Stiff Little Fingers "Up A Gear" UK Tour
C103 Plymouth, UK
25th March 2013
For the best part of 34 years, Stiff Little Fingers have been a constant musical staple in my life. From the moment I heard the single “At The Edge” on Top of the Pops, it cemented what had been a flirting interest in punk and new wave, which had originally been set off by hearing the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” on the radio. Since then, more than any other band, Stiff Little Fingers have provided me with a kind of moral compass in a way most other bands have not been able to do and I am convinced that the lyrics of Jakes Burns and the band’s former manager Gordon Ogilvie in some way molded me into who I am today.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that this show was eagerly awaited, as I hadn’t seen the band in a few years since they last played Plymouth. It was also my 39th live experience of the band (with the 40th being the following night in Exeter). However, before the main event came the support act, The Men They Couldn’t Hang. Now despite being aware of them for many years, I’d never been that taken with their music and to be honest nothing on the night really happened to change my viewpoint of the band, with a fairly low-key performance that did however get quite a lot of the crowd engaged.
Onto the main event and once Stiff Little Fingers took to the stage following the intro of “Go For It,” I was clearly focused on one thing and that was singing my lungs out, as Jake Burns and co. provided a 90-minute set that was laced with ‘hits’ but also included a trio of tracks that are expected to be on the long talked about new album. It did take a few songs for both band and crowd to warm up but once both were in sync, everything clicked nicely and it was pleasing to see the enthusiastic reaction that the newer songs received in addition to that afforded to the better known songs in the set list.
Of these newer songs, it was “My Dark Places” which struck me the most, dealing as it does with Burns’ battle with depression, and in which he manages to convey how bleak it can be without attempting to court sympathy. The song brought a lump to my throat as it made me remember a similarly dark time I went through a few years ago and proved that Stiff Little Fingers can still write and perform relevant songs today. “Liars Club” returns to more external targets as Burns strikes out at deceitful politicians (a potential tautology if ever there was one) with him explaining that although the song was written initially about Tony Blair and George Bush, it is timeless in that there will always be people in power behaving in reprehensible ways.
However, for most people in attendance it’s all about those classic SLF songs that everyone knows by heart and which find the crowd singing along with abandon: the likes of “Suspect Device,” “Alternative Ulster,” and “Tin Soldiers” all being received with huge roars of approval. Also, Burns paid homage to one of his musical heroes in the song “Strummerville,” a song which found favour with the crowd. To begin the encore, Burns announced that they usually used this as a chance to pay tribute to a band or a song that was special to them and then proceeded to knock out a cracking version of The Ruts’ “Staring at the Rude Boys” which was greeted with a huge wave of enthusiasm in the venue, with a leaping mass of bodies down in front of the stage. For some in the crowd, gigs like this provide a chance to just relive their youth, whilst for others it’s a time to acknowledge the impact Stiff Little Fingers have had over the years. For the younger members of the crowd, it’s the chance to witness a band which despite their advanced age, still put on a roaring performance with Jake Burns still capable of delivering impassioned vocals that resonate with the audience. The other pleasing aspect of the night was the male / female mix of the crowd, highlighting that SLF were not and still aren’t about being a boys only club.
Even though SLF usually tour the UK twice a year, it’s been some time since they undertook a tour with as many dates as this one (over 20 shows) and in doing so it makes a mockery of some of the bigger bands who think that a handful of shows constitutes a tour these days. So for both me and SLF, the road now leads to Exeter.
Songs That I Can Remember Being Played (Not In Order!):
At the Edge
Roots, Radicals, Rockers & Reggae
Doesn’t Make it Alright (Specials’ cover)
Just Fade Away
My Dark Places
Barbed Wire Love
Trail of Tears
Fly the Flag
Staring at the Rude Boys (Ruts cover)