Teenage Kicks at La Maroquinerie

Undertones ticket 001If Steve Earle is an artist who has only recently tripped the light fandango across my musical dance floor then the same cannot be said of The Undertones.

I am not going to claim to remember the momentous John Peel show in 1978 when he first played Teenage Kicks or indeed the occasion when he played the song back to back although given that we always used to listen to the great man with transistors under the pillow and those tiny earpieces, I wouldn’t be surprised. If I didn’t, then my music professor Jonny Hanscombe – about three bunks along in our 4th form dormitory – certainly ensured that it came pogoing into my consciousness shortly after. That song has remained there ever since.

At the time they were immense, one of the few positive things to come out of Derry as it struggled to raise its head above the muddy, bloody trenches of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. They split in 1984 and flew off my radar.

So when Jonesy revealed that she had snapped up a couple of tickets to see them in Paris, I struggled for enthusiasm. I couldn’t recall much more than Teenage Kicks and My Perfect Cousin and also felt that The Undertones without Feargal Sharkey, the original lead singer, would be like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger or Tom without Jerry.

The original line-up of The Undertones with Feargal Sharkey on the left of the photo
The original line-up of The Undertones with Feargal Sharkey on the left of the photo

The voice was not the only great thing about The Undertones but Sharkey’s chorister quavering set them apart from the crowd.

So, the temptation was there, I admit it. Still full on the love from Monday night at Le Trianon, I was tempted to knock The Undertones on the head. More babysitters for the kids, another big night out in Paris, was it really worth it? Especially as it wasn’t really The Undertones, I mean how could it be without Feargal?

One other reason for the Wednesday malaise was the venue, La Maroquinerie in the 20th arrondissement, a concrete bunker with one fire exit that makes you wonder how they escaped with no serious accident prior to the ban on cigarettes.

We had previous there. We went to see the Lemonheads at La Maroquinerie last year and it was probably the worst gig I have ever witnessed (although John Cale in London in 2003 came close). Evan Dando, bereft of warmth and incapable of communicating with an enthusiastic audience, was an embarrassment. Even It’s a Shame about Ray came out limper than a wet lettuce.

Still, the tickets were bought and the kids were eager to go to their respective sleepovers. So, Feargal or no Feargal, there wasn’t really much point in backing down.

And what a relief because it was a barnstorming evening. As soon as the band came on and greeted the audience with an enthusiastic “Bon soir, nous sommes Les Undertones” and leapt into the opening strains of Jimmy Jimmy, the bunker was bouncing and my brain was hot-wired to the late 1970s all over again, mouthing the words and bobbing up and down like a spotty geek of yore.

undertones-logoJonesy, who is a touch younger than me and has greater recall of Feargal’s later work like A Good Heart, a number that goes down like a bucket of cold sick in my wing of Spender Towers, was slightly bemused and made a half-hearted effort to check my heartrate before realising that she would be better employed skipping to the bar for another round of French lager beer.

Old gits like me who could remember The Undertones from the Sharkey days were ranged around the rear, the pit a bobbing mass of 20-somethings – they probably had clearer memories of what it was like to get “teenage kicks right through the night” but judging by the smiles on the face of the elders, I was not the only one who had just deleted a few decades.

The pungent mix of sweat and beer a reminder of a misspent youth trying to pogo to that wonderful first album which also included Here Comes the Summer, Family Entertainment and Billy’s Third – all of which were on the bill in Paris.

The current Undertones line-up with Paul McLoone on the right of the photo
The current Undertones line-up with Paul McLoone on the right of the photo

There is no question that this is not the same sound as the Sharkey-vocaled originals. He had something special that lifted the songs beyond the ordinary. But he left in 1984 and turned down the opportunity to play with the band when they got together again in 1999. But what are you going to do? If you are happy to listen to the old albums all well and good but if you want to hear the material live then you have to go with the new boy Paul McLoone.

I was equally ambivalent about seeing The Stranglers at the Gagarin in Athens in 2004 with no Hugh Cornwall in the line-up. But with Paul Roberts handling the vocals, they tore down the house. The same in this show.

Feargal may be long gone but the rest of the band is intact with John and Damien O’Neill on guitar, Michael Bradley on bass and Billy Doherty on drums. As such, their playing was tight and infections; their banter with the crowd put the Lemonheads to shame.

And take a bow Paul McLoone. Sharkey had the proverbial big feet and his shoes are extremely hard to fill. He may not have the quaver and subtlety of his predecessor but McLoone does a great job in spite of the fact that the pogo isn’t much than a po these days. But he strutted around the stage like a motorised Morrissey before launching himself into some serious arm-swinging and po-ing.

Teenage Kicks (written by John O’Neill) is their most famous song – not surprising given that the late John Peel, who made a superb little documentary about the band The Story of The Undertones. went to his grave asserting that it was his favourite track of all time. Indeed the lyric “Teenage dreams, so hard to beat” is to be found on his gravestone.

Needless to say it was given a massive welcome when it came up 19 songs into the 24-song opening set (you can see the set list here). And even more so, when the band was called back for an unscheduled second encore. The Undertones played it again to call time on another terrific evening. John, Damian, Billy, Paul, Michael and Feargal, thank you.

©Barney Spender 2013