Some months ago I was watching Good Vibrations, the excellent (and highly recommended) movie from 2012 about an Irish record store and label owner called Terry Hooley, he was the guy that signed The Undertones and helped bring Teenage Kicks to the world (a gift for which I will always be eternally grateful). At one point the Stiff Little Fingers anthem Alternative Ulster came on the soundtrack and round the corner came my four year old daughter, marching to the driving beat, punching the air, with a determined look on her face. “I like this music daddy” she said, and I took it as one of those moments when you think ‘well that’s my parenting done then!’.
Stiff Little Fingers are celebrating their 40th anniversary, and thankfully in recent years they have become regular visitors to Australian shores. They did some East coast shows in 2008, I first saw them in front of a criminally sparse audience at one of the stages where Green Day were not playing at Soundwave 2014. There is some that would say Green Day has..well lets say ‘borrowed’ heavily from the SLF songbook with their sound (some would be pretty bloody correct). Was in hospital for their 2016 visit, so I was bang up for festivities last night, as was a healthy crowd of SLF fans.
As the intro tape of the title track of their third album Go For It, cranked up so did the audience. Chanting GO FOR IT at the top of their lungs. Jake Burns and the lads take the stage and bang right into Wasted Life from Inflammable Material (1979)and Just Fade Away (Go For it). They are ferocious. Super tight band playing these great songs with due reverence and gusto. Straw Dogs was a stand-alone single in 1979 (i.e. it wasn’t on an album) and a most welcome inclusion tonight. Jake tells us that he suffers from depression and advises anybody who struggles with the black dog, “For God sake talk to somebody.”, before launching into My Dark Places from their excellent 2014 record No Going Back. The albums come less regularly these days but are always worth being patient for. The same is true of their Guitar and Drum album from 2003, worth investigating I recon.
The line up is Jake on guitar and lead vocals, Ali McMordie on bass who was in the original line up from 1977-1982, he was back for four years (1987-91), when he left that time Bruce Foxton from The Jam joined the line-up for 15 years and now that he is touring with his own ‘From The Jam’, Ali re-joined in 2006 right up to now. Guitarist Ian McCallum and drummer Steve Grantley have been in SLF since 1993 and 96 respectively, so they hardly the ‘new’ guys. Anyway as you might imagine a band that has been playing this hard edged energized music for four decades know what they are doing. They were labelled as a punk band, and the first few records certainly had a lot of the sonics and attitude associated with punk, but I always thought they were like a stepping stone between Thin Lizzy and The Clash (more of both of them later). There is a quality about the Irish punk bands that sets them apart. The Undertones had it, certainly The Boomtown Rats had it even in their earliest days and it’s a inherent taste for melody and poetic turn of phrase. Thin Lizzy had that too. They were a rock band with a black Irish poet out front! My theory is the same one I have about Scandinavian bands. No matter what style of music, punk, rock or death metal that comes from those places there is long tradition of folk music, and sense of melody and traditional story telling that is a part of the musical DNA.
Tonight they are sticking to the older material from the early albums. Safe As Houses, Roots Radicals Rockers & Reggae all from Go For It. Breakout, At The Edge, Barbed Wire Love, Tin Soldiers and the title track from Nobody’s Hero. There is only a couple of tracks from the later records When We Were Young from Guitar and Drum, was inspired the passing of Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy, one of Burns big heroes and a drinking buddy who urged him to reform SLF who were broken up at the time. This is directly followed with Strummerville, about The Clash‘s much missed front man Joe. The set ends with Suspect Device their first single and one of four songs tonight from their debut LP Inflammable Material. The song was independently released on their own label. The potency of a ‘punk’ band from Belfast in the middle of The Troubles of the late 70’s, was not lost on legendary DJ John Peel, who played it so much they ended up with a major record company deal and selling 30,000 copies. Peel did the same thing for The Undertones shortly afterwards with Teenage Kicks. The two bands never got on and often argued in the music press. As a punter though, I knew nothing of these things and loved them equally.
After a thunderous response from the audience they return for a trilogy of songs from The Nobody’s Hero record. Johnny Was (a Bob Marley cover), Gotta Gettaway and then one of the best fucking songs ever written Alternative Ulster. The whole joint is jumping up and down and singing along at top volume. It is a mighty song and these guys are at the top of their game. My four year would have loved it.
They are most welcome to visit us as often as they like.
Review by Ian Bell
Stiff Little Finger Set List Go For It (intro tape) (Go For It 1981)
Wasted Life (Inflammable Material 1979)
Just Fade Away (Go For It 1981)
Straw Dogs (non-album single 1979)
My Dark Places(No Going Back 2014)
Safe As Houses (Go For It 1981)
Breakout (Nobody’s Hero 1980)
At the Edge (Nobody’s Hero 1980)
Barbed Wire Love (Nobody’s Hero 1980)
Is That What We Fought The War For? (Now Then 1982)
Roots, Radicals, Rockers & Reggae (Go For It 1981)
When We Were Young (When We Were Young 2014)
Strummerville (Guitar & Drum 2003)
Nobody’s Hero (Nobody’s Hero 1980)
Tin Soldiers (Nobody’s Hero 1980)
Suspect Devic (Inflammable Material 1979)
Johnny Was (Inflammable Material 1979-Bob Marley cover)
Gotta Gettaway (Nobody’s Hero 1980)
Alternative Ulster (Inflammable Material 1979-1980)