Stiff Little Fingers
The best punk rock bands were born out of riots. The Sex Pistols rioted with each other, the Clash yearned for a "riot of their own" and it's safe to say Belfast's Stiff Little Fingers knew a thing or too about disturbances of the peace too. It's a hoary old story at this stage, but for the unenlightened, our tale begins in October 1977.
Everyone's favourite punk rock preacher man Joe Strummer was determined to bring the Clash to Belfast at the height of the Troubles and to his credit, he succeeded. As hundreds of Harp-fuelled youths filled the streets outside of the Ulster Hall on a cold winter's night, the news broke, literally at the eleventh hour, that the Clash gig was cancelled. Strummer tried his best to salvage something out of the mess, but it was out of his hands as the punks did what they did best. They rioted.
Inspired by the events of that night, countless Clash fans formed bands and fanzines of their own and among them was a young Jake Burns. Fast forward 30 years and Jake is back to the venue that started it all, only this time his band, the Stiff Little Fingers, are headlining. Tonight's gig is a tough one to call. On one hand it's a hell of an achievement for a Northern Irish band to still be on top of their game and celebrating 30 years making people's ears bleed and getting into trouble. On the other, tonight's gig is akin to watching your well-behaved dad break out his air guitar.
Still, the punters in the crowd are more than making up for SLF when it comes to bad behaviour. As soon as Jake breaks into the opening buzz-saw riff of 'Suspect Device', a squad of bald-headed, beer bellied blokes surge towards the front of the gig, lobbing bottles of Stella stage-ward as if they were petrol bombs.
'Suspect Device' sounds savage as a wave of booze rains down on Jake and newly reinstated Stiff bassist Ali McMordie. Although we're sure that Jake's liver has probably seen more spirits than Derek Acorah in his 49 years on planet Earth, he still looks pretty miffed at the impromptu shower.
At times tonight's set seems to drag. Simply put - their later material just doesn't match up to the fire of their debut record 'Inflammable Material'. Songs like 'Strummerville' might have their hearts in the right place, but they're also cheesier than a packet of Wotsits. Still, to celebrate their pearl anniversary, they wisely treat us to large dollops of their debut album at the end of the set.
'Wasted Life' is as relevant as ever, 'State of Emergency' keeps things cooking in the pit and Jake turns story-teller when introducing the always controversial 'White Noise'. At the climax of the gig, they unleash the ultimate outsider's national anthem - 'Alternative Ulster' - and it's the moment most people have been waiting all night to hear.
As a few hundred Doc Marten boots stomp off into the night, we can't help but wonder what Joe Strummer would have made of the gig. Sadly, we'll never know, but we think he'd probably be happy that life goes on in Garageland.
Photos by Keith Wilson