The band originally formed in 1984 from the ashes of the Derry Hitmakers, Bam Bam and the Calling and The Undertones. It was formed by guitarist John O'Neill and second guitarist Raymond Gorman who DJ'd together at the Derry 'Left Bank' club. Drummer and friend Ciaran McLaughlin joined next after having relocated from Derry to London, followed by John's brother and Undertones lead guitarist Damian O'Neill who played bass from 1985 until 1988 upon John's departure. He then took up guitar duties from 1988–1994 and 2008–present. Charismatic American singer Steve Mack, who was on a year out working in a pizzeria in London at the time, finished off the line up. Following John O'Neill's departure, his brother Damian switched to the guitar, leaving bass duties to John Marchini (1988–1991) then Brendan Kelly (1991–1994 and 2008–present). That Petrol Emotion's influences encompassed artists as diverse as The Beatles, Afrika Bambaataa, Television, Sly & the Family Stone, Captain Beefheart and Can.
The group released their debut single "Keen" in 1985 which immediately severed all musical links with the Undertones with its darker, more edgy sound. Indeed That Petrol Emotion themselves were also far more political and outspoken than the Undertones. This statement of intent in the guise of Keen was followed by their debut album "Manic Pop Thrill", released in 1986 on Demon Records and charting at number 1 in the UK Indie Chart. It was received with rave reviews from the critics, especially by Undertones champion John Peel. They were described by Rolling Stone magazine as "The Clash crossed with Creedence", and the New York Times described them in 1987 as "a youthful Rolling Stones" crossed with a "revved-up Television".
Their second album (and major label debut) Babble released in 1987 on Polydor broke into the UK Top 40 album chart and won universal acclaim; being voted as one of the albums of the year by Rolling Stone magazine critics, and receiving an A- 'grade' from Robert Christgau. In the UK, the single "Big Decision" was released in 1987 which narrowly missed a place in the coveted Top 40, charting at number 42. The back sleeve contained text decrying the use of plastic bullets by the British Army in Northern Ireland. The band never gained a higher chart position than on this first hit. Their next single, "Genius Move" (also 1987) was banned from being aired by the BBC. Despite this, That Petrol Emotion had already won the praise of figures such as Robert Smith and Robin Guthrie.
The management of Polydor changed in this period resulting in a request to the band for immediate hit singles. That Petrol Emotion exploited a loophole in their contract and left Polydor only to be snapped up within a few weeks by Virgin records.
On the eve of the recording sessions for their third album End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues (Virgin records, 1988), John O'Neill announced his imminent departure from the band. The resulting sessions were thus fraught with tension and foreboding and the album itself upon release was greeted with confusion by critics and fans alike. It was meant to emulate the eclectic mixtapes the band listened to and loved on their tour bus but this dance and sample experimentation ("Groove Check", "Here it is...Take it!", "Tension") mixed with heavy alt rock ("Under the Sky"), Celtic ballads ("Cellophane") and indie ("Sooner or Later", "Every Little Bit") proved too disjointed and diverse to break into the mainstream at the time. However, the album has been reappraised, with many critics and fans admitting that while this diversity in style did alienate people on the contemporary scene, That Petrol Emotion were very much before their time, and even trailblazers for the Britpop and Madchester indie-dance scene thanks to their early experiments mixing up indie with funk and dance. Indeed they were posthumously described as having perfected "the art of the scuzzed up alternative pop song" during the 1980s.
After John O'Neill left, a re-shuffle took place in That Petrol Emotion. Drummer Ciaran McLaughlin and guitarist Raymond Gorman picked up major songwriting duties; blossoming as writers in the process, whilst new bassist John Marchini joined to allow Damian O'Neill to take up the guitar alongside Gorman. This new dynamic of musicians and songsmiths led to the 1990 album Chemicrazy, again for Virgin records, and produced by Scott Litt. "Chemicrazy" had a more alt rock style than before; hinted at on the final track of the previous album "Under the Sky". However whilst being more intense than before, "Chemicrazy" also maintained a pure pop heart, exemplified by singles "Sensitize", "Tingle" and "Hey Venus". Frustratingly for the band however the massive predicted sales for "Chemicrazy" never came.
Dropped from Virgin, That Petrol Emotion's fifth and final album Fireproof (1993), released on their own label, Koogat, saw Marchini leave and Belfast-born Brendan Kelly take up the bass in his place. Kelly's playing pushed That Petrol Emotion towards their heaviest, most riff-laden album to date which, like their debut, reached number 1 in the UK Indie Chart.
Despite the great press and the loyal fan base they garnered over the ten years and five albums of their career, That Petrol Emotion never attained the level of commercial success or fame enjoyed by their contemporaries (e.g. My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth). As a result the band amicably split in 1994.
Still, their body of work remains to be critically acclaimed within the music press and it is widely agreed that whilst being hugely underrated, That Petrol Emotion had a big influence on the Britpop and Madchester movements, and also artists such as The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Manic Street Preachers, Andrew Bird, Spoon, Blur and Radiohead.
John O'Neill went on to form the band Rare, while The Undertones reformed in the 2000s for an album, without Feargal Sharkey, on Sanctuary Records. Gorman formed a band called Wavewalkers.
A document of That Petrol Emotion's farewell concerts in London and Dublin was released in 2000 as Final Flame: Fire, Detonation and Sublime Chaos.
On 26 March 2008, Mack announced that the band were reforming to play reunion concerts in the summer. In August 2008 they appeared in London's The Boston Arms and Dundalk's Spirit Store, then went on to play at the Electric Picnic festival in Stradbally, Ireland.
In March 2009 That Petrol Emotion played at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. In the same month their official site confirmed that That Petrol Emotion would be playing the Hop Farm Festival in Kent, England in July 2009. Shortly afterwards a UK tour also in July 2009 was announced along with stints at Oxegen Festival in Ireland and T In The Park in Scotland. That Petrol Emotion continued their reformation with a spot at the My Bloody Valentine curated Nightmare Before Christmas All Tomorrow's Parties festival in December 2009 followed by dates in the UK and the US. That Petrol Emotion are now on an indefinite hiatus, though in late 2012 Gorman, McLaughlin, Kelly, and Damian O'Neill announced that they had formed a new band named The Everlasting Yeah. Their debut gig was in London, in support of The June Brides.
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