Stiff Little Fingers| Review
+ Support: The Stranglers Ruts DC and The Outcasts
Custom House Square, Belfast • Friday 25 August ’17
Tonight at Custom House Square in Belfast defined what music is all about and the effect it can have on people. So many people re-living their youth of a time when Belfast was a difficult place to live. Music then was their salvation and tonight there was indeed no better place to spend a Saturday night in a new Belfast that seemed unimaginable to a band that formed 40 years ago.
After sets from The Outcasts and Ruts DC an already packed venue, set against the superb backdrop of the Belfast Custom House, watched as The Stranglers walked onto stage and for the next 45 minutes reminded us why they were so relevant to the British music industry in the late 1970’s era of punk and into the New Wave age. With an extensive back catalogue to draw upon they bring the expectant crowd the huge thumping bass line of ‘Peaches’, an ode to unforgotten heroes of ‘No More Heroes’ and the harpsichord inspired keyboard back drop of ‘Golden Brown’, reminding everyone there how good a band they actually are and setting the tone for the much anticipated arrival of Belfast’s greatest ever Punk Rock band.
Tonight’s gig was a celebration of the 40 year career of Stiff Little Fingers. Original band members Jake Burns and Ali McMordie are the heart and soul of the current line up and time has not dimmed their enjoyment in playing songs that still resonate with the now grown up youth of 1977.
‘Opening the show with ‘Wasted Life’ it set the tone for an angst ridden, emotional night of well crafted songs that gave an insight into a troubled Northern Ireland of the 1970’s and 80’s. Wasted Life’ tells of choosing not to fight for the paramilitaries in those dark days. “Killing isn’t my idea of fun” scream the lyrics that still hold true even in this day and age.
Jake Burns, now living in the United States, talks frankly about his continuing battle with depression and implores that no matter how difficult things are you need to talk to get through it. This battle has spawned the song ‘My Dark Places‘ from the band’s 2014 release ‘No Going Back’. It shows Jake Burns still has a desire to write songs about relevant issues 40 years later.
There is no let up in the energy and the volume levels as the band play song after song that has a hooked audience singing along to every word. They dip into a reggae feel with ‘Safe as Houses’ and ‘Roots, ‘Radicals, Rockers and Reggae’; Burns recalls the farcical situation of getting his first job as an accounts clerk after failing his Maths ‘O’ Level four times. It is that kind of night with stories that tell the reality of a band that are just like any one of the people who came to see them tonight.
They dedicate the song ‘When We Were Young‘ to Thin Lizzy front man Phil Lynott, recalling time spent with him in London in the weeks prior to his untimely death in 1986.
The band sing “don’t want to be nobody’s hero” but the reality is, whether they like it or not, they are musical heroes to each and every person at Custom House Square tonight. They may as well just live with it.
‘Tin Soldiers’ and ‘Suspect Device’ provide a perfect illustration of life in Northern Ireland in the late 1970’s and 80’s. They paint a picture of a hard and drab existence, coupled with a backdrop of fear, but these songs further show, even 40 years later, the power of music and how it at times had the ability to unite a divided community.
In spite of the obligatory Goodnight Belfast we all know the band will be back on stage for a rousing finale and that is exactly what the crowd got. They get the full blown version of ‘Johnny Was’, a product of and victim of troubled times, in all its angry and loud glory.
It’s not hard to know what will finish this high energy and emotional set. Jake Burns introduces it as “The National Anthem”. Tonight it is just that, The National Anthem for every single person including The Northern Irish, The Irish, The Scots, The English and The Americans who were at this amazing 40th birthday celebration and stood loud and proud and belted out ‘Alternative Ulster’.
It was indeed a perfect finale.