LIVE 105’s Punk Rock Picnic: Stiff Little Fingers
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About Stiff Little Fingers:
Stiff Little Fingers were formed in 1977 in Belfast, Ireland. Along with the likes of the Clash, Sex Pistols, The Jam, Buzzcocks, Undertones, Sham 69, Stranglers, et al – Stiff Little Fingers were at the forefront of the punk movement. They wrote initially about their own lives, growing up at the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, in songs like “Suspect Device” and “Wasted Life”. In November of ’77, they released those two songs on their own Rigid Digits label, and sent a copy to BBC Radio One DJ John Peel, who started playing it every night.
These were the first of what became SLF’s signature style: lyrics that meld the personal and political, music that combines the energy of punk with infectious hooks, and delivery that rings of honesty and commitment. In 1979 they became the first band ever to hit the UK top 20 album charts on an independent label with their debut Inflammable Material. The album chronicles the band’s anger and frustration at “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, and calls on youth to create their own reality.
Their live shows continued to be special events of energy and power. The Go For It LP in ’81 revealed more sophisticated songwriting and musicianship, and another step in the shift from punk to power pop. The Now Then album of ’82 alienated many of SLF’s punk followers with its pop sound, and despite some glowing critical reviews, never got the recognition it deserved.
The band split in early ’83. During the five years they spent apart, each member pursued musical projects. But none were as satisfying, or as successful, as Stiff Little Fingers. Said Ali, “It wasn’t until we got back together again did we realize this was the only thing we were ever completely happy with.”
In ’87, Jake and Ali decided to do a few reunion shows. The audience response to the reunion shows was overwhelming; with sell-out crowds larger than any that SLF had played in their original incarnation. The response to the shows across the world surprised and delighted the band and their following continued to grow, with younger “new” fans alongside the old diehards.
In ’94 they released the Get a Life LP. The album helped renew interest in SLF just as newer bands that sited them as a major influence, such as Bad Religion, Sugar, Rancid and Therapy, were coming to prominence. In August 2003, Stiff Little Fingers released their ninth studio album, Guitar and Drum, which includes a moving tribute to Joe Strummer, entitled “Strummerville”.
After many studio albums and countless tours, Stiff Little Fingers find themselves more in demand than ever. They are currently working on a new album, and many of the new songs have been debuted at live gigs, with tremendous response from fans. With song titles like “Trail of Tears”, “My Dark Places” and “Liar’s Club” covering topics such as the recent economic collapse, Jake’s personal struggle with depression, and continuing racism in the west. Jake has said, “You’ve probably worked out by now, I don’t do “comedy” songs !!” But the songs continue to inspire fans old and new. Countless people have already contacted Jake to say that “My Dark Places” gave them the strength to tell others about their own bouts with depression.
In 2006, original bassist Ali McMordie returned to the fold, and the line-up has settled to the best ever; Jake Burns on lead vocals and guitar, Ali McMordie on bass, Ian McMallun on guitar, and Steve Grantley on drums. Though focused on their new material, they always play the old favorites at gigs. Jake said, “You have to strike a balance. The difficulty with a band like ourselves is to try not make it sound like a cabaret band. Obviously, it’d be very easy to go, ‘Hey, here’s another old one you may remember.’ A lot of the old songs the audience greet like old friends. I suppose it’s the same as any band that’s been around for any length of time. And yes, there are nights that we don’t particularly want to play “Alternative Ulster” or “Suspect Device” because we’ve heard them ’til they’re coming out our ears. But there’s always the possibility that somebody out there has never seen the band before, never heard them.”
Using the band’s rich musical legacy as a building block, the time has come to bring the newest chapter of the band’s music to the world. The new songs, penned over the last decade, show a definite musical growth in the band. Plans are to record and release the new material in 2013.