The Sunday Interview - Mickey Bradley from The Undertones

editorial image

It’s been almost 40 years since Mickey Bradley agreed to play bass guitar in The Undertones. Mickey and a few of his friends were on a camping holiday in Bundoran when Billy Doherty asked him if he’d like to join the band; the rest is history.

“The reason I joined the band all those years ago was because I wanted to play music and have a bit of craic with my mates. Nothing has changed, that’s the reason I still play in the band today.

“Some of the jokes today are the same jokes from 30 years ago but we are just a bunch of mates from Derry who enjoy playing music together,” smiled Mickey.

Mickey was born in August 1959 and reared in Creggan Broadway. He was the ninth born of 11 children and said his memories of growing up on Creggan Broadway are amongst the best of his life.

“I was born in number 36 Creggan Broadway and I weighed 12lb. A neighbour of mine who was wee at the time said she remembers waiting outside the house with her mother and a few of the other women from the street. They knew I was going to be a big baby and they wanted to see what all of the fuss was about,” he laughed.

“Creggan Broadway was a great place to grow up. I have so many happy memories of living there. In the summer, when the weather was good we played football outside until it got dark. I had great friends growing up too like Tony Mellon, Terry McIntyre and the Carlisle twins, Trevor and Kevin. It was a great childhood.”

Mickey’s parents, May and Don were both from Derry. His father was from Bond’s Hill and worked for the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society and his mother, whose maiden name was Harris, was from St. Patrick Street (which was where the large green is near Fahan Street and St. Columb’s Wells today).

“I think my mother worked in a shirt factory before she settled down to have a family but rearing 11 children was a full-time job in itself so she became a housewife. My father worked for the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society and he was also a player of the accordion - he was in Charlie Kelly’s Ceili Band. Paddy McCafferty played fiddle in that band and Sean Canning played double bass.”

Mickey attended Holy Child P.S. in Creggan before finishing off his primary education at the Christian Brothers P.S. near the ‘Brow of the Hill’ and in 1971 he was amongst the first intake of pupils to attend St. Peter’s High School in Creggan.

“I have good memories of primary school. I remember my first day very clearly - a lot of the other children were crying as their parents dropped them off at school but not me - I was watching all of this and wondering what was happening.

“When I was at Holy Child P.S. we were only there until 12pm. Anita Robinson was my teacher back then and she was then known as Miss Armstrong and she told me the reason that we were able to go home was because the school was so over-crowded they had to put on classes for a whole different bunch of children in the afternoon.

“I had a great time at the Christian Brothers as well. Barney Doherty and Tommy Carr were teachers at the time and it was great. In fact, I saw a photo of one of the Christian Brothers choirs from years ago and Damian O’Neill [lead guitarist - The Undertones] is in the front row and I am in the back row - it’s funny how things turn out.”

Mickey sat his O-levels in the summer of 1976 and then attended North West Regional College where he completed his A-levels. However, in 1974 he met Billy Doherty [drummer - The Undertones] and brothers Damian and John O’Neill [rhythm guitarist and The Undertones] were born.

“I was hanging about with Damian and John’s brother Vinny at the time and that’s how I got to know them all.

“We were camping in Bundoran in August 1974 when Billy asked me to join. I said I would and the band was born out of that.

“But we didn’t really do anything concrete with the band until the Autumn of 1975 when we took out a Provident loan to buy instruments and equipment from Reynolds of Raphoe. We bought drums, a bass guitar and some very basic equipment. We started to take practicing very seriously and we had enough songs under our belts to start performing live.

“The first time we ever played live was in a scout hall in Beechwood Avenue in February 1976. Feargal [Sharkey - former lead singer in The Undertones] was in the scouts at the time. Then we performed live in St. Peter’s High School, St. Joseph’s Boys’ School and we also played in a few youth clubs around Derry too.

“It wasn’t until the start of 1977 that we started playing in the Casbah up at the top of Orchard Street - we played there, on and off, every weekend for about a year and a half.

“It was a great few years because we just spent our time sitting in O’Neill’s house, listening to music and talking about our band.”

Before playing one of their first concerts in St. Joseph’s, Mickey and the rest of the band were without a name and it wasn’t until a few concerts later that drummer Billy Doherty came up with the name that generations would become familiar with.

“I remember seconds before we were due to go on stage in St. Joseph’s and the teacher Pat McNabb asked us what we were called and Feargal said we were called ‘The Hot Rods’. There was a band at that time in England called ‘Eddie and the Hot Rods’ but at that stage it was too late because he introduced us as ‘The Hot Rods’.

“Then we were playing a show in the Waterside Boys’ Club near Fountain Hill when Feargal said we were called ‘Little Feet’ but again there was a well known American band called ‘Little Feet’. We couldn’t allow it to happen again so Billy came up with the name The Undertones.”

