Fingers, At The Ready
How many amazing Ulster Hall nights have there been in the past year
or so? The Northern Songbook overture with the Ulster Orchestra, the
Alzheimer's Benefit featuring Tim Wheeler's astounding speech about
his dad, the Good Vibrations filming session, the return of Orbital
and now, Stiff Little Fingers, perfectly back on their own territory.
Later, Jake Burns will shed a tear, but as the encore commences, he's
all smiles and vitality. The snare drum makes with a martial beat and
the crunching chords are received with audience cheer. The song is
'Johnny Was', released by Bob Marley in 1976, describing the
sufferation of gun-rife Jamaica. Bob sang it with tenderness for the
grieving mother, but the SLF version on their debut album was
ferocious and irate. The setting was flipped from Kingston to
Belfast but when that shot rang out, you still knew the impact.
It's not quite a history lesson in 2012 because the guns are still
not quiet. But for the old punks in the house, it's a reminder of
really desperate times and music's critical retort. To their credit,
SLF continue to play it with feeling while all the teenage songs,
daughters, nieces and nephews in the moshpit are also getting the
intensity. If there was every a doubt that this song was the template
for U2's 'War' album, then behold, the bloody predecessor.
Hearts are moved by the night's opening song 'Wasted Life', also by the
return of 'Gotta Getaway' to the set list, by the lament of
'Strummerville' and the surge of 'Tin Soldiers'. Naturally there's
some extra delirium for 'Alternative Ulster', the mission statement
that's only now being realised. That anthemic tilt and the roaring guitar, a good
34 years in the delivery and ever-resonant. We'll grab it and we'll
take it, thank you.