Subject:SLF - BELFAST SCARS
Stiff Little Fingers
Jake Burns - Gtr & Voc Henry Cluney - Gtr Brian Faloon - Drums Ali McMordie - Bass
Stiff Little Fingers formed in the wake of The Clash's early 77 Belfast show. Burns, Cluney & Faloon had been together for a while playing out as a covers band going by the (possibly, though we doubt it) ironic moniker, Highway Star (ironically, again, not exactly a purple patch for the band). The arrival of the gangly, vaguely Simonesque, Ali McMordie helped define the look, the attitude & the sound they were seeking. Named after a Vibrators song, they played out note perfect punk covers almost immediately. November 77 saw the arrival on the scene of local Belfast journo, Gordon Ogilvie. Oglivie saw potential in the nascent punkers & soon advised them to write their own stuff about real issues: Belfast. Jake took the task to heart & in a two week period wrote "Suspect Device" & "Wasted Life".
"Don't believe them Don't believe them Don't be bitten twice you gotta suss, suss, suss, suss, suss, out Suss suspect device"
The blistering riff that kicks in "Suspect Device" sounds as just as fucking killer today as it did when we first heard it blasting from the tinny speakers of our transistor radios on the John Peel show. From the intro to the outro the song gathers momentum, screaming injustice as it goes, ending with the inevitable explosion. It's one of those; lift the needle up & back - cue it up & do it all over again, actually getting higher with every play. High on the anger & hope of youth.
Ogilvie proved to be a major influence on the band. He helped organize & fund Rigid Digits, the band's own label, & they set about releasing 350 copies of "Suspect Device" & "Wasted Life" on 7", rapid stylee. John Peel began playing the single every night on his show & the initial pressing quickly sold out. A distribution deal with Rough Trade followed, "Suspect Device" was re-pressed, & the band put forward a trak written for Belfast fanzine, Alternative Ulster (originally intended as a cover mount flexi that didn't come off), as their first Rough Trade single.
"Alternative Ulster" came out in Oct 78 & propelled the band onwards & upwards. Their explosive live show matched their records. They began to blow away their peers one by one, as the first wave struggled with difficult 2cnd lp's, SLF were blasting from the jukeboxes of local pubs & youth club discos the length & breadth of the land. The band's level of honesty & integrity were more than matched by their intelligent questioning of their culture. A nationwide tour supporting TRB raised their profile further, "Inflammable Material" came out at the end of 78, reaching 14 in the UK LP charts. Packed with 12 self penned incendiary gems & an explosive cover of Marley's "Johnny Was", "Inflammable Material" was the LP of the year. Along with their trade mark high energy punk, the band pushed the boundaries of their sound to take in the tongue in cheek doo-wop thrash of "Barbed Wire Love", the raw ragged glory of their take on "Johnny Was" & the vaguely prophetic loop of "Closed Groove".
In 79 the band moved to London. Brian decided not to go & was replaced by Jim Reilly who made his debut on the next single release, "Gotta Gettaway". Following the band's appearance on the UK's first Rock Against Racism package tour, Chrysalis Records signed SLF in summer 79. The deal gave the band total artistic control of their material & by 1980 the second lp, "Nobody's Heroes", was in the racks. With a fatter, fuller sound & a more tailored rock approach, the lp proved to be the biggest commercial success the band would experience.
Over the next few years SLF continued to grow in stature & reputation. Another advance in songwriting ability & musicianship heralded 81's "Go For It". Dolphin Taylor (ex-TRB) replaced Reilly for the following Go For It tour, but audiences were starting to become restless with SLF's adoption of a poppier sound. In early 83 poor reviews for the band's 4th lp led Jake Burns to issue a statement dissolving Stiff Little Fingers. What had began as a punch in the face for rock & roll had ended in protracted in-fighting between band members & eventual disillusionment.
We first met Stiff Little Fingers @ Friars, Aylesbury, hanging out @ a Soiuxsie & The Banshees gig not long after they'd first arrived in England. They were leaning against the upstairs bar in a fashion reminiscent of the rear shot from "Suspect Device". They were amazed to be recognized & even more amazed that we'd managed to score a copy of "Suspect Device". We chatted for a while, they were friendly & almost as excited to be a part of it all as we were. A short while later we made a pilgrimage to Rough Trade to score copies of "Alternative Ulster" on the day of release, I can still remember pawing over the sleeve all the way back in the car (2.5 hrs) itching to drop the needle on the wax. We would hook up with SLF again some time later, they were playing Digbeth Civic Hall in B'ham with support from swiss femi-punx, Kleenex. I attended in my brand new SLF "Suspect Device" t-shirt, especially printed for me by my mate Pip. That night was one of those magical nights that stay with you all of yer life. We met Kleenex after their set & watched SLF sitting behind them on the balcony. Jake was electric, Ali bounced all over the stage, Henry hunched over his gtr strumming fiercely while Brian smashed seven shades of raw shit out of his poor kit. Seven encores later we managed to blag our way backstage (not difficult, as security was often not a concern @ early SLF shows). The band were blown away by the gig, Jake kept shouting, "7 fuckin encores" @ the top of his voice. They were even more impressed by my t-shirt & insisted on a round of photos of me with the band. I was obviously enthralled, utterly speechless & scared shitless of missing my train home. Jake signed a copy of a local fanzine; "To ***** with the amazing t-shirt - 7 encores - Jake Burns". We exchanged letters for a while, his last letter to me described the death of a friend as a result of the ever increasing "troubles" & I was reminded, again, just how lucky some of us are to be born elsewhere.
Stiff Little Fingers still exist & perform today, playing packed shows all over the world. Their line up now features Jake & Bruce Foxton of The Jam on bass. Their entire back catalogue has recently been re-mastered on CD by EMI. "Inflammable Material" is still the defining moment, featuring the original 7" take of "Suspect Device", "78 RPM" (the b-side of "Alternative Ulster") & an interview conducted by Alan Parker, this essential punk rock lp should have a place in any serious collection.
Leicester Banks - Jan - 2002