After The Undertones broke up, Sean (formerly known as John) O'Neill and fellow Derry "Left Bank" club DJ and ex-Bam Bam and the Calling guitarist Reamann O Gormain aka Raymond Gorman formed That Petrol Emotion in 1984, along with local drummer/ friend Ciaran McLaughlin. After a decision to move to London, Sean's brother and fellow Undertone Damian O'Neill joined on
bass after hearing the new songs and getting nowhere in his short-lived London-based band "Eleven". Raymond and Damian initially shared lead vocal duties, but Steve Mack, an American ex-college student working in a Covent Garden pizzeria wound up joining the band in time to re-record the lead vocals for the new group's debut single "Keen" (1985). More upfrontly political and
outspoken than the 'tones, T.P.E. were certainly a hell of a lot more intense.
Wordier, more energetic and noisier too, yet at the same time they managed to retain much of that band's classic melodic kick. With their first album, "Manic Pop Thrill"(1986), they became the critics' favorites, as well as earning a rabid, loyal and devoted live following in the U.K. Their second album (and major label debut), "Babble" (1987) won universal acclaim, especially as Rolling Stone
Magazine's critic's album of the year. In the UK a single "Big Decision" reached number 42 in the pop charts with sleevenotes on the back sleeve decrying the use of plastic bullets by the British Army in N.Ireland. It would be the highest position they would ever reach. A subsequent 45rpm release "Genius move" would be tacitly banned by the BBC and although touted as the trojan horse
that would finally guarantee a Top of the Pops tv appearance for the band it sank and disappeared without trace. Conspiracy theories abounded. To make matters worse Sean announced his imminent departure from the band on the eve of recording their third album, "End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues", and the resulting sessions were unsurprisingly moody and extremely tense.
Relations between band members were often strained to breaking. When the album (which was meant to emulate the mixtapes the bands listened to and loved on their tourbus) finally surfaced, its' grunge, artrock, celtic balladeering, white funk and hip-hop influenced songs initially baffled and perplexed both critics and the hardcore fanbase. A poor choice of sequencing for the songs and a suffocated, lifeless production didn't help either - some real gems were buried when actually they had much more life than the album's sound provided. Re- appraisal of this record continues today, however, at the time, it punctured the band's free-wheeling career path in the UK and they were never properly allowed to recover their former standing despite subsequently going on to much greater and adventurous musical and melodic heights. A manic, madcap and laughter-filled month long amercian tour took the band away from the doom and gloom of the reaction to EOTMPB in the UK and cheered everyone up immensely - the US now briefly took the band to its collective bosom. Gig-goers in Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, NYC and elsewhere in North America were treated to a band reborn and firing on all cylinders again, and they voiced their full throaty approval accordingly. Atlanta, in particular, was like the Beatles at
Shea Stadium all over again. A new dawn then and a renewed shift in musical styles gave way to the more streamlined yet exuberant sound of 1990's "Chemicrazy", recorded in LA, in which drummer Ciaran McLaughlin and guitarists Raymond and Damian took up the songwriting baton with aplomb.
Raymond's friend John Marchini signed up for bass duties bringing a much needed breath of fresh air and an infectious sense of fun; the band displayed a previously-unseen lightness of touch and a more optimistic lyrical approach which served to bind together "Chemicrazy"'s more disparate textures and provided a welcome return to the kind of crisp, stellar melodic pop rock at which
they excelled. (On recent reunion dates the band played no less than 8 songs from this record in their set.) Belfast-born, Al Pacino-look-a-like Brendan Kelly replaced Marchini in 1991 and inspired the band to ascend to even greater musical heights. Live recordings from this period are now considered legendary (indeed Brendan remains a lynchpin and an integral part of the reformed line-up
that recently played the triumphant come back gigs in 2008). A more dynamic, tighter, heavier and tougher sound resulted when Kelly joined the fold, and although there was still absolutely no let up of the awesome pop hooks, the earworm rock riffs and the classic songwriting structures on their fifth album "Fireproof" (1993), somehow this wonderful set of songs again fell on deaf ears
and became the band's recorded swansong. So in the end after ten years on six different record labels, enduring shifting, nebulous, trend-driven musical tides and realising that even as they were getting stronger both musically and in their collective songwriting, their audience was becoming "more selective", That Petrol Emotion duly and amically split up in 1994. Their two final shows at the
time were recorded for posterity and later issued as "Final Flame - Fire ,Detonation and Sublime Chaos - TPE live in London and Dublin"- a fitting and lasting testimony to the awesome power of the band's live excellence and perhaps a truer representation of some of their finest songs than the recorded versions. After TPE Steve Mack returned once again to Seattle where he formed Anodyne with local guitarist Harris Thurmond, and an album Tensor materialized
in 1997. They had to release the record under the alt.name Marfa Lights in the UK / Ireland. Raymond went on to form Wavewalkers, a loose aggregate of musicians which included ex-Petrols Damian and Brendan at first and later Ciaran McLaughlin for a 40th birthday gig in June 2001. Ciaran and Raymond have often performed acoustic sets together since the demise of TPE with an amazing array of new, original compositions. Damian O'Neill issued a solo album
under the banner "A Quiet Revolution" and was later reunited with brother John in "The Undertones" in 2000. In late summer '08, T.P.E. finally succumbed to the inevitable and agreed to reform to play at the celebrated Electric Picnic festival in Ireland (with two warmup shows beforehand in London and Dundalk).
"This reunion is unfinished business", a band member warned in a recent Irish Times interview. So The Petrols make their triumphant return to the live arena, the fan reaction is unprecedented and as rabidly enthusiastic as always (this band were /are truly LOVED!), so who knows what the future will bring? Maybe their time is actually NOW. Things aren't what they seem in these treacherous times... watch this space...