The last time I listened to an Undertones record with any real malicious intent was when I was tearing around the estate where we lived on my Raleigh Chopper bike. ‘Here Comes Summer’ was in the charts and we had just broken up for the six-week summer holiday. I had a terrific pair of blue corduroy pants shrunk-wrapped to my legs, a blue, orange-lined Snorkel Parka gracing my back, a full packet of Spangles in my pocket and a half-bottle of Tizer cooling in my Mum’s larder back at home. Life didn’t get much better than this. So when Feargal and the boys were singing about ‘running round the alleys trying to get home’ and ‘standing on the corner never alone’ it meant something to me. There was an alley around the back of the Spar that I regularly ran around and I had no shortage of people waiting with me at the bus stop when mum and me embarked on our weekly trip into town for shopping. And my full packet of Spangles only added to the volume of other kids waiting there too, I don’t doubt.
For me, feisty, wriggling tunes like ‘Jimi Jimi’ and ‘Teenage Kicks’ was the sound of hormones and e-numbers rushing through my veins in a manner not unlike the waters of the Mississippi engulfing the floodplains of Louisiana during a particularly memorable storm. The joy was an instant as Angel Delight, as prickly as my being pushed headlong into my neighbour’s conifers and as intoxicating as a sip of my Dad’s Skol lager: “ the summer’s really here and its time to come out, it’s time to discover what fun is about”. Fair enough, it wasn’t as clever as some of the lines Mrs Price had us read aloud from Treasure Island in class but it was poetry of a sorts. It made things happen and even if they didn’t happen it made things feel as if they were about to happen. The story was the same even if the names had been changed. Grabbing a game of ping-pong with Sharron Davis on Wednesday night took on intensity I’d seldom glimpsed outside of watching Pan’s People. At that was Thursday nights only. Girls were suddenly becoming a daily concern and the music here is what made it that way.
So what we have here on 'True Confessions' is a time capsule of sorts; Feargal’s thick Derry accent perfectly preserved in a 2 Disc collection that chronicles the band’s singles releases from their debut release in October 1978 to their last in 1983. The As and the Bs are played back to back without interruption, giving the whole thing a relentless and visceral quality, a quality not unlike growing up itself. Not even a height-chart could mark the radical maturation from the jaunty, teenage abandon of records like ‘Get Over You’ to the melancholy reflections of songs like ‘Wednesday Week’ and ‘Julie Ocean’. The growl that the boys spat out on ‘My Perfect Cousin’ in response to a surreptitious Subbuteo kick eventually gave way to the tenderest of laments and the least awkward of silences.
They were yesterday’s Arctic Monkeys: reckless, rumbustious and as genuinely unpretentious as a brand new tube of Spangles. Undisposable pop.
The Undertones 'True Confessions (Singles=A's + B's)' is out now.