Paul McLoone says he’s doomed to rock and roll. And then he laughs. The Undertones’ current lead singer has been in Dublin living for years but he still holds that essential Derry quality of not taking himself too seriously.
For the purposes of the interview he jokingly tells me he’s interrupted his listening of the Roxy Music album, ‘For Your Pleasure’ which he says was turned up loud before the phone rang.
The Undertones’ blistering live gigs are the living proof that McLoone is every inch the front man. But his day job - which is actually a night job - on the hugely respected Paul McLoone show on Today FM is altogether different. Here, he chooses his own music and showcases only the best new music in a programme which is a complete tonic from the average day, given that the average day when it comes to music is about charts and downloading and a generation which allows Justin Bieber to have 33 million followers on Twitter.
Listening to his show, which airs Monday to Thursday at 9pm on Today FM, you’d never guess that the presenter regularly takes to the stage to front one of the world’s most famous punk bands. On air, he doesn’t shout that loudly. But his relaxed and informative style is a winner with music fans the country over.
Off air, he’s just the same. Born in Lisfannon Park and part of the generation who grew up during the Troubles here, Paul hasn’t lost his affinity for the city he was reared in.
Trying to dance around the cliches he eventually concedes that there’s no better way to describe the Bogside back then other than “a close knit community, where people looked out for each other without being, you know, nosey.” His retrospective look at his childhood isn’t one the 46-year-old takes with rose tinted spectacles. After all, he spent his formative years as a student in St Columb’s College, when corporal punishment was very much the norm.
“I have mixed feelings about the college,” he says.
“There were good things and bad things and some of the strictures were not so pleasant. Corporal punishment was basically assaulting children and it’s fair to say that some teachers relished that more than others. But at that stage, we were young, it was what happened, and we didn’t question it. It’s not something I dwell on now. I suppose I’d have to say I got a good education there, but that time had its ups and downs.”
As far as a career plan went, during his college years, the Derry born DJ didn’t have one.
“Music has always been a big thing, and back then I might have dreamed of being Adam Ant, but it was just that - daydreaming,” he says.
“I couldn’t play an instrument, I didn’t really think I could sing but I did get involved at a few musical things in the college during that time.”
It was also during his time at the college that Paul discovered he had a talent for radio.
“Radio found me, actually,” he says,
“While I was at St Columb’s Gerry Anderson was given a tape of me doing impressions and one day, in 1985, Gerry turned up at our house and knocked on the door. Gerry was quite a celebrity even then and it was quite the day that he had turned up at our house, I remember my mother being very impressed. Gerry just came in sat down, and said that he’d heard my tape. Soon after that I was invited up to the old Radio Foyle studios. Gerry sat opposite me, said ‘Be Prince Charles’ and turned the fader up and I was live on air.
“That was the start of a low key involvement I had doing funny voices. I remember I got extra money for it and that was great! People seemed to like it too.”
Paul stayed with Anderson on the show for a short period before moving onto other things but he had found his place in the world of radio.
“It was a baptism of fire, but the beginnings of what I was to end up doing,” he says.
In 1999 Paul was there at the very start of Today FM, now the biggest commercial Irish radio station. He started out as a producer of the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show and was the brainchild behind the national comedy hit known as Gift Grub which propelled comedian Mario Rosenstock to stardom.
As Dempsey’s breakfast show picked up steam quickly between 1999 and 2004,,the schedule became increasingly hectic for the man behind the scenes Derry born Paul, who decided to take a step back in 2004. Alongside his work at the station, news was starting to spread that the Undertones had reformed and as the man behind the lead vocals, life got busy for Paul.
His gig with the Undertones began with a conversation he had with drummer and long time friend Billy Doherty. The pair had played together in a band called The Carrelines in the late 80’s. When Billy asked Paul to come up and front a gig for the guys, he said yes. But was it something he took completely in his stride? Absolutely not says the father of two.
“I get stage fright. It’s very very daunting,” he says. “The build up to the gigs can be immense, but when you’re on stage, as soon as that music starts, it all goes and from there, it all just happens organically.”
He agrees that there’s a great chemistry in the band today, which probably accounts for their continued popularity.
“That kind of thing is either there or it isn’t, and it covers a multitude of sins,” he laughs.
He also concedes that gigging in places like Tokyo and the US, and a recent date in Marseilles, isn’t something to be sniffed at. And the day (or night) job, he says, isn’t that bad either.
“Even as I sit here I can’t believe how lucky I am that I actually get to choose my own music. John Peel is a big hero of mine and event though I know I’m not as good as him I still have the attitude that if I like it, I’m going to play it and that’s pretty much what I do and I’m in a priveleged position to be able to do it on national radio. That’s the reason I genuinely look forward to coming into work.”
Music is more than just work for Paul. It’s not a conscious pastime, rather, I get the impression, as much a part of his life as say, food or clothes.
“I couldn’t imagine not having music in my life,” he says.
“I actually don’t know where I’d be without it. There’s no escaping it!”
Tune into Paul from Monday to Thursday on Today FM or see local press for upcoming Undertones gigs.