1978 was a golden year for British punk/new wave records, with Teenage Kicks and Top Of The Pops proving there were vibrant scenes with inventive bands outside of London and the English suburbs. Derry’s Undertones are celebrating the 45th anniversary of their legendary debut single with a UK tour with strong support acts including Tom Robinson and Neville Staple.
Brighton struck lucky as tonight’s openers are Edinburgh’s bonkers, sci-fi glam punks The Rezillos. The band enter to Sandy Nelson’s ‘Let There Be Drums’, followed by original members Fay Fife and Eugene Reynolds, and kick off with their classic single ‘Destination Venus’ – an instant crowd pleaser. Eugene wears his traditional black garb and mandatory shades while Fay’s space age dress features a soon-discarded dayglo plastic wrap.
Two more fan favourites, from the first album, follow with Fay going head-to-head with guitarist Phil Thompson. Eugene tells us to also expect songs from their second album (2015’s ‘Zero’) and some new songs not yet heard in Brighton. Zero’s ‘Sorry About Tomorrow’ features 60s girl group harmonies and ‘(Take Me To The) Groovy Room’ has a sinister Cramps-style guitar with Fay dancing at the front of the stage before taking a theremin solo.
Eugene explains that if they play new song ‘Cranium’ “all our brains will explode”. His growling vocal and Fay’s Farfisa-style keyboards bode well for next year’s third studio album and thankfully our brains survive for the classic, down and dirty punk sound of ‘Cold Wars’. Fay’s back on keys for 2015’s ‘Spike Heel Assassin’ and the “oohs, ahs and ba ba bas” highlight the similarities between The Rezillos and The B-52s.
There’s a tribute to an original band member, the late William Mysterious (Alastair Donaldson), before they play his jaunty punk pop classic ‘It Gets Me’ while ‘Zero’ is dedicated to, and directed at, young fan Kelly who was enjoying the show from the front of the mosh pit. ‘Edge Of Delight’ is the second brand new song of the set and has a whiff of Ultravox’s ferocious single ‘Young Savage’.
Eugene’s on sax for the lone Revillos number, introduced as “this is not the Watusi or the Crawl, let’s ‘Do The Mutilation’, a rockabilly/go-go party delight. They’ve maintained a great energy throughout and ramp it up further for the closing numbers. ‘Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite’, their exuberant cover of Fleetwood Mac’s weird Elvis pastiche, is, as ever, great fun, as is their breakthrough hit ‘Top Of The Pops’.
The distinctive guitar and bass riffs of ‘(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures’ expand into ferocious fun with the whole band really going for it and this continues as they go straight into closing number ‘Can’t Stand My Baby’ with its speedy bassline and stomping delivery.
They are far too great a band to be anyone’s support, but thankfully they are given a time slot long enough to deliver almost all of their full set making this more of a double-header event. Fortunately, this always-fun band are regular visitors to Brighton so it will be great to catch them again when the new album is released next year.
The Undertones of today have the same band members they did when ‘Teenage Kicks’ was released 45 years ago. The only change is long-term singer Paul McLoone who joined 24 years ago when the band reformed. Original singer Feargal Sharkey left to go solo back in 1983 and is now an environmental campaigner, focussing on cleaning up Britain’s polluted waterways.
They also enter to a drum track, this time it’s Cozy Powell’s ‘Dance With The Devil’ and there’s no messing as bassist Michael Bradley shouts “we’re The Undertones and we play punk rock – is that OK?” A full-throttle ‘Emergency Cases’ from 1978’s ‘Teenage Kicks’ EP is followed by early single ‘You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?)’ where singer McLoone shows his voice is a perfect fit. He shows us some Mick Jagger moves, including handclaps and pout, on 2003’s ‘I Need Your Love The Way It Used To Be’, as a driving bass and fierce guitars set the pace.
A hopeful fan lobs a Mars bar onto the stage, in the hope of getting them to play the ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ b-side (they don’t) and they dedicate the delightfully catchy ‘‘Family Entertainment’ to all the Shaun The Sheep scultures they’ve seen around town. There’s a full-on singalong for the pop punk perfection of ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ and it should be noted that the multi-aged mosh pit that’s been in place since the start is a sea of singing, smiling, sweaty faces.
The mix of old and newer songs show that rhythm guitarist and main songwriter, John O’Neill, has lost none of his talent for producing catchy songs of youthful love and longing, yet he’s the quietest man on stage tonight, standing on the far side of the stage and keeping shtum. His body of work is a great companion to that of Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley, none more so than John Peel’s favourite ‘Teenage Kicks’, which remains a two-minute thing of beauty to hear live. This is followed by the equally simple, equally brilliant ‘True Confessions’ and a furious ‘Smarter Than U’, which sends the moshers off on one.
Paul McLoone’s voice is superb throughout but he really lets rip on ‘Oh Please’ and, ever the showman, gives a Roger Daltrey mic swing during ‘Male Model’. The newest song of the set is 2007’s ‘Here Comes The Rain’ with Billy Doherty really thumping the drums. It’s followed, appropriately, by the short but perfectly formed ‘Here Comes The Summer’. There are three singles in the closing twenty minutes, the last of which, ‘Get Over You’, bears an uncanny resemblance to ‘Boredom’ in places and has a glam rock stomp underpinning the harmonies.
We’ve already been promised more songs and as they return Michael Bradley cheekily offers his help if anyone wants to start a riot to stop us all being kicked out as a club night was to follow the gig. The magnificently tongue-in-cheek ‘More Songs About Chocolate And Girls’ kicks off an encore of early album tracks until the Michael Bradley/Damian O’Neill-penned ‘My Perfect Cousin’ leaves everyone on a high.
This was the first night of the tour and the band’s energy and enthusiasm was reciprocated by the capacity crowd. If they can maintain this level of excitement the rest of the country’s punk-loving gig-goers are in for a treat.
Chalk, Thursday 28th September 2023