Review: Stiff Little Fingers, O2 Academy, Newcastle

Stiff Little Fingers play at the O2 Academy, Newcastle as part of their 40th anniversary tour. Pic: Gary Welford.
Stiff Little Fingers play at the O2 Academy, Newcastle as part of their 40th anniversary tour. Pic: Gary Welford.
0
Have your say

It takes a lot of resilience – and no little talent - for a band to enjoy a 40-year career in the music business.

After all, if they were no good, they wouldn’t still have an audience, but that's not something you'd ever think will be the case for punk survivors Stiff Little Fingers.

Stiff Little Fingers bassist Ali McMordie adds some vocal backing. Pic: Gary Welford.

Stiff Little Fingers bassist Ali McMordie adds some vocal backing. Pic: Gary Welford.

Formed in Belfast in 1977 at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, they've shown time and time again that they are a band who have staying power.

This gig was part of a tour to celebrate their 40th anniversary, and although frontman Jake Burns and bassist Ali McMordie (who rejoined in 2006, after 15 years away) are the only two original members, this is the longest-serving line-up in the band’s history.

Drummer Steve Grantley has been on board for 20 years, and guitarist Ian McCallum for even longer, and it’s this familiarity with each other which makes them such a tight outfit.

They sound better than ever, their audiences are growing – like most of the shows on the tour, this sold out well in advance – and their fans are getting younger, with old-timers bringing their kids too.

Stiff Little Fingers drummer Steve Grantley pounds out the rhythm at the O2 Academy, Newcastle. Pic: Gary Welford.

Stiff Little Fingers drummer Steve Grantley pounds out the rhythm at the O2 Academy, Newcastle. Pic: Gary Welford.

But it's their songs and the messages within which remain key to their appeal; that and the fact they have such a hefty arsenal of wonderful tunes at their disposal.

A few years ago I voiced the opinion that SLF’s shows were going a little stale; you could almost predict what they were going to play in a set of 20 or so songs.

Sure, most of the old favourites you’d expect to hear at an SLF show were present and correct here: Nobody’s Hero, At The Edge, Barbed Wire Love, Wasted Life, Tin Soldiers, Suspect Device, Gotta Getaway, and, as the final encore, a frenetic Alternative Ulster.

But with this tour celebrating such a landmark anniversary, this year's setlist has been altered a bit, with Jake and the boys pulling out a few prize specimens from their back catalogue, including a couple of seldom-heard classics.

Stiff Little Fingers guitarist Ian McCallum in action at the Academy. Pic: Gary Welford.

Stiff Little Fingers guitarist Ian McCallum in action at the Academy. Pic: Gary Welford.

The first was Breakout, a track from Inflammable Material, the 1979 debut album which made many of the audience fall for them in the first place. It hasn’t been in the set for best part of a decade, but here it was a surprise opener.

The second was Safe As Houses, a 1981 B-side, which Jake admits they haven’t played too often “because I wrote it in the wrong key for me to sing”. A slower, reggae-inflected tune, but no less powerful, it went down a storm.

Possibly the best of the lot was Roaring Boys, from the 1997 album Tinderbox, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard live. It was odd hearing it without the traditional Irish instruments featured on record, but it worked a treat with guitar, bass and drums.

Johnny Was, the Bob Marley cover which Fingers have made their own, was back in the set, all 10 glorious minutes of it, and there was a welcome return, too, for the anti-terror anthem Each Dollar A Bullet, sadly still relevant 26 years after its release.

The spotlight is on Stiff Little Fingers frontman Jake Burns. Pic: Gary Welford.

The spotlight is on Stiff Little Fingers frontman Jake Burns. Pic: Gary Welford.

There were a trio of songs, too, from their most recent album, 2014’s No Going Back, which has played a big part in reinvigorating their set, and given fans new tunes to fall in love with.

That’s certainly the case with My Dark Places, the most upbeat song you’ll ever hear about depression, and Jake’s personal struggle with it.

Giving the fans what they want is the very reason Stiff Little Fingers are still touring and recording, after 40 years, while many of their contemporaries have fallen by the wayside.

And with Burns' closing "see you again soon" still ringing in the ears, it seems there's plenty of life left in these old punks yet.

Stiff Little Fingers played songs spanning the breadth of their 40-year career. Pic: Gary Welford.

Stiff Little Fingers played songs spanning the breadth of their 40-year career. Pic: Gary Welford.