Pick Your Rock and Metal

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Stiff Little Fingers and The Defects - proof that punk is still relevant and fine rock performances exist

THERE is something vital, visceral and filled with a love of life that sits askance with the perceived image of punk rock. But those at Belfast's Ulster Hall on Friday (March 14th) saw Stiff Little Fingers and The Defects explode preconceptions and delighted a crowd ranging from teenagers to fifty-somethings.

Unlike the more modern purveyors of so-called pop punk SLF and The Defects understand the brutal roots that gave birth to punk in the UK and in particular in Belfast - that a song must consist of both tight music and lyrics that are more than about some daft guy and dewy eyed girl; songs must speak to the lives of the band and the experiences of the audience.

The rejuvenation of The Defects has matured with a sense of real energy; and, just over four years since they took to the stage once again this is a band as relevant now as in the past.

Charisma is something you either have or you haven't - and Buck Defect and co have it in bucketloads, with that fine 'laid-back but deadly serious' only Northern Ireland bands can truly encapsulate - although having their set introduced by bagpipes...well it was unique.

From Revelator to Brutality this was a tight set - all of which was being filmed for a forthcoming DVD on the band.

Hill Street and Head On Collision were stand-outs in the set; and such is the growing popularity of The Defects that young people who were barely out of nappies when the PSNI were formed joined in the chant of "SS RUC" during Brutality.

The Defects have a long future ahead, and one which we can all hope will continue to deliver fine albums and fine shows.

With the strains of Go For It provoking synchronised clapping and chanting, Stiff Little Fingers quite literally hit the stage running with a high tempo version of Straw Dogs.

But for those hoping to see just a greatest hits set there was much more to this performance: with new album No Going Back about to hit the racks thanks to a wildly successful Pledge Music campaign this was a heartfelt set of well played songs, amusing chat and fine music.

While Suspect Device, Silver Lining, Wasted Life, Just Fade Away and Roots, Radicals all played to an audience familiar with every word it was as lively a set as if SLF were closing a tour.

Many of the tracks were worthy of SLF's recent t-shirt legend "Putting the 'fast' in Belfast" but that would suggest they were one-dimensional. The cover of The Specials "Doesn't Make It All Right" has long since been an SLF standard; its anti-rascist, anti-violence and tolerant sentiments still resonating in 2014 and finding a home in the hearts of fans young and old.

But with the new album coming out in a matter of weeks it was also an opportunity to showcase new tracks. While we are all awaiting its release some tracks are now familiar with live audiences.

However, it is Jake Burns explanations of the back stories of the songs that are revelatory: from his own battles with depression through to chatting with Phil Lynott about getting bands back together there is always an edge to the entertainment SLF provides.

We also had another song led by Ian McCallum which is set for the new platter.

From there it was a mad rush to the end of the set: mad in the sense of speed and intensity.

Codology with Ali McMordie's mic being only used for one song (Barbed Wire Love) and Strummerville dedicated, as usual to the late, great Joe Strummer this was a heads-down performance par excellence.

Fly The Flag, Tin Soldiers and Suspect Device wrapped the main proportion of the set, before a double encore - Johnny Was quickly followed up by a full-tilt At The Edge and then the National Anthem of Northern Ireland, Alternative Ulster.

That SLF can still pack the venerable Bedford Street venue some 37 years after they first kicked out their jams is remarkable in itself; but this is not some tribute to the past.

From young people enjoying their first taste of the Fingers, through to those who were there 'back in the day'; from the metalheads through to those with mohawks; from those there for a unique Belfast event through to die-hard fans, this was rock and this was punk at its finest.

The late Rory Gallagher once described how rock music had grown from the pubs to the concert halls where he said he liked to think "it still had a wee bit of anarchy".

In these health and safety days the anarchy now is not in stage invasions (even mosh pits were being frowned upon on Friday) nor in the mad sway of an over-sold venue: it is instead an anarchy of the mind, where bands like The Defects and Stiff Little Fingers give those attending the free rein to think, enjoy and open minds. That surely is what punk really is - a movement of music and the mind.

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