The Undertones at The Cheese and Grain, Frome 18.3.2022 with special guest Hugh Cornwell
Good to be back in Frome. Only my third visit to this friendly Somerset venue, last one being The Sweet last year with more venue details in that blog.
Stopping at The George Hotel again so good for a few pints to kick off after the winding roads up from Dorchester today.
The Undertones are very much part of my jukebox of growing up and tonight I’m sporting a few badges, the larger of which I bought at the merch stand at Bracknell Sports Centre in 1979. That was my first Undertones gig, on the You’ve Got My Number tour, with Tenpole Tudor supporting.
I saw them four times back in the Feargal Sharkey days including three Hammersmith Palais gigs during 1980/81 with the Positive Touch tour gig in May 1981 being the most memorable one (I still have the decomposing t-shirt in a bag of nostalgia clothing in the loft). The whole sweaty dance floor at the Palais was absolutely bouncing that night. The support bands at those Palais gigs also stayed with me: The Moondogs, Orange Juice and TV21.
After Feargal Sharkey left it seemed all over. I saw That Petrol Emotion a few times, featuring original ‘tones John and Damian O’Neill, and a Feargal solo performance but it wasn’t until some 30 years later that I found The Undertones live again, this time in The Brook, Southampton in April 2011. I was typically sceptical about seeing them without frontman Feargal but was impressed by Paul McLoone who was up front and bouncing then, as he is tonight.
Later I saw them in October 2016 at The Engine Rooms, Southampton and at a Butlins Alternative Festival in Minehead in 2019… so this is Undertones gig number eight for me. Waited a bit for this one due to Covid Lockdowns, as the tickets show.
Tonight’s special guest really is a special guest. It’s Hugh Cornwell, with a band: a drummer and a bassist and Hugh. A good length set mixing some old Stranglers classics – London Lady, 5 Minutes, Duchess, Skin Deep, Strange Little Girl, Always the Sun, Goodbye Toulouse and more – with tracks from his last album Monster.
A well-received set by the sell-out Cheese and Grain crowd. I still found a bit of room to get down the far side to snap a few close ups. Although new tracks like Leatherman catch the ear it’s hard to overcome the draw of The Stranglers songs. I will return to Hugh in more detail when I catch up with him on his own tour next month…all being well.
The boys from Derry take to the stage. There’s still that same slightly chaotic feel as five guys go about plugging stuff in and check each other are ok. We’re ready. They’re ready…. for a bounce, a jump and fist pump through around thirty songs, mainly old ones, but a handful of newer ones.
Family Entertainment from their first album to start and Jump Boys isn’t far behind. Over the years the biggest hits like Jimmy Jimmy and Teenage Kicks have had so much air play that it’s the lesser-known songs that are so good to hear live again, obviously as well as the aforementioned anthems.
All those songs ‘about chocolate and girls’, well more girls than chocolate…. Girls That Don’t Talk, Tearproof and True Confessions follow. It’s boys having fun music and few better than the more refined anthem from the third album The Positive Touch: When Saturday Comes.
Of course, there is that wondering of what it would be like with Feargal Sharkey but that was all done and dusted decades ago and frontman Paul McLoone bounces through it all like he always owned the old songs, as well as the new, the best of which must be the title track from the 2007 album Dig Yourself Deep. He’s got a bit of that Feargal throat vibration and the shared Derry accent brings some familiarity for Feargal seekers.
When I say throat vibration, I mean like on Jimmy Jimmy where it goes ‘Jimmy Jimmy….ohhhhh’: he doesn’t have to pinch his larynx and wobble it with his fingers like I do.
With the O’Neill brothers on either wing, hunched over their guitars, Michael Bradley on bass is the talkative bonus frontman at the heart of it all. Earlier he was stood quietly at the back of the hall in a raincoat to watch Hugh Cornwell’s set – I said hello as I brushed passed.
I suppose the newer Here Comes the Rain must be worth another listen as that was the one the band chose to sandwich between More Songs About Chocolate and Girls and I Know a Girl in the first encores.
A parting tip for overnight visitors to The Cheese and Grain. If your leaving your car in the main car park overnight, check Frome Market or a car boot sale isn’t on the next day. I returned to the car to find it part of the market in full swing 🙈 I was escorted out, hazard lights on by a very understanding market supervisor. There are some signs somewhere but not near where you pay for parking.