2013 saw Stiff Little Fingers undertake their most comprehensive tour of the UK in many a year. I was fortunate to see two of those shows and was blown away on both nights. Ok, it's not a surprise really as they've been my favourite band for over 30 years now but still, to see a group of men who are no spring chickens play for 90 minutes and to do so with so much enthusiasm and energy makes me extremely excited. Therefore, when I got my ticket for this show back in November 2013 I began counting down the 125 days with an ever-increasing fervour.
Opening act The Godfathers, formed in 1985, looked their age although I found their brand of fairly unspectacular punk/pub rock to be a decent warm up for the main event. However, the night was always about one band and that's usually the case when Stiff Little Fingers hit town regardless of the chosen support. The band came on stage to the PA pumping out the "Go For It" instrumental and as they were greeted by a hail of rousing cheers. The band went straight into "Straw Dogs," a single that I actually bought in Exeter many years ago whilst on a family holiday in Devon, and The Phoenix erupted with the crowd all at once in unison, singing and dancing, as Jake Burns, Steve Grantley, Ian McCallum and birthday boy Ali McMordie kickstarted what was to prove to be one of the tightest sets I've ever seen from the band.
Three songs from the latest album, No Going Back featured in the set, with Jake acknowledging how much the song "My Dark Places," which addressed his battle with depression, had struck a chord with many of the band's fans. "When We Were Young" was introduced as being a reaction to the view of some critics that his career was over back in 1984, and in fact, the lyrics were actually written back then after a night drinking with Phil Lynott, who was also receiving similar press at the time. The other new song was the McCallum-penned-and-fronted "Throwing It All Away," which allowed Burns to have a well-earned vocal breather yet maintained the momentum without a hitch. All three songs fitted well into the set and to be honest I'd have been happy to have one or two more from the new record thrown in but that's if I was forced to be picky.
Burns made an impassioned introduction to the song "Strummerville" which he wrote following the death of Joe Strummer, a man who he considered to be responsible for influencing him and Stiff Little Fingers back in the 1970s. It's interesting that to me, and possibly others in the crowd, the person I see as having had a major impact on my life is Burns himself through his lyrics and music, and if I could write songs then perhaps "Burnsville" would see the light of day!
Fortunately the show wasn't curtailed as had been a year previous when an over-enthusiastic member of the audience took a bad fall just as the band had begun its final song and the wait for an ambulance had to be called. That meant this time we got the full version of "Alternative Ulster" to round off the second encore and complete the night. As the crowd filtered out all I could hear were people saying how great the band had been and how many felt it was one of the best performances they'd ever seen from them. I have to say I fully agree with those sentiments and 24 hours later I'm still grinning like a Cheshire cat at the thought of the gig. For anyone who is willing to write off Stiff Little Fingers as a pale shadow of its former self, they do so without knowing how good the band still is, a point proved by the live shows as well as the recent album, No Going Back, which is vintage SLF.
In a world where music is transient for many, it's refreshing to have a band that was and still is relevant, one that speaks to its audience and makes them have more than just a fleeting experience. Stiff Little Fingers still speak to me in a way that makes me feel connected, not just to the band but also to those around me at the gigs. There is a sense of oneness and camaraderie when stood amongst 400 people all enjoying the band, a feeling that for me is only equaled by being amongst fellow Newport County supporters.
The one thing that always strikes me at SLF gigs is the diversity of the crowd; obviously there were many middle-aged men in attendance, but the significant number of middle-aged women at The Phoenix was also noticeable. In addition to that there were many offspring of those older fans as well as teens and twentysomethings who were there of their own accord. Some people complain about punk being the bastion of the male, but a Stiff Little Fingers gig flies in the face of such a statement and it's about inclusivity for all. Roll on the next UK tour in the autumn and here's hoping I can make it to my 42nd Stiff Little Fingers show.
Just Fade Away
My Dark Places
When We Were Young
Doesn't Make It Alright
Throwing It All Away
Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Regaae
Barbed Wire Love
Fly The Flag
At The Edge
End Note: The band is due to play American and European dates later this year so if you get the chance to see them, do not miss out.