Stiff Little Fingers | Review
Custom House Square, Belfast – Saturday 25 August ’18
Words: Kaity Hall / Photos: Marta Janiszewska
Last year Stiff Little Fingers celebrated their 40th anniversary with a sold out gig in Custom House Square. With support from The Outcasts, Ruts DC and The Stranglers, it was very much a reunion of friends both between the bands and the long-time fans they attracted in their droves.
A year on – almost to the day – Belfast’s punk reunion was back again in Custom House Square with support from The Defects, The Buzzcocks and The Damned. As hundreds of Doc Marten’d feet took to Custom House Square, a few miles up the road in Bangor, The Undertones and PiL were bringing together a similar crowd for “Bangor is an Energy.” So, all in all it was a big night for punk in Northern Ireland.
As Custom House Square filled with vintage band t-shirts, tartan and a sea of other punk accoutrements, Terri Hooley founder of Belfast’s Good Vibrations record store and label, warms the audience up with a DJ set and watched on from the stage like a punk seer.
The Defects took to the stage and opened with ‘Hill Street’ – a street which can be found just five minutes from Custom House Square. This sense of locality is rife throughout The Defects set and it brings a heightened sense of place that is so integral to Belfast’s punk back catalogue – the streets, the bars, the places, the people – it all recalls Belfast’s punk heyday.
Reinforcing the sense of a reunion, The Defects frontman Ian “Buck” Murdock dedicates ‘45 Minutes’ to “the crew from the Stag’s Head” who had travelled up from Dundalk to see them. It isn’t your usual gig through how there is no sense of a warm up that usually comes with support acts – The Defects are so well known in Belfast, the nostalgic audience are engaged with the set right from the start.
After a short interlude, The Buzzcocks begin their set with ‘Boredom’ which is an apt choice as their set feels somewhat lacklustre in comparison with the high spirits of The Defects before them. Aside from a rallying cry of“Belfast!” it’s a set noticeably lacking in any kind of camaraderie which, following last year’s SLF gig, has come to be expected. Their set is also shorter than what was scheduled – much to the annoyance of some in the crowd.
Nonetheless, The Buzzcocks squeeze in plenty of their hits such as ‘Orgasm Addict’ and ‘Ever Fallen In Love.’ The anthemic ‘Why She’s The Girl With The Chainstore’ is a particular highlight of the set as the audience shout along to the chorus.
Moving away from the teenage yearning of The Buzzcocks, The Damned take things up a notch with leather and attitude. Opening with ‘Love Song’ from the onset The Damned deliver an energetic set, that keeps pace throughout. Dedicating ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’ to Terri Hooley, beret-donning guitarist Captain Sensible announces “This one’s for Terri Hooley cause he’s not drinking – I just can’t be happy today!”
‘Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow’ fuses some synth with the rasping guitar riffs building a more varied set. During ‘Ignite’ keyboardist Monty Oxymoron abandons his post at the keyboard and runs rampant on-stage looking akin to a crazed scientist.
Referencing the gig in Bangor happening simultaneously, Captain Sensible announces“We’ve out-sold John Lydon in Bangor by five to ten… so much for the king of punk!”
After a dramatic instrumental build up, the main act finally emerge to an extremely excited crowd. Opening with ‘Wait and See’ it’s a nostalgic song which recalls the band’s beginnings –“When we first started we thought we were great though nobody else agreed”.
After performing ‘Gotta Get Away’ and ‘At The Edge’ frontman Jake Burns finally announces “As always, it’s fucking fantastic to be back in Belfast” much to the delight of the crowd.
Playing an assorted selection of their hits along with a new song ‘Tilting The Windmills’, Stiff Little Fingers show the audience that 40 years hasn’t dampened their passion for making music. Musically SLF’s sound hasn’t radically changed, staying true to their punk beginnings – although Jake Burns leaves those classic high notes in ‘Barbed Wire Love’ up to the audience to fill in!
“I think every generation thinks their music is the best music” Burns notes. Referencing the network of other bands SLF were surrounded by during the late seventies and eighties, The Specials were one of their favourites. Covering The Specials’ ‘Doesn’t Make It Alright’ Burns dedicates the song to the band themselves.
Speaking candidly on suffering from depression, Burns says that he wrote ‘My Dark Places’ as a self-help guide and that since then many fans have wrote to him about how it has helped them. He shouts out to anyone else suffering “Forget the stigma and fucking talk to someone!” before launching into the song.
‘Johnny Was’ comprised the first part of the encore with an extended percussion intro – the suspense palpable as the crowd waited for that classic guitar riff to kick off. “A single shot rings out in a Belfast night”as the lyrics go and the crowd didn’t miss a word.
Naturally, the band weren’t leaving without performing ‘Alternative Ulster’ and the Belfast night was filled with shouts of “Grab it, change it, it’s yours!”
Closing with the words “See you same place, same time next year!” Burns leaves the audience with one question – is Belfast’s punk reunion going to become an annual summer celebration of Belfast’s beloved punk scene?