Gig preview: Stiff Little Fingers at O2 Academy Leeds

Stiff Little Fingers. Picture: Ashley Maile

Stiff Little Fingers. Picture: Ashley Maile

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Punk legends Stiff Little Fingers are undertaking a nationwide tour from February 25 to March 19, and one of the shows is destined to be saved for posterity, as their gig at Glasgow’s Barrowlands is set to be recorded.

Formed in Belfast in 1977, the band was at the forefront of the punk explosion.

To begin with, they wrote songs that reflected their own lives, growing up at the height of the troubles in Ulster; and the resultant hits, which included the likes of ‘Suspect Device’, ‘Alternative Ulster’ and ‘Wasted Life’ were amongst the most political songs to hit the charts.

This outlook still reverberates in the songs that founder-member, singer and guitarist Jake Burns writes today.

“My songs today are political in a sense in that they’re about things that affect my life,” Burns says.

“It’s also thanks to my sense of justice. If I see something that I think is unjust, it makes me angry enough to write about it.”

The band originally had a different name – The Fast – and had to think fast when they found the name was already in use, Burns explains.

“Our first show was booked in a bar in Belfast, and we were known as The Fast, but then we discovered a New York band with the same name and for a time we couldn’t decide on another name.

“We were at (original rhythm guitarist) Henry Cluney’s place where we did most of the deals as they had a phone, and the guy from the bar called as he wanted the name to put on the posters to promote the gig.”

He laughs. “I just grabbed a Vibrators’ album and ran my finger down the list of titles and stopped at ‘Stiff Little Fingers’.”

Then fate took a hand.

“It was only meant to be our name until we could think of something better, but we got a really good review of the gig and we were sort of stuck with the name.

“It’s never a name I’ve really liked,” he admits.

The band split up in 1983, but Jake and original bassist Ali McMordie reunited in 1987 and the band has been in action since (McMordie left the band in 1991 but returned in 2006 and has remained with them since).

In 2014, the band released ‘No Going Back’, which brought them renewed success.

“We were very surprised at the album’s success as it was a long time since we’d made a record, just over ten years in fact; and we didn’t know what to expect,” Burns says.

“We recorded it through Pledge Music where you ask your fans to fund the record as the role of a traditional record company has changed. In fact, when we approached EMI, our old label, they advised us that if we had access to the internet we could do it ourselves and be totally independent – they were great about it, really.”

But there is the problem of getting the money together.

“If the fans say ‘no’ you’re kinda screwed, but we have great fans and we reached our target in 12 hours.”

And there was some icing on the cake.

“We got our first Number One album, it was a strange sensation.”

The new album will naturally feature in the tours’ set-list.

“We’ll do a few from it,” says Burns, “but generally what we try to do is a review of the bands’ career. The people come out to be entertained and not listen to an advert for a new record, so we’ll play a lot of familiar songs.”

Burns thinks one song in particular defines the band.

“I guess ‘Alternative Ulster’ as we are connected so closely with the song. It’s where we come from.”

But does he get tired of singing it?

“No, we hit lucky with it, it’s a good song and I really enjoy playing it.”

The band, who cite The Clash as a major influence, now consists of Burns and McMordie, together with guitarist Ian McCallum and drummer Steve Grantley, who joined in 1993 and 1996 respectively; and they are looking forward to touring.

“If anything we enjoy it more these days,” says Burns.

“Before, it was all new and we didn’t really stop to smell the roses as it were. I mean, we were about 19 or 20, but now I’m 57 and we now know how to relax and enjoy it more.”

But being more in control has it’s drawbacks.

“As we’ve got older, my stage nerves have got worse, because now I know everything that can go wrong at a gig.”

Unlike many touring musicians, Burns loves the travelling.

“Just after the UK dates we are heading off to Australia for some shows. It’s an incredible perk of the job; you get to travel the world and get paid for it.”

During this tour, the band plans to record a very special show.

“Glasgow is always a ‘stand out’ show and this year will be the 25th consecutive St Patrick’s Night at the same venue.

“We’re gonna record it and film it for a DVD. I’ll be twice as nervous,” he laughs.

Stiff Little Fingers will be appearing at the O2 Academy Leeds on Saturday March 12. For details visit https://www.facebook.com/StiffLittleFingers/

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