Being a long-time fan, this was to be my third time seeing the Northern-Irish Punk Rock legends that are Stiff Little Fingers, and looking forward to it so much I arrived at the venue before doors even opened. This, however, proved to be fun in and of itself. Like me there were plenty of fans already queuing and as the line grew it became apparent that Stiff Little Fingers (SLF) are becoming something of a family interest; plenty of families with teenage children were queuing, the parents reminiscing about the previous times they’d seen SLF and the teenagers looking forward to finally getting to see their parents’ heroes. A real sense of excitement and anticipative tension had built itself into a good-natured impatience by the time the doors were opened, and the people spilled through like a river undammed.

Although the floor seemed somewhat sparse at first, support Ricky Warwick and the Fighting Hearts commanded the stage from their entrance, with the lights going down and off they kicked in a quick paced and powerful set. I’d forgotten just how much I missed the punk atmosphere, but with little more than two chords and a shout or two and the place was alive, and quickly filling up as well. Pegging it around the stage like a man possessed Warwick was the perfect punk front, impassioned, angry, jovial and energetic all in one, and delivering a knockout set with the ferocity of a warrior in battle. As they neared the end of the set, Warwick put a perfectly placed tribute to the late great Joe Strummer in the form of a cover of The Clash’s ‘Tommy Gun’, meriting a roar of recognition and the age old punk sign of approval that is the thrown pint. An excellent show from an excellent group, excellently received. 

“They wasted little time with words, and ripped through classic after classic, never leaving the fans behind”

As the dust began to settle from Ricky Warwick and the Fighting Hearts, the crowd waited with baited breath for the introductory ‘Go For It’, that would herald the arrival of SLF to the stage, the anticipation intensified, until just as it reached fever pitch, the opening drums sounded, the lights went down and within minutes Jake Burns and co were on stage, and with little more than a cursory “Alright Nottingham!?” had exploded straight into ‘Wasted Life’ an old favourite from their first album Inflammable Material, with an energy that swept most of the crowd off their feet and straight into a mosh pit that would last the entire night. They wasted little time with words, and ripped through classic after classic, never leaving the fans behind, but clearly just enjoying every second, performing as though they were 20, and losing none of their edge even after all these years.

Although older and classic material was the order of the night, every once in a while a newer song from last year’s No Going Back would surface to some explanation by Burns, including the politically charged: ‘Guilty As Sin’, written against the recent cases of child abuse by various powers including politicians, clergy and television personalities and the (in Burn’s words) “self-help” song: ‘My Dark Places’, about the battles of having depression. However, as good as these were, it was truly a night for the old guard, with most of the first three albums being torn through in true punk fashion, and very little was played from later albums, although a notable moment was 2003’s ‘Guitar and Drum’, to the introduction of “F*** the Brits [the award ceremony]…” Retiring from the stage after an electrifying set, it was astounding, as they returned for an encore of ‘Gotta Getaway’ and finally, as is tradition, ‘Alternative Ulster’, that anyone had any energy left, but digging in, the melee of the pit became yet more brutal than it had been previously. It was wild. Amazing. To experience the frenzy of the finale has left me lost for words.

They say that the third time is the charm, and certainly for Stiff Little Fingers this old adage rings more true than it has ever done so before. All I have left to say is that it was perhaps one the most absolutely phenomenal gigs I have had the pleasure to attend, and they most definitely still have ‘it’, whatever that actually is. Astoundingly good, and I’d recommend them to anyone still into proper guitar music.

Jacob Banks

Image:Montecruz Foto via Flickr

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