In 1977 The Undertones attracted the attention of Belfast ‘Good Vibrations’ record label owner, Terri Hooley.

Hooley helped the band to record the ‘Teenage Kicks’ EP and after countless rejections, Radio One D.J. John Peel listened to the record in 1978 and thought it was so good he played it twice on air.

On hearing ‘Teenage Kicks’ on Radio One, head of Sire Records, Seymour Stein, dispatched a representative to Derry to sign up Mickey and the rest of the band but the deal they signed turned out to be quite disappointing.

“At the start when we signed the deal with Sire it was myself and Feargal who negotiated the deal. It was a complete joke and we ended up signing a really bad deal.

“But we were really lucky because there was guy involved with record promotions who was attached to us by the record company. He could see we were a bit green behind the ears so he realised we needed help. He introduced us to a few potential managers and we didn’t like any of them but in the end up we just gave him the job. His name is Andy Ferguson and he still looks after the band’s interests to this day.”

The Undertones’ first record, ‘The Undertones’ was a success but their second, ‘Hypnotised’ reached number six in the UK charts. In 1981 the band released ‘Positive Touch’ and in 1983 they recorded their final album ‘The Sin of Pride’.

“Perhaps one of best memories of my early days in the band was when we backed up an English singer called Joe Jackson in a fairground in New Jersey in America.

“Joe had an afternoon and an evening show so we had to play twice. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were all in great form. The crowd didn’t really like us but that didn’t annoy us.

“We all had a free pass for all of the rides. It was great. The evening show was outdoors later that day. We played great and it was really sunny - that’s one of my fondest memories.

“Another good memory was when we recorded two of our LPs in Holland. Myself, Billy and Damian rented a few bicycles and we would cycle to the recording studio every day - it was fantastic.

“Meeting The Clash was brilliant too. We toured with them in America. Joe Strummer was always really nice but because I loved them as a band I could never connect with them. The Clash were brilliant.”

Sadly, the sales of ‘The Sin of Pride’ were not as the band had hoped and in 1983, singer Feargal Sharkey decided to walk away and The Undertones split up.

“Because we weren’t as successful the record company was starting to interfere and it was on a photo shoot in Sweden that Feargal told us he was leaving. Our heart wasn’t in it anymore - Feargal said what we were all thinking - it was a relief.”

Mickey and Damian moved to London to pursue their career in music but after six months Damian moved back to Derry to join ‘That Petrol Emotion’ with brother John. Mickey remained in London where he worked as a bicycle courier for two years before returning home to Derry where he studied Mathematics and Physics at A-level.

“My brother Martin, who still reviews cinema for Radio Foyle, told me that Radio Foyle were always looking for people.

“I had an appointment with the producer Maureen Gallagher and she showed me how to use a recorder and sent me out to do a Vox Pop. The question was asking people in Derry what they thought of Gerry Anderson.

“Joe Mahon was the manager of the station at the time and one day he came in and asked me what I was doing there. Joe taught me at St. Peter’s and a few days later, Maureen asked me if I would do a music programme. I did it for a few years - it was called ‘Mickey’s Monkey’ after a Smokey Robinson song. That was the summer of 1986 and I have been here ever since,” he smiled.

Mickey is a producer at Radio Foyle and said that one of his highlights was when the station won a Sony award back in 1990.

“Working at Radio Foyle is like going to university because I have learned so much and I still do every day. Working with people like Gerry Anderson, Sean Coyle and Eamon Friel has been amazing.

“Winning the Sony award in 1990 was brilliant - the station won one and Gerry Anderson won one too. I was over in London with Sean [Coyle] and Gerry to pick up the award. John Hume was there too and he said ‘what would our fathers think if they could see us now?. It was just one of those great moments.”

The Undertones reformed in 1999 but original singer Feargal Sharkey did not rejoin and as a result the band acquired talented Derry born singer Paul McLoone.

“I never thought we would reform because we knew Feargal didn’t want to do it and I never thought John would want to do it. We were offered the chance to play with ‘The Saw Doctors’ in Galway. John said he wanted to do it and I remember being really surprised but we did it. We didn’t have a singer but Davy Cartin from ‘The Saw Doctors’ sang a few songs for us.

“Coincidentally, the Nerve Centre was just about to open and they asked us if we wanted to play. We said yes but at this stage we still didn’t have a singer so that’s when Paul McLoone joined the band.”

It’s been 14 years since The Undertones reformed and Mickey said that his life has never been better. He is married to Elaine and they have four children.

“Life couldn’t be better. I am still playing music with my mates. Since reforming we have played in places like Italy, Spain and Tokyo. It’s a great way of life and I have never enjoyed life as much. We just turn up to shows and have fun.”