I’ve posted a number of times in the past about how well some of the punk and new wave classics translate to ukulele – if you give it enough enthusiasm and energy. The basic structure of the songs, the (usually) simple chord patterns, the repetitive sing-a-long nature of them, plus the fact that they’re often a but rough round the edges, lends them well to being played by ukulele groups who often treasure all those things. And so here is a song book from the masters of the form – Northern Ireland’s own legends, The Undertones. Teenage Kicks is a song that has been a staple of Southampton Ukulele Jam for many a year (and even got performed by us on BBC TV!), and more recently My Perfect Cousin has had a couple of appearances. So it seemed to make sense to try to widen out the possibilities.
The Undertones originally formed in 1974, but with the coming of the punk revolution in 1976 they shifted their focus and were soon plying their three-chord pop punk songs around Derry. Mostly eschewing the troubled political climate of 1970s Northern Ireland, the bands songs focussed more on the typical tropes of teenage growing up – girls, angst, girls, adolescence, and girls. Eventually getting noticed by Sire records (by way of ardent fan, the radio 1 DJ John Pee, who often cited Teenage Kicks as the best record ever), the band released a steady stream of classic singles, and four albums, before splitting in 1983 when lead singer Feargal Sharkey left, pursuing a brief solo career before moving into A&R and executive roles within the music industry.
The musical evolution of The Undertones is fascinating. Initially creating pop punk classics such as Teenage Kicks, Jimmy Jimmy and Here Comes The Summer, by the time of their second album, 1980’s Hypnotised, they had supplemented that with a more sophisticated 60s influenced sound as typified by hit single Wednesday Week. That trend continued in the band’s next album, Positive Touch, with their musical palette being extended with keyboards and brass, and lyrically a number of songs that did touch on the Troubles within Ireland. By the time of their final album, 1983’s The Sin Of Pride, full-on Motown influences can be heard (Got To Have You Back was original an Isley Brothers song), and whilst the album was a critical success the band’s commercial success had declined. Pressure from the record company, added to tensions and musical difference within the band, eventually led to the split later that year.
The band reformed in 1999, without Sharkey, and instead with Paul McLoone on lead vocals. Since they they have played and toured regularly and – from personal experience – I can highly recommend them. McLoone isn’t Sharkey, and doesn’t pretend to be, but it is a great night out. They have released a couple of albums in that time (I must admit I’ve never head them) but it will always be for the songs from that classic 5 year run that they will be known and loved.
For the song book, I’ve drawn together – in chronological order – the 13 singles that comprised their glory years. These are all fairly straightforward – there certainly aren’t any tricky chords in there (I’ve transposed a couple to make them a bit easier to play), and by and large they are structurally fairly standard. After their last hit, It’s Going To Happen!, there aren’t any chord sheets out there that I could draw on, so everything after that I’ve had to compile myself, via. the magic of Chordify. They sound OK to my ears, but I can’t vouch for them being perfect.
List of songs, with links to individual song sheets, below: