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The Boy's Hardback In Town

Stuart Bailie | 21:10 UK time, Sunday, 22 November 2009

Does the world need a 351 page history of Stiff Little Fingers? Well, you're probably asking the wrong person, because I'm quite passionate about the story of Ulster punk and this hefty volume will sit proudly alongside a few other, choice volumes. 'Kicking Up A Racket - The Story Of Stiff Little Fingers' covers the central years, 1977-83. The author, Roland Link, comes from Worcester, and he's risen to the challenge of writing a book that will be read and admired by a modest collection of people. I guess this means that he's done it for love, and indeed the book's contents would bear that out.

kicking.pngIncreasingly, any story that involves the Conflict has an eerie quality about it, a period and a mindset that's hopefully evaporating. So too have the early punk landmarks, like The Harp Bar, The Pound, The Trident and Paddy Lamb's. There are moments of proper exhilaration, like the recording of 'Suspect Device' on Downtown Radio's modest 8 track machine, and the challenge of wrapping hundreds of single sleeves by hand. Likewise with the unscripted success of the album 'Inflammable Material', which goes Top 20 and establishes Rough Trade as the definitive indie label.

Some of the local references are rogue. The Maze prison has been relocated to Belfast, the Defects appear in the story about three years too early and the Belfast accent has foxed a few translations. But the minutia is happily received by this reader. There's a pathos in the fact that Jake Burns wore his dad's shoes around the time of 'Suspect Device' because his own pair needed fixing. And there's a classic ingenuity in the story about the first copies of the single being distributed to Scotland in a commandeered bakery van.

A lot of the story concerns the band's perceived lack of cool and the bitter backlash at the time. Belfast is routinely hostile to its success stories (just ask Therapy, Ash and Snow Patrol), but SLF copped it very badly by those who thought that the band and their management were exploiting the local situation. I was one of those begrudgers, but increasingly I listen to those early records and hear a rage and a pain that is beyond contrivance.

I believe there's some kind of a book launch at the John Hewitt in Belfast this Thursday evening. Come on down, shake Roland's hand and buy one of his books.


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