Books - T

TEENAGE KICKS: My Life As An Undertone - Michael Bradley {228 pages, Omnibus}

THE UNDERTONES hold a special attachment to me. Among the very first records I bought was their biggest hit, ‘My Perfect Cousin’, so the prospect of the band’s story written by bassist, Michael Bradley, was always going to appeal. Question is - would it be any good? The answer is most definitely yes.

Bradley takes us right back to 1974, just as he turned 15 and decided to join his school friends in a band. Equipment was sparse but they persevered. Along the way, they picked up award winning choirboy Feargal Sharkey and the band was formed. The book details the band’s early years including various recording and touring stories, each member of the band leaving at some stage, writing John Peel’s all-time favourite song, getting arrested by the Special Branch, signing with Sire Records and getting to hang with THE RAMONES and the wide-eyed wonder of appearing on Top Of The Pops. There’s also a great story about the band faking drummer Billy Doherty’s death and touring the US with THE CLASH.

What really makes this a great read though is Bradley’s narrative. Its written with sublime wit, something that is uniquely Irish. There is genuine enthusiasm in his words, be it reminiscing of the formative days crammed in the house of the O’Neill brothers watching TV and then even rehearsing in an upstairs bedroom, the thrill of early performances and his hatred of both STIFF LITTLE FINGERS and THIN LIZZY!!

There is also a great realism about his writing; you can sense life in Derry at the time and relate to his embarrassment every time some locals shouted "Undertones are shite". There was a naivety about the band that Bradley doesn’t shy from highlighting, best exemplified by their star-struck demeanour every time the ran into someone famous and his use of self-deprecation is refreshing.

This humour and realism runs parallel to the political climate in Northern Ireland at the time. It’s fair to say that THE UNDERTONES were never the most overtly political of bands, but Bradley does bring politics into the narrative along with his own thoughts and opinions on various incidents.

Interestingly, the band’s last two albums (‘Positive Touch’ and ‘Sin Of Pride’), both of which saw a marked change in direction and an even more noticeable lack of success (although spawning some decent songs), are both encapsulated in about 30 pages in total. It’s clear that by the end of the band’s tenure, no one really seemed to be enjoying it - which is tragic when compared with the veritable child-like excitement of the way Bradley describes the early years.

The book is filled out with 16 pages of exclusive photos that span those early Derry days through to the 1999 reformation (minus Sharkey).

Just like the band’s early singles, this is as unpretentious as autobiographies come. The narrative flows with a conversational tone, refusing to become laboured with unnecessary detail or self-aggrandizing pomposity. Most importantly, it does the band’s memory and those classic early years justice. Job done, Bradley - bloody good work!!! (26.03.18)

