interview with Damian interview with Damian

Postby kitschisrich » Tue Jun 15, 2010 11:09 am

7th Jun 2010 ... ones/6162/

Abbas Ali chats to Damian O'Neill of groundbreaking punk band The Undertones, ahead of their anticipated appearance at The Wickerman Festival next month.

“Teenage kicks, so hard to beat / every time she walks down the street”. With lyrics that perfectly describe young lust, and simple, 3 chord rock, ‘Teenage Kicks’ is one of the defining anthems of the punk era. Indeed, fan and advocate John Peel loved the song so much, he went as far as making the first line the epitaph on his gravestone. Back in the mid-70s, the band was first discovered by the legendary DJ, who gave them their first break.

“He did pluck us from obscurity”, explains Damian O’Neill, guitarist and key member of the band. “Even before we did Teenage Kicks, He paid for a John Peel session, £300 out of his own pocket. He was just so encouraging”. Coming from the musical backwater of Derry, Northern Ireland, the band shot to fame with their first EP during punk’s ‘new wave’, due to the backing of Peel on his Radio 1 show, and the rest is histo ry.

Speaking to lead guitarist Damian O’Neil, now living in London all these years later, he sounds humble and grateful to have been part of this defining acts, as well as That Petrol Emotion, the 80s act he went on to form with his brother (and writer of ‘Teenage Kicks’), John.

“My musical career is based on two old bands! Nostalgia”, he says, laughing, self-effacingly. “And why not?” I suggest there’s no reason why he should stop doing what loves. “And I do love it. If you’d asked me 20 years ago, if I’d be playing Undertones music again, or That Petrol Emotion, I’d have said, ‘No Way! That’s sad, old losers doing that’, but you do mellow out with age”, says the humble musician, who joins many acts from the punk era, including, notably, the Sex Pistols, who reformed after saying “never”.

As further his motivations, he says “I love playing. And I love being onstage. And I love playing those songs. If they were crap songs, that would be different, but I always get a joy playing them, especially the Undertones stuff”.

One of the most notable things about this revival of The Undertones, Mk II, which was reformed in 1999 for a series of gigs, is that former lead singer Fergal Sharkey is no longer fronting the band. The distinctive vocalist left his bandmates in the early 80s, going on to forge a successful solo career, and is now a leading government advisor on the British music industry. Asked about the singer, O’Neill explains that he was always more confident and ambitious than the rest of the band.

“He knew he could do better. We were never close friends”, Damian says of the vocalist, who he says was always distant from the rest of the band. “It was a natural end, really.” Asked about his current role, the guitarist finds it hard to hide old resentments, but tries to remain diplomatic. “Yeah, he’s part of the establishment now. I’m not too surprised about that. That’s all I’m gonna say.” Meanwhile, new singer Paul McLoone, has gone down well with the fans. “He’s a great frontman. He’s very funny, he has us in stitches when we’re on tour. Also you’ve got to remember, he’s from Derry. He’s one of us.”

Looking forward to the gig at Scotland’s Wickerman Festival, Damian explains that they band will play material mostly from the first 2 records, The Undertones, and Hypnotised, both of which regularly feature in ‘Best Of’ lists for punk, British music, and rock generally, in addition to the new material from Get What You Need, and Dig Yourself Deep, both recorded after the 1999, and critically well received.

As for the event itself, the guitarist is enthusiastic. “I’ve always heard about the festival, but we’ve never been to it. We’re very excited to be part of it”, O’Neill says of the event, which culminates in the burning of a giant Wicker Man on the Sunday evening.”It should be great”.
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