Stiff Little Fingers - Live in London (Cover Artwork)

Stiff Little Fingers

Live in London (2023)

live show

It’s the end of March and therefore time for what appears to be Stiff Little Fingers’ annual pilgrimage to London. This time the venue is the Roundhouse in Camden Town (or Chalk Farm, which is the closest tube stop).

The Roundhouse opened on 15th October 1966 and Pink Floyd headlined. It has hosted some of the most iconic names in music (Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Rolling Stones to name a few), revolutionary theatre and art installations, and is a hub of the celebration of London’s rich cultural diversity.

Tonight, it’s Stiff Little Fingers, who were an integral part of the gloriously chaotic punk scene in London in the late 1970’s. The Roundhouse has hosted many legendary punk concerts in the 70’s including the Ramones, Blondie, The Stranglers and Sham 69, so it seems appropriate that Stiff Little Fingers continue to return to a venue with such an historic connection to punk rock.

But first up it’s the Slim Jim Phantom Trio, and the Stray Cats’ drummer gives us the perfect 50’s rock ‘n’ roll setlist, with a few surprises thrown in (New Rose by The Damned being one example). Starting with The Stray Cats’ Rumble in Brighton, it’s clear this is going to be a lot of fun. There’s Elvis in there, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, as well as other Stray Cats hits thrown in including the classic Stray Cat Strut. Slim Jim isn’t a bad singer, and his drumming style is instantly recognisable. He is backed up admirably by his band, including his wife Jennie Vee on bass who has a very classy and effortlessly cool stage presence. It sounds great, it looks cool, and it’s the perfect way to start the evening.

It's then time for the headline act, and while the sound checks are done, the crowd is treated to what can only be described as an eclectic mix of humorous but strange songs from old timers such as Bernard Cribbins, Mike Reid, and Arthur Mullard & Hylda Baker. The crowd look a little confused, but don’t seem to mind dancing along to Funky Gibbon by The Goodies. Watching a bunch of skinheads and punks dance to this is very amusing, and a site I’m unlikely to ever see again.

The lights dim and as always, Go For It is blasted out while the crowd get in the mood and they are in fine voice on this Saturday night in London. The band walk out and go into battle with Straw Dogs from the 1980 album Nobody’s Heroes, the title song from the album being the second song on the setlist. It’s clear that the older numbers are going to get the best reception, and the crowd is suitably warmed up to dance along to Roots Radicals Rockers Reggae.

There has of course always been a political and social justice undertone to Stiff Little Fingers’ music, and new song Tower in London carries on this theme, referencing the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017, and the fact still no one has been held accountable for the disaster. There’s a dig at the banks in Full Steam Backwards, and a wonderfully received sing along to The Special’s Doesn’t Make it Alright which was dedicated to the late Terry Hall who passed away a few months ago.

Jake Burns addresses his depression in My Dark Places, which seems to be an absolute cert at any SLF gig in recent years, and the band end the set with classics At the Edge, Wasted Life, Gotta Get Away, and Suspect Device.

The encore starts with the cover of Bob Marley’s Jahnny Was, and the gig ends with Alternative Ulster, both from the band’s debut album Inflammable Material, which still sounds as relevant today as it did when it was released in 1979.

I have to give a shout out to the sound team who did a fantastic job. It was spot on from start to finish. Jake Burns’ vocals are as strong as ever, and the passion and meaning in his lyrics and delivery is still evident. This is a band still at the top of their game, but having been around since 1977 you’d expect nothing less. You still have to go out there and put on a good show, and these guys sure know how to do that. See you next year lads.