny women's roles in the war effort, this comedy idea was based on a specific take on a section of the male effort. Anyway, for whatever reason, modern political correctness or otherwise, the women helped to save the day. Hooray. The film is okay entertainment and it was wise of the producers to fill the screen with famous faces to sell it to us. Using familiar actors in major and minor roles helped me to enjoy it all to a point. For me, Michael Gambon stood out as Godfrey, although he did play him as more bonkers than slow. Toby Jones was a bit mixed in his impersonation of Arthur Lowe as Mainwaring and Bill Nighy was Bill Nighy (as usual) and not as close as he could have been to John Le Mesurier's Wilson. Tom Courtenay as Jones was a misfire. Daniel Mays played a good Walker. Blake Harrison was an okay Pike and Bill Paterson was not bad as Frazer, although lifting his kilt and waving his bum at the Germans was a bit too far from the original innocence of TV's Dad's Army. As I said before, the script was the problem and I hope and pray that Dad's Army II is not even being considered. I'll keep an eye out for more of the television repeats and remind myself that sometimes it is not wise to mess too much with a classic.

Monday, 8 February 2016


Jack Lemmon - 1968.jpg

Jack Lemmon was born on 8 February 1925. He died at 76 in 2001.

Extraordinary actor.

I'm pleased to say I have a signed photograph. "To Joe, Best wishes, Jack Lemmon."

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