When you tell people you're of to see Stiff Little Fingers they either stare at you in confusion because they think the band split up decades ago, or in jealousy because they wanted to go themselves. The second group usually have the initails S,L & F tattooed somewhere on them, either at the top of the arm with a proper fireball logo, or on the knuckes in what seems suspiciously like prison issue ink. The point is that SLF fans are very loyal to a band that is now celebrating it's 31 st year and still pulling in the punters with ease as well as making excellent albums.
It's pretty evident at the Academy, as SLF once more pull a near sellout crowd. I miss the support band tonight due to drinking and chatting in a nearby watering hole, but if I'm honest I'm only really interested in the main event. After having seen the band several times now since being blown away by their 1997 offering Tinderbox, I'm a fully fledged fan of the band. As they walk on and the lights go up there's a fierce roar from the crowd, each of whom seems to know all the lyrics to the manic genius of opening track “Roots, Radicals Rockers & Reggae”. Right from the off there's a massive mosh on in the centre of the floor, with jostling, pogoing and plenty of spilled beer. Up on stage, Jake Burns looks, as usual, like someon'e dad who's wandered on to the stage by mistake, but there's no mistaking that voice and his guitar playing. To his left, it's nice to see original bassist Ali McMordie back on the stage, filling the spot vacated by Jam man Bruce Foxton after a successful stinit. Drummer Steve Grantley and guitarist Ian McCallum complete the line up.
For me, one of the best things about SLF is the fact that their songs have intelligent, well written lyrics, courtesy of Mr Burns. It's a testament to this that he introduces nearly every song with a short explanation of why it was written and what it's about. The man really believes in his songs, and it's a good thing to see in this age of throwaway punk. It's a bit of an added bonus that his songs are also incredibly catchy, filled with melody and aggression in equal amounts, not to mention some sublime guitar parts. Tonight is a trip down memory lane, as the band pull out songs like “Silver Lining”, “Barbed Wire Love”, “Love Of the Common People”, “Harp” and “Fly The Flag” like a magician pulling rabbits ut of a battered old top hat. “Tin Soldiers” allows Grantlety to show off some mean drumming, whilst “Suspect Device” takes people back to the bands very beginnings to round off the set. I'm a bit disappointed because the only song from the past eleven years to be aired is the brilliant “Strummerville” from the bands crminially overlooked “Guitar & Drum” album. Add to that the fact that my absolute all time favourite song “Each Dollar A Bullet” doesn't get an airing and I'm feeling a little bit sulky. After the band have returned and run through “Johnny Was” and (naturally) “Alternative Ulster” I decide to forgive them, because it's hard to me sulky after such a great gig. Call them dinosaurs, call them old punks, call them a British institution if you like, but make sure you remember to call SLF a bloody brilliant band or I'll drag you into the mosh pit myself.
Review by Alan Holloway