There are very few bands that can earn the epithet seminal. Belfast’s very own Stiff Little Fingers not only deserve to be called seminal, but they can deservedly claim that they have influenced bands worldwide.
When SLF kicked off as covers band Highway Star in the late 70s few could have believed, let alone credited their 32-year journey that would see bands as diverse as Green Day, The Almighty, The Beat and a host more credit the Stiffs as an influence.
Of course, 32 years later SLF are very different beast compared to the snarling, angst-driven outfit that drove the invective driven Inflammable Material right through the smug self-serving late 70s.
Then, prog and rock was dying a death; verbose over-inflated, tired bands were flagging on their last legs. Punk’s new sound was divided between the commercial and the aware. SLF were féted among the aware, the sound was not from the safe suburbs and the lyrics less so.
As we look towards the paranoia of recession and the uncertainty of the noughties are SLF still relevant? Has the angst ridden youth of the 70s given way to cynicism? Hell no! Has the anger dissipated? Hell no! SLF still speak to that part of us which decries injustice; that hates the smug self-satisfied political commentators; that still wants to have fun, make a point and rock like a bastard: never mind whether you’re 15 or 50 SLF are the outpouring of all that is right about powerful music.
The main man of the Stiffs is, of course, Jake Burns. Currently living in Chicago, Jake is plotting the next leg of SLF’s journey with a European tour that will take in Belfast on March 16th.
Belfastmetalheadsreunited caught up with Jake to reflect on past triumphs and look to the future.
Deeply considered, but retaining the mischievousness steeped in the genes of Belfast folk, Jake was looking forward to the Belfast and Glasgow dates especially for the spring European tour.
“We’re definitely looking forward to playing the Ulster Hall,” he said. “It’s really special for us, like the St Patrick’s Day Glasgow gigs….we always seem to end up in Glasgow on March 17th! When we were growing up it was such a big deal to play the Ulster Hall, and we’re been looking forward to being back in Belfast.
“We’d played gigs in The Empire in the past and while it was great – and the fans were super – the stage is so small you’re bumping into each other all the time and you can’t give the show the fans deserve.
“I wondered whether we could still put on an Ulster Hall show, but it really came together last time – Don Letts filmed the DVD there and we had fans past, present and future there and a packed hall.”
The enduring quality of SLF’s music is perhaps best laid out in the age range of the fans at recent gigs, from teenagers to wrinkly rockers.
“Sometimes you wonder about playing the old tunes. You wonder how many times you can play Suspect Device or Alternative Ulster. Then you walk on stage and see 14 and 15-year olds and you think to yourself that this is the first time that they have heard those songs live and it gives you that extra impetus.”
But, Jake – like all of SLF – are not resting on past glories, with more recent material set to be included in the set-list for the European tour, even if we are all waiting for a new album.
“Yeah, I’ve been writing,” he said. “But, there was a lot going on in my personal life, including the move several thousand miles to a new continent. That means I sort of fell away from the discipline of writing.
“The ability to lock yourself in a room and sit with a guitar and hammer out a few tunes is there, but the discipline needs to be there too.
“It is coming back and there are quite a few tracks and ideas ready to go.”
And, it seems that looking back on the past as well as reflecting on the future is the key to the freshness of SLF’s gigs, as well as future recordings.
Jake has maintained a healthy disrespect for the conventional path, yet still looks to past influences for material. Rory Gallagher, Joe Strummer and Thin Lizzy remain among the pantheon of artists he not only respects, but enjoys.
The diverse nature of such influences, together with the feeling of injustice that must be addressed makes SLF as relevant in 2009 as they were when Belfast's streets were littered by the aftermath of yet another stupid paramilitary attack on the innocent. We heard then from SLF about paramilitary assholes on Wasted Life. Thankfully there were many who listened and wove their paths clear of the tribal warfare and walked the path that shone the light on music and justice.
In the next part of this interview, Jake tells Belfastmetalheadsreunited about the Nefarious Fat Cats and the hazards of touring in Europe…and what his favourite track is from recent SLF recordings.
SLF play the Ulster Hall on March 16th.