THERE’S NO BONES IN ICE CREAM: Story of the NEW YORK DOLLS - Sylvain Sylvain {260 pages, Omnibus}
I’m sure that if the legend and importance of the NEW YORK DOLLS is not known by all readers, then at least their infamy is. They were THEE band that spawned the fledgling NYC Punk scene, they released a mere two official albums which have, quite rightly, gone on to be considered classics, and among their ranks was one JOHNNY THUNDERS. This autobiography of Sylvain’s is very much his story; you have to get through over 100 pages before the band is actually formed - and it makes for fascinating reading.
We go right back to 1951, with the birth of Sylvain in Cairo, Egypt. His family were wealthy with his father being a banker. However, the Suez Crisis of 1956 changed matters and by 1958, the family fled Cairo for France. Life there, compared with the opulence of the family’s life in Cairo, was hard and after two years they were headed to New York State! A hellish period was spent in Buffalo before they made the move to New York City.
The young Sylvain had already discovered music by this time, and his ability to dance attracted the girls. What was less obvious was his lack of academic success - later diagnosed as Dyslexia but unknown at the time.
The formation of the DOLLS makes essential, and frequently funny reading. Sylvain got to know original drummer, Billy Murcia, when Murcia’s older brother arranged for the two to have a fight! Thunders comes on the scene unable to play and is taught all he knew by Sylvain; Johansen nabbed due to his appearance over his talent and Kane just happened to drink at the same bar as Sylvain and his gang.
From there it’s pretty much a blow by blow account of the band’s rise, success in Europe, frequent hotel room destruction, wild parties, record deal and stunning gigs.
But for all the riotous parties, uplifting live performances, decadence and good times, there is also a great deal of sadness within Sylvain’s narrative. The death of Murcia while in England, the time IGGY POP introduced Thunders to Heroin and forever changed him, the time Thunders quaffed a veritable party pack of amphetamines and flipped out - never to come back, the addictions that engulfed all of the band bar Sylvain himself and the ultimate egotism that lead to the band’s implosion at what was appearing to be their renaissance - an implosion that lead to their final shows being without Thunders or Nolan.
The part Malcolm McLaren played in that renaissance, according to Sylvain at least, has been drastically undervalued. Sylvain positively gushes praise on McLaren, stating that the red patent leather era was the band’s decision, that McLaren’s enthusiasm for the band was key to their rejuvenation and confirmation that yes, the intention was for Sylvain to be a SEX PISTOL and it was his guitar that Steve Jones scored when McLaren went back to the UK.
The book is filled out with three sets of glossy photo pages, a copy of the communiqué from McLaren, a brief Introduction, a brief Epilogue detailing the growth of the post-band legend and a bit about their reformation and, of course, some acknowledgements which, unlike most other books, give addresses of vital locales from the story (Mercer Arts Centre, Max’s, various apartments and lofts etc).
Sylvain’s narrative is direct yet conversational. It reads much like a diary, bits of slang are included and he sets the tone of each location being discussed; New York City in particular is described in detail as a decaying, bankrupt monolith - but one which was the ideal breeding ground for what the DOLLS were, and became.
What is clear about Sylvain’s narrative is that he appears to be an incredibly nice guy. He’s not riddled with ego or self-aggrandizement - even though he has every right to be. Nor is he weighed down with animosity or jealousy of those who got success when the DOLLS didn’t (KISS and AEROSMITH to name just two). Sure, he is confident and he has moments of criticism but nothing that is all-consuming or detrimental to how he appears as an individual. Ultimately, he seems to value life - and enjoy it.  
A gripping read that’s essential for fans of the band, NYC Punk, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in general. (27.01.19)

THURSTON MOORE: We Sing A New Language - Nick Soulsby {340 pages, Omnibus}

Most of us reading this (most likely all in fact) will know that THURSTON MOORE is the guitarist in SONIC YOUTH. I’ve never been the biggest SONIC YOUTH fan; I’ve only got a couple of albums but I do respect what they did in pushing boundaries, blurring genres and doing it their way. SONIC YOUTH fans will no doubt know that Moore has also contributed and recorded in a few other projects. In fact, those projects are so numerous that the entirety of this book is dedicated to Moore’s work outside of SONIC YOUTH - and it’s virtually encyclopaedic.

Author Soulsby has presented this as an oral history of Moore’s work and it dates right back to 1978. Those who comment include LYDIA LUNCH, SONNY VINCENT (TESTORS), DON FLEMING (GUMBALL), MICHAEL GIRA (SWANS), GLENN BRANCA, RICHARD HELL, JACK RABID, JG THIRLWELL (FOETUS), some of his SONIC YOUTH companions and the man himself even offers a few comments, which lends a nice authorised touch to the whole book.

The most interesting part of the book for me was certainly Moore’s early involvement in various projects in New York City - be that GLENN BRANCA’s guitar orchestras, EVEN WORSE, BACKBEAT BAND, numerous Hardcore and No-Wave projects. And of course, anything LYDIA LUNCH writes is compulsive reading.  From there we read of acoustic projects, Black Metal, improvisation and noise - all to varying degrees of interest depending on musical preference.

Credit has to be given to Soulsby for not only being absolutely exhaustive in documenting literally hundreds of individual pieces of work but collating it all together and making it, for at least the most part, engrossing reading. Sure, parts do become a little laboured due to overload of information, but generally he has done a commendable job on the editting front. 

The book if filled out well also with photographs, a detailed synopsis of all the contributors and a comprehensive discography. Soulsby also pens an interesting introduction, where he makes it clear he has a good understanding of Moore when he states that Moore has "a mind able to avoid the sad path of the typical rock star".

This really is directed to the SONIC YOUTH/ Moore obsessive. I personally cannot imagine sitting through even 15% of the music written about in this book, but somehow Soulsby has made it readable, informative and engrossing. It certainly worked better as a book to ‘drop-in’ to for random 20 minute sessions or so as opposed reading it from cover to cover. 

One thing’s for certain though; you’d have to be rather rich to be a Thurston Moore record collector! (29.07.18)