Stiff Little Fingers at the O2 Academy (18 Mar ’14)

Two blogs within a week? Yes, really! It was back to the Academy for Stiff Little Fingers – this time the Academy 2, despite the gig being advertised for the main Academy.


First up were The Godfathers, who had just come onto the stage when I arrived. I thought that they had a few hits back in the mid-1980’s, but on checking the records I was surprised to learn that they never troubled the singles or album charts. They must have been getting plenty of music press and Radio 1 evening coverage then for me to know them as well as I do. They split up in 2000 before reforming with the original line-up in 2008. They now have a different drummer but seem to be a very active proposition again. They were a tight outfit who put on a decent show, despite some dodgy backing vocal harmonies on “If I Only Had Time”, at the end of which leaf singer Peter Coyne said “you’ll never walk alone”, which went down well with me. They credited a song (“I Can’t Sleep Tonight”) to SLF and the Ramones, and their influence (especially the latter) are clear on their music, along with rockabilly, which came through most strongly on “Walking Talking Johnny Cash Blues”.

One of their new songs sounded like being hit in the face with a sledgehammer – to be honest, Carter’s voice is as subtle as a bludgeon. They dedicated a song to ‘Mad Maggie’, their version of The Sid Presley Experience’s “Hup Two Three Four”. They were a band whose name was familiar to me from 1980’s John Peel shows and copies of NME or Melody Maker. However, I’d completely blanked the fact that The Godfathers had evolved from the SPE – now 3/4 of The Godfathers are ex-SPE. Their political leanings could be seen further on their merchandise stall, where you could snap up a Thatcher/Hitler hybrid t-shirt!

They were a lively presence – proper sarf London geezers, all dressed in smart suits. Coyne said at one point, “We love that fuckin’ Liverpudlian noise. Make some more fuckin’ noise.” He also made a comment about how much he loved the local girls’ accents, as to them it was “exotic”! He came across a bit like a dodgy copper off ‘Only Fools And Horses’…

Appropriately enough, they ended with what I consider to be their best-known song, “Birth School Work Death”, the title track of their second album from 1988, though it never troubled the singles chart.

Then it was time for the main event, Stiff Little Fingers. This Belfast band formed in 1977 and were named after a Vibrators song once they discovered and were energised by punk. They split up in 1983, having released three Top 40 hit singles and four original albums that all made the Top 30, but reformed just four years later. They have been active ever since, on and off, and still feature two original members, lead singer Jake Burns and bassist Ali McMordie, who came back into the fold in 2006 to replace Bruce Foxton, formerly of The Jam, who had been with them for fifteen years. I’d have liked to have seen them with Foxton as The Jam remain one of my ten favourite musical acts of all time, and I’ve never seen him perform as I missed out on seeing The Jam by being too young.

SLF hit their stride straight away, with a small mosh pit developing in the first song that continued pretty much throughout. Unlike Metronomy the week before, this wasn’t a clapalong-type gig, although a few people did occasionally. The band looked like you’d expect an ageing punk band to look. Jake Burns reminded me of my mate Gibbo in a rockabilly shirt – if he’d had a pie marathon in Wigan. Not sure how good a look that is. Geordie guitarist Ian McCallum looked a bit like a school janitor – in a Ramones t-shirt. Drummer Steve Grantley wore the classic punk drummer outfit of black vest, while bassist McMordie was in a black sleeveless t-shirt emblazoned with his own name!

Here’s what they look like:


Early set highlights included “Wasted Life” off their 1979 debut album “Inflammable Material” and “My Dark Places” off their brand new release, called “No Going Back”. The new songs they played fit right in with the older stuff, which certainly isn’t typical for an act of their vintage. I’d heard a couple of them already on Jack Rabid’s Big Takeover podcast, which meant they weren’t a total surprise to me.

“Nobody’s Hero” was dedicated to Jimmy Savile, by which time the sweat was dripping off me, despite not joining in with the mosh pit. Jake Burns told a story about drinking with Phil Lynott, in fact he liked to tell a story between songs. The highlights kept on coming, including “Doesn’t Make It All Right” off their second album. Somehow I’d forgotten that was a cover of a Specials song! McMordie sang some great doo wop backing vocals on “Barbed Wire Love”, while we even had a crowd surfer during one of the songs. Thatcher got another mention as Burns introduced “Fly The Flag” (“Gimme a kingdom where people are free, free to do and free to be, free to screw you before you screw me”).

The set ended with “Suspect Device”, their debut single and a real favourite of mine, but they came back on for an encore of the lengthy Bob Marley-written “Johnny Was” off the first album. They went off again, leaving me badly wanting “Alternative Ulster”, their second single from 1978. Instead they came back on with “At The Edge”, their biggest hit (reaching #15 in 1980). I thought I’d walk away without being able to sing along “Get an Alternative Ulster, be an anti-security force, alter your native Ulster, alter your native land”. Fortunately, at the very last, they segued from “At The Edge” into that song, with its classic punk guitar riff, so I went away happy!

Tonight’s t-shirt
Well, I decided I had a straight choice between The Fall and Buzzcocks, and went with a nice red Buzzcocks t-shirt with a heart design. This was a t-shirt-heavy gig! Lots of SLF shirts were being worn, as well as Bowling For Soup, New Model Army, The Alarm, Boomtown Rats, Green Day and Jim Jones Revue. Also in evidence was a boy aged about ten with an impressive Mohican!


4 responses to “Stiff Little Fingers at the O2 Academy (18 Mar ’14)

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